Rafal ateret rosheynu, the crown has fallen from our heads. We have lost a truly great woman by the untimely death of Andrea Bronfman.
As a journalist I could understand why Andy was very protective of her privacy and of herself. Basically a shy person, she did not give interviews readily. When I finally
did meet this truly remarkable woman, she was genuine, smart, and displayed an unexpected depth and breadth of knowledge about Judaism, Zionism, and Jewish history. I soon discovered that her heart was so big, and she was involved with so much, that in comparing her to other women in the "public eye" you could only come to one conclusion: She was the best of the lot.
I first met Andrea Bronfman at a Lehrhaus program at the Jewish Theological Seminary, where her husband, Charles, and two other Jewish philanthropists, Edith Everett and Michael Steinhardt, were discussing money as "the root of all evil" and the need to reassess the way charitable donations were being spent. The issue was "bang for the buck," how to maximize the returns on their donations in the community, particularly in Jewish education.
Once it became clear that the leaders of the discussion assumed that Jews were opting out of Jewish education by choice instead of by finances, I got up at that meeting and attempted to dissuade them from that delusion: People opt out because of finances. Make it affordable, I urged. Whether the others listened I cannot say, but Andrea did. Since that time, she focused on digitizing Jewish knowledge, attracting young people, transforming Jewish education from something that is available to only one of 10 Jewish children into something that was affordable to any one who wants to partake of it. She also understood clearly what Irving Bernstein, a former executive vice chairman of national UJA, understood to the depths of his being: Without Jewish education there is no Jewish leadership.
The most amazing thing about her was that she understood the needs of young Jews who were fed up with the establishment, young people looking for their own paths in order to love who they were as Jews. "We talk about it all the time," she said. "In fact, we just finished a study that discovered that teens are all over the Web, but they are not at Jewish sites. When you go to those sites yourself, and then you go the sites that teens go to, you can see why." That meant tolerating materials, points of view, and behavior that many in the establishment couldn’t deal with on any level. As a result, she funded the Website Jewlicious, the record company J-Dub, and the magazine Heeb. She had a global view.
A friend and colleague of the Bronfmans once recited a Passover-type litany of all the projects and charities in which the Bronfmans were involved, and after naming each one said Dayenu ("It would have been enough"). Perhaps for the Jewish community that might have been so. But for Andy Bronfman, who saw the world with clear eyes and knew what it takes to make the world a better place, nothing was enough. Her loss goes deeper than anyone can understand. It is truly a tragedy.