Listening to Tragedy | Sikhs Visit Holocaust Survivors

Both the Sikh and Jewish communities’ identities have been shaped by extensive oppression and violence. This past Sunday, members of each community had a chance to come together to learn about one another’s histories. Members of UNITED SIKHS and Park Avenue Synagogue gathered to brighten the day of elderly Holocaust survivors here in New York. The afternoon was filled with festive music sung in Hebrew, English and Yiddish, cookies in honor of the recent holiday, Purim, and much conversation.

I want to honor the communication that occurred between the Sikh and Jewish communities at this event, for I believe it is a beautiful example of interfaith action, the goal of the Faiths Act movement: As members of the Sikh community sat down with survivors of the Holocaust, they practiced an often forgotten act that is key to positive human interaction: listening. Listening is powerful. It is intentional, as opposed to the more passive act of hearing, and it holds up and amplifies the voice of the person to whom one is listening. It gives witness to the narrative of an individual or of an entire community. On Sunday, Jejiemder Singh, a Sikh man from Queens, sat down beside an elderly Jewish woman and became a witness to the atrocities of the Holocaust. He said this of his conversations: “When I met the people who escaped Europe in the time of Hitler’s control, and after listening to their life stories, I was moved. The fear they were living in was unimaginable.”

Jewish and Sikh narratives are, of course, unique. And yet they share common themes: devastating violence, ongoing discrimination, diaspora, value of tradition and love of community. On Sunday, when members of these communities actively listened to one another, these narratives were allowed to flow freely between people, creating relationships and solidarity. It was a moving day of interfaith action for the healing of human relationships.

The Faiths Act movement works for such collaborative activism, and I believe firmly in the power of people of faith coming together to tackle injustice in our broken world. Surely our wrecked human relationships are one of the most visible examples of the fact that our world is not as it is meant to be. On Sunday, I saw steps being taken to build relationship where it was lacking before.

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