Rabbi Joe Charnes has studied Judaism and Christianity comparatively for many years and has been involved in numerous Jewish-Christian interfaith and multifaith events around the country.
He also frequently attends general conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The Charnes family — originally from Monterey, California — now lives in Colorado Springs, Colorado, where Rabbi Charnes’s wife, Rabbi Sarah Schecter, is a chaplain in the United States Air Force.
In Colorado, they became friends with Michael Law, a member of the Church who extended the invitation a few years ago to attend general conference in person.
“There’s deep, deep wisdom in your faith tradition,” Rabbi Charnes said. “And the connection that I and my family have developed over the years with your community has been one of the most blessed and meaningful and inspiring connections that we’ve had in life.”
Rabbi Charnes’s favorite messages from October 2023 general conference
“That world of spiritual gifts requires building, and it requires building from within and receiving from within,” Rabbi Charnes said. “But when he said, ‘assembly required,’ what also jumped out at me was, ‘Yes, we have to work on constructing that holy place in our lives and making a holy place for us to live in.’”
“She said, ‘I believed I could go forward even with my brokenness,’” Rabbi Charnes said. “Her brokenness wasn’t a barrier to moving forward, to progressing. And what a message to youth but also what a message to humans.”
“We always have a guide out there who’s ready to enter and give us that guidance if we’re willing to hear,” Rabbi Charnes said.
The music during general conference inspired Rabbi Charnes, who said sacred music involves beauty, power and wisdom — it heals, builds, redeems and refines.
Hear and listen to understand general conference talks
Often the reason people don’t remember a message is because they haven’t fully heard at first, said Rabbi Charnes.
“This is the first and most important quality you have to develop as far as a spiritual life, the ability to hear, that deep ability to hear, to listen.”
The Hebrew word for “hear” also means “to understand.” Once people can listen deeply, they can fully understand. And then memory will stick.
“You can’t remember what you haven’t heard. … So hearing is a deeply, deeply dedicated action. It requires real presence and willingness to receive so that we can understand,” he said.
But there’s another meaning of the Hebrew word “to hear.” It also means “to observe” or “to heed.”
“So deep hearing leads to deep understanding, which leads to a life that is deeply transformed, because you’re now living or heeding the will or the wisdom of our Maker,” Rabbi Charnes said.
He advised revisiting the messages more slowly and with more awareness, because they are layered with broad and deep wisdom.
“But it begins, first of all, with a desire to hear.”
The root and the fruits
Rabbi Charnes said he knows when someone has understood their religion’s teachings when he sees the fruits in their lives.
He said he saw the kindness and the light of members of the Church of Jesus Christ, which made him ask about the root.
“And for me, as I began studying your tradition, I realized the root of your light, the root of your beauty, the beauty of that love that you live, is your wisdom,” he said. He said others don’t often focus on that wisdom; they focus on the kindness and decency of Latter-day Saints.
“But that kindness and decency didn’t just come from nowhere. It came from a wisdom that you are rooted in and that you revere and that you study and that you try to live from. That is the guiding source of your light.”
Rabbi Charnes called it a gift and an honor and to be with members of the Church of Jesus Christ.
“Your lives are living and loving testimonies of the holy.”