This December, we share an inspirational story that embodies the spirit of the holidays and circle back on Bob Freeman, whom we first profiled in our April 2021 Inspirational Stories, and his work with the Nebraska-based Tri-Faith Center. Bob is a stirring example of using one’s strengths to make a one-of-kind religious destination come to fruition and how he’s helping to lay the groundwork for a more peaceful and joyous union of people.
Robert (Bob) Freeman’s strengths—Relator, Arranger, Achiever, Maximizer, and Self-assurance —come through loud and clear in his career. He is a partner at a prominent law firm, spending his days immersed in business, corporate, sports law and more; has been named to the Martindale-Hubbell® and Best Lawyers in America® lists; and is an inductee in the Commercial Real Estate Hall of Fame. But Bob also uses his strengths to great effect in other areas. Most notably, this is a man who 16 years ago, he had a vision for a tri-faith center in America’s heartland, shepherded it into reality, and is helping to manage it through a pandemic.
The Tri-Faith Center is home to three faiths—Jews, Christians, and Muslims—on 38 acres in Omaha. Here Temple Israel, Countryside Community Church, American Muslim Institute and the Tri-Faith Center stand side by side, connected by the winding Abraham’s Bridge. The Center draws local Nebraskans, along with people far and wide. “Anyone who is into religion in the US would put the Tri-Faith Center on their bucket list,” says Bob. “This is one of the top 10 interfaith places in the world, and the only one in America on the list.”
The genesis of a remarkable concept
The idea for bringing together three religions in one venue had been mulling around in Bob’s head for some time. He presented his idea to his rabbi. (Oh, did we mention that as part of his very full career Bob, at one time, also served as the board president of Temple Israel and the co-president of his children’s elementary school.) Together Bob and his rabbi spent some five years looking for congregations to partner with.
“I didn’t know any Muslims, let alone any that would want to build a mosque next to a temple and church.” But Bob was undeterred. He met with Muslim leadership in Omaha—as well as representatives from all branches of Christianity—until he found groups interested in building alongside the temple. “I’ve been on all kinds of leadership positions and community service projects in Omaha, and felt comfortable reaching out to people I’ve never met. My skill set and legal expertise in business and real estate lent themselves perfectly to what we were trying to do: bring together people from different faiths on a parcel of land that would house three religions and an interfaith center.”
A sign from above
Now the only thing Bob needed was a place. And here you could say there was divine intervention. A local country club, that at one time had a predominantly Jewish membership, had recently gone defunct. It was ideal: in the middle of the city, had a connection to Judaism, and was readily available.
While the Jewish and Christian communities had undertaken prior building projects, this was going to be a first for the Muslim community. They had never raised funds on the scale needed to build from the ground up. Rather than using a repurposed property, this would be the first building constructed exclusively as a mosque in Omaha. The American Muslim Institute got its start with $5 million in initial fundraising.
Bob recalls, “When I started this it thought it would be fun and interesting. When I told a friend about it, he said, ‘Good luck, pal. It’s going to a million to one. He’s incredulous about what happened and he told friends, who have sent money.”
Using strengths through moments glorious and challenging
“My strengths vary from time to time as I take the assessment. My skill set covers a range of areas and I’m able to adapt. While I’m a lawyer in the business world, I sensed using all my legal skills in this undertaking wasn’t the right approach; this was about building collaborations. I chose to put what I did as a lawyer on the side when I went to a tri-faith meeting, except when we came upon this land,” says Bob.
Bob served as board chair for the first 10 years of Tri-Faith. During this time, his idea went from a pile of notes to a three-dimensional, three-faith reality. Pre-COVID, hundreds and hundreds of people participated in interfaith services and a giant fellowship with food and beverages. Even during these uniquely challenging times for gathering, if you look at the Tri-faith program calendar, there’s a robust list of events.
Surrounded by a committed community
Bob is the living embodiment of Relator: You enjoy close relationships with others. You find deep satisfaction in working hard with friends to achieve a goal. He could never have achieved Tri-Faith alone. It took a huge group of motivated, passionate people to make it happen, including Wendy Goldberg, a founding board member of Tri-Faith and the Executive Director of the Tri-Faith Initiative, among many others.
Today, Bob is still on the board, “But I’ve been handing off many responsibilities over time. It sets up the next generation of involvement and leaves current leadership empowered. As long as I’m running the show and speaking loudly, people are going to be too deferential to me. I understand transition leadership and this has become my style in many things.”
With time opening up for Bob, he is actively working on his “Portfolio Life” and what he wants his Third Half to be. Read about how he is getting more meaning and purpose, and embracing new opportunities in his Third Half Masters stories. And to learn more about the Tri-Faith Center visit trifaith.org.