Cantor Gladys by
(304 Stories)

Prompted By Final Farewell

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Gladys and I both lived uptown,   she on Manhattan’s westside and I on the east.   Yet we first met not in the city,   but in Lakeridge,  the Connecticut community where we both spent country weekends.   And once we discovered we both loved Scrabble,  we’d play together as often as we could,  and then of course we’d talk.

And thus over Scrabble I learned Gladys’ life story. Her parents were Holocaust survivors,  and after the war were in a displaced persons camp in Stuttgart where she was born.   Two years later the family immigrated to the States and settled in New York’s Washington Heights where Gladys and her brother Abe attended yeshiva.

Then in eighth grade Gladys,  who was always a musical child,  auditioned for New York’s very selective High School of Music and Art and was admitted as a voice major.    And over the years she would sing in many choruses and choirs –  in English,  in Hebrew,  and in Yiddish.

While singing remained her avocation,  Gladys pursued degrees in psychology and education,  and enjoyed a long career teaching special ed in the city schools.   But after retirement,  with her husband Ken’s encouragement,  she followed her early passion for Jewish music,  and  in 2011 was ordained as a cantor.

Some years after Gladys and I met,  my sister Laurie died after a long battle with MS.   After the funeral and shiva Danny and I drove up to Connecticut and invited Lakeridge friends to join us that night to remember Laurie.    Gladys offered to conduct a small service,  and so as friends gathered in our living room,   she lifted her beautiful voice to lead us in prayer and song.

What I didn’t know then was that Gladys was battling her own devastating illness  – always a private person,  she hadn’t shared her cancer diagnosis with me.   About that time I remember she gave me two lovely jackets of hers saying she’d lost a few pounds and they no longer fit.  Only now do I realize what had caused her weight loss.

Then when several months passed and I didn’t see her,   I phoned.   She said she, Ken and their son Josh would be up in Connecticut soon and she’d call me,  but after weeks without word from her I called again.

We spoke for awhile but I sensed that my friend Gladys,  who had never been at a loss for words,  was anxious to get off the phone.  And now I realize she may have been in pain and finding it hard to speak.

I didn’t know that brief phone call would be our last,  that Gladys would die a few weeks later.    And now I regret I never told her she had a beautiful soul and how much I treasured our friendship.

So let me tell you now my Scrabble friend,   your memory is a blessing.

Dana Susan Lehrman


Profile photo of Dana Susan Lehrman Dana Susan Lehrman
This retired librarian loves big city bustle and cozy country weekends, friends and family, good books and theatre, movies and jazz, travel, tennis, Yankee baseball, and writing about life as she sees it on her blog World Thru Brown Eyes!

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Tags: Cantors, Friendship
Characterizations: moving


  1. Laurie Levy says:

    This is a beautiful tribute, Dana. Gladys had a remarkable life journey. So great that she was able to reach her dream and officiate at a service for your sister.

  2. Marian says:

    Lovely tribute, Dana. It is always traumatic to lose a friend and feel that you might have had more interactions and conversations. I guess we don’t get to decide that, and I hope you have good memories of your friend.

  3. John Shutkin says:

    What a heartbreaking story, Dana, about a dear friend. I understand/don’t understand about people with serious illnesses not even confiding in their dearest friends (and Scrabble mates). I would hope that we could all realize how important it is for friends to be able to not just be able to comfort us and say how much we value them but to reach some closure themselves.

  4. Suzy says:

    Gladys sounds like a wonderful person, and you were lucky to forge that friendship over Scrabble. It’s too bad that she didn’t tell you about her cancer, or how little time she had left. That should be a lesson to all of us, that it is important to give your friends and relatives the opportunity to tell you what you mean to them before you are gone (which is a corollary to what I said at the end of my story).

    • Yes Suzy, I agree. Part of my reaction when I learned of Gladys’ cancer was anger at her for not telling me.

      She was always a very private person, related I sense to her experience as the child of Holocaust survivors.

      By chance my husband’s father was from Stuttgart where Gladys was born, but when he wanted to talk to her about Germany she refused.

  5. Betsy Pfau says:

    You have the memory of your friend, and of her voice. She sang at Laurie’s service for you and you bonded over Scrabble. It was hard to lose her, particularly because she didn’t confide in you, but you had no way to know why she’d lost a few pounds, or why she got off the phone so quickly. That makes the telling of this story all the more poignant, Dana. May her memory be a blessing.

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