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Hillel International Mourns the Passing of Edgar M. Bronfman z''l

by Hillel News |Dec 22, 2013|Comments
His vision: “Hope, Not Fear”

WASHINGTON, D.C. (Dec. 22, 2013) – Hillel International joins with the many sorrowful voices from across the global Jewish community in mourning the passing of Edgar M. Bronfman z''l, a guiding force and visionary Jewish leader, who was fundamental in molding the modern Hillel movement.

Mr. Bronfman, the founding chair of Hillel International’s Board of Governors, passed away Saturday, December 21, from natural causes.

Among his many accomplishments in the Jewish world, Mr. Bronfman founded the Bronfman Youth Fellowships in Israel. Bronfman Fellows, known as “the Bronfmanim” spend a summer in Israel learning a style of leadership rooted in the values of Jewish study, commitment to Israel, a profound belief in pluralism and diversity, and an ongoing commitment to the needs of the community. In addition, Mr. Bronfman started The Curriculum Initiative that focused on three core initiatives to address the needs of private schools. In 2002, he financed the launch of MyJewishLearning, an Internet initiative that also includes the Jewish parenting site Kveller, and has one million visitors per month.

Said Eric Fingerhut, president and CEO of Hillel International, “I am so lucky that I got to know him. His generous spirit came through in every conversation. In his sacred memory, we will work even harder to make Hillel the leading organization in shaping the Jewish future, and we will think of him every day as we do it. We will be optimistic, open and welcoming. We will love the Jewish people, like he did. His memory is a blessing to us.”

“Edgar was a visionary leader and philanthropist, as well as a dear friend and partner, who paved the way for many who shared his commitment to sustaining the Jewish future,” said Lynn Schusterman, Chair of the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, and a former co-chair of the Board of Governors. “He was a towering figure who believed deeply in building a welcoming Jewish community relevant to the lives of young adults. His tireless devotion to the global renaissance of Hillel is testament to his vision. Our community is stronger today because of Edgar's generosity of resources, spirit and wisdom. His legacy will continue to shape Jewish life and learning for generations to come.”

“Edgar Bronfman was the great Jew of his era,” said Michael Steinhardt, a former co-chair of the Hillel International Board of Governors. “He had both courage and integrity. Edgar was a true friend. We toiled in the same vineyard of Jewish renaissance and he was always optimistic and encouraging. He believed in the possibility of a Judaism relevant to our age, enheartening and emboldening all those he felt had a chance of bringing that about. I will miss him sorely.”

Every year there is an intense competition among recently graduated college students to join Hillel International as the Bronfman Fellow working in the Office of the President at the Schusterman International Center in Washington, D.C. Mia Jacobs, a graduate of the University of Pittsburgh and the current Bronfman Fellow, said, “I was so fortunate to have been able to meet Mr. Bronfman recently, and hear him speak about the great work our Hillels in Latin America are doing. I thanked him and shook his hand, though I was surely too star-struck to thank him enough. The gratitude I feel towards Edgar Bronfman is too large to put in to words. Hillel has made me who I am, and Hillel is what it is today because of Edgar Bronfman. But I am only one of the countless Jewish students who have benefitted from Mr. Bronfman's incredible generosity. He believed in Jewish leadership and a bright Jewish future, and he believed that we— young Jews— were the ones to get us there. I know I speak for our entire community when I say that we are profoundly grateful for Edgar Bronfman, and I am proud to carry on his legacy as the Bronfman Fellow.”

A hallmark of Mr. Bronfman’s Hillel involvement included personal visits to more than 100 college campuses and Hillels in North America and around the world. During these visits he met with university presidents, community leaders and, of course, students.

Mr. Bronfman was especially proud of the Edgar M. Bronfman Center for Jewish Life at New York University. He purchased the building for Hillel in 1995.

“Edgar’s legacy of leadership is an enduring gift to the tens of thousands of students whose lives he touched at NYU, and to the many more through Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life, and other philanthropies,” said Rabbi Yehuda Sarna, University Chaplain and Skirball Executive Director of NYU Hillel at the Bronfman Center. “Edgar's presence mattered tremendously. His regular attendance at High Holiday services at NYU inspired the rabbis, students and community members.  We knew that because he was coming, we needed to have a text study component and we needed to experiment with alternative-style services. He was always remarkably in step with what worked and what needed to change.”

Rabbi Sarna added, “Edgar's bold leadership and visionary philanthropy changed the Jewish world. But he always reserved a special place in his heart for the brownstone that bears his name at 7 East 10th Street. It is a place where lives are transformed and leaders are made. It is a place where pluralism lives and Torah is studied. It is a place which is a hub for innovation and a portal to the world.”

Concluded Fingerhut, “Our condolences go to Jan, Charles, Matthew, Adam and the rest of the Bronfman family. May they be comforted among the other mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.” 

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