Omaha Jewish, Muslim and Christian organizations have purchased land for neighboring houses of worship, and at least one, Temple Israel, plans to begin construction in the spring of 2012, leaders of the Tri-Faith Initiative said Tuesday.
Construction also is expected to begin next year on a planned fourth building, called a Tri-Faith Center, with social, educational and conference facilities that all the groups could use.
A synagogue for Temple Israel, a mosque and study center for the American Institute of Islamic Studies and Culture, a church for the Episcopal Diocese of Nebraska and the Tri-Faith Center would be built near 132nd and Pacific Streets, as part of a development on the site of the former Ironwood Country Club.
Leaders announced Tuesday that each entity had purchased land for its building. They consider that a major leap toward a dream, five years in the making, of a shared campus for Jews, Muslims and Christians.
"This is probably the first time that Jews and Christians and Muslims have collaborated to intentionally co-locate houses of worship in the same common neighborhood," said Bob Freeman, chairman of the Tri-Faith Initiative Board of Directors.
The announcement attracted about 100 people, including members of the various religious organizations. Each group plans its own facility and has been raising money individually.
Temple Israel will move from its current location at 70th and Cass Streets and is ready to begin building "as soon as the snow melts," Rabbi Aryeh Azriel said. He hopes it will be done in time for the High Holy Days in 2013.
Leaders of the Episcopal Diocese of Nebraska and the American Institute of Islamic Studies and Culture didn't know when construction would begin.
Unlike Temple Israel, neither is moving a current congregation to the Tri-Faith site. Both are creating new ones.
The Rev. J. Scott Barker, the Episcopal bishop of Nebraska, said their focus is on building a church community first, then a building.
Dr. Syed Mohiuddin, president and co-founder of the American Institute of Islamic Studies and Culture, said that organization hopes to start building in 2012.
Freeman cited the practical benefits of locating houses of worship near one another.
"You have compatible uses, you have more green space that can be created, you can share parking on your peak use days and you can create outreach opportunities," he said. "The unique circumstance of having a Jewish, and a Christian, and a Muslim place of worship . creates even more interesting possibilities and, of course, challenges, and we look forward to tackling all of those in the coming years."
Freeman said the community had given about $1 million to the Tri-Faith Initiative to buy land and begin programming.
A representative of each faith group made hopeful remarks.
"Much has been said about the so-called karma of our move to a multi-faith neighborhood on the grounds of the former Jewish country club that was created in response to an earlier time of anti-Semitism," said John Lehr, president of Temple Israel.
"And this is indeed an interesting narrative. . That our Episcopal and Muslim friends have cast their votes as well . and that we are willing and able to do so peacefully, as neighbors intent on building bridges, rather than walls, surely bodes well for the times that are upon us."
Barker, who said the Episcopal diocese had invested $1 million so far, called Tuesday a day of great rejoicing. "We hope to be nothing less than a witness to the world of what is possible when people of different faiths work together," he said.
Mohiuddin said the institute he heads wants to promote a better Western understanding of Islam and to build a unified, informed Muslim community in Omaha.
He said people from the related Abrahamic faiths "should and can be working partners in the service of God."
Contact the writer: