Gila Landman remembered for positive attitude, self-discipline

Rabbi Reuben Landman addresses the congregation at the memorial service for his wife, Gila. Photo by David Holzel
Rabbi Reuben Landman addresses the congregation at the memorial service for his wife, Gila.
Photo by David Holzel

The late Gila Landman was remembered as a perpetual student, a teacher, a poet, a rebbetzin, a grandmother and a mother at a memorial service held on Sunday at Congregation Har Tzeon-Agudath Achim in Silver Spring.

Landman, the congregation’s rebbetzin for more than three decades, died of cancer in October at age 70. Congregants, family, friends and students from the Melvin J. Berman Hebrew Academy and Chelsea School, where she was a counselor before she and her husband, Rabbi Reuben Landman, made aliyah, filled the sanctuary.

Daughter Chana Russ said the trait she most often associates with Landman “was her positivity.” Landman exemplified the verse from Psalm 30 in which King David tells God: “You have transformed my mourning into dancing.”

“She rarely lost her cool,” Russ said. “I can remember her dropping eggs, then salvaging what she could and sending me next door to borrow some more.” After, Landman would conclude, “Oh, what wonderful neighbors we have.”

Son Ely Landman lauded her self-discipline. “She understood that it took work to integrate simcha (joy) into life,” he said. “Despite cancer, she insisted on fulfilling her and my father’s dream to make aliyah.”

Her mind was like a file cabinet, he said. “She could retrieve facts about people to use to help them” find a job, a place to live or a mate.

At the same time, she could be comically forgetful, to which she responded with characteristic laughter. Once, she lost her glasses. After a long search, she found them in the refrigerator.

“One time she lost her phone,” said Rabbi Landman. “And it turned up in the school freezer.”

He held up two sheets of paper, black with print. “This is the list of those who she prayed for daily.”

He recalled that a few people responded to his wife’s death by saying, “Well, you’re a rabbi. You’re used to this sort of thing.”

Such remarks were not comforting — and not true. A few weeks after Gila Landman died, her husband read the biblical story of the death of Abraham’s wife Sarah. “I felt Avraham’s grief for the first time,” he said.

The patriarch first prepares a public funeral for his wife, and then in private he cries. “Gila and I were in high school together,” Rabbi Landman said. “I sat behind her. We even shared the same background. We were children of Holocaust survivors.

“She fought so hard to live,” he continued. “Couldn’t we have had a little more time?”

He read a poem from a member of Gila Landman’s study group, recalling her work as a poet:

“Only a poem will do, Gila
For you were a poem …
Now you’ve become the empty space,
The missed vibrancy.”

After the funeral and the grieving, Avraham does one more thing, Rabbi Landman said. “He rose. This memorial service begins the finding of strength and faith to pick ourselves up and move on.”

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