Tonight was the annual Festival of Lights dinner sponsored by the international pro-Israel educational organization StandWithUs (SWU), one of the highlights of my year. I’ve been affiliated with SWU from the beginning, and had the honor of serving on its first speakers panel with Tashbih Sayyed (of blessed memory), Roberta Seid, and Cookie Lommel. More than a thousand people of many ethnicities, religions, and races crowded the Century Plaza Hotel to pay tribute to the efforts of an effective organization that is working to educate leaders in several countries about issues relating to Jews and Israel.
Truth be told, the SWU dinner and similar events in the Jewish community are always a little bittersweet for me. While I love seeing my friends and celebrating their achievements, I always find myself asking the same question that was put to me during this evening’s reception by a rabbi: when are the Mormons going to have their own pro-Israel organization? I gave him my usual retort about the Mormon Church already being the world’s largest pro-Israel organization and quickly changed the subject.
While it is true that the LDS Church has always supported Israel (indeed, it is the only country whose creation was prophesied and publicly sanctioned by church leaders), the rabbi’s point was valid. The LDS Church does not take official positions on political issues, including those related to the Middle East. I believe that this is a wise policy for a church to take. However, in a time when Iran is threatening Israel while developing a nuclear weapons program, boycott and divestment movements are gaining steam in the U.S. and Europe, and efforts to delegitimize Israel and Zionism are increasingly targeting mainstream Christian churches, it would be nice for the many Mormons across the country who staunchly support the Jewish people and Israel to have an LDS organization that speaks for them, while not claiming to speak for their church. There is already a wonderful Utah-based LDS organization (B’nai Shalom) that seeks to further Jewish-LDS understanding, but it does not take positions on political issues.
Without an organization that deals with local Jewish leaders on a daily basis, Mormons will never have a seat at the Jewish community table. Right now the only Christians at that table are Evangelicals, and wise Jews will accept their support. Indeed, I know several Mormons who regularly attend events sponsored by prominent pro-Israel Evangelical groups. However, as I have attempted to show in this blog, Mormons have much more to say to Jews than other Christians, and our theology concerning the House of Israel is much more complete. In addition, we can show others how it is possible to support Israel without being anti-Muslim or anti-Arab. Some Mormons worry about whether non-Mormons could mistake the positions of unofficial LDS groups for the official positions of the LDS Church. Thankfully, this is not a concern with Jews: since no Jew can speak for the entire Jewish people, Jews do not assume that a Mormon (or Baptist or Catholic) is speaking on behalf of his faith unless he explicitly says so. A simple, repeated disclaimer by the pro-Jewish LDS group should be sufficient. There are always reasons not to reach out to other groups, but in this case any Mormon fears of possible confusion do not accurately reflect the thought processes of the target group (the Jewish community). Jews are highly intelligent people, and I have absoute faith in their ability to distinguish between an official position taken by Mormon officials and statements of support made by Jew-loving Mormons.
The proverbial field is white for Mormons to become an important part of the organized Jewish community. At tonight’s event, the rabbis and pastors in attendance were not announced by name, but the LDS representative was. Two important Jewish newspapers allow Mormons to blog on LDS-Jewish issues on their websites. Mormons work for many Jewish organizations, and their numbers are growing every year. I can think of many fine Mormons around the country who should be interfacing with local Jewish leaders as leaders of an unofficial pro-Israel Mormon organization. There is no doubt that the Jewish leaders who came to the StandWithUs event tonight would be happy to attend a similar event put on by Israel-loving Mormons. I pray that the day will soon come when Mormons who want to support Israel will not need to attend events sponsored by Evangelical groups, but will have the resources to organize their own. I welcome any ideas and/or suggestions from LDS and Jewish readers on this topic.
I will be speaking at the Jewish Community Center in Salt Lake City on the evening of January 12. I will also be speaking with Rabbi Alan Cohen in Kansas City on the evening of January 16. Single LDS women are especially encouraged to attend.