IN FALL 1884, the congregation that became Temple Israel opened its doors as the first Jewish synagogue in the state of Nebraska. From its inception, Temple Israel was a Reform congregation, a theologically progressive denomination that stresses the social justice imperatives of Judaism. Yet the early members of Temple Israel included not just Reform Jews, but Conservative and Orthodox Jews as well; navigating these interdenominational relationships would prove to be a significant part of the congregation’s early development.
Fast forward 130 years and Temple Israel is one of three houses of worship embarking on a unique interfaith partnership: a single campus in west Omaha that will house a Jewish synagogue, a Muslim mosque, a Christian church, and a fourth building for interfaith fellowship.
Aryeh Azriel, Temple Israel’s senior rabbi, planted the seeds for this project, known as the Tri-Faith Initiative, in 2006 when he reached out to the American Muslim Institute, another local religious community that was looking to construct a new building.
“The original idea started as a result of looking for a partnership in sharing parking lots,” Azriel told Sojourners.
The two communities had forged a relationship in 2001 when, following the Sept. 11 attacks, Azriel led members of Temple Israel in encircling a local mosque to protect it from the Islamophobic attacks they were seeing in the national news.
Syed Mohiuddin, president of the American Muslim Institute, agreed to the partnership; he liked the idea of the two religious groups sharing a parking lot with each other rather than with retail stores or other commercial development. However, it didn’t take long for the two communities to realize the project had greater potential than a shared parking lot. If they could find Christians willing to join them, they could build a shared campus for all three Abrahamic faiths, the first such campus in the world—at least to their knowledge.