On my first day as the new press attaché at the Israeli Consulate General in Los Angeles, Consul General Yuval Rotem took me into his office and playfully wagged his finger in my face. “You’d better behave yourself here,” he warned, “or I’ll tell [LDS Church] President Hinckley on you.” Utah is in the consulate’s district, and Yuval met regularly with senior Church officials, including the Church President. The LDS Church has had an official relationship with the government of Israel since the establishment of the state, which it supported. Indeed, the Church was the first major Christian church to purchase Israel Bonds.
I was therefore pleased to hear of last week’s visit to Utah by outgoing Israeli UN Ambassador Gabriela Shalev, who is returning to Israel later this month. It seems she has made many LDS friends in New York City, and they invited her to visit Utah as part of her farewell tour. She toured Temple Square and the Church’s Welfare Square and Humanitarian Center, which are monuments to the good that religious organizations can do around the world.
Ambassador Shalev is the second high-profile Jewish leader to visit Utah this year. In April Abraham Foxman, National Director of the Anti-Defamation League, traveled to Salt Lake City for the first time, where he met with six LDS apostles and sat down with the editorial board of Church-owned Deseret News, the state’s oldest daily newspaper. He praised the Church’s humanitarian service and genealogy programs, and also noted that Jews and Mormons often encounter prejudice and bigotry. In a moment of inspiration, Mr. Foxman said that Mormons and Jews need to become closer through mutual understanding.
With a Jewish Federation, a Jewish Community Center, and seven Jewish congregations in a state that hosts the headquarters of a major Christian faith, Utah may soon become a new stop on the beaten path for Jewish leaders interested in interfaith cooperation and dialogue. As they travel alongside a river named Jordan that joins saltwater and freshwater lakes, they should feel right at home.