» Temple Israel, Omaha's Reform Jewish congregation, has formally decided to build a new synagogue, the first house of worship on Omaha's unique “tri-faith campus.”
Rabbi Aryeh Azriel said the temple has received pledges for $21 million of the required $25 million. The congregation voted last week to build a 58,500-square-foot synagogue on a 14-acre site in Sterling Ridge, the former Ironwood Country Club, east of 132nd Street between Pacific Street and West Center Road.
“This is the time. This is the hour. This is the moment,” Azriel told his congregation after the historic vote. “May God look upon us with kindness and bless the work of our hands.”
Dating to 1871, Temple Israel is the oldest and largest synagogue in Nebraska. It has been at 70th and Cass Streets since 1954. The new building could open as early as the fall of 2013.
The Islamic Institute and the Episcopal Diocese, meanwhile, are moving forward with fundraising and design plans, said Nancy Kirk, executive director of the Tri-Faith Initiative.
It's believed that Omaha is the only place in the world planning a synagogue, a mosque and a church in the same place — on 35 acres overall — plus a fourth building, the Tri-Faith Center.
Potential contributors to a fund for purchasing lots for the fourth building soon will receive a letter saying that major donors are prepared to join in if there is evidence of broad support.
“We are on the brink of breaking ground on an interfaith project that was beyond the imagination of many,” the letter states, “but not beyond the imagination of God.”
» CNN correspondent Soledad O'Brien, who will speak Thursday in La Vista, expressed interest and asked for contact information when I told her about the planned tri-faith campus.
“Our agenda is to tell stories like that that fly under the radar,” she said.
We spoke by phone in advance of her speech at Embassy Suites Hotel and Conference Center for the annual honors banquet of the human rights organization Inclusive Communities.
Tickets, $175 each, can be obtained by calling 402-391-4460 or by going online at inclusive-communities.org.
O'Brien reports “In America” documentaries as well as breaking news. She and her husband, who have four children, had just arrived in Puerto Rico for a three-day vacation when her phone rang and she was told to go to Japan to cover the aftermath of the March tsunami.
“The truth is that if you try to have a career like this, you buy into the chaos,” she said. “Early on, I embraced the chaos.”
Soledad, 44, is the fifth of six children, all of whom graduated from Harvard University. Her father was an Australian of Irish descent and her mother is an African-Cuban.
» The terrible death toll from Sunday's tornado in Joplin, Mo., of approximately 132 is a reminder of how fortunate Omaha was that our 1975 tornado killed only three.
That May 6 Omaha tornado was a monster, all the more so when seen from the perspective of 36 years later. The Christian Science Monitor this week listed Omaha's tornado as the fifth-worst for property damage in the United States since 1953, not counting this year's.
In terms of 2011 dollars, according to an A.M. Best insurance study and federal estimates, Omaha's damage was the equivalent of $1 billion.
The only worse tornadoes were in Xenia, Ohio, 1974, $1.1 billion; Oklahoma City, 1999, $1.5 billion; Lubbock, Texas, 1970, $1.6 billion; and Topeka, Kan., 1966, $2.2 billion.
Dollar estimates aren't available for the tornadoes in Joplin and elsewhere this year. The amazing thing, from the standpoint of Omaha's 1975 disaster, is that in each of the other most-expensive tornadoes, the death toll was so much worse, ranging from 16 to 46.
By far Omaha's worst natural disaster was the 1913 Easter Sunday tornado that killed about 150. By 1975, we had a good warning system and people took cover.
We must never be complacent.
» The most decorated American soldier of World War II, Audie Murphy, died in a small-plane crash in Virginia 40 years ago today.
For Bill Novak, an Army veteran who served in Germany in the postwar years of the early 1950s and then spent a career as a mail carrier in Omaha, it's an anniversary to note.
As a kid in the 1940s, Bill was like all Americans who revered and respected Murphy. After growing up poor and rifle hunting in east Texas, the sixth of 12 children enlisted in the Army and distinguished himself as a combat infantryman.
His Medal of Honor, for taking on a company of Germans in France in 1945, was the culmination of many earlier medals — two Bronze Stars, two Silver Stars, three Purple Hearts and a Distinguished Service Cross.
He received 33 medals in all and was credited with destroying six tanks, killing more than 240 German soldiers and capturing others. His handsome visage was pictured on the cover of Life magazine in July 1945, which led to a movie career.
His 1949 autobiography, “To Hell and Back,” became a best-seller and then was made into a 1955 movie of the same name, in which he played himself. But war really is hell, even for a hero, and Murphy suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder.
Bill Novak was thrilled to meet Murphy at the Santa Anita racetrack in Los Angeles in 1966. Audie was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
Carrying the mail all those years, Bill thought it was a shame that there had never been an Audie Murphy stamp. So he began writing letters and got the help of many others, including Ben Cohen of Omaha, a World War II veteran and a leader in the National Order of Battlefield Commissions.
The campaign grew, and an Audie Murphy stamp finally was issued in 1999. On Memorial Day weekend, Bill will remember a fearless soldier who survived war but died at just 46.
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