A Nebraska mosque, synagogue and church support one another through Gaza conflict
ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
Jews, Muslims and Christians typically worship at separate institutions. In Omaha, Neb., the Tri-Faith Initiative works to close that gap, both physically and spiritually. Now its members are working to support each other and withstand the strains on relationships that have come with the war between Israel and Hamas. Nebraska Public Media's Jolie Peal reports.
JOLIE PEAL, BYLINE: On the Tri-Faith Initiative's campus, there are four buildings. There's a mosque, synagogue, church and an interfaith center. A bridge named after the prophet Abraham connects them. The initiative started 17 years ago as an experiment to bring different faith communities together to learn and understand one another. Executive director Wendy Goldberg says the interfaith community is concerned about the impact of the war.
WENDY GOLDBERG: We are worried about our ability to withstand the tension from outside of this beautiful beacon of light to tear us apart, to make us take sides and to break down the beautiful dream that we have built here and replace it with fear.
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PEAL: On a recent chilly night, people came to the Tri-Faith campus for a silent candlelight vigil. They walked along the Abraham Bridge, grieved the lives lost in the Israel-Hamas war and prayed for an end to the violence. Abdul Mackie, the secretary for the American Muslim Institute, says Arabs who come to pray at the mosque have connections in Palestine, Lebanon and Egypt.
ABDUL MACKIE: It's heart-wrenching - right? - to see people who look like you and talk like you being collectively punished. And the death toll continues to rise.
PEAL: Mackie says, to members of the Muslim group, it feels like the world's governments are just watching as the violence continues.
UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Singing) Adonai, open up my lips that my mouth may declare your praise.
BENJAMIN SHARFF: We invite all those who so choose to rise in body and/or in spirit.
PEAL: Rabbi Benjamin Sharff leads Temple Israel on the Tri-Faith campus. He says the Jewish community has been hurting since the initial attacks on October 7, and their anguish has grown as the war continues.
SHARFF: Just as we went through the process of learning about everything that transpired and awaiting further information, only to be heartbroken over and over and over again.
PEAL: In an effort to overcome the fear and anxiety that's come as a result of the Israeli-Hamas war, the Jews, Muslims and Christians at the Tri-Faith Initiative are showing up at each other's prayer services. Reverend Sarah Rentzel Jones at Countryside Community Church says the Christian congregation recently held its own silent vigil as the members of the church work to support and understand the pain of their Jewish and Muslim friends.
SARAH RENTZEL JONES: We just felt like we could offer space and presence. And we felt as though silence would be better than making an attempt at words that might fall short.
PEAL: The leaders at the Tri-Faith campus say they can't control what's happening overseas, but they can control their relationships with each other. Goldberg says overcoming religious barriers and building those relationships begins with simple discussions.
GOLDBERG: We need to sit together in small conversations and believe that peaceful proximity is possible and that the world is watching to see if we can maintain it here in Omaha, Neb.
PEAL: It's a message of hope from an alliance of the three religions as they work together on one campus. For NPR News, I'm Julie Peal in Omaha.
(SOUNDBITE OF ALEX VAUGHN SONG, "SO BE IT") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.
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