Gladys Kerstein Gewirtz, 1927–2019
Dear AKSE congregants and friends of AKSE:
It is with sadness and regret that we inform you of the passing of Gladys Kerstein Gewirtz.
Gladys passed away on April 14, 2019, at home in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Ramot Aleph, in the company of her son Yossi and daughter-in-law, Debbie, and her loving live-in health aide, Mia. The funeral was held on April 15th, in Israel. Gladys is buried next to her late husband, Rabbi Leonard B. Gewirtz, of blessed memory.
May HaShem comfort the Gewirtz family among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.
Condolences and contributions may be sent to the AKSE office, and cards will be forwarded to the family (cards and/or donations by mail: P.O. Box 7305, Wilmington, DE 19803-7305; donations online: http://akse.org/donation/).
NEW: Please see the full-length biography / tribute / essay written by Isaac Gewirtz, published as a separate post here.
Tribute from an admiring student and congregant
by Kevin Gross
Gladys Gewirtz, of blessed memory, was a quiet and reserved person of extraordinary range, achievement, and purpose. When her name is mentioned, the immediate thought is “Rabbi Leonard B. Gewirtz’s wife.” Mrs. Gewirtz was a devoted wife of 55 years, a true Eishet Chayil (Woman of Valor). The words of the poem fit her well: “Her worth is far beyond rubies. Her husband puts his confidence in her and lacks no good thing. She is good to him, never bad, all the days of her life.” Nothing could be truer of Mrs. Gewirtz. Rabbi Gewirtz trusted her and depended on her fully, and the two were an invincible team. It could not have been easy or painless to be a Rabbi’s wife in a relatively small town. But their combined 100-plus years of service to Adas Kodesch Shel Emeth are a testament to their—and her—success.
Mrs. Gewirtz was, however, far more than just “the Rabbi’s wife.” She taught for many years at the AKSE Hebrew School, Gratz Hebrew High School, and the University of Delaware, and was an accomplished singer and Israeli dancer. From 1971 to 1993, Mrs. Gewirtz designed and implemented the curriculum of the Hebrew School, which in those days often boasted an enrollment of nearly 100 students.
It was Mrs. Gewirtz’s persona, her being, her neshama (soul), that set her apart and brought her the admiration she deserved. Mrs. Gewirtz was a lovely person. She was well spoken with a soft and gentle voice, exceptionally bright and learned, and radiant in appearance. She exhibited a natural self-confidence that was instantly recognizable. Mrs. Gewirtz had presence—she could sit quietly yet be fully confident and at ease with herself. It was this being that is greatly missed.
We welcome your comments, reminiscences, and anecdotes about Gladys and Rabbi Gewirtz and your experiences as a congregant or student during their long tenure at AKSE (scroll down for the comment section). All comments will be moderated — that is, they will not appear on the site immediately.
Many thanks to Gail Pietrzyk, archivist of the Jewish Historical Society of Delaware (JHSD) for providing clippings and photos as background for the obituary, to Harriet Ainbinder for providing additional information, and to Mark Wagman for editing and proofreading all the tributes posted here.
Scroll down to read comments and to submit your own.
Expanded obituary (a shorter version appeared in the April 19 edition of The News Journal):
Gladys Kerstein Gewirtz
Age 91, died at home in Jerusalem, Israel, on April 14, 2019.
Gladys was the Rebbetzin of congregation Adas Kodesch Shel Emeth in Wilmington, Delaware, from November 1948, when she married Rabbi Leonard B. Gewirtz, until he retired and became Rabbi Emeritus in 1990. They continued in their roles as leaders in the Wilmington Jewish community throughout the 1990s. After the Rabbi’s death in 2003, Gladys remained a respected authority in Judaic learning. She was a mentor, counselor, and beloved friend (often all three) to many, maintaining these close relationships even after moving to Israel in 2012.
Gladys was born and grew up in New York City. She was a precocious student, graduating at age 12 from Hebrew high school and at age 17 from the Hebrew Teachers Training School for Girls (Beit Midrash le-Morot, later affiliated with Yeshiva University) — this in addition to attending secular public school.
After receiving her teacher’s diploma, she began teaching Hebrew School five days a week. At the same time, she attended Brooklyn College, majoring in English Literature, and continued her Hebrew education in the masters program of the Jewish Theological Seminary. Gladys was in her senior year of college when she was introduced to Rabbi Leonard B. Gewirtz. In a 1984 News Journal article, he said that he left a doctoral program in Chicago to take a position in Wilmington so that he could be within commuting distance of New York City, the better to court her.
Gladys began teaching in the AKSE religious school in 1951. In 1971, she became the curriculum and faculty advisor of the school, a position she held through spring 1993. She taught at Wilmington Gratz Hebrew High School from its inception in 1965, and taught modern Hebrew at the University of Delaware for many years. She planned and led innumerable classes, assemblies, and presentations for and with children and adults of all ages.
In remarks she made in 2012, she summed up her career this way:
For me, the most wonderful part of my role in Wilmington has been teaching and developing relationships with my fellow educators – several of whom became my closest friends here – and of course, with my students.[…] I have discovered first-hand how true are the words of Rabbi Hanina in the Talmudic Tractate of Ta’anit: ‘I have learned much from my teachers, and from my friends even more, but most of all I have learned from my students.’
Gladys is survived by sons Isaac Gewirtz of Bronxville, NY, and Yossi Gevir (Debbie) of Hashmonaim, Israel, five grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren. She was predeceased by her husband, Rabbi Leonard B. Gewirtz, and her parents, Solomon and Beatrice Kerstein.
In lieu of flowers, the family suggests contributions to Adas Kodesch Shel Emeth, P.O. Box 7305, Wilmington, DE 19803-7305.
To our dear friends in AKSE, Wilmington and beyond,
We are touched by this meaningful commemorative initiative in memory of our beloved mother.
Throughout our “shiva”, abbreviated by the approaching holiday, we fondly recalled and recounted to others the profound
bond that our mother, and of course our father, had with you all. At this time we reach out to all of you in shared mourning for a remarkable person, who helped shape and enrich us all. To the end, she felt deeply connected to AKSE and the entire Jewish community of Wilmington, and cherished the memories of her sixty-plus years in your midst.
We look forward to ongoing contact with you.
We can be reached durectly by email: firstname.lastname@example.org
And by phone:
+972 50 300722
I have just risen from shiva and wish you all a Hag Sameah.
Yossi with Debbie
Gladys was my kind and wonderful mentor when I taught and later became principal of Delaware Gratz Hebrew High School. She was warm, supportive and gracious throughout my 27 years at Gratz. Additionally she and Rabbi Gewirtz were wonderful teachers and inspirations to our children as role models of sincerity and ethical behavior. We miss them both.
To my very dear friend, Gladys, with whom Lou and I shared many years of teaching, singing and
dancing together at AKSE. We loved her classes on Torah, Hebrew and other subjects. She inspired
me to devote my talents to teaching Hebrew to students in our Hebrew school for many years as I
continued to learn from her about the history of our people and Israel where we travelled ten times.
She will continue to be our inspiration….
Ms. Gewirtz was one of the greatest teachers that I had and she had a major impact on my Jewish education, particularly at Wilmington Gratz Hebrew High School and at the University of Delaware. From Pirkay Avot to D’varim, Shoftim, Shmuel Aleph and Bet, and Jewish literature and language in general. She taught her classes in depth, always providing the original Hebrew text with commentary. I still have all of her class materials and notes, including my original tests that she required be answered in Hebrew. The format she used, original Tanach/Rabbinic text, supplemented with modern Hebrew explanations mixed with English, made her teaching style very authentic and scholarly. From her style, I learned to annotate my later Jewish studies and texts in the same way. When I would teach my classes, I would prepare my materials along similar lines. She, along with her partner, Rabbi Gewirtz, z”l , were the “dynamic duo” of the Wilmington Gratz Hebrew High School teaching staff. She had a beautiful voice and I learned many Shalosh Regalim tunes from her, especially for Shavuot, when she prepared our confirmation class (1977) to lead Erev Shavuot services. She will be greatly missed. Vih-Yitzror Bitz-ror Hah-chayim et Nishmatah.
We’re reading the lovely messages that have been written about our mother, and are very touched. We thank each of you for these meaningful thoughts and sentiments!
From the moment, soon after we came to Wilmington, when Gladys gave me a reference to a Kosher butcher, through her time in Wilmington when she taught our children and encouraged their parents, to her attendance at the Chug Ivri, when she gently corrected Hebrew errors, to the time she left Wilmington to become one of the tourist attractions in Israel, Gladys has been a wonderful friend, teacher and inspiration. Her gentle voice, her sharp wit, her amazing Hebraic knowledge and her color chart for bananas will be sorely missed.