When I became a Mormon at age 16 in Los Angeles, I didn’t convert from Judaism. It was when I finally made a trip “back east” at age 21 and met my relatives that I fully realized I was Jewish. Although I had spent day and night glued to the radio during the Six Day War, I had felt only a distant connection. Someone had mentioned my father’s Jewish heritage, but back east, it was my mother’s family welcoming me in Yiddish.
By then it was too late to go back to my Jewish roots in religious terms. I was only a few months away from marrying a returning Mormon missionary, had spent years at Brigham Young University, and loved my adopted faith dearly. But I was certainly going to reclaim what had been denied me as far as culture was concerned, by parents who were so assimilated that science had taken precedence in our home.
Yes, my father was a rocket scientist, so he had an excuse, but my mother had said she was Catholic. I began to recall that I had never seen her go to church. I recalled that her nose surgery to correct a deviated septum had also diminished the size of her “Jewish nose.” We had become southern Californians at the sacrifice of generations of loyalty to the Jewish faith.
The lack of spirituality in our home had left me empty and seeking faith by age 15.
After I was married, I began my Jewish studies in earnest, and I was surprised to discover the commonalities within Judaism and Mormonism. While The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints considers itself the restoration of ancient Christianity, it is much more than that. It bends backwards through time well into the Torah and Jewish mysticism.
Said Harold Bloom in The American Religion (1991), “…[Joseph] Smith and his apostles restated what Moshe Idel, our great living scholar of Kabbalah, persuades me was the archaic or original Jewish religion, a Judaism that preceded even the Yahwist, the author of the earliest stories in what we now call the Five Books of Moses….The God of Joseph Smith is a daring revival of the God of some of the Kabbalists and Gnostics, prophetic sages who, like Smith himself, asserted that they had returned to the true religion of Yahweh or Jehovah.”
This is what I began to discover. Joseph Smith, first prophet of the “restoration,” lived always in the frontier, had a total of 3 years of elementary education and could hardly write a complete sentence (let alone spell). And here he was, taking me back into ancient Judaism.
Making a Move
I got to the point where studying both faiths was not enough. In 1983, we moved our Mormon family of 7 from Salt Lake City to Jerusalem. We enrolled our children in Israeli state schools and managed to maintain a work visa for 8 years, finally departing for a new adventure in Cyprus after the first Gulf War. We had our sixth and last child (Mormons are prolific) in north Jerusalem. Her birth certificate registering an American birth abroad, states she cannot have citizenship because she is Christian.
We all speak Hebrew at varying levels of proficiency. We have a big gathering at Passover. Though we lived in 4 countries, we consider Jerusalem home. When we have birthday parties, we sing in Hebrew. We make our own hummus. I teach Bible in Sunday School and bring the “Old Testament” alive as best I can. I wrote a book for Mormons about the Jewish high holy days. And so we continue…
Ours is very much a “Mormon-Jewish” family. We are unique, but not alone. There aren’t many converts to Mormonism from Judaism, but we do get together. We have a club, called B’nai Shalom, that meets in Salt Lake City and Seattle just before Mormon General Conference in April and October. We all feel a spiritual calling to be as Jewish as possible, even as we are true to our Mormon beliefs and covenants. It’s easier than most might think. In fact, it feels entirely natural.