As the saying goes, well begun is half done. Last Friday night Rabbi Arnold Rachlis of University Synagogue dialogued with two LDS leaders during an informative presentation of Mormon beliefs at a shabbat service. The several hundred attendees, including many Mormon guests, were treated to the beautiful voices of Cantor Ruti Braier and the synagogue’s choir prior to the dialogue, and every effort was made to help the the non-Jewish audience members to follow the service. For me, the highlight of the evening was Rabbi Rachlis’s invitation to all first-time visitors to the synagogue, including non-Jews, to step up to the bimah (stage) and open the Torah ark. His graciousness was very much appreciated.
The dialogue itself was well-organized and well-paced. Dr. Armand Mauss, a retired sociology professor, and UC Irvine Institute (LDS Hillel) Director Brett Holbrook both made brief opening statements, followed by a dialogue with the rabbi. As advertised, the questions were probing ones: Why do Mormons oppose gay marriage? What about proxy ordinances in LDS temples? Why do Mormons claim to have an Israelite identity? Armand and Brett handled the questions very well, and the rabbi created a warm, open atmosphere conducive to sharing.
The synagogue’s graciousness extended to the post-dialogue oneg (reception), where grateful Mormon guests found plenty of chocolate and a “non-caffeinated” table with soft drinks. An old friend happens to be the LDS bishop for that part of Irvine, and he was beaming when I left the event. I later found out that he gave a Jewish couple’s car a jump in the parking lot, but not before jokingly asking them whether this might be God’s way of reminding them not to drive on the Sabbath. Their response? This was a Reconstructionist synagogue, so He approved.
I am always moved by the sight of Mormons and Jews getting together and sharing, and Friday’s event had me smiling all the way home. I’m optimistic that the event will lead to the establishment of an ongoing dialogue with members of the synagogue. It would be wonderful to have similar dialogues in every city with congregations of Mormons and Jews. As luck would have it, an LDS leader from another large city attended the event with his wife and promised to do what he could to start a dialogue there. Here’s to hoping that the University Synagogue dialogue will be a catalyst for increased Jewish-LDS cooperation in Orange County and beyond.
Thousand Oaks Stake Director of Public Affairs Larry Bagby and I will be making a presentation on LDS beliefs at Adat Elohim on March 16 @ 7:30 p.m.
I will make a presentation on LDS-Jewish relations at Harvard University on April 8.
Rabbi Barry Block and I will engage in dialogue during the San Antonio (TX) West Stake’s Education Weekend on April 15, and I will make a separate presentation on April 16 entitled “Mormons and Jews in the Latter Days: A Zion Relationship.”
My podcast interview on LDS-Jewish relations is available on the LDS Church’s official radio station: http://feeds.lds.org/WhyIBelieve