Peninsula Sikhs Find Place Of Worship

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1947-2014 (Archived)
Jun 17, 2004
Peninsula Sikhs find place of worship

by David Wong

Religious pluralism and tolerance are regular features of Bay Area communities, but one place of worship has offered its facilities to a Sikh community.

Peninsula Temple Beth El, a Reform Jewish congregation in San Mateo, helped Sikhs by offering the use of their local temple — which would be a gurdwara, or Sikh house of worship.

The gurdwara’s establishment was an answer to the Sikh community’s need for a local place of worship in the Peninsula. If a Sikh wished to join a congregation, they would have to go to the East Bay or the South Bay.

In December 2011, San Mateo Sikh residents Apar Singh, Jagtinder Singh and Mehar Singh Mahal joined together find a local place of worship. They conducted several meetings with the local Sikh community, who wanted an easily accessible gurdwara. Without the resources to buy or rent property on an ongoing basis, they looked for support from other religious communities.

“[After some searching], I realized that Peninsula Temple Beth El COO Blair Brown is a good friend of mine and I placed a call to him sometime in February,” Mahal said.

Mahal and Brown talked about the need for a place of worship among the Sikh community. It was through this discussion that Brown offered to help by letting the Sikh community perform services at the temple.

By April 2012, the congregation was hosting programs at the temple.

“Our children went to [Aragon high school] together and I was very active, so was Blair, with the school itself, and I was doing volunteer services, and a lot of cultural dances, programs through elementary and middle school ... we’ve known each other for a very long time, from when [our] kids were in elementary ... that’s how our whole relationship started — back 18 years ago,” Mahal said.

Mahal is the president of the Sikh Gurdwara of San Francisco — the Peninsula Sikh congregation; Jagtinder Singh is the secretary.

“We have actually attended each other’s interfaith meetings, myself and a few other colleagues from the congregation back in December ... and I have invited them to our congregations,” Mahal said.

“I think interfaith [programs] are a great way for different religions to understand each others’ perspective ... to see where others are coming from,” Brown said.

The temple is often host to interfaith gatherings with other religious congregations, as well, according to Mahal.

“In their interfaith meetings, they have a majority of people who believe in the Jewish tradition and, in our congregation, we have a different religion, which is Sikhism ... which is adaptive and open to “listen” to other religions [and promote equality],” Mahal said.

The interfaith programs have had the added effect of increasing the visibility of the Sikh community in societies that aren’t familiar with the religion, the fifth largest religion, according to Mahal.

“We’re willing to make room for them whenever we can ... until they expand or run out of space [for their services],” Brown said.

By the end of the year, the congregation, through donations, raised approximately $100,000 toward the establishment of a new gurdwara.

The achievement was marked by the first anniversary of the gurdwara, celebrated on June 9 at the temple where it all started.

“The anniversary ceremony of the Sikhs was inspiring for the PTBE members who attended. We welcome their presence at our temple, ” wrote Florence Beier in an email. Beier is co-chair of the temple’s Interfaith Friendship Committee which has been developing relationships with other religious groups in the Bay Area for several years.

A large turnout listened to and participated in a midday Gurbani Kirtan, a call-and-response chanting of writings by the Sikh Gurus performed by Bhai Tajwinder Singh’s Kirtan Jatha.

Gurdwara services are held every month at Peninsula Temple Beth El on 1700 Alameda de las Pulgas, in San Mateo. The next service will be July 7.


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