Temple Breaks Ground On First Synagogue
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Temple Shalom will break ground on its first synagogue Sunday, Oct. 14. The facility is a long-held dream of the 26-year-old congregation, but the real story is the interfaith collaboration that is helping construct this house of worship and religious center. A Muslim contractor is helping the Jewish community build a home of its own and will be honored at the 2 p.m. ceremony.
The event is being called a groundblessing ceremony because leaders of Christian, Jewish and Muslim congregations will offer a blessing for the temple. State and city leaders will also offer words of encouragement, including Sen. Sue Madison, Rep. Lindsley Smith, Fayetteville Mayor Dan Coody and City Council members Shirley Lucas and Lioneld Jordan.
Temple Shalom’s roots date to the late 1960s when a handful of Jews gathered in the small college town for prayer and companionship. Despite small numbers (Jews make up only 0.1 percent of the population of Arkansas), Temple Shalom was established in 1981.
As the congregation grew, the idea of having a dedicated building for services and celebrations was always a dream. Financial restraints, however, meant temple members met in rented or borrowed facilities.
Two events have transpired that have allowed this dream to become a reality:
First, seed funds from the estate of longtime congregant Miriam Alford became the foundation of the congregation’s Building A Dream capital campaign, allowing the group to kick-start fund-raising efforts.
Second, the tremendous act of generosity by Fadil Bayyari, a Palestinian Muslim and Springdale developer: He has agreed to waive any contractor fees and build the synagogue at cost. This unique partnership between Muslim and Jew has allowed the onset of construction.
Land was purchased at 699 Sang Avenue in Fayetteville, at its intersection with Cleveland Street, in close proximity to the University of Arkansas, to provide a home for Temple Shalom and a convenient and modern meeting place for Jewish students in the university Hillel organization.
As Temple Shalom builds the new walls of its synagogue, it hopes the partnership of Muslim and Jew will build other bridges as well. “The symbolism of Fadil’s donation is worth far more than bricks and mortar,” said Temple Shalom president Bill Feldman.
Both Feldman and Bayyari agree that demonstrating the positive side of Muslim-Jewish relations is important locally and internationally.
“We are all children of God when you look at it,” said Bayyari, who calls himself a student of the similarities among Islam, Judaism and Christianity. “We grew up in the same house, except his father was Jewish and my father was a Muslim.”
Even though Northwest Arkansas is thousands of miles from the Middle East conflict, those involved with building this dream want it to set an example of interfaith collaboration. A portion of the money from the capital campaign will help fund an ongoing program dedicated to interreligious understanding and relationships. The new synagogue will be open to people of all faiths and will feature a library accessible by the public.
The October groundblessing ceremony is open to everyone, and music and refreshments will be part of the festivities.
More information on the Building A Dream campaign and the floorplan of the synagogue can be viewed at