Wearing Jewish pride on your license plate

Missouri drivers have made use of their license plates to share Jewish and Yiddish words and phrases.

By Bill Motchan, Special to the Jewish Light

There are 166,000 personalized license plates in Missouri, but there’s only one MOHEL. Fittingly, it belongs to an actual mohel, Rabbi Mike Rovinsky.

Rovinsky first had MOHEL license plates when he was based in Texas. He got Missouri MOHEL plates when he moved to St. Louis in 1993. He’s a well-known figure in the Jewish community with thousands of circumcisions under his belt. 

The handful of people who don’t recognize Rovinsky by his bearded, smiling face usually figure out his profession when they see him get out of his gray Honda. The medical bag and license plates are signs he’s handy with a pair of sharp scissors.

Another benefit of Rabbi Rovinsky’s unique license plate is that strangers often volunteer their favorite mohel jokes to him. The plates also make him more conscious of his driving.

“I have to be careful about my driving because people realize I’m Jewish and a religious person,” he said. That means cutting off another driver is a no-no. Especially on the Murdoch Cut-off. 

Like Rovinsky, another local rabbi offers insight into his profession with license plates. Congregation B’nai Amoona Senior Rabbi Carnie Rose has license plates that read REB-BA.

St. Louis Jewish Light Publisher Larry Levin’s Mazda also gives just a hint of his affiliation with the newspaper with JLIGHT plates.

“I chose mine because of my job,” he said. “I tried to do it in a way that if somebody was in the Jewish community, they’d put two and two together and figure it out.”

Missouri has offered personalized license plates since 1977 when legislation was passed to allow them. Rovinsky and other Missourians have had their personalized plates for decades. One such Missourian is Creve Coeur resident Frieda Sofian.

Her OY-VEY plates always draw a smile from people who see the exclamation on her gold Chrysler. Sofian has had the plates for nearly 20 years. She chose the phrase “just for fun.”

If you want personalized Missouri license plates with a Yiddish or Hebrew word, there are a vast number to choose from. A nifty online tool at the Missouri Department of Revenue website lets you check to see which words are already taken.

You’re in luck if you want your car to bear the word “schmaltz” or “shmutz” (and who wouldn’t—they’re fun to say). Although the six-character limit in Missouri would require chicken fat to be rendered down to SHMLTZ. Illinois residents get an extra letter or number on their plates, so you could choose SCHMLTZ or SHMALTZ in the Land of Lincoln.

A quick search revealed that in Missouri, there are plenty of words available that will make you kvell. Yes, KVELL is one of them. Here are just some of the other words that aren’t spoken for and fit well within the six-character limit:

  • GELT

On the other hand, these nine words have already been spoken for, and are currently on cars somewhere in Missouri:

  • C’HAI

L’CHAIM is also taken, but one enterprising person who wanted to share the iconic toast just chose the English version and went with TO LIFE.

Also unavailable: MITZVA and MTZVA. You may have seen both in the University City and Olivette area. MTZVA is on a sporty red Mercedes owned by dentist Craig Berkin. He’s had the car, and the license plates, for about a year.

“I always hear comments about it,” Berkin said. “A lady at the Olivette Post Office said, ‘Oh, is this car your reward for doing a mitzvah?’”

MTZVA was actually Berkin’s third choice for his plates. He wanted 613 (for the number of commandments in the Torah) or 18 (symbolizing Chai), but both were already taken.

MITZVA is on the back of a dark gray SUV commandeered by Mark Abrams’ sons, who call the car the “MITZVA-mobile.”

Abrams said he hopes his sons take a cue from it and use the car to do good deeds. That’s why he chose the plates when he got them in 2002.

“It was during a part of my life when I was becoming religious, and it was important to do mitzvahs all the time,” Abrams said. He often fulfilled that just by driving around.

“I got a lot of smiles from Jewish people who knew what it meant, and a lot of questions from non-Jews who wanted to know what it meant,” he Abrams said. “It’s kind of nice to get the comments and have people pull up to honk and give you a thumbs-up.”

Abrams’ other car has plates that read EMUNAH, because, he said, “that’s where I am in my life right now—having faith. My next three license plates are picked out already. They’re going to be ZTEDKA (charity), TFILA (prayer), and TSHUVA (repentance).”