Rosh HaShanah will soon arrive, and Cramer’s Bakery in Yardley, Pa., will be busy baking round challahs filled with raisins and other sweet goods, all certified kosher and pareve, for the Princeton-Mercer-Bucks Jewish community.
Local certified kosher bakeries are not easy to find. Years ago, the area had a variety to choose from; the last one, Hermitage, originally from Trenton and which moved to Yardley, shut its doors in 1993.
At that time, Rabbi Ira Budow, now director of Abrams Hebrew Academy in Yardley, Pa., recognized that the Jewish community needed kosher baked goods without having to make a day trip to buy them. Budow knew Tom Cramer, now 59, who, with his brother John III, ran Cramer’s Bakery, which was founded in Trenton in 1946 and later moved across the Delaware River. Budow asked if Cramer would be interested in making his bakery kosher. Cramer agreed, understanding the void in kosher baked goods, and so a bakery run by a respected Catholic family originally from Trenton became kosher.
Little did Cramer know that he and his family would later become enmeshed in the Jewish community.
“It has been a wonderful experience,” he said. His bakery is under the supervision of Rabbi Isaac Leizerowski of the Vaad Hakashrut of Philadelphia.
“Because of Tom, we have had marvelous baked goods, all strictly kosher, for 25 years,” said Budow. “Really, I had little to do with this happening. I simply introduced Tom to Rabbi Isaac Leizerowski and it went from there.” Leizerowski also supervises the kashrut of other establishments, such as Greenwood House in Ewing, and he teaches Talmud at Abrams.
“When I’m in Yardley, I stop in and check everything at Tom’s bakery and we talk,” Leizerowski said. “We have built quite a solid friendship. Tom is a mensch.”
The feeling is mutual, and Cramer said he’s enjoyed “having Rabbi Leizerowski come into my life. He’s an amazing person.”
Converting his bakery to a kosher one wasn’t a challenge, Cramer said. “When I was first talked to about this, and everything was explained, I mentioned that was basically what happens in our bakery anyway,” he said. “We use all fresh ingredients, no mixes, and buy the best ingredients that are under kosher supervision. We did steam the ovens and pots and pans as we were asked to.”
He’s witnessed several generations of customers walk through his door. “It has been fantastic,” he said. “Many come Friday to pick up their challahs and give us a Shabbat Shalom.”
Cramer and his wife, Amanda, were married in 2000 and had five children in eight years. Instead of a local Catholic pre-school, he chose to send his children to one run by Reconstructionist Congregation Kol Emet in Yardley, Pa.
“My wife and I talked about Kol Emet because I make a lot of deliveries there and everybody is so darn nice,” he said. “My daughter was in their school for 30 seconds and thought it was perfect. So, we put five through there for three and four years apiece.’’
As a result, the Cramer family’s Christmas celebration turned into a gathering of Kol Emet pre-school parents the day after the holiday.
“Christmas when you run a bakery can be exhausting,” said Cramer. “Finally, we came up with an idea. We’ll cook Christmas dinner the day after Christmas. All our Kol Emet friends came over. It’s been a fantastic experience to meet so many people I otherwise would not have met.”
Cramer said he’s proud their business serves the general and Jewish communities. He and his brother took over the family bakery when they were barely in their 20s in the 1980s.
“We have over 500 products, all certified kosher, and we bake fresh and display our products fresh,” he said. “We’re one of the few family bakeries left; we work hard and enjoy what we’re doing.”
Leizerowski said he enjoys stopping in to check things out and talk with his friend Tom.
“I love going into Cramer’s, the way everything is displayed, the way it smells,” he said. “That’s a bakery.”