So we’ve heard about the Leeds Kollel, but what’s it all about? Elliot Landy met with the very amiable American, Rabbi Ahron Kramer, to find out more.
A Kollel is an institute for advanced Torah studies for married men, and Leeds’ own was founded by the visionary Rabbi Kramer and his wife Esti under the guidance of the esteemed Dayan Abraham of the London Beth Din.
Rabbi, can you tell JLife readers about your background, your family and how you wound up in Leeds?
I grew up in the USA, in Philadelphia, or as we fondly call it – “Philly” (perhaps a connotation to the greatest baseball team in the world; the
Phillies). When I was 16 years old, in 1986, my father o”h utilised his sabbatical year in the best possible way, and temporarily relocated the family to Jerusalem. I became very attached to Israel and remained there, studying in a Yeshiva. I married my wife Esti (nee Joseph) who grew up Gateshead in 1992, and we lived for close to a decade in Modi’in Elite, a town near Modi’in (in Israel).
I studied in a local Kollel and together with Esti ran a franchise of the prestigious Angel Bakeries. In 2001 we relocated to Manchester with four children. I joined a local Kollel, and Esti took a job in a nursery. Over the years, I sporadically tried my skills at teaching, but ultimately felt that my strengths lie elsewhere.
Five years ago, a friend suggested that I try establishing a Community Kollel in Leeds, being that Leeds is home to a very large Jewish community, and is just around the corner. I was fired up by
this idea, and still am till this day. The reason for this is that for many years I have heard of the successes of Community Kollelim around the globe, particularly in theUSA. It took three years to get off the ground, but it was well worth it. Leeds now has its own Kollel on a high academic standard, and the families are integrating into the community in an incredible way.
We have seven children; one boy and six girls. The oldest is 21 years old, and is married living in Jerusalem, and the youngest is three years old. Our son is 20 and studying in a Yeshiva in the USA. The next girl, 18, is living at home and working in a nursery, and the rest attend schools in Manchester.
Tell us about your upbringing?
I grew up as number five out of seven children. My father o”h was a Rabbi, and in my young childhood he led a congregation for several years in South Philly. When I was three years old, the community was folding, so my parents moved near the prominent Yeshiva in West Philly. Growing up next to a Yeshiva had an everlasting impression on me, and no doubt influenced me in the way of life which I have chosen
The school I went to had a range from modern to ultra orthodox. From my class of 23, some are rabbis today, and some are not observant. I imagine that growing up with many of my friends being on different levels of observance is what makes me comfortable with anyone. I look at people straight in the eye- I don’t look down and I don’t look up. A Jew must concentrate on what he has in common with others, and not where he differs. As they say ‘united we stand, divided we fall’.
My siblings and their spouses include a doctor, a nurse, a bookkeeper, an international acclaimed speaker, school teacher, property dealers, and business owners. They all live in the USA.
How do you like Leeds, and why?
How can I not? I think it is a wonderful community with so much going for it! The unity, the warmth, the acceptance, the shuls, the organisations. All this in a beautiful location. What more could one wish for?
What‘s the Leeds Kollel all about, who’s involved, what are you planning and what are your hopes and expectations?
The Leeds Kollel functions in the unique style of the popular American ‘Community Kollel’, with a focus on the wider community as well. It’s about formal and informal education of what Judaism is all about. Judaism is not merely a club, although it is certainly the best club! There is beauty to it, wisdom to it, quality of life to it, enjoyment to it, and much more.
We established ourselves in Leeds after having met with the rabbonim and many communal leaders who expressed a positive feeling towards the idea. The team which we brought was handpicked with the involvement of a committee. They are all wonderful pleasant and easy going families who are integrating into the community in a most smooth way. The biggest compliment they received was the time I mentioned to a community member that we are looking to bring additional families, and his response was “bring more of the same!”
We have held many events for the community, and are always planning new ones. For example, our wives recently hosted a social evening for women for a fruit and vegetable carving session while Yeshiva from Gateshead was hosted twice for a Shabbaton geared for the Leeds Jewish Youth.
We initiated the upcoming Shabbat Leeds which you will hear shortly about. On Wednesday mornings, a group from the Kollel have set up a Minyan-Club with the over Bar Mitzvah boys in Brodetsky. They daven with them, followed by a scrumptious breakfast. (Some girls have even joined in for this!) The Minyan-Club had a Chanukah party, in addition to the regular hosting of community members for Shabbos meals.
We also have numerous engaging shiurim (formal learning sessions), and one-to-one learning partners on an ongoing basis. In short we wish to engage with the community on all and any level.
My hopes and expectations are for Leeds to blossom, from within and from without. I know that many people in the back of their minds ponder “Does the Leeds Jewish Community have a future?”
I hope and expect this pondering to disappear. I don’t know if it will take five years, 10 years, or 15 years, but I am sure that it will happen. My feeling is that all the pieces of the puzzle are present at this moment in time, and they are all gradually falling into place.
So, it’s not just about religious people studying Gemorah and Mishnah, can anyone get involved?
Definitely! This is intended for everyone! On a social level we wish to become connected to the entire community. Our aim is to show that being connected to authentic Judaism is something relevant in the modern day. This is the secret to Jewish continuity. The minute we make the mistake of thinking that authentic Judaism is outdated and needs to be altered or ignored, we, as a nation, have declared bankruptcy.
What events do you have coming up soon, and who are you targeting for these?
I already mentioned Shabbat Leeds, which is coming up on 4-5th March. This is intended to engage anyone and everyone who wishes. There will be something in it for all ages across the community.
We have a pre Purim carnival arranged for shortly before Purim. This will be aimed at younger families, with children having fun and teenagers involved in the running of it. Plans are being put together for a Purim night event.
Looking ahead, we will also be hosting a communal meal on the first day of Shavuot for young families.
How do people find out more, and get involved?
We can be contacted through the website: Thejec.org.uk; we are all very approachable. Please do approach us!!! We are here for YOU!!!
Contact Rabbi Ahron Kramer at Leeds Jewish
Educational Centre (Leeds Kollel) on 07854 783391.
Registered charity 1154962.