Interfaith talks pair Mormons and Jews


To Rabbi James M. Bennett, senior rabbi at Congregation Shaare Emeth, the reason for local Jews and Mormons to take part in two interfaith programs this weekend is clear.

“Almost every day, we drive on Highway 40 past the local Mormon temple and yet most of us don’t really know much about the church or its members,” said Bennett. “The Mormons are a religious community in our neighborhood. We work together and our children go to school together, but many of them don’t know us and we don’t know them. It turns out that we share much in common – but besides that, it’s important to learn about the people in our neighborhood.”


To that end, Bennett invites everyone to attend one or both interfaith events, which are co-sponsored by Congregation Shaare Emeth and the St. Louis Regional Public Affairs Committee of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

A continental breakfast, at 9 a.m. on Saturday at Congregation Shaare Emeth, will feature readings from Torah and sacred texts of the Latter-day Saints. At 7 p.m. Sunday at the Frontenac Chapel of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a presentation will take place on the doctrines and history of the Jewish and Mormon faiths, followed by a question-and-answer session. The LDS Rising Generation Youth Choir and Shaare Emeth Youth Choir with Cantor Seth Warner will then present a musical program.

Rabbi John Borak of Los Angeles and Bro. Mark Paredes, LDS High Councilor and Jewish Community Relations Specialist, will explore common threads of Judaism and Mormonism at both events.

Borak — a former air traffic controller, labor organizer and public relations executive — is the founder and director of Amud ha-Shachar/First Light. Ordained in the Conservative movement in 2000, Borak serves as director of interreligious affairs for the American Jewish Committee. He lives in Los Angeles.

Paredes — a former Foreign Service officer, law clerk and press attach é at the Consulate General of Israel in Los Angeles — serves on the High Council of the Santa Monica Stake and is the religion columnist for the Latter-day Trumpet newspaper. The former national director of Latino outreach for the American Jewish Congress, Paredes has also worked as the executive director of the Western Region of the Zionist Organization of America.

Borak and Paredes have made interfaith presentations in St. Louis in the past. “They have a wonderful program,” said Bennett. “They did a similar program for the Mormon community here, but this time, the decision was made to do the presentation as a true partnership.” Along with Bro. Dean Hunsaker, Latter-day Saints director of continuing religious education in St. Louis, Bennett will lead a question-and-answer session at the program on Sunday.

The idea for the two-part program came about last fall when Bennett heard from Mary Pedersen, the regional community and interfaith specialist for the Church of Latter-day Saints. Pedersen spoke first with Harvey Schneider, the past president of Shaare Emeth, as he was aware of the earlier program in St. Louis. Then Pedersen invited Bennett and several others to explore working together to develop a joint educational program.

“This is a remarkable chance to talk about how we are different and how we are alike, and to dispel any miscommunications between our two faiths,” said Pedersen. “Also, we’re asking for donations of canned goods for the Jewish Food Pantry for both events, and Rabbi Bennett and I both hope this will be the beginning of other opportunities to serve together, to help people in this distressed world.”

Batya Abramson-Goldstein, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council, serves on the cabinet of the Interfaith Partnership of Metropolitan St. Louis with Bishop Howard Nelson of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, who represents the Mormon faith community on that cabinet.

“The Mormon community has been a valued and active partner in interfaith activity in St. Louis,” said Abramson-Goldstein. “I’ve worked closely with Howard, and I have witnessed his deep commitment to interfaith dialogue and action.”

She continued, “Jews and Mormons have common goals. We share a commitment to social justice and we share a belief that though we have differences, there is much that unites us, and there is a power in that unity.”

Bennett and Pedersen both hope for “wonderful representation” from both communities this weekend. “I’m hoping that what will come out of this is a substantial number of Jews and Mormons will begin to build bridges of understanding between our communities,” he said.

“As Jews understand more about Mormons and Mormons understand more about Jews,” he continued, “we will develop friendships and working relationships that lead to meaningful interaction.”


Jews and Mormons: A Zion Relationship

WHAT: Continental breakfast, readings from Torah and Latter-day Saint sacred texts, featuring Rabbi John Borak of Los Angeles and Bro. Mark Paredes,

LDS High Councilor and Jewish Community Relations Specialist.

WHEN: 9 a.m. Saturday

WHERE: Congregation Shaare Emeth, 11645 Ladue Road in Creve Coeur

ADMISSION: Please bring a canned good or non-perishable item for the Jewish Food Pantry.

The Common Threads of Judaism and Mormonism

WHAT: A presentation by Rabbi John Borak and Bro. Mark Paredes on the doctrines and rich history of the Jewish and Mormon faiths, with a Q &A session led by Rabbi James M. Bennett and Bro. Dean Hunsaker, LDS Director of Continuing Religious Education in St. Louis.

WHEN: 7 p.m. Sunday

WHERE: Frontenac Chapel, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 10445 Clayton Road in Frontenac

ADMISSION: Please bring a canned good or non-perishable item for the Jewish Food Pantry.