Posted by Mark Paredes
”Mark, did you hear about this? Heartbreaking! Going to Junior's after the temple was tradition for a lot of us in La Crescenta. Funny how many Mormons have a connection to this fab deli!”
This Facebook message from my friend Christa Woodall was how I first learned of tomorrow’s unexpected closing of Junior’s Deli, a Westside LA fixture for decades. Christa used to blog on Mormon-Jewish relations for a Jewish newspaper in San Francisco, and suggested this as a blog topic. As usual, she was inspired.
Soon after sending email and Facebook requests to current and former LA Mormons for their reaction, I received the following note from Aaron Roberts: ”With the proximity of Junior's to the Temple, meeting places and our homes, I think lots of us have celebrated special moments at Junior's. My home teacher went with me to Junior's the evening after being ordained an Elder, shortly before leaving on my mission. It was also the first Jewish deli that I remember my Jewish family members taking me to as a child. Because of that it was the first deli I took my [Uruguayan] wife, who hasn't participated in Jewish culture, to experience that part of my heritage.”
Cherie Schlierman followed with her best wishes: ”My oldest son and daughter-in-law love their cheesecake. Hopefully they will end up at a new location.”
Finally, the inevitable Utah connection was made by Dave Mills: ”When I learned that the Jewish founder of Junior’s had been a uranium miner in Utah, just like my grandfather, I knew that I had to try the place. Their turkey pot pie was my favorite.”
Best wishes to the owners of Junior’s in their search for a new location. Many Mormons, as well as Jews, will be praying for you.
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December 23, 2012 | 9:18 pm
Posted by Mark Paredes
Today my wife and I decided to get into the Christmas spirit by attending the baptism of Tsaschikher, a 19-year-old Mongolian college student. About 25% of the Christians in Mongolia are Mormons, and our congregation was only too happy to welcome yet another Mongolian into the LDS Church. Upon returning home, I decided to answer in this forum the emails from readers who are curious to know what my reaction is to the recent passing of Christian radio talk show host Frank Pastore, who was struck by a car while riding his motorcycle on a major highway. In a few words, my thoughts are these: RIP – and good riddance.
By all accounts, the baseball-player-turned-theologian-and-radio-host had a heart of gold, was actively involved in charitable works, and used his radio pulpit to promote his version of Christianity and morality. Radio hosts whom I respect – Dennis Prager, Hugh Hewitt – gave moving eulogies to Frank on the air following his untimely demise. I’m sure that he was also a wonderful husband, father and grandfather. Can all of this compensate for his hatred of the LDS Church and LDS theology? Not quite. For an understanding of how informed Mormons viewed Frank Pastore’s anti-Mormon rants, we can look to another religious man who is well-known to Jews: Jimmy Carter.
Any honest Jew has to admit that Mr. Carter has done more good in this world (e.g., Habitat for Humanity, the Carter Center, Camp David) than Mr. Pastore ever dreamed of doing. In addition, I’m sure that the former president loves his wife, daughter, and grandson. Given all of his virtues and good works, will Jews overlook his deep hostility to Israel when composing his future obituary? I think not. Not only does Carter hold certain beliefs about the Middle East (e.g., Israel is an apartheid state)that are anathema to most Jews, but he has used his public pulpit to vilify and delegitimize Israel in the eyes of the world. The fact that he does this while invoking virtue and morality is almost unforgivable to supporters of Israel. For me, Frank Pastore was our community’s Jimmy Carter.
Frank Pastore was a classic anti-Mormon. Non-Mormons witness to me about what they believe; Anti-Mormons witness to me about what I [allegedly] believe. Not content with labeling Mormonism a “cult” of Christianity because its teachings deny a “central doctrine” of the Christian faith, Pastore regularly preached a whole slew of lies about our beliefs. In a Townhall blog post that raised lots of Mormon eyebrows, the sanctimonious pastor alleged that Mormons teach that the Holy Spirit has a physical body [he later retracted this], that Jesus was conceived through sexual intercourse between God and Mary, that Jesus was a polygamist, and that EVERY Mormon male will one day become a God ruling over his own planet, accompanied by multiple wives. Not one of these beliefs is an official LDS teaching, which Pastore must have known. There’s a word for someone who deliberately distorts others’ beliefs and slanders their church, and “Christian” isn’t it.
Since I am speaking ill of the dead, I feel the need to clarify that I, like most Mormons and Jews, don’t care a great deal what individuals may think of my religious beliefs. If Pastore thought that I was as crazy as a loon for believing in a contemporary church with apostles and bishops, that’s fine with me. However, when he followed the example of his idol Walter Martin and publicly attacked the religious beliefs of the LDS Church and other churches, he crossed a line that should almost never be crossed. No one appointed him to be the arbiter of Christianity, and he had no business misrepresenting our religious beliefs and practices to his radio audience. Pastore was very much opposed to Evangelical outreach to Mormons conducted by Richard Mouw, Hugh Hewitt, and other tolerant Evangelicals, and once grilled a pastor on his show for having the temerity to actually invite a Mormon to discuss Mormonism at his church without ensuring that all Evangelicals present had received proper apologetics [= anti-Mormon] training in advance.
In nearly three years of blogging, the only time that I have criticized the theology of another faith in this space was when I discussed the replacement theology of mainline Protestantism. The reason I did this was because I opposed the actions (e.g., anti-Israel divestment and boycotts) that resulted from their beliefs, not because the beliefs themselves caused me to have sleepless nights. My wife and I are planning to attend an Episcopal service on Christmas Eve, where we will likely be surrounded by people who believe in supersessionism. We’re not bothered by this a bit, though we would probably walk out if the priest used the occasion to bash Israel in his sermon. It is the bad actions inspired by religious beliefs, not the beliefs themselves, that merit condemnation.
I experienced mixed emotions when I heard of Frank’s death: sadness at the passing of a force for good, along with relief that a prominent anti-Mormon voice has been silenced. I sincerely hope that he is praised to the skies at his upcoming memorial service. However, for Mormons who followed his career he will always be a second-rate theologian and a first-rate bigot. Speaking of his reluctant support for Mitt Romney if he were to become the Republican presidential nominee, Pastore wrote, “At the end of my life, the question I will be asked is not, 'Whom did you help elect?' But, 'Whom did you serve?'” For his sake, let us hope that “Whom did you slander?” does not also appear on the celestial questionnaire.
December 19, 2012 | 11:30 pm
Posted by Mark Paredes
Having just returned from a trip to my lovely wife’s frigid yet enchanting homeland (the temperature reached -20°C at times), my thoughts naturally turn to my new Romanian family, the world’s best pretzels (covrigi) and apple strudels, and Jewish and Mormon matters.
When we decided to spend a night at a hotel in Bucharest, our choice was made easy by the proximity of Central Hotel to the Holocaust Monument on Brezoianu Street. Both the hotel and the monument did not disappoint.
After a wonderful breakfast, we walked three blocks to the monument on a bitterly cold morning. It’s an easy site to miss, as it is poorly marked and located below street level. However, once we got there I was touched by its simplicity and directness. During WWII, the Romanian government was directly responsible for the murders of more Jews than any other government except for Germany. Although Romanian governments until the Basescu administration (2004-present) largely refused to acknowledge the country’s role in murdering hundreds of thousands of Jews and Roma in the Holocaust, the monument was dedicated just three years ago and issues a strongly-worded mea maxima culpa on its plaques.
In addition, I was pleasantly surprised to see that it assigns culpability to wartime head of state Marshal Ion Antonescu by name. He is an Atatürk-like figure to many Romanians who still revere him for his strong anti-Stalin stance, and a statement condemning Antonescu by name on an official monument would have been unthinkable before the Wiesel Commission report in 2003. Romania has definitely come a long way in terms of acknowledging government complicity in the Holocaust, and it was a great thing to see.
Last Sunday found us in one of two beautiful Mormon chapels in Bucharest. Although there was a large contingent of Americans in the congregation, I decided to go to the Romanian-language Sunday School class because I wanted to see how many native-born members were in attendance. Unfortunately, the numbers were not encouraging. One of the leaders explained to me that member retention is a huge problem there. When there is a regular exodus of Jews from a country, it usually means that they are being persecuted. When there is a regular exodus of Mormons from a country, it usually means that they are not able to find professional opportunities there. After all, if husbands and wives aspire to follow the Mormon ideal of man as breadwinner and woman as homemaker, the man has to be able to support a family by himself. In Romania, this is a huge challenge. For young people, opportunities for career development are similarly lacking; in fact, the second most-spoken language at Microsoft’s US headquarters is Romanian, even though the company has a significant presence in Romania. So while Romanians are being baptized into the Mormon Church, many of them leave for greener pastures as soon as they can. [I’m eternally grateful that I was able to convince the country’s most beautiful Mormon girl to come to the States, but I digress].
The head of the church in Romania is the mission president, Ned Hill, who served for years as the dean of BYU’s business school. He’s a remarkable man who has agreed to volunteer his service for three years in a country whose language he does not speak. Ditto for the McFaddens, a lovely couple from Utah who are serving as Public Affairs missionaries in Romania and Moldova. Although they also do not speak Romanian, they are a force of nature who played a role in facilitating Ioana Paverman’s recent documentary on the LDS Church. It’s probably the fairest treatment I’ve seen of Mormons in any language.
It is my fondest wish to see both Jews and Mormons enjoy an increased public profile on my subsequent visits to Romania, a country with immense potential.
December 9, 2012 | 12:22 am
Posted by Mark Paredes
I felt a lot like Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky this week: excited about progress in my faith’s relationship with the gay community that may not represent a large doctrinal shift but is nevertheless very significant. Yesterday the LDS Church unveiled a new website, “Love One Another: A Discussion of Same-Sex Attraction,” that presents the church’s views on same-sex attraction to the world in the context of encouraging Mormons to treat gays with kindness and understanding.
The website features a series of conversations with church leaders and members on issues related to homosexuality. One pleasant surprise is the prominent acknowledgement that “Even though individuals do not choose to have such attractions, they do choose how to respond to them.” I have never before seen an official recognition by the church that gays do not choose their sexual orientation (though most Mormons I know have always believed this).
Mormons don’t recognize themselves or their church in anti-Mormon propaganda that demonizes us as haters, bigots, and homophobes because of our opposition to same-sex marriage. Here is a great chance for us to define our own beliefs on homosexuality to the world. This project is a great beginning, and I hope it will be a catalyst for discussions that need to take place between Mormons, their gay friends and family members, and members of other faiths.
Hag sameach to all of my Jewish readers.
December 3, 2012 | 6:15 pm
Posted by Mark Paredes
Like many Jewish Journal readers, I have followed the rather personal exchange between Rabbis Daniel Gordis and Sharon Brous over Israel. Since I have never met Rabbi Gordis, and have had only a few personal interactions with Rabbi Brous, I had intended to sit this one out. However, a recent article by Ron Reynolds in The Times of Israel reminded me of my one Shabbat evening at IKAR (Rabbi Brous’s progressive synagogue) and a Torah Slam that have indelibly shaped my perception of her rabbinate. Reynolds, who has never been to IKAR, scoured the synagogue’s website for references to Israel and was largely disappointed. I share his disappointment in IKAR, but for a different reason.
Before I got married earlier this year, I regularly attended shabbat services at LA-area synagogues. I have visited nearly every large synagogue and a lot of smaller ones, and my primary goal when visiting is to have a powerful Jewish experience. Having heard rave reviews about Rabbi Brous, I was thrilled when a friend invited me to join him a few years ago at an IKAR shabbat service. I nearly bumped into noted journalist J. J. Goldberg at the entrance, which I thought was a sign of great things to come. However, after sitting through the entire service, including Rabbi Brous’s sermon, I distinctly recall leaving the building feeling like I had not participated in a Jewish worship service. Change one or two minor details, and I could have been at a progressive Protestant gathering.
That said, I found Rabbi Brous to be very warm and personable, so I invited her to offer the prayer at a large dinner sponsored by the American Jewish Congress. She graciously accepted the invitation and composed a thoughtful prayer tailored perfectly for the occasion. That experience left me wanting to hear more from her, so I was very excited to learn that she would be participating in a “Torah Slam” together with some of my favorite rabbis, including Ed Feinstein, Elazar Muskin, Eli Herscher and Daniel Bouskila. To top it off, they would be discussing “What is a good Jew?” as they analyzed Torah, text and history. I invited two secular Jewish friends to join me, and we settled into our seats at the Wilshire Theatre with a great deal of anticipation.
I enjoyed the debate immensely, and for me it clarified quite a few things. How impressed was I with the rabbis? Well, let’s go through the list. Rabbi Feinstein – I have attended several lectures at VBS (his synagogue), and he went to Utah with members of my committee. Rabbi Muskin – I have attended several shabbat services at his shul, and had the honor of discussing his commitment to Israel in his private study. Rabbi Herscher – went to Utah with our committee. Rabbi Bouskila – I took a “Torah on Tuesdays” course he taught in Beverly Hills and blogged on some of his insights. Rabbi Brous? I have had no meaningful contact with her or IKAR since then. During her Torah Slam presentation, I was not terribly impressed with her ability to articulate her knowledge of or passion for Judaism. Her thoughts just didn’t seem as authentically (or uniquely) “Jewish” as the contributions of the other rabbis. Don’t get me wrong: Rabbi Brous is very bright, and for all I know she may be able to beat any other rabbi in town on a comprehensive exam on Judaism. However, after sitting through her sermon and public presentation as an interested non-Jewish observer who wanted to be impressed, I just wasn’t feeling it.
P.S. - In response to numerous inquiries, I see no reason to take sides in the Gordis-Brous debate. However, on the question of whether IKAR is as centered on Israel as, say, Rabbi Muskin’s Young Israel shul, that’s a call that even a non-rabbi can make.
December 3, 2012 | 12:05 am
Posted by Mark Paredes
I was only too happy to accept the invitation of my friend Dr. Judea Pearl to attend last week’s commemoration/celebration at the AJU of the 1947 UN vote that created the State of Israel in Palestine. He’s been trying to make this happen for several years, and I was glad to be there to support him and his lovely wife Ruth. Not only was this recognition by the LA Jewish community long overdue, but it had the added benefit of being held on the same day as the shameful vote by the UN to recognize “Palestine” as an observer state. The event was produced by Craig Taubman, the most energetic man I have ever met.
LDS Church leaders publicly and privately expressed their support for Israel at its founding, and President David O. McKay purchased $5000 of Israel Bonds on behalf of the church the year after they were issued. He said that he did this “to show our sympathy with the effort being made to establish the Jews in their homeland.” I am unaware of similar statements or gestures made by senior Mormon leaders in favor of any other country’s independence. In recognition of this history, two prominent LDS leaders accompanied me to the event and thoroughly enjoyed it.
Rabbis Ed Feinstein and David Wolpe, two of my favorite religious leaders, delivered brief remarks, along with Dr. Pearl and Israeli Consul General David Siegel. Although the Vatican did not recognize Israel until 1993, Father Alexei Smith was chosen to speak on behalf of non-Jewish religious leaders. He shared a story of Cardinal Spellman of New York and his private support for Israel that was very touching. Being a Craig Taubman production, the pace was good and the music was great. By the time the crowd joined Noa Dori in a soulful “Hatikvah,” many of us had tears in our eyes.
I believe that the UN vote authorizing the creation of Israel was divinely ordained, and hope that Jewish and Christian communities around the country and the world will begin to set aside time every year in late November to remember this providential act. The LDS Church’s support for the establishment of Israel is yet another witness of the special relationship that exists between Mormons and Jews. It was an honor for me to represent the church at the celebration. Am Yisrael Chai!