‘Terrorist attack changed my life’

The birth of his baby meant WUPJ president Rabbi Sergio Bergman wasn't at the MIA Jewish Centre on July 18, 1994 as a terrorist bomb planted by Iran and Hezbollah ripped through the centre, claiming 85 lives and injuring hundreds.

Rabbi Sergio Bergman.
Rabbi Sergio Bergman.

A brush with death three decades ago changed Rabbi Sergio Bergman’s life.

The Buenos Aires rabbi’s wife Gabriela had just given birth, so he dropped plans to attend a meeting at the AMIA (Argentine Israelite Mutual Association) Jewish Centre on July 18, 1994, to be with her at the hospital. At that time, a Monday at 10am, a terrorist bomb planted by Iran and Hezbollah ripped through the centre, claiming 85 lives and injuring hundreds.

Rabbi Bergman is now president of the World Union for Progressive Judaism (WUPJ), rabbi of Templo Libertad in Buenos Aires, a pharmacist and biochemist, and has been a national politician.

Ahead of his visit to Australia next month for the United Israel Appeal (UIA), he related to The AJN how feeling spared in the attack 28 years ago, Argentina’s deadliest bombing, awoke in him a new call of duty.

“This to me was like a signal, a miracle,” he reflected. It inspired him to become a founder of Memoria Activa (Active Memory), a civil rights movement demanding justice for Argentina’s 300,000-strong Jewish community over the 1994 bombing, for which no convictions have ever been made. Interpol long ago linked Iran and Hezbollah to the attack. Down the years, members of Memoria Activa have kept up a daily vigil at 10am.

“This move also changed my vocation as a rabbi,” the former madrich said. “I realised I couldn’t be a rabbi only to my Jewish community inside the synagogue – I needed to become a voice in Argentinean society and to fulfil the vision of our prophets to fight for justice.”

Rabbi Bergman founded Argentina Ciudadana (Civic Argentina), became a local government representative in 2011 and two years later a national congressman. In 2015, he became environment minister, launching reforms such as safeguarding the biodiversity of the Southern Ocean, shared with Australia.

Visiting for the UIA’s Progressive Appeal, Rabbi Bergman will outline the WUPJ’s vision, which includes “effective giving” through project-focused donations, greater use of Hebrew in the Diaspora, outreach to unaffiliated young Jews, and extending a form of Israeli citizenship to Diaspora Jews.

A highlight of his visit will be meeting Progressive Jewish Women for Israel. Convenor Helen Shardey, president of the Australian Reform Zionist Association, said the group’s aim is to raise funds for bat mitzvahs for Israeli girls who otherwise might not get the opportunity.

Rabbi Sergio Bergman will be in conversation with Joel Lazar, CEO of the Jewish Climate Network; co-hosted by the UPJ and the JCN, Thursday, March 10,7pm at The King David School. Register now

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