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Jewish Sochi

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Posted: Wednesday, February 12, 2014 1:48 pm

There may not be any Jewish athletes from St. Louis competing in the Winter Olympics in Sochi, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t some strong connections. Rabbi Chaim Landa, 23, son of Rabbi Yosef and Shiffy Landa, regional directors of Chabad of Greater St. Louis, is in Sochi helping Rabbi Ari Edelkopf, the local Chabad rabbi. Chaim Landa is one of 12 rabbinic interns charged with making sure that the spiritual and physical needs of the roughly 20,000 Jews visiting Sochi are met. 

He explains that Chabad of Sochi has acquired two temporary centers in the region, in addition to its year-round Jewish community center. 

“Throughout the week, we facilitate prayer services, as well as programs and classes ranging from the weekly Torah portion to more in-depth study,” says Chaim, who grew up in St. Louis but now lives in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn, N.Y. “On Shabbat, there are prayer services as well as traditional Shabbat meals.”

Chaim reports he is having a fantastic time. “I met with members of the Israeli delegation and had the opportunity to put on tefillin with Israeli alpine skier Virgile Vandeput,” he says. “He’s a very special person and a real mensch. I’m currently in touch with a number of other Jewish athletes and hope to meet up in the coming days.”

Chaim says that when he leaves Sochi in a few days, another rabbi will join “the team” and take his place.

“My trip has been full of surprises,” he adds. “Celebrating Shabbat with dozens of Jews from across the globe was truly unifying. Although I hadn’t previously met any of the people who attended our services or Shabbat meals, I felt like I was among family. It was amazing to be so far from home, but yet so close.”

Life support

Last week, while reporting about Ari Dougan of Olivette, who was diagnosed with cancer at age 3, I learned about an international organization called Chai Lifeline. Ari’s mother, Lori Zucker, mentioned that her daughter had attended Camp Simcha, run by this organization, and how wonderful the experience had been. Equally as wonderful, said Zucker, was that when Ari was receiving treatment recently at a hospital in New York, counselors from Camp Simcha came to visit and took her to a Broadway show, Build-A-Bear and even on a helicopter ride. “They really made it special for her,” said Zucker.

Chai Lifeline, which has been around since 1987, is a Jewish organization that helps families and children who have life-threatening and/or chronic illnesses; It runs two camps every summer; Camp Simcha, for children battling cancer and other hematological illnesses; and Camp Simcha Special, for children with debilitating chronic conditions. It also offers trips to Disney World, counseling assistance, educational services and help to make hospital stays for families much easier. 

Melanie Kwestel, communication director for Chai Lifeline, says the non-profit, private organization serves 4,300 children and their families a year worldwide, about 3,000 in the United States. All the services are free.

Kwestel also said while there is no Chai Lifeline office in St. Louis, there is one in the Chicago area that serves 12 Midwest states, including Missouri. The executive director of that office is Rabbi Shlomo Crandell. Kwestel suggested that any Jewish family in the St. Louis area whose sick child might benefit from Chai Lifeline’s services, contact Crandell at 1-847-763-1818. For more information about the organization, go to

Mea culpa

Occasionally, in the haste of getting the newspaper finished on deadline, something is missed in the editing process. That was the case last week in a commentary piece that ran in the Light, which included a statement about major news networks being owned by Jews.

Not only is the statement factually incorrect, it is similar to language that is used from time to time by hate groups in casting aspersions upon Jews. That was obviously neither the writer’s intention nor ours. In fact, the article’s focus was upon ways in which the small Jewish minority has become a target for haters.

Regardless of the intent, mistakes like the one above are not OK. At the Light, like at most newspapers, several sets of eyes edit and proofread stories, a redundancy intended to ensure that if one staffer misses a factual or typographical error, another will pick it up. Last week, all of us missed this error, and we deeply regret doing so. We apologize for the factual error, and if we might have inadvertently offended any of our readers.

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