Hine ma tov u’ma naim
Shevet achim gam yachad
[“How good and pleasant it is
When brothers dwell together in unity”]
- Jewish hymn
There was certainly a lot of unity on display on Sunday night in Lenexa, Kansas. More than a thousand Mormons and Jews gathered to witness a theological dialogue between Conservative Rabbi Alan Cohen, Director of Interreligious Affairs for the JCRC in Kansas City, and yours truly (see picture at right). After an hour of discussing prayer, worship, halachic pluralism, and proselytizing, we took questions from the audience. The most memorable one was from a young man who wanted to know what the difference was between Orthodox and “un-Orthodox” Jews. [I can think of many Orthodox rabbis who would have given him two thumbs up for that one]. This is the second Jewish-LDS dialogue in Missouri that has drawn more than a thousand people; the first one took place in St. Louis last year when I shared the pulpit with another Conservative rabbi. It looks like the “Show-Me” State is showing the rest of the country how interested Mormons and Jews are in learning about each other.
The dialogue was the result of one of those random encounters that sometimes bear fruit in unexpected ways. Last year Rabbi Cohen contacted Larry Nicholson, an LDS photographer and lucky husband of author Dorinda Nicholson (“Pearl Harbor Child”). After seeing the word “interreligious” in the rabbi’s title, Larry suggested to Dorinda, who is also a local public affairs leader in the LDS Church, that she speak with Rabbi Cohen to see whether he might be interested in working with her on an interfaith project. The rest, as they say, is history.
Our event capped a very productive bridge-building week for me. On Friday night I joined LDS leaders, Rabbi Cohen and Rabbi Robert Tobin for a worship service and dinner at Congregation Beth Shalom in Kansas City. On Wednesday I was honored to speak at the stunning Jewish Community Center in Salt Lake City, where I learned that most couples in the city’s Kol Ami synagogue are interfaith, including many LDS-Jewish pairings. The evening couldn’t have gone better: I was interviewed by the state’s two leading newspapers, my journalistic colleague Christa Woodall attended my speech (she blogs on LDS-Jewish issues for J Weekly in San Francisco), I got to hold my friend Karen’s three-month-old baby girl, and a lovely LDS woman presented me with two copies of her recently-published book “The Jews of Valencia and Tortosa and The Spanish Inquisition.” I have already found homes for them.
It’s weeks like this that make it all worth it. Shavua tov, everyone.