Longtime head of Hamiton’s Jewish Family Services remembered for her compassion

Carol and Lester Krames at the Hamilton kosher food bank.

For Carol Krames, compassion and loving kindness were more than just words. She showed those traits every day during the 42 years she was executive director of Jewish Social Services in Hamilton, Ont. They inspired her work helping Russian immigrants settle in a new country and reconnect with their Jewish heritage and in establishing a kosher food bank.

Krames died May 29, after a long battle with cancer. She was 77.

Her friends and family remember a life centred on Jewish values.

“Carol was a legend and much beloved in this community,” said Hanna Schayer, current chair of the board at Hamilton Jewish Family Services. The agency’s name was changed after Krames retired in 2018.

“She was one of the most compassionate people I’ve ever met,” Schayer added. “She was such a good soul, and that’s not someone you meet every day.”

Christine Nusca, who worked with Krames for most of the 42 years she led Jewish Social Services, recalled her “kindness of heart and always wanting to help people. She would always follow the guidelines of Torah, she was very strong about that.”

Susan Roth, who was chair of the JSS board for several years, also remembers her friend as a living example of Jewish values.

“She had tremendous energy, dedication and a real love of humanity,” she recalled. “A lot of that came from her own Jewish values.”

Trained as a social worker, Krames arrived in Canada from the United States in 1969 when her husband Lester took a position in the psychology department at the University of Toronto. Initially intending to be a stay-at-home mom for their two daughters, she got a government grant to set up a mobile information centre in Mississauga providing people with information on social services, parenting and family advice and counselling women about education and employment opportunities.

In 1975, she was hired as director of Hamilton Jewish Social Services, arriving just as the former Soviet Union allowed thousands of Jews to leave the country. They needed clothing, food, language instruction, orientation and connection with their Jewish heritage and Krames’ office was one of their first stops.

One effort included working with the late Rabbi Mordecai Green to organize a series of mass Jewish weddings for the new immigrants.

Boris Apel, of Hamilton, recalled how Krames was a rock of support when he arrived in Canada in 1989. That support included introducing him to his second wife.

“Carol was the first English-speaking person we met when we came here,” he said. “She introduced us to life in Canada and held our hands through everything we experienced.”

Apel said that help included counselling him through the end of his first marriage and then, one day, introducing him to a new arrival and asking him to show her around.

“When my family was crying for me, she was encouraging me,” he said. “That’s the kind of person she was.”

Another of her lasting achievements was the establishment of the Hamilton Kosher Food Bank, affectionately called Carol’s Cupboard.

The food bank was born in 1997 when Lester Krames saw an unmet need in the community and, as she often did, his wife simply moved ahead with trying to solve it.

Today the agency distributes 3,600 lbs of food a year and helps 75 families a month.

Krames formally retired from the agency in 2018 but remained active as a volunteer on its Food Security Committee, helping to plan the annual fundraiser. That was in addition to being active in the Adas Israel congregation, Na’amat and volunteering with the Hamilton Hebrew Academy and the English as a Second Language committee at Mohawk College.

Behind that activity was a 25-year struggle with breast cancer.

“Perhaps less known about my wonderful wife, is how she has battled health issues,” Lester Krames wrote in 2019. “In the 42 years she was director of JSS, the last 25 years she has been battling breast cancer.  This never stopped her from being who she was.  Her treatments never stopped her from feeling her responsibility for her clients and even after days of chemotherapy I would find her on the phone dealing with clients’ issues.”

Krames is survived by her husband and children Andrea Zians (Phil), Simma Sudaley (Dovid), and Rabbi Yehoshua Krames (Malka).