US Mormons mark Passover holiday with Seder

Avraham Gileadi, a Mormon who is also a Hebrew scholar, will direct "A Passover for Joseph and Judah" at Provo's Scenic View Academy.

matza passover pessah 311 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
matza passover pessah 311
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
SALT LAKE CITY — It's Passover in Utah, with a Mormon twist.
On Monday evening, Jews around the world began the holiday with a Seder, the traditional meal during which the biblical story of the Hebrews' exodus from Egypt is retold. Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will be holding one of their own this week.
Avraham Gileadi, a Mormon who is also a Hebrew scholar, will direct "A Passover for Joseph and Judah" at Provo's Scenic View Academy on Friday.
Gileadi, 69, is affiliated with the Seder's sponsor, The Hebraeus Foundation, an organization promoting biblical scholarship. He said that Mormons and Jews share similar attributes and that while Passover isn't an LDS tradition, it could be.
"A lot of LDS people are also part of that heritage," Gileadi said. "It's as much about us as it is about Jews."
Gileadi said the evening also will feature a children's choir and a performing harpist.
"We've kind of enriched this event to be a family experience," he said.
Like Christianity and Islam, the Mormon faith has ties to Judaism. "The Book of Mormon," which members of the religion abide by, along with the Old and New Testaments, says that Israelites migrated to the New World and were the ancestors of American Indians.
Latter-day Saints believe that church founder Joseph Smith Jr. translated the holy book from golden plates he discovered through an angel in the 1820s and restored authentic Christianity. The book follows the story of a family who leaves Jerusalem for the Americas around 600 B.C. In 1841, Smith sent apostle Orson Hyde to Jerusalem to dedicate the land for Smith's prophecy of the return of the Jews. A park on the city's Mount of Olives commemorates Hyde's pilgrimage.
Brigham Young University has hosted Seders open to the public for nearly 40 years, and this year's Provo Passover is its fourth in a row.
Attendees are coming to Provo for a combination of religious and educational reasons. Eric Palmer, 60, owns a small business in the area and is drawn to the Jewish tradition as a way of understanding his own Mormon faith.
"I think this is an undeveloped area of our religion. It's our history, and we've lost it," Palmer said. "It's an important tradition to a lot of people in the world, and I'd like to understand it better."
The relationship between the faiths has been strained over the Mormon practice of posthumous baptisms, which have included the baptism of Jews killed in Nazi concentration camps.
Some Holocaust survivors have said the church repeatedly violated an agreement barring the practice. Mormon church leaders have said they are making changes to their genealogical database to make it more difficult for names of Holocaust victims to be entered for posthumous baptism by proxy.
Jewish leaders in Utah say they aren't offended when Mormons sit down to a Seder.
"I don't find it insulting; I say that it just validates that much more the preciousness and the richness of our heritage," said Rabbi Ben Zippel of Utah's Chabad Lubavitch congregation. "I think that the best form of flattery is imitation."
Hebraeus Foundation board member Charlene Stott said there will beplenty of that at the Seder, where the familiar trappings and trimmingsof the meal, such as the unleavened bread, matzo, are part of theexperience.
"We keep the dinner as kosher as possible, although the kitchen wouldn't qualify," Stott said in an e-mail.
Mormon men will also wear yarmulkes on their heads. Everyone willfollow along in a Haggadah, a reading at Seders retelling the Exodusnarrative.
The one major exception, Stott said, was that wine won't make it onto the dining tables since many Mormons abstain from alcohol.
"We serve Paul Newman's Own grape juice," Stott said. "Great stuff, and we still have fun."