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At memorial for Sikh temple victims: 'We are bound together'

August 10, 2012|By Laura J. Nelson

Music and chanted prayers floated to the rafters of a Wisconsin gymnasium Friday as hundreds gathered to pay their respects to the six people killed at a Sikh temple Sunday.

Dozens of mourners filed past the open caskets of the one woman and five men gunned down during Sunday services at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin. Hundreds more, wearing head coverings in respect for Sikh beliefs, found seats on the gymnasium floor as civic and religious leaders prepared to speak.

“Although we have been brought together by an unspeakable and devastating tragedy, we are bound together by far more,” U.S. Atty. Gen. Eric Holder said in comments that were live-streamed online. “We are united today not only by a shared sense of loss, but also by a common belief in the healing power of faith.”

PHOTOS: Gunman opens fire at Sikh temple

There are about 500,000 Sikhs in the United States, and about 3,000 in southeastern Wisconsin. Many appeared to be in attendance Friday, along with religious leaders of all faiths.

Holder spoke briefly about each victim, including temple president Satwant Singh Kaleka, 65. Witnesses said the temple elder confronted the gunman with a butter knife as he tried to protect his wife and his congregants.

“We will never know how many lives he saved last Sunday, or how many more he enriched during the many days and years he spent at his beloved gurdwara,” Holder said.  “He was so clearly dedicated to feeding the hungry, befriending the lonely, and reaching out to help those most in need.”

Bole so nihal!” a man in the audience shouted as Holder finished his tribute to Kaleka. The audience echoed the cry. The phrase means “Let it be so” or “May it be fulfilled” in Punjabi and is an integral part of Sikh liturgy. The audience repeated the chant at the end of each speech.

Who they were: Victims of the temple shooting

Authorities say Wade Michael Page, 40, stepped out of an SUV on Sunday morning, walked toward the temple in Oak Creek, Wisc., and opened fire on turbaned priests and temple-goers, killing six and critically wounding three more. After being shot by an Oak Creek police officer, Page killed himself, officials said.

Attendees at the memorial in the Oak Creek High School gymnasium included Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, the Rev. Jesse Jackson and former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson.

“Today we mourn with you, we pray with you and we support you,” Walker said. “This week, our friends and neighbors in the Sikh community have shown us that the best way to respond is with love."

Family members of several victims also spoke, referring to pride in their religion and their country as well as their determination to stay strong in the wake of the shooting.

"Peace doesn't just happen – we have to work at it,” Kaleka’s son said. “That practice can look like however you want it to look, and it can be whatever faith you follow.”

Elders of the temple spoke in Punjabi – the official language of Sikhism and a dominant dialect of northwest India – and held a moment of silence. Then they began the Ardas, the Sikh prayer to conclude each service, which the congregation chants together.

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Follow Laura on Twitter. Email: laura.nelson@latimes.com

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