The construction of a tri-faith campus in southwest Omaha officially kicked off Sunday despite a lot of wet, mucky ground and relentless, blustering winds.
About 400 people gathered to celebrate the groundbreaking of Temple Israel's new synagogue at the Sterling Ridge development near 132nd and Pacific Streets. Because of the weekend's uncooperative weather, organizers had to make a few adjustments, such as moving the event a little east of the actual building site, to keep folks from standing in muddy water. People tried to cram inside a white tent to avoid the high winds.
"We kept saying 'Rain or shine, rain or shine,' " said Claudia Sherman, a spokeswoman for the synagogue.
Despite the challenges, the crowd — made up mostly of Temple Israel members — shrugged it off and was thrilled that the dream of a new synagogue was starting to become a reality. The 140-year-old Reform Jewish congregation has outgrown its current location at 7023 Cass St. That building holds about 300 people; the new one? About 900.
Some 730 families belong to Temple Israel, synagogue officials said.
"This is just really neat," said Omahan Ellen Saylan, a longtime synagogue member. "It's going to be a great change for us."
What's special about the project, organizers said, is that it's part of a plan to build a tri-faith campus that will include the synagogue, a mosque, an Episcopal church and a center for all faiths.
The American Institute of Islamic Studies and Culture and the Episcopal Diocese of Nebraska will join Temple Israel on the campus. The groups heard the others were looking to build and decided to work together.
The mosque, the church and the tri-faith center each will be on about four acres. The remaining nine acres are green space, including the humorously named Hell Creek.
It's expected that the project, when completed, will draw wide attention to Omaha.
"It's amazing that it's going to be right here in Omaha," Sherman said. "We don't know of any other place in the world where this has come together."
Rabbi Aryeh Azriel said the tri-faith center will be a place where all religions can come "to study, to learn and to celebrate. It's going to be a home."
The synagogue is scheduled for completion in August 2013. The mosque, church and center will come later.
Temple Israel members raised $23.5 million for the new building. Temple Israel board member John Waldbaum said another $2 million is being sought to help with upkeep of the building.
And the Cass Street synagogue, built in the early 1950s?
"It's for sale, " said Wendy Goldberg, the synagogue's program director.
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