January 27, 2006
This has been my saddest week since I arrived in America last summer. Since the terrible news about Andrea Bronfman’s tragic death on Monday, January 23rd I have felt confusion, anger, sadness and a great feeling of loss.
Andrea and Charles Bronfman spent three months every year in Israel and therefore met, and were friendly with many Israelis. I was very fortunate to be one of those individuals.
We first met in the early nineties. I was a young ranger working for the Israeli Nature Reserves Authority. Being a native English speaker, and living just outside of Jerusalem, made me the natural choice for hosting important guests on behalf of the Nature Reserves. I was the ranger in charge of the northern section of the Judean desert, and therefore it was natural that I chose to show guests this part of the country. I usually took them out for a day of touring, hiking and a light lunch in the wilderness of the desert.
The Bronfmans were a delightful couple to host being enthusiastic nature lovers, great hikers and environmentally engaged. The day I hosted the Bronfmans I took my dog along too to spend the day with us. She was a local breed known as a “Ca’ananie and Andy fell in love with her and wanted to get one for herself. I gave her the contact number of the kennels where these dogs are bred, and heard later from a mutual friend that the Bronfmans purchased their own Ca’ananie dog, and named him Yoffie ( lovely or groovy in English ).
The next time we met was ten years later, when I was guiding a Birthright group. While waiting for the group to arrive at the airport I suddenly saw the Bronfmans and decided to go over to them, wondering if they would remember me after all these years. I approached them and introduced myself and to my great surprise the Bronfman’s both threw their arms around me, gave me a hug and a kiss and were very excited to see me. It turned out that having being responsible for their decision to take Yoffie, I was often mentioned and remembered over the years. We had a short chat and I was invited by Andy to keep in touch and she gave me her phone number.
Since that meeting in the airport, I was privileged to engage in a beautiful and enriching friendship with Andy Bronfman. She encouraged me to call and email her. She listened to my reflections about Birthright and was interested in my input as one of the guides.
I called Andy last March, after the decision had been made about my going on Shlichut. She had solid ideas about the Federation system in North America and I was eager to hear them. We had a few short phone conversations, and then agreed to meet in New York after our arrival in New Jersey.
Last November, I was invited to her office at ACBP , and met with Andy and Dr. Jeff Solomon, ACBP’s president. We discussed issues concerning Israel and its relations with North American Jewry, and we did some brainstorming. I wanted to hear her vision about the Jewish Federation system and her thoughts on how an Israeli Shaliach can create an impact. Andy wanted to hear my ideas on how to engage young Jewish people and connect them to their religion and to Israel in new and innovative ways.
During the meeting, her dog, Yoffie, walked in and was greeted with great affection by both of us. Andy and I laughed and recalled the circumstances of how this relationship was made possible. At the end of the meeting we exchanged books. I gave her one about Jerusalem and Andy gave me five books, all about North American Jewry.
Since that meeting last November, we kept in touch by e-mail. I sent her copies of my reflections, and was always happy to read her comments and encouraging words.
The news hit me like lightning. All week I have been unable to concentrate, thinking of the terrible loss. I drove to the city on Wednesday to participate in the ceremony at Bnai Jeshurun. Listening to all the tributes by her many friends and members of the family I suddenly realized what had made Andy such a great woman. Beyond all her power, wealth, philanthropy and influence she was able to engage with a young ordinary Israeli, finding common interest in topics we both loved – nature, Israel, the Jewish people …..and dogs. And all this on a personal level, comfortable with the differences and truly caring and interested in what I had to say.
Andy was run down by a car early Monday morning, while walking her dog, her loyal companion, an Israeli native breed, that I had the privilege to introduce to the Bronfmans one sunny day, 15 years ago, in the Judean Desert.
Andrea Bronfman’s death is a great loss to the Jewish people, to Israel and to all her family and friends who deeply loved and adored her.
She was buried this Friday morning, January 27th 2006, at the Mount of Olives cemetery in Jerusalem, in the earth of the land she loved so much and in the soil of the city she adored walking on.
Andy will be remembered by hundreds of people for the good deeds she did, and she will be remembered by me for being such a wonderful caring person.