How perfect she was: making the difference, but demanding that we be better.Andy Bronfman didn’t suffer fools gladly; in fact she didn’t suffer them at all. She just didn’t have the time. There were too many new artists to help, too many young Jews to re-connect to Judaism, too many innovative groups to support and so very much to do with and for the husband and family she so clearly adored.
Andy didn’t like bureaucracy, didn’t like buffoonery and didn’t like flattery. She was as direct as she was smart and she was as transparent as she was opinionated. Once you knew her, you could almost see what she was thinking… you could almost feel her reactions even when she was silent.
I met Andy eight years ago when her husband Charles asked me to serve with Andy and others on the board of Israel Experience, Inc., a non-profit start-up that would later morph into birthright Israel. I was a newcomer and I could feel her sizing me up when I spoke. At first she turned her head away slightly and looked back across her face, her eyes narrowed and questioning.
Yes, I was intimidated, but after a year or so and a few meetings the look began to soften until, as I think about it now, she probably decided that I was OK. To be OK with Andy you didn’t speak to hear the sound of your own voice, you had to have something to say. To be OK with Andy you had to care about something and you had to do something about it. To be OK with Andy you had to shoot straight and do the right thing.
And if you were OK with Andy and you were lucky, you got to be Andy’s friend. And with that came the wit, the warmth, the loyalty and the heart.
Four years ago Andy took a chance and signed on to the board of an organization then in its infancy, ISRAEL21c. The group was looking for an executive director and as she knew, my volunteer work with birthright inspired me to want to work in the Jewish world. She introduced me to ISRAEL21c and I began to work with Andy and the other visionaries who have enabled ISRAEL21c to become what it is today.
Once, when ISRAEL21c had a crisis and needed some very timely help, Andy made it happen, but only after giving both a stern admonition that this could never happen again and wise advice on what to do. How perfect she was: making the difference, but demanding that we be better so the mistake would not be repeated.
Four days before her death I sat in her office in New York ready to bring her up to date on ISRAEL21c and to ask her advice on another complex matter. She was straightening out her desk getting ready to spend the rest of the day with her grandchildren something that had her in the best of moods – and something that clearly said I should keep it brief.
While I waited for her to be ready to start our talk I asked, “Do you remember the fact that you’re responsible for bringing me to ISRAEL21c?”
“Yes, of course I do,” she answered.
“Have I thanked you enough?” I asked.
She looked at me and answered simply, “You’ve made me proud.”
I am a guy who was thrilled just to be OK with Andy and honored when I realized that she was really fond of me. But I will treasure that last comment forever.
As I write this I still cannot believe she is gone and certainly cannot comprehend how much she will be missed by her family, her friends, her staff, those of us who knew her and benefited from her generosity of spirit, mind and means, and by the millions and millions of Jews who never met her but have and will continue to be touched by her work.
Andrea Bronfman was an extraordinary woman. Her devotion to the Jewish people and her love for the State of Israel were – and always will be -awe-inspiring to me. Her love of art and artists was as joyful and colorful as the myriad of fascinating art and crafts that she collected. I will take a part of her devotion and joy with me as I continue my work in the Jewish world.
I pray that God will grant Andy peace and send comfort to Charles and the family.