Rebbetzin Chaya Zelda (Clara) Kramer, 89, a Gracious Bastion of Kindness

Rebbetzin Chaya Zelda (Clara) Kramer, 89, a Gracious Bastion of Kindness 

She left her mark on generations of Jewish Montrealers

By Menachem Posner - October 12, 2018 8:07 AM

Rebbetzin Chaya Zelda (Clara) Kramer with her husband, Rabbi Leib Kramer, and family at the bar mitzvah of their son, Michel, center.

She held no official position for most of her 89 years, but with her gracious smile, genuine care and home-cooked food, she left her mark on generations of Jewish Montrealers.

Married to Rabbi Leib Kramer, longtime director of the Chabad institutions in Montreal, Clara Kramer, who passed away on Yom Kippur at the age of 89, hosted, cared for, and encouraged hundreds.

She was born Chaya Zelda Halpern in 1929 to Eliyahu and Liba Devorah, Modzitzer Chassidim who had emigrated from Poland to Montreal.

As was common among those brave enough to keep Shabbat, Eliyahu often would be fired on Friday due to his refusal to come to work on Shabbat, but his faith remained strong. Despite their humble finances, the Halperns endeavored mightily to avail their children to a top-notch Jewish education, which did not exist in Canada at the time.

This included sending young Chaya’le to the Bais Yaakov Seminary in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, N.Y., then the only institution of its kind on the continent.

In 1941, a group of nine Polish Chabad yeshivah students came to Montreal. They had escaped war-torn Europe by way of Lithuania, the Soviet Union, Japan and China.

Two days later, they founded a yeshivah, the Rabbinical College of Canada. The Halperns took in some of the bearded yeshivah students, among them a Leib Kramer, who would soon emerge as the leader of the group, and the director of a string of schools and communal institutions that would develop from the yeshivah.

When she was 18 years old, Clara married Rabbi Leib Kramer. Prior to her wedding, she was granted an audience with the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe—Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, of righteous memory. The Rebbe asked her if she felt equipped to run a Chassidic home. She assured the Rebbe that she had learned well from her parents and was up to the task.

Discreet but Active Role in Communal Work

The Kramers settled in Montreal, where the rabbi continued his communal work, which included expanding the yeshivah, directing Beth Rivkah Academy for girls, and founding Camp Pardas Chana.

Although she shied away from the limelight, she took an active but discreet role in raising funds and caring for the poor in Montreal and Israel.

“Whoever said, ‘when there is room in the heart, there is room in the home’ must have been thinking of Clara,” recalled Aliza Wrightman, whose family had been close to the Kramers for decades. “More often than not there was a visitor staying in the basement, a back-room or seated at the table … a lonely widow or widower, a troubled adolescent, someone whom most other people would overlook. Clara skillfully but discreetly picked up on that which most were oblivious of, and she would reach out with sensitivity and caring, using the right words at the right time to ameliorate a situation.”

At the Kramers’ Shabbat table, everyone was valued, and everyone was welcomed. In her presence, people felt like an important part of her life. A listening ear, a kind word, and most importantly, time, were what she offered on a daily basis.

Montreal resident Rivkah Smith shared how she was due with her third child on Passover, her husband was hard at work, and she did not have extra funds for cleaning help. “The phone rang,” she wrote in the N’shei Chabad Newsletter. “It was [Mrs. Kramer,] a neighbor from the block I had moved away from three years earlier … ‘I’m coming over to help; I’ll be there in 15 minutes.’ Click. She rolled up her sleeves, then washed and covered my sink and fridge … It has been more than 25 years, and I still think about what she did that day.”

After her five children were grown, she became a beloved teacher at the yeshivah garderie (preschool) and then took over the yeshivah yahrtzeit program, ensuring that kaddish was recited for each person on the proper date.

Even after her husband passed away in 1999, she continued to attend celebrations, funerals and other events in the community. With her warmth, care and friendship, she maintained and developed relationships with people from all across the Montreal Jewish community and beyond.

Before Yom Kippur, she prepared and walked over to personally deliver kreplach to a dear friend. She attended Kol Nidrei services that night and passed away peacefully in her sleep early Yom Kippur morning.

She is survived by her children: Rabbi Michel Kramer (Brooklyn, N.Y.), Sara Gutnick (Melbourne, Australia), Rabbi Yosef Kramer (Tiveria, Israel), Esther Shneur (Montreal) and Rabbi Shmuel Kramer (Montreal); and many grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren.

Jewish Care: My Connection Newsletter Publication - Autumn 2019

Linking Generations through Storytelling.

The inaugural Rosh Chodesh Women’s Circle event titled, “Linking the Generations – Through the Power of Story”, held at Gary Smorgon House attracted more than 150 Elders, family members, volunteers and guests.

Founded in 2009 to celebrate the beginning of each month, the event was the brainchild of Rebbetzin Sara Gutnick.

The gathering was a warm and welcoming atmosphere of camaraderie, acceptance and discovery.

“We want to tap into the wisdom and experience of our Elders and share this
inspiration with the younger generation,” said Rebbetzin Gutnick.

The first presenter in this series was Gary Smorgon House Elder, Sadie Goldsmith. She spoke about her journey from Poland to Australia as a teenager in 1938, and the life she built with her late husband, Arthur.

Sadie was surrounded by her family and extended family while narrating her
amazing life story. She later reminisced: “While recapping my story, I could see
my mother’s face right in front of me.

Having such a large family, Boruch Hashem (Thank G-d), makes me feel like the luckiest woman in the world.”

Elders and guests were treated to a scrumptious buffet, complimentary
chocolates, and entertainment by Rabbi Yoni Reyder.

The first event was overwhelmingly successful thanks to the efforts of many
who were involved. We thank Rebbetzin Gutnick, the President and founder of
the Rosh Chodesh Women’s Circle – for bringing the event to our facility; our
staff and volunteers for helping us organise the event; Abi Montag from Jemark Quality & Value for donating masks; Rishon Foods for ice-cream and Kosher Kingdom for chocolates.

Jewish Care: My Circle Newsletter Publication - April 2019

Linking the Generations.

Celebrating the life and wisdom of Sadie Goldsmith at the Linking the Generations event at Gary Smorgon House.

Esteemed elder and longtime resident Sadie Goldsmith was honoured recently at a special afternoon, facilitated by the Rosh Chodesh Women’s Circle community group.

Aided by her son Michael Goldsmith, who travelled especially from Israel, and her daughter Barbara Belfer, Sadie spoke of her youth, raised in the small shtetl of Nasielsk near Warsaw. Born in 1922, Sadie was the oldest of four siblings. As the dark clouds of 1938 began to gather, Sadie emigrated to Australia under the insistence of her Melbournebased aunt, while the rest of her family waited for their papers to arrive. Sadie was 15 when she undertook the ocean crossing alone; she never realised that it would be the last time she would ever see her beloved family.

Sadie met her husband, Arthur (Nosson Yitzchok), at a Kadima dance in Lygon Street, Carlton. A fellow immigrant, Nosson left his hometown of Lublin
when he was 17. Together, they imbued their family with a love of Yiddishkeit, education, and commitment to one another. Nearly fourteen years after his passing in 2005, Sadie reflects on their 62 nachas-filled years of marriage.

Despite the challenges of her early life, Sadie radiates positivity. She relishes the Jewish atmosphere of Gary Smorgon House, fondly referred to by her family as “Super Bubba’s house”. We are grateful to Sadie for sharing wisdom accumulated over a lifetime. Surrounded by her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren, Sadie is testimony to a life well-lived.

South Caulfield Shule, Rosh Chodesh Nissan 5779

There was a great turn out of women at South Caulfield’s first Rosh Chodesh Women’s Circle event on Thursday evening 4th April for Rosh Chodesh Nissan with Story Presenter Chanelle Spicer.

The energy and atmosphere of all the women from different backgrounds joined together was incredibly uplifting and empowering. The delicious food and decor was beautifully presented thanks to our dedicated committee of volunteers.

The ladies had a chance to let loose and enjoy a fun and therapeutic belly dancing class, which was full of much laughter and smiles. The activity, the menu and décor, the Torah message and Chanelle’s engaging story all touched on the powerful message of Pesach – freedom.

The women commented on how enjoyable and inspiring the evening was and are very interested in future RCWC events.

Merkos Women, Rosh Chodesh Adar 1 5779

The Rosh Chodesh Women’s Circle event at Merkos Women for Adar Aleph was a beautiful event. With girls from the Merkos dorm and ladies joining from the wider community there was a wonderful and captivating audience. Dr Rochel Serebyranksi is an engaging and enjoyable story presenter and a past student at Merkos Women. Rochel shared riveting and empowering stories of her journey to Yiddishkeit and the challenges she overcame during her study and career; no matter what, she would not compromise on observing Shabbos properly. One lady in the audience who is a professional was so empowered by Rochel’s talk, that she herself now wants to learn more about Yiddishkeit and learn how she can balance it with her work. Everyone enjoyed dancing and music in the spirit of the joy of Adar followed by a delicious supper decorated with colourful masks and flowers.

Gary Smorgon House, Rosh Chodesh Adar 1 5779

On a Sunday afternoon in early February, more than 150 Elders, family members, volunteers and guests attended Gary Smorgon House’s inaugural Rosh Chodesh Women’s Circle event titled, “Linking the Generations – Through the Power of Story.” Founded in 2009 by Rebbetzin Sara Gutnick, the Rosh Chodesh Women’s Circle is a registered non-profit organization sponsored in memory of Mr. Max Blaser. It celebrates the beginning of each Jewish month in a warm and welcoming atmosphere of camaraderie, acceptance and discovery, while highlighting meaningful stories and nurturing the body and soul. Each Rosh Chodesh gathering includes a message for the month, refreshments, entertainment, and the beautiful stories which are videotaped as a legacy. The “Linking the Generations” series is the newest initiative for Elders, empowering them to create lasting legacies for future generations. “We want to tap into the wisdom and experience of our Elders”, said Rebbetzin Gutnick, “and share this inspiration with the younger generation.” Although the events are typically designed towards women, in this instance, there were some seats for men as well.

The story of the month presenter for Rosh Chodesh Adar I was Gary Smorgon House Elder, Mrs. Sadie Goldsmith, who spoke about her journey from Poland as a teenager in 1938, and the beautiful family that she rebuilt in Australia with her late husband Arthur. Sadie, together with her two children, Dr. Michael Goldsmith and Mrs. Barbara Belfer, was surrounded by more than 30 members of her extended family while presenting her amazing life-story. She later reminisced: “While recapping my story, I could see my mother’s face right in front of me. Having such a large family, Boruch Hashem (Thank G-d), makes me feel like the luckiest woman in the world.” She was overwhelmed by the positive feedback that she received following her speech. She was so surprised, as she felt that her story was not special or may not have been of interest to others. Her daughter Barbara summed it up perfectly when speaking about the impact that her mother has had on their family. “We as a family,” she said, “have always been on the receiving end of her wisdom, guidance and unconditional love.” Her family listened to her speech, and felt so privileged to have her as their parent, grandparent and great grandparent.

Sadie’s granddaughter, Mrs. Devorah Leah Schachter, recited a Dvar Torah and acted as the MC, Sadie’s great grandchildren distributed masks and chocolates to everyone in attendance, and Rabbi Yoni Reyder wowed the crowd with some beautiful Hebrew and Yiddish songs. The event was followed by a luxurious and delicious afternoon tea.

We would like to thank the many people who contributed to the success of the event: Rebbetzin Sara Gutnick, the president and founder of the Rosh Chodesh Women’s Circle, for bringing the event to our facility and for her ongoing assistance throughout all stages of the planning and running of the event. The many staff members and volunteers who helped with the set-up, running and clean-up of the entire event. Abi Montag from Jemark Quality & Value for the donation of the masks, Rishon Foods for the donation of the ice-cream, and Kosher Kingdom for the donation of the chocolates. Lastly, we would like to thank everyone who attended and helped make this event truly memorable.

We look forward to partnering with the Rosh Chodesh Women’s Circle in the future.

Exciting New Organisation That Nurtures Women, Dor l’Dor

Rosh Chodesh is a special time for women to celebrate. It is like a mini Rosh Hashanah, being the beginning of a new Hebrew month. Sue Zimmerman writes about an organisation that brings women together at the beginning of the Hebrew month.

On Rosh Chodesh Tevet, Thursday 19 December 2017, the last night of Chanukah, a substantial gathering of women enjoyed a special evening at Rebbetzin Sara Gutnick’s home. The group to which they belonged, the Rosh Chodesh Women’s Circle (RCWC) had won a grant of $1000 from Bendigo Community Bank. This was awarded, in the form of a large cardboard version of the cheque, to Rebbetzin Gutnick by Kate Ashmore, the bank’s representative. Kate, an attractive, dynamic young woman, then surprised us all with an impromptu speech whereby she revealed that she was, in fact, Jewish. The ladies were treated to a yummy supper of smoked salmon on latkes, salads, cakes and donuts. All eight candles of the chanukiah were lit by Rabbi Gutnick that prompted spontaneous singing from the women. I shed a tear as the singing sounded incredibly angelic. The unity of women and the simchah (happiness) of Chanukah combined to create something truly special. Such is the magic of evenings organised by the Rosh Chodesh Women’s Circle.

Rebbetzin Sara Gutnick created this special organisation to ensure that women celebrate Rosh Chodesh in style. She explains that women have a particular connection to Rosh Chodesh and they should be nurtured with simchah and inspiration at the beginning of each new month. This connection harks back to the episode of the Golden Calf in the Bible. When the men thought that Moses was not returning, they lost faith in G-d and created an idol to worship, but the women’s faith remained strong and they refused to donate their jewellery to create an idol. Hashem (G-d) rewarded the women with a special Yomtov, a time to wear new clothes, to rest from mundane chores, a time to gather together to relax and celebrate and to learn about the month ahead. In Kabbalah (Jewish mystical writings) renewal and the waxing and waning of the moon are also associated with women.

Karin Zafir, Vice President of the RCWC ponders what makes these functions so special:

Is it the warm welcome into someone’s home and the closeness and warmth the event engenders? Is it the inspiring dvar Torah [talk about the weekly portion read from the Torah] woven around the theme for the month, so familiar to some but new to others, making us feel like we are there when all of this is happening? Is it the wonderful themed supper that delights our senses each time? For me, it is each one of those things – but most of all it is hearing the story of the speaker! More often than not, we have not met before and I’m just overwhelmed by their achievements. That’s why I love being part of the RCWC and try to attend each event. It is an honour to be involved.

The Ellul supper with little tashlich bowls with fish in them (jelly and jelly candy fish), a king in the field cake, a shofar cake and sushi .

RCWC is creating a library of video recordings of the guest speakers’ stories from these gatherings. Although this is not RCWC’s only objective, it does take storytelling seriously. It is not surprising that a new project has emerged within the organisation to reach out to the elderly who wish to share their life stories with us. This new arm of the organisation is called ‘Linking the Generations – Through the Power of Story’.

As Rachel Ulanovsky, editor of the RCWC newsletter writes:

The Rosh Chodesh Women’s Circle is looking for volunteers to get involved at the grassroots level of our aged-care facility project. Our aim is to provide a platform and relaxed program for the grandmothers and great-grandmothers of our community to share their story. Imagine, if you will, an elderly lady sharing her story, while her children, grandchildren, friends and peers surround her, rapt in every word she says. That, together with light refreshments and an inspiring message for the Hebrew month in a warm and nurturing atmosphere, is a most wonderful way to spend an afternoon or mid-morning.

Your involvement can range from organising a speaker, videography, especially video editing, writing a dvar Torah or even facilitating the event as a program leader. If you are interested to find out more about participating in the RCWC affiliate groups, including the new venture that is reaching out to the elderly, or would like to attend a future Rosh Chodesh celebration please contact Rebbetzin Sara Gutnick for more information.

View article on Dor l’Dor

The Unfolding of a Story; The Building of Our Community

This was a project that will be revisited another time…..

Although we did not yet move forward with the project that we named The Unfolding of a Story; The Building of our Community, this title indeed encapsulates what the Rosh Chodesh Women’s Circle is all about as does the beautiful graphics by Adrian Zafir.  We will definitely revisit a project using this name in the future.  In the meantime, we can just whisper that we are at the beginning of working on a new project –  Rosh Chodesh: Reward and Recognition.

RCWC Special Event, Rosh Chodesh Teves, Chanukah 5778

RCWC Inter-Affiliate Event.

It was Rosh Chodesh Teves, Thursday, December 19, 2017, that around 35 guests enjoyed a special Chanukah-based Rosh Chodesh Women’s Circle Event evening at Rebbetzin Sara Gutnick’s home. This Inter-Affiliate Event was held to show appreciation to the women volunteers who have been involved in creating beautiful Rosh Chodesh events to empower and inspire women.  Other women attended in the hope that they, too, will find a niche to volunteer for the RCWC or perhaps to start an affiliate group.  Following the formalities was an impromptu speech by Kate Ashmor that inspired us all. Unbeknown to many, Kate is Jewish and has an amazing story herself.  As with all our RCWC events the story was the highlight of the evening.

Merkos Women, Rosh Chodesh Kislev 5778

Story presenter for the Month of Kislev,  Miriam Tovel.

The Merkos Women Rosh Chodesh Women’s circle event was well received with an incredibly captivating story presented by Miriam Tovel.  Miriam presented the story of her Jewish journey, speaking about her Greek background as well as her experiences in Karate. This tied in to the story of Chanukah and the connection to her own life.

Throughout the event there were Chanukah themed treats to be had, from a range of doughnuts to latkes and chocolate gelt.  The table was beautifully decorated with the food as well as a fruit menorah made by one of the Merkos Women students.  The event was enjoyed by all.

Inspiring and uplifting words of Torah were shared, from the Dvar Torah to the creative activity.  Attendees were encouraged to decorate a plaque with a quote which would ignite their connection to Yiddishkeit in Kislev. This led to discussion about motivation and keeping connected.