BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — During his visit to the South America South Area, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles received key leaders of the Jewish Community of Buenos Aires in a fruitful meeting to deepen the fraternal bonds that unite both communities.
The meeting was attended by representatives from over 80 percent of the Jewish community in Argentina and marks a historic occasion as the first formal outreach to Jewish leaders in Argentina by the Church.
"I am deeply honored to be with you this morning," Elder Holland said as he opened the meeting. "I have been the Church´s principle contact with the Jewish community for just over 40 years and it has been one of the sweetest associations in my life."
Speaking of his recent visit to Jerusalem with President Russell M. Nelson, Elder Holland explained that the Church-owned 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. As president of Brigham Young University at the time the center was established, Elder Holland was significantly involved as the Church worked closely with government and community leaders to obtain permission to build the center.
The Center's core curriculum focuses on the Hebrew Bible, the New Testament, ancient and modern Near Eastern studies, as well as language study in Hebrew and Arabic.
"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," Elder Holland said.
He explained the fundamental similarities between the LDS and Jewish communities, each of which have global membership close to 16 million.
"We feel we have special compassion for the persecution your people have suffered, for we too have a history of religious persecution," Elder Holland said. He shared how early members of the Church had been driven from six states and, at one time, had an extermination order issued against members of the young Church.
"There is much more than a history of stress and a history of misunderstanding that connect our communities," Elder Holland continued. "There are ties infinitely more important that bring us here today. History, powerful doctrines and ancient beliefs connect our faith with you."
Teaching from ancient scriptures, Elder Holland said, "You know better than I the promises made to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and their posterity, which did not, it turned out, preclude the scattering and dispersion of that posterity. But equally prophesied was that ancient Israel would be gathered."
Introducing the Book of Mormon, he held up a copy bound together with the Old Testament to symbolize the unity of both books in declaring the promises made to Israel. He then shared that the Book of Mormon is the stick of Joseph through Ephraim, which has now been linked with the stick of Judah to remind all people of the great covenants made between God and Israel.
He related how the early members of the Church, under the direction of the young prophet Joseph Smith, built the first Latter-day Saint temple in the tradition — but not with the luxury — of Solomon's temple. Following the dedication of that temple, Joseph Smith experienced divine visitations in that holy place, in which a series of Old Testament prophets appeared and initiated the fulfillment of many of the promises made to ancient Israel. One visitor was the prophet Elijah, in fulfillment of the ancient promise recorded by Malachi.
"This return of Elijah is crucial to Latter-day Saint theology, giving meaning to the 159 temples we have built around the world (including two in Argentina) with many more to come worldwide," Elder Holland said. "The temple is the heart of our theology and our worship. Because of Elijah's return, we believe it is where the hearts of the fathers are turned to the children, and the hearts of the children are turned to their fathers."
Attendees of the meeting expressed joy in meeting with Elder Holland and many have requested the opportunity to work with the Church in planning future seminars and service projects in cooperation with the Jewish communities in Argentina.
“It was clear that all in attendance felt a kinship with Elder Holland and with the LDS Church," said Elder Mark A. Bragg of the South America South Area presidency. "Each received, and were grateful for, Elder Holland's gift of the Book of Mormon and a copy of the proclamation on the family."