After working as a cantor for 36 years, Nancy Diamond Landsman recently was ordained as a rabbi. And in addition to being the spiritual leader of her congregation, she has found an important niche to fill: she makes house calls, even to people who don’t belong to her – or any — synagogue.
“I realized that … people long for this rabbinic connection and I thought why don’t I just come to them?” said Rabbi-Cantor Landsman, spiritual leader of Congregation Ahavat Olam. “As people are getting older and close to dying they want rabbis who will know them and officiate at their funeral.”
Rabbi-Cantor Landsman explained that there are more people who choose not to belong to a congregation for various reasons, and with age it becomes even more difficult.
“There are so many lonely people – especially the elderly,” she said. “They have no family in town or don’t have much of a relationship with them and it breaks your heart.”
Rabbi-Cantor Landsman volunteers for hospice care and is on call at two hospitals. One day she received a call from the hospital asking if she’d visit a patient who was having hospice care brought into his room. The patient requested a rabbi, because he wasn’t affiliated with a synagogue.
“That’s when a light bulb went off, because the patient was able to share his whole life story with me and a week later he died,” said Rabbi-Cantor Landsman. “Before he died he told his wife he was so glad to have the opportunity to share his story with me, and his wife and family were so comforted that he felt that way.”
Though she’s been doing a lot of the same work that she performed as a cantor, Rabbi-Cantor Landsman said many Jewish people think a rabbi can only do this type of work, so now she’s even busier.
“I feel incredibly blessed that as a rabbi all of these opportunities and doors have opened up for me in a way that were not available as a cantor, so I’m going back to my original training in gerontology and social work, which I’m so passionate about,” she said.
Rabbi-Cantor Landsman explained that patients understand the reason she’s coming to meet with them is so they may share anything they want while they’re still able to communicate, and if they like the rabbi, after their conversation they’ll have peace of mind that she’ll be able to officiate at the funeral.
One daughter told Rabbi-Cantor Landsman that her mother shared more with the rabbi than she ever did with her. The rabbi explained that her mom didn’t want to be a burden because the daughter was so busy with her job and kids, but she was so proud of her. “I’m able to find that I can bring comfort to the children and that’s a wonderful thing,” she said.
Rabbi-Cantor Landsman began her rabbinic training at the Hebrew Seminary, a Rabbinical School for Deaf & Hearing in Skokie. “It’s the only rabbinic program in the Chicago area to my knowledge for a reform Jewish woman, and then I learned about another program based in New York that’s done through a webinar,” she said. The ordination took place in January 2016 in Florida and she met classmates from all over the country. “It’s been an amazing journey and I’m so blessed to do such meaningful work for individuals and families.”
Before Rabbi-Cantor Landsman became the spiritual leader at Congregation Ahavat Olam in 2012, she was the cantor at Am Shalom in Glencoe for 23 years.
Congregation Ahavat Olam, located in Christ Methodist Church at 600 Deerfield Road in Deerfield, “is growing and I keep trying to expand awareness of our congregation, which is comprised of empty nesters with interfaith couples and families, divorcees and widowers,” she said. “We have a nice, diverse community.”
She finds it rewarding to officiate at memorable occasions beginning with baby namings through funerals. “I’m finding people want that spiritual and or rabbinic connection one way or another certainly at the end of their life or for any major life cycle occasion,” she said.
In the meantime, Rabbi-Cantor Landsman is working on a brochure with the tagline: “Don’t belong to a synagogue, but want a rabbinic connection? Rabbi Landsman comes to you.”
For more information email Rabbi-Cantor Landsman at [email protected]