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Mormon leader reiterates ban on ‘baptzing’ Shoah victims

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D’Arcy McGee MNA Lawrence Bergman, left, is welcomed by Eric Jarvis, lay leader of the Mormon church in Montreal.

MONTREAL — The lay leader of Montreal’s Mormons sought to allay any concern that his church is lax in preventing posthumous “baptisms” by its members of Holocaust victims.

Eric Jarvis, president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ Mount Royal Stake, as the region is known, reaffirmed the church’s official policy since 1995 and its commitment to enforce it.

Last year, the church’s world leadership, faced with evidence that violations continue, issued a statement reiterating that safeguards are in place and sanctions will be imposed on members who submit the names of those who died in the Holocaust for proxy baptism.

Jarvis, a psychiatrist at the Jewish General Hospital (JGH), was speaking at a Yom Hashoah commemoration at the Mormon church in Notre-Dame-de-Grâce on the evening of April 14. This was the first time that a Mormon church in Montreal hosted a Christian commemoration of the Holocaust in the 34 years that the event has been organized by the Christian-Jewish Dialogue of Montreal.

This commemoration is believed to have been the first of its kind at any Mormon congregation in Canada.

Jarvis said he was grateful to be given the opportunity to “feel less of an outsider” to the sorrow of the Jewish people, with whom he has enjoyed professional and personal relationships.

Jarvis read two statements issued by the church’s highest leadership in February 2012 that “strictly prohibit” any member from entering any name other than those of known ancestors for this symbolic conversion to the faith. This is a common practice among Mormons, who maintain one of the largest genealogical databases in the world at their Salt Lake City, Utah headquarters.

“While no system is foolproof in preventing the handful of individuals who are determined to falsify submissions, we are committed to taking action against individual abusers by suspending the submitter’s access privileges [to the church’s genealogical database]. We will consider whether other church disciplinary action should be taken,” the statement reads.

Jarvis said that, as per a follow-up statement, notice of this prohibition was sent to all Mormon congregations to be read out and posted on bulletin boards, as it has been in Quebec churches.

There are about 10,000 Mormons in Quebec in about 30 congregations.

“We seek to honour and cherish the memory of the victims of the Shoah, and in no way dishonour them,” said Jarvis.

Jarvis said that, while the Holocaust is removed from the experience of most Mormons, a teenaged member of the church in Nazi Germany was executed for his attempt to warn his countrymen of the true nature of Hitler’s plan.

After illegally listening to BBC shortwave broadcasts, Helmuth Hübener, 17, published anti-Nazi pamphlets. He was arrested by the Gestapo, charged with high treason and beheaded on Oct. 27, 1942, despite his youth.

Jarvis said everyone today can in their daily life act against antisemitism or other forms of intolerance.

“Often, when I take a taxi from the JGH, the driver asks if I’m Jewish. When I say no, then the stereotypes about the community are brought to my attention,” he said.

“This is an opportunity for me to stand up and correct those prejudices or misunderstandings, to the degree that I can.”

He read a passage from the Book of Mormon, a sacred text of the church, that affirms “all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile.”

The program, which attracted a larger than expected audience, included a sermon by Rabbi Lisa Grushcow, senior rabbi of Temple Emanu-El-Beth Sholom, and the singing of the memorial prayer Kel Maleh Rachamim and Kaddish, by its cantorial soloist Rachelle Shubert.

“I stand before you not only as a Jew and a rabbi,” said Rabbi Grushcow, “but also as a member of the LGBT community and a friend of the Roma,” as well as the disabled and others who suffered under Nazism.

She said the entirety of the lives of Holocaust victims must be remembered, not only their deaths. “We do a deep disservice to them if remember only how they died, and not how they lived.”

A moving talk was given by Belgian-born Helene Kravitz, who was six years old in 1942 when she and her three-year-old sister were separated from their mother and hidden in a Catholic convent. Their mother, a single parent, did not survive, and the girls arrived in Canada as orphans in 1948.

Seven memorial candles were lit for the six million Jews who perished, the millions of others also killed, the Righteous Gentiles, all people who are victims of conflicts that are not of their making, and those fighting for justice.

Among the guests lighting candles were D’Arcy McGee MNA Lawrence Bergman, who tabled the unanimously adopted 1999 legislation that made Quebec’s recognition of Yom Hashoah official, and Mary Deros, a Montreal city councillor whose father’s family were victims of the Armenian genocide during World War I, alongside church members, including Bishop Timothy Fratta and his three young daughters.

There has been Mormon representation of the Christian-Jewish Dialogue group for the past three years.

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