Gedaliah Anemer, 78
Gedaliah Anemer, 78; chief rabbi of greater Washington
Thursday, April 29, 2010
Gedaliah Anemer, 78, a rabbi who led the D.C. area's oldest and largest Orthodox Jewish synagogue and was considered the chief rabbi of greater Washington, died April 15 at Holy Cross Hospital in Silver Spring after a stroke.
Rabbi Anemer (pronounced AIN-uh-mer) led the Young Israel Shomrai Emunah synagogue for more than 50 years and was instrumental in establishing a large Orthodox Jewish enclave in the surrounding Kemp Mill neighborhood of Silver Spring. Known as an inspiring teacher and spiritual guide, Rabbi Anemer founded the Yeshiva of Greater Washington, an Orthodox high school and center of Jewish studies.
He was an internationally respected authority on Jewish law and was the head of the Rabbinical Council of Greater Washington, an Orthodox body that supervises Jewish dietary and religious rules. He was considered the mora d'asra of the Washington area's Orthodox community, or the chief rabbi to whom all others deferred.
"When it came to communal issues, he was the ultimate decider," said Rabbi Ari Israel, executive director of the University of Maryland Hillel, a Jewish student center. "He cared for more than the letter of the law. He understood that the letter, spirit and personality of the law are all intertwined."
Rabbi Anemer came to Washington in 1957 to lead a Hyattsville congregation that later moved to Northeast Washington. In 1961, he settled in Silver Spring and began to hold services in his basement while continuing to lead his synagogue in the District. Because Jewish law prohibited him from riding in cars on the Sabbath, Rabbi Anemer walked almost seven miles each way to conduct services.
The D.C. synagogue was closed as the Silver Spring Orthodox community began to grow, and Rabbi Anemer established a Jewish school, or yeshiva, in 1964. The girls' school opened one year before the boys' school.
"I fondly call myself the first student," Sarah Maslow, an assistant principal at Reservoir High School in Howard County, recalled Wednesday. "He came to my parents and said, 'We need a first student.' "
Six-feet tall, with a big black hat, bushy beard and booming voice, Rabbi Anemer had a commanding presence. He taught advanced classes on the Talmud, or Jewish law, until his death at the yeshiva, where many of his students came to revere him.
"He demanded a lot from us, but he also had a great sense of humor," Maslow said. "He was a wonderful teacher."
In 1974, Rabbi Anemer's synagogue moved to its current location on Arcola Avenue, and the Kemp Mill Orthodox population expanded from a few dozen families to an estimated 5,000 residents today.
"He was not only the pillar, founder and leader of the community but he pulled us all forward," said Israel, who grew up in Kemp Mill. "He started all that literally with his own hands."
Gedaliah Anemer was born March 19, 1932, in Akron, Ohio, and began his religious training in New York City at age 9. Three years later, he entered Telshe Yeshiva in Cleveland, from which he graduated in 1952. Before coming to Washington, he led a yeshiva in Boston.
Survivors include his wife, Yocheved Bagley Anemer of Silver Spring; two sons, Zev and Yisroel Anemer, both of whom are rabbis in Brooklyn, N.Y.; two daughters, Ottie Kahana of Baltimore and Chaya Weber of Brooklyn; and a sister.
Rabbi Anemer was well known to other Orthodox leaders throughout the United States, Canada and Israel and was often consulted for his wide knowledge of Jewish laws and customs. To his followers in Kemp Mill, however, he remained the fatherly neighborhood rabbi who knew the name of every grandchild and who had an uncanny way of sorting out personal problems.
"It seemed like he could see every single person's needs, personally," said Maslow, who had known Rabbi Anemer since his arrival in Washington. "He deeply cared about each person. He deeply cared about the Jewish people. He deeply cared about a world where people did the right thing."