Fifty years ago, one would have been hard-pressed to find the terms “Jewish life” and “USC” used in the same sentence. But in recent years, university administrators have gone to great lengths to change the school’s reputation to attract more Jewish applicants.

When Trojans walk onto campus, they can easily find their home away from home. You can walk into any classroom today and hear the names of Jewish students, complete with Cohens, Friedmans and Goldbergs.

But aside from the recognizably Jewish last names that seem to pop up at USC, there is something else that makes college feel like home. The two most popular organizations are the Hillel Center for Jewish Life and the Chabad Jewish Student Center; both of which welcome new students with open arms.

Today, just steps away from USC’s fraternity row, lies the Chabad House. The new Victorian home is the third site that the organization will occupy since outgrowing its first two locations.

“When we first came, a lot of people didn’t think we’d be around for too long. It’s been so long since there’s been a traditional Jewish presence on campus,” says Rabbi Dov Wagner, who founded Chabad at USC in September 2000 and now serves as its director. “But the vibrancy of Jewish life has been picking up here so much. I think people now realize that it’s an integral part of the university.”

At Chabad, students can experience a more intimate religious experience. And while the myth that every Chabad-nik is ultra orthodox is not true at USC, Chabad does offer a more traditional approach to Jewish life. Rabbi Wagner and his wife work to make Chabad comfortable for students of all different Jewish backgrounds and affiliations.

The modern Hillel building also sits proudly across the street from the center of campus. There is a partial-kosher meal option and university housing that is reserved for Jewish students requiring kosher kitchens.

Hillel also offers a computer resource center with free printing and free wireless Internet access. They have cozy couches for lounging and a friendly staff working to make everyone feel welcome. But best of all, Hillel always has fun activities and events planned.

Whether they are at a Shabbat service or weeknight BBQ, students are constantly playing the well-known game of “Jewish Geography.” Essentially, you start talking to a Jewish student, and within a few minutes you realize that he or she knows your friend Sam, who is his or her cousin’s best friend, who went to your aunt’s wedding that took place in New York, 15 minutes away from where you both went to summer camp. It sounds crazy, but at a school with such a growing Jewish population, it seems like everyone is connected to each other in some convoluted way.

But USC isn’t the only school in Los Angeles booming with Jewish culture. According to the UCLA Hillel, there are approximately 4,000 Jewish students at UCLA. That is about 10 percent of the campus student population.

And they have a phenomenal facility to prove it. The 25,000 square foot building is a beautifully designed home away from home for Jewish Bruins.

With Hillel, Chabad and the handful of other Jewish clubs at UCLA, students can easily find themselves a bowl of soothing, hot matzo ball soup when they’re feeling under the weather, a Seder to go to for Passover or, most important, a suitable man/woman to show off to Mom.

Both schools have proved that students never have to compromise their Jewish identity to have a fulfilling college experience.

To get involved in Jewish life at USC, come to Shabbat 500 Sept. 26 at 6:26 p.m. at Chabad House, USC and Rosh Hashanah services starting Sept. 29.

Jewish students at UCLA can look forward to the Welcome Back Shabbat Sept. 26 at 6:30 p.m. at Yitzhak Rabin Center for Jewish Life and Rosh Hashanah services starting Sept. 29.

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