“There is in England a saying that an anti-Semite is someone who hates the Jews more than is necessary.” – Israeli President Shimon Peres
It’s too bad that Mr. Peres didn’t accompany me earlier this month to London. And Edinburgh. And Leicester. Had he done so, he would have seen a thousand Brits – mostly Mormons—take time out of their busy schedules to listen to a speaker sing the praises of Jews and Judaism, a subject dear to their hearts. The same dynamic occurred in Copenhagen, Budapest, Bucharest, and Chisinau, the hometown of the current Israeli Foreign Minister. Of the many things that I learned during my third pro-Jewish speaking tour of Europe, the principle that has become an axiom in my mind is that stereotypes about European anti-Semitism should not be applied across the board and in fact can often be jettisoned. This is especially true when dealing with the continent’s growing LDS community.
Case in point: Hungary. There was standing room only in the lovely chapel in Budapest last Wednesday evening. Hundreds of Mormons and their friends had come from several cities in Hungary not because they knew the speaker (indeed, I had never met any of them before), but because they knew that he would be speaking about Jews in Magyar, their melodic native language. I have found that advocating support for Jews in German, Magyar, and Polish creates an intimate, emotional connection between the speaker and the audience, some of whom are old enough to remember a time when Jews were rounded up in their cities and deported to death camps. Speaking in American English to Americans just doesn’t have the same dynamic. Not only were the Hungarians extraordinarily gracious and respectful, but several of them told me that they had never heard a public speech in Magyar advocating respect and support for Jews. I was assured that there were many more Hungarians who shared their love and admiration for the Jewish people. If I were a Jewish leader in Hungary, I’d figure out a way to reach them.
I have now visited 15 countries and spoken in 8 languages on the importance of LDS-Jewish collaboration. I am often asked why I expend so much time and effort to make these trips. The simple truth is that I know that things are not going to get better for Jews living outside of the U.S. and Israel. Prophets can see over the horizon, and I’m certainly not a prophet. However, for some time now I have been viewing the dark clouds gathering on the horizon. I feel impressed to leave my testimony of the importance of supporting the planet’s 14 million Jews with people of goodwill in the U.S. and abroad. Ultimately, I believe that only divine intervention and grace have saved and will save many Jews from utter destruction at the hands of their enemies. However, we mortals also have a responsibility to educate people around the world on the beauty and relevance of Judaism and Jewish values. I do not want it to be said of me that I was a passive observer who sat around and did nothing while anti-Semitism continued to metastasize around the world.
It is my hope that Mormons and other philo-Semites will find a way to contribute to the ongoing revival of Jewish life in Hungary, Poland, and other Central and Eastern European countries. In order for them to do so, local Jewish leaders should be encouraged to extend a hand of friendship to them and build bridges of friendship, trust and understanding. Joint Passover seders, Shabbat dinners, and service projects are good places to start.
This hope was buoyed by the events that bookended my last day in Budapest. I arose early to make my way to the Danube River and pay my respects at the bronze shoes memorial to Holocaust victims designed by Gyula Pauer. As I knelt down to view the shoes more closely, I was surprised by a young bearded guy wearing a kippah (the only identifiable Jew I saw in Budapest) who appeared out of nowhere and asked me if I could read Hebrew. When I nodded, he knelt down beside me, placed the kippah on my head, and asked me to recite a psalm with him. Afterwards, he took the picture that accompanies this essay. It’s transcendent moments like this that let me know that I’m not alone on these trips.
As I made my way to the hotel to take a taxi to the airport, I was approached on the street by a lovely young girl (also pictured) who worked for a company that sold sightseeing tours to tourists. When I motioned that I wasn’t interested, she smiled and told me in excellent English that she had attended my presentation the previous evening. She said that she and her family had always had a great deal of respect for Jews, and that she in particular had always felt close to them as a Mormon in an inexplicable way. Her name? Rebecca Abraham.