20 Years After 9/11, Tri-Faith Initiative is Working Toward Peace and Friendship

Originally published in the Omaha World-Herald’s From the Pulpit Column on Sunday, September 12, 2021

The Psalms describe Jerusalem as a “city knit together” in peace and harmony. A core aspiration of Judaism is to build that ideal community, not only in Israel, but wherever we live. This teaching has special resonance on this twentieth anniversary of September 11.

The seeds of Omaha’s Tri-Faith Initiative were planted on September 11, 2001, when members of Temple Israel stood guard at a local mosque in the immediate wake of the attacks to shield their Muslim neighbors from reactionary violence. On that day, I was a young Senate staffer on Capitol Hill, and my response was quite different. Seeing the Pentagon burn from my office window gave me clarity and set me on the path to becoming a rabbi, but at the same time my future congregants in Omaha were running toward love to protect others, my Senate colleagues and I were fleeing Washington in fear to protect ourselves. I feel the weight of that juxtaposition acutely.

I know I cannot change the past, but I am grateful to Tri-Faith for what it is doing to shape the future. My daughter met her best friend, who is Muslim, at the Tri-Faith picnic our first week in Omaha. My wife and I also became friends with her parents. Should something like 9/11 happen again, God forbid, it would be impossible for us not to want to stand with our Muslim friends, just as they have stood with us in the face of antisemitic vandalism against our temple and cemetery. Tri-Faith is changing the world one friendship at a time, and I am honored to be a leader in this holy work.

Each day, Jews everywhere pray these words: “Blessed are You, Lord our God, builder of Jerusalem.” Twenty years later, the Tri-Faith Initiative is helping make that prayer a reality.

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