Additional Resource

Acceptance Speech for 2022 Thomas L. Kane Award

By Robert Abrams

This speech was delivered on Thursday, June 9, 2022, at an event hosted by the J. Reuben Clark Law Society in the Conference Center Theater on Temple Square. See a summary of the event.

Former New York Attorney General Robert Abrams accepts the Thomas L. Kane Award in the Conference Center Theater on Temple Square on Thursday, June 9, 2022.2022 by Intellectual Reserve, Inc. All rights reserved.
Download Photo

This honor is one of the great moments in my life.

It is so meaningful to me that my dear friends, Elder Quentin Cook and Elder Jeffrey Holland are here to share this evening.

Thomas Kane holds a unique and important place in the history of the Church, and so it is with enormous gratitude that I receive an award in his name.

My appreciation for this recognition is rooted in my awareness of the high standards and lofty vision of the more than 10,000 attorneys and judges who are members of the J. Reuben Clark Law Society. It is widely recognized that Law Society members are noble adherents to the rule of law, committed to their faith and desirous of doing good in society.

I am flattered, and, candidly, a bit intimidated, by the invitation to address you. If someone had told me when I was beginning my career as a progressive Jewish lawyer and Democrat from the Bronx that I would someday address a gathering like this in Utah, I might have signaled my incredulity by asking in true New York fashion if they also had a bridge in Brooklyn that they wanted to sell. I would never have imagined that my life’s path would lead me to be here on an occasion like this.

But it is about the work of building — not selling — bridges, that I wish to speak to you tonight.

I will start by sharing some of my rewarding experiences that have led to increased understanding and friendship between the Jewish and Latter-day Saint communities.

Although I served for many years as the elected attorney general of the state of New York, it was not until I retired from public office that I became involved in any meaningful way with Church members. Most people I knew in New York were also not well acquainted with the Church despite the fact that New York is where Joseph Smith had his first visionary experience in 1820, published the Book of Mormon and organized the Church in 1830.

A few years after I became a partner at Stroock & Stroock & Lavan, I was contacted by two lawyers from Phoenix, Arizona, requesting that I join them in representing a client in a New York matter. As a result of their monthly visits to New York and strong interaction over a period of years, we became close friends. They were both members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. One day one of the lawyers asked me if I would be willing to bring a delegation of Jewish leaders to meet with Church leadership and visit facilities in Salt Lake City so that there could be better understanding between the two groups.

Throughout my life, I have attempted to understand, befriend and serve people from all types of backgrounds and so I readily agreed.

I organized a group that included rabbis from the major streams of Judaism — Orthodox, Conservative and Reform — as well as representatives from the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York, the UJA-Federation of New York and the New York Board of Rabbis. During our trip, we observed facilities where food grown by the Church is packaged and distributed to those in need all over the United States. We visited the Bishops’ Storehouse, where needy people from the local community receive food without charge. We saw a warehouse filled with clothing to be distributed to those ravaged by catastrophic hurricanes, tsunamis and earthquakes. These tours demonstrated how Latter-day Saints put into practice the scriptural mandate in the Book of Mormon to “impart of your substance to the poor, every man according to that which he hath, such as feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and administering to their relief, both spiritually and temporally.”[1]

During this visit, Elder Holland and Elder Cook also shared with us how Latter-day Saint theology incorporated fundamental teachings found in the Old Testament. It was fascinating for us to learn of the theological significance to Latter-day Saints of Old Testament prophets like Abraham, Moses and Elijah as well as the importance of LDS Old Testament concepts such as covenants, sacrifice and temples.

In preparation for the visit to Salt Lake City, I was provided a frank briefing about an issue that created tension between our two communities. Survivors of the Holocaust had been pained by learning that names of those who were murdered at the hands of the Nazis were being submitted to the Church for inclusion in its practice of posthumous proxy baptism. Having met Elder Cook, I began to work with him and two leaders of the Holocaust survivor community, Ernie Michel and Elie Wiesel, to confront the issues at hand. After many months of intense candid conversation, we were able to create a joint statement and establish a set of practices that dealt with the core concerns raised. The public release of that statement and implementation of those practices put an end to the circumstances that caused the grievance and anxiety. As these concerns were resolved, the path opened for more joint activity and dialogue.

And walk down that path we did. My wife and I had the privilege of sharing a Friday night Shabbat dinner at our home with Elder Quentin Cook and his wife, Mary, and Elder Von Keetch and his wife, Bernice, and John Taylor, director of interfaith relations for the Church, and his wife, Jan. Rabbi Meir Soloveichik provided a tour of Yeshiva University for Church leaders. He also hosted Church leaders as they visited his synagogue, Shearith Israel, the oldest Jewish congregation in the United States. At my request, Rabbi Joseph Potasnik invited Latter-day Saint leaders to appear on his New York City radio show to outline the wide array of activities and programs of the Church. Local Latter-day Saints and the New York Board of Rabbis conducted luncheon programs where members of both communities met to get to know each other and share thoughts and experiences. I’ve also had the high honor of visiting three temples prior to their consecration in New York City, the Salt Lake City area and in Philadelphia.

And when Yeshiva University announced that it was inaugurating a new President, Rabbi Ari Berman, I called him and asked if he would be willing to meet the longstanding president of Brigham Young University, so that a president of one faith-based institution of higher education could provide insight to the new incoming president of another. The response was an instantaneous “yes.” Rabbi Berman enjoyed a fruitful meeting in Provo with President Kevin Worthen and also met with members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. I then suggested to Rabbi Soloveichik that there be a continued relationship between BYU and YU. He and those at Yeshiva University subsequently worked with Latter-day Saints in the New York area and at BYU to organize two well-attended symposiums on religious freedom, an issue of mutual concern to our communities.

Additionally, I was privileged to help organize and accompany a second delegation of rabbis from New York for a visit to Salt Lake City in 2018. And, annually, over a number of years, I have joined hundreds of Church members, leaders and community representatives at the New York Latter-day Saints Professional Association Dinner.

I also got other members of my family involved. My son-in-law, Rabbi Ian Pear, who leads the congregation Shir Hadash in Jerusalem, has established a relationship with the BYU Jerusalem Center for Near Eastern Studies and has welcomed students in a special way as they have attended Friday night services.

And when I learned from Elder Cook that a representative of the Church had not yet been invited to join the Commission of Religious Leaders of New York City, the leading interfaith body of all religious groups in New York, I was disturbed. I asked Rabbi Potasnik, who represents the Jewish community on the Commission, if he could be of help. As a result of Rabbi Potasni’s dedicated effort, the Church was invited to join this important inter-religious group.

In reading about the history of the Church, I was fascinated to discover that its first president and prophet, Joseph Smith, assigned Orson Hyde, one of the early members of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles, to travel to Jerusalem to dedicate the land for the return of the Jewish people. Elder Hyde made the journey and at the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem offered a beautiful dedicatory prayer in 1841. I chanced upon this information in 2015 and noted that the following year was going to be the 175th anniversary of that seminal event. I reached out to Elder Cook and others and suggested that we should commemorate this by having a Latter-day Saint/Jewish delegation visit the BYU Jerusalem Center and hold a special program and ceremony celebrating that significant act. They embraced the idea, and we made the trip happen. A magnificent program took place at the BYU Jerusalem Center. The joint delegation also visited the mayor of Jerusalem and the prime minister of Israel, laid a wreath at the eternal flame in Yad Vashem, the Israeli Holocaust memorial, and held a special ceremony at the Orson Hyde Memorial Park on the Mount of Olives.

The more I interacted with individuals and groups within the Church, the more I discovered that they shared strong areas of common ground with the Jewish community. Each has a fundamental focus on family; each places a very high value on education; each has a strong commitment to charitable giving; each demonstrates humanitarian concern and response when there are international catastrophes such as earthquakes and hurricanes around the globe; each has a history of disproportionate success due to ability, hard work and determination; and each has been subjected to fierce persecution and prejudice. Another interesting point of commonality is the fact that each has the same population in the world, approximately 15 million and the same population in the United States, approximately 7 million.

Thus, what started as an unusual request from clients, has blossomed into meaningful engagements and sustained friendships on multiple levels. The goal of these efforts has been to bring the Jewish and Latter-day Saint communities closer together so that there can be greater understanding and trust. The work continues and I look forward to the future.

I recently published a memoir, “The Luckiest Guy in the World.” My extraordinary experiences and relationship with the members of this Church is one of the reasons I consider myself to be such a lucky person.

I hope that recounting these events might serve as a practical illustration of how different communities can strengthen understanding and friendship. The need to build bridges between those with differences has never been more important.

Your law society is composed of members who hold dear two empowering principles — faith and the rule of law which are cornerstones of our nation. Our Founding Fathers understood the importance of guaranteeing the opportunity for believers to exercise their faith. The Constitution guarantees religious freedom to all, and our nation has traditionally demonstrated respect for people who practice their faith. The founders also understood the importance of setting up a system of government based on the rule of law. By subscribing to, and having respect for, the rule of law, we ensure that all citizens and institutions are accountable to the same laws, and that no one is above the law. This demonstrates and enforces a fundamental principle of equality.

Unfortunately, today there are forces and currents that jeopardize our democracy by degrading both the rule of law and the right of people to openly exercise their faith. Among these threats is a troubling increase in the divisiveness, incivility and polarization in our society. Examples abound of those who are unwilling to associate with, or even listen to, those who have differences of opinion on political, social, religious and other issues. Increasingly, many people view those with whom they disagree as “enemies,” and attempt to discredit, vilify and silence them, rather than seeking to listen and understand. Too many display a willingness to trample over the rights of others in order to achieve their objectives.

All of this indicates that an alarming number of our fellow citizens seem to have forgotten that, whatever our differences, our unity as a people is central to our identity, success and strength as a nation. Our country’s very name — the United States of America — enshrines this principle. The great seal of the United States — which bears the Latin phrase e pluribus unum, out of many, one — reinforces it. For generations school children have daily acknowledged it while reciting our Pledge of Allegiance, which speaks of “one Nation” that is “indivisible.” American history teaches us that goodness, achievement and prosperity comes from being united as a people. Too many are losing sight of this foundational principle.

The increasing incivility and division that we see is not inconsequential. It threatens great harm to our society. Listen to the words of my good friend, Sen. Joseph Lieberman:

The basic rhythms of the national legislative process — the norms that prompted Republicans and Democrats to work together in the service of the greater good — are gone. Our democracy is proving unable to meet the challenges of the moment. We face real trouble ahead.[2]

Senator Lieberman is echoed by one of your Law Society members, Judge Thomas B. Griffith, who recently retired after serving as a judge for the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Judge Griffith writes:

in my lifetime, the Republic has been confronted with no more serious a challenge to its well-being and maybe even its survival than it faces today from political tribalism. … The Constitution’s form of government not only allows spirited disagreement, it requires it. But the Constitution cannot withstand a citizenry whose debates are filled with contempt for one another.[3]

Unfortunately, the increasing acrimony and tribalism of which we speak is not limited to national politics but is seeping into all aspects of our society.

In the face of these challenges, there is a critical need for bridge-builders, for women and men who will not allow differences of opinion — as real and important as they may be — to prevent them from understanding, respecting and working with others to better the world. To paraphrase President Russell M. Nelson, we need people who “strive to build bridges of cooperation rather than walls of segregation” and who understand that:

[w]e are all connected, and we have a God-given responsibility to help make life better for those around us. We don’t have to be alike or look alike to have love for each other. We don’t even have to agree with each other to love each other.[4]

We need people willing to follow the practical advice given by President Dallin H. Oaks when speaking favorably of laws that both prohibit discrimination against LGBTQ individuals and protect religious freedom:

As a practical basis for coexistence, we should accept the reality that we are fellow citizens who need each other. This requires us to accept some laws we dislike, and to live peacefully with some persons whose values differ from our own. … We should make every effort to understand the experiences and concerns of others. … When some advocates voice insults or practice other minor provocations, both sides should ignore them. Our society already has too many ugly confrontations. If we answer back, we tend to mirror the insult. A better response is that of the late Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks. When he agreed to meet with a staunch atheist who detested everything he held sacred, the Rabbi was asked whether he would try to convert him. “No,” he answered, “I’m going to do something much better than that. I’m going to listen to him.”[5]

My experiences over a lifetime in the political and legal arenas confirm the validity of these guidelines.

As lawyers of faith, you have unique abilities, opportunities and obligations to put into practice these principles, to build bridges of understanding with those who are different from you. Your legal education taught you to make decisions based on facts and logic, not inflamed passions. You are experienced in respectfully advocating for a cause without becoming disagreeable and in solving problems and achieving compromises. You hold positions of trust in your communities that give you influence that others do not have. Your faith teaches the importance of the Old Testament imperatives to “love thy neighbour” (Leviticus 19:18) and to “[l]ove . . . the stranger” (Deuteronomy 10:19), the New Testament promise to those who are “peacemakers” (Matt 5:9), and the Book of Mormon admonition to do away with “contention” and the “stir[ring] up of the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another” (3 Nephi 11:29).

The world needs your influence now more than ever.

Let me conclude with a tidbit of shared Latter-day Saint-Jewish history. The March 15, 1842, edition of the Latter-day Saint periodical Times and Seasons, which was edited by Joseph Smith Jr., contains an excerpt from a book by Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, who was a rabbi in Oldenburg, Germany, and a leader of the Modern Orthodox Judaism movement. Joseph Smith prefaced Rabbi Hirsch’s words with the observation that Jews “although persecuted, afflicted, robbed … still adhered with great tenacity to their ancient moral code, and maintain principles of benevolence and charity.” Joseph Smith then quoted Rabbi Hirsch as saying that among other mandates to which we should adhere are to “reconcile the contending, and, to … labor in word and deed to relieve every pain, to heal every sorrow and dry every tear.”[6]

And so, each of you can be a Thomas Kane-like figure who engages with understanding and who befriends those in circles beyond your own. Your efforts to build bridges will take you to surprising places that you never envisioned. You will encounter unique experiences, newfound friendships and the knowledge that you have done your part to help create the unity necessary to maintain a strong and vibrant nation. Let this be the message and legacy of this event.


[1]Mosiah 4:26.

[2]Joseph I. Lieberman, “We’re well beyond partisanship, our national government has lost civility,” The Hill, February 6, 2018,

[3]Thomas B. Griffith, “Civic Charity and the Constitution,” Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy, Vol. 43, 633, 641.

[4]President Russell M. Nelson, “NAACP Convention Remarks,” July 21, 2019,

[5]Dallin H. Oaks, “Going Forward with Religious Freedom and Nondiscrimination,” November 12, 2021,

[6] Times and Seasons, March 15, 1842, p. 725, The Joseph Smith Papers,

Style Guide Note:When reporting about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, please use the complete name of the Church in the first reference. For more information on the use of the name of the Church, go to our online Style Guide.