David Kremen, ‘a real Renaissance man,’ had a zest for life

David Kremen, ‘a real Renaissance man,’ had a zest for life

David Kremen (photo provided)
David Kremen (photo provided)

David Kremen, a multilingual, globetrotting lawyer, died June 30. The cause of death was complications from scleroderma, said Paula Smith, Kremen’s sister.  

Although not a Pittsburgher by birth, Kremen, 74, was known as one of the most colorful and vivacious members of his adopted community.

Born in Baltimore on Oct. 21, 1940, Kremen was destined for a cultured life. His father, Abraham Kremen, was an ophthalmologist, pianist and founding member of the Baltimore Chamber Music Society. Kremen’s mother, the former Leona M. Middleman, was a painter whose work was shown at the Baltimore Museum of Art, the Peale Museum in Baltimore and the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.

“There was always music, art and books. We had a good background,” said Smith.

An early interest in Jewish studies led Kremen to Brandeis University. However, exposure to the classics broadened his focus, said Rabbi Jonathan Perlman, Kremen’s spiritual guide at New Light Congregation.

After Brandeis, Kremen attended the New York University School of Law. Upon earning his J.D., he took a job with Westinghouse’s legal department, specializing in international law. In this capacity, Kremen began traveling the world, working out of the company’s Brussels office for four years in the 1970s.  With Brussels as a launching pad, he hopscotched between Europe, Africa and the Middle East.

“I used to play a game with him where I would try to pick some city that he had never been to,” said friend Andrew Paul. He would inevitably lose. “He was everywhere,” said Paul.

As testament to his travels, Kremen’s Forbes Avenue condominium became a repository of relics, art and knickknacks from around the globe.

“His home is a potpuri, and it’s all different cultures,” said Paul.

Kremen accumulated more than artifacts from his travels; he taught himself Hebrew, Spanish, French, Italian and Portuguese, becoming fluent in all of these languages.  

Shortly before his passing, Kremen worked on establishing a fund to promote Israel travel and language study for young Jews. The idea developed out of his relationship with Tsipy Gur, executive director of Classrooms Without Borders, said Paul.

“He felt like a lot of young Jews aren’t learning Hebrew, and he felt like it was a problem so he wanted to reward young folks who are placing an emphasis on learning the language.”

Kremen served on the advisory board of Classrooms Without Borders and traveled to Poland and Israel with the organization.  

Apart from CWB, Kremen was involved with numerous other causes and groups, including the Japan-America Society of Pennsylvania; the Pittsburgh Irish and Classical Theatre; Alliance Francais; the Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh; and the Pittsburgh Area Jewish Committee.

“He loved people and loved to be involved in a capacity with an organization where he could be of use, particularly with his legal expertise,” said Paul.

Approximately four years ago, after his diagnosis of scleroderma, Kremen withdrew from many of the boards on which he served. However, a year later, after the initial shock subsided, Kremen rejoined every one of them, said Paul.

“He was pretty much the most active man I had ever met.”

In Venice, Italy, he regularly stayed at the luxurious Danieli Hotel. Upon returning to Pittsburgh, Kremen regaled listeners with tales of the hotel’s accommodations, speaking Italian with its staff and ordering coffee and cornetto while overlooking the Grand Canal.

“He was a real Renaissance man,” said Paul. “You just don’t see that anymore.”

Kremen is survived by a sister, Paula (Morton) Smith; nephew Brian Smith (Deborah Becker); nieces Jill Smith (Richard Butwinick) and Erica (Alexander) Nicholson; great-nieces and great-nephews Claire and Aaron Butwinick and Mia and Sam Nicholson. Kremen is predeceased by parents Abraham and Leona Kremen. Memorial services will be held at 11 a.m. on Sunday, July 12 at New Light Congregation, 1700 Beechwood Blvd., Squirrel Hill. Contributions may be made to Keren Ayelet Hashachar — The Gazelle Fund of the Pittsburgh Foundation, 5 PPG Place, No. 250, Pittsburgh, PA 15222.

Adam Reinherz can be reached at adamr@thejewishchronicle.net.

read more: