The foundation to productive activism is diverse and honest collaboration, according to Rabbi Sergio Bergman, president of the World Union for Progressive Judaism (WUPJ).
“[The] environment, climate change, sustainability, to keep our common house and working together like an extended family is my rabbinical commitment.” Bergman said. “To serve not only the Jewish people, but to serve the human kind.”
On Jan. 26, the Center for Christian-Jewish Learning and the Center for Ignatian Spirituality hosted Bergman in a lecture about his work in Argentine politics and interfaith collaboration. Bergman also reflected on how his relationship with Pope Francis helped guide his career.
“In 2001, we had the collapse of the system … and Cardinal Bergoglio, now Pope Francis, built a round table and invited all the religions, nonprofit organizations, and civil actors to come run the dialogo Argentino—the Argentinian dialogue,” Bergman said. “That was amazing to bring all the society to say how we can build common ground.”
Bergman said his friendship with Francis and Laudato si’, an encyclical Francis wrote critiquing environmental degradation, inspired him to become Argentina’s secretary of the environment in 2015.
According to Bergman, not only did Francis teach him the importance of developing his personal commitment to his community, but he also helped him learn how to reach outside of his immediate sphere to build a greater connection with Argentina’s people.
“Bergoglio also made a revolution in Argentina about the openness in the interfaith dialogue and to bring everyone,” Bergman said. “He didn’t sit alone and say ‘I am the Catholic church and I can’t really fix the problem.’”
After working within Argentina’s government, Bergman became the president of the WUPJ, which he said was one of the biggest accomplishments of his career.
“That an Argentinian rabbi became president and CEO of this global organization, we are talking about an umbrella organization of two million Jewish people around 50 countries and several regions, for me nothing will really be more important in my rabbinical career,” Bergman said.
Bergman also said taking on leadership’s roles is crucial when working toward change.
“Leadership means that you really move from a professional victim of the circumstance to become a leader of your life and to give testimony with your life that a change is possible,” Bergman said.
Bergman wrapped up his lecture by telling the audience that working to solve a problem is more effective than complaining about one.
“You know we are complaining all the time about politicians, but at the end of the day they are a part of our society, they are a part of our values, and they are a part of our tradition,” Bergman said. “This is what I learned also from Pope Francis. To try to do the best to be part of the solution and not to complain like a part of the problem.”
Mike Klau, who referred to himself as a lifelong progressive Jew, said having the support of non-Jewish allies is important when creating lasting social change.
“The thing that struck me the most about this event was the openness of non-Jewish people to listen fully to a rabbi speak his truth,” Mike said. We believe in the values of progressive Americans to bring progressive Judaism all over the world and to make allies. This is about allyship.”
Michelle Klau, who also referred to herself as a lifelong progressive Jew, highlighted the specific ways progressive Judaism has materialized in her local community.
“A lot of synagogues are teaming up with other faiths to advocate for things like housing, against gun violence, against food insecurity, and [Bergman] said that we can’t just each be in our little silo and be off doing things,” Michelle said. “He said we have to team up like he did with Pope Francis.”