Edgar Bronfman, Prince of the Jews

Appreciation

getty images

By Ami Eden

Published December 23, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

(page 2 of 2)

Occasionally I would get a call that Edgar wanted to get together. Almost always the agenda was simply to talk about the state of things in the Jewish world. He asked as much as he answered, talked as much as he listened.

There were other journalists, academics and rabbis with whom he spoke far more often. From time to time he would put us all in a room – when we were really lucky, at a resort in Park City, Utah – and it was the same as our lunches. Sure, he had his two cents, but he was there to learn, to be excited by new ideas.

He would tell you what he thought, however crazy, but he always wanted to know what other people were thinking, however crazy. And in the diversity of bios and backgrounds of the people in those larger get-togethers, you could see the passion and concern he had for Jews of various stripes from around the world.

In politics, he was an increasingly rare combination – an unabashedly outspoken liberal with a nearly unparalleled track record of sticking up for the Jews.

You can find plenty of wealthy liberals ready to make the case for electing a Democratic president in the United States or dismantling settlements in the West Bank. But how many of them also can boast of having played a lead role in exposing Kurt Waldheim’s Nazi past? Or fighting for the freedom of Soviet Jews? Or pushing for the repeal of the U.N. resolution equating Zionism with racism? Or battling the Swiss banks on behalf of Holocaust victims?

“In terms of defending Jews, I’m a Jew,” Bronfman said. “And I was in a position to do so, so I did so.”

Unlike many liberals, Edgar was increasingly, deeply curious about Judaism itself.

“As I was growing up, my knowledge of Judaism was limited to lessons for my bar mitzvah and attendance at a junior congregation that I found dull and pointless, especially since I knew my father did not attend synagogue on Saturdays – he went to the office instead,” Bronfman wrote in his 2008 book, “Hope, Not Fear.”

Not surprisingly, as an adult he avoided Jewish practice, privately raising his children in a home mostly devoid of Jewish life even as he publicly dove into Jewish activism. Over time, that involvement led to a religious awakening of sorts.

“Starting in my sixties, I began to make changes in my life,” Bronfman wrote. “I lit Shabbat candles with my wife every Friday night. I stopped eating pork and shellfish to assert my Jewish identity. I became a proud Jew, in my home and my heart.”

Edgar felt it was time for Jewish organizations and Jewish leaders to let go of fear as a selling point. He also believed ordinary folks needed to take an active role in reclaiming their heritage, to make personal commitments to Jewish religious observance and text study.

In the end, Edgar’s view of the Jewish tradition could serve as a metaphor for his own legacy – he was not without flaws, but he was grand, provocative, tirelessly generous and devoted. Most important, he was ours.

Goodnight, sweet prince.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • What's for #Shabbat dinner? Try Molly Yeh's coconut quinoa with dates and nuts. Recipe here:
  • Can animals suffer from PTSD?
  • Is anti-Zionism the new anti-Semitism?
  • "I thought I was the only Jew on a Harley Davidson, but I was wrong." — Gil Paul, member of the Hillel's Angels. http://jd.fo/g4cjH
  • “This is a dangerous region, even for people who don’t live there and say, merely express the mildest of concern about the humanitarian tragedy of civilians who have nothing to do with the warring factions, only to catch a rash of *** (bleeped) from everyone who went to your bar mitzvah! Statute of limitations! Look, a $50 savings bond does not buy you a lifetime of criticism.”
  • That sound you hear? That's your childhood going up in smoke.
  • "My husband has been offered a terrific new job in a decent-sized Midwestern city. This is mostly great, except for the fact that we will have to leave our beloved NYC, where one can feel Jewish without trying very hard. He is half-Jewish and was raised with a fair amount of Judaism and respect for our tradition though ultimately he doesn’t feel Jewish in that Larry David sort of way like I do. So, he thinks I am nuts for hesitating to move to this new essentially Jew-less city. Oh, did I mention I am pregnant? Seesaw, this concern of mine is real, right? There is something to being surrounded by Jews, no? What should we do?"
  • "Orwell described the cliches of politics as 'packets of aspirin ready at the elbow.' Israel's 'right to defense' is a harder narcotic."
  • From Gene Simmons to Pink — Meet the Jews who rock:
  • The images, which have since been deleted, were captioned: “Israel is the last frontier of the free world."
  • As J Street backs Israel's operation in Gaza, does it risk losing grassroots support?
  • What Thomas Aquinas might say about #Hamas' tunnels:
  • The Jewish bachelorette has spoken.
  • "When it comes to Brenda Turtle, I ask you: What do you expect of a woman repressed all her life who suddenly finds herself free to explore? We can sit and pass judgment, especially when many of us just simply “got over” own sexual repression. But we are obliged to at least acknowledge that this problem is very, very real, and that complete gender segregation breeds sexual repression and unhealthy attitudes toward female sexuality."
  • "Everybody is proud of the resistance. No matter how many people, including myself, disapprove of or even hate Hamas and its ideology, every single person in Gaza is proud of the resistance." Part 2 of Walid Abuzaid's on-the-ground account of life in #Gaza:
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.