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Edgar Bronfman recognized with honorary degree

Edgar Bronfman with President Lois B. DeFleur
Edgar M. Bronfman, president of the World Jewish Congress president and chairman of the International Board of Governors of Hillel, received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters in a special ceremony on campus in November.

Widely recognized for his distinguished business leadership and untiring support of the Jewish community, Bronfman’s commitment to perpetuating Jewish life, particularly on college campuses, has ensured that hundreds of thousands of Jewish college students around the world benefit from active Jewish campus communities. He has presided over a global renaissance of Jewish life.

The honorary doctorate recognizes Bronfman’s contributions, not just to Binghamton University and the State of New York, but also to humanity, said President Lois B. DeFleur.

“Our honoree is a very multi-talented, multi-faceted individual and because of that, he is an outstanding role model to our students,” she said.

As Bronfman stepped to the podium after accepting the honorary diploma, the crowd of 200 members of the local and campus Jewish community rose to honor him with their applause.

“This is such a warm and wonderful place,” he said after the program in response to the crowd’s tribute.

“It’s very rewarding to be honored,” he said. “Anyone who says that they don’t feel great would be lying.”

The son of a traditional Jew who chose to send him to Christian schools during a time when anti-Semitism prevailed in his native Canada, Bronfman attended Trinity College School in Ontario and earned his bachelor’s degree from McGill University in Montreal in 1951.

Bronfman joined Distillers Corporation-Seagrams Limited, now known as the Seagram Co. Ltd., in 1951 and rose to become its president in 1971 and chairman in 1975. Under his leadership, the company became a multi-billion dollar business. In 1994, he relinquished his position as chief executive officer to his son, but continued to serve as chairman until a merger with global media and communications giant Vivendi Universal in 2000.

Bronfman developed the global Jewish community even as he built Seagrams. In 1981, he was elected president of the World Jewish Congress, an international federation of Jewish communities and organizations whose primary goal is to preserve and nourish their spiritual, cultural and social heritage. He continues in that role today, nearly 25 years later.

Bronfman also serves as president of the World Jewish Restitution Organization, devoted to ensuring the return of communal Jewish property stolen during World War II, and was instrumental in securing restitution for victims of the Holocaust.

His philanthropic and civic activities include serving as chairman of the Samual Bronfman Foundation and the United States Commission on Holocaust Era Assets. He has also served B’nai B’rith, the Federation of Jewish Philanthropies, Columbia University School for International Affairs, the Council on Foreign Relations and the North American Consortium for Free Market Study.

He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the United States’ highest civilian honor, in 1999 and has received honorary degrees from the University of Rochester, New York University, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Pace University, Tulane University and Williams College. He was also recognized by France with the Chevalier de la Legion D’Honneur and has received the Justice Louis D. Brandeis Award of the 85th National Convention of the Zionist Organization of America.

Author of The Making of a Jew and Good Spirits: The Making of a Businessman, Bronfman became a naturalized citizen in 1959.
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Last Updated: 10/14/08