This past Friday, I had the honor of having lunch with Singsam, the former head of the Sikh religion (equivalent of the “Pope Emeritus”). I then gave him a tour of our synagogue on Shabbat afternoon. Some of you may know that my next door neighbor Kuldeep, his wife Amrita, and their daughter Peher, are very involved Sikhs in their Gurdwara. Over the past two years, we’ve struck up a nice friendship, and learned quite a good deal about one another's faiths. I guess it also turns out you never know who knows people in high places.
Singsam is traveling around North America meeting with various dignitaries and trying to spread the Sikh message of religious tolerance and understanding. There are approximately 29 million Sikhs living worldwide, but throughout their five-hundred year existence, Sikhs have experienced more than their fair share of persecution for their beliefs. Many of their gurus have been martyred at the hands of religious extremists. Life does not always remain easy. This is especially true in India where the majority continue to live as second class citizens under the overwhelming Hindu majority.
While our religions may not at all be similar (monotheism aside), our stories are not all that different. It is for this reason, as well as that of our historical perseverance, that Singsam was quite adamant with me about how much Sikhs admire the Jewish religion and the State of Israel. Foremost among his mind of this trip was their stop this trip was to the U.S. Holocaust Museum in Washington. Aside from learning of the incomparable devastation, he remarked that the trip made them realize the miracle of the State of Israel. I, of course, made note of how important it is that Israel maintains the rights of religious minorities living there. We both agreed that given our past of persecution that Jews and Sikh leaders, from our pulpits, have a responsibility to promote religious, peaceful, co-existence around the world.
I wasn’t exactly sure what was going to happen when I accepted the invitation for lunch. As a scholar of manuscripts, you should have seen his eyes light up at the site of our Holocaust Torah from 1750, which while ancient by his standards, is “new” in comparison to the history of our religion. Our meeting ended with an invitation to come and visit his beautiful home, which is on the grounds of the Sikh Golden Temple in India.
Maybe, I’ll try to make it a connecting flight the next time I go to Israel.