My name is Eliezer Zev ben Moshe Yaakov Litenatsky. I was one of the early Talmidim of Tomchei Tmimim in Montreal which was led by the original Shluchim sent by the the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, the Rebbe Rayatz . In fact, the Yeshiva actually was started in my parents’ (A”H) home on St. Urbain S. in Montreal.
But I want to speak about my revered mentor, R’ Aryeh Leib Kramer Ztz”l, with whom I grew up, and thanks to whom all of my life experiences have meaning. Rabbi Kramer had a huge impact on my life. There is a famous expression of Chazal with regards to how many partners there are in a person’s life: There is G-d, your parents, and in my life, I say Rabbi Kramer. Why? Because everything that I am today, is due to him. Our relationship goes back a long time, from the time that I was in the first or second grade in the Yeshiva on Park Ave. , up to and including my Chasuna, and beyond – through the Chasuna of my oldest son Tzion.
So, let me begin at the beginning. In my earliest memories , I am just 3 or 4 years old. I had the merit of going with my father Z”L and Rabbi Kramer to the Frierdiker Rebbe. I had just gone through two terrible childhood diseases, and Rabbi Kramer brought me for a Bracha to the Rebbe. Through Rabbi Kramer’s efforts I got a “kameia” – a five dollar American gold coin, from the Friediker Rebbe, which I still have today. It’s probably one of the reasons that I survived many of the things that happened in my life. A bit later on, I remember Rabbi Kramer and Rebbetzin Clara’s wedding. I was just a young child but I remember it clearly.
My parents got to know Rabbi Kramer from his first years in Montreal. He arrived here in the early 1940’s, when he was still very young, along with the other 8 shluchim. He came to my parents’ home with the other shluchim, with the idea of establishing a Yeshiva here in Montreal. There was such a need for a Yeshiva in the city. The only Jewish day school was the United Talmud Torah and it was a far cry from what a Yeshiva should be. He came to my parents because they were one of the few shomrei shabbos individuals here in Montreal at that time. My parents agreed to house the first dormitory of the Yeshiva, and be involved in its establishment from the very beginning.
My father became very involved in the Yeshiva. He would meet frequently with Rabbi Kramer. Our families became close, and shared a very unusual and special relationship. We would spend summers together in the mountains in Val David, or Shawbridge. Rabbi Kramer was at the forefront of the various shuls in the mountains. He worried about the minyanim, the shacharis, the mincha, the maariv. The summer atmosphere was very different than the city atmosphere, because there was always learning, and awareness of G-d’s “Ma’asim.” The routine was different too. The men used to stay home in the city during the week and come up for Shabbos to the Mountains. And that’s when the Farbrengens and gatherings would happen. In the evenings, Rabbi Kramer would sit and learn, and after the learning, my mother would bring out mezoinos and tea, we would farbreng a little and enjoy the summer atmostphere. We’d also play chess. I don’t know if anyone knows this, but Rabbi Kramer was a magnificent chess player.
Once, when my Zeide was niftar on a Shabbos, that Motzei Shabbos we drove over to my Zeide’s house. And Rabbi Kramer was already there. He was the one who helped us find my Zeide’s will and was there to advise us. We always took his advice. My father would often come home and say, “Rav Kramer said such-and-such”, or “Rav Kramer indicated we should do this, that, or the other.”
I had the Zchus of having Rabbi Kramer involved in every important decision of my life. Shortly before my Bar Mitzvah, Rabbi Kramer arranged for me to see the Rebbe. I had been to the Rebbe Rayatz, but I had never been to the Rebbe. I remember the entrance way to 770 in those days. To the right, as you walked in, was a little office – the working office, and adjacent to it was Rav Chodakov (the Rebbe’s personal secretary). When you go into the Rebbe, it was literally “yirah” – “Fear of fears” and awe. My Bar Mitzvah took place in the Fairmount St. shul, and Rabbi Kramer was the spine behind me. He gave me the courage to say over my maamorim (Chassidic discourse), and as my mother used to say – I really needed it! She could hear my heart pound all the way over at her table!
I remember Rabbi Kramer arranging “Tomchei Shabbos”, food packages for needy people all over the city. My father used to sit in my Zeide’s house and put together packages of meat, fish, chicken, and other food, along with a two-dollar bill for the needy people. And it was Rabbi Kramer who spearheaded that project. My cousin and I would go on Thursday nights to deliver the packages secretly to people’s houses. We’d knock on the door, and run away. These are the different things we learned from Rabbi Kramer. He gave over such important messages to us children. He taught me about Dveikus to a Rebbe. I remember him saying that every person that has a Rebbe, if we would only hold on to the hem of the Rebbe’s Kapote, he would shlep us into Gan Eden. It may be a moshul, a parable, but in a certain sense it’s true. Rabbi Kramer gave us the dveikus, the yiras shomayim, the belief in the Rebbe, all brought through the special pipelines called “Kramer”.
Rabbi Kramer was very involved in all aspects of community life here in Montreal. he was involved in Rand’s Bakery’s establishment, first on St. Lawrence Blvd, and later as it moved to Victoria Ave. He also played a big part in the kosher meat market that my father founded. My father knew as much about meat markets as I know about meat markets, and Rabbi Kramer helped it come to reality as a result of his ideas and perseverance. He was even involved in the business planning. I remember very distinctly how my father Z”L had meetings at our home on Querbes Ave. in Outrement. Rabbi Kramer was an integral part of those meetings.
When I became engaged, Rabbi Kramer brought me and my future wife, Devorah for a Yechidus – a private audience with the Rebbe. We went in with my father Z”L, and my future father-in-law as well. The Rebbe spoke to us in English for over a half hour. One of the things we discussed there was that my wife, like most women of those days was planning to wear a tichel, since wigs were not quite the most popular head coverings in those days. The Rebbe convinced her to be amongst the first young women to wear a sheitel. And our whole life was based on this inyan, this important guideline. Our home became a Binyan Adei Ad, and that is the light that our children were raised in, all thanks to the Rebbe, and Rabbi Kramer.
Rabbi Kramer was Mesader Kiddushin at our Chasuna. In those days, 50 years ago, unlike today, it was a little more difficult to have separate seating, and all the customs that we have in Lubavitch. But our wedding was totally separate seating! And that was all due to Rabbi Kramer who was our Mesader Kiddushin. To me it is very memorable, because not every person merits having his mentor at all his Simchas. Not only did he come to be Mesader Kiddushin, he came to be mesameach with us – to liven up the wedding with dancing and singing. 25 years later, when our bechor, our oldest son Aaron Bentzion got married, again it was Rabbi Kramer who was Mesader Kiddushin, the one who was involved in every aspect of the wedding – the Kabbolos Ponim, the Oroiv Kablan and pretty much everything else under the sun! Rabbi Kramer came to the Chasuna bearing a Siddur, a gift from the Rebbe, inscribed with a handwritten note from the Rebbe inside it. My son has it until today.
When the building of the Yeshiva was first built, my wife and I received a tour of the new location in Montreal. Rabbi Kramer was so proud of what he had accomplished. He took us into every corner, into every part of the building. His office, though was so “tznuah”, so simple, with nothing extravagant. You would think the Menahel would finally merit to have a place where he could be in comfort. It was not that way. His focus was on the Yeshiva, the building, the doing. I remember how proud he was of the seperate Netilas Yadayim room where you could wash your hands for Hamotzi or before Davening – and of the Simcha Hall that was built there, with the chandeliers and all the trimmings. It was a place of davening too, with a shul in the basement, and another place to daven with the bochurim of the Yeshiva.
40 years later, I came to a gathering that took place in the Kramer home on Kent Ave. marking the occasion of the forty- year anniversary of the establishment of the Yeshiva in Montreal. We spoke about Montreal, about how the Yeshiva was founded, about the hard work that it took to build the current building on Westbury and Plamondon. It was nostalgic to be there, to be part of repect to my parents, and respect to my mentor Rabbi Kramer.
I merited to be at many of his Yom Kippur davenings. He always davened neilah, and when he said at the end of neilah, “Hashem hu hoelokim,” seven times, we really thought that Moshiach is coming, and G-d Himself was going to come down and take us to Eretz Yisroel. I remember his voice so clearly. I think of Rabbi Kramer as a “power staff” – the staff, on which we all leaned. We miss him terribly. We miss the “Tzidkis”. We miss the brochois we used to get every Rosh Hashana from him. I find it amazing how Reb Aryeh Leib Kramer Z”L knew everything and everyone. I know for a fact that certain people, if they didn’t get a call from him for Erev Rosh Hashana, they would write their Tzava’a (will), literally. His Bracha at that time was so important to them.
And now living in Los Angeles, building Yiddishkeit together with my wife, the biggest merit we’ve had here was the merit of hosting Rabbi Kramer and his Rebbetzin as guests in our home when they came to be mesader kiddushin at a wedding here in California. I hope and pray for the day when I will see Rabbi Kramer again. No one, I think, had the relationship with Rabbi Kramer that I had.
To me, he was like the second Rebbe. There was the Rebbe in New York, and we had Rabbi Kramer in Montreal. And Montreal was the example for everywhere. In those days, the Mesiras Nefesh that was put forth by the original Shluchim, in regards to every part of Jewish life, made a strong example for all the institutions that now exist all over the world. Whatever part of life required caution, supervision and “Maasim Tovim,” that all came through the Hanholo of the Yeshiva, and the Menahel of the Hanholo was Rabbi Kramer.
Rabbi Kramer is the one who mentioned to me the powerful message that a general is as good as his soldiers are. He said that in reference to the Rebbe. As Lubavitcher Chassidim , we are the representatives of the Rebbe wherever we are. This example is very evident in Montreal, Canada, until today. The Rebbe surrounded himself with Laibel Kramers, and as a result, Lubavitch grew beyond anybody’s scope or imagination. Rabbi Kramer started and completed the Avoides Hakoidesh, the holy work, of founding Tomchei Temimim in Montreal, and he did it so well. I remember each and every nuance of how he did it, of how he ran the Yeshiva in such an organized fashion, even in those early days without computers and all the other wonderful tools of today. Rabbi Kramer was Rishon to everything, the first and foremost in all the moving and shaking in Yeshiva and in Yiddishkeit in general in Montreal.