Andrea (Andy) Bronfman was born in London in 1945. The daughter of leading Zionist philanthropists, Andrea devoted much of her life to furthering the commitment to Jewish identity, community and meaning that she inherited from her parents, Hyam and Doris Morrison.
Andrea left England for Canada following her marriage in 1969 to David Cohen, a Canadian manufacturer. As a young wife and mother of 3, Andrea's commitment to human rights and fundamental freedom led her to found the "Group of 35"—Montreal Women's Campaign for Soviet Jewry. The "35s" played an active role in alerting both the Canadian government and the public at large to the plight of Soviet Jewry.
For more than 20 years, since that first visit to wintry Montreal, the three of us, Charles, Andy and I, along with many wonderful colleagues over the years, have been running together. And throughout these years, Andi and I developed a special and unusual friendship.
The fit was quite unlikely. We didn't come from the same neighborhood and hadn't attended the same schools. And yet the fit worked. Why? The ground, the base line, was a meeting of values and ideals which transcended differences in background and style. Andy became a dominant force in my life (and in the lives of others) first because of what drove her—a desire to help people. The circles included first her family, then friends, then the tribe, whose center was in Israel, and finally, others who were victimized.
Whatever the particular project—this woman pushed on. Whether it was the Guide Dogs for the Blind, the children of Jerusalem who would benefit from this park or that zoo, and most recently, the passion for exposing Israeli excellence in the decorative arts to international audiences. Her zeal for young people—Birthright groups, Reboot young adults, children in enrichment programs in Israeli schools whether in Beit Shemesh or Sakhnin, was overwhelming.
I admired Andy for her spunk and determination. We connected because of concern, activism, passion and vibrancy. We met around the macro-vision, and she pushed me hard on the details. Her eyes were on both levels, a rare and productive combination.
Her demands were tough to meet, but they were part of the package. How many times did she come into the foundation kitchen and turn it upside down by herself, weeding out the dishes she didn't like and reorganizing the closets. She didn't have the patience to wait for me, and knew that this matter didn't really interest me.
How many notes did she send with exclamation points at the end of each sentence indicating how to plan a trip to absolute perfection, and knowing I was not a perfectionist. This last Sunday I sent her the formulation of the letter of rejection for those who did not win the Andy Prize, expecting a long ping-pong exchange until we reached the precise wording she liked.
Andy was at her peak in the last year. She thrived in her work with Israeli crafts people, and she infected others with her enthusiasm. She was running faster than ever, squeezing every drop out of each moment and missing none. She had found her own thing, and with characteristic force, moved on.
Beyond each specific project, Andy loved Israel and this was another base of our friendship. She simply loved the land and the vitality of its people without ideology and without nonsense. She wanted to see more and more and deeper and deeper. It wasn't easy for me to keep up with her pace on the tayelet, and I lost her totally on Shabbat walks in the Jerusalem forest, Ein Karem, the Sataf, Nataf, Wadi Kelt. Charles and I often took a short cut home while she charged ahead. Hours and hours, years and years we walked and talked about Israel. She was her most natural and free in this setting.
And when Israel was in trouble, Andy was here. Who else came in the middle of the Gulf War? All the hotels were empty and Andy arrives. Who else welcomed guests on her patio for dinner with the noise of artillery in the background from Beit Jalla and Beit Lehem and the helicopters flying over us in Jerusalem? Who else listened to a David Broze concert over the hills of Jerusalem with a Birthright group, not understanding the words but understanding everything.
Finally, a word about friendship and loyalty. Andy built a defensive wall around her sometimes, which wasn't easy to penetrate. Once inside though, she was as loyal a friend as possible. Then she put her guard down. Again, the small details: She forgot nothing and no one. Little gifts for everyone in the office, special apple juice cup for little Tom Aviad, embroidered towels for babies born to friends in Israel, flowers. And beyond these small signs of friendship, was the deep care.
Two weeks ago Andy and Charles left Israel after a specially packed whirlwind trip. As we parted Andy said again what she always said at our last meeting—I bet you are glad to see us go. Dear, the answer was and is "No."
I part from my friend with a promise to continue what she started and to keep running with her pace in mind.
Andrea Bronfman and The Gift of New York
Andy, Charles and I were in Montreal on September 11, experiencing the shock and awe together. By the morning of the 13th, the three of us were talking about what the philanthropies should be doing as a New York domiciled foundation. Charles and I were focussed on contributions and organizations. Andy was focussed on ideas and needs. She asked what will be needed tomorrow rather than today. She kept pressing us to think beyond adding funds to the incredible outpouring of support. She forced us to look at Jewish thought which is so based on affirming life. We talked about helping the healing of families who suffered the ultimate loss. An idea started to percolate. Given New York's rich cultural resources, could we connect those resources to the families who would need help to get beyond their loss? Having learned the power of a gift in the first year of the Birtrhight Israel experience, we had the aha moment: let's arrange for every cultural, sports, and entertainment venue in the tri-state area to make available their services as a gift to families who lost a loved one that dreadful week. (Moses story) could we do this? The Gift of New York was born that day with the fantasy that we would launch it by Christmas and close it down 18 months later. With wonderful colleagues on the board and staff, 12,000 families received countless tickets to Broadway, Off Broadway, baseball, hockey, basketball, the circus and on and on. Museums opened their doors; all grateful that someone had come up with an approach through which they could be helpful to 9/11 families.
Yesterday, on behalf of the family, I called to thank the lead detective for his and others' courtesies on Monday. He told me that he had googled Andy, was amazed by her good works and remembered well the day the widow of a colleague lost at the Trade Center, calling him to say that the Gift of New York arranged for her to attend a Knicks game the previous night with her 12 year old son, who, that very night, smiled for the first time since September 11.
After her first marriage ended in divorce, Andrea married Charles Bronfman, the Canadian-born businessman and philanthropist. Four years later, in 1986, the couple created The Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies (ACBP), which over the years has launched a series of major initiatives in Jewish education, Israel and the arts. Notable among them are Reboot, cultivating young Jewish leaders, and Birthright Israel, which brings teens and young adults to visit Israel. A number of ACBP efforts are especially reflective of Andrea's personal vision. Prominent among these is AIDA: The Association for Israel's Decorative Arts, which brings the work of Israeli artists to North American galleries and collectors and educates North Americans about decorative arts in Israel. Andrea also gave life to The Gift of New York which benefited the families of 9/11 vicitims and is described in more detail below.
In May of 2000, Andrea was awarded a Doctorate of Philosophy, Honoris Causa, from Tel Aviv University and in 2003 she and her husband, Charles, were named honorary citizens of Jerusalem, the first North American Jews and the first couple to receive this historic honor.
Excerpt from a Eulogy for Andrea Bronfman
Imagine if you will two women walking and talking in Central Park as the sun is rising and the city is waking. The landscape might be buds on the trees, ice or leaves crunching under foot. In all kinds of weather we walked and talked for the past 8 Years …. Let's eavesdrop as the conversation got going just 4 days ago. You will be able to hear the words and understand the meaning I am referring to … Saturday morning at 8:00am
Andy and Charles had had company for shabbat dinner … she was excited that the group had been intergenerational and that everyone had engaged in intense conversation … we compared notes as the same thing had happened at my Shabbat table … her guests stayed until 11:30 … mine left earlier … she looked at me impishly with a twinkle in her eye … her grandson had slept over and was at home with Charles … it made her happy to have had such a warm intimate evening of family and friends at home….
The conversation rambled to her AIDA [The Association for Israel's Decorative Arts] initiative, the success of it and the fact that they were interviewing candidates to professionalize the initiative … she had been involved in every detail of the development and implementation of this project and was proud of its evolution … it had her mark of attending to every detail to insure success … something she did no matter what she was working on … a level of detail I personally marveled at!
We touched on her upcoming trip to the Amazon … her sense of adventure and passion for living life to the fullest were in play….
We debated our usual topic: Jewish culture and religious traditions … we talked about her best friend Sally who had died tragically in an accident 4 years ago and the emptiness that was still there….
She talked about a call she had had with her children to do some philanthropic allocation … the dilemma of what to do for their 25th anniversary which was on the horizon along with Charles' 75th birthday … and then we stopped to wait for Yoffi, her dog and constant companion who loved the freedom of running in the rambles … she always asked if I had time … we crossed Beau Bridge where she had slipped last year on the ice … we rounded the corner, parted ways and made a plan to meet on Tuesday at our usual spot….
How to cite this page
Jewish Women's Archive. "Andrea Bronfman, 1945 - 2006." (Viewed on February 23, 2019) <https://jwa.org/weremember/bronfman-andrea>.