RIO DE JANEIRO (JTA) — Gerson Bergher, one of Brazil’s most prominent Jewish activists, has died at 91.
A former president of the Brazilian Zionist Organization, Bergher, who has served as a politician in Brazil for many years, died Monday in Rio. He reportedly began his political career based on advice from Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion.
Bergher was first elected as lawmaker in the assembly of the Brazilian state of Rio in 1960.
He had a longtime and openly pro-Jewish and pro-Israel political career as a member of both the Rio state Assembly and City Council. In the 1990s and 2000s, as council president, he served as acting mayor a few times. In 2014, he assumed his latest term in the assembly.
“Bergher was the dean of politicians of the Jewish-Brazilian community and a loyal activist of the Zionist movement in Brazil,” Osias Wurman, Israel honorary consul and former president of the Rio Jewish federation, told JTA. “He idealized the Holocaust memorial to be built soon.”
In 2009, Bergher inaugurated the Yitzhak Rabin bust at a Rio park in the presence of his Rabin’s widow, Leah.
Bergher was a vocal critic of Brazil’s decision to allow then-Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to visit the South American country in 2009, noting Ahmadinejad’s denial of the Holocaust.
“This man represents the hatred, discrimination, prejudice, racism, intolerance and terror, independently of religion, faith and social class,” Bergher said at the time.
In 1985, Bergher welcomed then-Brazilian President Jose Sarney at a Jewish book fair in Rio. At that time he presided over the Bialik Library, a cultural center dedicated to the preservation of the Yiddish language.
In 1962, JTA reported that Bergher was among the five Jews to be elected to high office.
In parallel to his Jewish activism, Bergher led social work in several low-income areas of the cities.