1. *Nine Bochrim arrive
I remember it was an Erev Shabbos when the group of nine bochrim sent by the *Frierdiker Rebbe came to Montreal. Rabbi Kramer was the one in charge, he was obviously the spokesman, and he made a relationship with our family right from the start, which was unbelievable. The Frierdiker Rebbe told these young men clearly what their task was – to start a Yeshiva.
They arrived on an Erev Shabbos, and my father went to bring some of these bochrim home for the Friday night meal. Before he left my sisters said to him “don’t bring anyone home with a beard”. But my father was a Vizhnitzer Chossid and he enjoyed the two young bochrim he brought home with beards of course, Rabbi Hendel and Rabbi Greenglass. Shabbos morning they went to *daven at the Nusach Ari Shule on Pine Ave, this was their first premises. The Rebbe sent Rabbi Levitin to be the tenth man because they were nine. On the first Shabbos our guests came so late, we worried about them, and they finally turned up at 4 o’clock because they *farbrainged.
Right away they gathered 15-20 boys and they started a Yeshiva in the Nusach Ari Shule on Roy St. and Rabbi Gerlitzky was the teacher. I was known in Yeshiva as Avraham David, and I was the first *talmid of Rabbi Gerlitzky in 1941 when they first started. Roy St. was too far east to walk so after a while they rented at the Yavneh Shul, and we went there on Hutchison St. Then they outgrew Yavneh because they needed more classrooms so they rented rooms in an orphanage for Jewish kids on Jeanne Mance, a big building and then they were able to run 3-4 classes in those premises. This was all before 1943, for 1½ years we were going from Shul to Shul until they built on Park Ave.
It was unbelievable what Rabbi Kramer managed to build up here. Just to describe to you what kind of man Rabbi Kramer was, I’ll mention a conversation many years ago that I had with Rabbi Hendel. Rabbi Hendel told me that when they were in Lithuania Rabbi Kramer took care of all the visas and all the passports that they got from Mr. Sugihara, the Japanese consul general. Rabbi Kramer was always the one to organize, to accomplish, to save the situation.
I understood that there was a problem with the freighter that because of the dateline they might have to fast two days for Yom Kippur if the trip would last that long. Others chose not to travel, but the Lubavitchers took the opportunity to leave with some others and I believe the wife of the Chofetz Chayim was also on this freighter. Hashem helped and in the middle of the way they had a problem with a cable and they had to stop at some other port and they only had one day Yom Kippur there.
They arrived in San Francisco and from there they took a train to Montreal. Before they came to Montreal the *Va’ad Ha’ir made a campaign and asked for volounteers to open their homes to these boys, provide room and board, which my parents and my uncle did.
2. Our Relationship with Rabbi Kramer Begins
We lived on the corner and every night when he finished his work Rabbi Kramer would come in and he would discuss what he was doing, process it all with my mother and tell her how the day went. Unfortunately, my father had passed away and my mother became both mother and father to us children. He would talk about his hopes and plans, tell her how everything was working out, and that he would have a campaign. My mother would have something for him to eat and she would listen, like a mother.
Rabbi Kramer soon became part of our family, our large extended family. We had 37 first cousins, because the Dalfen family consisted of Hutmans, Sands, Litwins, Lehrers and Tennenhaus from the nine children from my grandfather Menachem Mendel. My cousin Manny Sand used to send a newsletter to all the cousins and later via a web page, and Rabbi and Mrs. Kramer were included as one of the cousins, and were updated in all the family events and happenings.
During all this time my mother, my family and the whole Dalfen family bonded with Rabbi Kramer. When the rest of the family saw how I was becoming more knowledgeable, they were interested in sending their children too. We had originally been brought up in small towns in New Brunswick and while living there I didn’t know anything. All of a sudden, after moving to Montreal and going to the Yeshiva, I started to learn Torah. So they all sent in their children from the Maritimes and they all came into Montreal and they all started to go to the Yeshiva. When the Yeshiva first started they had daily classes from 4-7 and from 10-1 on Sunday, but it didn’t take long and the Yeshiva was a day school. When my cousins came, the Yeshiva was already a day school and we all continued our education in secular and Hebrew studies until the end of high school.
One time about a year after the beginning of the establishment of the Yeshiva, Rabbi Kramer chose me and two other boys to represent the Yeshiva boys for a big learning ‘test’, where he invited all the people from Montreal to attend. In my class there were sons of Rabbis and others that came from Europe, but he chose us to go up on the stage to answer all the questions in order to show that you could make a *talmid chochim out of a Montreal born student. After that the Yeshiva got a lot of recruits, and the Yeshiva became very strong, very big, it was unbelievable.
Rabbi Kramer would come every night and tell my mother how I’m progressing and what’s happening in general. One day, he was very excited and happy when he told my mother about the wonderful support and friendship with Mrs. Ida Bloomberg and the Finkelstein family. In those days the Finkelstein family were selling the Van Heusen shirts – it was like gold – you could only get them in the black market. They were very well to do and Mrs. Bloomberg liked Rabbi Kramer and what he was doing, she was very attached to him and later with his family. She said to Rabbi Kramer, “ I’m going to show you how to make a campaign in Montreal” and she took her staff and she gave them cards and she said “you call these people” and they called their people and overnight in one week they raised the money that enabled them to start to build the building on Park Ave and a smaller building on Jeanne Mance behind the Park Ave. building. They put a *mikvah in, and a *beis hamedrash, three stories, classrooms…a beautiful building. We sponsored a room, my family did… everyone was giving money, it was beautiful and quite unbelievable.
3. The Interned Boys
Rabbi Kramer was here only a few months when he did something so special, I don’t know how he did it, and this gave the fledgling Yeshiva a boost as well. Rabbi Kramer heard that there were about 30 *frum boys interned on an Island and were imprisoned in a Prisoners of War camp. Rabbi Kramer had an unbelievable way of meeting people of influence right from the start and he already had a network of supporters after only a few months and he told them that’s it’s a shame that these boys are in a camp. He told the authorities that he guarantees that they won’t be a burden on the government and it won’t cost them a nickel. Rabbi Kramer said, “We will pay all their necessities, room and board, and we will take full responsibility for them and if you ever want them you will know where they are”. So Rabbi Kramer took them out. Among them was Rabbi Sputz, Rabbi Feigelstock, the Felligs, twenty nine more came out and this made the Yeshiva flourish. They came while they were renting in Jeanne Mance, so there was room for them and now Lubavitch was on the map definitely. These boys that they brought out from the concentration camp really helped a lot to make this Yeshiva grow and put the city on the map.
4. The Frierdiker Rebbe
Rabbi Kramer organized for the bochrim to get passports and Rabbi Greenglass was the lucky one to receive his first, so he went to New York for Pesach. Rabbi Kramer arranged that Rabbi Greenglass should ensure that my two uncles, and myself to be invited to the *tish of the Frierdiker Rebbe on *Acharon Shel Pesach. When we came, the stairway was full of Chassidim and we couldn’t get through, but then the door opened and a voice said, “Let the Dalfens come up”. I was 14 years old at the time and it was unbelievable to see the Frierdiker Rebbe at his tish with around twenty five people there. When the Rebbe talked you could see the *Shechina coming out of his face, I couldn’t understand a word that he said, but you felt what went on, and the *niggunim, and the respect and quiet. At the end we got in for *yechidus and Rabbi Greenglass brought us in.
I remember we were standing with Rabbi Greenglass and he said ‘*dos is Gan Eiden’. What a lovely man. I remember that Pesach to the ‘t’, when I came back after Pesach I was a whole hero, everyone couldn’t get over it – I was a star! As soon as we walked out from the yechidus right away Rabbi Greenglass typed out what the Rebbe told me using the typewriter in the Rebbe’s secretary’s office. I kept it in my wallet for years and years until it disintegrated, but I remember one thing the Frierdiker Rebbe said: *lernen ken er, er zol nor velen lernen.
Many years later, Rabbi Kramer reminisced with me about a time that he travelled to New York to see the Frierdiker Rebbe, but at that time they didn’t allow too many people upstairs because the Rebbe was ill. The Rebbe (*Nesi Doreinu) saw how much he wished he could go in so the Rebbe advised him to remain near the door and he will tell his father in law that we’re short a man for a *minyan and that Rabbi Kramer’s downstairs, and the Rebbe would come and get him. That’s exactly what happened. The Frierdiker Rebbe passed away soon afterwards and the relationship between the Rebbe and Rabbi Kramer then changed to one of a Chassid and a Rebbe.
5. The Weddings
From the nine of them Rabbi Rodal was the first to get married, on a freezing cold winter’s day. The whole of Montreal wanted to come and see this historical wedding, a *Chassidishe wedding in an outside *Chupa. There was such a huge crowd that the Rodals could not even get through the crowd to attend their own Chupa. So they hastily set up another Chupa somewhere else so that the Chassan and Kalla could attend their own wedding. From then on Rabbi Kramer had to arrange the weddings for the rest of the young Rabbis. The next one to get married was Rabbi Gerlitzky and Rabbi Kramer arranged a beautiful and dignified wedding and from then on he arranged every single wedding. My mother would ask him, ‘why are you waiting it’s time for you to get married’ but he said he has to marry off all the others first and so he did and then he got married last.
6. Lubavitch Style
Let me give you an example of what I think about Rabbi Kramer’s style and the way Lubavitch does things. In the early 60’s I was living in the Quebec City, doing very well financially and we had a nice group there of financially secure Jewish business. We used to have B’nai Brith meetings, socialize, and we were basically a close knit community. The Lubavitch Rabbis came down to raise money for the Yeshiva and I would take them around to my friends. The word must’ve gone out because I received a call from another group of insular Chassidim who wanted our financial help urgently to help them remain even more isolated. So I said to them very nicely, ‘Look here, you just came here in the 50s, and you see a vibrant city with frum yiden, yiden with beards mingling proudly in the city. Before the Lubavitchers came in the 1940’s, there were just a few men with beards, now look what they’ve done, they didn’t hide, they weren’t ashamed, they didn’t go live in a ghetto and now ten years later look at how Yiddish the city and this is what Lubavitch does. By the late 50s it was a already a Yiddishe city when the other Chassidim came, but Lubavitch was here first, they started the whole ball rolling no question about it. Who do you benefit when you go hide and don’t live among others. They didn’t go hide, they were out there and this is what Lubavitch is -out there, that’s what it does, just look at what the Rebbe did, sending Shluchim all over the world.
7. Moving the Yeshiva to Westbury
Rabbi Kramer knew everybody in Montreal, I don’t think there’s a person this man didn’t know, and everyone knew him and had such respect for him, it’s unbelievable, just look at what he’s built. When people started moving away from Park Avenue and they moved towards the Cote des Neiges area, it was time for the Yeshiva to move too. Rabbi Kramer was close with the Cohen brothers and they were builders and they built the Yeshiva. Rabbi Kramer showed the Lubavitcher Rebbe two sets of plans, one cheaper than the other. One cost actually almost double than the other. The Rebbe asks him: Have you got the means for the first one, the one that’s less costly? And Rabbi Kramer says: Well, no, but we could make a campaign and we hope we could raise it, so the Rebbe said: If we have to rely on Hashem then we could go for the more expensive option and rely on Him for the greater amount. That’s what happened and they built the beautiful Yeshiva on Westbury Ave.
8. A *Bracha from the Rebbe for Children
We were very, very much involved with Rabbi Kramer, and Rabbi Kramer was the one that introduced us to the Lubavitcher Rebbe and made sure we got an appointment through Rabbi Chodakov when we needed one, or to get *lekach. Rabbi Kramer performed all kinds of good things for me and for our family. He was very, very dear to us.
When we were married for 2-3 years and we didn’t have any children, Rabbi Kramer arranged for us to go see the Rebbe. The Rebbe said go back to Montreal and go see a certain doctor, and gave us the name of this doctor and so we went to see him. The doctor told us bluntly: You have no hope, you will never conceive. This doctor was a friend of Rabbi Kramer and they spoke to each other about our situation and the doctor said to Rabbi Kramer: Forget about it, they will never have children. Rabbi Kramer reported this to the Rebbe and the Rebbe told Rabbi Kramer: Tell the doctor to do what he has to do, his job is to heal and not to condemn. Sure enough my wife, Molly, became pregnant and just before the Bris, Rabbi Kramer meets the doctor and says to him: Guess where I’m going now? Remember the one you wrote off and you said she would never get pregnant, well I’m going to the Bris now.
My wife Molly’s father and mine both passed away and my mother in law suggested we don’t combine names. She said that we’ll have more children so why use both names on the one child, so it was a question of which name should we give first. So when we couldn’t make up our minds we said we’ll do what we always do, we’ll call Rabbi Kramer, and we did. At the time we were living in Quebec city a little over 200 miles from Montreal. When my wife went into labour it was taking a long time and again I didn’t know what to do, the labour wasn’t progressing, so I called Rabbi Kramer. He said: ‘One minute and I’ll call you right back to the hospital’ and he called the Rebbe, and we received a bracha and one hour later our son was born. I don’t know why I didn’t call earlier!
Rabbi Kramer called the Rebbe and told him the good news about the birth and we’d like to know who to name after. He asked a few times for us but didn’t receive an answer. He was about to leave to drive here for the *bris and still he called again but there was no answer. So when he came without an answer we said that we decided that the name should be Shloime, my wife’s father.
The bris was right after Yom Kippur and Rabbi Kramer was going to New York for Simchas Torah like he always did. He suggested we get a *l’chaim from the Rebbe and so we gave him a few bottles of *mashke and he said this is a l’chaim from the Dalfens and the Rebbe said l’chaim for Shloime, he knew our baby’s name without anyone telling him. The Rebbe sent lekach with Rabbi Kramer and told him to make sure he’s there for the *pidyon haben and give the lekach from the Rebbe.
9. The Rebbe Lent me Money
I brought my sons once for Purim and they also go to see the Rebbe, they were aged around 6 and 7 years old then we went again when they were older about 15 and 16 when we went for Sukos and Rabbi Gerlitzky arranged for us a place to stay for Simchas Torah. I was there quite a few times for a few unbelievable farbrengens, the Purim one was very special.
One time Rabbi Kramer was going to NY and after he went in for a yechidus with the Rebbe then I went in straight afterwards. Rabbi Kramer explained to the Rebbe what was happening, I was going through a very tough time financially, and the Rebbe lent me money, and he said it’s my money you’re investing and I want you to make sure you close your store on Shabbos. So I said to the Rebbe I can’t do it because I might as well close down my entire store in the area where I operate I might as well not open altogether in that area where the stores are. The Rebbe told me to go to Rabbi Hendel and he’ll give you a *shtar, tell him I sent you. The shtar means that I sell the business to my head clerk and she owns the business on Shabbos and Yom Tov and all the expenses that are incurred on the store and on the building have to paid from the profits on that day and this way the store can stay open and she runs it. At first Rabbi Hendel wasn’t so happy about it, he didn’t believe in it, finally I said- ‘look the Rebbe said to tell you’ so he did it. I understand that my cousins did the same thing after a while with their stores in the Maritimes, once they understood that it could be done.
Another time I remember it was around three o’clock in the morning when it was our turn to go into yechidus. I remember seeing Rabbi W. and he was debating whether he will go to the mikvah or not will he have his yechidus or should he leave it for another time, perhaps because there were so many people. We would wait on a hard bench, talk to people, everyone talking together about their problems then all of a sudden it’s our turn to go in for our yechidus.
The Rebbe talked to us, a good 35 minutes for a wonderful yechidus. During this time we hear knocks on the door and we were starting to feel edgy, and then more knocks and we’re getting edgier. My wife, who was sitting, started to get up, but the Rebbe said *‘blaib zitzen’, so she sat and finally Rabbi Groner puts in his head in and still the Rebbe wouldn’t let us go and he kept talking to us. When we went out, boy was Rabbi Groner mad at us and he called Rabbi Kramer and said: It’s a long time til they’ll come back.
Later it was dollars and Rabbi Kramer helped arrange for us not to stand in line, but came through another way and his son Michel met us and took us around and ½ hour later we were in the line which was stretched out around the block.
10. Family Simchas
Rabbi Kramer was very popular, he didn’t just integrate with the Dalfen family, he did so with many families and many prominent families. There wasn’t *simcha in the family that Rabbi Kramer didn’t come to, there wasn’t a wedding in the family, cousins, second cousins whoever, a bris, a pidyon haben, a wedding whatever that he was not a beloved guest of honour. Every simcha centred around Rabbi Kramer, he was the first one to be invited and then the rest of the guests were invited, always at a place of honour at the head table.
Every Shabbos then he would have a simcha, either an *aufruf, a Bar Mitzvah but it was all in different Shules and some were too far to walk. He and his wife would be offered accommodation over Shabbos, but he always declined as he would not be away from his family on Shabbos. My uncle Isaac’s grandson was having his Bar Mitzvah in St. Laurent and of course they invited him and Mrs. Kramer to please stay over Shabbos, but he declined. The Bar Mitzvah was on a cold day in the winter and the large extended family were staying in different homes and we come to Shule and all of a sudden around 9:30, in comes Rabbi Kramer. We couldn’t believe that in the middle of winter on such a cold, cold day he could walk from Kent Ave to St. Laurent a distance of 6-7 miles, in the freezing winter and he came because he didn’t want to disappoint my uncle and not come to his grandson’s Bar Mitzvah. Naturally they wouldn’t let him walk back, they drove him home after Shabbos.
11. Rabbi Kramer in Israel
Mrs. Kramer’s mother lived in Israel, but the Rebbe wouldn’t let Rabbi Kramer go to Israel. Later he also wanted to go to Australia to visit his daughter Sara and family there but the same thing happened. He also said something about the dateline to Australia, but the bottom line was he really wanted to go. Finally the Rebbe allowed him to go to Israel. My cousin Manny Sand lived in Ramat Gan and the Kramers stayed there. Rabbi Kramer noted at the time how he was looked after like royalty, they didn’t know what to do for him, they took him around, and he was very impressed with his hosts.
It happened that I was in Israel when Rabbi Kramer’s granddaughter married Rabbi Gerlitzky’s grandson and so we went to the wedding. Rabbi Kramer and Rabbi Gerlitzky were so close because they both stayed at the *Halpern house when everyone was paired off when they first arrived in Montreal. It was so nice to see the whole family all together, two beautiful families merging. Rabbi Gerlitzky was a gem of a man too, they were all special but in the end Rabbi Wineberg, Rabbi Kotlarsky and Rabbi Tennebaum went to live in New York as the Frierdiker Rebbe needed them there, and they were successful and beloved there although we missed them in Montreal.
12. Family Man
I was talking to Rabbi Kramer many years ago and he mentioned to me that he had just come back from New York with his son Shmuel. He took Shmuel to New York with him as part of the celebrations for his Bar Mitzvah to go to the Rebbe. In the early years he would take a train, but recently he would usually fly. This time he said he decided to go by train because he wanted to spend time to talk with Shmuel. ‘I’m hardly ever home’ he said, and I wanted to connect with Shmuel a little so I took him on this train trip and we were able to sit and talk for 9 hours’. Then Rabbi Kramer continued, ‘I can’t get over how my wife brought up our children, I was never home, I’d come home 10 or 11 at night the only time I have real connections is on Shabbos and the job Mrs. Kramer did was unbelievable’ and he would laud her all the time. So Shmuel should know how his father felt about him and how he felt about all his children and the whole family.
13. Always Going Out of his Way
The kind of man Rabbi Kramer was that he was always helping, always ready to go out of his way. When I was diagnosed with cancer about 20 years ago and I went to talk to Rabbi Kramer and I told him the name of the doctor I was going to. ‘Oh’, he says, ‘you’re going to an excellent doctor, I’m going to call him to take good care of you because I know him very well’. He called him and he told him: ‘You’ve got a very special patient there, I want you to take care of him very well.’ B’H I had an operation and everything was good. Of course, the first thing he called the Rebbe right away.
At the end of his life Rabbi Kramer was so sick and I wanted to see him but the family was together and all his children were there and they were all with him. We once talked about where he would want to be buried in New York near his Rebbe or in Montreal, I felt close enough to discuss this with him. He said his place was in Montreal, this is where he spent his life (besides the first 20-odd years) this is where he brought up his family, this is where his Shlichus was, his home was here.
I have occasion to go to the cemetery sometimes unfortunately and it’s next door to the cemetery where Rabbi Kramer is buried and now Rabbi Gerlitzky they are there side by side, so I go and visit their graves and I think to myself how they came together all those years ago to Montreal and they lived together at the Halperns.
14. The Last Word
Mrs. Molly Dalfen came in at one point during the interview and was asked if she had anything she’d like to say. She is given the last word of the interview: “We have an awful lot of love for the Kramer family, we were so close to them and we’ve had such a wonderful relationship throughout the years and I love them dearly.”
Nine Bochrim: The Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe sent nine of his students to Montreal to establish a Yeshiva there. They were Rabbi Moishe Elya Gerlitzky, Rabbi Volf (Yosef Zev Hakohen) Greenglass, Rabbi Yitzchok Hakohen Hendel, Rabbi Tzvi Yosef Kotlarsky, Rabbi Aryeh Leib Kramer, Rabbi Yosef Hakohen Rodal, Rabbi Shmuel Stein, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Tennenbaum, Rabbi Yosef Wineberg.
Frierdiker Rebbe: previous Lubavitcher Rebbe
farbraingen: Chassidic gathering
talmid chacham: Torah scholar
mikvah: Ritual bath
beis hamedrash: study hall
tish: festive table
Acharon Shel Pesach: Last day of Passover
Shechina: Holy Presence
yechidus: private audience
dos is gan eiden: This is heaven
lernen ken er, er zol nor velen lernen: He can learn, but he needs the desire to learn.
Nesi Doreinu: The Lubavitcher Rebbe, leader of our times.
Chassidishe: Chassidic style
Lekach: special cake from the Rebbe
l’chaim: to life
pidyon haben: redeeming of the first-born son
blaib zitzen: please remain seated
simcha: happy occasion
aufruf: groom’s call up
Halpern: Reb Eliyahu and Liba Devorah Halpern, the parents of Mrs. Kramer hosted many of the refugees and helped them in many ways. Especially dear to them was to have a home that was filled with Torah.