If Romney wins: Five things every Jew should know about Mormonism
1. Devout Mormons can be found all across the political spectrum.
The Mormon Church doesn’t endorse candidates or political parties, and although most American Mormons are Republicans, a Mormon Democrat has served as the Senate Majority Leader for the last five years. Owing to our history of persecution and emphasis on self-reliance, there is also a noteworthy group of Mormons with libertarian sympathies who do not easily identify with either party.
Mormons can be found on all sides of most issues. On immigration, for example, many Mormons tend to be more liberal than other Republicans (or Democrats, for that matter). Many of us have served missions abroad, and tend not to be too judgmental of people who come here seeking a better life. Although Mormons generally agree on many important moral issues (see below), there is no consensus on economics and the proper role of government. We all agree, for example, that we have an obligation to help the poor. However, the extent to which government should help meet their needs by taxing others is a point of contention among followers of most faiths, including ours.
2. Mormonism is part of the Judeo-Christian tradition.
Our church (the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) bears the name of the Christian Savior, we believe in the God of Israel, we accept the Hebrew Bible and New Testament as Scripture, we worship in chapels and temples, and we consider ourselves to be covenant Israelites. Mormons follow the Ten Commandments and are Noahides. In addition, the Abrahamic Covenant is central to our faith. Like Jews, the family is central to our faith, and our idea of heaven is to live with our spouses and families for eternity.
3. A Mormon president would not take orders from Salt Lake City.
If Mitt Romney wins, he’ll undoubtedly have the same arrangement with top church leaders that other Mormons have with local leaders: They don’t tell us how to do our jobs, and we don’t tell them how to run the church. Even Romney’s most intractable foes haven’t accused LDS church headquarters of drafting Romneycare in Massachusetts, and it’s safe to assume that church leaders aren’t behind Harry Reid’s shameful promotion of Las Vegas gambling interests in Washington. Mormons are used to looking to their leaders for spiritual advice, not professional guidance. While I would certainly expect Romney to consult with Mormon leaders as part of his general outreach efforts to faith communities (including Jewish leaders), I am confident that he will be his own man when it comes to formulating policies for the nation. I am also confident that Mormons will not be overrepresented in his administration, as Romney has a history of hiring capable people from all backgrounds to work for him.
4. On moral issues, Mormons are not extreme right-wingers.
A closer look shows the views of most Mormons on these issues to be much more nuanced. Let’s take abortion, for example. The LDS church is very much against it but does allow for possible exceptions in the case of rape, incest, a threat to the mother’s life or when the baby is not expected to survive childbirth. That’s pretty much Romney’s campaign’s abortion platform.
On gay issues, it is accurate to say that Mormons oppose state-sanctioned, same-sex marriage. However, it is both inaccurate and insulting to say that we are anti-gay. We can and do support many other issues that are important to gays. For example, former LDS Sen. Gordon Smith (R-Ore.) introduced a Senate bill that would have added sexual orientation to the list of protected categories for hate crimes. Every Mormon I know is opposed to discrimination against gays in education, employment and housing. We also support rights for same-sex couples regarding hospitalization and medical care, probate rights, etc., so long as the integrity of the traditional family is not affected. As for theology, the LDS church teaches that homosexuality is not sinful in and of itself, as long as one remains chaste.
Although Mormons tend to have more children than the national average, our church doesn’t take a position on birth control. In addition, the church takes no position on capital punishment, stem-cell research, evolution or global warming. As a result, faithful Mormons are advocates for positions on all sides of these issues.
5. Mormons are philo-Semites and pro-Israel.
One of our basic Articles of Faith affirms: “We believe in the literal gathering of Israel and in the restoration of the Ten Tribes.” In 1841, LDS Apostle Orson Hyde offered a prayer on the Mount of Olives dedicating the Land of Israel for the gathering of the Jews. Israel went on to receive at least 11 apostolic blessings before the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948. For more than five decades (1870s-1920s), the church seriously considered establishing a Mormon colony in Palestine. Today, Brigham Young University has a beautiful center on Mount Scopus with the best view of the Old City in Jerusalem.
In the United States, Mormon pioneers arrived in the Utah territory in 1847. The first Jews arrived two years later, in 1849. The first Jewish worship service was held in 1864 in Salt Lake City. Rosh Hashanah was celebrated in Temple Square (the city center) in 1865. Brigham Young donated his personal land for a Jewish cemetery in 1866. In 1903, church President Joseph F. Smith spoke at the ceremony for the laying of the cornerstone for the state’s first Orthodox synagogue, which was largely paid for by the church. The second and third Jewish governors in the country were elected in Idaho (1914) and Utah (1916), the two states with the highest percentage of Mormons. Salt Lake City had a Jewish mayor by 1932, more than four decades before New York City.
Most Mormons in this country are very pro-Israel, and Romney is no exception. He has a close, decades-long personal relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who looks likely to be elected to another term. If Romney is elected, Jews and Israelis can be assured that they will have a true friend in the White House.
Shoah group halts talks with Mormons on posthumous baptism of Jews
A Holocaust survivor organization has broken off negotiations with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) over its practice of posthumously baptizing Jewish victims of the Nazis.
At a news conference Monday, leaders of the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and their Descendants, seated in front of panels listing names of Holocaust victims they say were baptized by the Mormons, said that 14 years of quiet negotiations have proven fruitless.
“We felt we had come to the end of the line,” said Ernest Michel, honorary chairman of the American Gathering. “There is no further point in meeting with them.”
Mormon leaders reacted with surprise to news of the American Gathering’s decision. In a statement, the church said it stood by its 1995 commitment to stop baptizing Holocaust victims and remove their names from the database if they become known — the only remaining question was how best to do so. As recently as Nov. 6, the church wrote to Michel to describe further steps to allay the concerns of survivors.
“We empathize with the depth of feeling of all Jews regarding the Holocaust,” the church said in the statement. “It is our regard and empathy that have kept us talking for so many years.”
The concern of Holocaust survivors stems from the Mormon belief that individuals retain the opportunity to accept or reject church sacraments, including baptism, even after death. Under church policy, members are supposed to submit names only of their relatives. The church has become a global leader in genealogical research to facilitate the research of family histories.
In 1995, the church agreed to remove the names of Holocaust victims from its database, known as the International Genealogical Index, or IGI — a rare suspension of church practice, the church says, done because of the singular nature of the Holocaust and the sensitivities of survivors.
Michel claims, however, that new baptisms continue to be performed and new names submitted to the database, though he acknowledges the complexity of preventing new submissions. Millions of church members submit 30,000 new names a day, the church says, and improper submissions are always expected. A new system under development would make it easier to flag submissions as Holocaust victims for whom temple ordinances should not be performed.
“That’s their problem; it’s not my problem,” Michel said. “They put them in; they got to take them out. That’s the bottom line.”
Jewish communal leaders have been reluctant to back Michel’s campaign, saying that at a time of mounting challenges on several fronts, the internal practices of another religious group — offensive as they may be — should not be a top Jewish agenda item.
Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, said Michel expressed interest in discussing the matter with him. But the Reform leader said that he does not see making it a high-priority issue. Yoffie said the internal processes of the Mormon Church are something over which Jews have no control.
“I don’t think this is going to become a major focus of the Jewish community, which now is dealing with a whole range of issues,” Yoffie said. “I wish them well in their efforts.”
But Michel, who frequently stresses that his negotiations with the Mormons have always remained polite and respectful, said the practice is hurtful to Holocaust survivors. He also worries about the uses to which Holocaust deniers may some day put the Mormon records.
“They tell me that my parents’ Jewishness has not been altered,” said Michel’s prepared remarks for the news conference, which was held on the 70th anniversary of Kristallnacht. “But in 100 years, how will they be able to guarantee that my mother and father of blessed memory, who lived as Jews and were slaughtered by Hitler for no other reason than they were Jews, will some day not be identified as Mormon victims of the Holocaust?”
It can’t happen here
A coalition of black and Mormon leaders have begun laying the groundwork for a 2012 California ballot initiative that would ban Jews from marrying Jews.
Flush from the passage of Proposition 8, which banned gay marriage in the state, the leaders say they want to extend the ban to Jews whose emphasis on in-marriage, they say, contravenes Scripture and promotes intolerance and segregation.
“In-marriage is against Scripture,” said one organizer. “We are all God’s children. It sends a message that one group’s blood is too good to mix with another group’s blood.”
“What are we,” the organizer added, “chopped liver?”
Defending what is bound to be a controversial measure, the organizer said strong support for the passage of Proposition 8 in the black, Latino and Mormon religious communities proved that, in four years, more “so-called civil rights” could be reshaped by popular will.
As evidence, he cited pro-Proposition 8 statements from Dr. Frederick K.C. Price, who leads the 22,000-member Crenshaw Christian Center.
“Marriage is between a man and a woman,” said Price on behalf of Proposition 8. “Let us stand with God in saying the definition of marriage must not change.”
At the urging of their church leaders, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also called the Mormon Church, donated an estimated $22 million to promote Proposition 8 and backed Web sites urging voters to support it.
A letter sent to Mormon bishops and signed by church President Thomas S. Monson and his two top counselors called on Mormons to donate “means and time” to the ballot measure.
“Marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God, and the formation of families is central to the Creator’s plan for His children,” Monson wrote.
The authors of the anti-Jewish marriage initiative say when leaders believe they have Scripture on their side, they can get their followers to fix any flaws in any constitution.
“People choose to remain gay, and people choose to remain Jewish,” said an organizer. “Why should the majority of us be forced to honor that choice?”
The Jewish prohibition against intermarriage is commonly attributed to a biblical passage, Deuteronomy 7:3: “Neither shalt thou make marriages with them; thy daughter thou shalt not give unto his son, nor his daughter shalt thou take unto thy son.”
But one church leader said they have an entirely different interpretation of this passage.
“It only applies to Hitties and Amorites,” he said, “and I don’t see a lot of them around.”
By his calculation, the Torah only prohibits intermarriage if the children that result from such a union are turned away from their Jewish faith.
“Moses married Tziporra, who was the daughter of a Midianite priest,” said the preacher. “Ruth, the great-grandmother of King David, was a convert. Queen Esther, who saved the Jews from Haman in the Purim story, was married to the Persian, non-Jewish King Ahashverus.”
“Don’t tell me the Bible doesn’t understand intermarriage.”
Asked whether he wasn’t simply asking voters to impose their interpretation of the Bible on a minority group, one black church leader countered, “Well, what do you think we did with Proposition 8?”
The organizer admitted that the initiative to ban Jewish-Jewish marriage was the first step toward other initiatives to ban kosher slaughter and ritual circumcision, two widespread Jewish practices that the Christian gospel does not follow.
Defending this plan, one organizer cited Pastor Beverly Crawford of Bible Enrichment Fellowship International’s defense of her support for Proposition 8: She wasn’t saying no to gays, she told the press, but “yes to God” and doing what “the Lord Jesus Christ” would do.
“We think the same rule should apply to all laws, not just marriage laws,” said one organizer. “We’re not saying no to Jews. We’re saying yes to Jesus.”
Organizers know they will face a tough battle — but just among Jews. Some 78 percent of Jewish voters in Los Angeles opposed the ban on gay marriage, and just 8 percent supported Proposition 8, according to exit polling by the Leavey Center for the Study of Los Angeles at Loyola Marymount University.
Meanwhile, a relative handful of Mormon, black and Catholic leaders stood against their churches on Proposition 8. Contacted by The Journal, these leaders said their position was rooted in Scripture and the principle of the separation of church and state. They said they hoped their small example would convince more of their church members to oppose future attempts to curtail civil rights.
But Proposition 8’s supporters said they feel the wind at their backs, and they are going forward with their next initiative. Asked how he could possibly succeed in denying the civil rights of a minority based on one narrow interpretation of the Bible, one organizer summed up the feelings of the Jewish-Jewish marriage opponents.
“We did it once,” he said. “We can do it again.”
Yes, this is satire. No such proposition is in the works, or even a gleam in any group’s eye. The Jews have not been singled out for discrimination, just homosexuals. So why worry?
Frank Zappa/The Mothers of Invention: ‘It can’t happen here!’
Chabad finds possible solution to land-use problem in Pacific Palisades
Two weeks ago, Rabbi Zushe Cunin, head of Chabad of Pacific Palisades, believed he would be facing a protracted and difficult battle before he might hear the joyous voices of youngsters playing at Chabad’s new location for Palisades Jewish Early Childhood Center in Pacific Palisades.
Since April, homeowners surrounding the school’s proposed new site, as well as officials of the nearby Getty Villa and the Mormon Church, have expressed strong opposition to the relocation to a leased vacant building off Los Liones Drive. The building sits on private property located below a ridge of expensive homes in the Castellammare Mesa area, adjacent to a Getty Villa service road and to property owned by the Mormon Church.
These opponents have voiced concerns about noise, safety and traffic. But more problematic — and a possible showstopper — they claim Chabad does not have the right to access the building via the Getty’s private service road, the church’s property or the hillside backyard of the building’s owner, off Bellino Drive.
But the recent discovery of a long-overlooked legal document could substantially alter the situation, potentially allowing for a public street to be constructed that would lead directly to the entrance of the proposed site.
“It’s major,” said Cunin, explaining that the public street would cross part of the Getty’s private road as well as portions of the Mormon Church’s parking lot. Chabad is preparing to have the area formally surveyed.
The document, “an irrevocable offer to dedicate,” which was recorded on Jan. 4, 1973, was uncovered during a preliminary title search on the Mormon Church property by David Lacy, founder of Senior Realty Advisors of Covina and himself a Mormon, who has been an adviser to Chabad for its real estate acquisitions for more than a decade.
The document designates a strip of land 25 feet long with variable widths that ends, according to Lacy, at the entrance to the 3,000 square-foot vacant building at the foot of a steep 1.64-acre hillside property belonging to longtime resident Gene Gladden. Chabad is renting this building from Gladden, having signed a three-year lease with a 20-year option last January.
Additionally, the 25-foot easement is shown crossing both the Getty Road and the Mormon property and is shown on a parcel map dated Jan. 19, 1973, which Lacy also found.
The controversy arose after Chabad of Pacific Palisades was forced to find a new preschool location when it received notice that the lease on the current Temescal Gateway Park site would end in June 2008. Cunin was making preliminary preparations on what he believed was the ideal new site for the preschool’s nature-based curriculum when, in early April, he received a letter from Getty Trust attorney Lori Fox denying Chabad access to the building via the Getty Villa’s private service road.
Additionally, members of the 141-family Castellamare Mesa Home Owners Association protested Chabad’s right to enter the property through Gladden’s hillside backyard off Bellino Drive. The Mormon Church also denied a request from Chabad to approach the building through its parking lot, which abuts Gladden’s property. Church officials cited inconvenience for its members as well as potential liability,
Cunin, along with real estate adviser Lacy, believes the potential public street could resolve the thorny access issue. But others, including Chabad’s attorney, Benjamin Reznik, a partner at Jeffer, Mangels, Butler and Marmaro, expressed caution.
“It is still being investigated,” Reznik said. “We have to look at it ourselves.”
Additionally, Los Angeles City Councilman Bill Rosendahl, who has been meeting with the involved parties, said, “The city will obviously do its own research,” stating that it’s the city’s role to determine the validity of the claim.
For the Getty, according to Julie Jaskol, the Getty’s assistant director of media relations, the potential public roadway is a nonissue.
“It’s not actually an easement,” she said. “It’s an offer to dedicate that has been standing for 30-some years and that only covers part of the road.”
The history of this potential public street is complicated. According to Chabad adviser Lacy, it can be traced back to 1932, when the then-property owner, whose name is not known, placed certain easements on property owned in that area, providing for roadways, sanitation and utilities for possible future subdivision and development.
The easements were still in place when the consequent property owner, Garden Land Investment Corp., whom Lacy believes may have acquired the land in the 1950s, sold a three-acre parcel to the Mormon Church in 1970. As part of its conditional-use permit to construct the building, the Mormon Church agreed in the document, signed Jan. 4, 1973, to “an irrevocable offer to dedicate” to the city of Los Angeles an easement for public street purposes, should it ever be required.
The Mormon Church does not want to lose any more land, according to Keith Atkinson, West Coast spokesperson for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Atkinson, who said he only recently learned about the 25-foot easement, claimed that if the public road were implemented, the church would lose up to 10 spaces in its parking lot, for which he believes the church must be compensated.
Over the years, the Mormon Church has granted two easements to the Getty Trust to use its land for a private roadway. Atkinson believes one was granted in the 1970s, for use by emergency vehicles. The other was granted in January 2001, when the Getty Villa was undergoing an extensive expansion and renovation. Atkinson said he believes Getty officials told Mormon Church representatives at that time that the construction of the paved and widened private road would make the city of Los Angeles less likely to request the full easement for the public street.
While many people question the feasibility of the city of Los Angeles financing a public street in that area, Lacy believes there are several good reasons that this might occur. For one, a public street, as opposed to the Getty Villa’s private service road, would offer additional street parking for visitors to Topanga State Park, located across the street from the Mormon Church. It would also improve access for fire trucks and other emergency vehicles in the area.
“It provides for cleaner use of the property,” Lacy said.
Chabad, Getty and neighbors square off over Palisades school plan
Rabbi Zushe Cunin, head of Chabad of Pacific Palisades for 16 years, is accustomed to “overcoming and embracing all challenges,” he said. But the uproar surrounding his plans to relocate Chabad’s Palisades Jewish Early Childhood Center to a vacant building off Los Liones Drive — in a canyon below an affluent Pacific Palisades neighborhood and off a service road leading to the Getty Villa — has surprised him.
In support of the school’s nature-based curriculum, Cunin, 38, believed he had found an ideal new location when he came upon an empty 3,000-square-foot former storage facility at the base of a hillside property. He tracked down the owner, longtime Pacific Palisades resident Gene Gladden, who agreed to lease the property to Chabad.
Cunin (photo) was making preparations to turn the site into a preschool, planning to open in September, when an attorney from the J. Paul Getty Trust sent a letter denying Chabad’s right to access the property via the Getty Villa’s service road.
Around the same time, members of the neighboring Castellammare Mesa Home Owners Association, which has 141 member families, began a flurry of e-mails and telephone exchanges questioning Chabad’s right to access the property alternatively through Gladden’s backyard off Bellino Drive and also raising concerns about other safety and noise issues.
Los Angeles City Councilman Bill Rosendahl has become involved, as has the Palisades Mormon Church, to which Cunin turned with a request for access through the church’s parking lot.
This might seem just an ordinary land-use dispute with, on one side, a preschool hoping to operate in a residential area — which can be allowed with a conditional-use permit — and on the other objections from neighbors who don’t want increased noise and congestion. But there is a history of high-profile, contentious disputes in this neighborhood: The Getty weathered its own heated and drawn-out legal battle with local Pacific Palisades homeowner associations, which began in 1997 when it announced plans for an extensive renovation and expansion of the Getty Villa. The clash centered on plans for a outdoor amphitheater. The much-delayed opening of the Getty Villa didn’t happen until January 2006, following years of negotiation with neighborhood associations.
Enter Chabad, an organization whose name is a Hebrew acronym meaning wisdom, understanding and knowledge, and which, as part of Chabad-Lubavitch is one of the largest sects of Orthodox Judaism worldwide. Known for its evangelical outreach and zeal, Chabad has its own history of controversy in many circles.
Rabbi Cunin had been successfully operating Palisades Jewish Early Childhood Center in various locations in Temescal Gateway Park without conflict since the preschool was founded in 2000. The school enrolls approximately 50 children, ages 2 to 5, who, Cunin said, come primarily from Pacific Palisades and other Westside locations and from all levels of religious observance.
Last year the Santa Monica Conservancy, which oversees the park, voted to end the lease of the Chabad preschool as well as that of the private Little Dolphins preschool, ruling that public park area should no longer be walled off for private endeavors.
On Jan. 29, 2008, Cunin signed a three-year lease with a 20-year option on the building owned by Gladden, which sits near the service entrance to the Getty Villa, next door to the Mormon Church and across the road from Topanga State Park. Cunin began making some of the necessary renovations to the property.
Everything went smoothly until April 2, when Getty Trust attorney Lori Fox informed Cunin that Chabad does not have the right to approach the building via a private Getty service road — which Chabad disputes. As a result, Cunin said, Chabad officials, teachers and workmen began accessing the property through Gladden’s driveway off Bellino Drive and down a steep stairway in Gladden’s backyard.
Neighbors became aware of the activity, as well as of the building, which was newly painted inside and staged with small tables and chairs. An outdoor area now sported playground equipment to enable prospective parents and state inspectors to better visualize the future preschool. Cunin believes that many residents assumed, erroneously, the preschool was already open for business.
Homeowners began an exchange of e-mails, and one homeowner, whose child had attended the school, contacted Cunin to clarify the school’s status. He assured her that he didn’t plan to use Gladden’s home as access for the school. She shared this information with the other neighbors.
Chabad’s attorney Benjamin Reznik, a partner at Jeffer, Mangels, Butler and Marmaro, argues that the preschool location is “brilliant.”
“It’s a building that’s safe and appropriate. It’s got a nice, flat garden around for the kids to play outdoors, and it’s got nice access: The parents can drive right up,” Reznik said.
The Getty, however, sees the site differently. Getty attorney Fox sent a memorandum to area homeowner associations on May 9 summarizing the Getty’s communications with Chabad and objections to the location.
“We have serious concerns about the proposed use of both the warehouse and access via our service road,” Fox stated in the memo, emphasizing safety concerns for the children.
The dispute over use of the service road is not surprising, given its complicated history.
Access along the service road to the Getty guard booth, which sits just above the driveway to the Gladden building, uses an easement granted by the Mormon Church, which bought its three-acre property in 1970 from a private developer, according to David Lacy, who founded Senior Realty Advisors of Covina, and who has assisted Chabad in property acquisitions for more than a decade. It was originally a dirt road, which the Getty paved and later widened, as required for its renovation.
But Gladden was granted the necessary permits in 1981, he said, to construct a building on the lower part of his property for recreation and storage. He also received permission from the Getty to access the building via the service road. Gladden subsequently rented the building to the Getty for 25 years for storage purposes, a lease which ended approximately six months ago, according to Gladden.
Because Gladden has been allowed access to his building for the last 26 years and because the Getty has never revoked that right, Lacy believes that Gladden as well as Chabad, as his representatives, “has a legal right to a prescriptive easement” on that property.