First established in January of 1871, the congregation of Temple Israel has given a place of worship to many people of the Jewish faith. The first building occupied by the congregation was finished on September 18th, 1884. Jewish immigrants who settled in Omaha in the mid to late 1800's began plans for future ritual services for their soon-to-be community. This ranged from a Jewish cemetery for ritual services, to the first Jewish temple established in Omaha, Temple Israel. Showcasing true compassion, refugees that fled from the Pogroms and subsequent Holocaust were given free memberships and welcomed to their new home. Something truly unique in today's era is the ability to truly empathize and understand religions that differ from one's own. Temple Israel is a part the Tri-Faith Initiative, an interfaith project that hopes to connect a mutual understanding between religions and relations. Right off 132nd and Pacific lies an interlocked plot of land including a synagogue (Temple Israel), a church, and a mosque. The idea came about when the leaders of Temple Israel went into talks with the leaders of the Muslim Community of Omaha. The idea behind this project is to have people from multiple faiths and backgrounds learn and respect each other's way of life. The Tri-Faith Center is expected to open in early 2020 and will act as a religious hub of sorts, where organized activities and social events will be held in unison between the three places of worship. Temple Israel is truly a cornerstone for the Jewish faith in Omaha, especially after its involvement in the Tri-Faith Initiative.
Backstory and Context
The first Temple Israel, located at 23rd and Harney, was completed on September 18th, 1884. This was the first synagogue in Nebraska, and it would eventually move locations three times, ending up at its current location off 132nd and Pacific. Temple Israel faced hardship in the form of unpaid dues in its early years, mainly because of the depression of the 1890s, which hindered its ability to pay Rabbis for their services. After an increase in pew rent and change in leadership to Dr. Frederick Cohn, Temple Israel was moved to 29th and Jackson in 1907.
In 1942 the Temple hired its 11th Rabbi, Rabbi David Philipson, who was the oldest Rabbi teaching in the United States at the time. Rising to international recognition, Rabbi Philipson was a pacifist and praised as a humanitarian. Under his leadership the congregation grew to 300 members.
Nearly 50 years after the opening of the temple at 29th and Jackson, a new plot of land was purchased between 69th and 72nd and Cass streets in 1951. This would then become the third Temple Israel, when the former plot was sold to St. John's Greek Orthodox Church. In 1954 the congregation moved into the new building, and a new Temple Israel was formed. After an increase in enrollment for religious school, a new religious school wing was constructed in 1962 to adequately prepare for future students.
In 1988 Rabbi Aryeh Azriel became the new Rabbi, who had formerly served in Baltimore, Maryland. Through Rabbi Azriel, Temple Israel had an even stronger presence in the community, ranging from Thanksgiving Services in collaboration with a handful of Omaha churches to "Family School" which allowed parents to study Hebrew together with their children.
Finally, in 2011, 14 acres in the newly built Sterling Ridge area off 132nd and Pacific were purchased for what would become the newest Temple Israel. On August 25th, 2013, members of Temple Israel walked the Torah Scrolls from the previous temple to the current location in Sterling Ridge.
The major contributor for the move to Sterling Ridge was the promise of mutual understanding between the leaders of both Temple Israel and the Muslim community of Omaha, American Muslim Institute (AMI). Both of these communities talked about shared land and parking necessities. What began as a minute conversation about immediate needs, turned into a broader scope about future generations and their well being. While both communities talked about interfaith relations and similar values, an idea soon took root.
The idea of having three religions in close vicinity became something very real, and thus the search for a Christian church began. Soon enough the Episcopal Diocese of Nebraska joined the fold. Introductions between the three faiths began, and the Countryside Community Church United Church of Christ (UCC) became the representative for the third and final house of worship in the Tri-Faith Initiative. What makes the Tri-Faith Initiative truly special is the fact that it is the only project of its kind, forming a bond between three different faiths.
The focal point of the Tri-Faith Initiative is to build a realm of understanding between people of various religious backgrounds and to eventually offer a Tri-Faith Center for people across the country to come and learn. What makes the future Tri-Faith Center appealing to today's generation is the inclusion of webinars and handful of other digital resources that can be utilized across the globe.
Omaha City Directory, 1887-1893, F67405A18, Special Collections & Archives, Housed in University Archives and Special Collections, Criss Library, University of Nebraska at Omaha. Omaha, Nebraska.
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Rosenthal, Gilbert S. “Jewish Religion in America: A Study in Mutuality.” Judaism 25, no. 3
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