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August 19, 2011

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HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, AUGUST 19, 2011 PAGE 15A By Naomi Zeveloff Forward - Deep in America's heart- land, a Reform synagogue,- a nondenominational mosque and an Episcopa- lian church are all putting down roots on a 37-acre tract of land that once be- longed to a Jewish country club. A body of water called Hell Creek runs through the development, over which the faith groups plan to build "Heaven's Bridge." Fantastic as it sounds, this interfaith campus is currently in the works in Omaha, Neb. Slated for completion in 2014, the Tri-Faith Initiative is an experiment in religious coexistence in a City better known as a hub of corn-fed conservatism. "The only other place where such "a thing exists is Jerusalem," said Dr. Syed Mohiuddin, chairman of the Creighton University School of Medicine. Mo- hiuddin's organization, the American Institute of Islamic Studies and Cul- ture, is building a mosque on the campus. "Jerusalem is so important to these three faiths. We are sort of reproducing that model." If the experiment works, the city of Omaha--with a metropolitan-area popula- tion of about 900,000, in- cluding 5,500 Jews, 6,000 Muslims and 4,500 Epis- copalians-will become a beacon of cooperation in a world of interreligious strife. But before that can happen, the three groups still need to navigate fears, stereotypes and bureau- cratic hang-ups. The story of the Tri-Faith Initiative began with a simple quest for a parking lot. Temple Israel, the larg- est synagogue in Omaha, is in the city's congested downtown district. On the High Holidays, the Reform congregation bor- rows parking space from its two neighbors, the Omaha Community Playhouse and the First United Method- ist Church. When Temple Israel's leaders decided to relocate the congregation to West Omaha, where A church, a shul and a mosque try a faithful experiment many of the synagogue's members now live, they reached out to Mohiuddin, who was planning a non- denominational mosque in the same neighborhood. "It wasn't a directive from the rabbi to say, 'Go get with this group of Mus- lims,'" said Jon Meyers, a board member at Temple Israel. "Having said that we realized, 'Hey, this is a really cool thing. Why don't we look at exploring this?' " After an unsuccessful bid to the Catholic Church in Omaha, the synagogue and mosque found awilling third partner in the Epis- copal Diocese of Nebraska. In 2006, the three faith groups drafted a Memo- randum of Understanding committing to a shared campus with an additional interfaith building, for which they formed a sepa- rate 501(c)(3) called the Tri-Faith Initiative. Each faith group is responsible for purchasing its own par- cel of land and building its own facility. The Tri-Faith Initiative will construct the fourth building. Proselytizing is strictly forbidden. "It's been a remarkable journey," said Nancy Kirk, executive director of the Tri-Faith Initiative. "I am so impressed by the rela- tionships that have been built and the level of trust." This year, after an ar- duous five years scout- ing for land, the groups finally settled on the 37-acre property in West Omaha. The tract is part of a larger mixed-use de- velopment called Sterling Ridge, the former site of the Highland Country Club golf course built for Jews who were once disallowed from the city's mainstream golf clubs. The three faith groups, plus the Tri-Faith Initiative, are un- der contract with Sterling Ridge's developer for their respective land purchases. Temple Israel, which has raised money for both the land and the synagogue, will likely break ground first, opening a new facility in 2013. "Our challenge is to pick up and move an entire con- gregation without mak- ing any of our decisions divisive," Meyer said. "Our decision to move to the new Sterling Ridge site was extremely well accepted." Still, Meyer said, some members of Temple Israel have expressed concerns that the campus might be a target of Muslim terrorism or that the new mosque itself could give rise to a "terrorist cell." "Some people have a concern that our proxim- ity to the mosque and the fact that we would be in a neighborhood and in an initiative together would by association put us in jeopardy," he said. "Pick a percentage, whatever percentage of the United States has that feeling [of fear of Muslims], and I am sure that there is some- thing equal to that among our congregation." In order to allay the fears, Temple .Israel's leaders reached out to Alan Potash, director of Omaha's Anti-Defamation League,'and to a federal law-enforcement official, both of whom assured them that they were not putting the congregation at risk by moving to the new location. "You have to be realistic about it," Meyers said. "Ev- eryone has to be in charge of their own safety. It is not like it is going to be awalled or gated community. This is still Omaha." Asked how he felt know- ing that members of the Jewish community har- bored fears of Muslim ex- tremism, Mohiuddin said that his community shared the same concerns. "I don't personally take offense because I recognize that a small, tiny minority of Muslims have caused people to fear, and the press in the United States has not helped," he said. "We think the bestway to combat that is to let people get to know us and not be afraid." For the Muslims and the Episcopalians, construct- ing facilities at the Tri- Faith campus will entail building congregations from the ground up. While the Rev. Ernesto Medina said there are plenty of Episcopalians to fill the pews in a West .Omaha church, the task could prove particularly chal- lenging for the American Institute of Islamic Studies and Culture, a new not-for- profit devoted to counter- ing the' image of violent Islam in American society. "Not many people know about the organization," said Fa'iz Rab, the spokes- man for the Islamic Center of Omaha, the city's largest mosque. "From the very begin- ning, we have made an intense effort to keep the Muslim community informed of what this organization is about and to make it a success," said Mohiuddin, who added that outreach efforts will ramp up once the mosque is built. "Current facilities in Omaha are not big enough or sufficient enough to do all we want to do." The Tri-Faith Campus has also stirred up a con- cern that cuts across faith lines: the prospect that coexistence could lead to romantic commingling, and even intermarriage, among Jews, Muslims and Christians. Some Mus- lims, Mohiuddin said, also wonder if the Tri-Faith campus could give rise to a fourth religion--one that incorporates elements of Judaism, Islam and Chris- tianity. "We believe--and this has been our experience-- thatunderstanding other faiths actually makes your own faith stronger," Mo- hiuddin said he tells his doubters."I am a better Muslim and have a much better understanding of Islam. And the other faiths have the exact same im- pression. Their own beliefs have become stronger because they understand the religion better." Though Meyer, Mohiud- din and Medina have had to work to win over their respective constituents, each one speaks of a deep commitment to his part- ners ifi the Tri-Faith Initia- tive. The lengthy search for a West Omaha location for the campus turned out to be a blessing in disguise, providing the faith leaders with ample time to get to know one another and their respective communities. In 2009, the three groups hosted an event called Din- ner in Abraham's Tent, an hour-long panel discussion with national religious leaders from the three faiths at Omaha's Qwest Center. More than 1,000 people attended. In April, the Tri-Faith Initiative sponsored a Passover seder at St. Martha's Episcopal Church, where Medina is the rector. "We had to start really late because people kept coming," Medina said. "We ate really well, and we sang and we experienced some- thing with integrity. If fear was a factor, we would not have known it." But there also have been moments of tension, Savannah Cour and Coe is an  mmtmity where hospitality is truly a way of fife! All within one residence, we offer Assisted Living, Re.l'abititation Care and Skilled Nursing. What makes our community unique is that Rehabilitation Care (within our Skilled Nursing Facility) is offered just down Nat Bregman, Mandela's 'first white friend,' dies at 88 f Platinum Sponsor of The Jewish Pavilion Celebrating Monthly Shabbat Services Weekly Jewish Social Group Special Meals offered during High Holy Ho|idoys By Michael Belling JTA Nat Bregman, whom anti- apartheid activist Nelson Mandela described as his "first white friend," died in Johannesburg. Bregman, who shared an office with Mandela for three years at a Johannesburg law firm, died July 20. He was 88. He and Mandela were law clerks in the 1940s at the offices of Sidelsky, Witkin and Eidelman when they shared an office. In a recent interview with the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, Bregman re- called that at the time he was a member of the Communist Party of South Africa and invited Mandela to attend "mixed parties" with him. That impressed Mandela. In his autobiography "Long Walk to Freedom," Mandela described Breg- man, who established his own law firm in 1946, as "bright, pleasant, and thoughtful." "He seemed entirely col-" or-blind and became my first white friend," Mandela wrote. Mandela, the former pres- ident of South Africa and a Nobel Peace Prize winner, remembered Bregman as being a "deft mimic" who did "fine imitations of the voices of Jan Smuts, Frank- lin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill." Bregman later combined his professional activities with being a part-time entertainer, particularly in front of Jewish audiences. In his later years he became religiously observant. Bregman and Mandela, who was jailed for his anti-apartheid activism, renewed their friendship following Mandela's release from prison in 1990. They met annually at Mandela's home, where they were joined by Lazar Sidelsky, for whom they both worked all those years ago--the only man Mandela ever called "boss." is unparalte such as when the Jewish Federation of Omaha's newspaper, the Jewish Press, publicized the fact that Naser Z. Alsharif, an American of Palestinian descent who serves on the Tri-Faith board, signed on to a boycott of Israeli academic and cultural institutions. In the Jew- ish Press article, Temple Israel's senior rabbi; Aryeh Azriel, an Israeli, said that he would continue sitting on the board with Alsharif, even though the revelation "pain[ed]" him. "We have decided at this point that the AIISC and the Tri-Faith Initiative, or for that matter the temple or the diocese, have no political positions and if the individuals want to ex- press their political views, that is their own purview," Mohiuddin said. The topic of Israel also came up at the group's January 2009 board meet- ing after Operation Cast Lead in Gaza. Kirk said that she approached the meet- ing with dread, wondering if the entire project would implode. But what might have rent asunder a weaker group actually strength- ened the bonds of Tri-Faith Initiative members. "Dr. Mohiuddin came into the meeting and he said, 'My people are in great pain.' Immediately that allowed everyone else to share that sense of pain," Kirk said. "You know, there was no 'you're wrong, we're right.' It wasn't about that. It was about the shared humanity." Call rz today,.stap+by for a visit, join m far lunch, or all of be aboge. You're M 1 . Where Hospitality is Truly a Way of Life! 1301 W. Maitland Blvd. Maitland, FL 32751 (Located one block from I-4, near the Jewish r Community Center) 407-645-3990 ..... www.SavannahCourtMaitland.corn Assisted Living Facili License No. 8447, Skilled Nursing Facility 1635096 ,4 ,g,,a,,,vpty of