When he created, refined, and funded the Bronfman Youth Fellowships in Israel, Edgar Bronfman gave the teenagers lucky enough to be selected for it an entrÃ©e into the Jewish world that will benefit them for the rest of their lives.
The Bronfman brothers clearly believed in the importance of a trip to Israel in cementing a young person’s Jewish identity, and at least to some extent affecting his or her connection to Israel. Charles Bronfman’s baby, Birthright Israel, has taken more than 360,000 Jews between the ages of 18 and 26 to Israel, where they are given a whirlwind 10 days of exposure to the beauties and delights and, at times, the ironies of the land. It is free. It is a marvelous program, and has had a profound effect on some travelers’ lives, and a more-than-negligible effect on many others.
Edgar Bronfman, meanwhile, funded a program that was in many ways very similar and in others entirely different. The Bronfman Youth Fellowship, begun 26 years ago, selects 26 people – 13 girls and 13 boys, all Jewish, all in their junior year of high school as they submit their applications – and sends them for a five-week, all-expenses-paid, extraordinarily in-depth trip both to Israel and around the chasms and potential cataclysms of the Jewish people. In other words, the 26 students who are chosen all are frighteningly bright and most are extraordinarily driven, but they come from every possible corner of North American Jewish life.
When they get to Israel, those young people are thrown together and expected to work things out. Not in a global way, of course, but they are expected to come to some sort of modus vivendi. Most of them learn both that such rapprochement is difficult and that it is possible.
This is a huge gift.
Once they are back in North America, the gift continues to give. Bronfman Fellows form a tight group, and the organization nourishes them. The BYFI is a leadership program, and Edgar Bronfman’s organization knows that while some leaders are entirely self-propelled, most profit from direction, and all can profit from mentoring.
Mr. Bronfman has died, but his creation is flourishing. The deadline for applications for the summer of 2014 is January 6; all applicants must be 16 by July 2014. For more information, go to www.bronfman.org.
Thank you again, Mr. Bronfman.