Mormons and Jews celebrate common bonds during SLC event

Salt Lake Tribune/October 20, 2006
By Peggy Fletcher Stack

About 150 Mormons and the same number of Jews dined together Thursday at the Jewish Community Center in Salt Lake City, sharing prayers, music, a kosher-style meal and a love for Israel.

By all accounts, the celebration known as "Brothers Sitting Together" was a unique, even historic event.

Although Sen. Orrin Hatch and Rep. Chris Cannon were present, the evening had no political agenda, no evangelistic attempts, no fundraising or secret motives, said organizer and underwriter Paul Ahlstrom, a Utah venture capitalist. It was meant as a cultural exchange, nothing more.

The night began with video greetings from television talk show host Larry King, who is Jewish, and his wife, Shawn King, who is Mormon.

The couple joked about their marriage representing the two cultures.

Judaism is ancient and Mormonism a very young faith, Larry King said, alluding to their age difference. Shawn now likes cheese blintzes and he's developed a fondness for - what else? -- Jell-O.

Voices of Israel, an all-male choir of Jewish cantors, entertained the crowd by singing "Brothers Sitting Together" and other sacred Hebrew songs. On Wednesday, the Israeli choir had joined the Mormon Tabernacle Choir during that group's weekly practice at the LDS Conference Center in Salt Lake City.

David Altman of Netanya Academic College in Israel described his school's Center for Strategic Dialogue. It is now offering a discussion between Mormons and Jews, at House of Joseph, House of Judah Dialogue Center. Mormons see themselves as descendants of the biblical Joseph.

Joseph Ginat, an Israeli archeologist and former professor at the University of Utah, described his longtime affection for Mormons.

"Salt Lake City is a second home to me," he said, noting the importance of the family and of temples in Judaism and in Mormonism, saying the two groups have much in common.

The evening's keynote address was given by Gerald Molen, who worked with Steven Spielberg on 18 films. Molen described many "miraculous moments" in the filming of "Schindler's List."

The dinner was a kind of love fest for Utah Jews and Mormons, who rarely come together in this way.

"Everyone is happy tonight, my Jewish friends and my Mormon friends," Hatch said. " He then added, "I'm a strong supporter of Israel. No one supports it more than I do."

The evening presented "a wonderful opportunity for our two cultures to get together and do something we both like to do -- eat," Rabbi Tracee Rosen of Congregation Kol Ami in Salt Lake City said.

Added Abby Gottsegen of Utah's United Jewish Federation, who noted the absence of coffee and alcohol but addition of white chocolate doves at each place setting: "It's a chance to bridge differences and to get to know each other better. What could be better than that?"

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