NEW YORK, Dec 21, 2013 (BUSINESS WIRE) -- Edgar M. Bronfman, Sr., the son of legendary Canadian liquor magnate Sam Bronfman
, who expanded Seagram Ltd.
internationally and transformed the World Jewish Congress
into a prestigious global advocacy force while separately fostering educational and social programs designed to promote a "Jewish renaissance," died peacefully today at his home in New York surrounded by family.
At the time of his death Mr. Bronfman was president of The Samuel Bronfman Foundation.
With offices in the landmark Seagram Building that his
family built on Manhattan's Park Avenue, the foundation's mission is to "inspire a renaissance in Jewish life" through programs Mr. Bronfman
described as designed to cultivate "a Jewish community that is knowledgeable, proud and welcoming, where everyone is invited to learn and grow.
personally exemplified this mission by turning the foundation's offices into a hub of study groups, seminars and special gatherings to promote Jewish learning, discussion and innovation.
Foremost among the initiatives he
supported are Hillel
: The Foundation for Campus Jewish Life
, the Bronfman Youth Fellowships, and MyJewishLearning.com.
was instrumental in reviving Hillel's campus presence and leading its international expansion.
visited more than 130 college campuses on five continents and met regularly with students.
was especially proud of the Bronfman Youth Fellowships, a network of more than 1,000 young Jews from Israel and North America that includes some of today's most inspiring writers, thinkers and leaders.
The fellowships program, which Mr. Bronfman
founded in 1987, engages future leaders at a formative point in their lives - after their junior year in high school - and immerses them in an intensive exploration of Judaism, including textual study and the examination of ideas about the Jewish experience, pluralism and social responsibility.
The fellows and alumni embody Mr. Bronfman's
vision that young people who are enriched and energized by their Judaism are poised to contribute not only to Jewish life, but to the world at large.
In 2002, Mr. Bronfman
launched MyJewishLearning.com as a way to connect Jews around the world with Jewish knowledge and tradition.
More than a decade ago, Mr. Bronfman
recognized that Jews increasingly would rely on the Internet to find answers to basic questions about Judaism.
With nearly 1,000,000 visitors per month, MyJewishLearning.com utilizes the latest in technology to spread knowledge of Jewish religion, history, values, traditions, and culture to people around the world.
A prolific speaker and author, Mr. Bronfman
work at the foundation as "finding new ways to teach young Jewish people the stories and ethics our ancestors have handed down, and to nurture in them a pride in our common history."
Judaism became important to Mr. Bronfman late in life after he
had built a career at Seagram
and raised a family.
As recounted in "The Making of a Jew," one of four autobiographical books, the turning point was a trip to the Soviet Union in 1970 as part of a delegation to lobby the Russian government to allow greater freedom for Soviet Jews.
later recounted, "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."
The 1970 trip to Russia also marked the beginning of Mr. Bronfman's three-decade long association with the World Jewish Congress
emergence on the world diplomatic scene as an effective advocate for the Jewish people.
On becoming president of the World Jewish Congress
in 1981, Mr. Bronfman
initiated a campaign to bolster its operations in Jewish communities around the world and engage in forceful diplomacy on behalf of the Jewish people.
Working directly with government leaders in foreign capitals, Mr. Bronfman achieved a series of diplomatic victories.
Chief among them were agreements forged with the Soviet Union leading to the release of Jewish prisoners of conscience and to greater freedom of religious practice and emigration among Russia's Jewish population.
In 1986, Mr. Bronfman exposed the Nazi past of Austrian President Kurt Waldheim.
While on a visit to a Tropicana Orange Juice plant in Florida in 1991, Mr. Bronfman persuaded President George H. W. Bush to secure the rescission of United Nations Resolution 3379, which equated Zionism with racism.
In the later years of his WJC
leadership, Mr. Bronfman
fought for justice on behalf of Holocaust victims and their heirs, winning financial restitution for thousands of survivors and their families and forging a historic agreement with the Swiss banks over Holocaust era assets.
In 1998, Mr. Bronfman
was selected by President Clinton to chair the Presidential Advisory Commission on Holocaust Assets
skills as a negotiator and chief executive were developed during his
career at Seagram Ltd.
, the world's largest distiller of alcohol beverages, under the tutelage of his
father Samuel Bronfman
, known as "Mr.
Sam." Edgar Bronfman started his Seagram career as an apprentice taster in Montreal.
Among numerous honors conferred and leadership positions earned over the course of his
life, Mr. Bronfman
received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Clinton; the Chevalier de La Legion d'Honneur from the government of France; the Justice Louis D. Brandeis Award from the Zionist Organization of America; and honorary doctoral degrees from Williams College, McGill University, Tel Aviv University, New York University and Hebrew University, among others.
He served as the founding chairman of the International Board of Governors of Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life and chairman of the World Jewish Restitution Organization.
authored five books: The Making of A Jew, 1996; Good Spirits, 1998; The Third Act: Reinventing Yourself, 2002; Hope Not Fear: A Path to Jewish Renaissance, 2008; and The Bronfman Haggadah, 2013.
married Ann Loeb in 1953 and together they had five children, Sam, Edgar, Jr., Matthew, Holly and Adam.