Edgar Bronfman's Enduring Contribution to Jewish Youth

Bringing Gays, Israel-Skeptics and Alienated Into Fold

edgar bronfman youth fellowships

By Becky Voorwinde

Published December 24, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share

Over the course of his life, Edgar Bronfman, who died December 21 at age 84, founded and supported innumerable Jewish charitable causes, including many with other members of his family.

But among those he launched on his own, he considered the most significant to be the Bronfman Youth Fellowships, a Jewish identity program for Israelis and Americans, which I co-direct, that starts the summer before students enter their senior year in high school. Today, the community of alumni numbers over 1,000.

The selection process for the 20 Israelis and 26 North Americans chosen each year is rigorous. Applicants submit their grades, write essays, provide letters of reference and, if they are chosen as finalists, submit to an interview.

But under Edgar’s guidelines, the program, known as BYFI, looks not just for the best and brightest among committed Jews. It searches, too, for the Jewishly alienated, those who are secular and non-religious, and those who are skeptical about the whole enterprise of Israel, Zionism and Jewish identity.

In this sense, BYFI reflects an aspect of Edgar’s own biography as a man who came to involvement in Jewish life relatively late in his own life.

Once recruited, the students enter a program that seeks to expose them to a full spectrum of Jewish life, culture and politics through encounters in Israel and in America, as they study and debate with each other. What they take from it is left to them. It was the journey, not some predetermined destination that Edgar sought to nurture and support.

Below, a variety of BYFI alumni recall how Edgar Bronfman’s intervention affected their lives.

Belatedly Saying Thanks for Encouragement and Support

How Edgar Bronfman Turned Around One Alienated Russian Jew

A Man Who Took Jewish Faith as a Challenge

Humanity to LGBT Community Was Second Nature


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!
  • 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:
  • After years in storage, Toronto’s iconic red-and-white "Sam the Record Man" sign, complete with spinning discs, will return to public view near its original downtown perch. The sign came to symbolize one of Canada’s most storied and successful Jewish family businesses.
  • Is $4,000 too much to ask for a non-member to be buried in a synagogue cemetery?
  • "Let’s not fall into the simplistic us/them dichotomy of 'we were just minding our business when they started firing rockets at us.' We were not just minding our business. We were building settlements, manning checkpoints, and filling jails." What do you think?
  • PHOTOS: 10,000 Israel supporters gathered for a solidarity rally near the United Nations in New York yesterday.
  • Step into the Iron Dome with Tuvia Tenenbom.
  • What do you think of Wonder Woman's new look?
  • "She said that Ruven Barkan, a Conservative rabbi, came into her classroom, closed the door and turned out the lights. He asked the class of fourth graders to lie on the floor and relax their bodies. Then, he asked them to pray for abused children." Read Paul Berger's compelling story about a #Savannah community in turmoil:
  • 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.