World unity is achievable, say rabbi and primatologist in S.F.

Speaking in front of an audience of 500 in San Francisco's Grace Cathedral, Rabbi Philip S. Berg conveyed his belief that humankind "can dream today of unification" since "everything [on earth] contains a spark of the life force of God."

Berg, who directs the controversial Kabbalah Learning Center based in Los Angeles, joined primatologist Jane Goodall in addressing "Our Place in Time" at the third annual State of the World Forum. The forum, which brought together religious, political and business leaders from around the world, ran from Nov. 4 to 9 in San Francisco.

Boasting such luminaries as Mikhail Gorbachev, Leah Rabin and Elie Wiesel on its board of co-chairs, the forum has three ongoing aims: to encourage peace throughout the world, to stimulate environmental awareness and to help developing world communities set up micro-enterprises.

Berg has been accused by many in the Jewish world of running a cult based on fake Kabbalah. He has denied such accusations.

None of that controversy was apparent at last week's forum, however.

Berg recalled that when he was invited to address the conference, his first question as a kabbalist had been, "Why?"

"Why do these well-intentioned people, with a sincere desire to bring peace on earth, think that they can accomplish what man has tried for millennia to achieve? What is so special about this century?"

To answer his own question, he drew a connection between the worlds of science and religion. "In this century, scientists are seeking the Grand Unified Theory — implying that there is something out there that encompasses every fiber of the universe."

Saying that such a theory was possible, Berg voiced the hope that "we shall all as individuals, without losing our particular identity, become as one."

As a first step, "We should begin to consider everyone in our environment — from neighbors to family — as someone who can have that experience that contains the life force."

No creature is too unworthy, Berg said. "Kabbalists always avoid walking where there are lines of ants — because they are doing their thing, too."

In evoking the nonhuman world, he echoed the sentiments of Goodall, who said during a short but emotional speech that "the study of chimpanzees…has taught me everything.

"It's not only we humans who are capable of rational thought and emotions," Goodall said. "Once we're prepared to admit that, it teaches us a new respect, not only for chimpanzees, but for other amazing nonhuman beings."

This was essential, she said, in a world where "we are threatening the very ecosystems on which we depend for our future."

Like Berg, Goodall saw empathy and spirituality as keys to a peaceful future. "There's a great spiritual force that my friends the indigenous people are still close to, and we can learn from their courage and spiritual strength," she said.

She said she was optimistic about the future, since her global travels showed her "many people rejecting greed and materialism, and seeking to come closer to the spiritual energy that surrounds us."

"Is there hope for the future?" Goodall asked, looking along the Episcopal cathedral's nave at panels of the AIDS quilt hanging down from lofty ceilings. "Of course there is. The hope for the future is here with you."

Likewise, Berg instructed the audience that "the time has come…the future is here and now. This forum is reaching out through every single person here, to become concerned with all of those out there."

"When we discuss the opportunities and possibilities of creating peace throughout this world," he said, "we are empowering the cosmos."