Members of Pittsburgh’s Jewish and Hindu communities recommitted themselves to pursuing peace during a July 23 program at the Hindu Jain Temple in Monroeville. Organized by Julie Paris and Bhavini Patel, the afternoon affair included a tree planting, gift giving and public calls for “oneness.”
“We all have a lot more in common than we oftentimes hear about, especially in today’s climate. This ability for people to come together and share a dialogue around faith, it ultimately sends this positive message that we’re dedicated to the ultimate goal of just peace,” Patel, an Edgewood Borough Council member and worshipper at the Hindu Jain Temple, told the Chronicle. “This is who we are as Pittsburghers. There’s a beauty of diversity, but we’re also rooted here in this community. This is our home, and we’re rooted here as one.”
Paris, the StandWithUs Mid-Atlantic regional director, said a partnership between Hindus and Jews made sense given commonalities, including “deep connections to our sacred homelands, similar holiday themes, dietary laws, rituals and practices.”
There’s another tie between these communities, she continued: Whereas both “share a profound respect for religious diversity and have common histories of ancient civilization and colonization,” both communities also have experienced an increase in hatred, “fueled by misconceptions and stereotypes leading to antisemitism and Hinduphobia.”
According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, reported hate crime incidents increased from 8,120 in 2020 to 9,065 in 2021. The 11.6% jump includes acts driven by bias toward race, ethnicity, ancestry, religion, sexual orientation, disability, gender and gender identity.
Speaking inside the temple’s prayer space, Paris said that despite representing merely 2.4% of the U.S. population, Jews are subject to nearly 60% of all religiously-motivated hate crimes.
Within Pittsburgh, the Hindu community has been an ally, she said.
Paris credited Monroeville interfaith leader Som Sharma and recalled a gathering at the Sri Venkateswara Temple in Penn Hills held after the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting.
During that meeting, religious symbols, including the Star of David and Hindu Anahat Chakra, were used to create a poster, which was signed by hundreds of Hindus and later presented to Pittsburgh’s Jewish community, Paris said.
“After the horrific massacre in Tree of Life, members of the Hindu Jain community came to our Sabbath worship services, many weeks in a row, just to be there in support. And we are forever grateful for that hand in friendship,” Tree of Life Congregation’s Rabbi Jeffrey Meyers said.
“Our only response is to continue to return that hand of friendship,” he added.
Throughout the afternoon, spiritual leaders and activists reiterated the value of togetherness and called for combined efforts to better the community.
“When you are in peace, you absorb peace, you manifest peace, you share peace,” said Chidanand Saraswati, an author and spiritual head of India’s Parmarth Niketan Ashram and Monroeville’s Hindu Jain Temple. “When you are in pieces, what you share [is] only pieces.”
“People who bring violence, people who bring hatred, they are living in pieces because they offer what they have inside of them. That’s why spirituality, this tree of life, these temples are very important to bring the community together,” he added.
Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswati, a Californian-born India-based author and spiritual leader, cited the Redwood forest and said the tree of life is “that which connects us.”
According to the National Park Service, “thousands of Sierra Redwoods between 2,000 and 3,000 years old” exist in California forests.
How is it that these trees can live so long and grow hundreds of feet high, yet withstand earthquakes and storms, asked the spiritual guide.
It’s not that their roots reach deep into the earth, but rather “the roots of every tree are interlinked and interlocked with the roots of every other tree; and that interlinking and interlocking of their roots is to me what enables it to withstand everything that both man and mother nature can throw at them,” she said. That is the “secret of the Redwood forest and the secret of its resilience.”
The message is apparent, she said.
“As we come together, we come together as a tree of life: united anchored, grounded, strong, and that which provides life to others — both that logistic life that our communities do in terms of the social service, but the spiritual life of that oneness, that togetherness, that connection to the divine, even by different names, forms, ways, languages. That’s our life.”
During the July 28 program, various gifts were presented to the speakers, including bouquets, shawls and books. The spiritual leaders offered public prayers for peace.
Myers recited the kiddush on Kedem grape juice, then said the HaMotzi blessing before slicing a challah made by Creative Kosher Catering.
Before descending to a lower-level social hall for more food, participants headed outdoors for a tree planting.
As the summer sun beat down, a small patch of earth was ripped from a hill near the temple’s parking lot. A young dogwood tree was inserted into the hole. Dirt was placed above the cavity. The spiritual leaders and attendees admired the area.
Anil Manocha, a temple volunteer, reached for a water can, soaked the soil, then began building a fence to prevent deer and other threats from harming the sapling.
“We will make it survive,” he said. “That’s my job now.” PJC
Adam Reinherz can be reached at email@example.com.