Temple Israel celebrates new home

Rabbi Josh Brown leads the way as about 300 people walk from the old Temple Israel at 70th and Cass Streets to the new building at 13111 Sterling Ridge Drive. Temple members formed 13 teams stationed along the route, and passed the Torah scroll from one group to the next.

Nebraska's oldest Jewish congregation celebrated its move to a new west Omaha synagogue on Sunday with prayers, music and thanksgiving.

“This building was built to become a place for growth, peace, serenity, courage (and) action,'' said Rabbi Aryeh Azriel of Temple Israel.

More than 700 people attended the celebration at the new 58,500-square-foot synagogue, which features stone from a Jerusalem quarry and artwork by an international group of artists. The new building is a third larger than the previous synagogue.

Temple Israel is the first house of worship on a planned tri-faith site on 35 acres in the Sterling Ridge retail-office-residential development. The development, southeast of 132nd and Pacific Streets, occupies the former Highland Country Club golf course, more recently known as Ironwood.

The tri-faith project also calls for a church, a mosque and a center for all faiths.

Azriel, Temple President Sally Kaplan and other leaders thanked donors, congregation members and others who played a part in developing the new synagogue.

“We must begin today to be worthy of (this) building,” Kaplan said.

Temple Israel's synagogue had been at 70th and Cass Streets since 1954.

The new sanctuary seats nearly 900, compared with 300 at the former location. There is more room for funerals, weddings and other events, and more classroom space for youth and adult programs. The social hall can accommodate up to 350 people, with room for a dance floor.

Congregation members and visitors can relax in a large community courtyard and enjoy a drink from the coffee bar.

The new synagogue also has a better security system and improved capabilities for such technology as videoconferencing and webcasting.

Temple Israel's members started moving day with a ceremony at the Cass Street building honoring the history of the 142-year-old congregation.

Temple members then formed a procession to carry one of the Torah scrolls from the Cass Street building to the new synagogue, six miles away. Congregation members formed 13 teams that were stationed along the route and passed the scroll from one group to the next.

Once the scroll reached the new synagogue, the cornerstone was dedicated and a mezuzah, a piece of parchment inscribed with a verse from the Torah, was affixed at the front door.

Jon Bleicher, a lifelong Temple Israel member who participated in the Torah procession, said leaving the old synagogue was bittersweet. He was married there and has attended many family events there, including funerals and ceremonies to welcome new babies.

But Bleicher said he and other congregation members are filled with pride, hopefulness and joy for what the new synagogue offers.

“It's an evolution, he said. “A move forward.”

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