David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister, once had a conversation with future LDS President Ezra Taft Benson.
“There are no people in the world who understand the Jews like the Mormons,” Ben-Gurion said.
“We need to know more about the Jews, and the Jews ought to know more about the Mormons,” Elder Benson responded.
Several years later, two Mormons are blogging to bring Mormons and Jews together.
Mark Paredes writes about Jews and Mormons in the Jewish Journal in Los Angeles, where there are more than 600,000 Jews. Christa Woodall does the same for J., Northern California’s Jewish news weekly.
The two met recently at the Jewish Community Center in Salt Lake City, where Paredes spoke for an hour on the topic of “Mormons and Jews in the Latter Days: A Zion Relationship.”
“Latter-day Saints and Jews are two peoples with a unique message chosen to spread the word,” Paredes told more than 50 people in attendance.
Paredes, a Michigan native, was baptized a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at age 11. He served an LDS mission to Italy and later graduated from BYU. Paredes currently serves on the LDS Public Affairs committee for Southern California and as a stake high councilor.
His interest in Judaism came at a young age. Friends of his family were Jewish, including his father’s boss. Paredes' brother attended a Jewish nursery school. He had a Jewish pen pal, and he listened when Holocaust survivors came to his school.
After Paredes became a U.S. diplomat, he felt impressed to study Hebrew and was assigned to work as a diplomat at the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv. He later became the press attaché to the Israeli Consulate in Los Angeles.
Over the years, Paredes has immersed himself in the Jewish religion and culture, developing in the process a greater love and appreciation for the Jewish people. Through those experiences, he has found a level of reciprocal acceptance that is accorded to few non-Jews.
“I've emceed the Los Angeles Israel Festival for three years, and the local Israeli community chose me to emcee the bilingual Yom Hazikaron ceremony [Israeli Memorial Day] a few years ago," Paredes said. "To gain that kind of credibility, not only do you need to show that you love them, but you also need to show a desire to get to know them. It takes a long time, and there are no shortcuts."
Woodall worked as an intern for the Michael Medved Show in Seattle, during college, before taking courses on Judaism at BYU. She has worked for the Orange County Register and currently lives in Draper, Utah.
Woodall was approached by J.weekly.com after editors noticed the success Paredes was having at the Jewish Journal. A friend who worked with Woodall at the Register recommended her for the job. Having served in a LDS Church public affairs calling, the opportunity seemed too good to pass up.
“What a great bridge-building opportunity,” Woodall said. “So often there are misunderstandings and misconceptions that come between different communities of faith, so it is important to open a dialogue. My goal is not to convert anybody but just to help provide a better understanding of the LDS church and clear up any misunderstandings.”
Despite living in Utah, Woodall hopes to more effectively reach her audience by meeting and networking with religious leaders in Northern California.
“It takes face time,” she said. “I will be going out there to meet some people and make some connections. It will pay off down the road.”
We can all be bridge builders, she added.
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