Additional Resource

Transcript: Former New York Attorney General Robert Abrams Speaks at BYU Jerusalem Center

Remarks at BYU Jerusalem Center

October 27, 2016

Former New York Attorney General Robert Abrams

I am honored to participate in this historic ceremony.

Just as divine spirit impelled Orson Hyde to come to this very place 175 years ago to declare this to be the land for the gathering of the Jewish people, so has there been what appears to be a divine guidance in the initial outreach of my good friend Jim Hamula seven years ago, requesting me to organize a delegation of Jewish leaders from New York to visit leaders of the LDS Church in Salt Lake City. From that request have emerged significant events and relationship building.

Our group from New York included rabbis from the major streams of Judaism—orthodox, conservative, and reform—and 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.

We toured the various facilities of the Church and discussed sensitive issues in meetings with Church leaders, including Elder Holland and Elder Cook, aimed at creating greater bonds of friendship and understanding.

Subsequent visits to New York City by elders of the Church brought them in contact with other leaders in the Jewish community, including Rabbi Meir Soloveichik, who attended the Becket Fund dinner and then was invited to speak at Brigham Young University. Rabbi Soloveichik on another occasion provided a tour of Yeshiva University for myself and other Church officials. He also hosted Elder Cook and Elder Von Keetch as they visited the oldest Jewish congregation in the United States, Shearith Israel, and proudly showed them a Torah used by his congregation during revolutionary war days.

Rabbi Joseph Potasnik, who, in addition to being the executive vice president of the New York Board of Rabbis, cohosts a weekly radio program, Religion on the Line, invited a spokesman for the Mormon Church to appear on the show to outline the wide array of activities and programs of the Church.

My wife and I had the privilege of sharing a Friday night Shabbat dinner at our home, where we shared the traditions of our 3,000-year-old faith with elders of the Church. The warmth, camaraderie, and mutual respect which flowed from the rituals performed—the prayer over the wine and bread, the washing of hands in preparation for the meal, the grace after meals, and the singing and sharing of stories during the meal—have left a permanent glow that lingers in the memory and hearts of all those who attended.

I have had the high honor of visiting three Mormon temples prior to their consecration in the Salt Lake City area, New York City, and Philadelphia.

On a visit to the Brigham Young Center on Mount Scopus with my younger daughter, she was given the surprise opportunity to play a melody on the organ, and she offered a spirited rendition of “Mary Had a Little Lamb.”

Elder James Hamula was a special guest of honor at the rededication of the sanctuary of Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun after a devastating fire caused major damage to the building.

These events enabled me to learn more about the Mormon community and to discover that there are 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, hurricanes, and tsunamis 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.

There is nothing more noble than extending the hand of friendship to fellow human beings. The world needs more understanding and respect among people, and it is encouraging to see the fostering of that core value here today.

Friendship and respect have always existed between our two communities, and it is heartening to see it being strengthened.

May we share many more opportunities of common efforts in the days ahead.

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