Edgar Bronfman: Champion of Jewish Inclusion and Renewal

Edgar Bronfman - the public figure - stared down the Soviets and was dedicated to a Jewish renaissance. In private, he preferred to be known as 'Yehiel Moshe.'

Avraham Burg
Avraham Burg
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The passing of Edgar Bronfman, one of the greatest personalities of world Jewry since the Second World War, should prompt a moment of contemplation.

He played many roles. For the Jewish public he was a courageous leader who did not hesitate to confront the authorities of the former Soviet Union time and again, by his commitment to release human rights activists, dissidents and refuseniks from their jails. Bronfman led the fight for the restitution of Jewish property stolen and looted during the Holocaust. He was part of the struggle for the dignity of history, leading the international campaign against the Wehrmacht officer, Kurt Waldheim, former UN secretary general and president of Austria, who tried to run away from his dark past.

Towards the 21st century he identified the future challenges for the Jewish people before many others, and paved the road ahead. He urged a modern and relevant Jewish identity in its broadest sense, tolerant and inviting, towards a Jewish renaissance. The Hillel Foundation students were his partners. He wanted a Jewish renewal based on intellectual curiosity, learning and education, a broad tent of Jewish spiritual identity, a comprehensive Judaism for our time. He wanted full participation for the children and partners who were not born into the Jewish people but had become part of it.

He worked for democracy and pluralism, and never gave up on his vision of peace for Israel which he loved unconditionally.

This was the public Bronfman. The private Edgar, to those who knew him well, was always available and gentle, a mensch, responsive and generous. He used to send me emails under his Jewish name- Yehiel Moshe. At many junctions of my life I turned to him for advice.

My family's connection to the Bronfmans spans three generations. My late father was a friend of Sam Bronfman, father of the dynasty, and later of his son Edgar. I myself had the privilege to work with Edgar over the last three decades, and saw from close quarters how remarkable a public emissary for the Jewish people he was.

The enormous legacy Edgar Bronfman left us demands our response; his commandments to be followed: Don't hesitate, do good, repair the world, get to know the other, and accommodate differences . Firmly and gently, with confidence and pride, without arrogance and condescension.

May his inspiring memory be blessed. 

Former World Jewish Congress President Edgar M. BronfmanCredit: AP