Mormons holding seder in Utah

It’s Passover in Utah, with a Mormon twist.

Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints spent the week getting ready for a seder of their own on Friday, April 2.

“A Passover for Joseph and Judah” was to be held at Provo’s Scenic View Academy.

Avraham Gileadi, 69, a Mormon who is also a Hebrew scholar, was planning to direct the seder, which is sponsored by the Hebraeus Foundation, an organization promoting biblical scholarship. He said Mormons and Jews share similar attributes.

Like Christianity and Islam, the Mormon faith has ties to Judaism. “The Book of Mormon,” which members of the religion follow along with the Old and New Testaments, says Israelites migrated to the New World and were the ancestors of American Indians.

“It’s as much about us as it is about Jews,” Gileadi said.

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 that leaves Jerusalem for the Americas around 600 BCE. 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.

But 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.”

“We keep the dinner as kosher as possible, although the kitchen wouldn’t qualify,” said Hebraeus Foundation board member Charlene Stott in an e-mail.

Mormon men at the seder will be wearing yarmulkes. Everyone will follow along in a haggadah.

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.” — ap