Edgar Bronfman, the billionaire former beverage magnate and leading Jewish philanthropist, passed away Saturday. He was 84.
As the longtime president of the World Jewish Congress, Bronfman fought for Jewish rights worldwide and led the successful fight to secure more than a billion dollars in restitution from Swiss banks for Holocaust victims and their heirs. As a philanthropist, Bronfman took the lead in creating and funding many efforts to strengthen Jewish identity among young people.
According to a statement, he died peacefully in his home in New York, surrounded by family.
Bronfman spent the 1950s and 1960s working with his father, Samuel, at Seagram Ltd., the family’s beverage business. He became chairman of the company in 1971, the year of his father’s death.
Just a year earlier, in 1970, Bronfman took part in a delegation to Russia, to lobby the Kremlin for greater right for Jews in the Soviet Union. He would later credit the trip for inspiring his increasing interest in Judaism, saying: “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.”
In 1981, Bronfman became the president of the World Jewish Congress, stepping up the organization’s activism on behalf of Jewish communities around the world. From his perch at the WJC, in addition to battling with the Swiss banks, he continued the fight for Soviet Jewry, took the lead in exposing the Nazi past of Kurt Waldheim, and worked to improve Jewish relations with the Vatican.