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updated: 8/7/2012 6:00 AM

Suburban Sikhs, non-Sikhs come together at two vigils

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  • Kawal Preet and her son Prabhnek, 15 months, visiting from San Francisco, take part in the candlelight vigil at Illinois Sikh Community Center in Wheaton on Monday.

      Kawal Preet and her son Prabhnek, 15 months, visiting from San Francisco, take part in the candlelight vigil at Illinois Sikh Community Center in Wheaton on Monday.
    Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

  • Video: Palatine Sikh Memorial


As the local Sikh community continues to mourn the victims of Sunday's shooting at a suburban Milwaukee temple, people of all faiths came together Monday night to share in their grief.

Interfaith prayer services and candlelight vigils took place at both the Sikh Religious Society in Palatine and the Illinois Sikh Community Center in Wheaton, with many calling for solidarity to aid the healing process.

"What has happened did not happen to a Sikh, a Hindu, a Muslim, a Christian, a Jew -- but to Americans," Wheaton temple spokesman Ravi Singh said.

Many of the hundreds who packed the Palatine gurdwara, or temple, were non-Sikh and unfamiliar with the traditions. They removed their shoes, covered their hair, read hymns that were translated into English and solemnly observed as worshippers bowed to the scriptures.

"When one part of our community is affected by such hate, we all want to share in their grief," said Arlington Heights resident Ted Williams, who is Jewish.

The Rev. Jeffrey Phillips, pastor of St. John United Church of Christ in Arlington Heights, similarly said, "I think that an attack on one is an attack on us all, and we need to stand in solidarity after a brutal attack like this."

Sikhs used the Palatine gathering as an opportunity to educate dozens of non-Sikhs in attendance, passing out pamphlets that provided a basic introduction to the religion's history, beliefs and practices. They also invited everyone to stay for food through the institution of langar, a free community kitchen open to all.

The service became slightly political at times, with Bishop Tavis Grant of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition reading a statement on behalf of the Rev. Jesse Jackson urging stricter gun control in the wake of the domestic terrorism attack.

"This is why we call for a revival on the ban on assault weapons and simultaneously strive by all means to be agents of change and peace," Grant said.

U.S. Rep. Joe Walsh, a Republican whose district includes the temple, also offered his condolences while calling for an increase in Homeland Security measures. Democratic challenger Tammy Duckworth relayed prayers her Thai mother and Methodist father have spoken, and praised Sikhs as having warrior hearts while also loving peace.

Shiva Singh Khalsa of Chicago came to the Wheaton ceremony after spending the afternoon in Milwaukee attending another prayer service. It was held at the house of Satwant Singh Kaleka, president of the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin, who was one of the victims of Sunday's shooting.

On his drive there, Khalsa said he passed a flag factory near the Sikh temple where a giant American flag was flying at half staff.

"That's when it hit me: This happened to us in this safe place and it's broken our hearts," Khalsa said. "I hope it never happens again."

The Rev. Linda Tossey, pastor of Community Baptist Church in Warrenville, said during the interfaith prayer service that the temple shooting tragedy can bring together Sikhs and non-Sikhs alike.

Indeed, Monday's prayer service of about 150 people was attended by a handful of non-Sikhs.

"Rising above the pain, rising above the tragedy, rising above the grief, God's love pulls us together to be one human family and one community," Tossey said.

The Rev. Paul Bischoff of Wheaton, an interim pastor with the Evangelical Covenant Church, said people of different religions should work together to make sure "white supremacist becomes an oxymoron," referring to the gunman, who had ties to such groups.

"I'm praying for the day in American where culture and its differences are neither good nor bad, right nor wrong, but just simply different," Bischoff said.

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