Brookfield Sikh Temple Overflows with People, Support at Vigil
Hundreds packed the Sikh temple in Brookfield, with Gov. Scott Walker joining other faith leaders in grieving for those slain during Sunday's church service in Oak Creek and pledging community support.
From political and interfaith religious leaders to friends and family of Sikh members, the Brookfield Sikh temple was packed Monday night in a strong show of support after Sunday's mass shooting at the Oak Creek temple.
Hundreds filled the Brookfield Gurudwara at 3675 N. Calhoun Rd., spilling out of its sanctuary into the hallway and basement. Gov. Scott Walker and his wife Tonette as well as Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleeisch attended the service followed by a candlelight vigil outside and then a langar in the basement — a community meal as is shared after all services.
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Also attending were Brookfield Mayor Steve Ponto and leaders from other faith communities, including the Islamic Society of Milwaukee, which plans to break ground soon on a new mosque not far from the Sikh temple in Brookfield, on Pleasant Drive off Calhoun Road.
Gov. Walker, wearing a traditional head covering provided to all who gathered, told the sanctuary crowd, "Tonight we are here to show our love .... to show that we stand with you and support you."
Kleefisch noted a sign in the temple that said "in God's sanctuary, all worries disappear."
"We pray tonight that all your worries disappear," she said.
Brookfield resident Kulwinder Sidhu said she remains fearful of future attacks. "I'm 25 and I slept with my nightlight on last night," she said.
She said she texted her brother at 5 a.m. to see if he couldn't sleep like her. Going to Monday night's service was the first time she left her house, she said, and she broke out in sweats on the drive. But she said she realized another act was extremely unlikely and her worship space was safe.
Jasjit Singh, executive director of the Sikh-American Legal Defense and Education Fund in Washington D.C., said the Sikhs were suffering discrimination, ignorance and employment struggles that have beset other religious and ethnic groups.
"Today we are experiencing extreme tragedy," he said, but added, "We are uplifted ... by the outpouring of gratitude."
He particularly thanked government leaders for their support, saying it reinforces that Sikh Americans are part of the fabric of the country. This year marks the 100-year anniversary of the first gurudwara established in the U.S., in California.
Kiranjeet Kaur, a teacher who worships at both temples and organizes a youth religious camp called Camp Sikr Virsa, said she has been inundated by phone calls and text messages from around the United States and India.
She said while the motive was yet unknown, there was fear the shooting was a hate crime, perhaps spurred by a misunderstanding of the Sikh religion as being connected to terrorism.
"We haven't done a great enough job of educating," she said. During Monday's service, Kiranjeet Kaur urged people to get involved by spreading the word of the peaceful Sikh community.
"Many of us feel as if we are being inactive standing by," she said. "Look into your community, look into your schools. Reach out to everyone around you that you can help and that is the best way you can help our cause."
She urged non-Sikhs to ask questions and learn about their neighbors in Brookfield and Oak Creek. "Even if you think it's a crazy question, please ask."
The community served a meal of homemade roties (tortillas) to the throng of supporters, with the men and women serving strangers and friends alike.
Tom Heinen, executive director of the Interfaith Conference of Greater Milwaukee, shared food with friend Swarnjit Arora and Judi Longdin, director of the Milwaukee Archidoces' the office of ecumenical and interfaith concerns.
"There is a graciousness and a humility that is warm and welcoming," Heinen said of the Sikhs. "We're here in friendship, we're here in faith and we want to do whatever we can do to help."