Joyce “Gila” Strelitz—A Woman of Valor January 9, 1932–November 5, 2016

by | Dec 5, 2016 | Other News

Joyce Strelitz demonstrated her kindness and caring for others each and every day, inspiring peers and young leaders alike to joyfully engage in Tikkun Olam.

Having served on (and often chaired) nearly every local Jewish board in Tidewater, as well as on area cultural, medical and education boards, and on the national board of the UJA Women’s Division, among others, Joyce understood that leadership means using one’s position to be an influence for good—in the family, in the community and in the world.

Among the first members of a newly created United Jewish Federation of Tidewater’s Women’s Campaign division in the late 1960’s, she continued to lead years later through the Tom Hofheimer Young Leadership Mission to Israel, which she co-chaired with her sister-in-law Marcia Hofheimer. The program takes 20 young adult leaders from Tidewater’s Jewish community to Israel as the culminating event of a two-year leadership development program.

During the 1980s, Joyce led several missions, including one in 1982 which brought Jewish and Christian women to Israel. “It was very moving,” she recalled, “to realize that this was not just my Israel.” She also described a mission of seven women to Russia in 1988 (on the eve of Glasnost and Perestroika). With adrenaline flowing, the women moved clandestinely throughout the country, visiting “Refuseniks.”

Perhaps nothing illustrates Joyce’s successful fundraising career better than her efforts for Tidewater’s community campus—bringing in hundreds of thousands of dollars from outside the Jewish community. Those relationships have led to strong ties between the Federation and some of the leading Christian organizations in town.

“When I spoke with Joyce, I sensed that Judaism was not a conscious act layered upon other socially demanded roles, but a natural and wholly integrated state of being,” says Harry Graber, UJFT executive vice president. “She lived it, breathed it and it was inseparable from her essence.

“Joyce’s genuine love of Israel, defiance of anti-Semitism and love of our community was not intentionally and consciously meant to be inspirational, but it was because that is who she was.”

Preparing for the end, she planned her own service, “She did it her way,” says daughter, Bonnie Brand. “She selected the poem to be read and the classical music to be played.”

Her son, Brian Strelitz notes that she wanted an upbeat funeral, recalling his mom saying, “Look, I know people will be sad, and there will be tears. I know people will miss me, hey I will miss me.”

Following are excerpts from her funeral, held at Ohef Sholom Temple.

Rabbi Lawrence Arthur Forman

How did our cherished “Gila” live her life?

The name, Gila, means one who fills her life with joy and happiness by lifting up the hopes and aspirations of her family and people. Gila personifies the Woman of Valor in Proverbs 31, where we glimpse some of her attributes: She is a magnificent wife and mother, a teacher to her children, an inspiration to her people!

Her granddaughter, Genna, observes that Gila was a strong and independent woman, often standing toe to toe with her powerful husband, Leonard, of blessed memory, working with him on every level, raising their children—Bonnie, Brian and E.J.—to a right and proper path, taking the family to Europe and Israel, building Haynes Furniture into a respected business, along with Buddy and Arlene and their family. Gila was never a shadow in anything with which she was involved.

Gila was a Renaissance woman for all seasons and an exemplary role model. Friends of all ages loved being around this exciting, bright and vivacious lady… they knew she was always up for great conversation and for engaging in current, local, national and international events. She taught us about responsibility, integrity, dignity, purpose and class. With Leonard, Buddy and Arlene, Israel’s safety, viability and advancement became their cause celebré and they devoted themselves and their resources to the protection and strengthening of the Jewish people, here and around the world.

Jacob Strelitz

My grandmother had an amazing intellect, and used it to give me the perspective I needed to persevere through my challenges.

Some of my most joyous memories of Gila took place on the golf course. She cherished playing her favorite game with her grandchildren. Through golf, I learned from her the value of an even temperament and positive attitude. Whether she hit a great or terrible shot, she never focused on the last and always focused on the next.

I witnessed that same mindset through her struggle with cancer. Never did she complain or lament, despite the pain she endured. She set an incredible example of high will power and mental strength. We will miss her tremendously, but are grateful for her many gifts.

Brian Strelitz

Mom told me, “Brian, I left nothing on the table.” This was an accurate description of her appreciation, gratitude and happiness with her very full 84 years.

She was so intelligent and talented. She was an incessant reader, with a library full of books and magazines everywhere. She did The New York Times crossword puzzles, was fluent in French, learned Hebrew and was a Silver Life Master at Bridge.

She loved music; and there was no genre that was an exception. With opera, she loved listening and attending shows, and when she loved something, she took a position: thus her leadership role in establishing the Virginia Opera Association. Sitting around the table—singing show tunes—Fiddler, Oliver, Oklahoma, Sound of Music, she took the lead, she had the voice. And at celebrations, she did her thing: Recipe: melody to popular song and amazingly funny, but fitting lyrics about whoever was being celebrated, equaled a Gila masterpiece that we all loved and looked forward to; in case you were wondering— they were excellent (opinion not just from a son).

Mom left nothing on the table by definition— because she did it all. But she left nothing on the table also because of the legacies she gave to us from that table. Her selflessness, which defined her as a person and further translated into tikkun olam and philanthropy, is a value of great importance in our lives. Her passion and commitment to Eretz Yisrael is a gift straight from her table, and has been and always will be a top priority of ours.

But our best gift from that table was the opportunity to spend six decades with a mom who lived/loved life with passion/ diversity—but never for a moment with anything less than perfect grace—and just like Mom, we take these memories and her zest for life and fill our own tables—to pass to our children, and G-d willing, them to theirs.

She recently told Bonnie: Let everyone know— I had a ball.

Sasha Strelitz

Gila recently told Talia and me that her favorite service is Neila, because it guided her through pivotal points in her life. In the spirit of Neila, which is essentially the closing remarks of the High Holidays, here are some closing remarks on our Gila.

It’s evident by the location of Gila’s house, and all the things inside of it that she loved beautiful things. Yesterday I sat at her desk: everything orderly, everything neatly placed where it seemingly belongs; everything perfect from the arrangement of her hanging plants to the penmanship on her lists in the drawers. Like the tulips she so loved, it appears to me the more I meditate on her that Gila is a manifestation of beauty.

She was a lover of poetry, and I think these lines from John Keats’ Endymion encapsulate Gila:

A thing of beauty is a joy forever: Its loveliness increases; it will never Pass into nothingness.

In honor of her majoring in philosophy, let’s put aside the obvious examples of beauty: that which wooed our grandfather so many years ago, how she prided herself on having produced beautiful children and grandchildren, and even all of the time and energy she spent painting beautiful works of art.

Beauty philosophically is more than just something for our sense of sight as Aristotle explains, “to be a beautiful living creature, every whole made up of parts must present a certain order in its arrangement of parts.” So, I invite you to think about the arrangement of Gila’s parts. Gila’s pragmatism and rationality, like the agency she exercised towards the end of her life, beautiful. Gila’s sense of fairness, and her purposeful cultivation of meaningful relationships with everyone around her on their terms. This also speaks to Gila’s integrity. She had an agnostic view of people, and very rarely judged for judgment’s sake. When she spoke to people, no word was out of place; every thought, every infusion of wit and wisdom, every piece of advice were all meaningful ly placed among instances of that laugh we’ll all remember fondly, that guttural, genuine laugh.


Aside from the rationality and integrity, Gila’s beautiful soul often sought out truly divine moments in which the entire family created good times together. The beautiful creature that she was, Gila gave us a sense of family life; she shaped it and directed it so that we all look to the past with fond memories, reflect on the honest support and love we receive from each other in the present, and gaze at the future with a significant value on family. This is beautiful.

We will all miss her. We will long for her thoughtful parody songs at family occasions. We will miss her giddy laughter, with or without vodka. We will miss her advice.

Gila, we will all miss you profoundly. Shine on, beautiful woman, shine on.