Gabriela Landau’s eye for fine art — in particular, religious menorahs and dreidels — was so finely tuned, some of her collection was featured in an exhibit, Treasures of Florida Jews, at the Jewish Museum of Florida in Miami Beach a decade ago. A sterling silver menorah she had inherited from her parents, Holocaust survivors, dated to 1906. That piece had served as the centerpiece of the Coral Gables home she shared with her husband, the late Rabbi Sol Landau, who had led Beth David Congregation in Miami.
Perhaps more notable, Landau’s own work, a series of photographs she took in the 1950s and ’60s that depicted Jewish life and culture in New York City’s Lower East Side, is in the permanent collections of the Brooklyn Museum of Art and the University of Lyons in France.
But the piece that mattered the most to her was a simple menorah made by her daughter Tamara in a ceramics class. “I truly cherish this one. At least one night of Hanukkah I use it,” she told the Miami Herald in a 2005 feature on Judaica art.
Landau died at 86 on May 7 in Asheville, NC where she moved after retiring from a series of positions that had made her a business leader in Miami-Dade, including first vice president of investments at Prudential Securities’ Coral Gables office and senior partner of the Landau Group she headed for 28 years. At one point, she managed $165 million in assets. “I like a good style of living,” she told the Herald in 1998 about her midlife career switch from rabbi’s wife and mother to business executive.
Landau had also won the Breaking the Glass Ceiling award given by the Jewish Museum of Florida to women who excel in traditional male professions. “I never really felt handicapped by being a woman,” she said. Landau served as vice president of the Women’s Division of the Greater Miami Jewish Federation, founded Beth David’s Fine Arts School and Jewish Museum, and she was a Jewish activist and Zionist.
Tamara wouldn’t be surprised that her mother cherished the menorah she had made above the historical pieces. After all, Landau became a Girls Scouts leader when her daughter expressed an interest in joining. And, years before that, when the youngster suffered “separation anxiety” upon entering the Rabbi Alexander S. Gross Hebrew Academy in Miami Beach, her mother took a job in the school cafeteria just so she could see her.
“She was my mentor. I worked with her. We had a mother-daughter relationship and then a girlfriend relationship. It was very special,” Tamara Landau said.
At her mother’s service, Friday at Beth David, Tamara read a letter she had directed at her mother. “You taught me all the important things about the world and my place in it. I learned about the things that mattered from watching you, the shared values that made you so special. Kindness. Forgiveness. Honesty. Thoughtfulness. And, especially, patience.”
Born Gabriela Mayer in northern Poland, Landau fled to Panama with her parents and sister in 1939 after her father was forced to sign over the family’s prosperous furniture factory to the Nazis. Eventually, the trio made their way to Jacksonville where Landau sold clothes at Lerner’s for $3 a day on a 12-hour shift. Unable to afford college, she moved to New York where she became a documentary photographer and snapped the shots that would land in the museums’ collections.
She married Sol Landau in 1951 and, in 1965, the couple and their two children moved to Miami. Finally, with kids Tamara and son Ezra in school, Landau was able to get college degrees in anthropology and sociology at Florida International University. She landed her first career job at Merrill Lynch in 1977. Landau was later named one of 10 Outstanding Brokers of the Year by national trade magazine, Registered Representative. The couple was married until Rabbi Landau’s death in 2004 at 83.
“She was a tough cookie on the outside but she had a real heart of gold underneath. As the rebbetzin (the rabbi's wife) of the oldest Jewish congregation in Miami she, alongside her husband, was a leader in the community. When the kids were old enough and she stepped out on her own, becoming a stockbroker, she became an even more dominant force in the community,” said family friend Mitch Weissner.
“There’s the [Jewish] term, Woman of Valor. She was,” Ezra Landau said.
Landau is survived by her children. Services were held.