EDGAR M. BRONFMAN "THE MAKING OF A JEW"
BY: GAD NAHSHON
"The only way for a Jew to fight anti-Semitism is to recognize that to be a Jew is to have a great heritage and to expose anti-Semites for what they are - evil, vicious, stupid and insecure," wrote Edgar M. Bronfman, the well known Jewish leader, president of the World Jewish Congress since 1981 and the chairman of the Seagram Company, Ltd, in his new political autobiography, "The Making of a Jew", published by G.P. Putnam's Sons, New York City, 1996.
Bronfman, now 67 years old, is in the news. He is active and his autobiography will be, therefore, changed. Certainly, more chapters will be added. Indeed, many will buy and read this book because they want to know what makes Bronfman run. For many years he confessed he was just a non- Jewish Jew and indifferent to Jewish or Israeli affairs. Now he considers himself to be a new-born Jew because he is so active in the Jewish world, fighting for Jewish rights and especially against anti-Semitism, together with his advisors Dr. Israel Singer, a Rabbi and Etan Steinberg.
Today Bronfman continues to lead one of the most powerful and far-ranging family dominated businesses in North America. His corporate interests range from liquor distillation to movie making. But Bronfman's true fashion is reserved for the superb work he does in the Jewish community as president of the World Jewish Congress, which was established in 1936, and as one of the most prominent Jewish philanthropists of our time. There is no doubt of the fact that Bronfman, a welcomed guest in the world capitals, from Jerusalem to Berlin, and from London to Bucharest, is a proud Jew who uses his economic powers as a leverage for defending Jewish minority rights, especially in his encounters with the communist East European countries.
Through the years, Bronfman developed his own style of Jewish diplomacy, but he always has linked it to the great legacy of the famous ex- president of the World Jewish Congress Nahum Goldman. Goldman was the man who recruited Bronfman to this organization.
In the first chapter of his book, "Mr. Sam" Bronfman described his family background. He was born in Montreal, Canada, on June 20, 1929, a son to Samuel and Sadie Bronfman. Sixty five thousand Jews lived at that time in Montreal. His father was rich and was a conservative Jew. Young Bronfman went to Sunday school and was Bar- Mitzvahed. But he wrote, "Almost from the start, I was confused as to my identity." Bronfman's Jewishness has been eroded later.
In 1959 he was naturalized in the U.S.A. because his wife was an American and he became an employee of Joseph E. Seagram and Sons, Inc. in the U.S.A. So, he was only "Mr. Sam's" son and heir. His turning point was his joining the World Jewish Congress in 1971.
Bronfman does not try to conceal the fact that there were many mixed marriages in his own family. He knows about the Jews that have assimilated inside our open society as well. How to challenge this dangerous phenomenon?
The linkage to Israel is very important. "I took pride in the accomplishment of David Ben-Gurion and his army of Jewish patriots," he wrote.
"Jews must take pride in their Jewishness. But you cannot be proud of a heritage of which you know nothing. This means, essentially, that Jews must have a better Jewish education." Bronfman recently has invested money in Jewish adult education and he developed a special project for creating a new young Jewish leadership and many other youth projects, together with the Hillel Foundation of B'nai B'rith. His belief is that a better Jew can better fight against anti- Semitism.
Bronfman confessed, "My Jewish awareness grew during the fifties and the sixties and bubbled after my father's death...and shortly after I began to get involved in the World Jewish Congress. My religious awakening developed much more slowly...but still the religion fascinates me and I do study...The Bible is our book, our story...it also gives me an identity - that of a proud Jew," remarked Bronfman in his illuminating book.
Bronfman has dedicated his wife to combat anti-Semitism and bigotry. "In the early 1960's, my father said that if I thought that anti-Semitism was dead, I was fooling myself. At that time, I really believed it was all but dead, that in the aftermath of the Holocaust being an anti-Semite would be out of fashion forever...there are pockets of hate throughout the world and unfortunately we live in a racist society," Bronfman pointed out in "The Making of a Jew".
The book is also a report for history of Bronfman's main struggles against this social illness.
In Chapter 6, "Waldheim," he described his struggle against Kurt Waldheim, an accused Nazi. The struggle began in January, 1986. Many documents exposed Waldheim's (an ex-U.N. Secretary General for 10 years) Nazi past. For example, his role in the deportation of 2,000 Jews from the Greek island of Corfu to the Auschwitz death camp. We know that Austria ignored the criminal in nature information and its citizens elected him to be their president and the Pope, sad to say, even made him a Papal Knight! As to Germany, Bronfman is very rigid. His father forbade him to do business with the Germans until Israel established diplomatic relations with this country. He does not like Chancellor Helmut Kohl. Why? "Kohl has tried to tell the Germans that they no longer have to constantly feel guilty and less human because of the Holocaust and that he, Helmut Kohl, has finally delivered them from this awesome burden," wrote Bronfman, who believes that at least the new United Germany, "must never help those who would destroy the Jewish State" and also that Germany "must never be a nuclear power."
Bronfman used to fly to Moscow in order to save Jews. He managed to release from jail some "prisoners of Zion". More important, he helped Jews in Russia to develop their own cultural-religious life. Bronfman always propagates the idea of Jewish freedom of choice, rather than the Israeli Zionist or nothing notion. He loves and admires Israel but his World Jewish Congress is not per se a Zionist organization, although its founder, Dr. Stephan Wise, was a true Zionist all his life.
Well, Bronfman does not write about his discussions with the Israelis, and many leaders such as Yitzhak Rabin were his friends.
Also fascinating is the report of his relationship with the notorious Romanian leader Ceausesco. Eighteen thousand Romanian Jews had to be protected from this dangerous dictator. Bronfman did everything to back the Chief Rabbi of Romania, Moshe Rosen, so that Ceausesco would know that America cares about these Jews. There are two notions in this book that should be kept in our mind:
"I see a slight reversal in the trend to assimilation. There was a time when Jews tried hard not to be Jews and hoped that the world would accept them as such." It is a big illusion. But anti-Semitism is not the major danger to the existence of the Diaspora. Bronfman explained, "For too many years we expressed ourselves not by learning Judaism and the pride that comes from that, but by writing checks for Israel and feeling pride in that country and its mighty army."
Prepared for a Bronfman surprise. "I have said that George Bush... was the best foreign friend Israel had" (with the exception of Harry Truman). Well, let history judge.
Bronfman recently pushed his organization into the big struggle of combating erosion of Judaism and he concluded in his important book, "We must worry more about what we are doing to ourselves rather than always concentrating on what others may be doing to us."
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