Interview with Mr. Earl and Mrs. Lessy Kimmel
Mrs. Kimmel: My maiden name was Ashkenai, which I guess explains my connection to Rabbi Kramer. I was quite young around 12 years of age, when Rabbi Kramer came through Shanghai. I don’t remember him personally from Shanghai, but I do remember going to the house of my Uncle Meir Ashkenazi who was the chief Rabbi of Shanghai at the time, and I remember spending Seders there. Obviously the whole family came together, but along with the family there was around 50 Yeshivah Bochrim – and I think Rabbi Kramer was among them. They would all come and spend the Seders pretty much staying all night, and we children ended up on the floor sleeping because we got too tired listening to everything.
By the time I came to Montreal I was quite a bit older and I became aware of Rabbi Kramer through my parents, because my parents were close, particularly my mother. In fact when my mother passed away, Rabbi Kramer gave the eulogy with another Yeshiva bochur that came at the same time, Rabbi Herschel Milner.
So that was pretty much my connection with Rabbi Kramer. Rabbi Kramer always stayed close to my parents. My husband just reminded me that he was at our wedding. Whenever my husband and I would attend any Simcha where he was also present, he would always make a point of choosing my husband to come out and to dance. I don’t know if this takes away from what my husband has to say, but I remember passing by the head table at one such Simcha and people could not understand why Rabbi Kramer paid such close attention to my husband, after all my husband is not connected to Shanghai. But Rabbi Kramer explained that ‘oh yes he’s part of the Ashkenazi family’ because for him the Ashkenazi family was very, very important. Rabbi Kramer spent the war years in Shanghai, and pretty much my uncle and aunt and my mother and sisters-in-law looked after these Yeshiva bochrim who came through. There were many yeshivas that were represented there. The Mir yeshiva came through and was saved in its entirety because of the efforts of my aunt and uncle. That’s how I came to know Rabbi Kramer and after that just kept in touch with him and with Mrs. Kramer.
Mostly it was my parents who spoke about him. as I said, Rabbi Kramer was so close to my parents, and I know my mother would go and see him and unburden herself. She knew if she needed someone to talk to especially after my father passed away, she could talk to Rabbi Kramer.
In one word, I would describe Rabbi Kramer as being very aidel. I don’t know an English word to translate it. To me he was always soft, gentle. He always listened if you had something to say. You didn’t feel like you were talking to a wall. No matter what you said, you knew that the person’s there. That he was listening and hearing what you were saying. So I would say caring to describe him. One can learn from Rabbi Kramer to think about another person than of one’s self. Not to hurt the other person ever, or take advantage of them.
My wife Lessy and I have been married for 50 years. Before telling you about my own relationship with Rabbi Kramer, I want to add a couple things to what my wife said. First of all about dancing at weddings, Rabbi Kramer would pull in Rabbi Hirschorn, the late Chief Rabbi of Montreal, who had also been a refugee in Shanghai through the whole war and knew my wife’s family from there as well. And while Rabbi Kramer knew who I was personally, Rabbi Hirschorn did not. It was Rabbi Hirschhorn who couldn’t understand why I was being pulled by Rabbi Kramer into this dancing circle.
A second fact in relation to my wife before I go on to my own relationship. I guess because she got emotional, my wife neglected to mention Rabbi Kramer delivered the eulogy at my mother-in-law’s funeral. That was at my wife’s request and possibly at my mother in law’s also because my mother-in-law knew that she was passing away. And I believe that he said Kaddish for her as well.
Now as far as I’m concerned, apart from the dancing incident, my own connections with Rabbi Kramer are the following: He was hospitalized somewhere between the beginning of 1989 and summer of 1991, at the same time as my mother was hospitalized. They were both on the same floor in the Jewish General Hospital. Knowing him, I would stop in to say hello when I would come in to visit my mother and he would come to visit my mother sometimes when I wasn’t there.
My mother spent 3 years in an acute care hospital which is very rare. She was ill and it was a condition which couldn’t be stabilized or wasn’t stabilized for that length of time. I once asked Rabbi Kramer, because she was seriously ill but no longer acutely ill, so I asked him if it was still appropriate to say tehillim for her because normally you say tehillim for acutely ill people. And he said, he thought about it for a moment, and then he answered me, it certainly can’t do any harm. And that’s when I started saying tehillim, first for my mother, then for a child of ours who became seriously ill. Over the years it has been known that I say tehillim for all kinds of people that are seriously ill – relatives, friends, acquaintances, sometimes even strangers, who I think it would be helpful to say tehillim for. That is something that I picked up from Rabbi Kramer.
My wife neglected to mention, although she herself is not Lubavitch, she is of Lubavich descent on her father’s side. And if not for the Russian Revolution and the fact that her father and siblings had had to run away from the Bolsheviks to China, her father would probably have remained Lubavitch but there was no yeshiva, no set up for Lubavitch Chassidim in Shanghai. Her oldest uncle, was already grown up and married and he has remained Lubavitch as has his family.
Anyway, to return to my own connection with Rabbi Kramer. When my own mother died, Chanukah time 1993, he came to my mother’s shiva, which I thought was very kind of him, and I asked him and he agreed to also say kaddish for my mother as well as myself doing so, because I was travelling a great deal and I was afraid there would be times when I would not be able to. And he agreed. And I asked him because he had known my mother from their stay together in the hospital. I would run into him at occasion at various simchas in Montreal. I think that really sums up my connection with Rabbi Kramer.
I recall that Rabbi Kramer loved to participate in the simchas. He loved to dance with the other men. I think it was very meaningful for him to engender happiness at a Simcha. I also remember seeing him over the years at many many shivas, where he would come – not only by in-laws and my mother’s but other shivas I happened to attend. He would often give the little talk about the deceased, the sort of drasha that people give at shivas.
I certainly would agree with the way my wife described Rabbi Kramer. I would also add that I think he was a very broad minded and tolerant person. Tolerant of people who were not other Chassidim like himself, but whose lifestyles were very different and whose ways were very different and I think that’s a very great quality because people all too often are only tolerant of people like they are, like themselves.
We can all learn from this -to be broadminded. The same lesson. And as my wife has said about him, to listen to others and not pass judgement quickly.
I think that all his children and grandchildren should be very proud to have him as father and a grandfather. I remember once meeting Rabbi and Mrs. Kramer at LaGuardia airport it was Erev Shabbos or Erev Yom Tov and they were picked up immediately but we were nervous because those that came to pick us up were unfortunately delayed.
I know Rabbi Kramer helped a lot of people. I do know that he was a great comfort to a family that we were close to, also not Lubavitch, a family who went through a very lengthy period of difficulty and tragedy. And I know that the couple who are contemporaries of ours, went to him very often and he was able to help them get through this difficult period.