Edna Pleskin

My name is Edna Pleskin, and I am a friend of the Kramer family, or rather, the family is a friend of mine. We go back a very long time. When I became engaged, Seymour, my husband-to-be, said that he would like me to meet his Rabbi and of course, it was Rabbi Kramer. So one day he came with Rabbi Kramer to my work and I was very impressed. It was a nice meeting, Rabbi Kramer approved, and a very short time afterwards we got married. That all happened in 1952, so we really do go back a long time. All this time, the Kramer family has been very important to us, and we share a very significant relationship and friendship going back all these years.

Rabbi Kramer would tell me stories of my father-in-law Alav Hashalom, who had learnt in Lubavitch in his youth and was one of the men to whom the previous Rebbe of Lubavitch, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok, had sent a telegram in 1940/41, relating that there were nine young rabbis in Shanghai that he would like him to bring to Canada. (The telegram is in a book somewhere, I have seen it.) Once the Rebbe asked him, he got busy, of course, trying to bring these 9 young men to Montreal. In the meantime, my father-in-law and the other men working to arrange it all learned that there were 20 others stuck in Shanghai from Mir and other yeshivas. My father-in-law Alav Hashalom got together some men he knew from different yeshivas, and they all went to Ottawa, the capital of Canada, and worked it out so that they could bring the 29 young men to Canada. Rabbi Kramer was one of them, as well as the man who later became the Chief Rabbi of Montreal, Rabbi Hirschprung. When they came, it was in a padlocked train, because it was wartime and they were considered aliens, and that’s how they traveled across Canada. When they arrived in Montreal, on a Friday, they were taken to the Talmud Torah School, greeted and served breakfast.

My parents-in-law’s home was the first house that the nine rabbis went to when they came. They went to the Pleskin house because he was concerned about them, and helped bring them to Canada. He was very involved with them, but then unfortunately, he got sick with cancer. Rabbi Kramer used to come to see him more than all the others, and maybe that’s why my husband had a special attachment to him, since he honored his father and spent time with him. They would discuss things and talk Torah. My father-in-law was sick for three years and Rabbi Kramer came quite regularly. Although my father-in-law died in 1944, and we married in 1952, so I never met him, I know all this from my husband. Rabbi Kramer told me more than once: “Your husband is very clever, but your father-in-law was a genius. He studied in his youth in a Lubavitcher Yeshiva in Russia.”

My father-in-law helped them get started with the yeshiva in Montreal. He helped them find the place, and was very involved. In fact, on his tombstone it mentions his involvement with the yeshiva. All the planning for the yeshiva was done at my father-in-law’s house, and we maintained the connection with the yeshiva all the years. When the newer Yeshiva went up, they gave my husband the honor to place one of the main mezuzahs because of the connection with his father.

Some of the others of the nine who came we were also connected with, but the closest one was with Rabbi Kramer and his wife. I remember them at our wedding; he with a little bit of a reddish beard, it wasn’t yet grey – later on in life it changed – but at that time in 1953, he was a young man. Then we had our children, and the Kramers were always involved. We lived our life, but slowly we became more involved with Lubavitch because of the two of them.

We had many encounters. Rabbi Kramer would come every year after he had been Sukkos in New York to be with the Rebbe, and he would bring us back lekach (honey cake from the Rebbe). At that time we were not as observant as we are today. I always kept kosher, but the kids sometimes wore slacks and so on, but when Rabbi Kramer came, they all dressed in skirts because they knew that for Rabbi Kramer you have to dress in a different way. Now Baruch Hashem my children are all Shomrei Torah and Mitzvot, and are raising beautiful families in the Torah way.

Rabbi Kramer always came to our Simchas and was always one of the first people to arrive. He’d even be there before the actual wedding in the private room. We had come a long way from where we were at before and all my children were married with an outside Chuppah at the Beth Zion. Rabbi Kramer even did the officiating at one of them. Also, he spoke at all the weddings of my children, and talked about Seymour’s father in his speech and much more.

Every year the Kramers gave us Shmura Matza. I don’t remember when I started, but one year, there were one or two people near us, one was sick, and the other had some other problem, and I asked if I could have extra Shmura Matza for them, and from then I started distributing matzas to about forty people. I brought them the Matza, and they had never seen this (Shmura Matza), and had never known about this, and I did that every year.

We would visit the Kramer family for many Chagim, Purim Chanukah or Chol Hamo’ed. I remember the yearly Sukkos visits well. Some years we would have to sit in the Sukkah with coats and a hot cup of tea, and Rabbi Kramer always had stories to tell us. Rabbi Kramer told us that right after Sukkos was when he had to leave his father’s house in Poland, and start walking in order to get to China. That was a sad time, but thank G-d, he made it here to Canada. From Poland, he got to Lithuania, and there was a Japanese consul named Sugihara. He was a very sensitive man who realized that there were all these people who needed a visa to continue their trip out of Europe. So he telegrammed to Japan that he wants to help these people and Japan said no, but he went against their will, and told them there is a mass of people outside my house, and they will disappear if we don’t help them, and we can’t let them disappear! He had the courage to start stamping the visas, and helped a lot of people get visas. I believe he helped over 2000 people. One of the evenings, Rabbi Kramer was near him (Sugihara) and he was so tired, that he gave Rabbi Kramer the stamp to continue stamping visas for people. Rabbi Kramer told us that story.

Rabbi Kramer gave his life to education, learning, and family, and if he hadn’t done that, he had the brains to become a wealthy businessman. But that was not what was important to him: it was important to be with the children and that they should become educated.

In one word, Rabbi Kramer was a person who listened, which is a big thing. Some people don’t listen, they just talk themselves, but he listened and then he could give advice if you asked for advice. Even if you didn’t ask, he would tell you in a nice way what to do, but if you asked, he would think for a minute of the situation, and then zero in. He was very quick, and not just a clever man, but a man with heart, so we feel very fortunate that we were part of the Kramer family.