St. Charles County represents nearly 10 percent of all Jews living in the St. Louis region, but it has no full-time rabbi. That is about to change. On the first night of Hannukah, the Chabad of Greater St. Louis announced a new fifth chapter serving St. Charles County. The announcement came fittingly at a menorah lighting on Old Main Street in downtown St. Charles before a crowd of several hundred people.
The Chabad Jewish Center of St. Charles County will host a crowdfunding campaign in mid-January to help get the organization started. The center will be co-directed by the husband and wife team of Rabbi Chaim Landa and Bassy Landa. Chaim is the son of Rabbi Yosef Landa, regional director of Chabad of Greater St. Louis.
For Chaim Landa, the move will be a homecoming. He grew up in St. Louis, then studied in Yeshivot in Toronto, Los Angeles, New York and Israel. In 2012 he received his rabbinic ordination. Most recently, he was the associate director of media relations at Chabad-Lubavitch Headquarters in New York. Bassy Landa has experience in education and community engagement.
The menorah lighting was performed by Rabbi Yosef Landa, regional director of Chabad of Greater St. Louis, who was assisted by St. Charles’ Mayor Dan Borgmeyer. During the ceremony, Borgmeyer welcomed the new Chabad Jewish Center to St. Charles.
“The Jewish community is growing and is healthy in St. Charles,” Borgmeyer said. “We’re very pleased to have your numbers, we’re very pleased to have your faith and we look forward to the Jewish community building and growing in St. Charles County.”
St. Charles County Executive Steve Ehlmann also spoke at the ceremony, and presented a proclamation which read, in part: “Whereas, for the first time a public Menorah will be lit on Main Street in the city of St. Charles as a part of the worldwide Chanukah campaign, an initiative launched by the Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory, in 1973.”
A 2014 community study by the Jewish Federation of St. Louis found an estimated 5,800 Jews living in St. Charles County. The study also showed 41 percent of Jewish households in St. Charles have at least one child living at home. Those numbers have likely increased, according to Alex Reichert, chairman of the St. Charles Human Relations Commission. Reichert sees the Chabad’s announcement as a positive step in his efforts to demonstrate the diversity of St. Charles.
“It fits in perfectly with our goals,” Reichert said. “The big need we identified last year was education. We know the general mindset is ‘In St. Charles, we’re all alike, we’re all conservative Christians,’ but we know from our research that the reality is far from that.”
St. Charles has been in a growth cycle for the past decade. U.S. Census statistics show St. Charles County had a 10.7 percentincrease in population between 2010 and 2018. Mayor Borgmeyer said the Chabad announcement was good for the city, because “It is a specific agenda item for me for St. Charles to be a more diverse community.”
The Chabad Jewish Center of St. Charles County joins Lazaroff Chabad Center in University City, Chabad on Campus, Chabad of Chesterfield, and Chabad of the Central West End.Over the past decade, the Chabad’s “Roving Rabbis” have visited St. Charles to deliver programs and hunt for mitzvahs. Earlier in 2019, Chaim and Bassy Landa hosted the St. Charles Jewish Festival at Veterans Tribute Park in Weldon Springs. That event drew dozens of Jewish residents of St. Charles. It demonstrated a need for Jewish resources and events west of the Missouri River.
The Dec. 22 menorah lighting on Main Street was a first for St. Charles. It included Jewish holiday music, jelly doughnuts and latkes, a gelt drop and an appearance by “Dreidel Man.”
For more information about Chabad in St. Charles, visit jewishstcharles.org.