Property from the Estate of Edgar M. Bronfman

Edgar M. Bronfman

Few individuals have contributed so greatly to contemporary Jewish life as Edgar M. Bronfman. A visionary businessman and unyielding advocate for world Jewry, Mr. Bronfman translated his tremendous success at the Seagram Company into a decades-long journey in philanthropy, dedicating himself to promoting a "Jewish renaissance" whose effects continue to be felt to this day.

Edgar M. Bronfman joined his family’s Canadian distillery business at just 21 years old, working as an apprentice taster and accounting clerk before quickly ascending the executive ranks. In 1957, he took over Seagram’s American subsidiary, and in 1971 was placed at the head of the entire company, where he implemented a series of diversifying moves that secured Seagram’s position as one of the world’s most innovative firms. With the resources acquired via his business success, Mr. Bronfman devoted his energies to the cause of the Jewish people, becoming a kind of ambassador for the ways in which Judaic learning, culture, and history could enrich the lives of all peoples. "My goal," Mr. Bronfman wrote, "is to build a Jewish future by working to form a knowledgeable, proud and welcoming Jewish community throughout the world."

After he was elected president of the World Jewish Congress in 1981, Edgar M. Bronfman began a series of remarkable international campaigns for the security and prosperity of the Jewish people. Under his 26-year tenure, the WJC became the world’s preeminent Jewish institution, recognized by world leaders as a formidable voice in diplomatic affairs. Of particular note was Mr. Bronfman’s role in advocating for Jewish rights and well-being in the Soviet Union, and in 1985 he became the first WJC president to be formally received by the Kremlin. Convinced of the need to present a strong and unified Jewish voice, Mr. Bronfman earned a reputation amongst world leaders and diplomats as a resolute, tireless negotiator. Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton hailed him as a "champion for justice and human dignity," adding that he "exuded a confidence and honesty that won him the friendship and support of presidents and popes and people everywhere." In 1982, Mr. Bronfman became the first representative of a Jewish organization to speak before the United Nations, and in the 1990s he spearheaded the WJC’s campaign to recover Jewish property seized during the upheavals and aftermath of the Second World War. Mr. Bronfman continually expanded his efforts, serving as president of the World Jewish Restitution Organization and chairman of the United States Commission on Holocaust Era Assets.

Behind Edgar M. Bronfman’s international advocacy in the World Jewish Congress was his belief in Jewish culture, heritage, and values. He forever cherished the traditions at the heart of Judaism: learning, pluralism, debate, and enquiry—the essential components for the faith’s continued relevance. As founder, president, and chairman of the Samuel Bronfman Foundation—named in honor of his father, a Canadian businessman and philanthropist—Mr. Bronfman focused on international engagement, bringing Jewish knowledge to people of all backgrounds. Mr. Bronfman was justly proud of his outreach to young Jews, particularly via Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life, and the Bronfman Youth Fellowships. He revived Hillel in the 1990s, transforming it into the largest Jewish campus organization in the world, with chapters reaching beyond the United States to Russia, Eastern Europe, Israel, and South America. He founded the prestigious Bronfman Youth Fellowship program in 1987, challenging future Jewish thinkers, writers, and leaders from Israel and North America to deepen their understanding of Judaism and the importance of social responsibility. As his own life was enriched with serious intellectual study and hard work, so were the lives of young people enriched by Edgar M. Bronfman’s tremendous generosity.

Under Mr. Bronfman’s leadership, the Samuel Bronfman Foundation provided support to organizations including the 92nd Street Y; the American Jewish World Service; Birthright Israel; the Bronfman Center at New York University, and the UJA. As the potential for philanthropic outreach expanded in the digital age, the Foundation oversaw initiatives such as MyJewishLearning.com and Kveller, a website focused on Jewish parenting. In 2012, Edgar M. Bronfman joined the world’s greatest philanthropic leaders in signing the Giving Pledge. "By enabling people to do good work," he wrote upon signing the Pledge, "I participate in a brighter future for the Jewish people and, I hope, all of humanity."

Edgar M. Bronfman was the author of Hope, Not Fear, The Third Act, The Making of a Jew, Good Spirits, and the Bronfman Haggadah, illustrated by his wife, Jan Aronson. Internationally recognized for his prodigious giving and dedication, Mr. Bronfman was inducted into the French Legion of Honor; was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Bill Clinton, the Leo Baeck Medal, the Hillel Renaissance Award, and the Justice Louis D. Brandeis Award; and was bestowed honorary degrees from the University of Rochester, New York University, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Tulane University, Williams College, and Pace University. Michael Steinhardt of the Hillel Foundation called Mr. Bronfman "the great Jew of his era," while Dana Raucher, executive director of the Samuel Bronfman foundation, noted that "Edgar showed how vision and long-term thinking can impact the entire landscape of Jewish life." In his absolute devotion to humanitarianism and the Judaic traditions that informed his life, Edgar M. Bronfman stands as an inspirational figure for people of all backgrounds—a testament to the power of belief in the modern world.