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A Rabbi’s Friendship With Pope Francis I

Sharing tea and holidays with the former Cardinal Bergoglio

Natalie Schachar
March 19, 2013
Argentina's Rabbi Bergman, Rabbi Avruj, and Pope Francis (courtesy)
Argentina's Rabbi Bergman, Rabbi Avruj, and Pope Francis (courtesy)

What is it like being friends with the pope? According to Rabbi Alejandro Avruj, the rabbi of the Fundación Judaica of Buenos Aires, not bad. During Hanukkah say, the two celebrated by lighting candles together, but other times they have just hung out in the synagogue drinking mate, a type of tea sipped out of a gourd and passed between friends. Another time still, they both attended a farewell party for a mutual friend, Father Pepe, who was on his way to seclude himself in northern Argentina.

Rabbi Avruj, who worked together with the current Pope Francis in the slums of Buenos Aires, says he has shared many personal experiences with him and counts him as a friend. In November, the cardinal and the rabbi commemorated the 64th anniversary of Kristallnacht at a celebration at the Metropolitan Cathedral of Buenos Aires, and a few weeks later, during Israel’s Operation Pillar of Defense, both Cardinal Bergoglio and Rabbi Avruj officiated at another service at the cathedral and prayed for peace in Israel.

“As the rabbi of the Fundación Judaica, I can say that Pope Francisco and I have had a beautiful relationship and I’m really happy for him,” said Rabbi Avruj. “He speaks with sensibility and humility.”

And like all friends who are normally invited to celebrate promotions and the exciting life events of others, Rabbi Avruj snagged an invite to the Vatican for the papal inauguration today. But before he could pack his bags last week, he also got a call from the Pope saying that he shouldn’t feel obligated to attend because it was such an expensive trip, and and he wouldn’t have any time to hang out in Vatican City, what with all the hullabaloo surrounding his new job.

According to Rabbi Avruj though, a trip to Italy to say hello to his old friend, who also doubles as the Pope of the Roman Catholic Church, might still be in order.

Natalie Schachar is an editorial intern at Tablet. A recent graduate of Barnard College, she has written for the Times of Israel, The Atlantic, The Argentina Independent and Lilith Magazine.