Rockland County, NY – It was a Facebook post in a local Monsey group that set in motion a chain of events that ended with a Jewish war veteran receiving a proper burial in accordance with Orthodox Jewish law.
Max Landsman, a World War II veteran, died at Weinberg Village in Tampa on Sunday at the age of 96.
A former Monsey resident and a father of six who had 16 grandchildren and great grandchildren, Landsman was due to be buried today next to his wife Ida at the Frederick W. Loescher Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Spring Valley.
His daughter, Gloria Levine, who lives in Florida and was unable to attend the funeral for health reasons, was concerned that there would not be a minyan at the cemetery and posted a request on Facebook asking for help assembling the requisite ten people. Levine’s posted was shared last night by a cousin in Brooklyn to the Monsey Area Neighborhood Facebook group where word of the funeral began to spread.
After hearing of the planned levaya, Wesley Hills resident Rabbi Jonathan Gewirtz began working the phones trying to arrange both minyan and a full Jewish burial in an Orthodox Jewish cemetery.
“I knew it was a non-Jewish cemetery,” Rabbi Gewirtz told VIN News. “I spoke to Chesed Shel Emes, the Hebrew Free Burial Society, the heads of the chevra kadisha of both Rockland and Monsey/New Square. Things were difficult because Mr. Landsman’s daughter was having medical treatments last night when all this was going on and I went back and forth with the cousin in Brooklyn. As of this morning we were told that nothing was going to change about the burial location, to please just try and get a minyan.”
Details about the Landsman levaya were sent out to Monsey shuls through email and social media, asking anyone in the area at the designated time to please attend the funeral. Approximately 30 men from Monsey’s diverse Jewish community came to pay their respects to Landsman, who also received a full military funeral.
“You had to see what this looked like,” said Rabbi Gewirtz. “This is a small cemetery, but there was a line of cars around the entire perimeter. People came on their lunch hour. There were men in suits, bekeshes and jeans, young and old. People who just cared kept on coming.”
Rockland County Legislator, Aron Wieder was one of those who turned out for the levaya.
“I got the message maybe five or ten minutes before the funeral,” said Wieder. “Someone who came at the same time as me saw that there was a minyan and he left. I had a similar urge but I saw that he was a veteran and my in laws are Holocaust survivors. I said to myself I have to stay there to be a part of this beautiful mitvah. It pulled me in and the half hour or forty five minutes I spent there, I wouldn’t have wanted to be anywhere else.”
Rabbi Daniel Pernack of the Beth Am Temple in Pearl River was the only scheduled speaker for the funeral but the family also gave Rabbi Gewirtz permission to deliver a eulogy.
“I spoke about how the parsha discusses that soldiers get a tenfold share of the spoils of war because Hashem appreciates those who serve and how Mr. Landsman was a man of service,” said Rabbi Gewirtz.
Cemetery workers reluctantly agreed to allow two members of Monsey’s Jewish community to lower the niftar into the ground. Both family members and those who came from Monsey covered the aron with dirt as required by halacha.
“Mr. Landsman’s daughter was watching the funeral on FaceTime and at one point I stopped with a shovel full of dirt and said to her, ‘Gloria, this is Jonathan. I am putting this one on for you,’” said Rabbi Gewirtz. “She said ‘Thank you’ and she clearly saw everything that was going on here.”
Rabbi Gewirtz spoke to Rabbi Ephraim Pessin to confirm that the burial had proceeded according to Orthodox Jewish tradition.
“If he had a proper tahara, which he did, and he was buried in a pine box, which he was, and if he was lowered into the ground by people who are Shomer Shabbos, which he was and if he was covered with dirt by Jews, then it is a proper kever yisroel,” said Rabbi Gewirtz.
Landsman’s granddaughters, Kim Valdez and Lauren Sherman, were both visibly touched by the Monsey community’s response to the request for a minyan.
“I have no words,” said Valdez. “I was completely blown away. It was so heartwarming.”
“My heart was so full when I saw what was happening,” said Sherman. “We were so touched by everyone’s generosity and the outpouring of time. It was such a mitzvah to do this and we recognize that. We were overwhelmed and amazed that a community came together like that for a total stranger.”
Both cousins agreed that their grandfather would have been touched by today’s events.
“My zayda would have been so humbled,” said Valdez. “He would have been just nodding his head and smiling to see what happened here today.”