Rabbis Without Borders
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I recently had the opportunity to travel to Salt Lake City with a delegation of rabbis and Jewish leaders to meet with the leadership of the LDS Church. Under the leadership of Robert Abrams, former Attorney General of the State of New York and a passionate creator of dialogue and discussion between Jews and Mormons, and with support from the New York Board of Rabbis, we flew to Salt Lake City. The purpose of this delegation was to introduce us to leaders in the church and to allow us to learn about their religion, and most especially about the similarities between Mormons and Jews.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, or the LDS Church for short, known as The Mormon Religion, is a ‘newer’ and a quickly growing religion founded in 1830 in the United States by Joseph Smith, whom they view as a modern-day prophet. He published the Book of Mormon, the basic text for the LDS Church (and a great Broadway show). Fleeing from persecution, church members migrated westward until they discovered Salt Lake City, establishing their headquarters there.
Perceptions are everything, and many of my own perceptions about Mormons and the LDS Church were skewed. I was completely ignorant about their overall mission and vision. I had no understanding of their overarching mission in helping the community, and I was also surprised to learn that there are approximately the same number of Jews as Mormons in the United States.
There are many similarities between Mormons and Jews, and also areas where we differ, yet there is no question that the leaders of the LDS Church feel a real kinship and respect toward the Jewish community. There is also no question that there is much for Jews to learn from some of the incredible work of the Mormons.
- Helping the Needy. LDS Members take to heart the idea of helping those who are poor and hungry and are truly committed to helping those in need both locally and internationally. We toured Welfare Square, where we witnessed the incredible commitment to feeding the hungry and taking care of the stranger. The Bishops’ Central Storehouse allows the community to stock up on important goods, and the Humanitarian Center is a way to provide clothing and food for those in need. The picture above is like the Costco of Costco’s, where we toured the foods, most of which is prepared by LDS Church members, to give to those in need.
- Family Histories. As Jews, we care deeply about familial connections and history. The Mormon Church has taken this commitment to a whole new level. Guided by the idea that family members are connected in life eternal, they work hard to support people in making family connections, and this vast resource bank is open to anyone. These Family History Centers, found across the world, are all electronically connected and the largest single database of its kind.
- Members of the LDS Church believe in tithing (10% of their earnings) and give it back to the church. This allows the church to do so much good, for its members and for local and international communities. One LDS leader shared with me that he teaches his children from the time they are young that they must tithe, even from the babysitting money they earn, and so they do. Imagine if Jews, who are as educated and prosperous as the Mormons, could embrace giving in such a way?
The church leaders took great pride in welcoming us to their headquarters. They were so enthusiastic about sharing our visit with their greater community, as can be seen in this video. There is much that the Jewish community can learn from the Mormon community, and I hope that we can continue to dialogue about both our similarities and our differences, to support each other as groups of faith ultimately seeking to make this world a better place.