Nearly Killed in Terrorist Attack, Rabbi Shimon Kramer and Wife, Chanie, Find Their Meaning as Heads of Chabad Center For Jewish Life

 The house on Seneca Gate is unassuming.  From the outside, there's really nothing that makes it different from any other home in Merrick.

On the inside though, is the epicenter of Merrick's Jewish community, a thriving array of programs and classes, serving all Jews in southeast Nassau with unconditional love, allowing them to experience all the treasures of Jewish heritage.  A membership in the thousands, strong and growing.

All under one roof.  Perhaps not literally, but spiritually? Absolutely.

The house on Seneca Gate houses the Chabad Center for Jewish Life, and is operated by Rabbi Shimon Kramer and his wife, Chanie.  Of course, the origin and scope of Chabad go far beyond the suburbs of Merrick.

The History of Chabad

Chabad means 'wisdom, understanding, knowledge.'  One of the world's largest Hasidic movements, it was founded in the late 18th century by Shneur Zalman of Liadi, the first Rebbe of Lubavitch.  In a break with early Hasidism,  he established Chabad philosophy, which emphasizes mind over emotions. 

The sixth Rebbe, Yosef Schneersohn, established a synagogue in New York in 1940, and his son-in-law Menachem Schneerson (the 7th and final Rebbe) turned the movement into a powerful force in Judaism that continues today.

There are 3,300 Chabad Centers worldwide.  Many are run out of the homes of the shliach (messenger) rabbi.  Rabbi Kramer is one such shliach, and three years ago, he established the Center in Merrick.

Rabbi Kramer and the Chabad

Kramer's path to our area took him from rabbinical school in Austrailia, to work in Israel and Estonia, and eventually to Lake Grove, to expand Jewish education in Suffolk.  Then came the call: southeast Nassau needed a Chabad, and Kramer answered.

"My wife and I felt we'd rather be part of a community instead of just a day school," Rabbi Kramer says.  "That's what made us come out here [to Merrick]."

So what does the Chabad Center provide that the area temples cannot? A little bit of everything for anyone Jewish, informally.

"Temples are more like a business...the rabbi works for the members," Kramer says.  "We're here for the entire community, we have 30,000 members, every Jew in this area is a member."

"Whether they know it or not," Chanie adds.

A wide range of services are available.  Adult education classes. Day care.  Counseling.  And of course, the lighting of the public menorah at the gazebo come Chanukah.  The Rabbi and his wife are on call at all times should their services be required. 

With the economy struggling, Chabad has taken on a more vital role in the Jewish community.  While the Center largely depends on donations to keep it going, many services are offered free of charge.  Perhaps you need a place to gather for the Passover Seder, or attend Friday night services.  Chabad welcomes you.

The Center offers financial flexibility in the form of scholarships, to allow a child to attend day care otherwise not affordable.

"We don't want [the economy] to affect anybody's lives.  If somebody needs camp for their children, they shouldn't miss out because they don't have funds," Kramer says.

A Life Fulfilling...and Full

Chanie Kramer has also led a life well traveled.  She attended an all girls seminary in South Africa, where she ran many Jewish youth programs.  After doing outreach activities in Nebraska, she taught in Lake Grove.  She married Shimon, and joined him in establishing Chabad in Merrick.

Chanie runs many programs for women from the Jewish population.  Cooking, crafts, guest speakers, just to name a few.  Chanie also runs Gan Israel, the Center's summer camp.  Sarah Rochel is its on-site director.

 "It's amazing to walk in here and see everything that's happening just out of this house," Rochel says.  "It gives me courage...if they can manage all these things, putting all their energy into these programs, and I'm just working on one's inspiring."

And the Kramers need to conserve energy when they can.  They are the proud parents of six kids, ranging in age from 8 months to 7 years.

"We do our best...we have help, and we try to get a few hours of sleep," Chanie says, as two of her sons try to get her attention.

"Chanie is very organized," her husband says.  "She divides her time very well...I don't think the children are neglected at all, sometimes after they go to bed, she'll put in a few hours of work in the office."

A Tragic Turn

The Kramers' path to Merrick hit a near-fatal bump years ago. 

In 1994, Rabbi Kramer was in a van with other orthodox students, having just visited the ailing Rebbe Schneerson.  They headed toward the Brooklyn Bridge.  A man named Rashid Baz opened fire at the van, killing two students.  Kramer wasn't hit.  One of the dead was Ari Halberstam - Chanie's cousin.

Baz was sentenced to 141 years in prison in what would later be classified as a terrorist attack.  The ramp to the bridge was renamed after Ari.  As for Shimon, the incident reaffirmed what he wanted to do all along.

"That added a lot to the meaning of life, that there's got to be meaning to life," he says.  "God gives life, takes life, and we're here in this world to make a difference - that's what we're doing here in Merrick."

The Future of Chabad

While the Kramers get a lot of mileage out of their home on Seneca Gate - office, sanctuary, camp, safe haven - they're looking for more.  They are currently on the lookout for larger facilities to operate the Center from.  Wherever they are based out of, the mission of Chabad Centers around the world holds strong:

"To turn the world over to be a better place," the Rabbi states.  "A perfect place in which we hope will bring Mashiach (the Messiah) very soon."

Until that much anticipated event comes to pass, the Kramers will continue to serve Jews in our area any way they can.  All from an unassuming house on Seneca Gate.

Go to for more information on the Chabad Center, or reach them at 833-3057