Bronfman with the mayor of Ataki in old Jewis
Bronfman with the mayor of Ataki in old JewisIsrael news photo courtesy of Niv Shimshoni

Matthew Bronfman, whose grandfather moved to Canada from Moldova 120 years ago and founded a whiskey empire, has gone back to his roots.

His visit to the town of Ataki represented the first time a member of the Bronfman family has visited there since Samuel Bronfman left at the end of the 19th century.

Matthew Bronfman is visiting Moldova in conjunction with the first-ever Limmud FSU Moldova Conference, in which he chairs the International Steering Committee. Limmud encourages Jewish learning in the former Soviet bloc. More than 400 young Jews from Moldova and the southern region of Ukraine attended the conference on Sunday in the city of Chisinau, formerly known as Kishniev.

"I am very emotional and excited to be here today, more than 120 years after my grandfather, Samuel, immigrated with my family to Canada. This is a very important day in my life,” said Bronfman at a welcoming ceremony with Tragira Vasili, mayor of Ataki. The mayor welcomed Bronfman as “part of our family.”

Bronfman also visited the leader of Gypsies, who also were victims of Nazi persecution, along with many Ataki Jews. The visit was a bit surreal, with local Gypsies, Bronfman and visiting Jews dancing the hora together and singing “Avienu Malkeinu,” one of the most widely-known Jewish prayers, which is recited during the Rosh Hashanah-Yom Kippur holiday period.

Samuel Bronfman left for Canada with is father Ekiel in 1899, accompanied by servants and a rabbi. Ataki at that time was largely Jewish. Matthew Bronfman visited the Jewish cemetery and despite not finding any family graves, he recited the traditional “Kaddish” prayer that sanctifies HaShem.

While Samuel Bronfman was in Canada establishing Seagram’s whiskey, which became the base of an empire, Ataki eventually became known as the home of the population with the highest rate of alcohol consumption in the world.

Matthew Bronfman now lives in New York and is a businessman-philanthropist, who also makes donations to Israel.