(JTA) — A Nebraska synagogue is joining in a gesture of ecumenicism with an Islamic institute and an Episcopalian church.
Temple Israel of Omaha, the oldest synagogue in Nebraska, said Wednesday in a joint news conference with the Episcopal Diocese of Nebraska, the American Institute of Islamic Studies and Culture and the Tri-Faith Initiative that they each would be purchasing adjacent land in order to create a 35-acre tri-faith neighborhood.
The Reform temple, which has a congregation of 800 households, says the project is “the first of its kind in the world.”
Each of the four groups raised the money and will purchase the properties separately.
Temple Israel, which was founded in 1871, has raised $21 million in pledges of the $25 million needed to build a 58,500-square-foot building on a 14-acre site, according to the Omaha World-Herald.
The temple will be finished in 2013 — the first of the four to be completed — according to the Jewish Press weekly newspaper of Omaha.
Temple Israel President John Lehr in a statement noted the serendipity of Omaha’s Jews congregating on land that once sported the state’s only country club to allow Jews.
“We are now poised to congregate again, but this time in a peaceful and beautiful multi-faith neighborhood, linked together by bridges of dialogue and mutual understanding," Lehr said in the statement.
Bob Freeman, the synagogue’s past president and its representative on the board of the Tri-Faith Initiative, told the Jewish Press that “Judaism teaches outreach to and respect for neighbors; so do our basic Midwestern values, which are reinforced in an open and collaborative community like Omaha. Temple’s long history of community outreach and involvement strongly speaks to this.
"Every time I open our prayer book, I’m astounded at how many passages encourage this.”
According to a 2010 study by the local federation, 6,100 of Nebraska’s 6,850 Jews live in Omaha.