What do the funder of defibrillators at youth sports fields, the provider of tests for people with heart defects and a paramedic fighting the opioid epidemic have in common with a rabbi?

They’ve all been declared the “Person of the Year” by the Herald newspaper chain on Long Island, N.Y.

The 2017 winner? Rabbi Shimon Kramer, director of the Chabad Center for Jewish Life in the hamlet of Merrick, N.Y.

Kramer, 42, does what Chabad-Lubavitch rabbis do all over the world—lead services, teach classes, host Shabbat meals, organize Jewish celebrations and charitable efforts. The Herald writes that the rabbi “contributed to Merrick’s Jewish community by installing a mikvah, or ritual bath, at the Chabad Center . . . unveiling a new Torah scroll and raising over $225,000 for the construction of new classrooms and a food preparation area to expand the Chabad’s Cooking for Hope movement, which sends meals to the sick or needy in the community.”

Wrapping tefillin with a community member
Wrapping tefillin with a community member

Surprised by, though very appreciative of, the honor, the rabbi wrote back: “Though I do serve as the spiritual leader and coordinator of Chabad’s efforts, it’s done very much in concert with the entire community. As each enabler of our work makes it all possible, it’s truly a collaborative partnership; thus, I must share the accolades that you’ve so graciously bestowed, upon our partners, as well as the Merrick community.”

Then he immediately acknowledged his wife, program director Chanie Kramer: “If by technicality you insist on one of the Chabad personnel being featured, it most certainly should have been Chanie!”

‘Every Single Person’

The Kramers’ list of causes is lengthy. They are known for their “Cooking for Hope” program, which involves teens getting together each month to cook wholesome meals for those in need. It’s an extension of their “Circle of Hope” program, which offers support to those grappling with breast cancer and other illnesses—an issue that has affected a disproportionate number of Jewish women on Long Island.

Teaching a class at Chanukah time
Teaching a class at Chanukah time

But the rabbi talks about so much more. “Our responsibility is to reach out to every single person, every single sector of the community—the entire world,” he says. “As emissaries of the Rebbe [Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory], that is our goal.”

(As the Rebbe once told former New York City Mayor David Dinkins: “We are one side. We are one people, living in one city, under one administration and under one G‑d.”)

To that end, they run a food bank on Thursday nights. They simply park a van and leave the door open. Inside, boxes include kosher chicken, fish, eggs, milk, bread, and a full bag each of fruit and vegetables. That’s in addition to the freshly cooked meals made by local teens and delivered to community members who are ill or homebound.

Chanie Kramer assists women with lighting candles prior to Shabbat.
Chanie Kramer assists women with lighting candles prior to Shabbat.

The new mikvah has also brought a flurry of attention to the Merrick Chabad center. Chanie Kramer has been busy since its opening last summer, showing it to visiting groups and holding classes on family purity.

“There are many women who want to see it and learn about it,” she says. “I believe it is so necessary. It will bring this whole community to a new level of Yiddishkeit, and as an added benefit, help enhance people’s marriages.”

Yiddishkeit and learning are at the heart of what this couple, the parents of seven children, has been offering since 2007. Right now, they are in the midst of building more classrooms for the preschool and Hebrew school, aiming to have them ready this fall for an increasing number of families. And then there’s summer camp, bar and bat mitzvah club, children’s activities, holiday programs, visits to seniors, the mezuzah and tefillin campaign . . .

“There is an educational aspect to everything we do,” emphasizes the rabbi and newly designated award-winner. “We try to make Judaism exciting and alive. That’s the Chabad flavor!”

The Kramer family
The Kramer family