Collaboration of Jewish Center and LDS Institute Builds Friendship
Heather Whittle Wrigley, Church News and Events
“I think that this sent an important message to the Latter-day Saint students—that we can reach out right here in our own community and help others learn more about members of the Church.” —Norman W. Gardner, director of the Tucson Arizona LDS Institute of Religion
From May through August 2011, there could be found at the Tucson Arizona LDS Institute of Religion an interesting mix of people. For those four months, students and staff of the University of Arizona’s Hillel Foundation Jewish Student Center utilized empty offices and space at the institute while their facility underwent extensive renovation.
On Sunday, December 11, 2011, more than 200 students, community leaders, donors, and administrative leaders gathered at the new facility for a dedication service.
Michelle Blumenberg, executive director of the Hillel Foundation on the university campus, thanked institute director Norman W. Gardner during the ceremony: “During the time of our renovation, we had to find another place to work,” she explained. “Our neighbors at the Tucson Institute of Religion graciously opened their doors to us and gave us shelter during the summer. Not only that, they provided us and our contractor with parking spaces, which we know is almost more valuable than gold on campus.”
She presented Brother Gardner with a mezuzah and a plaque with the symbol of barley on it. The Torah—a Jewish book of scripture comprising the first five books of the Bible—teaches that barley symbolizes all that is good in the natural world: love, healing, and protection.
The Hillel Foundation Jewish Student Center has been located across the street from the institute for more than 70 years. Earlier this year, the foundation approached the Institute about temporarily using the facilities during renovation. After receiving permission from the Church Board of Education, the institute opened its doors to the staff and students for office space and a place to hold events.
The student center held their Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services in the institute building in the fall.
“I know that many of [our 500 students] were aware that the Jewish students used our building for a couple of religious services this past fall,” Brother Gardner said. “I think that this sent an important message to the Latter-day Saint students—that we can reach out right here in our own community and help others learn more about members of the Church.”
At the conclusion of Hillel’s dedication service, several individuals expressed gratitude for the service rendered by the Church. “Thank you for being good neighbors,” was the comment heard most often, Brother Gardner said.
During April 2008 general conference, President Thomas S. Monson addressed the topic of interfaith relations.
“We are a global church, brothers and sisters,” he said. “Our membership is found throughout the world. May we be good citizens of the nations in which we live and good neighbors in our communities, reaching out to those of other faiths, as well as to our own.”
Handbook 2: Ministering the Church echoes that instruction: “Much that is inspiring, noble, and worthy of the highest respect is found in many other faiths. . . . Members must be sensitive and respectful toward the beliefs of others and avoid giving offense” (21.1.27).
The Tucson institute has a long tradition of building community relations, Brother Gardner said. Just a year ago, institute students collaborated with students from Hillel to prepare food packages for local elementary school children who were homeless.
“[We] will continue to look for service-project opportunities where we can participate jointly with students from Hillel and other faith groups on campus,” Brother Gardner said. “It is so easy to be focused on ourselves and our busy schedules, but taking the opportunity to get involved and make friends with other good people in the community will bring significant blessings.”