Limmud FSU International Steering Committee Chair and philanthropist Matthew Bronfman speaking at tonight's tribute to his father, Edgar Bronfman..
(photo credit: IGOR KHODZINSKIY)
NEW YORK - Limmud FSU, which aims to engage young Russian-Jewish adults, held a tribute event on Saturday at their conference in New Jersey honoring businessman, philanthropist and former President of the World Jewish Congress Edgar Bronfman, who passed away in December 2013.
The event was organized on the occasion of the launch of Bronfman’s last book, Why Be Jewish?, which was recently published posthumously. Bronfman’s son, Matthew Bronfman, is also the international chairman of Limmud FSU.
“Besides honoring our chairman and his late father,” Limmud FSU Co-Founder Sandra Cahn told the The Jerusalem Post
, “Edgar Bronfman is also tied into our work because he was a force in the opening of the gates, in the fight for Soviet Jewry.”
As president of the World Jewish Congress from 1981 to 2007, Bronfman, indeed played a key role in rescuing more than a million Jews from the former Soviet Union.
After Mikhail Gorbachev's ascension to First Secretary of the Communist Party of the USSR in 1985, Bronfman went to the Kremlin as the first World Jewish Congress President to be formally received in Moscow by the Soviets. There, Bronfman initiated talks of a Soviet Jewish airlift with Gorbachev and lobbied him to allow the free practice of Judaism, Jewish education and Hebrew language teaching, all of which had been forbidden at the time.
"As I travel, people come up to me wherever I go and start talking about my father and the great impact he had on the Jewish people,” Matthew Bronfman told the Post
. “It sets quite a high bar. It's a daunting task, really, but I'm trying to live up to his accomplishments in my own way.”
“It's incredibly gratifying to know my father affected so many people,” he added.
Video tributes to Bronfman were also shown, including messages from former Israeli President Shimon Peres, Speaker of the Knesset Yuli Edelstein as well as opposition leader Isaac Herzog.
Former Director of Policy Planning in the State Department under President George H. W. Bush, and Middle East Coordinator under President Bill Clinton Dennis Ross also conveyed some words about Bronfman via a video message.
“Edgar Bronfman was someone whose Jewishness was profoundly important to him. His sense of Jewish identity and consciousness obviously drove him in much of his life’s endeavours,” Ross said.
“I think about Edgar often, I think about the kind of things he would be doing today and I think that he would be using his ability and his creativity to try to move things in a more favorable direction.”
“When I think about the kind of things I would like myself to be doing, I often ask myself the question ‘what would Edgar be doing now?’,” Ross continued.
The tribute ceremony to Edgar Bronfman closed the second day of Limmud FSU’s conference in Parsippany, New Jersey.
The summit also included an opening session honoring Russian Jewish Zionist leader, Ze’ev Jabotinsky and a photo exhibition celebrating Golda Meir as history’s only woman leader in the Middle East.
Sandra Cahn told the Post
there was a “huge amount of interest” shown by the Russian-Jewish community of the New York metropolitan area in the three-day conference.
“At the end of the day, this is a Jewish identity project,” she said. “We are giving [Russian Jews] a model where they can find their place and connect later on to the greater Jewish community.”
Over a thousand Russian-speaking young Jews attended the conference.