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Edgar M. Bronfman

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Edgar M. Bronfman

Edgar Bronfman, Sr.
Edgar Bronfman in 1989
Born Edgar Miles Bronfman
(1929-06-20) June 20, 1929 (age 85)
Montreal, Quebec, Canada
Residence New York, New York, U.S.
Nationality American[1][2]
Alma mater Williams College
Net worth Increase$2.6 billion (2011)[3]
Religion Judaism
Spouse(s) Ann Loeb (1953–1973)
Lady Carolyn Townshend (1973–1974)
Rita "Georgiana" Webb (dates unknown)
Jan Aronson (1994–present)
Children Samuel
Edgar Bronfman, Jr.,
Matthew Bronfman
Sara Bronfman
Clare Bronfman
Parents Samuel Bronfman
Saidye Rosner Bronfman
Relatives Minda de Gunzberg (sister)
Phyllis (sister)

Edgar Miles Bronfman (born June 20, 1929) is a Canadian-American[1][2] businessman. He is a member of the Bronfman family.


Bronfman was born in Montreal into the Jewish Canadian Bronfman family, the son of Samuel Bronfman and Saidye Rosner Bronfman. His father was the founder of Distillers Corporation Limited, which in 1928 purchased what was then the largest distiller in the world, Seagram Company Ltd. He had three siblings: the late Minda de Gunzburg, the architecture maven Phyllis Lambert, and Charles Bronfman.



After graduating from Williams College with a B.A. degree in 1950 he joined the family business. In 1957, he took over as head of Seagram's American subsidiary. He increased the range of products sold by the company, improved distribution, and expanded the number of countries in which Seagram's products were sold. In 1966 Cemp Investments, which managed the family's investments, bought 820,000 shares of MGM and in 1969 Bronfman took over the chairmanship of MGM, albeit briefly.

Following his father's death in 1971, Bronfman took over as president, treasurer, and director of Distillers Corporation-Seagrams Ltd. His son Edgar Jr. succeeded him as chief executive officer of the company in 1994.[4]

World Jewish Congress

When former World Jewish Congress president Philip Klutznick stepped down in 1979, Bronfman was asked to take over as acting head of the organization. Bronfman was formally elected WJC president by the Seventh Plenary Assembly, in January 1981.[5] Together with his deputy Israel Singer, Bronfman has led the World Jewish Congress in becoming the preeminent international Jewish organization. Through the campaigns to free Soviet Jewry, the exposure of the Nazi past of Austrian president Kurt Waldheim, and the campaign to compensate victims of the Holocaust and their heirs, notably in the case of the Swiss banks, Bronfman became well known internationally during the 1980s and 1990s.

In 1983, Bronfman suggested in the New York Times that "American Jews should abandon their strongest weapon, the Jackson–Vanik Amendment as a sign of goodwill that challenges the Soviets to respond in kind."[6]

After Mikhail Gorbachev's ascension in 1985, Bronfman's New York Times message began to resonate with the public. In early 1985, Bronfman secured an invitation to the Kremlin and on September 8–11, visited Moscow, becoming the first World Jewish Congress President to be formally received in Moscow by Soviet Officials. Carrying a note from Shimon Peres, Bronfman met with Gorbachev, and initiated talks of a Soviet Jewish airlift. It is said that Peres's note called on the Soviet Union to resume diplomatic relations with Israel.[7]

In a Washington Post profile a few months after the September trip, Bronfman laid out what he thought had been accomplished during his September meetings. He said, "There's going to be a buildup of pressure through the business community. The Russians know the Soviet Jewry issue is tied to trade ... My guess is that over a period of time, five to ten years, some of our goals will be achieved." Author Gal Beckerman says in his When They Come For Us We’ll Be Gone, "Bronfman had a business man's understanding of the Soviet Jewish issue. It was all a matter of negotiation, of calculating what the Russians really wanted and leveraging that against emigration."[6]

In March 1987, Bronfman along with fellow delegates of the World Jewish Congress, flew to Moscow once again. Bronfman held three days of discussions with senior Soviet officials. Together, Bronfman and the World Jewish Congress delegates advocated for the freeing of the Jews living under Soviet rule.[8][9]

On June 25, 1982, Bronfman became the first representative of a Jewish organization to speak before the United Nations. Speaking before the Special Session on Disarmament, Bronfman said, "world peace cannot tolerate the denial of the legitimacy of Israel or any other nation-state ... [and the] charge that Zionism is racism is an abomination."[10] .

Bronfman's goals for the visit were threefold. First, he called for the release of all so-called Prisoners of Zion, the Jews imprisoned for expressing a desire to emigrate to Israel. Bronfman also wanted freedom for Jews in the Soviet Union to practice their religion. Finally, he called for the freedom for Soviet Jews to learn Hebrew, which was forbidden at the time.[11]

A year later, in 1988, Bronfman returned to Moscow to meet with Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnaze. This trip resulted in the Soviets promising to legalize the teaching of Hebrew in the Soviet Union and to establish a Jewish cultural center in Moscow. Bronfman said of this visit, "By their actions, they are indicating that they are eager to get the question of Jewish rights and emigration off the bargaining table. And it is actions, rather than simply words, that count."[12]

In 1986, during Bronfman's presidency, the World Jewish Congress accused Austrian President Kurt Waldheim of covering up his past connections to the Nazi party. It was when Waldheim became a candidate for president that the World Jewish Congress first published material showing Waldheim's active duty in the German army during war time. This evidence was later used to prove that Waldheim must have known about the deportation of Jews to concentration camps, though Waldheim's service as an Austrian in the German army cannot be considered a war crime. Waldheim had served as an intelligence officer in a unit of the army that participated in the transfer of Greek Jews to death camps.[13]

The allegations against Waldheim resulted in public embarrassment for the Austrian president. He was on the U.S. Justice Department's list of undesirables in April 1987.[14][15]

On May 5, 1987, Bronfman spoke to the World Jewish Congress saying Waldheim was "part and parcel of the Nazi killing machine". Waldheim subsequently filed a lawsuit against Bronfman, but dropped the suit shortly after due to a lack of evidence in his favor.[13]

According to Joel Bainerman, in 1991 he was appointed to the International Jewish Committee for Inter-religious Consultations to conduct official contacts between the Vatican and the State of Israel.[16]

In the late 1990s, Bronfman championed the cause of restitution from Switzerland for Holocaust survivors.[17][18] Bronfman began an initiative that led to the $1.25 billion settlement from Swiss banks. This settlement aimed to resolve claims "that they hoarded bank accounts opened by Jews who were murdered by the Nazis".[19][20] The Swiss banks, the United States Government, and Jewish groups investigated unclaimed assets deposited by European Jews into Swiss banks before the Holocaust.[21] Negotiations began in 1995 between the U.S. and Switzerland. The parties reached a settlement in August 1998, and signed the $1.25 billion settlement in January 1999. In exchange for the settlement money, both parties agreed to release the Swiss banks and government from any claims regarding the Holocaust. The settlement was officially approved on November 22, 2000, by Judge Edward R. Korman.[22]

Bronfman stepped down from that post on May 7, 2007, amidst scandals and turmoil about Israel Singer.[23][24][25]

Bronfman was accused by another WJC official of "perfidy" when he wrote a letter to President Bush in mid‐2003 urging Bush to pressure Israel to curb construction of its controversial West Bank separation barrier,[26] co-signed by former secretary of state Lawrence Eagleburger.[27] Former Israeli prime minister Shimon Peres said in support of Bronfman, "Clearly, issues that are open for debate in Israel should be open for debate in the Jewish world."[28]

Personal life

Bronfman has been married five times (twice to his third wife):

  • In 1953, he married the Jewish-American banking heiress Ann Loeb (1932–2011), the daughter of John Langeloth Loeb Sr. (a Wall Street investment banker whose company was a predecessor of Shearson Lehman/American Express) and Frances Lehman (a scion of the Lehman Brothers banking firm). They divorced in 1973. They had five children.[29]
    • Samuel Bronfman – On Aug. 9, 1975, Samuel (who was 21 at the time) was abducted from a family estate in suburban New York. He was held for more than a week before his father paid a $2.3 million ransom. He was later rescued by the FBI and New York City police from a Brooklyn apartment where he was found with his hands bound and his eyes and mouth covered with adhesive tape. The captors, a former limousine operator and a former fireman, were acquitted of kidnapping but convicted of extortion charges and spent several years in prison. The ransom money was recovered.[30]
    • Edgar Bronfman, Jr.
    • Matthew Bronfman
    • Holly Bronfman Lev
    • Adam Bronfman – Managing Director of The Samuel Bronfman Foundation.
  • In 1973, soon after his divorce from Loeb, he married Lady Carolyn Townshend, the daughter of the 7th Marquess Townshend. The marriage was annulled in 1974.
  • In 1975, he married his third wife, Rita "Georgiana" Webb. They divorced in 1983 but were later remarried and again divorced. He had two children with Webb.[31][32]
    • Sara Bronfman (born 1976)
    • Clare Bronfman (born 1979)
  • In 1994 he married the artist Jan Aronson.


Bronfman is a philanthropist who has given large amounts of money to Jewish causes, including Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life, which he is credited with helping revive together with Hillel President Richard Joel in the 1990s. The Hillel at New York University is called The Edgar M. Bronfman Center for Jewish Student Life, known by students just as "Bronfman".[33] Bronfman established the Bronfman Youth Fellowships in Israel, a leadership program for Jewish youth, and is the founder of the website[34]

His mother has a concert hall named after her in Montreal, the Saidye Bronfman Centre, and a building at McGill University is named after his father.

Bronfman is also the president of The Samuel Bronfman Foundation, whose work is informed by these four principles: "Jewish renaissance is grounded in Jewish learning, Jewish youth shape the future of the Jewish people, vibrant Jewish communities are open and inclusive, and that all Jews are a single family."[35]

Major points of focus for The Samuel Bronfman Foundation are conversations around pluralism, intermarriage, community engagement – especially youth – and making Jewish knowledge accessible to Jews of all backgrounds.[36] It is known for its work with the following grantees:

  • Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life, which is the largest Jewish campus organization in the world, engaging Jewish students globally in religious, cultural, artistic, and community-service activities. Hillel's mission is "to enrich the lives of Jewish undergraduate and graduate students so that they may enrich the Jewish people and the world".[37]
  •, which is the leading transdenominational website of Jewish information and education, offering articles and resources on all aspects of Judaism and Jewish life, along with, a Jewish parenting website that is a project of[38]
  • The Bronfman Youth Fellowships in Israel, a leadership program that sends high school seniors to Israel for five weeks to travel, explore their Jewish identity, and engage with thinkers, authors, artists, and educators. The mission of the fellowships is to create Jewish leaders who are guided by the values of Jewish learning, pluralism, engagement with Israel and social responsibility.[39]

In April 2012, Bronfman joined the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Giving Pledge, a long-term charitable initiative that aims to inspire conversations about philanthropy and increase charitable giving in the United States.[40] Bronfman and 12 others joined the 68 billionaires who had already signed the giving pledge.[41]


Bronfman was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by U.S. President Bill Clinton in August 1999[42] and the Star of People's Friendship by East German leader Erich Honecker in October 1988.

In 2000, he received the Leo Baeck Medal for his humanitarian work promoting tolerance and social justice.[43]


  • The Bronfman Haggadah, Edgar M. Bronfman, Rizzoli, 2013.[14]
  • Hope, Not Fear: A Path to Jewish Renaissance, Edgar M. Bronfman with Beth Zasloff, St. Martin's Press, 2008.
  • The Third Act: Reinventing Yourself After Retirement, Edgar M. Bronfman with Catherine Whitney, G.P. Putnam's Sons, 2002.
  • Good Spirits, Edgar M. Bronfman, G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1998.
  • The Making of a Jew, Edgar M. Bronfman, G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1996.


Bronfman is a guest blogger for the Huffington Post and a regular contributor to The Washington Post.,[48][49]

See also


External links

  • Blogs
  • Editorials
  • Charlie Rose
  • Big Think
  • Jacques Berlinerblau for Faith Complex Series
  • New York Times Magazine

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