The strangers who reside with you shall be to you as your citizens; you shall love each one as yourself, for you were once strangers in the land.
~ Leviticus 19:33
David Lloyd Kreeger’s life of philanthropy would not be complete without including his father’s story. Barnet Kreeger, whose friends called him Benny, provided the emotional grounding that rooted David and his siblings in lives of learning and philanthropy.
Barnet was a hardworking man whose courage forged a unique destiny for his children. Like many immigrants, he came to America to escape persecution in his native land, and his efforts allowed future generations of his family to thrive in its climate of freedom.
Fate had carried him through rapidly changing times. Born and raised in Russia, he fled to escape conscription into the Czar’s army. Arriving in London, he worked as a pushcart vendor. Later, after immigrating to the United States, he owned and operated successful grocery businesses in New York and New Jersey. He spent his retirement in Florida, far from his austere beginnings. He reflected on his life in his later years by writing his autobiography. With great foresight, Barnet left his story behind as a time capsule for his descendants so they would know him long after he had passed away.
There is great power in the awareness that one’s life story is a legacy worth preserving—a precious family heirloom handed down from one generation to the next, inspiring one’s children to understand the personal significance of their own lives in a seemingly impersonal world.
Barnet begins his story with these words:
I do not remember how old I was when my father died, but I remember well when I and my two brothers came to the shul—the synagogue, the House of Prayer—to say Kaddish, the memorial prayer, for him. I was so small that they had to stand me up on a bench and a man there said Kaddish with me. I still remember well what the man looked like, but I do not remember my father. His inheritance consisted of an unfinished house, which when completed would have been worth 300 rubles, and a closet full of religious books. But my mother, I shall never forget. She was devoted to her children, a very active woman, handy at many things and ready to do any work. After shiva, the seven days of mourning as required by Jewish tradition, my mother began planning what to do for a living for herself and the five children. We were three boys and two girls.
Barnet’s mother was a rabbi’s daughter. She was named Sheine Feige, and her deceased husband had also been a rabbi. According to Jewish tradition, fatherless children were considered orphans even with a widowed mother. As commanded in the Torah, it was (and still is) a moral obligation incumbent upon Jewish communities to provide for widows and orphans through charitable contributions known as tzedakah.
Nonetheless, Sheine Feige summoned the determination to become the breadwinner in her family and support her children under tragic and difficult circumstances.
Barnet wrote in his autobiography that he felt that too many of his mother’s prayers had gone unanswered, and for that reason, he chose to practice the moral and social justice aspects of Judaism rather than its orthodox rituals. He seems to have given this a great deal of thought, and those were the values he lived by.
Even as a child, he recalled marveling at his mother’s strength, character, and courage. He could not have foreseen that years later he would use those same qualities to summon his own courage as a single parent to protect his young family and guide it through the painful circumstances of his wife Laura’s progressive illness and death.
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