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.