A delegation of Latter-day Saint leaders and Jewish dignitaries from the United States gathered recently at a historic site in Jerusalem to mark the 175th anniversary of an early Mormon apostle’s journey to Jerusalem.
On Oct. 24, 1841, Elder Orson Hyde climbed the Mount of Olives under the direction of Joseph Smith to offer a prayer to dedicate the land as a gathering place for the Jewish people.
“Orson Hyde’s 1841 mission to Jerusalem to dedicate this land for the return of the Jews and for Jerusalem to be its capital city was an important moment in the latter-day Jewish return to their homeland. We believe the work of Elder Orson Hyde has played a key role in God choosing Jerusalem again,” said Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, speaking at a commemoration event at the Brigham Young University Jerusalem Center for Near Eastern Studies, Thursday, Oct. 27.
Elder Holland and Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and Elder James J. Hamula of the Seventy traveled to the Holy Land with a group of distinguished Jewish leaders.
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.
“There is nothing more noble than extending the hand of friendship to fellow human beings. The world needs more understanding and respect among people, and it is encouraging to see the fostering of that core value here today,” said Robert Abrams, who has been involved in cultivating a stronger relationship between Mormon and Jewish communities for many years.
“Over the years we have toured the facilities of the Church and discussed various topics in meetings with Church leaders, including Elder Holland and Elder Cook, aimed at creating greater bonds of friendship and understanding,” he said during the Jerusalem visit. “These events enabled me to learn more about the Mormon community and to discover that there are strong areas of common ground with the Jewish community.”
He continued, “Each has a fundamental focus on family; each places a very high value on education; each has a strong commitment to charitable giving; each demonstrates humanitarian concern and response when there are international catastrophes such as earthquakes, hurricanes and tsunamis around the globe; each has a history of disproportionate success due to ability, hard work and determination; and each has been subjected to fierce persecution and prejudice.”
Elder Cook noted, “The genesis for this event was the extraordinary relationship and friendship that grew out of our collaborative effort to better get to know each other and our traditions that were important to both Jews and Latter-day Saints.”
“Interestingly, in the United States we each have a population of between 6 to 7 million. The center of Jewish influence is New York City and the East Coast; the center of Latter-day Saint influence is in Utah and the surrounding states,” explained the apostle.
“The Jewish delegation is composed of exceptional individuals and is a remarkable representation of the mainstreams of Judaism,” said Elder Cook. “It also includes major Jewish organizations. We express particular appreciation to Robert Abrams, who has been the primary impetus in developing this relationship.”
“We are grateful to join together in this commemorative event, which is also a commemoration of our friendship and our desire to unitedly participate in certain humanitarian projects in the future,” he added.
Joseph Lieberman, a former vice-presidential nominee, visited the BYU campus in Provo, Utah, in October 2011 to deliver an address on religious freedom.
“The relationship between Mormons and Jews is a natural one,” he said. “I’ve lived long enough now to know that a lot of things that are natural don’t happen unless people take action to make them happen.”
He continued, “If Humphrey Bogart were here today, I think he would say, ‘We are just at the beginning of a beautiful friendship.’ It is a friendship based on our shared faith, based on our shared values and based on a vision, on a sense of destiny of what Zion means to both faith communities, which is unity, peace and justice throughout the world. From the bottom of my heart, thank you to our friends from the Mormon Church, and I look forward to all that we will do together.”
While in Jerusalem, the delegation met with top government leaders, including Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat.
Elder Cook expressed appreciation to the New York delegation for arranging the meeting with the prime minister. He said, “the prime minister gave an impressive and comprehensive overview and update with respect to Israel.”
The BYU Jerusalem Center, established in 1988, overlooks the Mount of Olives in the Holy Land, a part of the world considered sacred to Jews, Christians and Muslims. The Church worked closely with government and community leaders to get permission to build the center, as well as the nearby garden to honor Orson Hyde. Elder Holland, then president of Brigham Young University, was involved in a significant way and still has responsibility for relationships in the Middle East. The garden was dedicated on Oct. 24, 1979, by Church President Spencer W. Kimball.
“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,” said Elder Holland.