Mormon apostles joined Joseph Lieberman and other prominent Jewish leaders at the Mount of Olives on Thursday to remember the 175th anniversary of an LDS leader's historic prayer dedicating Jerusalem as a gathering place for the Jewish people.
Lieberman, a former U.S. senator from Connecticut and a vice presidential candidate in 2000, was part of a large delegation of American Jewish leaders who commemorated Orson Hyde's prayer in Jerusalem with Elder Jeffrey R. Holland and Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The group gathered at BYU's Jerusalem Center for Near Eastern Studies, which overlooks the Mount of Olives.
"Orson Hyde’s 1841 mission to Jerusalem to dedicate this land for the return of the Jews and for Jerusalem to be its capital city was an important moment in the latter-day Jewish return to their homeland," Elder Holland said at the event. "We believe the work of Elder Orson Hyde has played a key role in God choosing Jerusalem again."
Elder Holland explained the deep respect Mormons have had for the Israelite people from the beginnings of the LDS Church. Latter-day Saints believe their patriarchal lines principally go back to the tribe of Joseph through his sons Ephraim and Manasseh, Elder Holland said. Mormons also believe modern LDS prophets have played a role in the gathering of the Jews to their homeland, he said.
A transcript of Elder Holland’s remarks is available at mormonnewsroom.org.
Founder Joseph Smith sent Hyde, who was a member of the Quorum of the Twelve, on a mission to Jerusalem. On Oct. 24, 1841, Elder Hyde climbed the Mount of Olives and recorded a prayer he said he received by divine revelation.
In the prayer, Elder Hyde asked God to inspire world leaders to be friendly to a return of the Jews.
"Let them know that it is thy good pleasure to restore the kingdom until Israel — raise up Jerusalem as its capital and constitute her people a distinct nation and government... . Let that nation or that people who shall take an active part in behalf of Abraham's children, and in the raising up of Jerusalem, find favor in thy sight."
He also asked that Jews would gather again in the Holy Land.
"Incline them to gather in upon this land according to thy word," he prayed. "Let them come like clouds and like doves to their windows. Let the large ships of the nations bring them from the distant isles... ."
Lieberman spoke about religious freedom at BYU in October 2011.
The Jewish delegation also included former New York Attorney General Robert Abrams; Rabbi Michael Miller, executive vice president and CEO of the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York; Marlene Post, former U.S. national president of Hadassah; Rabbi Joseph Potasnik, executive vice president of the New York Board of Rabbis; and Rabbi Meir Soloveichik of Congregation Shearith Israel in New York City and director of the Straus Center for Torah and Western Thought of Yeshiva University.
Soloveichik spoke at BYU in April.
Elder Cook said Thursday's event commemorated not only Hyde's dedicatory prayer but the joint delegation's friendship "and our desire to unitedly participate in certain humanitarian projects in the future."
Elder Cook specifically praised Abrams for his personal contribution over the years working to improve relations between Mormons and Jews, according to an LDS Church news release.
Abrams’ remarks at the BYU Jerusalem Center at mormonnewsroom.org. He explained how he began to work seven years ago with Elder James J. Hamula of the Seventy, a priesthood office in the LDS Church. Hamula also joined the delegation to the Holy Land.
"Just as divine spirit impelled Orson Hyde to come to this very place 175 years ago to declare this to be the land for the gathering of the Jewish people," Abrams said, "so has there been what appears to be a divine guidance in the initial outreach of my good friend Jim Hamula seven years ago, requesting me to organize a delegation of Jewish leaders from New York to visit leaders of the LDS Church in Salt Lake City. From that request have emerged significant events and relationship building."
"There is nothing more noble than extending the hand of friendship to fellow human beings," Abrams added. "The world needs more understanding and respect among people, and it is encouraging to see the fostering of that core value here today."
Abrams said the two faiths share many traits, including a fundamental focus on family and histories of persecution and prejudice.
"Each places a very high value on education," he said, "each has a strong commitment to charitable giving; each demonstrates humanitarian concern and response when there are international catastrophes ... each has a history of disproportionate success due to ability, hard work and determination."
The Mormon-Jewish relationship has grown stronger in recent decades.
In 1979, with the cooperation of Israeli and Arab officials, the LDS Church dedicated the Orson Hyde Memorial Garden, a park on the Mount of Olives.
In 1988, the LDS Church, again with local support, opened the BYU Jerusalem Center. Elder Holland was BYU's president at the time, and he maintains responsibility for relationships in the Middle East.
In the past 10 years, leaders of the two faiths have worked through issues related to the LDS practice of proxy performing baptisms for the dead. Some Jewish groups objected to the practice of baptisms on behalf of Holocaust victims. LDS leaders repeatedly reminded Mormons to perform baptisms only for relatives, and the issue subsided.
"We believe the work of modern Elder Orson Hyde has played a key role in God choosing Jerusalem again in the fulness of times," Elder Holland said Thursday. "We pray for the preservation of the Jewish people and for their peaceful association with all who dwell in what is truly the Holy Land."