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Remembering Andy

Remembering Andy

Andrea Bronfman, who with her husband Charles was a powerhouse in the world of philanthropy and Jewish education, was remembered this week for her creativity and love of people.

"She was a dynamo," said Jeffrey Solomon, president of the Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies. "She spoke her mind and knew how to ask questions and was absolutely connected with many of the young people who were trying to improve or change Jewish life." Mrs. Bronfman, 60, was struck by a livery cab early Monday morning while walking her dog, Yoffi, near her Fifth Avenue apartment on the Upper East Side. She later died of her injuries at New York-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Hospital. She will be buried Friday in Israel.

No charges were filed against the driver but an investigation is ongoing.

Mrs. Bronfman and her husband, the former Seagram co-chairman, devoted much of their time to continuing the work of her parents in fostering Jewish identity and community in both North America and Israel. Towards that end, they helped to create birthright israel, a program that offers all Jews ages 18-26 a free 10-day visit to Israel.

Mrs. Bronfman is also credited with being the shaping force behind other initiatives aimed at strengthening Jewish identity worldwide, with a focus on youth, the arts and education.

Mrs. Bronfman’s parents, Hyam "Scotty" and Doris Morrison, were both active in the United Jewish Israel Appeal in London, where Mrs. Bronfman was born and raised. When her father retired from the clothing business, the Morrisons moved to a home in Jerusalem. Mrs. Bronfman and her husband inherited the home and her parents’ love of Israel. In 2003 they were named honorary citizens of Jerusalem, the first North American Jews to receive that honor.

Mrs. Bronfman, known as Andy to her friends, had three children by her first husband, David Cohen: Jeremy, Pippa and Tony. They lived in Montreal, where Mrs. Bronfman became active in the Soviet Jewry movement.

"She was one of the leading activists in a group called The 35," recalled Myrna Shinbaum, former national director of the National Conference on Soviet Jewry. "She traveled to the Soviet Union and met with Soviet Jews and was very committed to their being allowed to move to Israel. She visited refuseniks [Jews denied exit permits to go to Israel] and she was a great support to the families of refuseniks and prisoners of Zion."

After her divorce, Mrs. Bronfman married Charles and adopted his two children, Stephen and Ellen. They now have six grandchildren. Mrs. Bronfman lived in Montreal for 30 years before she and Charles moved to New York eight years ago.

"The attribute that fits her well is that she was passionate about people, about good ideas and was focused on the flawless execution of those ideas," Solomon said. "She created very high standards for herself and expected others to reach those standards as well."

Just last week, said Judith Stern Peck, a family friend, Mrs. Bronfman was speaking about how she and her husband of 24 years would celebrate their 25th anniversary and his 75th birthday.

"She lived her life so that her family and friends were important," Peck said. "You knew that by her actions."

For her 60th birthday last year, she and Charles took their children on a safari to Africa. "Her legacy is not only what she did but how she went about doing it," Peck said. "She was wise and creative and generous; she was authentic. I think that itís just as important to talk about what she did as how she implemented it. Therein lies her strength of character."

Solomon recalled that after 9-11 Mrs. Bronfman came up with the idea of helping to ease the grief of the bereaved families of the terror attacks by convincing 250 different venues (including museums, entertainment sites and sporting events) to admit the families free for 18 months. Called the Gift of New York, it helped 12,000 families.

"I was on the phone with a police detective who remembered how one of the kids smiled for the first time since 9-11," Solomon said. "She and Andrew Tisch, who became a partner in this with her, have great Rolodexes and they weren’t reluctant to use them. I remember being on the phone with the commissioner of hockey while the commissioner of baseball was holding."

Another project Mrs. Bronfman created, the Aida Foundation, was developed when the second intifada in 2002 kept her from bringing a group of 40 art collectors to Israel, according to Doug Anderson, another family friend.

Anderson, who with his wife, Dale, accompanied the Bronfmans to Israel in 2001 and were introduced to contemporary artists and their work, said Mrs. Bronfman was undeterred when the intifada kept her from returning with the 40 art collectors. "She said, ‘If I can’t bring the collectors to the artists, I will bring the artists to the collectors,’" Anderson recalled. "We arranged for that to happen at a major art show called Sofa in Chicago. And from that began the Aida Foundation.

"The goal of the group is to introduce artists from Israel to the American market to find them dealers who will sell their work in the U.S.," he said. "We bring them to the U.S. so that they can get an overview of the work going on in their field of art. We have been immensely successful, and it became a passion of Andy’s. So far we have helped about 35 Israeli artists by bringing them here and connecting them with galleries that sell their work. And we have started a scholarship program for them."

Anderson said the project has also given these artists "a sense of self-esteem they didn’t have before, and a sense of hope because the marketplace here is quite different from the one in Israel. Now, the whole community in Israel is competing to be one of the artists who will be taken under our wing, and we are acting as pro bono agents."

Mrs. Bronfman was on the boards of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and the Jewish Museum in New York. And as national co-chair of the Canadian Friends of Beth Hatefutsoth, the Israeli museum about the Jewish diaspora, Mrs. Bronfman created and directed a national cultural project, "A Coat of Many Colors: Two Centuries of Jewish Life in Canada," a traveling exhibit with a companion book and film.

Solomon said Mrs. Bronfman and her husband worked together on their philanthropic projects in a way that complemented each other.

"I’ve never seen a couple where she was the wind beneath his wings and he was the wind beneath her wings," he said. "They literally lifted each other up."

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