Marcia Bronstein, a Yeshiva University-trained social worker, traveled to Buenos Aires after the AMIA Jewish Community Center bombing in 1994 which killed 85 people.
“That was a touch point in my career,” said Bronstein, who worked for the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia at the time and went to Argentina for three weeks as a Wexner Foundation Fellow.
“I had an opportunity to help a community that was grieving after the bombing,” said Bronstein, 64, who lives in Center City. “I saw what the community was going through and what a horrific experience it was for them.
“It was something that was really important to me because my grandfather, when he wanted to leave Poland, he could not get into the United States.”
He got as far as Argentina and spent three years there.
“It was a way to give back to Argentina which had welcomed him and nurtured him while he was waiting for paperwork to get to America,” she said.
Twenty-eight years later, Bronstein is again advocating for victims, but this time it’s for Israel in the middle of a horrific and historic war. As the American Jewish Committee regional director for Philadelphia/Southern New Jersey, she is raising funds to provide emergency aid for immediate needs on the ground.
“The AJC has completely changed its focus with the Israel-Hamas war,” she said. “We are in the middle of an Israel emergency campaign. We’ve completely pivoted to help people understand what is happening; that this is terrorism. Fourteen hundred people were murdered.
“It was unbelievable when you saw the inhumanity and what was going on in Israel,” she said. “It was surreal when people were sheltering in place and doing everything they could to save their children.”
The AJC is also helping Jewish organizations and their students on college campuses. There have been hundreds of protests and counterprotests on college campuses since the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israelis.
The University of Pennsylvania just announced a partnership with AJC to combat antisemitism on its campus, Bronstein said.
“We’ve been empowering students, so they feel they have a voice and that they know where to place their concerns on campus.”
Bronstein has raised money for AJC since she came in as development director in 2008.
She transitioned from social work to fundraising when it became clear to her that there was never enough money to help clients.
“Fundraising was a way to guarantee that clients would receive the services they so desperately needed,” she said.
Bronstein was the campaign director at Jewish Federation and CEO of the Israel 50 campaign in 1998. The goal was to have 1,000 people complete a mission trip to Israel, which was achieved. Bronstein also led efforts to celebrate Israel at 50 in partnership with the City of Philadelphia and the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. The goal was 50 events and that doubled. Leading the Israel 50 Campaign was “a signature project of my life,” Bronstein said.
Bronstein eventually left the Jewish Federation after receiving an offer to raise money for the National Liberty Museum, which would tell the story of American liberty. She stayed there for four years.
“I never thought I’d leave the Jewish world, but that was something that I thought made a difference,” she said. She later worked as vice president of development for a senior living committee before being drawn back into Jewish spheres in 2005 as vice president of development for the Jewish Community Centers of Greater Philadelphia.
Bronstein grew up in The Bronx and attended Sholem Aleichem Folk School No. 21, where she learned Yiddish and can still speak the language.
“My grandparents spoke Yiddish to me, and I spoke Yiddish to them,” she said.
Her grandmother came from Belarus and joined a caravan, leaving at age 14 to take refuge in Latvia. She got her paperwork and came to the U.S. She worked in a sweatshop in the Lower East Side and met Bronstein’s grandfather. They got married.
Bronstein calls her Jewish upbringing eclectic. Her grandparents sent her brother to a Lubavitch yeshiva in his early years in The Bronx.
Bronstein married her husband, Eric Salmansohn, 39 years ago. He is a wealth manager at Morgan Stanley. They met at Camp Ramah. The couple has two adult children.
As a young married person, Bronstein was affiliated with Congregation Adath Jeshurun in Elkins Park. For the last five years, Bronstein has belonged to Melrose B’nai Israel Emanu-El in Elkins Park.
Jewish values inform every part of her life, she said.
“I enjoy going to shul. I enjoy Torah. I enjoy Shabbat,” she said.” I enjoy Jewish learning. I enjoy being Jewish.”
Ellen Braunstein is a freelance writer.