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Orson Hyde Memorial Garden *

The Orson Hyde Memorial Garden is a 5.5 acre park, containing natural woodlands, on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem, Israel. The park features a 150-seat stone amphitheatre. The garden, designed by Lepa Yahalom and Dan Tzur, includes walking paths, an assembly area and landscaping along the western slope of the Mount of Olives, providing excellent views of the Kidron Valley, the Temple Mount and the Old City of Jerusalem.

Stone marker at the Orson Hyde Memorial Garden in Jerusalem
Photo: Tamarah 

Orson Hyde

Orson Hyde was a leader in the early Latter Day Saint movement and an original member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. He was a missionary of the LDS Church in the United States, Europe, and the Ottoman Empire. Hyde married Marinda Nancy Johnson, in Kirtland, Ohio, on September 4, 1834. Joseph Smith was sealed to Marinda as a plural wife in Spring 1842 while Hyde was on his mission to Jerusalem. It is not clear when, or if, Hyde learned about his wife’s sealing to Smith. However, three months after his return, Hyde had learned about plural marriage and married two additional wives. He ultimately took eight wives and fathered 32 children.

Orson Hyde
Public Domain

One of Hyde’s most significant missions was a call to preach in Jerusalem. From April 1841 to December 1842, he proselyted in Palestine.

Orson Hyde Slideshow

Orson Hyde’s experience sailing to the Holy Land

He recorded that before dawn on October 24, 1841 he climbed up the Mount of Olives overlooking the city, then both wrote and recited a prayer, part of which reads:

Now, O Lord! Thy servant has been obedient to the heavenly vision which Thou gavest him in his native land; and under the shadow of Thine outstretched arm, he has safely arrived in this place to dedicate and consecrate this land unto Thee, for the gathering together of Judah’s scattered remnants, according to the predictions of the holy Prophets — for the building up of Jerusalem again after it has been trodden down by the Gentiles so long, and for rearing a Temple in honor of Thy name. Everlasting thanks be ascribed unto Thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that Thou hast preserved Thy servant from the dangers of the seas, and from the plague and pestilence which have caused the land to mourn. The violence of man has also been restrained, and Thy providential care by night and by day has been exercised over Thine unworthy servant. Accept, therefore, O Lord, the tribute of a grateful heart for all past favors, and be pleased to continue Thy kindness and mercy towards a needy worm of the dust.

The garden is dedicated to the memory of Orson Hyde, an early apostle in the church who visited Jerusalem and offered a prayer on October 24, 1841, dedicating the Holy Land for the return of the Jews.

Negotiations with the City of Jerusalem

In the early 1980s the Mormons wanted to build a campus in Jerusalem to be the Jerusalem branch of Brigham Young University. Teddy Kollek, mayor of Jerusalem at the time, was willing to allocate them a plot of land on the western slopes of Mt. Scopus, but suspicion surrounding the Mormon mission raised much opposition in Israel which quickly reached the Knesset halls. In the wake of this controversy the Mormons pledged that local students, neither Jews nor Muslims, would not be permitted to study at the Jerusalem branch of the Brigham Young University, only students who came from abroad. The Mormon University also raised donations for the opening of the Orson Hyde Memorial Garden in Emek Tzurim, at the foot of their new campus. 

A plaque inscribed with the prayer by Hyde in English and Hebrew once stood in the park. It was since removed due to vandalism. The creation of the memorial garden and an agreement by the LDS Church not to proselytise in Israel played an important part in overcoming local opposition to the construction of BYU Jerusalem Center.

The park features a 150-seat stone amphitheatre, and is noted for its views of the Kidron Valley and the Old City of Jerusalem.

Brigham Young University Jerusalem Center for Near Eastern Studies 

BYU’s study abroad program to Jerusalem, which began in 1968, played a key role in the growth of LDS visitors to the area. The LDS presence in the area soon grew too large for the leased space to provide adequate space for worship, so the church began looking into building a center for students.

At the dedication of the Orson Hyde Memorial Gardens on October 24, 1979 the church’s announced its intent to build a center for BYU students in the city. Negotiations between the church and the Israeli government stretched from 1980–1984. The land the church wanted for the center, located at the northwestern margin of Mount Olive, right next to the valley which separates it from Mount Scopus, had been occupied by Israel since the Six-Day War of 1967 and could not be sold under Israeli law. The church decided to obtain a lease on the land instead. Leasing the land also prevented the politically controversial problem of the church owning a piece of Jerusalem land. Israeli officials saw the building of the center on the land as a way of solidifying control over land whose ownership was ambiguous under international law. By August 1984, the church had the land on a 49-year lease, building permits had been obtained, and construction on the building began. Brigham Young University promised not to violate the laws of the state of Israel, or its own commitment regarding proselytizing in the state of Israel through the Jerusalem-based Brigham Young facility. The Jerusalem Center played a role in the research of the Dead Sea Scrolls in cooperation with the Dead Sea Scrolls Foundation of Jerusalem. They developed a comprehensive CD-ROM database of the contents of the Scrolls, enabling researchers worldwide the ability to study them.


Brigham Young University Jerusalem Center Building seen from below
Public Domain

P.S.

As a child I remember yearly visits by pairs of well dressed young Mormon studends to proselytize my Dad (the local Kosher butcher) in upstate New York. “Oh, Mister Cohen when are you going to read our books?” Dad was one of the heads of the local Jewish community.

About Israel and You

Cameling in the holy land since forever