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William M. Kramer, 84; Rabbi and Scholar Had Many Roles

June 09, 2004|Myrna Oliver | Times Staff Writer

Rabbi William Mordecai Kramer, scholar and longtime editor of the Western States Jewish History magazine, as well as an actor, lawyer, professor and prolific writer and speaker, died Tuesday. He was 84.

Kramer died at UCLA Medical Center of complications of diabetes and congestive heart failure, said his friend, attorney Barry Fisher.

A wordsmith in his sermons, writings and public events, the rabbi became a favorite with government entities and organizations that traditionally begin meetings with prayer. Illustrating his adaptability and easy sense of humor, he offered the following prayer in 1956 when an over-scheduled Los Angeles City Council pleaded "keep it short":

Hear a prayer for men of high station

Who serve the city, first in the nation --

May they know its spiritual elation

To praise the Lord and pass the legislation. Amen.

That won him a quick invitation to return the following week, when he reduced his prayer to two lines:

I pray for the Council and the standard of its acts;

Raise them, Father, and lower the tax.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Friday June 11, 2004 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 0 inches; 26 words Type of Material: Correction
Kramer obituary -- In Wednesday's California section, a photo with the obituary of Rabbi William Mordecai Kramer was not credited. It was taken by Shelley Gazin.

Kramer began his many-faceted life in Cleveland and earned his first of seven degrees -- a bachelor's in political science -- from Western Reserve (now Case Western Reserve) University there. He was ordained in 1944 after earning two more degrees at the Jewish Institute of Religion in New York City, then returned to Western Reserve for a master's in education and social work. Later in California, he added a couple of doctorates from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion and a law degree from the University of West Los Angeles. He also was licensed as a family therapist and to practice law.

The rabbi of Burbank's Temple Beth Emet for more than 30 years, Kramer also served temples in Pittsfield, Mass., Cleveland, St. Louis, Phoenix, San Pedro and Los Angeles.

"I believe I have a mission from God. My mission is to help people get closer to God, and in so doing, to raise the quality of their lives," he said in a documentary video produced about him nearly a decade ago titled "Beyond the Pulpit: Facets of a Rabbi."

Kramer looked the part of a rabbi and was cast as one in a variety of movies, television shows and advertisements. He was in "The Seventh Sign" with Demi Moore in 1988 and episodes of "Sisters" and "L.A. Law"; he hosted radio and TV programs, and his likeness graced greeting cards and yogurt and bagel containers. Actor Ernest Borgnine, Kramer delighted in relating, once told him he gave a passable impression of a rabbi.

Kramer taught classes at Hebrew Union College, the University of Judaism, USC, UCLA, Los Angeles City College, and for two decades at Cal State Northridge.

The rabbi's extensive writing included columns in publications as diverse as the Jewish Heritage Press newspapers and the legal newspaper the Daily Journal. He regularly contributed articles to Jewish magazines and scholarly journals on art, history, philosophy, and even poetry and short stories. He wrote or edited numerous books, among them "The American Religious Experience," "The Western Diary of Isaac Mayer Wise" and "San Francisco's Artist Toby Rosenthal." Fisher said Kramer had recently completed a book on Albert Einstein to be published later this year.

The rabbi donated much of his collection of German Expressionist art to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and many other collections of Judaica to the Skirball Museum and the Western Jewish History Assn.

Kramer is survived by his wife, Betty Wagner Kramer; two sons, Jonathan and Jeremy, from his marriage to the late Joan Oppenheim Kramer; and several grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Funeral services are scheduled at noon Thursday at Hillside Memorial Park, 6001 Centinela Ave.

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