St. Charles County boasts a population of nearly 6,000 Jews but a local rabbi says those individuals and families often are not known, even to each other. The county does not have a synagogue, but now it has a dynamic center for Jewish celebration, fellowship and education – and will soon host a new music and cultural event: the St. Charles Jewish Festival.
In 2019, Rabbi Chaim Landa and his wife, Bassy, co-founded the Chabad Jewish Center of St. Charles County, with the goal of building community and providing a series of programs to engage the Jewish population in the county.
“(Bassy and I) don’t look at this as a job or career, but instead as a higher calling, which is inspired by the Rebbe’s vision and message of love and positivity.”
The Rebbe – Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory – is considered the most influential rabbi in modern history. In addition to being the inspiration behind the Landas’ work in St. Charles County, some 5,000 couples, like the Landas, continue his work in all 50 states and more than 100 countries around the world.
The Chabad Jewish Center offers an abundance of programs to satisfy the community’s needs, such as Mommy and Me, family Shabbat dinners, Jewish parenting workshops, and a variety of family holiday celebrations. Other community programs offered include hands-on Jewish craft workshops, mitzvah campaigns, a Jewish music festival, Shabbat care packages, adult education classes, Jewish movie night, and senior programming. With the center’s outreach growing, Landa said he is excited about providing opportunities for connection to and understanding of Jewish culture and traditions.
“In 2019, we hosted Chanukah on Main Street in St. Charles City and reached out to the mayor and county executive hoping that, with the word out, a couple dozen people would come together; we were shocked, in a good way, when more than 300 people showed up. In addition, we held Rosh Hashanah in the Park this past fall. Due to the pandemic, we didn’t know what the outcome would be, and over 120 people RSVP’d and showed up,” Landa said. “With things like that you’re just blown away by how thirsty and excited people are that there is a growing Jewish community. As a startup organization, the response we’ve received exceeded all expectations, which is very gratifying.”
The Landas also founded the St. Charles Jewish Family Network, which has a strong focus on family-oriented activities. Bassy serves as its primary director and works with young families throughout the county. Landa said creating an organization that has a larger focus on family has been important in involving more Jews with their peers in the community.
“With 41% of Jewish households in the county having at least one child at home, we decided to launch this program that focused on Jewish family life with an emphasis on families with young children,” Landa said. “Additionally, St. Charles County has taken the lead by being welcoming and supportive in these efforts to bring the Jewish community together, and help create awareness and education for people to learn and celebrate the county’s diversity.”
One of the ways that residents can celebrate and learn more about the Jewish community is by attending the St. Charles Jewish Festival on Aug. 15.
The free festival will host a variety of Jewish music, including North America’s only Jewish Chasidic folk band, the Rogers Park Band; St. Louis’ Klezmer band; Will Soll and the Youngers of Zion; and Chicago’s Ruby Harris. Kosher food will be for sale, including deli sandwiches and potato knishes. In addition, an abundance of Jewish activities will be present for both kids and adults alike to enjoy.
“The goal is to bring the county together for a joyful and fun-filled Jewish experience,” Bassy said in a press release. “What better way to come together as a community. This festival is open to all, and there will be something to enjoy for everyone; there is no charge to attend.”
The festival will run from noon-3:30 p.m. at the Foundry Art Centre, 520 N. Main Center in Historic Saint Charles, with the only fees being for food.
Landa said that, with events such as the St. Charles Jewish Festival, he hopes to create more opportunities to come together and celebrate Jewish pride. While the Landas plan to establish a full-fledged synagogue in the county, and while they do host services from time to time, the top priority at the moment is to address the community’s more urgent needs as the Chabad Jewish Center is still young and growing.
The festival will highlight a message of optimism and positivity, as taught by the Rebbe, Bassy said.
“The Rebbe taught us to live positively and to recognize opportunities for growth in every situation,” said Bassy. “We’re excited to share this message as our community continues to grow and blossom.”
Visit JewishStCharles.org/Festival or email email@example.com to learn more about the St. Charles Jewish Festival.