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Aaron Landes, rabbi in Elkins Park, Navy admiral

When his children came to him with a question - a problem at school, a fight with a friend - Rabbi Aaron Landes always responded the same way.

Aaron Landes
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When his children came to him with a question - a problem at school, a fight with a friend - Rabbi Aaron Landes always responded the same way.

"Let's analyze this," he'd say.

It was an approach that the longtime senior rabbi at Elkins Park's Beth Sholom Congregation - and a chaplain in the Navy Reserve - applied to most challenges in his life.

In 1979, during a stint at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, an official asked Rabbi Landes why more Jewish students hadn't enlisted.

Let's analyze this, he said: At the time, the military school had a chapel for Christian services that seated 2,500. But its 45 Jewish midshipmen had to worship off-campus.

"He said, 'You have no Jewish chaplains and no Jewish chapel,' " his wife, Sora, said. Rabbi Landes suggested that an unused room be converted into an all-faiths chapel - and Jewish services were held there until a designated chapel was built in 2005.

"He really believed in the blessings of a rich Jewish life, and he liked to share that with people," daughter Tamar said.

Rabbi Landes, 84, of Elkins Park, died Saturday, April 19, at home after a long battle with leukemia, his family said Monday.

A native of Revere, Mass., he was the son of an Orthodox rabbi who headed a congregation there for more than 50 years. Rabbi Landes grew up near the sea and became an enthusiastic swimmer, and shared his father's love of long walks and his inclination toward the rabbinate.

He graduated summa cum laude from Yeshiva University and spent the summer after graduation as a lifeguard at Camp Massad, a Jewish sleepaway camp in the Poconos. It was there that he met his future wife, then a college sophomore and camp counselor.

"It was my third or fourth summer there, and the waterfront was never so well-run," Sora Landes said, laughing. She couldn't swim. But she liked his firm demeanor, his patience with the campers, and his red baseball cap.

They were married for 61 years, and at some point, the rabbi taught his wife to swim.

Rabbi Landes was ordained in 1955 and became a Navy chaplain shortly afterward, serving two years in active duty at the Fifth Naval District Headquarters in Norfolk, Va. (where he also pushed superiors to build a synagogue). In 1964, he became the senior rabbi at Beth Sholom. He retired in 2000.

In between, he remained in the Reserve, serving active duty two weeks out of the year around the country. But his congregation came first. When he was promoted to rear admiral, the ceremony was held at Beth Sholom: It was Passover, and Rabbi Landes didn't want to leave his shul.

He received a master's degree in Hebrew literature and a doctor of divinity degree from the Jewish Theological Seminary.

Rabbi Landes was active in Philadelphia's Jewish community, and founded the Forman Hebrew Day School - now the Perelman Jewish Day School - and served on the boards of several religious organizations.

At home, the Landeses ate dinner early or late, depending on his schedule, so the family could enjoy a meal together in the midst of weddings, funerals, and visits with congregants. In the summer, they spent a month on Long Beach Island, where Rabbi Landes led his children on long walks and bike rides for ice cream.

"He was a very unusual man, in that he was highly intelligent and highly creative in his profession. But I don't know many men who were so successful as he was in two professions," Sora Landes said. "And he was successful in his family. That's his great achievement."

Rabbi Landes' health began to decline several months ago, his family said, but he remained pragmatic even as it became difficult for him to speak and walk.

"As he aged, he wasn't the vital man he had been, but his sweetness, his goodness, and his kindness all shone through," his daughter Rebecca Kolman said.

In addition to his wife and daughters, Rabbi Landes is survived by a son, Joshua; another daughter, Rena Rank; 12 grandchildren; and a sister.

Services will be at noon Wednesday, April 23, at Beth Sholom Congregation, 8231 Old York Rd., Elkins Park, Pa. 19027. Interment will be in Roosevelt Memorial Park, Trevose.

Memorial contributions may be made to the Rabbi Aaron Landes Educational Fund at Beth Sholom.