For Saba Soomekh, a Jewish leader from California, seeing firsthand The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ welfare and temple operations is a way of practicing what she preaches to her university religious studies students.
To help them deepen their understanding of other faiths, she asks students to visit mosques, synagogues and other worship spaces.
“People just want to be understood,” said Soomekh, who teaches religious studies, women’s studies and Middle Eastern history at the University of California, Los Angeles. Soomekh, who is assistant director of interreligious and intercommunity affairs for the American Jewish Committee, was one of 11 Jewish leaders from Los Angeles and New York who visited with Latter-day Saint leaders Tuesday and Wednesday, touring the Church’s vast welfare facilities and the newly renovated Jordan River Utah Temple.
“It is so important to learn about other faiths, especially in the time that we’re living in today where there is so much misunderstanding and so much animosity,” she continued. “It is so important to really truly understand what people believe, how it’s not a threat to you and how you could work to better [the] community.”
This week’s visit is part of an ongoing series of relationship-building experiences between Latter-day Saints and Jews. In May 2017, Jewish leaders hosted Mormon leaders in New York City, and in October 2016, some members of this same Jewish delegation gathered in Jerusalem with Mormon leaders to commemorate the 175th anniversary of an early Mormon apostle’s journey to Jerusalem.