This conference, as it turns out, was closed to the press so as not to “undermine the participants’ feelings of privacy and security,” the convention pamphlet read. Only a handful of American reporters were allowed to attend “provided they work together with the organization to ensure that their reports were accurate and factual.”
Fortunately, American-Canadian businessman and philanthropist, Charles Bronfman, disregarded the conference manual. The Jewish billionaire, 77, had both sponsored the JFN conference and was among its most renowned guests.
Between 1997 and 2002, Bronfman served as chairman of the board of Koor Industries Ltd., one of Israel's largest investment holding companies. His net worth is estimated at some $2.2 billion, though not a cent of this substantial fortune is now poured into Bronfman’s many business pursuits.
The entrepreneur’s life was turned upside down after the tragic 2006 death of his beloved wife, Andrea.
“I got over the pain, but not over the loss,” says Bronfman. “I retired from the business world and devoted myself entirely to philanthropy. In the past I religiously followed the stock portfolios of all the companies I had invested in: Du Pont, Koor, Seagram, etc. Now I don’t even check the stock rates or care about how one stock or another is doing in the market.”
Bronfman conducts his philanthropic endeavors through the Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies Inc., a family of charitable foundations operating in Israel, the United States and Canada. Like other modern day donors, Bronfman has redefined the notion of philanthropy in our day and age.
“It is no longer about charity, about giving on the sly, but rather about investing in programs that make the world, and the Jewish community in particular, better places to live in,” explains Bronfman. “Gone are the days when we would just write checks and leave it at that. Today’s philanthropy is a hands on, dynamic endeavor well attuned to the needs and preferences of the younger Jewish generation.”
'My Zionist conscience is clear'Bronfman founded the Karev Program for Educational Involvement, which works in conjunction with the Education Ministry to further and promote various educational endeavors in Israel. It provides a wealth of enrichment programs in Israeli schools and kindergartens, reaching some 230,000 schoolchildren.
When asked why he does not contribute to other charitable institutions in Israel, especially those caring for Israel’s impoverished and needy, Bronfman notes that “it is not up to Diaspora Jewery to resolve the problem of poverty in Israel. It is an internal, social issue which Israel’s government must contend with.
"The economic inequities in Israel are staggering. Resolving this crisis, however, is up to Israel rather than to Jews abroad. We have a responsibility to care for our own communities first and foremost. The way I see it, a Jew living in the United States must first care for impoverished Jews in Pittsburgh rather than those living in Jerusalem.”
“My Zionist conscience is clear,” said Bronfman. “I love Israel and donate a lot of money to the state, but Israel is a western, developed country that must now care for its own needy.” The philanthropist, who has contributed a great deal of money to help further the Israeli Palestinian peace process, stated that he “stopped because there is no longer a real peace process going on. I no longer believe in it.”
When asked what percentage of contributions made by north American Jews actually go toward Jewish causes, Bronfman muses, “What are ‘Jewish causes’ anyway? Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York? A Jewish studies program at an American university? I prefer to speak of philanthropy of Jewish values: civility, mutual respect, mending the ills of our world. These are universal values that have to do with loving one’s fellow man.”
The JNF conference found that the net wealth found in all Jewish charity funds in the United States totals some $30 billion, all scattered into different types of charities.
Asked why US Jews don’t establish an overriding philanthropy fund, ala the Bill Gates Foundation, Bronfman notes that “Jewish philanthropists might be wary of parting with their fortune. Many have never actually established charity funds that are professionally run and devoid of personal interests.”
As for his own philanthropy fund, Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies Inc., Bronfman asserts that the fund is professionally managed by executives who take their financial directives from him. "I personally do not know the amount of money that is currently available to the fund,” he noted.