The death of Rabbi Aaron Landes marks the end of an era, the passing of one of the region’s most prominent spiritual leaders whose legacy continues to reverberate well beyond the congregation he served for more than 36 years.
From his pulpit at one of the world’s most iconic synagogues, the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Beth Sholom Congregation, Rabbi Landes presided over a time of great growth at his shul and in the Philadelphia Conservative movement.
But his influence extended well beyond that. In a strong but unassuming way, Landes played a major role in cultivating Jewish life at home, in Israel and even in the U.S. Navy.
As a rear admiral and director of the Chaplain Corps of the U.S. Naval Reserve — only the second Jewish chaplain to attain that rank — he used his influence to help create a Jewish chaplaincy at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., where he also was responsible for the establishment of a Jewish chapel.
The Exponent files are filled with articles citing the rabbi’s achievements and recognition — by Israel Bonds, which he served as chair of its Rabbinic Cabinet, by the Jewish Theological Seminary, where he received an honorary doctorate of divinity degree, and by many other institutions, including the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, where he served on its board of trustees.
Above all, Rabbi Landes was an educator, a teacher and a scholar. He cultivated a rigorous education program for Beth Sholom students and played an important role in establishing the Forman Center of the Perelman Jewish Day School, where his wife, Sora, served as head of school for many years. He also raised funds to help many of his own congregants and others pay for the day school tuition.
Long after their retirements, the Landeses continued to play the role of Jewish statesmen. They continued as active members of the community and were often seen at communal fundraising and educational events.
The congregation Rabbi Landes once led and the Old York Road Jewish community he helped to develop are no longer thriving the way they once were. Demographic trends have not been kind to large, stately Jewish institutions like Beth Sholom, where economic and sociological factors have taken their toll on membership.
But for the generations of students who passed through that “spaceship” and for the colleagues and congregants who were privileged to know him, Rabbi Landes’ legacy will endure. May his memory be a blessing.