Levi Landa was just an infant when his photo first appeared in the St. Louis Jewish Light in 1980 when his father, Rabbi Yosef Landa established Chabad in St. Louis. Levi attended Epstein Hebrew Academy and then continued his studies, including several years in France, Israel and London. He received his rabbinic ordination from the Rabbinical College of America in New Jersey in 2003 and then, like so many St. Louisans, he returned home.
Today Rabbi Levi Landa is Chabad’s director of programming. The organization has grown exponentially over the last four years. It has four locations now: Chabad of Chesterfield, Chabad on Campus, Congregation Bais Menachem and The Source Unlimited. The non-membership organization is not about creating something new and different, Rabbi Yosef Landa said.
“You come to a program and enjoy yourself, that’s success, the end of the story,” Landa said. “This is the philosophy of Chabad. There are no separations between Jews. It’s about raising Jewish awareness with an emphasis on the holidays and creating opportunities to bring people together. It’s about Jews and Jewishness coming together — it’s a natural.”
The expansion included additional programming opportunities. Rabbi Levi Landa started planning his first event, “Chanukah on Ice,” while he was still in New York. The program brought together more than 600 people.
“The response was unbelievable,” said Rivka Landa, wife of Levi. “We created the program to be entertaining and educational for any age group. We had everyone from seniors in wheelchairs to little babies.”
Rivka and Levi met in New York. She is originally from Toronto, where her father is the Chabad representative. She attended a teacher’s college with a specialty in preschool education. They have an 18-month-old daughter named Mushkie.
Over the summer Rabbi Levi worked on the programming for the entire year. The results are featured in the 15,000 copies of Chabad’s St. Louis Jewish Calendar, which were inserted in the St. Louis Jewish Light and mailed out. It is easier to do the programming when everything is laid out for the year, Rabbi Levi said.
Every month there are new programs and old favorites to look forward to, Rabbi Levi said. “Chanukah on Ice” will be back with high impact entertainment. The olive oil press will be at the Jewish Community Center and area religious schools, day schools and Hebrew schools. This year participants will be making their own dreidels and menorah wicks. Super Bowl Shabbat features Jewish former football player Alan Veingrad. Angels & Gefilte Fish will be a community-wide interactive traditional Friday night dinner with Kabbalistic insights.
The community has already provided a great response to the increase in programming. Rivka Landa started “Mommy and Me,” a program for moms and their one to two-and-one-half-year-old children. The program already has a waiting list, so she is thinking of adding another day.
It is a great joy for Rabbi Yosef to have his son back in town. Both father and son are very happy to be living in the same community and working together.
“It’s a personal success story,” Rabbi Yosef said. “Levi was taught and he observed. It wasn’t just about watching his parents do their job. He wanted to come back to St. Louis and do the same job.”
“I am looking forward to meeting with the St. Louis Jewish community,” Rabbi Levi said. “It is a wonderful opportunity to teach and learn. You never know who is the one doing the teaching and learning. It is special to be a part of that.”