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ISRAELI EMBASSY OFFICIAL VIEWS SCROLLS PROJECT

Barukh Binah, recently appointed chief of the Israeli Embassy's department of public and interreligious affairs, was among the crowd Friday watching the Olympic torch make its way down South Temple from the Joseph Smith Memorial Building.

The Israeli diplomat, who is based in Washington, D.C., was in town at the invitation of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.First on the diplomat's three-day itinerary was a Thursday visit to Brigham Young University, where he met with faculty and discussed similarities between the community of Israel and the LDS Church.

Binah enjoyed meeting with the staff of FARMS (Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies).

"I was escorted to a tour of the project that they have on the Dead Sea Scrolls. This is absolutely amazing to see all these letters come alive with this modern technology here in Utah. I can't wait to see this CD-ROM when it's out," he said.

Bineh noted the importance of the time period when the Dead Sea Scrolls were written. "That specific era in Jewish history was the very formative era in creating two other major monotheistic religions: Christianity and, later on, Islam. Our heritage is ours, but it's also everybody else's to share. We have never been very, how shall I put it, possessive about our heritage, our mission, unto the nations . . . We are proud that our Bible, which we can still read in the original language . . . has become such an important cornerstone in mankind's civilization, all over the world."

On Friday, Binah met with the LDS Church's First Presidency and later with the Jewish community. Binah explained that his job is to maintain close contact with, and coordinate the activities of, the nine consulates in the United States.

"But," he said, "we also keep in touch directly with as many communities as we can: Christian, Jewish and recently we've started even to build bridges to some Muslim communities in this country. It's a lengthy process, of course, but we are blessed by a very understanding environment."

Binah said there is great value in developing friendships between religions. "We are in an era of peace, we are in a era of trying to mend fences that have been broken for so many years in so many places. People do not have to change in order to become friends, in order to be partners in commerce, in education, in culture, in exchange of ideas. People should keep their own faith, their own convictions, but realize that there are people on other sides in general who have other ideas and it's very exciting to learn the ideas of other people. And I believe that understanding one another is the basis for peace and harmony all over the world," Binah said.