Elder Holland shares stories about construction of Jerusalem Center, talks about center’s future

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Elder Holland speaks during the an event celebrating the Jerusalem Center’s 30th anniversary on Oct. 11. (BYU Photo)

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles spoke at an event at BYU on Oct. 11 celebrating the 30th anniversary of the dedication of the BYU Jerusalem Center. He held up a stack of 16 pages recording 33 miracles that he said were necessary for the Church to have the property on which the Jerusalem Center currently stands.

“I do not use the word ‘miracle’ lightly,” Elder Holland said. “I’m in a calling, and I’m in a quorum that does not use the word lightly but knows what it means and knows the significance of when we’ve seen one.”

One of the miracles on the list dealt with the location and acquisition of the property.

He recalled a time he was with President Spencer W. Kimball and President N. Eldon Tanner in Oct. 1979. While in Jerusalem for the dedication of the Orson Hyde Garden, they decided to “make a pitch for a piece of property” for a visitor center, under BYU, to teach more about the Church’s view of the Holy Land.

Elder Holland recalled looking at many pieces of property while in Jerusalem and not being pleased with any of them. The best was what he called “the L-shaped property,” but President Tanner was not impressed with it.

“It didn’t take President Tanner 30 seconds to turn his nose up at that piece of property,” Elder Holland said. “(He) started to walk up the hill, moved away from the infamous L-shaped property toward the northwest — a little knoll which became an absolute panorama with a magnificent view of the old city, of Gethsemane.”

But there was a problem.

“It was absolutely, categorically, unequivocally, positively, without a doubt unavailable,” Elder Holland said.

President Tanner wanted it nonetheless.

Elder Holland quoted his friend David, who was involved in the acquisition of the property, saying:

“Following that momentous event, I was nevertheless so convinced that the site was simply not available, not even desirable — given all the potential political, legal and religious entanglements.’”

They pursued the property nonetheless, and there were indeed “political, legal and religious entanglements.”

One of these entanglements was the issue involving whether or not the Church would be able to proselyte through its Jerusalem Center. Even though they were legally allowed to proselyte, an opposition led by an ultra-orthodox religious group against the Jerusalem Center made it practically impossible to continue with the development.

Elder Holland spoke of how he and General Authorities met together to discuss this issue. After what Elder Holland recalled as a “long conversation,” they came to a decision on Jul. 31, 1985.

A member of the First Presidency, who Elder Holland elected not to name, said, “Are you prepared to stand as an idle witness and allow your mouth to be shut for a season?”

The brethren agreed.

“And the undertaking (of not proselyting) was to be delivered to Jerusalem five days later,” Elder Holland said.

During that undertaking, Elder Holland recalled a particular flight to Jerusalem with his wife.

After landing at the airport, the captain announced that nobody was to leave the plane until notified.

“The attendants were kind of whispering and darting back and forth and nobody seemed to give the signal about disembarking, and in a funny way, I thought they were kind of looking at us,” Elder Holland said. “Well, that’s self-aggrandizement. I forgot about it for a while, but I still thought they were looking at us, but nobody would be interested in someone from Provo.”

Sometime after, it was announced that everyone was to leave the plane — everyone except Elder Holland and his wife.

He recalled being escorted through immigration, backrooms and warehouses to a car that would take them to their BYU vehicle. Elder Holland said that while they were driving away, he could hear a massive noise from the airport. When they drove around the corner, he saw “500 Yeshiva students, shouting and carrying pickets and signs” telling him to leave and stop the construction.

Elder Holland said that some of the signs read:

“Jeffrey Holland, do not desecrate our faith.”

“Jeffrey, stop your missionary work before we retaliate.”

This kind of protest only became stronger later as the building process continued. One night about a year after construction started, Elder Holland said he “thought we were going to start World War Three.”

It was at a time when there was a 60-60 deadlock between the Labor and Likud parties because of a divided electoral vote.

Israelis couldn’t break the political deadlock, so it was decided “Yitzhak Shamir would rule for a year and Shimon Peres would rule for a year,” taking turns serving as prime minister. At the time the Church was pushing to build the Jerusalem Center, Shamir had just finished serving as Prime Minister and Peres was starting.

And at the same time, Ariel Sharon was the Israeli defense minister.

“The most volatile man on the planet at that time, nearly I suppose, who was very hawkish,” Elder Holland said, “and who was itching, I suppose it’s fair to say now, I think that it seemed like he was itching for war.”

Elder Holland recounted that the Shas, a religious political party in Israel, said that they would reconsider their loyalties and give up their four votes to the prime minister who “would move the Mormons off Mount Scopus.” These votes, in the parliamentary setting, had the power to decide which prime minister would win over the deadlock.

Elder Holland and others working with him were calling each other in thirty-minute intervals saying, “’Is there going to be war?’ ‘Are we going to cause a war?’”

Eventually, Elder Holland contacted President Gordon B. Hinckley, then a member of the First Presidency.

He recalled President Hinckley saying, “I’ll take it to the temple. I’m on my way now. I’ll take it to the temple.”

In recounting what he read in the minutes recorded of the meeting and what the brethren said, Elder Holland said the following:

“And I say a miracle did happen, and it didn’t come from Jerusalem. And it didn’t come from London. And it didn’t come from Washington D.C. or New York City. That miracle that night and that morning came from the fourth floor of the Salt Lake Temple.”

What was that miracle?

One was the apology Ariel Sharon made to Shimon Peres for putting the Israeli government in danger.

“The other miracle,” Elder Holland said, “was Shimon Peres accepted it.”

Elder Holland stated that this apology put the government at ease — the government where prime minsters were asked to “move the Mormons off Mount Scopus” to gain political power.

After about 17 years of struggles and miracles, the Jerusalem Center was dedicated on May 16, 1989. Now, students can study the Old and New Testaments, Hebrew, Arabic and more in the Holy Land. Though the center has contributed a lot to cultural education and experience, Elder Holland said that it has not yet reached its “full potential.”

“I don’t know what it will mean in a generation after we’re gone, or what purposes the Lord might have for it, in addition to university purposes,” Elder Holland said. “But my testimony to you is we have not yet realized it’s full potential, and the Lord has it there for an immense amount of good yet to be done.”

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