Published Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2001, in the San Jose Mercury News
Vigil set for tolerance
BY LISA FERNANDEZ
Religious leaders throughout Fremont will participate Thursday evening in an interfaith vigil, preaching tolerance and urging the community to go forward with their lives.
Organizers expect 500 to 1,000 people to attend the ``Vigil of Remembrance, Hope and Healing'' at Fremont Central Park near Lake Elizabeth from 6 to 7:30 p.m.
The event is organized by the Bay Area Sikh community, but leaders from the city's Catholic, Buddhist, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Mormon and Bahai faiths also will address the crowd. After about two weeks, more than a dozen churches, temples and mosques quickly jelled, deciding how to best gather as a community in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks in New York and Washington, D.C.
Organizers modeled the event after several candlelight vigils that already have taken place around the world.
``We want to show the general public that even though we have different colors, faiths and accents, we are all Americans and we've been deeply touched by the event,'' said Hadhi Azimi, a trustee for the Afghan Coalition in Fremont.
``The theme is to move forward, create new dialogue, and dismantle the bridges of intolerance,'' added Bhajan Singh Bhinder, spokesman for the Bay Area Sikhs, a group of about 30 local members that has been meeting for the last six month at the Fremont gurdwara.
Bay Area Sikhs was started as an ``e-group'' of mainly West Coast Sikhs by 20-year-old Sonia Pahwa of San Jose, a student at Santa Clara University. For the last year, she has been sending out e-mails to organize Sikhs to help with tutoring and volunteering projects.
``I'm the future generation,'' she said. ``If I don't help, who will? I feel it's my personal responsibility.''
Since the terrorist attacks, Sikhs have been harassed and even attacked because they wear turbans similar to that of Osama bin Laden, the suspected ringleader behind the attacks, even though they have separate religions and beliefs. As a result, Muslims and Sikhs have been the victims of recent hate crimes. A former San Francisco Sikh taxi driver was killed in Arizona the same week as the attacks.
``The immediate reaction was for our safety, and we wanted to show that we're just one of you guys,'' Bhinder said. Local Sikhs want to make the point that they have suffered just as other Americans.
``We've lost friends in the attacks,'' he said. ``There's not a single community that has not lost someone.''
To show their patriotism, Bhinder said it is imperative for Sikhs to ``come out as Americans'' and help people restore their lives.
Helping others is a basic Sikh virtue.
One of the three core tenets of Sikhism is wand ke shakana, or sharing good fortune. For the last several years, Sikhs have donated blankets and food for the annual Alameda County drives, but the efforts have largely gone unnoticed.
``We've never been able to communicate to the great masses that we've been here for a long time,'' Bhinder said.
The public is invited to attend the interfaith vigil from 6 to 7:30 p.m. Thursday at Fremont Central Park near Lake Elizabeth, 40000 Sailway Drive.
©Copyright 2001, The Mercury News