Israel ties valued as part of Mormon-Jewish cooperation
August 28, 2012 1 Comment
By Lauren Appelbaum and Ashley Gold
Tampa, Fla., Aug. 28 – “Why should Jews and Mormons sit and talk?” Dr. Abraham Peck asked during a panel organized by the American Jewish Committee at the Republican National Convention.
Peck, executive director of the Center for Catholic-Jewish Studies at St. Leo University in Florida, said both Jews and Mormons need to be included in interfaith dialogue which is taking on greater importance in the United States.
The two groups have a strong basis for friendship, stemming from the fact that that Mormons see Jews as biblically-related cousins and that both religions place a high value on primacy of the family.
Fellow panelist Gregory Smith, who is Mormon and now works for the pro-Israel lobbying organization AIPAC, expressed the same sentiment when describing his journey to become an Israel advocate.
“It’s an American value to support a strong U.S.-Israel relationship,” Smith said – something Mormons and Jews both believe very strongly.
Smith, who became an Israel advocate during his time at Brigham Young University, added other factors the two communities share – a common feeling historically of alienation and homelessness and common challenge today to make their native soil fertile.
Both Mormons and Jews had the challenge of “making the desert bloom,” Smith explained. Mormons often traveled to Israel to learn best practices for raising crops in arid climates.
Smith expressed pride in fellow Mormon Mitt Romney’s candidacy for the presidency, a historical first.
“Much like when Joe Lieberman was nominated for vice president, I imagine there was a sense of pride in the American Jewish community. The Mormon community feels the same. We feel emboldened that there is a Mormon on the ticket, regardless of party … The American public is more accepting of my faith and that makes me proud.”
Lieberman, an orthodox Jew, was Democrat Al Gore’s running mate in the 2000 election which was decided by the Supreme Court in favor of George W. Bush.
Mitt Romney, who will be declared the Republican presidential nominee on Thursday, has shied away from discussing his Mormon faith. In February, Nobel Peace Prize winner and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel called on Romney to stop Mormons from posthumously baptizing Jews including Holocaust victims. For the most part, the panelists said, this issue has been resolved.
Mormons believe that baptism is an indispensable requirement to enter heaven and thus their practice of Baptism for the Dead gives people who have died without ever having had the opportunity to receive baptism the opportunity to receive it by proxy.
Jews view the practice as insulting to their faith by implying that no Jews can reach heaven just by being Jewish. They are particularly outraged that Holocaust victims who died purely because of their Jewish identity, should be considered for such a practice.
Smith stressed the importance of acceptance, by both the Jewish community and the American public, of a leader’s faith. “If you can somehow discredit their faith, you can discredit the person,” he said.