Here in Buenos Aires on our JDC Strategic Partnerships mission, we were privileged to meet with Rabbi Abraham Skorka, Rector of the Seminario Rabbinico Latinoamericano. He’s a personal friend of Pope Francis, and also an impressive Jewish leader and a terrific storyteller.
We sat in his offices for a fascinating conversation about Jewish life and leadership in Argentina. About the challenges and the pluralism that the Jewish community faces today. And about the Pope.
Rabbi Skorka has been invited, since the 1990s, to the annual Te Deum festival, celebrating Argentina’s independence. The festival is hosted by the Archbishop and includes Argentinian religious leaders to show unity and dialogue. He and Archbishop Bergoglio regularly exchanged greetings, even before Jose Bergoglio rose to the position of Archbishop and then Pope. But some years ago, Bergoglio changed the order of greetings so that he could show more respect to other religious leaders. The Archbishop and the Rabbi would regularly exchange a comment about the River Plate soccer team (‘the chickens’) – Rabbi Skorka’s favorite team – and the San Lorenzo team, favored by the Archbishop. Alas, the chickens were never a very successful team.
Rabbi Skorka said this one time, after quoting a passage from Jeremiah and a brief comment on theology, he admitted that San Lorenzo had ended their round with a very good position. “I guess this year we’ll all be eating chicken soup,” he said.
Noticing the Papal Nuncio’s shock at the use of a slang word that could have been interpreted as rude, Archbishop Bergoglio hasted to assure the Nuncio that they were just chatting about soccer. Even though the President of Argentina was waiting impatiently for the Archbishop to lead the procession, he and the Rabbi carried on with their joke.
That’s how the friendship between the Rabbi and the Pope began. Rabbi Skorka is in regular contact with the Pope, and even stayed in his private apartment in Rome this past year. The Pope, he says, is a man of deep integrity and warmth. What he says and does is what he feels.
It was a wonderful meeting, and a real privilege to meet Rabbi Skorka and hear his stories.