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A nonprofit, independent news source to inform, inspire, educate and connect the St. Louis Jewish community.

St. Louis Jewish Light

A nonprofit, independent news source to inform, inspire, educate and connect the St. Louis Jewish community.

St. Louis Jewish Light

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New Missouri mikvah turns tragedy into hope and a lasting legacy


COLUMBIA, MO. — A mikvah is a holy bath resembling a small swimming pool used to fulfill the Jewish law and mitzvah of family purity. However, the construction of the first mikvah in mid-Missouri is about more than just Jewish law. It represents hope, community and the lasting memory of Rabbi Avraham Lapine’s late mother. 

Lapine and his wife, Channy, lead the Chabad Jewish Center of MU and Mid-Missouri, located here by the University of Missouri campus. On Sunday, July 30, ground was broken for what will be the only mikvah within 100 miles. 

“We knew that Columbia needed a mikvah,” Rabbi Lapine said. “The closest mikvah is two hours away in St. Louis or Kansas City, and it is a bit of a journey for a woman who wants to fulfill this great mitzvah. For someone who has never done it before, it makes it even more challenging.” 

Lapine said that about 200 Jewish families live in the Columbia/Jefferson City area and that about 750 Jewish students attend Mizzou. While those numbers are not large, several of those in attendance Sunday said this small but mighty community continues to grow and is backed by the support of MU Chabad. 

The idea to build a mikvah in Columbia came from a discussion between Lapine and his three siblings a couple of years ago on their mother’s yahrtzeit, the anniversary of her passing.

“Every year, we reflect on her life and her commitment to Judaism,” Lapine said. “A couple of years ago, we were talking  and my brother said, ‘I think you should build a mikvah in memory of our mother,’ and I said, ‘OK, let’s do it.’ ” 

For the Lapine family, remembering their mother comes with painful memories. In 1992, when Avraham was only 5 years old, his mother, Pesya Leah Lapine, was brutally stabbed to death in their Crown Heights, N.Y. home. She was bringing home groceries. In seconds, their lives changed forever.

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The Crown Heights community rallied around the family after this unthinkable and senseless tragedy (an unemployed handyman was convicted of the murder). The community and people far beyond rallied around them once again in 2022 on her 30th yahrtzeit, when Lapine launched a campaign to raise money for the mikvah in her honor. The campaign has raised more than $400,000.

“This project came about with the help of so many people,” Channy Lapine said. “Over 2,000 donors made this happen. Our family, friends and so many people were behind this project worldwide. I want to emphasize how humbled we are and how thankful we are to everyone who participated.”

The journey of bringing this mikvah to life has also helped Rabbi Lapine feel more connected to his mother. Many people reached out with stories about her loving, caring personality and were happy to donate to this project in her honor. 

“It’s very humbling, you know, it’s a very personal private story,” he said. “But in the end, this is something I am very happy that I did, due to the result and also the outpouring of love and support. A lot of people sent me stories I had never heard before, and it made me feel connected in ways I never knew. It gave me more insight into her personality and her life.” 

At the groundbreaking, it was said multiple times that Pesya Leah “gave her life to Judaism.” She and her husband, Chaim Dovid Lapine, moved to Crown Heights from Texas to build their Jewish home and life together in an observant, religious community. Her passion for Judaism, Torah and mitzvos are why her children decided that a mikvah would be the best way to honor her memory. 

“We have a synagogue, we have a Torah, once in a while some Kosher food, but until you have a mikvah, it’s not a complete Jewish community,” Lapine said. “It’s a potential Jewish community, it’s an exciting community that has Jewish activity, but a mikvah really makes it complete.”

The mikvah will be added as an expansion to the front of the current Chabad house west of the Mizzou campus in Columbia. It will have a separate entrance and include an entry room, bathroom, prep room and the natural mikvah room. Women will make an appointment with Channy Lapine to enter the space.

Building a mikvah is a massive undertaking, and it took a while to get started. It was difficult to find an architect in mid-Missouri willing to take on the unfamiliar process. 

“I would call them, and we would meet, and I’d tell them about the project, and they’d never get back to me,” Lapine said. “After calling about five, I found one architect who called me back and said he wanted to take on the project.”

Construction is expected to begin in the next two weeks with the hope that by late spring women will be able to utilize Columbia’s first mikvah. 

Rabbi Hershey and Chana Novack of Chabad at Washington University were some of the first supporters of the project. The same day his family came up with the idea, Lapine drove to pray in the closest minyan, two hours away at the WU Chabad house. 

When Lapine told the Novacks about the idea, they wrote a check and said, “We want to be the first contributors to your mikvah.” Their support has not wavered. 

“Rabbi Lapine, with strength and resilience, has helped build a community built on the foundation of Torah and mitzvos and building the bonds of Yiddishkeit,” Rabbi Novack said at the groundbreaking ceremony. “Having the Lapine family here is a blessing.”

Baila Sitrin grew up in Columbia and recently moved back. She spoke at the groundbreaking about how the mikvah will serve women like herself, present and future. 

“This is a huge milestone for the growing Jewish community here,” Sitrin said. “Ever since I got married, mikvah has been my favorite mitzvah. When my husband and I first got married, we lived in Brooklyn (N.Y.), and the closest mikvah was five blocks away. Now, it is a two-hour drive, whether it is in rain, shine or a snowstorm, so I am so excited to finally have a mikvah here.” 

Sitrin is one of few women in Columbia who would utilize the mikvah. However, Lapine envisions it also serving the Jewish community in greater ways, including as a learning opportunity for Mizzou students. 

“It’s going to bring awareness of this mitzvah to the hundreds of Jewish college students that will come through our doors,” he said.

While the mikvah is meant to complete the Columbia Jewish community, it will also serve an unexpected group: travelers. Those in town for work or on a cross-country road trip can utilize the mikvah while passing through. 

“A few times a year, people are actually driving across I-70 and call to ask if we have mikvah, so it can also be for travelers, which is something I never originally envisioned,” Lapine said. “Just last week someone called to ask, and I said, ‘No, but we’re building one right now!’ ”

If you would like to contribute to this project, information can be found at jewishtigers.com/CoMoMikvah

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