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Ohio Sikhs promote awareness
Richfield temple hosts interfaith dialogue in wake of Wisconsin shootings

Kabir Bhatia
Jusleen Sodiwal (left) and her cousin, Navneet Kala, have never felt put upon because of their religion, and they'd like to keep it that way
Courtesy of Carl Carlson
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Northeast Ohio's Sikh community is coming together to promote awareness after the attack on a Wisconsin temple earlier this month. WKSU's Kabir Bhatia reports that the Sikh community was joined Sunday by hundreds of people of other faiths in a message rejecting violence against anyone.
Ohio Sikhs promote awareness

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Some 600 people gathered at the Gurudwara Guru Nanak Temple in Richfield over the weekend, well over the 200 that usually attend on Sundays.

The extra people came to reflect and offer condolences for the six people killed in a rampage in Oak Creek, Wisconsin a week ago, allegedly by a white supremacist.

The traditional turbans and beards lead some to mistake Sikhs for Muslims, as the Wisconsin shooter apparently did. But the religion is much closer to Hinduism. Sikh coalition advocate Jusleen Sodiwal, who organized Sunday's event, says clearing up the confusion isn't the same as clearing one's faith.

"I think when people say this was a case of mistaken identity, that is kind of a fallacy that I want to dispel. Because that says that there is a correct target. And there really is no correct target. Each faith has its own beliefs and we respect everyone, and we ask that they respect ours. Thomas Jefferson actually had his own Koran. So if our founding fathers were able to appreciate other religions and various ways of life, then we should have no problem doing so ourselves.”

With flowing black hair and fair skin, Sodiwal could easily pass for a striking Greek college student. But …
“My father, my brother, they both have turbans and beards. So when we walk in public, I do feel the heat of eyes. But I do feel, to know a Sikh is to love a Sikh. To know a Muslim is to love a Muslim. And just getting to know or engaging – I think people are maybe hesitant to do that. But in general, we’re very optimistic that this is going to be a one-time occurrence in a place of worship.”

Sodiwal was busy handing out pamphlets clarifying elements of Sikhism to visitors, many of whom were from other faiths. One thing drew everyone together -- food. 

Relating Indian dishes to western cuisine was easy for Arbi Kala from Hudson, who was in charge of the kitchen.

“We have pakora.  Which is – you can relate the pierogies.  It’s deep-fried.  We have channa, which would be chickpeas.  We have matia, which is made, similar to American food, kind of [like] pancakes.  And many other sweets, which are made with condensed milk [and] lots of sugar.  So nothing over here is on any diet plan."

Relating cuisines is one way to relate cultures, something Northeast Ohio's Sikhs never thought they would have to do. Then came 9/11, and the Sikh Coalition has recorded 700 hate crimes since then.

Still, the atmosphere in Richfield was more like a community gathering than a mournful vigil. Kids ran around, music flowed through the halls and unexpected visitors poured in.

Rabbi David Kosak from Beachwood’s Shaarey Tikvah Synagogue said he’s learned something about Sikhism.

“I think that when you’re part of spiritual pathways that pre-date the modern world, there’s some great deep truths. People weren’t as confused. There’s a certain way of understanding the human soul and what we need. And so, a lot of the rituals and customs, I think, have similarity and certainly that notion of service and of love and that we’re all in this together.”

The temple has been in Richfield for about 20 years, and parishioners can't think of a single hate crime occurring in that time. Still, they're re-evaluating security by installing surveillance cameras outside the building.
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