June 6, 2010
Two Sides of Heaven
What a wonderful Mormon/Jewish weekend. I am one of the few Mormons to have a goddaughter (the practice does not exist in our faith), and Saturday night was Shaina’s first art exhibit. I marveled at the talent of this precocious 13-year-old and was only too happy to purchase greetings cards bearing her designs. I then raced from downtown LA to the Westside, where I emceed a memorable Night of the Arts sponsored by our stake (= Mormon diocese). Hors d’oeuvres were served to arriving guests, who were invited to stroll through a gallery of artwork created by Church members. The entertainment portion of the evening featured piano and organ performances of Chopin and Bach, poetry and dramatic readings, a song from Les Miserables, tap dancing, and a Mexican folk dance from Sinaloa. Ballroom dancing capped off the evening.
Today I extended greetings on behalf of the Consulate General of Israel to dentists at the annual Israel Bonds Dental Division luncheon in Beverly Hills. These people really put their money where their hearts are when it comes to Israel, and it was an honor to address them. An added bonus came when I was seated at the same table with Rabbi David Wolpe and Cantor Arianne Brown of Sinai Temple. The rabbi revealed that his mother’s job at the University of Pennsylvania’s Dental School enabled him to go to college tuition-free, and the cantor gave a moving rendition of the American and Israeli national anthems. I love several national anthems, including La Marseillaise and Het Wilhelmus, but the words to Hatikvah (“Our hope is not yet lost, The hope of two thousand years, To be a free people in our land, The land of Zion and Jerusalem”) are probably the most expressive of its citizens’ yearnings. The Jewish ones, anyway.
The speakers at the pro-Israel rally at the Israeli Consulate General managed to be both impassioned and eloquent. The most memorable lines were uttered by Rabbi Marvin Hier of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, who had this response to Helen Thomas, the veteran journalist who recently ordered Israel to “get the hell out of Palestine”: “The Jews are not in Palestine. They’re in the State of Israel, where they belong, where their ancestors lived for 2,000 years.” A personal highlight for me was chatting with Michele Bachmann, the conservative Minnesota congresswoman. She is a mother of five and foster mother to 23 children, so she occupies a very high pedestal in my world. My mother worked as a social worker in foster care for many years, and our family has unbounded admiration for foster parents who create loving homes for needy children. May her tribe increase.
I am deeply appreciative of the way in which my life is enriched by both Mormons and Jews, and hope to be able to convey this in my presentations at Kehillat Israel synagogue tomorrow night and at an interfaith conference at the University of Southern California on Friday. Shavua tov.