My name is Pesach Nusbaum. I was born in Montreal and have lived here my whole life. I was educated here and came in contact with Lubavitch in the 1970s.
Rabbi Kramer together with the other eight students founded the Yeshivah in 1941. I knew them personally. Rabbi Kramer was the menahel – the executive director of the yeshivah. Among the shluchim, he was the “builder” – the one who established the entire institution. The others were educators, rabbis and so on and had a very important influence, but in the city at large, nobody could compare to Rabbi Kramer in terms of renown. He was known in the whole city as the builder, the one who established the Lubavitcher yeshivah.
The yeshivah building which was built in 1962 was the first of a tremendous series of buildings which now exist in the Chabad-Lubavitch network across North and South America. It was the first building in the entire network, in the entire region, to be built from scratch. Rabbi Kramer established many contributors and supporters who helped him turn the building into a reality.
He was very well-known among everybody. People my age or older certainly remember him very well as a personality. He spoke at many city functions and had a personal interest in the lives of many in the city of Montreal. Through those associations he was able to gather the support he needed to establish the yeshivah.
There is an expression “Kol hascholos koshos” – “All beginnings are difficult.” But the establishment of the yeshivah paved the way for tremendous success under the leadership of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, who had a hand in the entire evolution of the building and the community in general. Rabbi Kramer was his front man.
I’d like to share with you an interesting, well-known story which happened in the early 60s. Rabbi Kramer had finalized the building plans for the new yeshivah and went to visit the Rebbe to consult with him and show him the plans before the construction commenced. He proceeded to lay out the architectural blueprints on the Rebbe’s table. Rabbi Kramer explained to the Rebbe the various details of the plan and they both pored over them. Rabbi Kramer happened to mention during their conversation that he had another, more elaborate building plan for a larger building. The Rebbe asked him, “Why don’t you show me the more elaborate plan?” Rabbi Kramer replied, “Because we don’t have enough money to build it.” The Rebbe then asked, “Do you have sufficient funds for the smaller building?” Rabbi Kramer replied, “Definitely not.” Said the Rebbe, “Then build the bigger building!” And that’s exactly what happened. Not only was it built, but thanks to the good planning at the time it was able to be further enlarged and a third storey was added only a few years ago.
All this was made possible by those beginnings – they were not “humble beginnings,” they were grandiose beginnings.
Rabbi Kramer was somebody who I respected and honored. My connection with him was mainly through the yeshivah.
I’d like to tell you a personal story that will give you an idea of the elevated opinion the people in this city had of Rabbi Kramer.
I once parked my car, which had a picture of the Lubavitcher Rebbe on the dashboard. When I returned a while later I found an elderly couple looking inside the car, which I found a little curious. As I came closer the elderly gentleman said to me, “Is this your car?” To which I answered, “Yes.” He said, “I was just arguing with my wife about this picture on your dashboard. Is that a picture of the Lubavitcher Rebbe?” I replied, “Yes, it is.” The man then turned to his wife and said, “You see? I told you it’s Rabbi Kramer!”
In Rabbi Kramer’s time there was nobody who could compare to him in terms of influence.
When my oldest son was born in the early 80s there was a custom to give “schar limmud” – a token down-payment of tuition to the school for the newborn’s education. Rabbi Kramer came to remind me of this custom, and I duly brought some money to the yeshivah. Afterwards I got a beautiful letter from Rabbi Kramer, explaining the importance of paying “schar limmud”. That letter had a profound, inspiring effect on me.
If I had to describe Rabbi Kramer in one word it would be “builder”. As I said before, there were others who were the educators, the rabbis, and so on. But the one who built the community, ensuring that it had a physical existence, was Rabbi Kramer. I would say that outside of New York there was no other place in North America where Lubavitch had such an influence as it did here, and to a great extent this was due to Rabbi Kramer. He was the first builder.
I personally know many families who are not part of the Lubavitch community per se and have a great respect for Rabbi Kramer. They have not forgotten the influence he had on their lives.
Rabbi Kramer was a natural-born leader, and spoke with authority. He was a fitting vessel for the Rebbe’s leadership; the voice of authority in all matters of Judaism. He spoke directly and with emotion, in a way people could understand. He was a man of purpose. If there is one lesson that can be learned from him, it is the value of having a higher purpose in life. Rabbi Kramer exemplified this idea.