90904_000_007At the temple, an American Jewish convert finds a welding link to his family and his people.
My story really begins around the Black Sea area of Odessa, Besserbia, and Romania. My grandfathers, Morris Weisman and Hyman Solomon, knew each other there as children. The Weismans later settled in New York and then moved to Long Branch, New Jersey. The Solomons moved to Massachusetts and later moved to within a few blocks of the Weismans’ home in New Jersey. My parents, Bert and Berta, grew up together. Surely the hand of the Lord caused this gathering.
My Jewish parents taught me well in the traditions of my fathers. I loved my family and my people, and that love grew strong. I remember studying the history of my people, the Old Testament, as a boy. I was excited to read about Moses, Joshua, the prophets, and the kings. I loved the mighty works that my people had done and the miracles that the Lord had performed through and for Israel. I knew that the things recorded in the Bible were true. But I wondered, Where are the prophets today? Where are the mighty works of God? I felt that something was missing.
Many a night, as a boy, I would pray to God, “Where is a Moses for me to follow?” I often cried myself to sleep. I would dream of being a priest and offering sacrifices in the temple, but when I awoke I knew that my people had no temple. King Solomon’s temple had been magnificent, but the temples were gone, and we no longer knew all that had been done in them.
In my synagogue, the pulpit was a special place to pray. There was a veil at the end of the pulpit. At the climax of the service, the veil was opened and all arose. Behind the veil was the Holy of Holies and the Torah, or the word. I knew that Solomon’s temple likewise had a veil and a Holy of Holies, where the Lord dwelt.
I remember the feasts and holidays well. Passover was a time to recall my people’s mighty deliverance from the bondage of Egypt. “This is that night of the Lord to be observed of all the children of Israel in their generations.” (Ex. 12:42.) This special time for families brought to mind the paschal, or sacrificial, lamb and the temple. The Passover table contained an empty chair and place setting for Elijah. Each Passover we awaited Elijah’s return, and, at the height of the service, the door was opened for the prophet of redemption to return. We knew that, when he came, he would “turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers.” (Mal. 4:6.)
The Feast of Tabernacles was a festive and joyful time. It was a time for dwelling in booths, outside under the sky. We remembered the years that Israel dwelt in the wilderness, and we celebrated the gathering-in of all the fruits of the year.
The most serious day of the year was Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. It was a time for fasting and praying. The service for the dead was held, and all prayed to have their names written in the book of life. We asked God to forgive us of our sins.
I had a rigorous upbringing. We were trained to be men at thirteen years of age. I started to work in the family business at seven years of age and did a man’s work by twelve. School was held until 3:00 P.M., then I had two hours of Hebrew school. Special tutoring also helped me overcome a learning disability. I struggled to learn Hebrew but was never very good at the language. I studied Jewish history and loved it.
The twelve tribes of Israel fascinated me. I asked my grandparents if they knew which tribe they were from. Grandpa Weisman told me he was a Levite but didn’t have his genealogy to prove it. There was more than one argument at the synagogue about whether a Weisman could do the services of a Levite. (The Sons of Aaron and Levi still perform special services.) Grandma Yetta Weisman, maiden name Block, wasn’t sure which tribe she was from. My grandpa Hyman Solomon was specific. He said, “I am an Israelite, not from Judah.” Grandma Mollie Solomon, maiden name Belfer, said, “I am a Benjaminite.”
I have since discovered that many of the Belford family are buried in the Sons of Benjamin Cemetery. Later, my patriarchal blessing revealed to me that I am an Ephraimite, a descendant of Joseph, and I remembered my Grandpa Solomon’s words, “I am an Israelite.”
It wasn’t always easy being Jewish. The Gentiles afflicted my people, and I never understood why. How could they worship Jesus and hate his people? Yet many did. But my family worked together and prayed together. It seemed as if we were one in all things. We cared and watched over each other so that none would be poor or go without if another family member had extra.
My family had one great dread, however: death! The first death I remember in my family was the death of Grandpa Morris Weisman. It was terrible. The family wailed and rent their clothes. They tried to jump into the grave to stop the separation. The strong in the family became weak.
This was what life in my Jewish family was like. My life was full of love, education, fear of the Lord, tradition, obedience, work, and more work.
My conversion to the Church was dramatic. I was in a terrible car accident and could easily have been killed. I wondered why I hadn’t been. When my mother saw the car, she said, “Someone is watching over you, and you are here for a reason.” That day, a teenager working with me, Rhonda Mansius, gave me a Book of Mormon.
I struggled to read 1 Nephi but lacked the background information to really understand it. I did have a great desire to read the book, however. Then I was given A Marvelous Work and a Wonder, by LeGrand Richards, which I read in five days. After that, I consumed the Book of Mormon. I felt as if I had found an oasis in the desert. I called the missionaries and asked them if I could come over to learn more. We began to meet, sometimes for hours at a time, and we fasted and prayed together. Though I had the desire, I still had difficulty understanding.
I would pray at night for forgiveness for myself and my family. Then one night, by the power of the Holy Ghost, the Lord revealed to me the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon. I knew for myself—none had to tell me. It was as Jeremiah had prophesied:
“This shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the Lord, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people.
“And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the Lord: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” (Jer. 31:33–34.)
I joined the Church, and my eyes were opened. The truth had set me free. I understood my people and religion better than ever. For the first time, I was really happy to be of Jewish descent. I had realized that what had been missing in my life was Jesus. I had a prophet to follow, first President Spencer W. Kimball and now President Ezra Taft Benson.
I could better appreciate the Feast of Tabernacles and what dwelling in booths meant. I learned that my spirit dwells in the body, or tabernacle, that God has given me. I understood why “the dead had looked upon the long absence of their spirits from their bodies as a bondage.” (D&C 138:50.)
The temple was as magnificent as I had hoped. When I passed through the veil the first time, I was saddened to realize what my people had lost. I was so excited to find out that Elijah had returned as Malachi had prophesied, appearing in the Kirtland Temple 3 April 1836—the Passover season. I came to love Joseph, the son of Israel, and the work he did in Egypt for his family. I feel that, as Joseph did, I have been sent ahead to prepare the way to save my family. From the first days that I received the gospel truths, I have prayed for my family’s salvation, the family members still living and those who have died. My heart has been turned to my fathers. I have been blessed to be able to do my family’s temple work.
When I go to the temple to perform the ordinances for a family member, I remember my family’s dread of death and their prayers to God to write them in the book of life. I find great comfort in Isaiah 25:8 [Isa. 25:8]: “He will swallow up death in victory; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from off all faces.” What joy for my family members! “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?” (1 Cor. 15:55.)
I miss my family and long for them as one longs for an only child who is gone. One night, as I was trying to find enough information to do the temple work on a branch of the family, I fell into a deep sleep. I dreamed a dream. I was carried away in the spirit to Grandpa “Pop” Weisman’s house. The place looked like it had when I was a boy. I looked about and saw a young man working hard. He looked like Pop. I called out, “Is that you, Pop?”
He turned around and said, “I am a busy boy. What is it?”
My heart jumped for joy, and I was full of love. I said, “Pop, you’re not sick anymore. You look so good. What are you doing?”
He looked puzzled and pointed to a large addition being put on the house. He said, “Don’t you know, boy?”
I replied, “Know what?”
Pop said, “The rest of the family is coming. You did it. Didn’t you know, boy?”
The next day, my good friends Larry and Sandy Davis, who were helping to locate my family’s graves, called and told me that the grave sites had been found. I was then able to do my family’s temple work.
My life is centered around the temple. When my family and I moved to Las Vegas, only two hours from the St. George Temple, I felt like Ezra and Nehemiah when they left Babylon to return to Jerusalem to build the temple. My family’s long dispersion was coming to an end.
Two years ago, during the season of Yom Kippur, my wife, Terri, and I accompanied many members from our ward to the St. George Temple. Terri and I were witnesses, and the members were proxies for seventeen of our family to receive endowments. I am sure my family liked that. We always did things together.
The ward has helped us greatly, and every month since September of that year, my wife and I have been able to do work at the temple for our family. We are now accumulating more family names for the opening of the Las Vegas Temple.
Jesus not only remembers his covenants but keeps them, as Isaiah 49:13–16 testifies: “Sing, O heavens; and be joyful, O earth; and break forth into singing, O mountains: for the Lord hath comforted his people, and will have mercy upon his afflicted.
“But Zion said, The Lord hath forsaken me, and my Lord hath forgotten me.”
But the Lord answers: “Can a woman forget her suckling child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee.
“Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands.” [Isa. 49:13–16]
The Lord has seen the suffering of my people, and he gives us hope: “Awake, awake, stand up, O Jerusalem, which hast drunk at the hand of the Lord the cup of his fury—thou hast drunken the dregs of the cup of trembling wrung out. …
“The Lord and thy God pleadeth the cause of his people; behold, I have taken out of thine hand the cup of trembling, the dregs of the cup of my fury; thou shalt no more drink it again.” (2 Ne. 8:17, 22.)
Jesus asks Israel, “Who shall be sorry for thee—thy desolation and destruction. … By whom shall I comfort thee?” (2 Ne. 8:19.) He has the answers.
O Lord, make me as “a fruitful bough, even a fruitful bough by a well; whose branches run over the wall” (Gen. 49:22), that I may comfort my family. Breathe life into them and into my people.
Howard Weisman is first assistant to the high priests group leader, Las Vegas Morning Sun Ward, Las Vegas Nevada Sunrise Stake. He and his wife, Terri, serve as ward family history consultants.