A delegation of Orthodox, Conservative and Reform Jewish leaders from New York and California visited Salt Lake City in March 2018. Guided by leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, they toured the Church’s welfare facilities and the newly renovated Jordan River Utah Temple (Mormon temples are opened to the public briefly before they are dedicated).
The delegation also examined the safeguards the Church has established to prevent the proxy baptism of Jewish Holocaust victims.
A visit to the Church’s Family History Library was enlightening for former New York Attorney General Robert Abrams. The library had prepared a gift for him in the form of his own family history. He read the names and dates on his grandparents’ marriage licenses and naturalization documents, census information about his parents while they were growing up on the Lower East Side of New York City and the manifests of ships that carried his family from Europe to the United States.
He had never seen the information before. “It was personally thrilling to me,” he said of accessing and viewing his personal family history.
The visit was one of many between Latter-day Saint and Jewish leaders held in Salt Lake City, New York City and Jerusalem over the past 10 years. Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Mormon Church’s Quorum of the Twelve Apostles numbers Abrams and other Jewish leaders among his closest friends.
Elder Cook, Elder Dale G. Renlund, Sister Joy D. Jones, Elder Larry Y. Wilson and Bishop Dean M. Davies escorted the Jewish rabbinical delegation when they visited the Jordan River Utah Temple open house. Abrams had previously toured the Church’s Manhattan, Philadelphia and Oquirrh Mountain Utah temples, but others in the delegation had never visited a Mormon temple before. Abrams commented on the Torah themes so prominent in the temple.
“To go through this temple today and to see so many of the Jewish Old Testament themes found in this temple and memorialized in this temple — it just really reaffirms the connection between [Jews and Mormons]. And there’s a powerful feeling of peace when you come out of the temple,” he said.
The tour of Welfare Square was as impressive as touring the temple. Mormons are very practical and have always seen “temporal” salvation — social justice and humanitarian aid — as a spiritual endeavor. This is the reason Latter-day Saints have been noted for their industriousness, which in turn has always had a prominent charitable aspect.
“Just to see the way everything works out [at Welfare Square] and how the organizational aspect of it, the voluntary aspect of it — it is so impressive and something that I think every religious tradition — and not even faith communities, but everyone — should participate in, and we can learn a lot from the LDS community in this way,” Saba Soomekh said after touring the Church’s welfare operations.
In addition to delegations visiting Salt Lake City, Elder Cook and Elder Jeffrey R. Holland traveled with Jewish dignitaries — including Abrams, former U.S. Senator Joseph Lieberman and Executive Vice President of the New York Board of Rabbis Joseph Potasnik — to Jerusalem in 2016 to mark the 175th anniversary of Elder Orson Hyde dedicating the land as a gathering place for the Jewish people.
In June 2018, Mormon apostle Jeffrey R. Holland and other Latter-day Saint leaders visited Argentina. While there, they held a fruitful meeting with Jewish leaders to “deepen the fraternal bonds that unite both communities.”
“The meeting was attended by representatives from over 80% of the Jewish community in Argentina and marks a historic occasion as the first formal outreach to Jewish leaders in Argentina by the Church,” said Elder Holland.
“There is much more than a history of stress and a history of misunderstanding that connect our communities,” he continued. “There are ties infinitely more important that bring us here today. History, powerful doctrines, and ancient beliefs connect our faith with you.”
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.