Overzealous Mormons continue to baptize Jews

Jerusalem Post (Israel)/July 1, 2004
By Abigail Radoszkowicz

Although the Church of Latter-day Saints signed an agreement with Jewish organizations in 1995 not to vicariously baptize those whose descendants have not given their consent - especially not Holocaust victims - the overzealous of the faith continue to do so.

Schelly Talalay Dardashti, who writes the Jewish genealogy column "It's All Relative" for the The Jerusalem Post's Metro supplement, says that whenever she comes across names that shouldn't be there - such as those of her Connecticut cousins - she notifies a Mormon official, who soon writes back that the "inappropriately entered names" have been removed. "But as fast as some names are removed, they are entered in again by others," says Dardashti.

Anne Frank, Golda Meir, the Shah of Iran and the Ayatollah Khomeini are among the names found on Mormon lists of the posthumously baptized to the faith.

However, Mormon officials say they remain in full compliance with the 1995 agreement.

"We have actually gone above and beyond," D. Todd Christofferson, a church official involved with the negotiations, told The New York Times.

The church removed the names of Holocaust victims listed before 1995 and continues to instruct its members to avoid baptizing Jews who are not directly related to living Mormons or whose immediate family has not given written consent.

But he said it was not the church's responsibility to monitor the archives to ensure that no new Jewish names appear.

"We never had in mind that we would, on a continual basis, go in and ferret out the Jewish names," Christofferson said, adding that the labor involved in constantly sifting through an ever-expanding archive, which contains more than 400 million names, would represent an "intolerable burden." Why should Jews care if some Mormons go overboard performing an important rite of their church?

Many see this as disrespect towards the dead, especially Holocaust dead, killed because they were Jewish, explains Dardashti.

For her part, she is worried abut the creation of fraudulent records: "Down the road, the only thing a family history researcher will see - or know, unless they are conversant with the issue - is that their great-great-grandfather was a Mormon, when we all know the person lived and died as a Jew."

"Researcher" here does not mean necessarily a professional historian but someone who has taken up the fast growing hobby of genealogical research.

Some 300 researchers - professionals and amateurs both - will be coming in from abroad to join 400 local attendees at the 24th International Conference on Jewish Genealogy, running next Sunday through Friday at Jerusalem's Renaissance Hotel.

Gary Mokotoff, publisher of the international journal of Jewish genealogy Avotaynu, will speak on "The Mormon Jewish Controversy: The Problem that Won't Go Away."

Mokotoff was one of the original members of the first Jewish genealogical society in New York back in the late seventies, of which there are now some 80 around the world.

Research can lead to a globally extended family. Eitan Shilo found distant cousins from Buenos Aires to Pennsylvania to London. Now he never fails to meet the latter whenever Shilo is in England.

Sometimes it's medical urgency and not curiosity that drives the search for family links. Stanley Diamond, whose decade-long effort lies behind the 3.6 million-entry Jewish Records Indexing-Poland (www.jri-poland.org) will be at the conference to speak on "Combining Genealogical and Family Trait Genetic Research."

Other Jewish genealogical celebrities on hand will include Dr. Karl Skorecki of the Cohanim DNA project, and Dr. Stephen Morse, designer of the Intel 8086 microprocessor which set off the PC revolution 20 years ago.

Morse has developed a search engine to access the huge Ellis Island database with its 22 million immigrant names using just the first letter of a last name or other variables.

The Jewish names are often unwittingly mangled - as when Mendel becomes Menchel - as they are transcribed by mainly Mormon volunteers working from passenger lists, without any training in historical handwriting and without lists of common Jewish names.

From 1921 to 1948 the British Mandate kept the Palestine Gazette that recorded the spanking new Hebrew names of those who had decided to recast their Diaspora monikers. That, along with other data bases such as the translations of all 7,000 gravestones on the Mount of Olives, is included on the CD that conference attendees will receive.

The conference is hosted by the Israel Genealogical Society, the largest of the three genealogical societies that the country boasts.

During the conference, local archives such as Yad Vashem and the Central Archives for the History of the Jewish People will be open extended hours, with volunteer translators on hand.

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