Bronfman defends 'Jewish idea' plan

Philanthropist tells Post contest not about finding 'quick fix.'

charles bronfman 224 88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )
charles bronfman 224 88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )
Responses to a contest billed as a search for the next big Jewish idea are misdirected, says its initiator, philanthropist Charles Bronfman. For example, one person suggested a new Braveheart movie with a Jew as the central character. The response came from one of many Jews busy wracking their brains to become the recipient of the six-figure sum to be granted to the winner of the competition. Bronfman is not happy with the quality of these responses, and says they are a result of a distortion and misunderstanding. "It got all screwed up," Bronfman said, who spoke along with Jeffrey Solomon, president of the Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies, in a recent interview with The Jerusalem Post. He was responding in part to skepticism that followed the announcement of the contest. The contest is really intended to gather brain power in an effort to promote change in Jewish life, explained Bronfman. The gift of $1.5 million to establish a visiting chair in Jewish communal innovation is the latest of Bronfman's efforts to engage younger Jews who are increasingly alienated from Israel and Judaism. In an editorial, Gary Rosenblatt, the editor and publisher of New York Jewish Week, said there was something both "thrilling" and "disturbing" about the quest for the next big Jewish idea. "What troubles me is the very notion that we need, and can benefit from, a quick fix to the myriad problems that threaten the future of Jewish life as we know it in America," Rosenblatt wrote. "We set a trap for ourselves if we think that any one project can deal with issues as complex as increasing assimilation, diminishing Jewish birthrates, less identification with Israel and American Jewish institutions, and a rise in secularism and distrust of organized religion, for starters." Concern came from a misrepresentation of the contest, Bronfman claims. The contest is not looking for a "quick fix," but rather to put ideas on the table. "Some copywriter thought he had a wonderful headline." "I happen to have a high regard for [the younger] generation, but our institutions have great difficulty in coming to grips with a generation so totally different from any generation that came before," said Bronfman. "All of a sudden you have a custom-oriented generation where being Jewish is one of seven or eight affiliations." Bronfman said he could not call it a "problem," but rather a "wonderful challenge." The winner of the contest, to be selected by the Hornstein Jewish Professional Leadership Program at Brandeis University, will be granted a Bronfman chair at the school and will receive two years of salary, benefits, and research assistance to develop his or her idea into a book. Bronfman spoke to the Post as the deadline for another project, the Charles Bronfman Prize, drew near. This prize, which was established in 2004 as a gift by Bronfman's children in honor of his 70th birthday, sponsors individuals younger than 50 whose humanitarian work has made a significant contribution to their field. Former winners include Jay Feinberg, founder of the Gift of Life Bone Marrow Foundation; Alon Tal, who founded the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies; and Amitai Ziv, founder and director of the Israel Center for Medical Simulation which works to improve decision-making while also improving healthcare professionals' ability to deal with difficult situations. The prize is accepting nominations for its fourth round until November 30.