Never one to shy away from other cultures, Sammy Reagan, a Christian, nonetheless felt some trepidation as he approached the home of Susan Rothholz, a Jew, for dinner with Farhan and Fatima Khan, a Muslim couple, along with several strangers.
The menu included serious religious dialogue with chicken, rice pilaf and green beans. Reagan didn't know that much about Islam or Judaism and doesn't consider himself a scholar of Christianity. He wasn't sure how the conversation was going to go down.
Then Reagan and Khan quickly figured out that they knew each other - from a Nebraska football game, of all places. As for the religious dialogue - well, the group whipped through a couple of scripted questions, then followed their curiosity. They discovered interesting commonalities and differences in their faiths, and like the Omahans they are, squeezed in chitchat about families, jobs and household projects with dessert.
"It's remarkable how close the religions are," Reagan said.
Not too long after that dinner, one of Muslim women guests had the Jewish women over to her house and taught them how to make baklava. And then on Friday night, the people from Rothholz's January dinner party dined and talked religion together again - this time, in a really big room at the Qwest Center Omaha, with about 1,100 other people and national leaders from three major faith organizations.
That's what the Tri-Faith Initiative has been about - chasing an implausible dream of setting an example to the world by creating a shared religious campus for Jews, Muslims and Christians in Omaha, while building relationships between different faiths, one meal, one person, one prayer at a time.
"You're not going to change the whole world just by having one little dinner in Omaha, Nebraska," Farhan Khan said. "But you do your small piece where you are. This is our little world, Omaha, and if we can make it better for us, then that's wonderful. And it might give other people the incentive to try, if they see we can do it here."
Organizers say Friday night's event - Dinner in Abraham's Tent - showed how support is growing for the Tri-Faith Initiative, a joint project of Temple Israel, the Episcopal Diocese of Nebraska and the American Institute of Islamic Culture and Studies. The $50-a-plate dinner benefited the effort to locate a synagogue, mosque and Episcopal church together in suburban Omaha, with a shared educational center.
It's an idea born of practicality and lofty goals. The three religions all need a new location in west Omaha, where land is expensive, especially when they need their own parking lots.
On Friday, many people were drawn to the high-powered speakers on a panel titled "Conversations on Peace." They included Rabbi Peter S. Knobel, past president of the Central Conference of American Rabbis; the Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church; and Ingrid Mattson, president of the Islamic Society of North America.
Although the campus project still needs a site, people involved in the effort said they're already building understanding and friendships.
Of course, it's not all warm and fuzzy and fun. These three major world religions claim a common ancestor in the Abraham of the Bible and the Koran. But they also have a history of violent grievances, and the friction is hardly consigned to the past.
Support has not been unanimous for the Tri-Faith Initiative among the various faiths represented, not even within the liberal branches - Reform Judaism and the Episcopal Church - that represent two legs of it. More tension arose in January when Israel invaded the Gaza Strip in an effort to stop missile attacks by Palestinians on southern Israel.
Several Tri-Faith board members penned a guest opinion for The World-Herald. Rabbi Aryeh Azriel and Wendy Goldberg of Temple Israel, Naser Alsharif of the American Institute of Islamic Studies and Culture and Episcopal Rev. Tim Anderson vowed to press on.
"How can we still attempt the Tri-Faith Initiative when there is a war going on in the Middle East?" they wrote. "How can we not?"
The war in Gaza coincided with the get-to-know-you dinners at Temple Israel members' homes. Talking about the conflict was uncomfortable, and people still disagreed afterward, said Jane Rips, who hosted a party of 17 people. But they kept talking. And several have gotten together since.
Such an effort is easier in Omaha than in Jerusalem, participants admitted. But, they say, that's no reason not to do it. In fact, maybe it's another reason why they should, because it will encourage people elsewhere.
It's already putting Omaha on the map in interfaith work.
Bishop Schori said she's been talking Tri-Faith up in her world travels, and people seem inspired. Rabbi Knoebbel called it historic and unique. The Islamic Society's Mattson said it should not be dismissed as a Nebraska eccentricity.
The Rev. Kathy Gerking, interim pastor of First Lutheran Church of Fremont, serves on a committee to help Lutheran congregations build understanding of Islam. She heard about Friday night's event in Chicago from a California Episcopalian priest.
"He told me, 'You gotta find out what's going on in Omaha,'" Gerking said. "'In Omaha,' he said, like it's the center of the universe."
Sammy Reagan, Farhan Khan and Susan Rothholz said they're glad they got involved.
Reagan joined mainly because the Nebraska Episcopal bishop asked him to do it. But Reagan quickly found great value in the effort.
"It's striving to not have conflict, but still present our own views," he said.
Rothholz said she's usually a cynic.
"But in this instance I've sort of put that aside and said, 'Well, this might work,'" she said. "Even if there aren't ever physical buildings, we're still doing something by getting to know and understand each other better. And it's always fun to meet interesting people."