If you thought Utah needed a BIG cake to cram 100 birthday candles on it, just think about Jerusalem - the venerated city is celebrating its 3,000th anniversary.
Links between the two "Zions" are almost uncanny. Both places have a Jordan River that runs from a freshwater lake to a "dead sea" or lake of salt and are known for being deserts that blossomed like a rose. The people of these Zions are known for special dietary laws and a history of persecution and dispersal.There aren't many individuals with a foot in both of these worlds, but former Utahn Daniel Rona is one of them.
Rona is a tour guide in Israel. He was born in Haifa, Israel, and after emigrating to the United States joined the LDS Church. He went back to Israel in 1974 and has lived there since. He will be giving firesides this week and next in the Wasatch Front area. (Please see box.)
Rona's discussion focuses on the tribes of Judah and Joseph and the celebration of two Zions. His lecture is based on Rona's extensive experiences in Israel. He became a tour guide in 1976 and is still the only LDS tour guide in Israel.
Rona also founded the non-profit Ensign Foundation to foster relationships between the descendants of the two ancient brothers, Judah and Joseph. Speaking from his Salt Lake office, Rona explained why he began the foundation. "Obviously it's prophetic, but anciently Joseph and Judah worked together. The Ensign Foundation is a way to bring positive educational, cultural and scientific exchanges to Judah, but privately, not under the auspices of the LDS Church or Brigham Young University."
One of the most exciting exchanges has resulted in a scientific breakthrough by Israeli physicist Saul Kullock. Rona said that Kullock has developed a way to measure the human autonomic system. "It can measure the effects of medicine and therapy before and after treatment. This was made possible by donations to the foundation and through the work of Dr. Fuller Royal at the Nevada Clinic. It brought together LDS and Jewish medical specialists - both orthodox in their faiths," Rona said.
The Ensign Foundation sponsors 10 students a year to participate in Israeli archaeological digs. This year, they're working at Tell Miqne on the site of ancient Ekron, where the Philistines took the captured Ark of the Covenant.
Another project the foundation is sponsoring is a student exchange program through Utah Valley State College. Ten American Indians will travel to Israel to share their music and culture while 10 Israelis will visit the United States. "They could be anyone from Orthodox Jews to Ethiopians," said Rona.
"We can do these things," said Rona, "because the foundation is non-religious - it's a people-to-people project. BYU is totally restricted. Were they to sponsor things like this, someone might consider it suspect."
One of the interesting experiences Rona has had in taking tours throughout Israel is when he was contacted by the chief orthodox rabbi in Denver,Stanley Wagner. Wagner teaches Jewish-Christian comparative religion at Denver University and has long been interested in relations between the two religions. When he heard of Mormon interest in Judaism, he contacted Rona and invited him to speak in his synagogue six months ago. "There were 900 people in attendance, about 850 of them Mormons from nine stakes," said Rona. Then Wagner joined Rona on a tour of Israel where, at the conclusion of the tour at the Garden Tomb in Jerusalem, Wagner told Rona, "This is the way that I've always imagined Christianity."
Holy Land lectures
Daniel Rona, LDS tour guide in Israel, will lecture about Judah and Joseph and show a 26-minute video, "In the Footsteps of Jesus." The lectures are free and all begin at 7 p.m. They are:
- Thursday, Aug. 1, Grandview Stake, 1850 W. 1600 North, Provo.
- Friday, Aug. 2, Bountiful Central Stake, 640 S. 750 East, Bountiful.
- Saturday, Aug. 17, Bluffdale Stake, 2700 W. 13400 South, Bluffdale.
- Sunday, Aug. 18, Farmington 8th and 20th Ward, 850 W. Northridge Road, Farmington.
- Tuesday, Aug. 20, Ogden Tabernacle, 2133 Washington Blvd., with concert pianist Marvin Goldstein.