…in his own words. Linked added by Jonathan Kramer.
William M. Kramer N’ 44
I was ordained in 1944 when Stephen S. Wise blessed me.
Before that I had served as a full-time acting rabbi in St. Louis, MO and Pittsfield, MA. And that made me a rabbi. Actually, I’ve had a lot of jobs. I’ve been a university professor and a law professor and a semi nary professor and a high school teacher and a religious school teacher. More specifically, I’ve taught at HUC-JIR (CA), where I was the founding chair of the School of Education at the LA campus, when it was up in the Hollywood Hills. Of tremendous help to me in developing n1y teaching career was Rabbi Alfred Gottschalk during his incumbency as Dean of HUC-JIR in LA, where he made n1e Adjunct Professor.
I’ve taught students at the University of Judaism, USC, UCLA, and a few other places, not to mention a couple of decades at California State University at Northridge, where I was a tenured senior professor. To be totally ecumenical, I chaired the committee for the State of California that accredited Yeshiva University of LA. I’ve picked up seven degrees and two licenses along the way, having attended college in Ohio, Wisconsin, New York, Indiana, Mexico City and California.
I’ve had other kinds of jobs, too, besides being a teacher. I sold neckties door-to-door in Springfield, IL, just before Father’s Day. I was a dishwasher who graduated to salad man in Madison, WI. I was a can1p counselor who woke the little boys at midnight so they wouldn’t wet their beds in the Berkshires of MA. I sold hipboots to firen1en in Cuyahoga County, OH, and I worked as a scab tour guide in Jerusalen1 (I wasn’t licensed).
However, I have been licensed for many things. In 1965, I received a MFCC and I was a family therapist for many years in CA. I still keep my license current by taking in-service courses. I do the same thing to keep my license in force as an attorney in CA, having passed the bar in 1979. I an1 with the First Amend1nent firm of Fleishman, Fisher & Moest in Century City, where I worked on briefs for both the California and US Supren1e Courts. I am a past member of AFTRA and currently of SAG, which leads me to note that I have been an actor, a commentator and a talk show host on TV. I did much the same on radio, including a stint on Kol Tzion La-Golah in Jerusalem. I’ve also done a little “little theater” in my day, and I have appeared in videos. I received attention for the role that I played on TV as an Orthodox rabbi giving a Jewish divorce, a get, on “L.A. Law.” I did a shiva call for the John Cassavetes movie, Opening Night. I was a Chasidic rabbi in an unhappy role for the movie The Seventh Sign. I did a bar mitzvah on the TV show “Sisters,” a funeral on “Life Goes On,” two more of the same on “Unsolved Mysteries,” and on a Stephen Cannell pilot. I was the head of a yeshiva on an American Film Institute production. I was a congregational rabbi for Israeli TV and so on. I’ve even been on “Family Feud” as a family of rabbis playing [against] a family of priests. And I played a mohel for a Bruce Springsteen video, but it ended up on the cutting room floor.
I have been a model, if not always a model person. My face has graced ads for yogurt and bagels and the fronts of T-shirts and the covers of greeting cards. I have been on the pages of periodicals and the walls of my temple and the walls of my temple members’ households. Where I am most reproduced is in the bar and bat mitzvah and wed dings albums and videos of all of the above.
When it comes to writing, I have been everything from associate editor to senior contributing editor, editorial writer, and columnist for the Heritage chain of papers. I’ve been a writer, too, for a lot of other news publications, such as the Jerusalem Post, the St. Louis Modern Review, the Muncie Evening Press and the Los Angeles News. In addition to Heritage, Iain currently writing articles for the Guardian of the Jewish Home for the Aging, and I’m editor and publisher of Western States Jewish History, to which everyone should subscribe. I also had ten years as a columnist on the culture of the law of the attorney’s Los Angeles Daily Journal and its companion paper in San Francisco. Among the magazines for which I’ve written are the Reconstructionist, the Colour Magazine of the London Jewish Chronicle, the Jewish Digest, the Jewish Spectat01 Western States Jewish Historical Quarterly, California History, Southern California Historical Journal and various academic journals in various fields with various offerings, including essays, poetry, short stories and articles, popular and scientific.
My first journalism job was at age 14, when I edited the Temple
Trumpeter of the Temple on the Heights in Cleveland. Two years later, I wrote a weekly column for the neighboring throw-away and covered police court and the City Council for the old Scripps Howard Cleveland Press. I was Managing Editor of Cleveland Heights High School’s Black and Gold.
I have been hobbled with hobbies and collected collections. I am definitely a booknik. I developed the largest private collection in English, including volumes and fugitive clippings, on Jews in art and Jews of the West. It was at the Chicago World’s Fair, back in 1932 or 1933 that I first began collecting Judaica. I have collected paintings and prints, Palestine-Israel memorabilia, calendar plates and Blue Willow china and a raft of Jewish ceremonial objects.
A lot of those things are in museums now, including my German Expressionist collection and more at Los Angeles County Museum, a few things at the Magnes Museum in Berkeley, and a heap of stuff at the Skirball Museum in Los Angeles. By the way, I am a life member honoree of the Society for Religious Architecture and an AIA affiliate.
So how did I get to be a rabbi? At age four I made up my mind when I was a student of the late Rabbi Philip Jaffa at the Westside Synagogue in Cleveland. A thousand years later we were colleagues together when I was a locum tenens in Phoenix. The hero of my child hood was Rabbi Stephen S. Wise. My rabbinical leanings were also reinforced by Rabbis Abba Hillel Silver, Ban1ett Brickner, Abraham Novak and Rudolph Rosenthal in Cleveland. At age 13 my parents, Jeanette and Simon, took me from Cleveland to New York to see Dr. Wise regarding finding me a sibling through his adoption service. It did not work out, but Wise did bless me and announced to my parents that I should become a rabbi.
In 1934, after my Bar Mitzvah, in the midst of the Depression, my prospering parents took me to Jerusalem. There they went to the Jewish Agency to see the family entries in the Golden Book of the Jewish National Fund. It was the great HaRav Kuk who got the book out for us, and he also blessed me and told my folks I would become a rabbi. My father was raised speaking Swedish among the miners in Grassflat, Pennsylvania, where he was born. My mother was the daughter of a Tennessee moonshiner who lived for a while in a log cabin outside Nashville or Memphis. Me, I was born on Isaac Mayer Wise’s birthday, March 29, 1920 in a Lutheran hospital in Cleveland.
With Reform and Orthodox agreement by two rabbis who were both rationalist and mystic, I was “kismet-ed.” Maybe their prayers helped my mother, who thereafter bore my late brother Ernest, college professor, psychotherapist and father of three whom I love.I went to Western Reserve University, now Case Western. There I was a member of Phi Sigma Delta, now Zeta Beta Tau. I got through it in three years and received a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and History in 1940. I got my masters from the same school in 1946 in School Administration with a minor in Social Work. Following receiving my BA from Western Reserve I hedged by applying to graduate school in education, library science, social work and law. However, I was accepted by the Jewish Institute of Religion in New York, headed by Dr. Wise. I was accelerated there as well because of World War II.
Before 1ny 23rd birthday in 1943, totally unprepared, I became an acting rabbi at Temple Israel of St. Louis, and I have spent the last 50 years studying at least three hours a day to make up for it. That includes the years when I engaged a melamed to come to the office at Silver’s Cleveland Temple, where I rabbied to fill in the many lacunae in my rabbinic and linguistic resume. Subsequently, I received an earned Doctor of Hebrew Letters in 1965, and an unearned Doctor of Divinity on 1961, from the Hebrew Union College, into which JIR has been n1erged and subn1erged. Also in 1969, I was given extra-ordinem, my Master of Arts and Hebrew Letters from the same institution.
For my sins and virtues I have been a rabbi in pulpits in St.
Louis, Missouri and Pittsfield, Massachusetts, with Silver in Cleveland, then in Muncie, Indiana, in San Pedro and Greater Los Angeles, and then in Phoenix, Arizona.
Of greater tenure was n1y decade at Temple Israel of Hollywood with the noted Rabbi Max Nussbaum, a brief transition at Fairfax Temple founded by my precious friend Rabbi Jacob Sanderling, and then and now more than a quarter of a century at Temple Beth Emet of beautiful downtown Burbank.
I have lectured in synagogues in various parts of the world, on land and at sea, and I have been a volunteer civilian chaplain at military camps and prisons and Scout Jamborees.
Organizationally, I have volunteered for many groups, including the Jewish Agency in Israel, the Skirball Museum, the Los Angeles Jewish Community Library and various professional organizations. I have served as President of the Southern California Association of Liberal Rabbis, the Western States Jewish History Association and the Western Association of Temple Educators. Among many vice presidencies was that of the Southern California Jewish Historical Society.
At Temple Beth Emet of Burbank, an amazing degree of mutual tolerance has existed. They put up with my meshugas and I put up with theirs. They elicit and accept spirituality from me and I grow in devotion in their midst. Rabbi Mark Sobel, my associate rabbi, is special to me, like a son.
My current affiliations include volunteering at HUC-JIR under the leadership of dedicated Vice-President Uri Herscher. I am also the Louis and Florence Ross Visiting Professor in Art for Lee College of the University of Judaism. I remain editor and publisher of Western States Jewish History, columnist for the Heritage chain of newspapers, and The Guardian. This work along with my affiliation with the law firm of Fleishman, Fisher and Moest, gives me fields of service and satisfaction.
I have been one of the lucky ones. In the non-Orthodox rabbinate, which I know best, retirement between ages 61 and 65 is the norm. Dropouts are no exception. I am still challenged by Torah and Temple after half a century. My dear friend, Rabbi Jacob Sonderling, alav-ha-shalom, preached until age 86. That appeals to me.
I have also been the family rabbi. I have been twice married and twice blessed, and even more, I have had two families, that of Joan and that of Betty (with assorted delicious grandchildren) and in this is love over terrain that includes California, Florida, New Jersey, New York and Jerusalem. My wife Betty was the recipient of an HUC-JIR honorary doctorate on May 9, 1994 at Los Angeles and I was a participant. I have a great many friends – people like those already mentioned and others who erase the distinction between loving friends and loving family.
I can’t imagine leaving the pulpit except for Aliyah. I am still dreaming dreams and planning plans. I still expect to see dreams come true and plans realized, please God. I hope I have pleased God and never embarrassed Him. He is my challenge when I succeed, and my comfort when I fail.