Clara Kramer was beaming as she left the annual raffle dinner at the YM-YWHA of Union County on Jan. 14, where she and her late husband Sol were honored. She was reveling in the past, and looking to the future. “It was as if I had my life laid out in front of me,” she said.
She and her husband, who died last September, survived the Holocaust, came to the United States in 1957, and settled in Elizabeth in 1965. The Y became a central element in their lives, together with the Jewish Federation of Central New Jersey, the Holocaust Resource Center at Kean University, which Clara helped found, and other institutions. Sol, who eschewed the Y’s fitness center but loved to play cards there, served on its board for decades, playing a crucial role in its fight for survival.
He thrived on waging that fight, Clara said, a comment that drew laughter and nods of agreement.
Their son Eli said that rather than his mother’s being the little wife behind the great man, Sol willingly served as “a big mouthpiece” for Clara’s causes. And for both of them, he said, as great as their commitment was to the past and honoring those lost in the Holocaust, they also had a strong desire to see young Jews get involved in the community, to ensure its continuity.
Two of those people, Joshua and Faith Fisch, close neighbors of the Kramers in Elizabeth, were also honored on Saturday night. They were presented with the Young Leadership Award, for all their work on behalf of the Y and the Central community.
They said that Sol and Clara had inspired them with their example — of giving not just money but also of their time.
Bryan Fox, executive vice president and head of the Y for 25 years, told the crowd it had been a year of terrible losses — five of the Y’s stalwart supporters died, including Kramer and past president Joe Resnick, who was 102 — but that it has also been “a wonderfully successful year, with great programs.” He said that the organization has survived 128 years — and he hopes it survives another 128 — but the losses they have suffered have left “a lot of holes for the young people to fill.”
About 250 people attended the gala, which was, according to program director Jani Jonas, “one of the most successful raffle dinners in recent Y history.”
In a move that surprised almost everyone, the audience got to share in a special gesture of faith in the future.
As he finished announcing the raffle winners, Fox asked Ariela Finkiel of Elizabeth to come up to receive her “special” prize. Instead of receiving a box or a voucher like the other winners, she found herself facing her boyfriend of the past year, Steven Geller, on bended knee.
To the cheers of the audience — many of them in tears — she accepted his proposal and the sparkling ring he slipped on her finger. “I’m never, ever taking that off my hand,” she said afterward, still in shock, beaming up at him.
“I was scared,” admitted Geller of Brooklyn. “I was planning to propose tomorrow night, but then I realized that here we were, surrounded by people who mean so much to Ariela, in a place that means so much to her. I asked her mother, and she said yes, so I did it.”