Missouri governor helps dedicate new Chabad facility

Rabbi Yosef Landa of Chabad of Greater St. Louis sounds the shofar during a dedication ceremony Sunday for the Morris and Ann Lazaroff Chabad Center on Delmar Boulevard. Photo: Andrew Kerman

By David Baugher, Special to the Jewish Light

With the sounds of a bustling Delmar Boulevard as the backdrop, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon helped cut the ribbon on Chabad’s newly refurbished facility near Old Bonhomme on Sunday.

“The center will serve as a hub for programming throughout the St. Louis region which will enhance the growth and development of the important efforts that go on here each and every year,” Nixon told a standing-room crowd more than 100 well-wishers outside the Morris and Ann Lazaroff Center.

The $1.5 million overhaul of the building, which included the acquisition of the lot next door, added no square footage to the structure itself but replaced virtually everything inside. A new, higher roof was also incorporated into the design as well as a new façade on the front.

The group which gathered this weekend included the Governor and First Lady of Missouri as well as national Chabad dignitaries and University City Mayor Shelley Welsch.

Program director Levi Landa told the assemblage that he was reminded of the Talmudic story of the old man who planted a tree for his descendants even though he would never live to eat the fruit himself.

“In 1981, when Chabad in St. Louis began operating out of a rented apartment, the opening of this building would have seemed pretty impossible,” Landa said. “Today, because of those who had the vision and dedication to plant the seeds, what was once a dream now stands before us as a very beautiful reality.”

After being introduced to the podium to the strains of a peppy klezmer tune, Nixon cracked a joke about the musical selection.

“The first lady would probably rather have that song than “The Missouri Waltz” that we’ve heard 8,478 times in the last seven and a half years,” he quipped.

The governor, who is finishing his last term, spoke fondly of his three trips to Israel and his memories of menorah lightings at the mansion. Nixon noted that he and his wife were moving to University City as they reenter private life so they expected to pass this building regularly.

He said that the organization’s mission continues to be a vital one.

“Chabad teaches the enormous importance of each and every individual and of every single good deed, how each person and each moment have an indispensible role in repairing and making this world the place it was meant to be,” he noted.

Nixon said that, while not Jewish himself, he felt his own upbringing was infused with similar values that led him into public service.

“My parents taught me through their words and deeds that we were put on this earth to serve others any way we can,” he said before presenting a proclamation declaring Sept. 25, 2016 as “Chabad Day” in Missouri.

Rabbi Yehudah Krinsky, a representative of Chabad World Headquarters in New York, paraphrased a prayer given by King Solomon at the First Holy Temple in Jerusalem and called the revamped Chabad structure a “spiritual replica” of it where learning and prayer could take place.

“Though this building we consecrate today is built of brick and mortar, it is much more than just a material building,” he said. “This building will have a neshama. It will have a soul and will be sensitive to the call and participation of every man, woman and child.”

Rabbi Yosef Landa, regional director of Chabad, lauded the contributions of the donors, some of whom were on-hand to deliver brief remarks and receive presentations. Mark and Rene Yampol were recognized with the naming of the Fay Yampol Assembly Hall. Chabad’s Staenberg Family Center for Jewish Life and Learning honored Michael Staenberg who facilitated the acquisition of the neighboring lot by flying to Chicago on his own initiative to obtain it as a surprise without mentioning his plan to Chabad leadership beforehand. 

Yosef Landa took special effort to speak of the continuing contributions of the Lazaroff family. The building remains named for Morris and Ann, both of whom provided a great deal of support to the organization in its early days in St. Louis. 

Landa called Morris a personal mentor.

“He literally became synonymous with Chabad in St. Louis,” he said.