Leaders of Omaha’s globally unique and developing tri-faith campus — with a synagogue, a mosque and a church — are urging people to rally Tuesday night against the presidential executive order on immigration.

The board of the Tri-Faith Initiative, with Jewish, Muslim and Christian members, on Monday condemned President Donald Trump’s suspension of the refugee resettlement program.

“In addition to not being consistent with our American values,” the board said, “it is ineffective and potentially counterproductive to the stated goal of protecting the country while at the same time is damaging to our international relationships.”

The 6 p.m. vigil at Turner Park just west of downtown is to oppose the order temporarily banning immigrants from seven Muslim-majority countries. 

Representatives from Lutheran Family Services of Nebraska, the Refugee Empowerment Center, Omaha Together One Community, the ACLU of Nebraska, the Anti-Defamation League and Nebraska Appleseed also are expected to attend.

The president has promised “extreme vetting” of potential immigrants from those nations, though a spokesman said green card holders may enter the U.S. unless significant derogatory information is found.

The local board said the order is inconsistent with the Tri-Faith mission of promoting dialogue, transcending differences and building bridges of trust and respect.

“I have not seen in a long time an executive order so humiliating and outrageous,” Rabbi Emeritus Aryeh Azriel, a long-ago immigrant from Israel and a Tri-Faith board member, said in an interview. “I am an American citizen and very proud of it. I’m all in favor of vetting, but I oppose this order with every ounce of my fiber and fervor.”

The Rev. Eric Elnes, senior pastor of Countryside Community Church in Omaha, said the order causes harm to tens of thousands of refugees and violates the Christian principle of welcoming strangers.

Trump has said the order is intended to protect U.S. security. Critics say the seven nations — Syria, Iraq, Iran, Yemen, Libya, Somalia and Sudan — have not produced terrorists who killed people in America.

“You don’t fight terror by treating innocent people as if they are terrorists,” Elnes said. “There’s a legitimate reason to fear those who would harm us, but there’s also reason to fear blocking thousands of the most vulnerable people from actually receiving help. To me, that’s far more terrifying.”

The Tri-Faith board said the presidential order “will be perceived worldwide as a ban on Muslim refugees and (will be) detrimental to our country’s standing in the world.”

Dr. Syed Mohiuddin, a Creighton University cardiologist and a local Muslim leader, called the order illogical and against the nation’s core values.

“I am an immigrant and a Muslim and I am an American citizen,” said Mohiuddin, who first came to Omaha from India in 1963 for his medical residency. “One of our country’s greatest strengths is fairness and justice.”

Though some terrorists are Muslims, he said, peace is a fundamental principle of true Islam. The battle against the Islamic State, he said, should not be seen as a fight with adherents of a faith.

“What I fear most,” he said, “is that the U.S. will be pictured as being at war with Islam.”

The seed for the tri-faith campus was planted, ironically, on 9/11. Azriel, then the senior rabbi of Temple Israel and now retired, gathered members of his congregation and stood guard at an Omaha mosque.

That gesture led to meetings, picnics, dinners and eventually, with Christians, a plan for a tri-faith campus. A 35-acre site was selected on a former golf course south and east of 132nd and Pacific Streets.

Temple Israel opened its synagogue there in 2013. A mosque for the local American Muslim Institute is rising nearby and will be opened at the end of May or in early June.

Countryside Church will break ground on the campus this summer, with completion in 2018. An interfaith building will follow, to be finished in 2019.

Nowhere else in the world, the Tri-Faith Initiative says, has a community intentionally planned to build in one location houses of worship for the three Abrahamic faiths, plus an interfaith structure.

Collectively, about $60 million in donations was raised to build the tri-faith campus.

Rabbi Darryl Crystal, interim rabbi for a year at Temple Israel, on Monday called the tri-faith campus “a model of understanding amid the world’s divisiveness” and said the presidential order on immigration is “very, very upsetting.”

The Tri-Faith board urged citizens to contact their senators and representatives, and offered “a special thank you” to U.S. Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., for speaking out against the president’s order.

Urging people to attend the vigil, Pastor Elnes said: “We can’t simply pray. We need to put our feet to prayer.”

michael.kelly@owh.com, 402-444-1132


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