Rabbi Joseph Bronner, 97, Leader in Los Angeles and South Africa

February 17, 2021
Rabbi Joseph and Dr. Leila Bronner

Rabbi Joseph Bronner, a distinguished teacher and community leader, died at the age of 97 last month.

For many years, Rabbi Bronner taught a weekly Shabbat afternoon class at Kehillat Yavneh in Hancock Park. Rabbi Bronner and his wife, Dr. Leila Bronner, who died in 2019, were admired for their devotion to Jewish education and religious Zionism.

Joseph Bronner was born in 1923 in Berlin, where his parents owned an undergarment factory. In 1936, a guard at the factory warned Rabbi Bronner’s father that SS troops would arrest him the next day. The family fled to Antwerp and lived there until 1940, when the Nazis invaded Belgium. With German armies behind them, Joseph, his parents, and two brothers escaped to France, where Aristides De Sousa Mendes, the Portuguese consul general in Bordeaux, procured visas and passports for them to get to Lisbon, via Spain, and finally to the United States. (In 1966, De Sousa Mendes was honored as a Righteous Among the Nations for issuing papers to 10,000 German Jews and 20,000 other refugees.)

In New York, Joseph, who spoke seven languages, was ordained by Rabbi Yitzchak Hutner at Yeshivat Chaim Berlin, and he went into the diamond business with his father. Joseph married Leila Amsel in 1949, and in 1951, they moved to Johannesburg, South Africa. Joseph founded a diamond business and became a DeBeers site holder; he later was elected president of the Diamond Club of South Africa. Leila and Joseph had three children and quickly became leaders in the Johannesburg community. Joseph served as a volunteer rabbi at the Bnei Akiva-Mizrachi shul and president of Mizrachi of South Africa. They were founders and long-time leaders of Yeshiva College, the first and later largest Orthodox day school in South Africa.

Through his teaching and vision, Rabbi Bronner was a major force in influencing the direction of religious life in South Africa. He inspired many of his students to move to Israel and to become leaders in communities around the world.

The couple followed their two adult daughters to Los Angeles in 1984. Earning quick respect for his encyclopedic knowledge of Jewish texts and his intellectual approach, Rabbi Bronner began to teach a Shabbat afternoon class at Kehillat Yavneh that would lead to the publication of his book, 10-Minute Torah Talks: Weekly Parsha Insights. Joseph was president of Mizrachi-Religious Zionists of Los Angeles until 1995, and became president of the Diamond Club West Coast in 1999. In both South Africa and Los Angeles, Rabbi Bronner served as the leading arbitrator of the Diamond Clubs. He was held in esteem for his ability to create solutions that benefited both parties.

He has been honored by many organizations in South Africa, Israel, and Los Angeles, most recently by Yeshivat Yavneh in 2013, on the occasion of his 90thbirthday.

Rabbi Joseph Bronner is survived by his children, Temi (Bernard) Monderer, Moshe (Amira) Bronner, Esthie (Walter) Feinblum, and by many grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

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