“We support our friends in Utah who have been impacted by these disturbing incidents.” – ADL Central Pacific Regional Director Daniel S. Sandman, responding to arson attacks on two LDS chapels in Salt Lake City last month
News that the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) has once again expressed support for the LDS community brought back some very pleasant memories. In 2007, a “Christian” ministry distributed 18,000 DVDs of an anti-Mormon film to LDS homes throughout the state. The only non-LDS group to denounce the bigots was the ADL, and they didn’t mince words. Bill Straus, the Arizona Regional Director, stated: “This is the same kind of plain, old-fashioned Mormon-bashing that Jim Robertson and his group have been spewing for over a quarter of a century … It was wrong then, and it’s wrong now.” The ADL’s Regional Board Chair, David Bodney, hastened to add, “Hate directed at any of us is hate directed at all of us. From whomever that hate comes, and to whomever it’s directed, ADL takes it very seriously and will continue to speak out against it.” When I called the ADL’s Phoenix office to thank them for their support, one of their leaders made an interesting observation: “They can’t fool me, Mark. I know that the anti-Mormons of today were in many cases the anti-Semites of yesterday.” In many cases he’s right.
I had the honor of representing the ADL for several years as a member of its Pacific Southwest Region’s speakers bureau. I got to speak to Hadassah ladies, havurot, and a few synagogues about the wonderful work the ADL was doing to promote understanding and tolerance. The powers that be must have noticed my enthusiasm and passion for the cause, since they went on to add another Mormon speaker (JD Payne) to the bureau.
My most memorable ADL speaking assignment was at Bakersfield College, where a special public meeting for students had been called to address an unfortunate incident. A Latino student who was opposed to Israel’s treatment of Palestinians had defaced the Israeli flag and worn it as a shirt to class. A Jewish student immediately took exception to his attire, and the administration had requested that an ADL speaker come to campus. I shall never forget the charged atmosphere in the auditorium as a Mormon explained to non-Jewish students the historical significance of the Star of David and why its mutilation would be extremely offensive to Jews. To his credit, the offender stood up, apologized to the Jewish student, and promised to be more sensitive in the future.
They say that a friend in need is a friend indeed. Although the ADL strongly supports state-sanctioned gay marriage and opposed Proposition 8 in California, its leaders – to their everlasting credit – issued the following statement after witnessing attacks on Mormon temples, white powder sent in envelopes to LDS buildings, and harassment of Mormons statewide by pro-gay marriage extremists: ““Although we strongly opposed Proposition 8, its passage does not justify the defacement and destruction of property. We urge Californians to channel their frustration and disappointment in productive and responsible ways to work towards full equality for all Americans. To place anyone in fear of threat to their houses of worship or their personal security because they have expressed deeply held religious views is contrary to everything this nation represents. Our Constitution’s First Amendment protects freedom of speech, freedom of assembly and freedom of religion for all of us.” This cannot have been an easy statement for them to make, and I love them all the more for it.
A pair of overzealous missionaries caused me great embarrassment in front of an ADL group several years ago. Amanda Susskind, the organization’s dynamic Regional Director in Los Angeles, rounded up her staff one day and asked me to give them a tour of the LDS Temple grounds. Unwisely, I had agreed in advance to allow the Director of the Visitors Center to start off the tour in a small auditorium. I had explained to him that there was to be no proselytizing, no movies shown, etc. He was simply to greet them and explain a little about the center and the temple. Well, as soon as everyone was seated the director enthusiastically told the Joseph Smith story, held up a Book of Mormon and invited someone in the group to accept it as a gift before we proceeded on the tour. I was mortified. Amanda was kind enough to accept the book, which she handed to me as we left the center. We were then greeted by a cheerful missionary from Chile, who led us to a plaque commemorating the family. I explained to her rapidly in Spanish that this was a Jewish group and that they just wanted the basics. She nodded, then asked a woman in our group to read the inscription on the plaque, which contained a reference to Jesus as the Christ. The woman diplomatically omitted these words during her reading, and at this point I took control of the tour. To this day I regret that the ADL leaders were made to feel uncomfortable by the missionaries, albeit unintentionally; as a result, whenever I bring Jewish groups to Temple Hill, I conduct the tours myself.
I am very pleased that ADL National Director Abe Foxman met with LDS Church leaders in Utah earlier this year, and I hope that LDS-ADL relations will continue to evolve. We don’t need to agree with the ADL on every issue to know that it has proved to be an organization exhibiting great integrity and decency. Yasher koach, my friends.
I will be speaking to Jews and Mormons at the Jewish Community Center in Salt Lake City on January 12, 2011. More details will be forthcoming.
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