Mormons & Jews - Who You Calling "Gentile"?
If Mitt Romney, the current Republican frontrunner, who is Mormon, were to become president, would I start to think of myself as a gentile?
After his inauguration day, to go with the flow, would I give up rye bread for white, mustard for mayo? Dash out and buy lime Jell-O? Hide the tea, coffee and schnapps? Trade Rahm for Romney?
The term "gentile" generally refers to non-Israelites, and though sometimes used both by Jews and Mormons to describe everyone but themselves, I figure that since we're the original Israelites maybe I won't have to worry.
The American Jewish Historical Society web site tells this very gentile story about Simon Bamberger, a Jewish Democrat, who in 1916 ran for governor of Utah:
According to historian Dr. Leon L. Watters, Author of "Pioneer Jews of Utah," who passed away in 1967, "During the campaign, Bamberger visited a remote community in Southern Utah that had been settled by immigrant Norwegian converts to Mormonism."
According to Watters:
"The community's leader, a towering Norwegian, met Bamberger at the train and told him menacingly, "You might yust as vell go right back vere you come from. If you tink ve let any damn Yentile speak in our meeting house, yure mistaken." Bamberger is said to have replied, "As a Jew, I have been called many a bad name, but this is first time in my life I have been called a damned Gentile!" The Norwegian threw his arm around Bamberger and proclaimed, "You a Yew, an Israelite. Hear him men, he's not a Yentile, he's a Yew, an Israelite. Velcome my friend; velcome, our next governor." The Norwegian was correct; Bamberger won the election."
We shouldn't pick our president's by their religion, but I must admit that a candidate's views on my religion do influence my vote. I want to know what kind of feelings towards Jews they are bringing to the White House.
All the Republican candidates, especially Romney are pro-Israel, but are they pro-Jew? How do their religious affiliations affect their attitudes?
Concerning Christians, American Jews, like tea readers, have grown skilled at reading the denominational leaves. But Mormonism, lacking a brew of any kind, (especially to Hebrews) leaves us without a clue. The result at times has been misunderstanding.
By the 1990's, the serious issue that stood between the two faith communities was the Mormon practice of posthumous baptism of Jews who died in the Holocaust. It was not until 2010, after discussion and negotiation between leaders of the church and the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and Their Descendants that a joint statement was issued.
According to JTA, "Under the resolution, the church agreed to eliminate the names of Holocaust victims from its genealogical database using a new computer system, while the Jewish group acknowledged that the church had good intentions when it practiced "baptism for the dead" in order to allow the deceased the option to join the Church of the Latter-day Saints -- an ongoing practice since 1840."
As a result, "Mormons no longer can submit the names of Holocaust victims or celebrities for the proxy baptism unless the deceased is a direct ancestor of the submitter."
Far away from the White House, at my own house, the Mormons I usually encounter are the earnest-faced kids; the unfailingly white twenty-something missionaries who come to my door. When I point to the mezuzah and tell them that I am Jewish, they aren't fazed in the least. Dressed in black slacks, white shirts and skinny ties, they just politely redouble their invitation to visit their center a few blocks away.
Mostly, they come from small towns, and I wonder in their door-to-door proselytizing, what they are learning about big city life. Do they learn when an elderly person comes to the door that they are dependent on subsidized state and federal programs, or that the laid off guy who answers their knock needs much more than words, no matter how uplifting?
Do they get it that some people who answer the door are union members, and that's the Zion in their lives? And what about when the couple who answers the door are both women, or men? Can they get that without wanting to change it? And in the coming weeks and perhaps months as Romney comes knocking on America's door, I wonder what and if he will be able to learn as well.
Edmon J. Rodman
has written about making his own matzah for JTA, Jewish love music for the Jerusalem Post, yiddisheh legerdemain for the Los Angeles Jewish Journal, a Bernie Madoff Halloween mask for the Forward, and what really gets stuck in the La Brea Tar Pits for the Los Angeles Times. He has edited several Jewish population studies, and is one of the founders of the Movable Minyan, an over twenty-year-old chavura-size, independent congregation. He once designed a pop-up seder plate. In 2011 Rodman received a First Place Simon Rockower Award for "Excellence in Feature Writing" from the American Jewish Press Association."