The Saga of BYU’s Jerusalem Center (Part 1)

The Saga of BYU’s Jerusalem Center (Part 1) June 12, 2018

 

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Posting a photograph of BYU’s completed Jerusalem Center for Near Eastern Studies serves, I suppose, to ruin the suspense: It WAS eventually built, despite fierce opposition.
(LDS Media Library)

 

Another few lines:

 

The dedication of the Orson Hyde Memorial Garden repre­sented the fulfillment of a long-standing dream for many members of the Church. But another dream remained. That was the construc­tion of a visitors’ center in Israel, probably to be combined with facilities for the growing number of students who came year after year to participate in BYU’s study programs in Jerusalem. Although it was fully realized that proselyting, as such, was not a viable option under current Israeli conditions, many still thought that, as long as there were no actual missionaries going from door to door, and as long as the Mormons were not actually seeking people out, some more low-key method of making the gospel known within Israel might nonetheless be acceptable.

However, it soon became clear that any plan to teach the gospel to the Jews, however inoffensive it might seem to the aggressively missionary-minded Latter-day Saints, would have to be given up.

Israeli sensitivities were simply too acute. Many Israeli Jews were willing to say that the loss of any Jew to another religion was equiv­alent, in its threat to the survival of Judaism as a whole, to the loss of a Jew in Hitler’s Holocaust. (The clear implication of this popular formula was, of course, that those who sought to proselyte the Jews were like Nazis in at least one respect: Both aimed at the “destruc­tion” of Judaism.) Thus, when in March 1981 plans were submitted to the Israeli government for the building of a BYU Center for Near Eastern Studies, they included neither a formal visitors’ center nor, despite the fact that LDS services were intended to be held there, a baptismal font.

The proposed building was approved by the government in early 1984. A small ground-breaking ceremony was held on 21 August of that year, and construction was soon underway. Also underway since late May, however, was a campaign to stop the building of the center. A Jewish anti-missionary organization known as Yad L’Achim protested the construction of the center as soon as it found out about it, citing the Latter-day Saints’ indisputable mis­sionary zeal as a threat to Judaism. Several steps were taken by the Church to counter public fears. The special representative couples who were serving at the time in various areas of Israel were reas­signed to other fields of labor. Newspaper advertisements offering LDS literature to anybody interested were cancelled. English and Hebrew-language pamphlets about the Church were destroyed. Sales of the Hebrew edition of the Book of Mormon were stopped, and no reprinting was authorized. It was, for the present, the end of any hope of teaching the gospel to Israeli Jews.

 

Posted from Richmond, Virginia

 

 

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