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Brian Bronfman wants to give peace a chance

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Diane Sasson, cenrre, former executive director of Auberge Shalom, was the recipient of a YMCA of Quebec Peace Medal. With her, from left, are Y president and CEO Stéphane Vaillancourt, Brian Bronfman, Nathalie Mercier-Filteau, and Gregory Chrispin, president of the UYMCAs of Quebec Foundation.

Brian Bronfman doesn’t think the word “peace” should be politically charged. He wants not simply to give peace a chance, but make its true meaning understood and put into practice in our daily lives.

Bronfman is co- founder and president of the Peace Grantmakers Network (PGN), a coalition of philanthropic foundations, NGOs, institutions and increasingly the corporate representatives working together to create peace in a practical, impactful way right here at home. He calls it “applied peace work.”

Despite its name, PGN does not make grants itself, but rather seeks to serve as a catalyst to projects and provide a “macro-view” to support mainly grassroots organizations.

It’s not about solving the world’s conflicts, but building healthy relationships, Bronfman says, whether at the individual or group level.

“We avoid politics or things that are purely symbolic,” he said, as well as anything deemed negative or “anti” something.

“So far, all the initiatives we support are in Quebec, but I am hoping this pilot project builds into a model that one day we can export to other cities,” said Bronfman.

Created in 2009, PGN has been hitting its stride in the last couple of years, now that it has laid the foundation for action. As its mission statement phrases it: “Even though peace is a widely shared value among Canadians, and despite there being many worthwhile peace initiatives in Canada, peace as an object of philanthropy remains underdeveloped.”

PGN’s goal is to make philanthropists more aware of the need to support efforts toward a more peaceful society. To those working on the ground, it serves as adviser and co-ordinator, providing a “macro-view” that increases efficiency and visibility.

Its interests range from prevention of violence, such as bullying or spousal abuse, to promoting intercultural and interreligious understanding.

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PGN played a leading role in Montreal’s participation in the United Nations-designated International Day of Peace on Sept. 21, co-ordinating 20 activities organized by 50 organizations that took place through the end of the month and into October.

Among them was a symposium on Quebec’s response to the Syrian refugees, hosted by Temple Emanu-El-Beth Sholom and sponsored by the Brian Bronfman Family Foundation. The Montreal Holocaust Memorial Centre launched a Twitter campaign on genocide prevention.

Bronfman was at Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre’s side at city hall on Peace Day, when they declared their commitment to social harmony among Montreal’s diverse population.

Besides Bronfman’s own foundation, PNG’s nine philanthropic members so far include two that are well-known in the Jewish community: the Alex Dworkin Foundation and the Maxwell Cummings Family Foundation. Robert Kleinman, executive director of the Jewish Community Foundation of Montreal, is on the four-member founding PNG board.

Bronfman has lived all his life in Montreal (he is the son of the late Edward Bronfman), except for a short period in Vermont. He holds a law degree, but never practised. Professionally, he is a certified mediator and has taught conflict resolution at the university level.

In 2006, he established the Brian Bronfman Family Foundation as a successor to the Edward Bronfman Family Foundation, and its main interest continues to be in the promotion of peace and conflict resolution.

Among the numerous causes it supports is McGill University’s International Community Action Network (ICAN), formerly the McGill Middle East Peace Program, which for more than 20 years has brought together Israelis, Jordanians, Palestinians and Syrians to study social work and improve the lives of disadvantaged people in their respective homelands. Bronfman sits on its advisory committee.

The YMCAs of Quebec is one of the major organizations that PNG works with and its annual Peace Medals gala was a highlight of Montreal’s Peace Day celebrations. Bronfman was co-chair with Nathalie Mercier-Filteau, a lawyer and YMCAs of Quebec Foundation director.

The activities of the seven laureates reflect the aims of PNG. Among them was Diane Sasson, who retired in July after 21 years as executive director of Auberge Shalom, a kosher shelter and counselling centre for women who are victims of domestic violence. She was presented with the “Local Peace Initiative” medal.

Sasson was recognized for her activism, which involved working with governments, public agencies, the police, religious communities and other organizations to raise awareness of the issue and change public policy.

Sasson said she was inspired by the courage of the “survivors,” the thousands of women of all religions, cultures and socio-economic circumstances, who passed through Auberge Shalom’s doors. Her concern is also for “the invisible victims” – their children.

READ: COMBATING DOMESTIC VIOLENCE IN THE JEWISH COMMUNITY

“I salute the founders of Auberge Shalom, the National Council of Jewish Women, for their vision and courage when domestic violence was still a taboo subject and a private affair,” Sasson said at the gala.

Taking home the “Volunteer Peacemaker” medal was Jessica Bleuer, who was honoured for effectively combining her two passions: theatre and fairness. A therapist, educator and diversity consultant, Bleuer has since 2001 used drama techniques to promote dialogue on such topics as xenophobia, racism, homophobia and transphobia.

She is particularly interested in facilitating exchanges between Montrealers and immigrants, as well as those of different backgrounds.

Bleuer explained that she immigrated to Montreal as a child and experienced the difficulties of adjusting to a new country and the pain of being different. Her Argentine family lived in an area with few other newcomers, and Bleuer was self-conscious about being a Spanish speaker and being Jewish.

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