Hundreds Toast Bronfman at Hillel Tribute

By Masha Leon

Published April 29, 2005, issue of April 29, 2005.
  • Print
  • Share Share

The extended Bronfman family clan was among more than 600 guests at The Pierre Hotel for the April 6 Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life tribute to Edgar M. Bronfman, whose many “hats” include president of the Samuel Bronfman Foundation, former president and CEO of the Seagram Company Ltd., father of seven and grandfather of 23. Youngest son Adam, event chair and Hillel International board member, credited “Jan Aronson, my father’s wife” with “my present relationship with my father.” Touting his father’s vision of a pluralistic Judaism, Adam Bronfman described his dad’s “golden life” as a model “to leave this world a better place than… you found it.”

A benign “roast” by Michael Steinhardt and Lynn Schusterman — “Edgar’s partners in Jewish renaissance,” according to Hillel President Avraham Infeld — preceded a PBS-style interview by Charlie Rose, who opened with: “I’m not Jewish… from North Carolina… [but] if I [were] Jewish, I’d like to be part of the Bronfman family.” Rose continued, “You came to a sense of religion… late in life.” Honoree Bronfman described “a defining moment” in synagogue with his parents when his father, Samuel, “was racing through the prayers at the speed of lightning…. I left…. I did not come back…. I was very rebellious.” Bronfman, who now is president of World Jewish Congress, recalled years later being urged by Rabbi Israel Singer to do something to get the Jews out of the Soviet Union. During one of his “many trips to Moscow,” Bronfman recalled seeing “all those Jews standing outside Lubjanka prison. [I thought,] they’re risking jail [just] to talk to other Jews!”

Asked about the difficult relationship with his father — who “hung on so long” versus his own retirement at 65 — Bronfman told Rose: “My faculties are fine…. I need someone younger to take over the helm…. I want to… get more Jewish people involved. Set an example… 50% of [Jewish] students on campus come from families with only one Jewish parent. We have to say to them, ‘You’re welcome!’” At evening’s end, he declared, “It’s wonderful to be Jewish and know who you are.” Had Yiddishists been present, they’d have serenaded Edgar Bronfman with the spirited folk song used for happy occasions, Di Mashke trinken bronfn, trinken vayn (drink whiskey, drink wine). For the Yiddish challenged: bronfn — from the German (spirits, whiskey) — evolved into Bronfen-man, the man who made or sold whiskey. L’chaim!

* * *

While chatting with Woody Allen at the April 6 New York City Center opening gala concert of the Martha Graham Dance Company, my daughter Karen mentioned that she was with the Forward. “Do you write in Yiddish?” Allen asked her. “No, but my mother does,” she replied. Allen volunteered, “I don’t speak Yiddish, but I grew up in a household where everyone read the Forward.” Karen used to play the clarinet, and she asked Allen if he played every day, Allen replied, “No, but I practice every day.” When Karen asked his wife, Soon Yi, “Do you play clarinet?” she shook her head, smiled and said, “No, no!”

At the postperformance bash at Tavern on the Green, I saw event chair Melania Trump and husband Donald; Max Frankel, a past New York Times editor; honorary chair (along with Betty Ford, who was not in attendance) Mikhail Baryshnikov; dancer-choreographer Pearl Lang (whose creative credentials also include reciting Yiddish poetry); company artistic directors Terese Capucilli and Christine Dakin, and board of trustees member Edward Bleier, who told me, “Martha Graham is to dance, what Picasso is to art.”

During the company’s New York City 11-day run, I managed to catch several performances of Graham gems, including “Embattled Garden” (1958), “Errand Into the Maze” (1947) and her 1944 masterpiece, “Appalachian Spring.” Lang, who teaches the company’s dancers technique and choreography, told me, “When Martha had to stop dancing and could no longer perform the lead roles, she entrusted me to dance seven of her roles with her company.” On a personal note, in the mid 1980s I met Martha Graham at a private reception held for her friend, Baroness Batsheva de Rothschild, who was in town to promote her beloved project, Batsheva Dance Company (Graham had trained the company’s dancers in Israel). Seated on a silk chaise with the baroness at her side, an iconic, unflinching Graham regally accepted all compliments with aplomb.

With Additional Reporting by Karen Leon.






Find us on Facebook!
  • Lusia Horowitz left pre-state Israel to fight fascism in Spain — and wound up being captured by the Nazis and sent to die at Auschwitz. Share her remarkable story — told in her letters.
  • Vered Guttman doesn't usually get nervous about cooking for 20 people, even for Passover. But last night was a bit different. She was cooking for the Obamas at the White House Seder.
  • A grumpy Jewish grandfather is wary of his granddaughter's celebrating Easter with the in-laws. But the Seesaw says it might just make her appreciate Judaism more. What do you think?
  • “Twist and Shout.” “Under the Boardwalk.” “Brown-Eyed Girl.” What do these great songs have in common? A forgotten Jewish songwriter. We tracked him down.
  • What can we learn from tragedies like the rampage in suburban Kansas City? For one thing, we must keep our eyes on the real threats that we as Jews face.
  • When is a legume not necessarily a legume? Philologos has the answer.
  • "Sometime in my childhood, I realized that the Exodus wasn’t as remote or as faceless as I thought it was, because I knew a former slave. His name was Hersh Nemes, and he was my grandfather." Share this moving Passover essay!
  • Getting ready for Seder? Chag Sameach! http://jd.fo/q3LO2
  • "We are not so far removed from the tragedies of the past, and as Jews sit down to the Seder meal, this event is a teachable moment of how the hatred of Jews-as-Other is still alive and well. It is not realistic to be complacent."
  • Aperitif Cocktail, Tequila Shot, Tom Collins or Vodka Soda — Which son do you relate to?
  • Elvis craved bacon on tour. Michael Jackson craved matzo ball soup. We've got the recipe.
  • This is the face of hatred.
  • What could be wrong with a bunch of guys kicking back with a steak and a couple of beers and talking about the Seder? Try everything. #ManSeder
  • BREAKING: Smirking killer singled out Jews for death in suburban Kansas City rampage. 3 die in bloody rampage at JCC and retirement home.
  • Real exodus? For Mimi Minsky, it's screaming kids and demanding hubby on way down to Miami, not matzo in the desert.
  • 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.