Conversations with a Jewish Rabbi and a Mormon Bishop, Part IV


Rabbi Morris Zimbalist and Bishop Paul Hirst conclude their conversation on similarities in their respective congregation. Read previous entries here.

Rabbi Zimbalist is the rabbi of Montebello Jewish Center in Montebello, NY. Bishop Hirst is the bishop of the Brainerd Ward of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Brainerd, MN.

In what ways do you participate in the larger community?

Rabbi Zimbalist: I am currently the President of the Rockland County Board of Rabbis, a group consisting of all non-Orthodox rabbis in the county. I am a trustee of the Holocaust Museum and Study Center in Rockland County. I am involved with the Jewish Federation, a member of the admissions committe for the Rabbinical School at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, and the chaplain for the local fire department. I am a former member of the editorial board for the Rockland Jewish Reporter and the former chaplain for the Jewish War Veterans of the State of New York.

Bishop Hirst: Personally, I’ve been a board member and president of a local arts group. However, because of church responsibilities, I’ve had to give some of that up. We are encouraging our members to reach out and participate as they are able in the community. We’re working on a community blood drive with the Red Cross this spring.

What is the most difficult aspect of your job?

Rabbi Zimbalist: Trying to please everyone. Facing every interpersonal interaction with a sense of uncertainty as to whether or not I am going to be able to help or guide someone with whatever questions or concerns they may be facing.

Bishop Hirst: Knowing how to reach those who, at one time, felt the Spirit and were participants but now, for all sorts of reasons, are not. They aren’t receiving and feeling the blessings that can be theirs.

Church discipline is also a difficult. Imposing consequences on others for their actions and choices is not pleasant. But there is often joy with it, too, as people repent and return to God.

What is the best part of your responsibilities?

Rabbi Zimbalist: Helping people through the more difficult life experiences – pastoral visits in hospitals, comforting and counseling families at a time of loss, taking care of the final needs of those who have passed away. When I do those things, I really feel that I am helping people, particularly helping them through a time of crisis, and I also feel like all of those efforts are appreciated.

Bishop Hirst: Interviewing the children before their baptisms. Watching people rise to the challenge.

What has surprised you, either in a positive or negative way, about your role as clergy?

Rabbi Zimbalist: I am most surprised that it is so incredibly hard to motivate volunteers to do anything, and that people look to me for more than spiritual, ritual or religious things.

Bishop Hirst: The mantle of the office is, in some ways, heavier than I anticipated. I’m also amazed, that while I’m not really a different person since being called and set apart, that people respect the office. I’m still the same, but the office I hold is sacred and people respond to that more than me personally. I was counseled when I was called to put my own “stamp” on the ward. I’ve been surprised how difficult this is, too.

I’ve also been surprised at how few middle-of-the-night calls I’ve received, so far. But I’ve also been told by others that it takes about a year for the members to start trusting, so I may have some more interesting experiences to look forward to, too.

To you, what is the most meaningful part of your faith?

Rabbi Zimbalist: The most meaningful part of my faith is constantly trying to grow closer to God in all that I do, both as a rabbi and as a Jew.

Bishop Hirst: My personal relationship with Christ. This relationship grows through living the covenants I have made with him, which covenants teach me to love my fellowman (Matt 22:36-40).

In Conclusion

This conversation has mostly illustrated that regardless of religious identification, the clergy and their families experience many similar joys and frustrations, and that practicing faith, teaching faith, and encouraging others to have faith is very challenging.

On a personal level, Alison said:

This conversation has taken me back to many memories of our adolescent friendship. The J family was much more religious than my family, and I remember going to church with you on Sunday mornings and sitting in your kitchen doing homework while your family had family prayer time in the next room. I never felt strange or out-of-place as a Jew in these situations. It never even occurred to me that maybe others would feel that way in that situation! It is that same religious respect that I think is reflected throughout this “e-conversation.” I think we can only hope that our children will grow up with those same views towards others who practice different religions, even as they live very different religious lives

Reconnecting in this way with Alison and Morrie reminded Teresa of her interest in and respect of their Jewish faith back in high school. Teresa said:

The rich symbolism and history appealed to me then and it still does. I teach a religion class about the Old Testament to high school students. The personal connection with the practices of a modern Jewish family enriched that study and the class discussions with the LDS youth. And in our own family, as Paul said, we learned some new interesting things about Judaism that we didn’t know before.

Overall, we have been amazed at the similarities this conversation uncovered. Most of all, our goals seem to be the same—that is to have our members draw nearer to God through living the commandments and their covenants.

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1 Comment

  1. Dad
    Apr 23, 2008

    Great article and uplifting – makes me recall my time as Bishop and Branch President

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