I am Yossi Portnoy a former student of the Lubavitcher Yeshiva going back to the mid forties and fifties when I attended the elementary school. At that time, Rabbi Leib Kramer was the director of the Yeshiva and Rabbi Rodal was the principal of the Yeshiva. The Yeshiva was just starting, there were few students then. The teachers, particularly the Rabeiim, among them Rabbi Feigelstock and the late Rabbi Sputz, were outstanding people and had a tremendous influence on my life. Rabbi Kramer was an institution unto himself. He was the director of the Yeshiva, but he was more than that, he was the heart and the soul and the spirit of that Yeshiva. He played a very, very important role in the life of the Montreal Jewish community of the time. Certainly in my family he played a role in every aspect of the lifecycle of our family from attending our Bar Mitzvahs, our weddings, or funerals. I remember my late parents even consulting him about what to write on the tombstone . He was there for everybody, he just knew what to say at the right time. He was kind. He was smart. He was the kind of person that you were attracted to. He just knew how to reach people and how to make the Yeshiva an important part of the Montreal community, which he did. It was an tremendous loss to the community when he unfortunately passed away.
I couldn’t ever have imagined us having a family celebration or occasion or G-d forbid a funeral or an unveiling or anything at all without Rabbi kramer being there and being involved. He was part of our family but not only ours but many other families like ours. He was a very central part of the Jewish community. He was our Rabbi. When you belong to a Shul you then have your Rabbi and I actually belonged to a Shul that never had a Rabbi so he was our Rabbi. He was the person that we consulted for everything. He was always available and always ready to help. He did it in a very gentle and kind way and in an an appropriate way. He always had the right thing to say at the right time. He was very smart. He knew people very well, He knew how to reach into the soul of people so that he would make them feel good even under difficult circumstances.
(on my relationship with the Lubavitcher Rebbe) I did once to go to New York when I was about 15 years old and my friend Meir Roness took me to a Farbreingen. I suppose I stood out in that Iwas wearing a white shirt but did not have a jacket like everyone else and unlike anyone else I was wearing a tie. To mine and everyone’s surprise the Rebbe picked me out to of crowd for a L’Chaim.
There were many occasions when people in the community would consult the Rebbe in New York, Rabbi Kramer would call me and explain the situation to me and get my medical opinion on the case and then he would convey this information to the Rebbe in order for the Rebbe to receive appropriate medical counsel. I wasn’t the only one consulted, I’m sure he would have consulted every expert in the medical community that he knew that was appropriate to the case that was under discussion in order to advise the Rebbe appropriately.
On a humourous level I remember when Rabbi Kramer would come to a Bar Mitzvah or a Kiddush on Shabbos after the services he would make Kiddush on Mashke. He liked a good schnapps, but only for Kiddush on Shabbos and he would drink it down like it was nothing. Only for Kiddush.
To sum up my thoughts. Rabbi Kramer was a people’s person and he knew how to reach people at their time of need. He showed a caring to people in the community on a level that was a role model for this kind of behaviour. There were other similar role models then and now too it’s quite amazing today how Chabad reaches out to the world and they really care about everybody, whether you’re rich or poor. If you’re Jewish and have a Jewish soul they care about you.