The Siyum An Outreach Sefer Torah for an Outreach Rabbi

by Shoshanna Silcove

A Siyum and Hachnosas Sefer Torah was held at Elwood Shule in Melbourne, Australia on Sunday, 11th Shevat in honour of the late Rabbi Aryeh Leib Kramer (OBM) founding Menahel of the Lubavitcher Yeshiva Tomchei Temimim and associated institutions in Montreal, Canada. Over four hundred people attended – including the late Rabbi Kramer’s wife, Rebbetzin Chaya Kramer and many of her children and grandchildren who flew in from various parts of the world for this special occasion.

The dedication was spearheaded two years ago by Rabbi Kramer’s daughter Rebbetzin Sara Gutnick, herself a long-time Shlucha of the Lubavitcher Rebbe in Australia, as a way of keeping her special father’s legacy alive. The Sefer Torah has been dedicated to be used specifically for outreach. It will be housed at Elwood Shule and made available for use by small communities where needed, befitting Rabbi Kramer’s (OBM) life of outreach. Rabbi Kramer was a veteran Shliach of both the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe and also of his son-in-law, Rabbi MM Schneerson. His life was one of unsurpassed devotion and complete dedication to the spreading of Torah and mitzvoth and the Chassidic way of life.

Rabbi Aryeh Leib Kramer (OBM) emerged from the horrors of the Holocaust as the sole survivor of his family. After enduring much hardship he travelled in a group of nine students to Montreal, Canada where he was asked by the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe to establish the Tomchei Temimmim Yeshiva and later went on to establish Beis Rivkah Girls School in Montreal as well. For sixty years Rabbi Kramer remained active in building the Montreal Jewish community and imbued everything he did with optimism, positivity, and simcha. Rabbi Kramer’s genuineness and unique sensitivity made him beloved by so many from all sections of the Jewish community in Canada. The Prime Minister of Canada, Mr. Stephen Harper, sent a special letter of commendation to the Torah dedication ceremony in Melbourne highlighting Rabbi Kramer’s invaluable contribution to educational and pastoral duties in Montreal.

Rebbetzin Sara Gutnick reminisced about a father who no matter how long his days or how tired he felt, would sit in the late hours and write long meaningful letters to his children who were far away on Shlichus. These were the days before the advent of email and Skype, and the distance between Canada and Australia was great. Rebbetzin Gutnick described waiting in anticipation for her beloved father’s letters which were filled with wisdom and insight, and served as a source of great inspiration to all his children. Rebbetzin Gutnick, who movingly read some excerpts of Rabbi Kramer’s writings, has also set up a website and published a pamphlet of some of the letters.

The Torah dedication procession began in the St. Kilda Botanic Gardens where hundreds of men, women, and children gathered with flags and accompanied by live music, joyously walked the Sefer Torah under a Chuppah to the Elwood Shule for its completion. There Rabbi Mordechai Gutnick, son in law of Rabbi Kramer and Rabbi of Elwood Shule, led the participants in the ceremony of completing the last few letters.

The Torah was completed by Melbourne Sofer Rabbi Eli Gutnick, a grandson of Rabbi Kramer. Upon completion of the Sefer Torah, Rabbi Mordechai Gutnick asked all the participants to say amen to his ‘Shehecheyanu’ brocho and a wonderful musical rendition of ‘Shehecheyanu’ was performed by Osher Gutnick, grandson of Rabbi Kramer, together with Cantor Yumi Rosenbaum.

Rabbi Kramer’s grandson, Rabbi Mendy Gutnick, the Chabad Shliach to West Parkland, Florida, USA, addressed the congregation and asked, “How could Zeida, who suffered so greatly in the Holocaust, and was only survivor of his entire family, go on to move to a foreign country and create an “empire” in such an optimistic and vibrant manner?” This capability of Rabbi Kramer always amazed him. Part of the answer could be found in Parsha Beshalach, that had just been read. The Yidden were experiencing the exaltation of freedom as they approached the Yam Suf, only to notice behind them a cloud of dust in the background. They then realized the enemy was not yet conquered, and suddenly they were confused and angry.They divided into four groups with different opinions. Moshe asks Hashem,what he should do and, Hashem answers him ‘Why are you crying out to me? Tell the Yidden to go forward!’ Hashem had told them to leave Mitzrayim and go to Eretz Yisroel and to receive the Torah on the way. Anything else in their way was not for them to worry about. Their job was to have faith that Hashem would take care of any obstacles. As Rabbi Mendy Gutnick explained,this encapsulated Rabbi Kramer’s approach to life as inspired by his mentors the Lubavitcher Rebbe, – not to try to escape the reality one finds oneself in, nor to submit to it, but to disregard all obstacles and to focus on the job at hand – to move forward totally focused on his Rebbes’ directives.

Hagbah was done by Rabbi Shmuel Kramer, youngest son of Rabbi Kramer, and Rabbi Dovid Gutnick, grandson of Rabbi Leib Kramer had the honour of g’lila and placing the crown on the Torah. The beautiful silver crown was dedicated to Rebbetzin and Rabbi Mordechai Gutnick’s late daughter Liba Devorah Gutnick. It was sponsored by her classmates from Beis Rivkah College in Melbourne, who all remember her with great love and affection.

Included in the joyful hakofos that followed were representatives from the Rabbinate and lay-leadership of many Melbourne congregations. Also represented in the hakofos were those associated with Beis Rivkah,Melbourne or their husbands who knew Liba Devorah (OBM), former students of Tomchei Temimim Lubavitch and all the extended family members of the Kramer and Gutnick families, many of whom had travelled a far distance to participate.

At the L’Chaim that followed the ceremony Rabbi Yosef Kramer, Chabad Shaliach to Tverya, Israel and son of Rabbi Leib Kramer, pointed out that it was appropriate that this Sefer Torah be dedicated to outreach. As each letter in the Torah represents each individual Yid, his father dedicated himself to spreading Torah to each and every Jew equally without differentiating between them. “His life was one big outreach,” he said.

Rabbi Shmuel Gurevitch, principal of Beis Rivkah Melbourne also addressed the guests and remembered Liba Devora (OBM). ‘Liba’, he said, means love,and “Devorah” is a bee which produces honey or sweetness and he emphasized that she was indeed a sweet and loving girl. He thanked her classmates who donated the crown to the Sefer Torah in her memory.

Rabbi Shimshon Yurkovitch, Chabad Shliach to Malvern in Melbourne and who was born in Montreal reminisced about Rabbi Kramer and the impact he had on so many lives. Rabbi Yakov Glasman, President of the Rabbinical Council of Victoria and also a former student of Tomchei Temimim in Montreal, brought greetings to the gathering in a very moving address. Mr. Michael Danby,Federal parliamentarian also addressed the gathering with special emphasis on the triumphant story of survival by Rabbi Kramer, particularly as the celebrations were being held in the Elwood Shule which was established by Australian survivors of the Holocaust.

This day was a special event because it was specifically scheduled to be held on Yud Aleph Shevat, the anniversary of the commencement of the leadership of the Lubavitcher Rebbe in 5711 (1951). By Divine Providence, Rebbetzin Gutnick, whose birthday is on 11th Shevat, was born at precisely the time that the Rebbe was delivering his first Chassidic discourse as Rebbe – the Ma’amor Basi L’Gani. Rebbetzin Gutnick expressed her gratitudefor her father’s legacy and her deep desire that it be perpetuated by her children and grandchildren.

This entire project was the culmination of a two year dream envisioned by Rebbetzin Gutnick. Rabbi Kramer was the living embodiment of the idea of transforming the darkness into light. Thanks to one women’s vision his special legacy lives on, not only within his own family but is accessible to and can be shared by each and every Jew to become inspired by.