A Book Different from Any Other
By Harriet Rosser Kirkland
Taken from Mormon Journal, Ensign, July 1986:
Second one down on https://www.lds.org/ensign/1986/07/mormon-journal
Last year I vacationed with my family in New Jersey. During my visit I was often asked, how did a nice, cultured Jewish girl from the U. S. East Coast become a Mormon pioneer in the far West? I sometimes wonder myself.
I grew up Jewish in a large New Jersey town located twenty miles north of Philadelphia. My family was always close, and I grew up knowing my family loved and supported me. We always had time for family talks and activities. We did not have family home evening, but my father instituted a program called “family therapy.” We discussed our problems, needs, and much more. My parents had three children; I am the only girl. I was spoiled—a Jewish princess, as the saying goes.
My family belonged to a conservative synagogue. There I attended both Sunday and Hebrew school. At the age of thirteen I received my Bas Mitzvah. According to Jewish law, a young woman then becomes an adult and is responsible for her own sins. The ritual includes conducting part of the Sabbath services, reading from the Torah in Hebrew, and a talk. Like many Jewish occasions, it is followed by a party and gift giving.
I remained active in our synagogue through my high school years. I don’t remember questioning my religion. I just accepted it—until I reached college.
I attended Northeastern University in Boston, where I completed a B.A. and M.A. in History. For me, these years, from 1969 to 1976, were filled with rebellion and searching. As I look back I can characterize this time as one of spiritual darkness. I felt something lacking in my life but did not know where to turn.
In June of 1976, after completing my graduate degree, I went to work at Independence National Historical Park in Philadelphia. I had previously worked as a seasonal employee at Independence and was thrilled to be working during the Bicentennial.
It was during this time that I met Paul.
One day a friend introduced us; then, after he left, she said, “He’s a real ranger from out West. He knows how to ride horses, climb mountains, conduct searches and rescues, and everything! Furthermore, he is a Mormon. He doesn’t drink or smoke, and when he takes a girl out for a date he’ll only kiss her goodnight, and always leaves her at her front door. He’s certainly different from any man I know.”
I had an extremely limited knowledge of Latter-day Saints, so all of this was new to me. I knew only that they were a religious group that had moved to Salt Lake City in the nineteenth century to escape persecution. In my high school of 2,000 students I could remember only one LDS family—and I hadn’t been close to any of their daughters.
Paul asked me for a date during that summer of 1976. At dinner the waitress asked me if I would like a drink. I replied, “No, I don’t drink.” Paul smiled a little and told me that was good. He then asked me if I smoked. Again I answered no. His smile broadened. He had a few more questions for me. I must have passed his test because he asked me for a second date.
One day we were talking about history together at work. He knew I had a degree in the field and told me he had a history degree from Ricks College. He then asked me what I knew about the American Indians. I responded that I had very little knowledge. Paul told me he had just the book for me and it was an all-time best-seller. The following day he gave me a copy of the Book of Mormon. It was quite different from any book I had read.
During the early stage of our dating, Paul asked me to go to church with him. This was an unusual date for me, but I thought it would be interesting. In addition, I realized it meant a great deal to him.
I will never forget that first Sunday we walked into the meetinghouse. I was overwhelmed by the warmth and spirituality I found. The people were friendly and receptive, and many introduced themselves to me. At sacrament meeting that evening Paul was one of the speakers. He gave a wonderful talk. I was impressed with everything I saw and heard.
Paul and I continued to date. I was fervently questioning my own beliefs, but I had great difficulty in accepting Jesus as the Christ. I asked myself many questions. Are my parents wrong? What about Jewish tradition, law, and culture? Could millions of Jews have died without knowing Jesus as the Christ? I didn’t know. For the first time in my life, I got down on my knees and prayed to my Father in Heaven. I had been reading in the Book of Mormon and needed to know if I was pursuing the right path.
The answer came to me. Tears welled in my eyes and my heart filled with joy as I learned that Jesus was indeed the Christ. I realized that I had to accept The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It was founded upon the truth and the restoration of Christ’s gospel through Joseph Smith.
I had come across a passage in Alma 30:8—“Choose ye this day, whom ye will serve.” I recalled Joshua’s similar statement in Joshua 24:15. [Josh. 24:15] I knew it was time for me to be on the Lord’s side. I feared my decision would hurt and alienate members of my family and some friends—but I realized there could be no other way.
During the following months I took the missionary lessons. I was privileged to be taught by two missionaries who had been given an assignment to teach Jewish people.
One day as I was walking from my job in Philadelphia to Paul’s apartment to attend one of my lessons, I realized that the Lord had answered the prayers I had been sending for several years. I hadn’t even been praying consciously, yet I had been asking the Lord for someone to love and something to believe in. He had answered my prayers with blessings of greater magnitude than I ever imagined.
In April 1977 I was baptized, and in May Paul and I were married. The following year we were sealed for time and all eternity in the Manti Temple. (And I’m happy to write that my conversion and marriage are now accepted by my family.)
The years since have brought tremendous changes in my life. I had always thought I would live near a large eastern city and be married to a nice Jewish doctor or lawyer. Now I’m a Latter-day Saint married to a national park ranger. We have lived in such remote places as the Hans Flat Ranger Station in southern Utah, where the population varied between five and eight people, depending on the season. The closest town was Green River, which meant we traveled eighty miles one way to buy groceries. We didn’t even have a telephone!
The changes in my life have been many. But the most important is the testimony I now have of the Savior and his mission. How very grateful I am for him, and for a Heavenly Father who sent his Spirit into the life of a Jewish girl and allowed her to become a Mormon pioneer.