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Chabad Draws Thousands To “The Biggest Jewish Party in LA–Ever”

By , Los Angeles, CA

( Two thousand students from four southern California colleges partied to a live band and snapped up Purim mitzvahs until 3 AM at a Chabad sponsored mega event that earned its billing as the “biggest Jewish party in LA – Ever.”

Interrupting their spring break vacations, students from University of California – Los Angeles, University of Southern California, California State University – Northridge and S. Monica College poured into UCLA Chabad headquarters in Westwood, CA.

“Usually I go home right after finals, but this time I stayed so I could be here for Purim,” said Sheila Solymani, a UCLA senior from Sunnyvale, CA.

Most years the campuses hold separate parties, each attracting students by the hundreds. “We’ve always resisted planning a joint party other years, because there are a lot of people not committed enough to join a Purim celebration somewhere else, and we want to be sure we serve all crowds at our campus,” said Rabbi Dov Wagner, director of Chabad Jewish Student Center at USC. Since attending any Chabad event during spring break meant every student would have to make the effort, the directors of the various Chabad campus centers united to sponsor the mammoth bash.

With a “Wild, Wild Westwood” theme, students sauntered in, doffing their ten gallon hats, flinging their fringes, stomping around in shiny cowboy boots. Janteen Yeftadounaee, a UCLA psychobiology major, swaggered over to speak with, a bandana his nod to western getups.

“A lot of other groups don’t celebrate like we are, most are doing a regular megillah reading and a snack. This is a party, and it’s something you don’t get to do on most holidays.”

On his way to hear the chanting of the Purim story from a traditional scroll, which was read every hour on the hour all night through, Yeftadounee mentioned another reason why he came to the party. “Last year, I met a lot of new people at the party, people I had never met even though I’ve been at the school for years. Everyone was open and friendly.”

Jewish students meeting other Jewish students is always an underlying goal of Chabad campus events, but gathering a big crowd helps Chabad keep its cool quotient all year through.

“People are impressed with the sheer enormity of the party. It’s a ‘wow’ effect,” said Rabbi Dovid Gurevich, co-director with his wife Elisa of Chabad House at UCLA. “When we bring together people from other schools, other backgrounds, they see all kinds of Jews find a home at Chabad, there’s something here for every kind of Jewish student.”

More students partying on Purim also meant more students fulfilled the mitzvahs of Purim. With this in mind, Rabbi Chaim Shaul Brook, co-director of Chabad @ CSUN with his wife Raizel, hired a bus to ferry students to and from the party. All told, about 200 CSUN students showed.

“It’s all about reaching one student, touching one life, so numbers don’t make a difference on their own. But if you have the numbers – that’s a lot of ‘ones’ you’ve reached,” said Rabbi Brook.

Days before the party, SMC’s Chabad on Campus representative Rabbi Eli Moshe Levitansky set up his table on the beachside campus’s main gathering spot. Students came by to eat cake, put on tefillin and receive party reminders. Calling out to a harried student passing by, he reminded her, “Tomorrow’s the Purim party. Make sure you’re there.” Karen, who was too rushed to give her last name, promised to be there.

Person by person contact is how the overflowing crowd at the Purim party was built. Eldad Younessi spread word at UCLA, convincing many it was a not to be missed night. Younessi is one of those people who cannot walk to a room without glad-handing all around, so his Poli Sci major makes sense as a does his role as the party’s event promoter at UCLA. His secret isn’t postcards or flyers or Facebook. “If you show enthusiasm, others feel enthusiastic,” he said.

Chabad broke ice between students from the different schools with a pre-event decorating party. A long night of blowing up inflatable cacti and hanging up rootin’ tootin’ accessories in the Chabad house was topped off by a midnight breakfast served by Elisa Gurevich, co-director of UCLA Chabad House, and Runya Wagner, director of Chabad Jewish Student Center at USC.

By sunrise on Friday morning, when the last of the cowboys and cowgirls were back on their ranches or napping in Chabad House nooks, Chabad representatives looked back on the event weary but happy.

“The vast majority of students meet tell me that the first time they were in Chabad was at a Purim party,” said Rabbi Wagner. “This is their first exposure.”


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