Rabbi Bergman’s article in The Times of Israel
Rabbi Sergio Bergman, president of the World Union for Progressive Judaism, wrote an article for The Times of Israel, “In Israel, Daunting Challenges and Suffering, but Plenty of Reasons for Optimism”:
It’s a sobering experience to hear face-to-face, nightmarish stories from the wounded, those who lost loved ones, and still others who have friends and family who are being held captive in Gaza. No news broadcast or viral video can prepare you to hear the anguish and indescribable pain as they guide you through burned-out homes, point out bullet-ridden walls, and relive the horror they experienced. The reality they lived and knew their whole lives died with their neighbors and family members.
The trauma continues to unfold as sons and daughters remain in the service of the State as they desperately seek the return of the hostages and see a world blind to their suffering, or worse, denying or justifying it. Yet, even amidst these challenges and threats from much more dangerous actors in Hezbollah and Iran, Israelis have shown an unbelievable level of resiliency, resourcefulness, and unity. Israel, though wounded, has plenty of reasons for optimism that few other countries can emulate.
During my previous visits to Israel, I saw a country divided as never before, with many marching against the government and contemplating a potentially perilous future. Those protests, a sea of Israeli flags against government policies, have yielded to flags displayed on both sides – a recognition of unbreakable unity, even amidst differences. Across the vast majority of Israeli society, there is a renewed sense of Am Yisrael and clarity about the fact that, as Abraham Lincoln once eloquently stated, “a nation divided against itself cannot stand.” The current government, which represented half of a divided nation, now represents a small percentage of a unified one.
While the government was nowhere to be found, the Israeli people sprang into action and continued their incredible response. The World Union for Progressive Judaism’s (WUPJ) recent mission to Israel to show solidarity and understand the situation on the ground saw representatives and leaders of ARZA, URJ, and Arzenu hear many incredible stories of heroic responses to the October 7th massacre. One was from Journalist Amir Tibon, whose father drove down and rescued him and his family, along with countless neighbors from their Kibbutz. We also listened to others we met who recounted the story of Youssef Ziadna, an Arab Bedouin who saved 30 lives by driving through a hail of bullets in his minibus, and that of farmer Oz Davidian whose 20(!) trips saved so many others.
Beyond those heroic initial efforts, we met with survivors and displaced people staying in Kibbutzim who opened their doors and heard scores of stories about individuals doing the same. The Reform movement in Israel (IMPJ) has been integral in responding to the crisis in the absence of effective government action, with MARAM (the Israeli Council of Reform Rabbis) working regionally with kibbutzim on the Gaza border, supporting families, accompanying wounded in hospitals, conducting burials and providing comfort. Along the border, volunteers – Israelis and internationals – are risking rocket barrages to sustain farms that would otherwise collapse as their fruits and vegetables rot. Remaining tech workers take on longer shifts to deliver unaffected productivity and results to clients abroad, while their marketing teams often volunteer to help tell the stories of hostages and those whose lives were impacted to the world.
Just as Israeli flags turned from symbols of protest to a shared symbol of unity, Jewish identity has made a similar transformation from the realm of divisive Israeli coalition rhetoric to a unifying factor spurring support and a new level of openness. Aside from Orthodox and Reform groups setting aside their differences to support Israel in the Washington DC rally and beyond, donations from all denominations ranging from military gear to strollers have flowed into the country. Even Jews that are highly critical of Israel, such as Bernie Sanders, at least recognized, despite immense political pressure, that Israel cannot have a permanent ceasefire with a group that seeks its wholesale destruction.
In the face of renewed global antisemitism at unprecedented levels, I am deeply concerned about attacks on Jewish people worldwide and the disguising of antisemitism in anti-Zionism, which attempts to strip the Jewish people of their basic right to self-determination. Amidst the deafening silence of human rights groups around the world at the violence and rape used as tools of war by Hamas, the WUPJ is raising its voice to actively connect and strengthen Reform Jewish communities worldwide.
The Kibbutznikim from the border we met with self-identified as Progressive and called themselves the original Reform movement, detailing how they identify with Judaism and mark traditions in their own unique ways. While there were brief moments of tension, such as pushback to gender segregation at some of the funerals, the fact that these communities, whose chosen Jewish traditions are not held by a majority but are an essential part of Israel and the Jewish people helps cultivate more acceptance and unity, even amongst those with divergent views.
More than ever, diversity continues to be displayed as a strength on social media. A viral photo of a widowed Israeli man whose soon-to-be husband was killed defending innocent civilians received full recognition of military widow status and benefits under a swiftly passed bill. Likewise, photos of gay couples whose partners serve openly and proudly are shared by those across the political spectrum as a symbol of pride and unity.
Ultimately, this war isn’t just about the Jewish people defending themselves against Hamas terrorists who committed and aspire to commit more crimes of unspeakable brutality; it’s a global war of ideas and ideals. It’s about the democratic free world that celebrates diversity, strives to protect minorities, and guarantees freedom of speech against those who value dominance and repression for their narrow “truth.” The WUPJ is committed to helping Israel process the last Simchat Torah and black Saturday and support and strengthen global Jewish communities. In this war, in which the fighting in Gaza is just a part, Israel has faced setbacks and sorrow, but it continues to be a light among the nations.