Chabad to celebrate 25 years in town


Twenty-five years ago, Chabad of Greater St. Louis had a modest beginning — operating out of the apartment of Rabbi Yosef Landa and his wife, Shiffy Landa, the founders of Chabad in St. Louis.

Today, Chabad has grown to have four locations — in University City, Chesterfield, Creve Coeur, and next to the Washington University campus — and a slew of year-round programs, services and activities serving the community.

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Chabad will celebrate that quarter century of service and growth in the St. Louis community at its upcoming “Lamplighter Celebration 25” on Sunday, Oct. 28 at the Ritz Carlton in Clayton.

Chaired by Don and Julie Eisenberg, the event will recognize Chabad’s past, present and future in St. Louis, and present the Lamplighter Award to Dr. George and Darla Grossberg and Robert and Joni Kaiser for the couples’ commitment and service to the community.

The event will feature entertainer and mentalist Marc Salem, who combines humor and psychological insights into his Mind Games show. Mind Games has had two runs on Broadway, and Salem has appeared numerous times on television, including 60 Minutes. The event will also feature a grand prize drawing for a Carribean Cruise for two.

For Dr. George and Darla Grossberg, Chabad has had a profound influence on their family over the years. Dr. Grossberg, a Saint Louis University School of Medicine professor and world-renowned leader in geriatric psychiatry, said that Chabad’s global reach has helped him stay connected with Jewish communities, no matter where his professional travels have taken him.

“About four years ago, due to my heavy travel schedule, I had to be in South America on the anniversary of my dad’s death. I knew there were Jewish people in Santiago and I wanted to try to find a shul and make Kaddish, but I wasn’t sure if it would work out,” Grossberg said.

He asked Rabbi Landa if he knew of any contacts. “Within 24 hours, I already had an email from the head of the Chabad community in Santiago,” Grossberg said. The email said that a letter would be waiting at Grossberg’s hotel, with an invitation to attend shul, and directions on how to get there.

“That really hit home how connected the global Jewish community has become. As I continued to travel, everywhere I went there was a Chabad,” he said.

In addition, Grossberg said his eldest daughter became deeply involved with the Chabad House on her college campus, Princeton University after a casual first visit for a Shabbat dinner.

“Sure enough, she fell in love with the rabbi and the rebbetzin. They were a dynamic young couple with small children starting a new program at Princeton. The next thing you know, people are flocking to them,” Grossberg said. And, it was at the Chabad house that his daughter met her future husband. A couple of years later, the family invited the rabbi to officiate at the wedding.

For the past five years, Rabbi Landa has led a Jewish study group for SLU professors once a month out of Grossberg’s campus office.

“There’s a strong group of Jewish professors at SLU, and we really love our monthly meetings with Rabbi Landa, ” he said.

It is that kind of outreach that has made Robert Kaiser, a prominent local attorney with Armstrong-Teasdale LLP, appreciative of Chabad’s efforts.

“Chabad plays a crucial role in reaching out to the Jewish community, wherever they might be,” Kaiser said. “The Jewish community as a whole has a continuity problem. People largely decide that either there is more to Judaism, or that there’s nothing to it. It’s the job of groups like Chabad to be out there and help provide the opportunities so people can see the value in keeping their connections to Judaism,” Kaiser said.

Rabbi Landa said that in the early days, Chabad had to help people understand exactly what it was, because it was outside the mold of traditional institutions in the Jewish community.

Now, with Chabad centers in more than 3500 locations worldwide, Landa said people have come to understand that Chabad fills a variety of outreach and educational roles, and organizes a number of community-wide lectures and holiday celebrations. However, he is still trying to ensure that the public understands that Chabad aims to work for and bring together all Jews, across denominations for study and celebration of Judaism.

“The struggle that we deal with is that people see us, and they immediately go into denominational mode,” Landa said. “They say, ‘Ah, he’s Orthoox…he’s Jewish, but he’s not like me.’ We want those walls to come down, and we want people to understand that we’re all growing Jewishly together,” he said.

“There is a core Jewish identity which exists equally in all Jews, regardless of what they believe. That is truly unifying…What unites us as Jews is this idea of a uniquely Jewish spark, which is present in every single Jew,” Landa said.

Rabbi Landa said the growth of the St. Louis Chabad, like Chabad centers all over the world, is a testament to two key elements: the support and generosity of the individual Jewish communities, and the forward thinking and inspirational philosophy behind the Chabad movement.

And, Rabbi Landa notes, the St. Louis community has shown a remarkable level of generosity and support of Chabad’s mission.

Rabbi Levi Landa, son of Rabbi Yosef and Shiffy Landa, and director of programming for Chabad of Greater St. Louis, said that some of the programs he now leads show the staying power of Chabad’s approach to provide community-wide programs like the Model Matzah Bakery.

“Now we have children whose parents went to Model Matzah Bakery years ago when my father ran the program, ” he said. “It’s one thing to have a mission statement. With my parents, they have embodied that mission,” Levi Landa said. “And it obviously did something to me, because I was inspired to do that as well.”

Tickets are available for the Oct. 28 Lamplighter Celebration 25 event. For more information, contact Chabad at 314-725-0400, or email [email protected].