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The Sikh Spirit Foundation is hosting an Idea Contest for brainstormers and reformers! A well thought out two paragraphs on how to improve Sikh education or our gurdwaras may win you an iPod, start the breakdown of unhealthy groupthink, and propel our community towards exciting directions.

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Maybe I should submit my The Most Fabulous Gurudwara Ever Would list!

More about Sikh Spirit Foundation: it serves to promote Sikh values through education and support innovative projects and organizations in various areas of Sikh community development. Current grantees include Ensaaf, Sikhnet, Sikh Coalition, and Sikh Research Institute. Interested in submitting a proposal? The first cycle opens on April 20, 2009. Check out their website for more details.

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As a mediocre “writer” I look up to and try to learn from publications such as The New York Times. Sometimes they win my complete admiration. And sometimes they make me go up in arms. Why, oh why, do they have to make our relationship so tumultuous and difficult?

The Times apparently likes recycling stories. Especially ones as interesting as the multitude of faiths practiced in the diverse town of Flushing located in Queens, New York. But even I, blogger-unextraordinaire, know it’s possible to freshen up a recycled story by including perspectives and views that may not have been addressed in the past.

Back in 1999, they published an article titled “A Snapshot of World Faith; On One Queens Block, Many Prayers Are Spoken.” The piece briefly acknowledged the existence of a Gurdwara in the first paragraph of a two-page article but nothing more. It made me upset at the time, but I somehow managed to keep it together and get over it.

Fast-forward to 2007. The same topic is drafted into an article for their Travel section. Omitting multifaith options in New York is the best way to describe it. This time around the sangat and Gurudwara aren’t even mentioned. I was pissed enough to write a blog entry, and had begged you to write letters to the editor.

May 2, 2008. I take a moment to check out the main page of the Times website. Oh look: the same topic has now been released as a video report and as an article in the Arts section. And oh look: there’s still absolutely NO mention of our lovely gurdwara and sangat.

Let me once again illustrate where our “forgotten” gurdwara is located in relation to the other religious venues that have somehow managed to capture the attention of three different NYT writers over a span of a decade:

FYI: The Hindu temple and Gurdwara are less than a block away from each other!

  • Sri Shirdi Saibaba Temple = 46-16 Robinson Street
  • B’Nai Abraham synagogue = 75-03 Main Street
  • St. Paul Chong Ha-Sang Roman Catholic Chapel and Center, Evergreen Presbyterian Church, Hazrat-I-Abubakr Sadiq mosque = take my word for it: they’re all close by as well

If I drew a map there would be a bunch of dots within a mile radius of each other and the Gurdwara would be right along side all of them.

This is absolutely frustrating. Should I direct my strikes towards The New York Times or the sangat and sevadars of the Bowne Street Gurudwara who may have not picked up on the ignorance of my typically very unignorant newspaper? I would be crushed if this was recycled again for the fourth time and I didn’t see any mention of our house of worship and spirited, presumably civically-engaged people. I think it’s time for desperate measures… either a stern letter to the editor/op-ed piece or boycotting my once beloved and favorite newspaper.

  1. Have a Guru Granth Sahib with Bhai Sahibs who share their responsibilities with the sangat.
  2. Have a sangat who regards the community as an extension of their family and is willing to take some ownership of and responsibility for themselves and community.
  3. Have a sangat made up of Sikhs born into the faith with generational ties to Punjabi culture and Sikh converts.
  4. Have Sikhi-to-the-Max (or its equivalent) displayed and viewable to the entire congregation.
  5. Translate the context of Hukamnama after it is read.
  6. Serve langar that is meant to provide nutrition and control pangs of hunger, not induce comas: 1 dhaal, 1 sabzi, phulka OR rice, water, 1 dessert and nothing more.
  7. Open langar to the rest of the community. For real.
  8. Offer youth and teen programs. Not only Gurmukhi, instrument, history, and philosophy lessons, but outdoor group activities, sports teams, arts and crafts, tutoring, and mentorship (i.e., big brother/big sister). I’d like to think of it as offering what the current summer camps or Sikh conferences have squashed together in 3-7 days but instead spread evenly over 365 days.
  9. Offer adult programs: regular evening walks, gurmat veechar lectures, book clubs, cooking classes with a nutritional bent, [insert topic] 101 classes.
  10. Have a women’s group. Yes, the Kaurs need their own venue.
  11. Have a complete library (and perhaps buy out Sacha Sauda).
  12. Have an up-to-date website and mailing list.
  13. Have an acute-care health clinic with a little pharmacy on the side. Free services. Meant to link people into the health care system. Not a way to funnel patients into one’s own private clinic.
  14. Address mental health issues openly and respectfully.
  15. Invite members of other faiths regularly to visit, learn about Sikhi, and share ideas AND vice versa. (Can you describe the basics of Christian or Judiac theology? I hear myself saying “umm” quite often to that question.)
  16. Make sure to have every member of the sangat registered to vote and get the sangat out on election days.
  17. Never have political infighting.
  18. Become acquainted with local media and actively engage them when necessary.
  19. Have some marvelous way of centralizing funds and distributing it at the sangat’s discretion.
  20. Have folks who take action on the above and make it real rather than complain in private or write it out on a blog.
  21. Have marble floors, open grounds, and a sarovar with multi-colored fish 🙂 (I’ll leave it to you to decide whether it would be okay to feed parshad to the the fish.)

A gurudwara is a place of individual learning and spiritual growth and a center for the sadh sangat as well. It should be a resource that serves all the dimensions of a Sikh: the soul, mind, and body. It should be a place where ideas and thoughts can be shared, debated and challenged openly and then acted upon by the community as a whole. Thankfully, many gurudwaras are on their way to reaching perfection or nearly there. What do you think is necessary for our gurudwaras? What would be your ideal?