When friends offered to bring Sol Kramer’s tallis bag and prayer book home to him in recent months because he was too ill to attend synagogue, he told them to leave the items at his seat in the Jewish Educational Center’s Elmora Synagogue. “I’ll be back,” he said.
On Sept. 25, as around 600 people filled the shul to capacity, that seat stayed empty. Kramer, a Polish-born Holocaust survivor who along with his wife and fellow survivor, Clara, made his home in Elizabeth for half a century, died in the early hours of Friday morning, Sept. 23, at the age of 91.
Kramer, the owner of Central Jersey Management, a real estate development, management, and consulting firm, became a major benefactor of a number of local Jewish institutions, including the JEC, YM-YWHA of Union County, and the Jewish Federation of Central New Jersey. At 87, he became a trustee of Trinitas Regional Medical Center, a Catholic organization, after being nursed back from a near-fatal illness there.
“When Mr. Kramer supported an institution, he didn’t give just with his checkbook,” said Rabbi Elazar M. Teitz, the JEC head who led Sunday’s funeral service. “He gave of himself fully and completely.”
With rare persistence, he would follow up and stay connected, regardless of his own circumstances. “He was constant and consistent,” Teitz added.
Rabbi Avrohom Herman of the Elmora Synagogue spoke at the service, as did Eli Kramer, one of the Kramers’ two sons, and Sol’s longtime friend, Gordon Haas.
Kramer, who had recently had pneumonia, was hospitalized at Trinitas Regional Medical Center last Wednesday with kidney failure. When it was clear that dialysis wasn’t working, he opted not to be put on life-support machines. Eli said, “He lived life on his own terms, and he went out on his own terms.”
His only concern, Eli said, was for Clara, that she be able to live as she — and he — wanted.
As all four speakers said, Kramer always made it clear what he wanted, and what he advised — whether that advice was sought or not. That intense personal concern endeared him to a huge circle of people from all sectors of the Jewish community and beyond.
That commitment to giving, Herman said, evidently came from Kramer’s father, and he maintained the tradition throughout his life. Herman said Kramer was motivated by gratitude, a passionate commitment to “klal Yisrael and Eretz Yisrael” — the people of Israel and the Land of Israel — and a sense of mercy that “made every individual a project” for his assistance.
‘A great life’
Though very much a part of the survivor community, Sol Kramer never talked much about his own suffering. His family fled from their home in Dobremill, Poland, when the Nazis invaded, and he survived the war in Russia. He and Clara, whose family also avoided internment but endured a torturous year and a half in hiding, met in a displaced persons’ camp in Austria. He could have gone his way, but he refused to leave her and her family.
Eventually, they made their way to Israel and, in 1957, to the United States. He made deliveries for a supermarket in Manhattan, then ran a luncheonette in Brooklyn, before coming to Elizabeth in the 1960s and becoming a real estate developer.
Kramer’s passion for Israel and the Jewish people was strong from the start. But his drive to support what he believed in expanded to organization after organization and individual after individual.
In addition to numerous other roles, he became a member of the JEC board — ever grateful for the scholarships its founder, Rabbi Pinchas Teitz, gave the Kramers’ sons — chairman of the board for life of the Union Y, and vice president for life of the Central NJ federation.
There was quiet laughter across the sanctuary when speakers mentioned how readily Kramer pushed others to join him in supporting the causes he believed in. “My father wanted everyone to give until it hurts — and then more,” Eli said.
So many people came to see him in his last few days in the hospital, there was concern about the crowding. But when asked if he’d prefer quiet, Kramer said that he found the company very comforting.
“He was a giant of a human being, and he was happiest surrounded by a huge group of people,” Haas said.
Rabbi Levi Block, leader of the Union County Torah Center, pointed out after the service that Kramer supported the center even though he never attended its services. It was “simply because he believed in what we are doing,” he said.
Bob Kuchner, a past president of the Central federation, said Kramer’s all-embracing outreach helped forge the cross-denominational bonds that make the Central community special.
The Y’s executive director, Bryan Fox, who worked closely with Kramer for the past 25 years, said he helped save the institution and keep it afloat. He did it through “the art of finding the right price,” Fox said, but also through the personal relationships he forged.
“If Sol hadn’t ever yelled at you that meant you weren’t close enough to him,” he said.
Kramer had told Fox that so many of the people he grew up with died in the Holocaust, he regarded all his years since then as “extra time.” And as his son Eli said, with his mother Clara at his side, he made “a great life” out of those 70 extra years.
But much as he relished his life, Kramer’s focus was on the future. Speaking a few days after the funeral, Stanley Stone, the executive vice president of the Central federation, said, “For Sol — and Clara — nothing has been more important than transmitting a sense of connection and commitment to the next generation. Even in his last days, Sol’s greatest pleasure was to hear about a young person rising to the occasion to support the community.”
In addition to Clara, and Eli and his wife Randi, Sol Kramer is survived by his son Philip and his wife Drora; five grandchildren, Micki Frazier and her husband David, Tracy Voerg and her husband Ryan, Brian Kramer, Jamie Kramer, and Mindy Kramer; and his brother Isaac. He was predeceased by his brother Harry.
The interment was at the Elizabeth Jewish Cemetery. The family has asked that donations be made in memory of Sol Kramer to any of the following: the Jewish Educational Center, the YM-YWHA of Union County, the Jewish Federation of Central NJ, or Trinitas Regional Medical Center.