Posted by Mark Paredes
As a proud member of the “Jewish lobby” cited inartfully by former Senator Chuck Hagel, I fail to understand why some conservatives are pulling out all the stops in what I predict will be a futile effort to derail his nomination to be the next Secretary of Defense.
The other day I tuned in to the Hugh Hewitt show, and was more than a little surprised to hear Frank Gaffney, a former Department of Defense official whose own nomination to a senior post was blocked by the Senate , criticize Hagel for holding views on defense and foreign-policy issues that were very similar to those of President Obama. What Obama should do, according to Gaffney, is nominate someone who will oppose him on issues like cutting the defense budget, Iran, etc. Earth to Frank: you didn’t win on November 6th. Obama did. Elections matter. If our president wants to nominate someone who agrees with him on defense issues, that’s fine with me. I didn’t vote for him, and probably would not nominate someone with Hagel’s views to head our military. However, I have seen nothing so far to indicate that the former head of the USO is obviously unqualified to preside at the Pentagon.
I am also puzzled by the brouhaha over Hagel’s use of the term “Jewish lobby” while discussing Israel in an interview with former State Department advisor Aaron Miller. Yes, in the context of his remarks he probably should have said “Israel lobby” instead of Jewish lobby. However, we shouldn’t forget, as Shai Franklin writes in the Jewish Journal, that there is a Jewish lobby that promotes Jewish interests on a national and even international level. That said, Hagel erred in his subsequent apologies by stating “I know the pro-Israel lobby is comprised of both Jewish and non-Jewish Americans.” What he may not know is that the “Jewish lobby” is as well.
Whether meeting with a pastor accused of anti-Semitism, conducting outreach to Hispanics on behalf of Jews, arranging for the cleaning of a Jewish cemetery in Europe, or lecturing on Jews and tolerance on a college campus, for years I have considered myself, and felt accepted as, a member of the Jewish community (or lobby if you prefer). You don’t have to be a Jew to want Jews to succeed wildly as individuals and as a people. Israel activism is an important part of the Jewish lobby, but it is only a part. I know Mormons who teach kids in Jewish schools, work at the Jewish Federation, solicit donations for Israel’s Red Cross, and perform many other services for the Jewish community that they love. Are they political lobbyists? Not quite. However, by promoting Jewish interests they are engaged in a form of private lobbying that inspires me.
Hagel’s impolitic remark should be ignored absent other compelling evidence of anti-Semitism. I’m positive that my fellow conservatives have more important things to focus on right now, like how badly the Ravens will thrash the 49ers next month.
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January 16, 2013 | 10:37 pm
Posted by Mark Paredes
Tomorrow marks the Day of Judaism (Giorno del Giudaismo) for the Catholic Church in Italy, an annual occasion for reflection and the promotion of Catholic-Jewish ties. It has been held since 1990, and the Italian Jewish community has participated for more than a decade. This is a tradition that philo-Semitic Mormons can and should make a part of their outreach efforts to the Jewish community. How about a Day of Judaism for Mormons worldwide?
As this blog has repeatedly argued, Judaism and covenant Israel hold a special place in LDS theology. Mormons believe that they are members of the House of Israel, the Abrahamic covenant is central to our worship, the Israelite priesthood governs our church, etc. There is no other religion whose history and scriptures are so fundamental to the LDS faith.
October 24th of each year would be an appropriate day on which to celebrate Jewish-Mormon ties. On that day in 1841, Mormon Apostle Orson Hyde knelt on the Mount of Olives and dedicated the Land of Israel for the gathering of the Jewish people. Elder Hyde is the favorite Mormon of many Jews, and there is a garden named for him at Netanya Academic College in Israel. The public reading of his prayer could be a part of the day’s events, to which local Jews could be invited.
Unlike the Catholic Church, the LDS Church does not have a history of anti-Semitism. Consequently, it does not feel the same moral obligation to publicly celebrate Mormon-Jewish ties on an annual basis. However, Mormons on a local level would do well to follow their Italian Catholic brethren by publicly acknowledging their respect and affection for the Jewish people. I’m sure that Orson Hyde would approve.
January 11, 2013 | 10:09 pm
Posted by Mark Paredes
After reading Welshman Tom Doran’s essay on his intellectual journey from the anti-Zionist left to mainstream Zionism in this week’s Jewish Journal, I couldn’t help but wonder what else Jews could do to combat ant-Zionism and/or anti-Semitism in Europe. I happened to pose this question to my lovely European wife, who immediately came up with an inspired idea: “Why not create a Jewish version of ‘I’m a Mormon?’” The more I think about it, the more I wonder why a similar campaign hasn’t been launched before.
In 2010 the LDS Church launched the “I’m a Mormon” media campaign, which has been very successful in introducing people all around the world to their Mormon neighbors. In its current incarnation, non-Mormons can go to the mormon.org website and click on the “People” tab, where they can explore several features. The “I’m a Mormon” link allows viewers to watch videos of famous and not-so-famous Mormons sharing moments from their lives and introducing themselves as Mormons. The “Meet Mormons” link allows viewers to scroll through tens of thousands of online profiles of church members, searchable by gender, age, ethnicity, and location. Finally, interested viewers can chat live with Mormons if they’re interested in learning more about their faith.
Think of what an “I’m a Jew” campaign would look like for, say, Hungary. Interesting, down-to-earth Magyar-speaking Jews from Hungary and other countries, including Israel, would have a video photographer visit their homes for a day or two and record candid moments in their lives, including closing scenes where they identify themselves as Jews and give a 30-second explanation of what Judaism means to them. Hungarians would also be free to look at profiles of Hungarian Jews around the world, and could chat with them if they wanted to learn more. Conversion from stereotypes and prejudice, not religious conversion, is the ultimate goal here.
It’s hard to see how an “I’m a Jew” campaign would do any harm, and easy to see how it could break down barriers to understanding created by unfamiliarity. Having lived in Europe four times, I know many Europeans who do not have any Jewish friends or acquaintances. I’m sure that Jewish communities in the U.S., Europe, and Israel have the resources – human, technological, and financial – to launch a professional pilot campaign in one or two countries. As with any PR campaign, the target audience is not the fanatics but the fair-minded. I have said for many years that the best ambassadors for Judaism and Israel are Jews, and this would be a great chance for them to demonstrate this. I can’t wait to see the first videos.
January 5, 2013 | 10:28 pm
Posted by Mark Paredes
In a Gallup poll released on Christmas Eve, Mormons were the “most religious” of any faith group surveyed by far – 87% of us said that our religion was important to our daily lives, and 81% of us attend worship services at least monthly. At the other end of the spectrum, Jews were the least likely to profess a daily attachment to their faith (41%) or attend worship services (32%).
Before I started working in the Jewish community, I would have been surprised by these figures. However, I know now that while a lot of Jews avoid praying in synagogues or engaging in daily Torah study, almost all of the Jews I know respect, honor and live the wonderful Jewish values that have enriched and enlightened the world. They value education, family, tradition, and tolerance, and are often leaders in their community. Mormons are increasingly known for espousing similar values. How, then, to explain the great disparity in religious observance? Several differences between the two communities immediately come to mind.
First, a far higher percentage of Mormons are converts. Both my wife and I are converts, as are many of our friends and acquaintances in the church. There is no zeal quite like a convert’s enthusiasm for his new faith, which is also very infectious. By way of contrast, the overwhelming majority of Jews were born into their faith, one that does not actively seek converts.
Second, Mormonism is strictly a religious identity, and the way to express that identity is to go to church and participate in the community’s religious rites and rituals. Jews, of course, are members of both a religion and a people with a distinctive culture and history. Consequently, there are many ways of expressing one’s Jewishness that have nothing to do with religion. In fact, Jews can be atheists and still be considered as Jewish as Orthodox rabbis. There may well be Mormon atheists, but I have yet to meet one.
Third, on a related note, the percentage of all Mormons attending at least one meeting a month seems a bit too high. This is probably because the Mormons in the survey self-identified as members of the LDS Church. While active Mormons are likely to share their religious identity with strangers, “less active” Mormons who don’t attend church are probably more likely to choose another religious label, including “none.” In my experience, even Jews who never see the inside of a synagogue are quick to identify themselves as Jewish.
Fourth, Mormons do not have professional clergy members or staff in their congregations. This puts the burden of running the church at the local level on lay members, who are called to lead congregations, teach Sunday School, deliver sermons, keep records, serve and visit other members, etc. Most members have at least one such calling, making it easier for their religion to become important to their daily lives.
Finally, our missionary program makes a big difference. Every year we send tens of thousands of missionaries all over the world to share our beliefs with others. We tend to love what we sacrifice for, and our missionaries come home with increased discipline, knowledge, love for their area of service, and dedication to their faith. I have publicly stated many times my desire for Judaism to become a proselytizing faith once again, which I have no doubt would raise the level of religious observance throughout the Jewish community to historic levels.
Best wishes for a successful, memorable 2013 to all of my readers.
December 30, 2012 | 6:45 pm
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.
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.