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Jews In America’s Zion: Utah’s Only Synagogue Welcomes Mormon Converts

June 16, 1985

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) _ When Rabbi Eric Silver looks out from behind his pulpit at Utah’s only synagogue, he sees an unusual scene: a quarter of his congregation is made up of converts from the state’s predominant Mormon Church.

Congregation Kol Ami, located in a state where seven out of 10 people belong to a church with an energetic missionary program, doesn’t recruit its newest adherents.

Each year, 20 to 30 people, most of them former Mormons, enroll in year- long conversion classes under Silver’s tutelage.

″I can’t take a Mormon and convince that person that what was formerly ‘right’ is ‘wrong,’ and what was formerly ‘wrong’ is ’right,‴ he said. ″Most of them have already left the church.

″We don’t think it’s a sin not to be Jewish, but we do think it’s a sin to become Jewish and then leave it,″ Silver said. ″That’s why we don’t have missionaries.″

Silver, a member of the Rabbinical Assembly’s national committee on conversions, said Kol Ami’s growth has drawn special attention, although it’s part of a larger national phenomenon in which ″several thousands″ are embracing Judaism each year.

″It may be more noticeable in Salt Lake because religion plays such a role here. You have a very aggressive faith based in this community that really feels missionary effort is important,″ Silver said.

For Darrell and Betzy Jorgensen and six children ranging in age from 5 to 12, conversion a year ago came after much soul-searching and 21/2 years attendance at the synagogue, which serves 400 families.

″My husband had always been interested in (Judaism) and had done a lot of reading,″ said Mrs. Jorgensen. ″Neither of us felt we wanted to continue in Mormonism. I had a lot of Jewish friends as a kid.″

Mrs. Jorgensen, who now teaches first grade at the Kol Ami religious school her four sons and two daughters attend, said the family was enjoying its immersion into Jewish culture.

″Our littlest one says it takes too long to be Jewish when we go to service,″ she laughed. ″But one thing that makes it so fun is the Jewish holidays. We have so many, and they’re family related.″

Janet Spitz, a Salt Lake County election registration clerk, said her study of Hebrew at church-owned Brigham Young University proved to be a door leading to her eventual conversion.

In at least one case, the attraction of Judaism has reached beyond the Mormon rank-and-file into local church leadership.

Officials of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints deny they are alarmed by Mormon conversions to Judaism.

″The most appropriate comment from the church is we believe in worshipping according to the dictates of our own conscience,″ said church spokesman Don LeFevre. ″That applies to everyone.″

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