He Will Be Missed: Remembering Edgar M. Bronfman, Sr.


All of us at InterfaithFamily are mourning the loss of Edgar Bronfman, who died last night.

edgarbronfmanEdgar had a powerful wonderful personal impact on our organization. He was a true pioneer and visionary for the cause of engaging interfaith families in Jewish life and community.

As early as 2004, we reprinted an article from the Jerusalem Post whose title conveyed Edgar’s attitude and foreshadowed all of his future efforts in our field: Bronfman: Children of Intermarriage Are Also Jews.

Back in 2008 I wrote that InterfaithFamily, which started as an independent non-profit in 2002, had plateaued at a funding level of $375,000 until 2006, and that I had given serious thought to closing IFF because of lack of funding support for our cause. But a tide turned in 2006, and we raised over $500,000 that year, and over $800,000 in 2007. How did this happen? Because Edgar Bronfman was the key catalyst. The Samuel Bronfman Foundation was our first major new funder that year.

We enjoyed support from Edgar and SBF for many years after. I’ve only been to the Jewish Funders Network annual conference (which isn’t meant to be a place for grant-seekers to seek grants) once: because Edgar and SBF sponsored a reception at which we spoke about IFF. And I had two memorable lunches with Edgar at what I understood to be “his” table at the Four Seasons.

More important than his impact on InterfaithFamily, though, was his impact on the cause of engaging interfaith families. The importance of welcoming interfaith families was the centerpiece of his important 2008 book, Hope, Not Fear: A Path to Jewish Renaissance. Edgar’s son, Adam, has also been outspoken in the past on the same issues, with coverage in a 2007 JTA article, and in a speech at the 2008 GA.

But the sentiments that Edgar Bronfman spoke so explicitly and repeatedly about welcoming interfaith families have sadly been rare among Jewish leaders. Unfortunately, I can’t think of anyone of Edgar’s stature who has been willing to forcefully assert the critical importance of engaging interfaith families to the liberal Jewish future. When the Pew Report generated huge discussion in the Jewish world starting this past October, the voices of the leadership of the Jewish community seemed to all be delivering the tired old “stem the tide of intermarriage” message.

No one comparable to Edgar Bronfman was heard delivering his prophetic message, in Hope, Not Fear:

 If we speak about intermarriage as a disaster for the Jewish people, we send a message to intermarried families that is mixed at best. How can you welcome people in while at the same time telling them that their loving relationship is in part responsible for the destruction of the Jewish people? No one should be made to feel our welcome is conditional or begrudging. The many non-Jews who marry Jews must not be regarded as a threat to Jewish survival but as honored guests in a house of joy, learning and pride.

The oft-cited figure that among intermarried families only 33 percent of children are raised Jewish does not take into account the possibility that if the Jewish community were more welcoming, those numbers could grow dramatically.

We can only hope that some Jewish leader somewhere will pick up the mantle Edgar has left behind and continue to champion the cause of engaging interfaith families Jewishly.

We send our condolences to Edgar’s family and to the staff of The Samuel Bronfman Foundation and the non-profit organizations that were closest to his heart.

This post originally appeared on www.interfaithfamily.com and is reprinted with permission.

Edgar Bronfman In the News


edgarbronfmanEdgar M. Bronfman, one of InterfaithFamily.com’s most important supporters, has been in the Jewish press again recently: j. the Jewish news weekly of Northern California re-printed an article about him from the Canadian Jewish News.

Mr. Bronfman, who is approaching 80, occasionally speaks publicly about his book, Hope, Not Fear. We published an excerpt from the book and blogged about it back in 2008 when it first came out.

The recent j. article includes many pithy, to-the-point observations by Mr. Bronfman:

I’m not advocating intermarriage. What I’m saying is that intermarriage is here. It’s here to stay. Let’s make it work for us, rather than against us.

Being Jewish is a choice today, not a condition … The problem is not that Jews are falling in love with non-Jews, it’s that Jews are not falling in love with Judaism.”
Jewish law [should be changed] to recognize paternal, as well as maternal, lineage…. Patrilineage was the norm among Jews until the 12th century and the time of Maimonides. We don’t have to worry about keeping the bloodlines pure nowadays. We have DNA.

bronfmanbookcoverIn 2008, at the General Assembly of the United Jewish Communities (now the Jewish Federations of North America) both Mr. Bronfman and his son Adam spoke out in favor of inclusivity. In a blog post at the time, I reported that Mr. Bronfman said in his speech that the Jewish community needed to stop regarding intermarriage as the “enemy” while Adam urged the Jewish leaders in attendance to consider the potential for positive Jewish involvement by interfaith families.

Long before his book, Mr. Bronfman was a leading advocate for including interfaith families in Jewish life. In 2004 we reprinted an article about him from the Jerusalem Post, and the article title says it all: Bronfman: Children of Intermarriage Are Also Jews. We ran Sue Fishkoff’s fascinating interview of Adam Bronfman in 2007.

I hope both of the Bronfmans will continue to lead the effort to welcome interfaith families to Jewish life.

This post originally appeared on www.interfaithfamily.com and is reprinted with permission.