Frieda Gila Landman, a poet and religious school counselor who taught all Melvin J. Berman Hebrew Academy students the meaning of chesed, died Oct. 9.
Family and friends also described her as a friend to all at Congregation Har Tzeon-Agudath Achim in Silver Spring, where her husband, Reuben Landman, was the rabbi for more than 36 years.
“If there was one word to describe her, it would be kindness,” said Ginger Pinchot, a friend who volunteered alongside Landman at Berman Academy. “She loved everyone.”
Landman, 70, had three sons, a daughter and 16 grandchildren. Her son Yaakov described his mother as “humble and unassuming.”
“Most importantly, she shared over 49 wonderful years of marriage with my father, her best friend,” said the son.
“She was not only my rebbetzin, she was my very, very dear friend,” said Lillian Schoem of Wheaton. “She was a wonderful, wonderful person. We can all take something from her. Going through cancer for 12 years and never complaining makes her a wonderful person.”
Schoem and Landman spoke on the phone every Friday, right before Shabbat, for many years. This practice continued after the Landmans moved to Israel two-and-a-half years ago from Silver Spring.
A child of Holocaust survivors, Landman was born in a displaced persons camp in Poland and came to America with her family when she was young, living first in Chicago and then New York.
She grew up in Brooklyn, N.Y., and attended Brooklyn College, earning undergraduate degrees in English and education, and then a master’s degree in English literature. At the same time, she attended the Teacher’s Institute of the Jewish Theological Seminary, earning a degree in Hebrew literature.
She continued her education after moving to Maryland, earning a second master’s degree, this one in counseling. She taught at the Chelsea School, a high school in Hyattsville for students with learning and behavioral disabilities.
She then became the middle school counselor at Berman Academy, the day school that the couple’s children attended. She worked there for 11 years, from 2001 to 2012.
“Gila was like Mrs. Chesed of the Hebrew Academy,” Pinchot said, adding that Landman started a chesed club. Her two biggest projects involved Save A Child’s Heart and Smart Sacks.
With Smart Sacks, Landman had the students fill backpacks with healthy food that were distributed to needy children at nearby Harmony Hills Elementary School in Silver Spring.
“It was such an eye-opener” for the students to see that there were hungry children living so close to them, Pinchot said.
Landman also worked to make sure the students learned about the Holocaust. Each year at Yom Hashoah, she transformed the school’s band room into a living memorial. Rather than bring a Holocaust survivor to speak, Landman had students interview a survivor and then tell their classmates about what they had learned, Pinchot recalled.
“She was loved there and had an impact on so many kids from our neighborhood,” said Yaakov Landman.
As soon as word of Landman’s death spread, her husband began receiving an outpouring of loving emails. “I can say definitely that because of your wife I still have an extreme love for praying,” wrote one woman who now is a soldier in the Israel Defense Forces.
“You and Mrs. Landman made a tremendous impact on my life — especially my Jewish life,” wrote a Har Tzeon member.
“Gila always showed a sweet, kind and friendly nature,” wrote another synagogue member. “I will always remember her kindness in my time of need.” Yet another member called her “truly a woman of valor in the best sense of the word.”
One of Landman’s students, who asked not to be identified, decided to write down her feelings after hearing of Landman’s death. In Landman’s office, she “felt more secure than the comfort of my own home.” She wrote, “My anxiety began and ended with middle school; however I’m confident that if it wasn’t for Mrs. Landman, I would still be suffering from it today.”
The student wrote that “finally, the panic attacks subsided. Mrs. Landman had cured me.”
Shortly before her death, Landman received word that her book of poetry, For the Sake of the Living and the Dead, dealing with her experiences during the Holocaust had been accepted for publication.
She was a finalist for the Anna Davidson Rosenberg Award for Poems on the Jewish Experience and had poems published in Explaining Life: The Wisdom of Modern Jewish Poetry, The Whirlwind Review, Poetica Magazine, Persimmon Tree and other publications.
In addition to her husband and son Yaakov, survivors include sons Ely and Moshe; daughter Chana Russ, and her grandchildren.