One of the largest Israeli independence festivals in the world will be held in Los Angeles this Sunday, and once again it will feature a booth sponsored by the Mormon Church. Although my heart will be at the Celebrate Israel Festival in Cheviot Hills, my presence is required at a series of church meetings throughout the day. However, I would certainly encourage my LA-based readers to stop by our booth and greet the members of the church’s Jewish Relations Committee who will be staffing the booth throughout the day.
Not only has the LDS Church had a booth at the festival for several years, but a Mormon emceed the event on several occasions when it was held in the San Fernando Valley. Each year hundreds of visitors come to our booth to share experiences they’ve had with Mormons, ask questions about our relationship with the Jewish community, and take some of our literature explaining the Mormon-Jewish connection. Unlike Jews for Jesus and other evangelical groups, we do not distribute proselytizing material at the event. On a personal note, I have always found the presence of Jews for Jesus followers outside the entrance of the festival to be offensive and highly inappropriate.
For those wondering why the Mormon Church should have a place at the Israeli independence table, I include the following highlights in Jewish-Mormon history:
1) LDS Church President Heber J. Grant, a strong critic of anti-Semitism, was a Jewish National Fund booster. He pointed to the Balfour declaration as a divine portent and called for the Saints to look forward to the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine.
2) In 1948, Church President George Albert Smith publicly and privately assured prominent Jews of Church support for the new state. The LDS Church has always maintained good relations with the government of Israel.
3) Israel Bonds were first issued in 1951. In 1952, Church President David O. McKay purchased $5000 of them on behalf of the Church and made the following statement: “This is done to show our sympathy with the effort being made to establish the Jews in their homeland.”
4) Brigham Young University began sending students to study in Jerusalem in 1968. A permanent facility on Mt. Scopus (The BYU Jerusalem Center for Near Eastern Studies) was opened in 1987.
5) The Mormon Tabernacle choir toured Israel in 1993 and performed with the Jerusalem Symphony.
6) Prominent LDS scholars serve with Prof. Emanuel Tov of Hebrew University on the Dead Sea Scrolls Foundation. Brigham Young University was asked to digitize the scrolls.
The creation of Israel was an unmistakable sign that there is a God in heaven who is mindful of His children. Best wishes to the Celebrate Israel organizers for a successful event.