Six years after Brigham Young University closed its Jerusalem campus because of concerns over terrorism, 44 Mormon students from Salt Lake City, Utah, arrived Wednesday to study for a semester in the capital.
The students had been expected in June, but the second Lebanon war compelled the school to postpone its reopening.
"Usually the university facilities are capable of absorbing 173 students. However we had to start the current school year with a smaller number of students since the place was closed for six years," said executive director Eran Hayet.
"We don't want them to be closed in a glass cage. We want them to go out and feel the atmosphere of this place. The security situation was the main reason for postponing the institution's operation for so long. We didn't want any one hurt then and we don't want it now," Hayet said.
The Brigham Young University Jerusalem Center for Near Eastern Studies is located on Mount Scopus, near the Hebrew University. It is financed by the Mormon Church, and has been operating in Jerusalem since 1968. The university moved to the impressive building on Mount Scopus in 1987.
In the past, it offered Mormons from more than 100 countries the opportunity to spend a semester studying Hebrew, Arabic, art, science and religion, and to visit Israel, Egypt and Jordan.
Over the years, many haredim have opposed the school's presence in Israel and expressed fear of proselytizing. The university's administration agreed in writing that no sort of activities would occur.
"The university's administration even tightened their obligation to the Israeli authorities and provided guidance to the academic staff regarding the ban, even instructing them not to advise Israelis who come and ask about religion," said Hayet. "The place is defined as neutral and this approach is expressed in the variety of people who work here, among whom you can find Jews, Arabs, Christians, Israelis, Palestinians, Americans, all welcome."
MK Meir Porush (United Torah Judaism) said Wednesday his party opposed the Mormons' activities in Israel. The activities of the heads of the institute should be closely followed, he said, since it is in the nature of Mormons to carry out missionary activities and to try and influence others. Porush said he would monitor their activities as well.