According to the American Jewish Historical Society, Judaism is foundational to the history of Mormonism. Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism in 1830, proclaimed that his followers were direct descendants of the ancient Hebrews, with the tenth Article of Faith of Mormonism proclaiming. “We believe in the literal gathering of Israel and in the restoration of the Ten Tribes; that Zion (for Smith’s followers) will be built upon this (North American) continent.” Smith sent Orson Hyde to prepare the land of Palestine for the return of the Jews to their ancient homeland. In Europe, Hyde met with Jewish community leaders, not to proselytize them, but to urge them to return to Palestine. On October 24, 1841, Hyde prayed on the Mount of Olives to “dedicate this land…for the return of Judah’s scattered remnants.” Hyde’s mission began a long and continual positive link between Mormons and the modern State of Israel.” Brigham Young, successor to Smith and called the “American Moses,” led his flock across the desert to the Promised Land.
Although Jews were highly respected as the “Covenant people of God,” some early Mormons referred to all non-Mormons- regardless of their religion – as “Gentiles.” In 1916, Simon Bamberger ran for governor of Utah. He was the first non-Mormon, the first Democrat and the only Jew ever to seek that office.
During the campaign, “Bamberger visited a remote community in Southern Utah that had been settled by immigrant Norwegian converts to Mormonism. The community’s leader, a towering Norwegian, met Bamberger at the train and told him menacingly, “You might yust as vell go right back vere you come from. If you tink ve let any damn Yentile speak in our meeting house, yure mistaken.” Bamberger is said to have replied, “As a Jew, I have been called many a bad name, but this is the first time in my life I have been called a damned Gentile!” The Norwegian threw his arm around Bamberger and proclaimed, “You a Yew, an Israelite. Velcome my friend: welcome, our next governor.” The Norwegian was right. Bamberger won the election and served with great distinction.