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Sara Bronfman to Judge Garaufis: My Sister Should Have Been a Nun

This is our second in a series of letters to Judge Garaufis in support of Clare Bronfman.  The first was from Clare herself; the second is from her sister, Sara Bronfman, a Nxivm member who, like Clare, used her enormous wealth to fund Nxivm, enable Keith Raniere, their Vanguard, and destroy his enemies.   

Dear Judge Garaufis,

My name is Sara Bronfman and I am Clare Bronfman’s elder sister, the only full sibling she has, and possibly the closest person to her throughout her life. I write to give my solemn testimony of my sister’s character, and hopefully give some insight and perspective as to who she is and why she may have made the choices that led her to this point. Please forgive me in advance for the length of my letter, but I have known Clare her entire life and have a lot to share.

Clare and I grew up together with our mother, mostly between the UK and Africa. Despite the fact that our father was an incredibly wealthy and powerful man, we grew up in another world, far from any knowledge or understanding of this or what it meant. This was our mother’s intent. She wanted us to be raised as she had been: in the countryside, connected to the cycle of life, resilient, adaptive, responsible, sensible, independent, courageous and hard working.

We did not go on holidays to the Hamptons, or the many European equivalents. We went on working holidays and educational adventures, we did volunteer work, helped people in need, and spent time with our mother’s friends and people she thought we could learn from.

L-R Sara Bronfman, Edgar Bronfman, Clare Bronfman.

We dipped in and out of our father’s world. He sometimes picked us up in the corporate plane, or we were flown as unaccompanied minors or with a nanny to wherever he was so we could visit him – and while we certainly saw and experienced indications of wealth, we didn’t understand them and they weren’t the reality of our daily lives. In our daily lives we lived on a farm, took care of our animals before and after school, visited our grandparents and attended local pony club events on weekends, and on holidays we traveled with our mum, or to see our dad.

Georgia Rita Webb Bronfman and Edgar Bronfman 1974

Our childhood prepared us to be charity workers, small or medium entrepreneurs, equestrians or farmers like the rest of our mother’s family. We were not raised to be heiresses, nor did we understand we would be.

In the same vein, we did not grow up to be suspicious of other people, to protect ourselves, to assume people would steal from us or take advantage of us. We learned to trust people and take them at face value, to welcome strangers into our home – as our mother regularly did and as we had so often been welcomed into the homes of strangers around the world.

We did not understand that we were very different than anyone else, or that our lives would pan out any differently than our friends and peers. We were just like everyone else… but then we weren’t. Unbeknownst to us we had millions of dollars awaiting us on our 18th birthdays.

We didn’t have to do anything to earn it – not a college degree or even a high school diploma – let alone develop any financial, accounting, leadership or management skills. One day we were normal teenagers and the next, we had an enormous responsibility to manage, not just in terms of wealth but of the esteem and responsibility that comes with it, to which we were completely blind.

Edgar with little Clare

Our upbringing had not prepared us for this and there was no support, educational or otherwise, to help us bridge the enormous gap between the world we had grown up in and the one we entered into as adults: I think I could safely say that the situation Clare is in today is, in part, an accumulation of the effects of this ridiculous dilemma.

Besides being sweet, caring, a little clumsy and incredibly sensitive, Clare was also known in our family (by which I mean she, our mother, father and me) from an early age to be concerned with fairness: If we were making choices that she perceived were damaging to ourselves or each other, you could be sure Clare was on our case.

We often disliked the way she expressed it or brought it to our attention, as her interpersonal skills have not always been her strong point, but we could never fault her for her intent. Our father used to say she should be a lawyer or litigator because she had such a keen sense of justice and would not let an issue go until she felt it was truly resolved.

I know Clare holds herself to an even higher standard than she holds others – often unreasonably high – which has led her to be incredibly hard on herself and self-critical to the point of self-loathing and self-destructive behavioural choices.

Taking the long or hard road to maintain her personal integrity is another of Clare’s attributes, which she formed while she was still a child.

At around 9 years old when Clare realized that the meat we ate was dead animals, she chose to be vegetarian. At around 16, she chose to omit all animal products from her diet and wardrobe where possible – long before such a choice was popular.

Our mother who, having grown up hunting and shooting with her father, couldn’t understand Clare’s choice. She feared she might not be providing the correct nutrition for her growing child and thus gave Clare a hard time and refused to cater to her chosen diet.

However, Clare loved animals and would not participate in something that was harming them, so she stuck to it regardless.

Similarly in her equestrian career, Clare refused to do any sort of illegal, unnatural or violent techniques to enhance her horse’s performance. At the level she was competing, while only some competitors were known to be using illegal techniques, there were few that used no artificial – or what Clare would have deemed cruel or violent means – to get the best performance out of their horses.

Clare eventually gave up riding, in large part because of this dilemma. She loved riding, but she found it hard to draw a line between what was natural and un-natural violence in her sport.

Clare’s sense of responsibility and personal integrity are also evident in how she has handled herself in this case. Clare, perhaps to an extreme as I have said before, doesn’t believe anyone else is responsible for her choices and refuses to blame anyone for her circumstances.

She has strictly adhered to every condition of her bail, and has done so with humility – looking for what she can learn and how she can better herself through the process. She has used her time in solitude to earn her high school equivalency and study law. This is not because she is trying to earn brownie points or escape some kind of consequence, this is because this is who she is – not just in this situation but always.

Clare has a personality and a set of beliefs that are hard to match with the esteem and position she holds in life. Clare is not interested in material things. She lives a rather ascetic life – she would probably be well suited to being a nun – in every sense of what that implies: Clare has always sought out a teacher or mentor, and been a dedicated and loyal student; she has always sought out a group or community to be a part of, and for beings (people or animals) to care for and protect; and she has always spent time in quiet reflection thinking about her choices, especially those that affect others.

As an example – Clare was asked by a family friend to be her daughter’s (and Clare’s name sake) god-mother. Clare reflected on it and responded that while she was flattered by the request, she did not feel it would be in integrity to accept because their lives were too far apart (physically they lived on different continents and she hadn’t seen the mother in over a decade) and she felt that given this she wouldn’t be able to fulfill the role adequately. As you may imagine, this was not a socially popular decision – but social popularity isn’t what drives Clare, and that is very hard for most people to understand.

I’d like to finish with a paragraph from an email correspondence I had with her in February of last year:

I wrote; “If your question was whether I trust you. Of course I do. I trust you to always do your best, to be as careful, mindful and responsible as possible and to try to please, care for and protect the people you love. However, this doesn’t mean you don’t have blind spots and won’t make mistakes… you may even have blind spots and make mistakes because of your desire to be so good.”

Your Honor, I have known Clare Bronfman her entire life. The woman you are judging is not a criminal, she is a person who doesn’t fit the mold. If you met her on the street, you would think she were a very bright nurse or social worker – not a multi-million-dollar heiress and certainly not a criminal. Clare has made errors in judgement, yet rather than blame the people or circumstances she misjudged, seeks to learn from and correct her mistakes. Furthermore, knowing her as I do, she will likely go on to dedicate the rest of her life to helping others not make the same mistakes she has.

Yours sincerely,

Sara Bronfman


About the author

Frank Parlato

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