Edgar Bronfman, Prominent Jewish Philanthropist, Dies

PHOTO: Edgar Bronfman, a prominent Jewish philanthropist and recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, has died at age 84.

Edgar Bronfman, a prominent Jewish philanthropist and recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, died Saturday at his home in New York, according to a family spokesman. He was 84.

Bronfman, the son of Canadian liquor magnate Sam Bronfman, chaired the Seagram alcohol company and led a foundation that aimed to promote Jewish learning and community across the world.

He served as the president of the World Jewish Congress, an umbrella organization representing Jewish communities and organizations worldwide, worked to secure freedom for Jews in the former Soviet Union and uncovered the Nazi past of Kurt Waldheim, the former United Nations secretary-general and Austrian president.

Among the initiatives Bronfman supported were the Jewish college organization Hillel, a major scholarship program for young Jews from Israel and North America called the Bronfman Youth Fellowships, and the educational website MyJewishLearning.com.

As president of the World Jewish Congress, a position he assumed in 1981, Bronfman advocated for additional religious freedoms for Soviet Jews and the release of Jewish prisoners of conscience in the former Soviet Union, according to family spokesman Jonathan Cohen.

Bronfman took the helm of Seagram, which his father led before him, in 1971. He stepped down as chairman and CEO in 1994, and eventually focused his energies on a foundation named after his father and aimed at Jewish education.

"Bronfman described his work at the foundation as 'finding new ways to teach young Jewish people the stories and ethics our ancestors have handed down, and to nurture in them a pride in our common history,'" Cohen said in a statement.

President Bill Clinton awarded Bronfman the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1999.

He died peacefully, according to a spokesman, who did not provide a cause of death.

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