The day an impromptu Bar Mitzvah broke out in Jefferson City

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Tzemach Feller, Chabad.org

(Chabad.org) — Missouri Representative Michael Davis didn’t even have time to put his jacket back on.

He had left the Missouri House floor to meet with a Chabad-Lubavitch delegation representing communities from across the state. On the legislative agenda on this April 12th: honoring the Rebbe—Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory—by proclaiming the day—the 120th anniversary of his birth—to be Education and Sharing Day in Missouri.

Outside the House chambers, Davis—one of two Jewish members of Missouri’s House of Representatives—got to talking with Rabbi Yitzchok Itkin, who together with his wife Chanale, directs Chabad on the Plaza in Davis’s hometown of Kansas City, Missouri. A few minutes of conversation later, Itkin discovered that Davis—whose mother fled antisemitism in Soviet Russia in 1989 — had never put on tefillin. So out came a pair of tefillin, off came Davis’s suit coat (as tefillin are worn directly on the arm) and an impromptu Bar Mitzvah broke out.

Seconds after Itkin had removed the tefillin from Davis’s arm, the bell rang, signaling legislators that a vote was underway on the House floor—something Davis did not want to miss, as it must be done on the spot and in person. Davis scrambled to get to his desk in time to vote, not even pausing to put his jacket back on. “If the bell had rung ten seconds earlier, he would have had to run onto the House floor still wearing tefillin,” said Itkin. “It made the three-and-a-half-hour drive each way to Jefferson City all the more worth it.”

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State Sen. Brian Williams receives a copy of “The New York Times” bestseller “Rebbe: The Life and Teachings of Menachem M. Schneerson, the Most Influential Rabbi in Modern History.”
State Sen. Brian Williams receives a copy of “The New York Times” bestseller “Rebbe: The Life and Teachings of Menachem M. Schneerson, the Most Influential Rabbi in Modern History.”

Charity Takes the Floor

While tefillin didn’t make it onto the House floor, another one of the Rebbe’s Mitzvah Campaigns did: giving tzedakah or charity.

As they gathered to honor the Rebbe’s legacy, each senator and representative, as well as Missouri Gov. Mike Parson received an “ARK”—a yellow charity box shaped like Noah’s ark. ARK, which stands for Acts of Routine Kindness, is based on the teachings of the Rebbe, that centering kindness in our lives can change the world for the better.

The Rebbe taught that having a dedicated charity box to place money every day provides a visual reminder of the importance of giving, and giving every day has proven to generate a greater sense of compassion.

Education and Sharing Day in Missouri

Gov. Parson presented the delegation, which was led by Rabbi Yosef and Shiffy Landa—who founded Chabad in the Greater St. Louis area in 1981— with a proclamation declaring “Education and Sharing Day” in Missouri. “The Rebbe taught that education ought not be limited to the acquisition of knowledge and the preparation for a career, but also for the improvement of society at-large,” the proclamation read in part. “The character of our young people is strengthened by serving a cause greater than themselves,” it continued.

The delegation also included Rabbi Avraham Lapine of Columbia, Rabbi Chaim Landa of St. Charles County, and Jefferson City attorney Harvey Tettlebaum.

Presenting a Senate Resolution was Sen. Brian Williams, the assistant minority floor leader. Williams first met with Chabad of Greater St. Louis’ regional director Rabbi Yosef Landa, who presented him with a signed copy of the New York Times bestseller Rebbe: The Life and Teachings of Menachem M. Schneerson, the Most Influential Rabbi in Modern History.

Williams spoke effusively about the Rebbe, whom he said has inspired him to continue to advance the causes of ethical education and sharing with others.

The Senate Resolution which Williams presented highlighted the positive change that the Rebbe’s teachings have brought to the world, and the crucial work the Rebbe’s shluchim are doing in Ukraine during the present war. “Chabads have been distributing food and medications, turning synagogue basements into shelters, offering humanitarian aid to refugees evacuating people to safety, and helping more than thirty-five thousand people escape from battle-scarred communities,” the resolution read.

Underscoring the message, the delegation also distributed handmade shmurah matzah made in Ukraine, including to the Senate’s only Jewish member, Sen. Jill Schupp, for use at her family’s seder later in the week.

Presenting the Resolution from the House was Rep. Adam Schwadron. The host for the day’s festivities at the capitol, Schwadron represents district 106 in St. Charles County and maintains a close relationship with the Chabad in the area, which has been at the forefront of a Jewish renaissance in the county. He has also been seen reciting the traditional Hebrew blessings at the annual public menorah lighting on Historic Main Street in downtown St. Charles and was the sponsor of the Holocaust bill on the House side.

A Global Celebration

The proceedings in Jefferson City were mirrored in dozens of other states and in scores of cities as local elected officials joined President Joe Biden in proclaiming the 120th anniversary of the Rebbe’s birth to be “Education and Sharing Day.” Education Day has been proclaimed by every U.S. president since Jimmy Carter, but this year, as the Rebbe’s 120th birthday was celebrated, the festivities were particularly joyous and widespread.

Communities around the world honored the Rebbe’s lifetime of leadership and renewed their commitment to his vision, as 1,210 new institutions were opened in honor of the day, events celebrating the day were livestreamed on Chabad.org, and a conference in Washington, D.C. to celebrate the Rebbe’s “living legacy” was attended by members of Congress from both sides of the aisle.

(From left) Rabbi Chaim Landa of St. Charles County; Rabbi Yitzchok Itkin of Kansas City; Rabbi Avraham Lapine of Columbia; Missouri Gov. Mike Parson; Rabbi Yosef Landa and Mrs. Shiffy Landa of St. Louis County; and Harvey Tettlebaum, of Jefferson City. (Credit: Julie Smith for Chabad of Greater St. Louis)
(From left) Rabbi Chaim Landa of St. Charles County; Rabbi Yitzchok Itkin of Kansas City; Rabbi Avraham Lapine of Columbia; Missouri Gov. Mike Parson; Rabbi Yosef Landa and Mrs. Shiffy Landa of St. Louis County; and Harvey Tettlebaum, of Jefferson City. (Credit: Julie Smith for Chabad of Greater St. Louis)

Reflecting on the Rebbe’s Teachings

Earlier in the day, when Gov. Parson met with the delegation, he wasted no time in placing the first dollar into his own ARK. Taking the Rebbe’s message of the importance of moral education and charitable giving to heart, the Governor discussed having a conversation about daily giving with his grandchildren.

As their schedules allowed, senators and representatives took a few minutes for a special lunch — which would continue the day’s festivities. Laid out in an alcove outside the House Chamber was an elaborate spread of kosher deli favorites prepared by Kohn’s, St. Louis’s only kosher deli. Lenny Kohn, the deli’s 64-year-old owner, was up with his team from the wee hours of the morning ensuring the legislators would enjoy a truly genuine kosher deli experience, with all the frills — despite it being just days before the start of the Passover holiday.

Platters of glatt kosher pastrami-on-rye and other popular deli sandwiches were laid out alongside potato salad, cole slaw, and of course, half-sour pickles. There were brownies, bags of potato chips, and even cans of Dr. Brown’s cream soda trucked in from New York City.

As they enjoyed the delicious spread, Missouri’s lawmakers reflected on the Rebbe’s teachings on the crucial importance of education — “the cornerstone of humanity” — and its importance in creating a peaceful world.

“It was beautiful to see how eager our state’s public officials are to embrace the Rebbe’s teachings and to recognize their critical importance in creating a healthy society,” Rabbi Yosef Landa said. “And they definitely enjoyed the kosher deli as well!”