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March 27, 1987 - Image 39

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1987-03-27

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Charles R. Bronfman, founder:

"I think we can do something
positive . . . for people in the
Jewish world. That will be
the goal."

stitutional structure and he'll maintain his
giving level, but he would like to see more
action and less politics," says a friend. "He
wanted to express that view in a positive
rather than a negative way."
Thus, the CRB Foundation, which, its
creators say, will focus on "problem solv-
ing rather than bricks and mortar, and will
direct itself to project innovation rather
than program maintenance." In other
words, the emphasis will be on creative
ways to tackle tough issues rather than
"throwing money at them simply by fund-
ing existing organizations?' said one in-
Bronfman admits to being "deliberate-
ly vague" on details about the Foundation
at this early stage. The exact total of his
donation has not been made public, though
it can accurately be described as a multi-
million dollar fund. It will distribute about
$5 million in its first year and more in the
years to follow, making it the largest
Jewish foundation in the world.
The Jewish component of the Founda-
tion will be concentrating this year on pro-
posals designed to deal with overcoming
polarization in both Israel' and the

Diaspora, and on enhancing short-term
visits to Israel for young people and
families. In addition, there are four or five
other proposals currently under serious
consideration, including an effort to create
a center at the Massachusetts Institute of
lbchnology for the study of Israeli econom-
ic policy, and a major initiative to promote
and enhance the quality of Jewish jour-
nalism in North America.
"I am smart enough to know how dumb
I am about a lot of things?" Bronfman said
at the initial press conference. "I would
rather let the foundation develop on its
own without setting specific rules in ad-
vance. It represents a chance for a lot of
people to make some pretty big dreams
come true?'
The man charged with determining
whose dreams come true is Cohen, a soft-
spoken man with an academic demeanor
(his staff calls him Professor Cohen), who
is well known for his knowledge of and con-
cern for Jewish causes while being per-
ceived of as one who is somewhat critical
of the Jewish establishment's ways of
operating. Both factors, no doubt, con-
tributed to Bronfman's choosing him to
head this new venture.
During an interview here this week, in
his office a floor above Bronfman's in a
stately downtown building that houses the
offices of Seagram Co. Ltd., Cohen talked
about the Foundation — its goals, initial
projects and unique vision — as well as
how he came to leave a secure academic
position at the City University of New

"I had never met Charles Bronfman and,
when I was first contacted about a year
and a half ago, I wasn't interested in this
position," said Cohen in his deliberate man-
ner. "I was deeply involved in my work at
City, but after a great deal of thought, it
seemed clear that this was a once in a life-
time opportunity to articulate a vision of
what the Jewish people needed, and a
chance to implement part of that vision."
Cohen has long been at thg center of
Jewish activity, whether it was shuttling
between Egypt and Israel in the mid-1970s
to put his expertise in conflict resolution
to work, or seeking to promote the growth
of the Chavurah movement in the U.S., in
which he and his wife, Elaine, have long
been involved.
Many Jewish leaders know and respect
Cohen but few claim to know him well. This
may be due in part to his manner, which
is decidedly reserved. "I'd hate to play-
poker with Steve," says one longtime ac-
quaintance with a smile, "because you

never can tell what he's thinking"
Perhaps aware of that perception, Cohen
says he sees himself as "a peculiar com-
bination of insider/outsider" in the Jewish
world who can be most effective by fulfill-
ing that role "as the most insider of in-
siders while keeping some individual per-
In an interview, Cohen chooses his words
slowly and thoughtfully, as if editing them
first in his mind. That methodical style is
reflected in the fact that, before accepting
this position, he requested and received
assurance from Bronfman that he would
have a year's preparation before the Foun-
dation went public. He did that to have
time to reflect on the Foundation's goals
before the pressure of requests and
demands set in.
"It was a very useful year," said Cohen,
"spent on planning not only what we would
do, but how. We defined a foundation as an
institution for social change — one that
could influence not just by the money it
gives but by the way it operates to help
define problems and convene people and
draw them from unlikely combinations?'
Cohen said he and Bronfman each started
out with their own agendas and strong
commitments, and through the creative
process of working together and talking

Continued on next page

Stephen P. Cohen, president:

"I saw this as a once in a lifetime
opportunity to articulate a
vision of what the Jewish
people needed."


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