George Washington and the Story of Religious Freedom In America

Virtual Clergy Lunch and Learn
with American Jewish History Expert Dr. Gary P. Zola

Thursday, November 5
11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m.

George Washington’s letter to the Jews of Congregation Yeshuat Israel, Newport, Rhode Island (1790), is one of the most remarkable and iconic documents in American history. Dr. Gary P. Zola will help us understand how this famous letter answers foundational questions about freedom of conscience in the United States and why it remains a touchstone of religious freedom in America to this day.

Dr. Gary P. Zola, a nationally renowned Jewish historian known for his friendly and engaging teaching style, will join us by Zoom for a morning of study with our clergy colleagues. Respected both in the Jewish and the general historical communities for his innovative and in-depth work, Dr. Zola was appointed by President Obama to the Commission for the Preservation of American Heritage Abroad, and was a lead organizer of the national celebration of the 350th anniversary of Jewish life in America. Dr. Zola is the author of We Called Him Rabbi Abraham: Lincoln and American Jewry (2014) and, in recognition of his unique contribution to Lincoln scholarship, became the first American rabbi named to the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission. Dr. Zola is the Executive Director of the Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives in Cincinnati, Ohio, a position he has held since 1995.

Register Today!

The registration fee is $20 and includes a boxed lunch delivered to the address you provide. Lunch includes: Focaccia with Balsamic Marinated Chicken Breast , Spinach, Sun-dried Tomatoes, Artichoke Spread, Israeli couscous, Fresh Fruit, Apple Crumble Bar.

Please also help us spread the word by encouraging other clergy friends and colleagues to attend as well.




The mission of the Rabbi Sidney H. and Jane H. Brooks Institute for Clergy is to bring Omaha-area clergy from across the religious spectrum together to build relationships, learn about each other’s religious traditions and perspectives, study with colleagues, engage in professional development, and work together from a position of shared values for the betterment of the community. The work of the Brooks Institute is made possible by the vision and inspiration of Rabbi Sidney and Jane Brooks, and the generosity of their daughter Miriam (Mibsy) Brooks, who has established an endowment at Temple Israel in her parents’ name to fund this sacred enterprise for many years to come.


Rabbi Sidney H. Brooks

Sidney H. Brooks served as rabbi of Temple Israel from 1952 until his retirement in 1985, when he was named Rabbi Emeritus. He saw his role as a teacher, “the commentator on contemporary situations from the point of view of Judaism.” His life was devoted to a tenacious pursuit of social justice and an abiding commitment to apply the values of faith in all aspects of life. He served on dozens of committees, boards, and organizations in Omaha and nationally. He especially worked to bring about better relations between Jews and non-Jews; in the 1960s he teamed with Msgr. Robert Hupp, then executive director of Boys Town, and Rev. Robert Alward, then pastor of Countryside Community Church, to found Operation Bridge, an organization to help teenagers deal with drugs and alcohol. He also worked with Omaha Archbishop Daniel Sheehan and other pastors and community leaders to ensure a smooth transition when Omaha was ordered by a federal judge to integrate its public schools in the 1970s. He worked with civic and religious leaders in Omaha to promote interfaith dialogue and spent hours addressing college classes, Christian congregations, and civic groups. He was a founding member of Omaha Interfaith Housing, Inc. and was active in organizations such as the Religious Coalition for Abortion Rights, Planned Parenthood, the Rotary Club, and the American Civil Liberties Union. He taught comparative religion at Omaha University (now the University of Nebraska at Omaha) and theology at the College of St. Mary. He took moral stands on social issues, such as condemning ethnic cleansing, opposing the Vietnam War, and supporting women’s rights. He loved Judaism passionately, which motivated him to embrace all manner of people and causes dedicated to the betterment of humanity.


Jane H. Brooks

Jane was a social activist and community organizer before anyone had developed that label. She came from a family of women activists–her mother and sister were both equally involved in social justice causes–and served on the boards of many community and Jewish organizations. She once said that volunteering was a way of expressing her liberalism. She was known for her quiet and strong organizational skills and her dedication to making life better for all citizens, working for civil rights, and for equal opportunity in housing, education, and employment. Among the many organizations with which Jane had a long history of involvement and leadership were the Eastern Nebraska Mental Health Association, which she founded and remained involved with for over a decade, United Community Services in Omaha for over 12 years, and the Volunteer Bureau and the Bureau on Aging. She served on the Omaha Urban Affairs and Community Development Council, the Omaha Fair Employment Practices Committee, and the Advisory Committee of the Governor’s Long Range Plan for Mental Health in Nebraska. The work she was most passionate about was reflected in her long involvement with Planned Parenthood of Omaha where she served on the Board of Directors for over a decade; the Nebraska Religious Coalition for Abortion Rights; the National Council of Jewish Women, where she was a Board member for more than thirty years, and from whom she received their highest honor, the Hannah G. Solomon Award; the League of Women Voters; the Omaha Fair Employment Commission; and the National Federation of Temple Sisterhoods, with whom she worked for more than 25 years. In 1971, Jane was honored with the Citizenship Award from B’nai B’rith Women. She was the first woman to serve as president of the board of the Jewish Federation of Omaha. Jane found her home in Nebraska in her synagogue and the Omaha community. With lifelong friends in both spheres, she left a lasting impact on the people with whom she worked and the community and temple which she loved. She was known as a woman of great passion and great compassion. Omaha was, she said, the country’s best kept secret.