It is with great sadness that MyJewishLearning, Inc. notes the passing of our founder Edgar M. Bronfman, Sr. He was a giant among Jewish leaders, a legendary visionary, and a mentor and friend to all who knew him. We at MJL would not exist without his tireless work, forward-thinking vision, and continued support of our work.
Below is the official obituary from the Samuel Bronfman Foundation, where he was the president.
Zichrono livracha–May his memory be for a blessing.
Edgar M. Bronfman, Sr., the son of legendary Canadian liquor magnate Sam Bronfman, who expanded Seagram Ltd. internationally and transformed the World Jewish Congress into a prestigious global advocacy force while separately fostering educational and social programs designed to promote a “Jewish renaissance,” died peacefully today at his home in New York surrounded by family. He was 84.
At the time of his death Mr. Bronfman was president of The Samuel Bronfman Foundation. With offices in the landmark Seagram Building that his family built on Manhattan’s Park Avenue, the foundation’s mission is to “inspire a renaissance in Jewish life” through programs Mr. Bronfman described as designed to cultivate “a Jewish community that is knowledgeable, proud and welcoming, where everyone is invited to learn and grow.” Mr. Bronfman personally exemplified this mission by turning the foundation’s offices into a hub of study groups, seminars and special gatherings to promote Jewish learning, discussion and innovation.
Foremost among the initiatives he supported are Hillel: The Foundation for Campus Jewish Life, the Bronfman Youth Fellowships, and MyJewishLearning.com.
Mr. Bronfman was instrumental in reviving Hillel’s campus presence and leading its international expansion. He visited more than 130 college campuses on five continents and met regularly with students.
He was especially proud of the Bronfman Youth Fellowships, a network of more than 1,000 young Jews from Israel and North America that includes some of today’s most inspiring writers, thinkers and leaders. The fellowships program, which Mr. Bronfman founded in 1987, engages future leaders at a formative point in their lives – after their junior year in high school – and immerses them in an intensive exploration of Judaism, including textual study and the examination of ideas about the Jewish experience, pluralism and social responsibility. The fellows and alumni embody Mr. Bronfman’s vision that young people who are enriched and energized by their Judaism are poised to contribute not only to Jewish life, but to the world at large.
In 2002, Mr. Bronfman launched MyJewishLearning.com as a way to connect Jews around the world with Jewish knowledge and tradition. More than a decade ago, Mr. Bronfman recognized that Jews increasingly would rely on the Internet to find answers to basic questions about Judaism. Today, with more than 650,000 visitors a month, MyJewishLearning, Inc utilizes the latest in technology to spread knowledge of Jewish religion, history, values, traditions, and culture to people around the world.
A prolific speaker and author, Mr. Bronfman described his work at the foundation as “finding new ways to teach young Jewish people the stories and ethics our ancestors have handed down, and to nurture in them a pride in our common history.”
Judaism became important to Mr. Bronfman late in life after he had built a career at Seagram and raised a family. As recounted in “The Making of a Jew,” one of four autobiographical books, the turning point was a trip to the Soviet Union in 1970 as part of a delegation to lobby the Russian government to allow greater freedom for Soviet Jews. As he later recounted, “It was on those trips to Russia that my curiosity was piqued. What is it about Judaism, I asked myself, that has kept it alive through so much adversity while so many other traditions have disappeared? Curiosity soon turned into something more, and that ‘something more’ has since turned into a lifelong passion.”
The 1970 trip to Russia also marked the beginning of Mr. Bronfman’s three-decade long association with the World Jewish Congress and his emergence on the world diplomatic scene as an effective advocate for the Jewish people. On becoming president of the World Jewish Congress in 1981, Mr. Bronfman initiated a campaign to bolster its operations in Jewish communities around the world and engage in forceful diplomacy on behalf of the Jewish people.
Working directly with government leaders in foreign capitals, Mr. Bronfman achieved a series of diplomatic victories. Chief among them were agreements forged with the Soviet Union leading to the release of Jewish prisoners of conscience and to greater freedom of religious practice and emigration among Russia’s Jewish population. In 1986, Mr. Bronfman exposed the Nazi past of Austrian President Kurt Waldheim. He broke new ground in improving Jewish relations with the Vatican, including securing the removal in 1993 of a convent that had been built at Auschwitz by Carmelite nuns. While on a visit to a Tropicana Orange Juice plant in Florida in 1991, Mr. Bronfman persuaded President George H. W. Bush to secure the rescission of United Nations Resolution 3379, which equated Zionism with racism. In the later years of his WJC leadership, Mr. Bronfman fought for justice on behalf of Holocaust victims and their heirs, winning financial restitution for thousands of survivors and their families and forging a historic agreement with the Swiss banks over Holocaust era assets. In 1998, Mr. Bronfman was selected by President Clinton to chair the Presidential Advisory Commission on Holocaust Assets.
Mr. Bronfman’s skills as a negotiator and chief executive were developed during his career at Seagram Ltd., the world’s largest distiller of alcohol beverages, under the tutelage of his father Samuel Bronfman, known as “Mr. Sam.” Edgar Bronfman started his Seagram career as an apprentice taster in Montreal. In 1957, he was named CEO of Joseph E. Seagram and Sons, Inc., the company’s U.S. subsidiary. In 1971, he was named Chairman and CEO of the Seagram Company Ltd.
In the early 1960s Edgar worked closely with Mr. Sam to refine the branding and marketing of Seagram’s flagship premium aged and blended whisky, Chivas Regal, making it the premier whisky in its class. The campaign, conceived and spearheaded by Edgar, was celebrated for its innovative use of advertising created by Madison Avenue legend Bill Bernbach, whom Edgar had recruited to the Chivas account. Subsequently, Edgar Bronfman led the company’s purchase of Scotland’s prestigious Glenlivet Distillery, adding one of the world’s great single malt whiskies to the Seagram collection of brands and leading the way in meeting growing consumer interest in high-end single malts.
Under Mr. Bronfman’s direction, Seagram extended its line of premium whiskies and expanded into fine wines through its Chateau & Estates division. The company acquired Martell Cognac, Perrier-Jouet Champagne, and the distribution rights to Absolut Vodka along with other premium alcohol beverage brands, cementing its position as the global leader in luxury alcohol beverages.
Seeking to branch into other fields, under Mr. Bronfman the company also purchased Tropicana Orange Juice and orange groves throughout the world, including China.
In 1966, Mr. Bronfman bought a controlling stake in the movie studio MGM, which was later acquired by Kirk Kerkorian. In 1975, Mr. Bronfman formed Sagittarius Productions, which produced several hit Broadway shows and movies including 1776, a film version of Jane Eyre and the animated movieCharlotte’s Web. His most successful diversification venture was gaining a major stake in DuPont in 1981. Under Mr. Bronfman, Seagram sought to acquire 51% of the oil company Conoco in a bidding war with DuPont. Although DuPont was ultimately successful in the acquisition, Seagram’s Conoco shares were turned into a 25% ownership of the combined DuPont-Conoco entity, with Seagram wining 25% of the seats on DuPont’s board of directors.
Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, Mr. Bronfman positioned Seagram Company Ltd. as a major champion of the alcohol beverage industry’s efforts to achieve equitable tax and regulatory treatment as compared to beer and wine. Notable on this front was the drinks “equivalency” campaign which successfully demonstrated that the amount of alcohol in a typical drink is the same whether whisky, wine or beer and that, therefore, all alcohol beverages should be taxed and regulated in the same manner.
During this time Mr. Bronfman discovered his true life’s calling in Jewish advocacy, devoting increasing energy to his work as president of the World Jewish Congress, leading Hillel’s resurgence, and forging a renaissance in Jewish life for the next generation.
In 1994, Mr. Bronfman retired as chairman and CEO of the Seagram Company. Upon its sale to Vivendi in 2000, he reconstituted The Samuel Bronfman Foundation, named for his father, as the institutional home of his activities centered on Jewish learning and education. In 2007, he stepped down from the World Jewish Congress to dedicate his time exclusively to the foundation.
Edgar Miles Bronfman was born in 1929 in Montreal, Canada. He was the third child of Samuel and Saidye Rosner Bronfman, and brother to three siblings, Minda, Phyllis and Charles. He graduated from Trinity College School in Port Hope, Ontario, attended Williams College and received a B.A. from McGill University in 1951. He moved to New York City in 1955 and became an American citizen in 1959.
Among numerous honors conferred and leadership positions earned over the course of his life, Mr. Bronfman received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Clinton; the Chevalier de La Legion d’Honneur from the government of France; the Justice Louis D. Brandeis Award from the Zionist Organization of America; and honorary doctoral degrees from Williams College, McGill University, Tel Aviv University, New York University and Hebrew University, among others. He served as the founding chairman of the International Board of Governors of Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life and chairman of the World Jewish Restitution Organization. He authored five books: The Making of A Jew, 1996; Good Spirits, 1998; The Third Act: Reinventing Yourself, 2002; Hope Not Fear: A Path to Jewish Renaissance, 2008; and The Bronfman Haggadah, 2013.
Mr. Bronfman married Ann Loeb in 1953 and together they had five children, Sam, Edgar, Jr., Matthew, Holly and Adam. They were divorced in 1973. With his wife Georgiana Webb, he had two daughters, Sara and Clare. In 1994, he married the artist Jan Aronson. In addition to Jan Aronson, he is survived by four sons and three daughters: Samuel Bronfman II, Edgar Bronfman, Jr., Matthew Bronfman, Holly Bronfman Lev, Adam Bronfman, Sara Igtet and Clare Bronfman. His brother Charles Bronfman, his sister Phyllis Lambert, 24 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren also survive him.
Looking to go to services in the convenience of your own home? Check out OurJewishCommunity.org, which brings a contemporary Jewish service (mostly in English) to your computer screen with live-streaming (and archived viewing on-demand). Join tens of thousands of Jews from around the world to celebrate the High Holidays online.
On your computer, simply go to www.highholidayslive.com; on your iPhone or Droid device, you can access services through their free app called OurJewishCommunity.org.
- Streaming Rosh Hashanah live September 16 8:15 PM ET and September 17 10:30 AM
- Streaming Yom Kippur live September 25 8:15 PM ET and September 26 10:30 AM
- Yom Kippur Memorial live September 26 4:00 PM ET
- Streaming Services for Kids September 17 1:30 PM ET and September 26 1:30 PM ET
You can also watch Shabbat services live every Friday at 6:00 PM (Eastern Time) throughout the year.
This year, the folks at Craig N Co again put together an exciting list of writers and thinkers for their Jewels of Elul series. Each day during the month of Elul will feature a different take on the “Art of Aging.”
Here’s yesterday’s piece from Rabba Sara Hurwitz, the Dean of Yeshivat Maharat, the first Orthodox institution to ordain women as spiritual leaders:
As we age, our brains are hardwired to reject change. We are conditioned to resist new challenges and remain within our comfort zones. However, growing older should not mean that we must exist within self-imposed boundaries.
In the 1960s, President Eisenhower received the gift of a rare, white tiger named Mohini. For years, Mohini lived in the Washington Zoo and spent her days pacing back and forth in a 12-by-12 foot cage. Finally the zoo decided to build her a larger cage so Mohini could run, climb and explore. But when Mohini arrived at her new home, she didn’t rush out, eagerly adapting to her new habitat. Rather, she marked off a 12-by-12 foot square for herself, and paced there until her death, never enjoying the new opportunities in front of her. Mohini exemplifies the classic conditioning most of us live within. Although she was a magnificent, powerful creature, Mohini was convinced her “place” was just a 12-by-12 foot square. We all have the propensity to behave exactly like Mohini. Based on our conditioning, we create invisible cages for ourselves, limiting our lives within their boundaries.
But we don’t have to succumb to our internal imprisonment. Throughout the High Holidays, we will hear the shofar blast. Historically, the shofar signaled the release of all slaves at the end of the Jubilee year. That sound should make us ask, “What enslaves us? What weighs us down? What baggage do we hold onto?” And then, let it go. The High Holidays present us with a tunnel, an opportunity to break free from our self-imposed cages, to find our route to freedom and live life with renewed passion. The shofar inspires us to free the Mohini inside and move beyond our boundaries.
The intern will help create innovative content, update existing material, and upload articles to the sites as well as support a number of upcoming editorial projects. The ideal candidate should be eager, able to work independently, and comfortable working on multiple projects at the same time. Experience writing for web publications, using a Content Management System, and knowledge of Photoshop are essential. Qualified candidates will also have an interest in Jewish culture and tradition.
The intern will work out of MyJewishLearning.com’s Manhattan office. The internship is available immediately and would last at least through the end of 2011. The position is 10-15 hours a week and pays $10 per hour.
To apply, please send a cover letter, resume, and links to writing samples to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Recently Mayim Bialik posted for our friends at Kveller about a 2-year-old boy named Ezra who is desperately in need of a bone marrow transplant. Unfortunately there are too many people, especially children, also in Ezra’s situation like 1-year-old Ayelet Galena.
Fortunately registering to be a bone marrow donor is super easy. It involves swiping the insides of your cheeks with a long-handled cotton swab and mailing it in an envelope. So easy you can do it yourself by registering here.
If you’re a match, donating is easy. Eighty percent of the time that you are a match for someone, you can donate stem cells from the blood in your arms, just like giving blood.
As Mayim wrote:
“If I had the power to save a life, I would. I would do it in a heartbeat. And I hope God gives me that chance if that’s what I am here to do.”
“He who saves one life, it is as if he has saved the entire world.” -Talmud
MyJewishLearning, Inc. is seeking a full-time Editorial Assistant to join its dynamic team. The Editorial Assistant will work on both MyJewishLearning.com, the leading transdenominational Jewish website, and Kveller.com, a new website site offering a fresh take on Jewish parenting.
Tasks for this entry-level job will include researching editorial and visual content, loading and updating content to the websites, creating and writing e-newsletters, responding to inquiries, as well as supporting the general projects and needs of the editorial team.
Qualified candidates should have an interest in working in web publishing and have some knowledge of Jewish life and traditions. We’re looking for someone who can manage multiple projects at one time, has an eye for detail, and brings energy and creativity to their job. Previous experience writing, working with content management systems, and Photoshop are helpful.
Benefits include health, dental, and vision insurance, retirement plans, and an allotment for professional development. This position is located in New York City.
Preferred Experience: 0-2 Years
To apply for this position please submit a resume, cover letter, and writing sample to email@example.com
Growing up, I didn’t know anyone who played mah jongg. Yet when I moved to the suburbs of New York three years ago, it was a matter of weeks before the local synagogue ladies pulled me into their game, and I was hooked. Last year, I explored the connection between mah jongg and Judaism. I found very little documented, but I was able to pull together just about everything I could find for an article on this site. Still, I was left with many questions.
Needless to say, I was curious when the Museum of Jewish Heritage in lower Manhattan announced it was putting on an exhibit about mah jongg. Why was a Holocaust museum hosting the show? And how did they find enough material for an entire exhibit?
When I visited Project Mah Jongg, the staff guided me to a not surprisingly small room–the museum’s rotunda–which contains the entire exhibit. Inside the room, six large pillars covered in oversized mah jongg tiles hold display cases filled with old mah jongg sets, rule books, and related artifacts. The outer walls feature commissioned illustrations and photographs. And in the middle stands one lone mah jongg table, complete with cards and tiles–just waiting for people to sit down and play.
I asked curator Melissa Martens why would the museum–known as “A Living Memorial to the Holocaust,” feature an exhibit about mah jongg. She explained that the Museum of Jewish Heritage is unlike most other Holocaust museums, because its mission is to explore life before, during, and after the Holocaust (most others focus just on “during”). Some of the museum’s exhibits capture more of the memorial feeling. This one embodies the living tribute. Mah jongg’s popularity in America peaked in the 1920s. Even after it faded as an American pastime, Jewish women embraced the game fervently. The National Mah Jongg League, founded in 1937, raised money during World War II and later for Jewish refugees in Palestine. And to this day the League sells rule cards and donates the proceeds to Jewish and other causes.
The museum also focused the “living tribute” by adding design elements that infuse the exhibit with the voices of mah jongg players. CD players on the wall, when activated by visitors, play recordings of games and interviews. The clicks and the clacks of the tiles from the soundtracks fill the air with the familiar sounds of the game.
Yet what made this exhibit truly come alive was the lone mah jongg table in the middle of the room. Guests can just sit down and play. Starting later this month, the museum will have teachers one day a week giving lessons.
And so I sat down to a game with Martens, along with two other staff members. They told me that about 30 people at the museum learned to play the game over the course of putting the exhibit together. The three women I played with are now part of a group that meets weekly in Park Slope, Brooklyn.
It was a great game, and not just because I won. While playing, I realized these staff members had become part of the exhibit’s story. They have added themselves as another link in the history of the game, by creating new generation of players.
As the exhibit itself notes, “In many Jewish households, mah jongg was a ritual created by and for women.” Women creating new Jewish rituals has become a significant movement in the past few decades. And while mah jongg may not be a religious ritual, it’s one with deep cultural and communal roots. Those roots continue to plant themselves firmly in the story of American Judaism.
Project Mah Jongg runs from now until January 2, 2011. For more information about visiting the exhibit, visit www.projectmahjongg.com, where you can also see images from the show. For those not in the New York area, don’t worry. Just like a mah jongg set, the exhibit was designed to travel and will be appearing across the country next year.
Photo Credit: Melanie Einzig
For the past three years, MyJewishLearning.com has been proud to feature weekly d’vrei Torah from American Jewish World Service, connecting the weekly Torah portion to pressing issues of social justice. Now AWJS is looking for new contributors:
AJWS is pleased to announce that we are accepting applications for the Dvar Tzedek Lisa Goldberg Memorial Writers’ Fellowship for 5771 / 2010-2011. AJWS Dvar Tzedek Fellows receive a modest stipend and write weekly Torah commentaries relating to the Jewish imperative for social justice. The Dvar Tzedek currently reaches more than 5,000 people a week over email.
We invite you to apply for the fellowship. Applications are due on May 24. For more information, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
MyJewishLearning.com is seeking a full-time Parenting Editor in New York City to supervise and grow a new parenting subsite (currently in development). The subsite will be aimed at parents of Jewish children age 0-5 and will include articles, a blog, discussion boards, and calendars of events for select communities.
The Parenting Editor will help create, launch, and manage the parenting website. Tasks include content planning and conceptualization, soliciting and editing new articles, developing newsletters, and writing for the website and related blog. The Parenting Editor will also supervise a part-time Editorial Assistant and bloggers.
Qualified candidates must have 4+ years of relevant experience, an expertise in parenting issues (particularly pertaining to the early childhood years), and a significant knowledge of Judaism and Jewish life. Experience in web publishing is desired. Those applying should be self-motivated, efficient time managers, and responsive to deadlines.
The job includes full health and dental benefits, as well as professional development opportunities.
To apply, please send a cover letter, resume, and a writing sample of no more than 1500 words to email@example.com.
There are lots of characters on TV that happen to be Jewish. Like the emergence of African Americans into mainstream American television in the 1960s, where many shows had a token black character, it now seems to be in vogue for every television show to have a token Jew. The following are the characters who in 2009 rose above the rest — the characters who, instead of merely being Jewish, did Jewish.
Ziva David, NCIS (CBS, Tuesdays 8 p.m.)
Ziva David started at NCIS (Naval Criminal Investigative Service) a few years ago as a liaison from the Mossad, where her father is the director. This year, after her partner Tony kills her boyfriend (a Mossad agent working in the US), Ziva returns to Israel in an episode call “Aliyah.” Her father questions whether she is loyal to the Mossad or NCIS and if it is even possible to work for both countries at the same time.
NCIS‘s entanglement with the Mossad began in 2004, but this year for the first time, questions of the relationship between America and Israel — and the dual loyalty that American Jews sometimes feel — were at front and center of the show.
Rachel Berry and Noah “Puck” Puckerson, Glee (Fox, Returning April 13, 2010)
Glee, the musical-comedy-drama following an Ohio high school’s show choir, has made a splash this fall.
From the get go, viewers were suspicious that Lea Michele‘s Rachel, the over-achieving star of the show choir and daughter of an interracial same-sex couple, was Jewish. This hunch was confirmed when Rachel vies for the spot of Maria in West Side Story, arguing that: Natalie Wood was a Jew, you know. I have had a deep, personal connection to this role since the age of one.
Noah “Puck” Puckerman (played by Mark Salling), the Mohawk-sporting football player also reveals his Jewishness, when he flashes back to his family’s annual Simchas Torah screening of Schindler’s List. He says, “It makes my mom feel connected to her Jewish roots.” While offering Puck some sweet and sour pork, his mom begs “Why can’t you date a Jewish girl?
Later that night Puck dreams that Rachel climbs into his window, wearing a massive Jewish star necklace. It’s not 24 hours later that the two are making out.
While this storyline was fantastically absurd, it expresses the very real pressures that young Jews face to date Jews. And I thought that the Puckerman’s holiday celebration might just be hyperbolic expression of the way families create new rituals.
Howard Wolowitz, The Big Bang Theory (CBS, Mondays 9:30 p.m.)
The Big Bang Theory is quite possibly the funniest show on TV these days. Argue with me if you want. You will lose. One of the great characters on this ensemble sitcom is Simon Helberg‘s Howard Wolowitz. Wolowitz is a nerdy Jewish aerospace engineer, who lives with his overly stereotypical Jewish mother (at least vocally, we only know her through the things she yells to her son through his bedroom door).
Wolowitz is best described as a gastronomical Jew. When the price of moo shu pork from the group’s favorite Chinese restaurant increases, he complains, “It’s getting harder and harder to be a bad Jew.” His mother makes Turbriskafil every Thanksgiving–a turkey, stuffed with a brisket, stuffed with gefilte fish.
While some might scoff at a Jewish-food Jew, we at MyJewishLearning know that food can be a powerful force in shaping Jewish identity. Just ask the more than 33,000 people who receive our recipes e-letter every week.
Cyrus Rose, Gossip Girl (CW, Mondays 9 p.m.)
However, Blair Waldorf did gain a new Jewish stepfather, Cyrus Rose (played by Wallace Shawn). In the spring, Cyrus and his family and friends celebrated Passover, and the Jewish customs confused Eleanor Waldorf, Cyrus’ wife: I don’t even know how to say half the words in this prayer book named after Joe Lieberman’s wife. She’s informed, “She’s Hadassah. This is a Haggadah.”
While some people find the show superficial (they are wrong), its inclusion of one of the most popular Jewish rituals is significant. Even if it is in the outlandish Gossip Girl way.
Stevie Ray Botwin, Weeds (Showtime, Returning in 2010)
Weeds has had some heavily-Jewish plot lines in the past including a family sitting shiva and the quest of one man to enter rabbinical school (even if only to dodge the army). But this season we face Nancy Botwin’s pregnancy and her son’s subsequent bris, with an intermarriage twist.
Though the drug-dealing suburban mother of the newborn isn’t actually Jewish, her late husband was. And when she employs her former brother-in-law Andy to be the adoptive father, he demands a bris–complete with bagels and whitefish. “Wait, he’s Jewish now?” Nancy asks. Andy replies, “Reform, but yeah.”
Since neither of baby Stevie Ray’s parents are Jewish, his bris might seem a bit out of place. That being said, in today’s society the question of “who is a Jew?” is a growing complexity.