Latter-Day Philo-Semite

“There are no people in the world who understand the Jews like the Mormons.” —Prime Minister David Ben Gurion

”The Mormons are our brothers; the Christians are our kin.” —Rabbi Shmuley Boteach

It happened again this week. While waiting for a performance to begin at the Broad Stage in Santa Monica, I struck up a conversation with two sisters seated next to me. The opera was based on a murder committed by one of their errant ancestors, and they were anxious to see the singers reenact their family drama. In short order they introduced me to their niece, and we exchanged greetings. During intermission I went to buy a snack, and when I returned to my seat one of the sisters turned to me with a big smile and said, “Our niece said to make you happy by telling you that we’re part Jewish.” It turns out that the niece was a Mormon who had recognized me from a church activity that we had both attended. If Mormons in this area know anything about me, it’s that I love Jews. And Judaism. And Israel. Needless to say, the second act of the opera was more enjoyable than the first.

I am often asked why I chose to spend 8 years of my professional life working in the organized Jewish community. Truth be told, for me it was never a conscious choice; Jews have played a continuous role in my life from childhood, and I jumped at a chance to get paid to work for their benefit. My brother attended the preschool at Temple Israel in Bay City, Michigan—the city’s best—upon the recommendation of my father’s kind Jewish boss, Mark Jaffe. The equally kind rabbi of Temple Israel, Dov Edelstein, invited our Mormon congregation to tour the temple one evening. I will never forget the feeling I had while viewing Torah scrolls for the first time and hearing of the rabbi’s journey from Auschwitz to mid-Michigan.

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