A gala evening honoring the recipients of the 2009 Morris and Ann Lazaroff Lamplighter Award drew a cross-section of S. Louis, Mo.’s diverse Jewish community to the downtown riverfront district this week. The Lamplighter Award, introduced in 2003 by Rabbi Yosef and Shiffy Landa, directors of Chabad-Lubavitch in the Greater S. Louis region, honors couples for their outstanding contributions to Jewish life and learning, and those “who put their personal affairs aside to light up the lives of others.” This year, Washington University in S. Louis Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton and his wife Risa Zwerling, and Milton and Galia Movitz received the award.

Wrighton, an academic and chemist who has led Washington University since 1995, was recognized for his efforts at making the university more inclusive, according to Rabbi Hershey Novack, director of the Chabad on Campus-Rohr Center for Jewish Life. The result, added the rabbi – whose organization co-sponsored the Lamplighter dinner – has been a private university that embraces its Jewish community with open arms.

Sharing the evening’s limelight as Lamplighter award recipients were Milton and Galia Movitz, each of whom, said Landa, have contributed extensively to Jewish communal leadership in S. Louis, and were recognized for their generosity and dedication. Among the many community institutions they have helped lead are the Jewish Federation of S. Louis, the Central Agency for Jewish Education and the S. Louis Jewish Light, the weekly communal newspaper.

“Milton and Galia Movitz are among the shining stars of this community,” said Landa. “They set a wonderful example for Jewish lay leadership, giving liberally of their time, energy, wisdom and resources.

An Open Door

Novack spoke of the chancellor’s selection for the award.

“It’s a very special time for us on campus,” explained Novack, who has directed the Chabad House with his wife Chana Rochel Novack since 2002, “and it has a lot to do with having a great chancellor. He and his wife are both very much involved with students, and he is wholeheartedly committed to religious diversity on campus and to facilitating programming for all religious groups.”

Wrighton characterized the Chabad House – which hosts Shabbat dinners, coordinates Torah classes, organizes trips to Israel and is home to a host of other activities – as bringing “a new dimension to Washington University.”

“We’re fortunate to have the Novacks on our campus, deeply engaged in campus life on all levels,” Wrighton told the dinner’s attendees. “They are tremendous contributors to our community, making a difference in the lives of many [students], not just those of the Jewish faith.”

In her remarks, Zwerling pointed to the crowd at the Westin Hotel – a mix of congregants from area synagogues, as well as leaders and members of Jewish civic, educational, business and social/humanitarian organizations – as evidence of Chabad centers’ welcoming approach. “Chabad on Campus is a very special place,” said Zwerling, who serves as honorary chair of the organization’s new building campaign. The Novacks “make it a wholesome, loving place.”

In their acceptance remarks, Milton and Galia Movitz spoke of their admiration for the work of Chabad.

“Jews all over the world are made to feel welcome by Chabad, as we have felt firsthand,” said Milton Movitz.

“Milton and I share the same passion and priority toward Jewish education and Jewish life which are the hallmark of Chabad,” added Galia Movitz.

As her husband Milton looks on, Galia Movitz speaks about the importance of a strong Jewish community.
As her husband Milton looks on, Galia Movitz speaks about the importance of a strong Jewish community.

Rabbi Levi Landa, Chabad of Greater S. Louis’ director of programming, emceed the evening, which opened with a video presentation highlighting various community activities sponsored by the city’s Chabad institutions. Attendees feasted on a gourmet dinner of classically Midwestern rib-eye steak and exotic vegetarian fare. Following remarks by the evening’s honorees and Yosef Landa, who established Chabad in S. Louis in 1981, a musical component featured a performance by eight-year-old piano prodigy Ethan Bortnick.

Dr. George and Darla Grossberg, and Dr. Isaac and Isabel Boniuk, all longtime supporters of Chabad in S. Louis, chaired the event’s organizing committee. For his part, Grossberg spoke of Chabad’s indiscriminate love for all Jews.

“There are a lot of organizations that say they respect everyone no matter what their background,” he posited. “But do they really? Chabad actually does that.”

“This entire evening was just remarkable,” enthused Landa. “From the honorees to the entertainment, and particularly the diversity of participants, The entire event epitomized what the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory, always taught about the essential unity of the Jewish people. It demonstrated how every kind of Jew feels at home with Chabad.”

According to Landa, this year marked the award’s official renaming in honor of the Lazaroffs, a recently-passed couple who dedicated themselves to strengthening the Jewish community in S. Louis. The family, which traces its lineage back to Lubavitch Chasidim in Europe, includes several relatives who have supported new institutions in Detroit and Los Angeles.

“This was a couple who not only gave financially to Chabad, but recruited many people to become involved in our programming, and acted as ambassadors on our behalf when we were new here,” said Landa. “They believed strongly in the importance of Jewish education and Jewish unity.”

Novack took a moment to thank the evening’s participants.

“Your investment of philanthropic resources – even, and especially, in times like these – provides a crucial lifeline to our young at this decisive point in their lives,” he said. “On behalf of the thousands of positive Jewish interactions we have each year, on behalf of the young people engaged and energized, thank you.”