One of the most generous and forward-thinking philanthropists in the Jewish world today is Edgar Bronfman. It would be difficult for many Jewish organizations—including JOI—to imagine their work without his participation, vision and leadership. And yet, it turns out that Judaism “was not always central” to his life.
Like so many of us, Edgar Bronfman’s Jewish identity evolved. Too often in the Jewish world, the assumption is made that a fluid Jewish identity only goes in one direction—out and away from the Jewish community toward assimilation-beyond-return—without the recognition that in so many other cases Jewish identity moves toward greater engagement and participation, especially when triggered by important lifecycle events, or powerful experiences or relationships.
On the newly-redesigned website for his foundation, Edgar Bronfman writes in his President’s Letter that the journey began for him when he got involved with the movement to free Soviet Jewry in the 1970s:
Even then, my interest had more to do with human rights than with Judaism per se. But it was on those trips to Russia that my curiosity was piqued. What is it about Judaism, I asked myself, that has kept it alive through so much adversity while so many other traditions have disappeared? Curiosity soon turned into something more, and that “something more” has since turned into a lifelong passion.
He goes on to point out that everyone’s journey is different, but that we all have the opportunity to be part of a rich tradition no matter what path we take. That is a message many of us in the Jewish community can get behind and it is what motivates our work here at the Jewish Outreach Institute.