(This article originally appeared in the Omaha Jewish Press.)
Miriam Brooks, daughter of former Temple Israel Rabbi Sidney Brooks, moved away from Omaha more than 30 years ago, but to this day, when she thinks of home, she still thinks of Omaha. And now, as Temple Israel prepares to move to a new building, Miriam is returning to Omaha to share her thoughts with the congregation of the building she grew up in, the Temple Israel her father shaped.
“He created what we have today,” Miriam said, referring to her father’s push toward a liberal, progressive community.
Rabbi Brooks moved with his family to Omaha in 1952 to take over as Temple Israel’s Senior Rabbi, a position he held for 33 years, until his retirement in 1985. Miriam doesn’t remember those very early days, obviously; she was only a year old when the family moved to town. But as she grew, so did the congregation. Under Rabbi Brooks’ leadership, Temple Israel membership swelled to 600 families.
“You build a building, you’re also building a community,” Miriam said, recalling her father’s words. “You plan for what you want it to be in the future.”
Miriam remembers when she was a little girl, riding with her mother to pick up her father for lunch. If he wasn’t quite ready yet, Miriam would wait in the outer office, where the secretary would let her type out a letter to her father on the typewriter.
“It was my incubator,” Miriam said. “Everything I knew as a little kid, everything I grew up with, all intersected [at Temple Israel].”
Even after she was all grown up and off to college at the University of Iowa, and then to Boston in 1977, Miriam never lost touch with her Omaha roots.
“In my heart I really consider Omaha my home,” she said. “I consider [the congregation] my extended family.”
Miriam has many friends still in Omaha, including her best friend when she was four years old. She stays in touch and visits once or twice a year. When she first heard about the plans for a new building, she was happy to hear about it. And she knew her father would have been, too.
“If my father was here today, he would be thrilled,” Miriam said. “He wasn’t afraid of change. He was a forward-thinking person. He would certainly miss everything … but this is nothing but good.”
Miriam added that she is, however, “gonna miss the old phone number” that she’s had memorized for her entire life.
Miriam is looking forward to returning to Omaha, and to Temple Israel, both of which to this day remain a big part of her life.
“I lucked out, growing up in Omaha, and growing up in that particular community,” she said.
Miriam Brooks will be speaking about her father and her memories of Temple Israel on Friday, August 24, during the Shabbat service, which begins at 6 p.m. Miriam also filmed a short interview between herself and her mother, Jane, who has lived in Boston since 2005, which will also be shown that evening.