Breiter heard about the University of Southern California’s Remarkable Women
Awards, the sophomore knew exactly who she wanted to nominate.
co-director of the Rohr Chabad Jewish Student Center at USC, was her natural
pick for the honor. As a mother, counselor, teacher, organizer and all-around
booster of Jewish life, she’s not only responsible for her own six children,
said Breiter, the Chabad-Lubavitch emissary is an inspiration in the lives of
hundreds of other people’s children.
“She’s a mom to
six children, and the Chabad House gets anywhere from 100 to 150 people for the
weekly Sabbath dinners,” explained Breiter. “So it’s amazing to see all that
she does and how she keeps her composure, how interested she is in students.”
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Now in its 10th
year, the Remarkable Women Awards are decided by committee. According to the
program’s website, it honored Wagner and 14 other “women faculty, staff and
students, both undergraduate and graduate” this year for their contributions in
relation to women’s issues, and for student, community and professional
In a fast-paced
university environment, Breiter said she’s impressed by the fact that Wagner
makes sure to ask how people are doing, and means it.
your family to dinners, and puts that care and interest into students to make
sure they’re succeeding, that they’re doing well, that they’re happy,” she
When Wagner got
her invitation to the award ceremony, which was just before Purim, she was
shocked and touched. Her husband posted it on Facebook and, in a matter of
hours, it got more than 100 likes, along with lines upon lines of
congratulatory messages from supportive and proud fans.
“I think it
definitely says something about the vibrancy of the Jewish community, and
specifically of the Chabad Jewish student center here at USC and the type of
impact it’s making here on the broader campus community,” said Rabbi Dov
His wife’s work
includes teaching Torah classes to young women, providing a listening ear, and
running a host of holiday programs, as well as organizing and preparing for an
annual “Shabbat 500,” a Sabbath meal that targets a crowd of 500 students. This
year, it also includes co-chairing the Chabad on Campus International
Conference for more than 250 Chabad-Lubavitch emissaries and their families.
magnitude of the responsibilities means keeping her priorities balanced and
managing her time well, said Runya Wagner.
“We keep really
late hours,” she said. “It’s a lot more than a nine-to-five job.”
At night, both
husband and wife respond to emails and deal with the paperwork that keeps the
center in order.
Rabbi Dov and Runya Wagner founded the USC Chabad House 12 years ago.
started their work on campus 12 years ago, when their daughter, who is nearly
12, was just a few months old. They had five students over for their first Sabbath
dinner. Now, she caters for the crowd of more than 100 guests on a weekly
basis. Together, they manage classes several nights a week, lunchtime learning
programs, and holiday events.
“We try to
bring Judaism to the students, to make it really fun and enjoyable for them,” explained
Wagner, adding that a large part of their work revolves around creating a sense
of community among the students.
She tries to
keep a positive outlook and to make sure everyone feels welcome.
“You just pull
up some extra chairs,” she said about the many times that the center seems like
it’s bursting at the seams, “and don’t really stress out over little things.”
Ehsanipour, a USC sophomore, got involved with the Chabad House at the
beginning of her freshman year and it soon became a central niche in her
I found at Chabad was a support system that really helped me transition into
college life,” she said.
Wagner is a
significant piece of the equation, added Ehsanipour. “She just gives so much of
herself, and she’s definitely not a pushover.”
recalled how much Wagner’s support has meant to her, for example, one week when
she went to dinner after getting disappointing news.
“I was in a bad
mood and Runya was really the person who consoled me. She sat down with me and
she talked about it, and she was so understanding,” said the student. “She
really cares about us.
“She’s a mix
between a cool aunt and a mother figure,” continued Ehsanipour. “I just think
she’s one of the most hardworking, independent women I’ve ever met.”
double major who serves as the Chabad House’s student president, is secretary
and speakers director for the USC College Republicans, volunteers as a host
student for the Marshall School of Business’ International Exchange Program, and
works as a staff member of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics, said that
she often considers herself a busy woman. That’s until she thinks about all
that Wagner gets done in a week, or even a day.
“You walk in,
she gives you a hug, and asks you how your day is going. She’s always willing
to have a conversation with you,” said Breiter. “It’s a genuine interest that
really sticks out. And she has this enthusiasm and positivity, this light
around her that really inspires people to want to help.”