Five decades ago, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland and Elder Quentin L. Cook, then missionary companions serving in Great Britain, walked the streets of England and testified of the life, Atonement and Resurrection of Jesus Christ.
This October the pair — now both members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles — walked the streets of Jerusalem and again remembered their time as companions 54 years earlier.
Elder Holland, who served as the Church’s commissioner of education and as president of BYU and who now has responsibilities for the Church’s work in the Middle East, has been to the Holy Land numerous times during the past 40 years.
This was Elder Cook’s first trip to Jerusalem, where he felt “deep spiritual appreciation for the Savior and for this sacred, holy land.”
“In all my years it was a unique experience to be here with a missionary companion,” added Elder Holland of the trip Oct. 19 through 29. “It was powerful to think of what we were teaching 54 years ago in England, and to realize the reality of that. You wouldn’t need to be at the Garden of Gethsemane or the Garden Tomb to realize that, but what an experience half a century later for two missionary companions to stand side by side and have this evidence of the Savior’s life, ministry, Atonement and Resurrection give meaning to their missionary and apostolic labors.”
Elder Holland and Elder Cook — accompanied by Elder James J. Hamula, General Authority Seventy, and their wives: Sister Patricia T. Holland, Sister Mary G. Cook, and Sister Joyce A. Hamula — were part of a delegation of Latter-day Saint and Jewish dignitaries from the United States, who gathered at a historic site in Jerusalem to mark the 175th anniversary of Elder Orson Hyde dedicating the land as a gathering place for the Jewish people.
The delegation included former New York Attorney General Robert Abrams; former U.S. Senator Joseph Lieberman from Connecticut; Rabbi Michael Miller, executive vice president and CEO of the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York; Marlene Post, former U.S. national president of Hadassah; Rabbi Joseph Potasnik, executive vice president of the New York Board of Rabbis; and Rabbi Meir Soloveichik of Congregation Shearith Israel in New York City and director of the Straus Center for Torah and Western Thought of Yeshiva University.
On Oct. 24, 1841, Elder Orson Hyde — under the direction of Joseph Smith — climbed the Mount of Olives and offered the inspired prayer.
To commemorate the sacred event, LDS and Jewish leaders offered commemoration speeches at the BYU Jerusalem Center. This event was followed by a tribute by Elder Holland at the Orson Hyde Memorial Garden — which was established in 1979.
Jewish delegation members arranged meetings with Jewish humanitarian entities and government leaders. While in Israel, the delegation met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu; Yuval Rotem, director of Foreign Affairs; and Nir Barkat, the mayor of Jerusalem. “The prime minister gave an impressive and comprehensive overview and update with respect to Israel,” Elder Cook said.
Elder Holland and Elder Cook also joined with Sen. Leiberman and Former Attorney General Abrams in placing a wreath on a special memorial dedicated to the victims of the Holocaust.
The trip marked the movement from past difficult situations to a positive new relationship between Jews and Latter-day Saints — who share a collective history that is similar, the Apostles said.
Elder Cook paid tribute to every member of the delegation. He also recalled attending a meaningful Shabbat in the Abrams’ home in New York City.
“He has a warm and generous heart and an enormously strong value system and he radiates goodness,” said Elder Cook of Robert Abrams. “He really is a true friend.”
Elder Holland said there is a “wonderful, natural affinity within the Church for the tradition flowing from Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.”
“Our Book of Mormon starts in 600 BC by people living the Law of Moses,” he said. The Book of Mormon is written “to the convincing of the Jew and Gentile that Jesus is the Christ.”
Elder Holland said this trip, compared to many others to the Holy Land, felt different. Speaking of members of the delegation, he said, “They were giving our message and sharing our convictions about so many things. We did not have to explain ourselves or defend ourselves. There was a wonderful sense of shared purpose and common religious values.”
The Church-owned BYU Jerusalem Center for Near Eastern Studies, established in 1988, overlooks the Mount of Olives in the Holy Land. The Church worked closely with government and community leaders to get permission to build the center and the Orson Hyde Memorial Garden.
“We pray for the preservation of the Jewish people and for their peaceful association with all who dwell in what is truly the Holy Land.”