On Thanksgiving eve, a common table was set for members of two often-at-odds religious groups (Muslims and Jews) in a place riddled with conflict (Jerusalem) staged at a site sponsored by a third faith (Mormons).
The diners — all workers at Brigham Young University’s Jerusalem Center — came together to commemorate the center’s 25th anniversary.
“This is not a coexistence project or an experiment devoted to peacemaking, but simply daily work — the mutual interest of all involved,” Ophir Yarden writes in an opinion piece for The Times of Israel. “In academics and instruction, in administration, support, security, maintenance and in the kitchen, Arabs and Jews work together. Harmoniously.”
Several speeches that night mentioned opposition to the BYU Center when it was proposed in the mid-1980s. Opponents demonstrated at the Western Wall against government approval for the project, Yarden writes, while at least one author feared that Mormon evangelism would produce a “spiritual holocaust.”
But the Utah-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints agreed not to allow any Mormons or students to proselytize in Israel, and, Yarden says, the group has kept its word.
“I have had the privilege to teach Jewish and Israel studies to well over 1,000 BYU students,” he writes. “The word on campus is clear: There is no proselytizing — or even discussion of Mormon beliefs. I teach them Judaism; they do not share LDS doctrine with the local population.”
In the intervening decades, the mixing of cultures at the center has been good for the students and the city, Yarden writes. Jerusalem’s former mayor, the late Teddy Kollek, once predicted “the Mormon church’s presence in Jerusalem can do a great deal of work in providing the bridge of understanding between the Arab[s] and Jews.”
That, Yarden writes, has “proven quite true.”
Peggy Fletcher Stack