Saturday, June 03, 2023

Approximately 7,700 miles separate Teaneck, New Jersey from Malindi, Tanzania, but the two places share a special bond that defies distance. Earlier this month, former Teaneck resident Stuart Forman traveled with his daughter Sandi Ryker and grandchildren Rafi and Shira Ryker to Malindi, a small village in the lush region of Tanzania known as Lushoto, where they dedicated a school in memory of longtime Teaneck resident and family friend Dr. Bernard Kramer.

Before making aliyah in 2011, Stuart and his wife, Faye, were very involved in Jewish communal life in Teaneck and Bergen County, serving in leadership positions in Jewish day schools and shuls. It was in Teaneck where the couple befriended Bernard Kramer, a longtime pediatrician who passed away in 2021 at the age of 90. Bernard was well-known in the community not only for being a stellar pediatrician who loved children but for his kind heart and devotion to serving the ill. So when Stuart’s grandson Rafi—who also lives in Israel—was laying the groundwork to refurbish a second school in Tanzania through the “Afrikan” project that he founded, Stuart approached Bernard’s widow, Judi, with the idea of dedicating the school in his memory.

“Bernard always felt for the underprivileged,” Stuart said. “This was the best possible way to dedicate something which he would have wanted because he believed so much in medicine, education and furthering the quality of life of people.”

Rafi raised funds for the first school renovation project in 2021 and recruited a delegation of former IDF soldiers and officers to rehabilitate the school together with local villagers. In addition to renovating classrooms and building a new playground, they installed a pipe system to bring clean water into the school. A delegation of Israeli volunteers with Afrikan arrived in Malindi this week to refurbish “Bernie’s school,” which will be modeled after the first project that was completed exactly one year ago. Rafi is already thinking ahead to a third school which he aims to renovate in August.

When Rafi arrived in Malindi earlier this month, he was shocked to witness with his own eyes the progress since he was last in the village one year ago. “The impact is much larger than what we expected. I knew what I was coming to but I wasn’t prepared. It was very emotional, in a good way.”

As a result of the school rehabilitation project, attendance rates dramatically increased over the past year. Incidents of sickness in the village due to unclean water were reduced by 75%, which also means that the one doctor in the village has more time and resources to treat the ill. With smaller class sizes and higher-quality classrooms, children and parents are demonstrating a greater appreciation for education, and more youth are opting to continue their middle school studies which are not mandatory.

Stuart felt very proud witnessing the impact his 25-year-old grandson is making in an impoverished part of the world that is so different from the streets of Teaneck where he once lived. And he was particularly touched knowing that this humanitarian aid is coming from Israel. “Here is a country that 74 years ago was a struggling society and now we are giving back to the world,” Stuart said. “It’s really important for the Jewish nation to give back and spread ‘kiddush Hashem’ and ‘tikkun olam’ in the world.”

It is these values that exemplified Bernard. Even after he retired, he was dedicated to healing the sick. And he never turned away patients who could not pay, offering treatment free of charge to those families who could not afford medicine. “His primary focus of being a doctor was to help humanity and help people,” Stuart said.

Stuart proudly shared Bernard’s values with dozens of youth and village leaders at the dedication ceremony of the school. In between applause, they waved Israeli flags while a village leader translated his remarks. “This is in memory of a very dear friend of my family, Dr. Bernard Kramer, whom all my children called ‘Doc,’” Stuart began. “He would be so happy to see you children here today, learning better, healthier because of the projects that were done by Afrikan one year ago.”

Before returning to Israel, Stuart offered the youth a blessing. “We hope you all grow up to be very strong, very smart and be a blessing to his [Bernard’s] memory.”

For more information and to get involved in the Afrikan project, visit www.afrikantanzania.com

Alisa Bodner is a Fair Lawn native who immigrated to Israel a decade ago. She is a nonprofit-management professional who enjoys writing in her free time.

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