On August 9, the City of Oak Creek, with numerous local, state and federal officials meet with citizens many of the Sikh faith. This meeting was in relation to the August 5 shootings at the Sikh Temple. I attended because I wanted to listen to the Sikh's and I wanted to show them my support. I have a business near Oak Creek and I often shop there. Here's what I learned from the meeting.
The President of the temple Satwant Sing Kaleka challenged and disrupted the gunman. Kaleka gave up his life to save others. He gave up his life to perpetuate his faith. There is precedence for such sacrifice in the Sikh faith. In saving others he was joined by others like Lieutenant Brian Murphy. Different names, different backgrounds but the same uncommon valor.
Kaleka's son Armardeep Singh Kaleka suddenly became the face of the Sikhs. At the meeting he was primarily concerned for members of his own faith community. If someone wanted an interview they would have to wait as the community shared condolences around Armardeep Sing Kaleka. He asked of other Sikhs to share their thoughts and feelings as best they could.
A few young men told me they had been at the temple all day. They were cleaning. It started with tearing up the blood stained carpet.
One of those fellows told me how much more difficult life had become after September 11, 2001. After that date he wouldn't wear traditional dress to school. It was a recurrent theme that many Sihks because of their beards and turbans were often stereotyped for terrorists. That couldn't be farther from the truth. See Sikh military history which is way beyond the scope of this article.
For the first time I heard the phrase "Chardi Kalan" This Sikh term meaning that no matter what life has in store for you, live in high spirits. While the meeting was somber the phrase was used and the Sikhs wanted to tell me what it meant. On that overcast night in a high school gym I witnessed a people of resilience and faith. On that night high spirits were evident as I was told about the Sikhs first coming to Milwaukee. It started with about ten families in the early 1980s. Now they have two temples and a vibrant culture. That takes high spirits. They have a Mayor who wants to include them in public governance and a community that is sending them love. There is possibly of unintended consequence from this tragic event. That consequence is that the Sikh community is going to flourish in this nation like they never could have imagined before.
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