NPR Story
2:02 pm
Mon August 5, 2013

Newtown And Sikh Temple Victims' Families Come Together

A year after the deadly shooting at a Sikh Temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, residents are marking the anniversary with remembrance services.

Pardeep Kaleka lost his father, Satwant Singh Kaleka, in the shooting. Satwant Singh Kaleka was the president of the Temple.

To mark the anniversary, Pardeep Kaleka invited Newtown parent Robbie Parker to speak in Oak Creek this past weekend.

We wanted to be everything that Adam Lanza was not. We wanted to be everything Wade Michael Page was not.
–Pardeep Kaleka

Parker’s six-year-old daughter Emilie was among the 20 first graders killed in the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School on Dec. 14, 2012.

Kaleka told Here & Now that the Sikh teaching of Chardi Kala — which he describes as “to go with a relentless optimism” — has been an important part of the healing process.

“You know bad things are going to happen to good people,” Kaleka said. “And to go with a relentless optimism means that you learn from those things.”

It’s also a philosophy that counteracts hate with peace, Kaleka said.

“We wanted to be everything that Adam Lanza was not. We wanted to be everything Wade Michael Page was not,” he said, referring to the Newtown shooter and the Sikh temple shooter — both of whom took their own lives at the scene, according to police.

Robbie Parker says he was glad to meet Kaleka and the rest of the Oak Creek Sikh community.

“It’s definitely a friendship,” Parker said. “As adults we talk about the differences, or at least we notice them. My daughter doesn’t, and I think that’s where we want to go from here.”

Kaleka agrees.

“We were just surprised at how optimistic kids can be even as they know something bad has happened,” Kaleka added. “Kids, I think, have that spirit of Chardi Kala more than adults do sometimes.”

Guests

  • Robbie Parker, father whose six-year-old daughter was among the children killed in the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. He is also a physician’s assistant and a Mormon.
  • Pardeep Kaleka, son of Satwant Singh Kaleka, the president of the Sikh Temple in Oak Creek Wisconsin, who was killed a year ago in a mass shooting at his temple.
Copyright 2014 WBUR-FM. To see more, visit http://www.wbur.org.

Transcript

ROBIN YOUNG, HOST:

We have two guests now, whose paths probably never would have crossed but for terrible violence. Pardeep Kaleka's father was one of six Sikh worshippers killed a year ago today when gunman Wade Michael Page opened fire in their temple. There's a vigil tonight in Oak Creek, Wisconsin. Saturday, a run was kicked off with a traditional Sikh call.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Foreign language spoken).

YOUNG: That sound from Wisconsin Public Radio. Then there's Robbie Parker. His six-year-old daughter Emily was killed at the Sandy Hook Elementary School back in December. The day after the shooting, he offered love and support for the family of Adam Lanza, his daughter's killer, and he remembered his daughter.

ROBBIE PARKER: She was the type of person that could just light up a room. She always had something kind to say about anybody. I don't know how to get through something like this.

YOUNG: But apparently Pardeep thought Robbie did know something and invited him to speak this weekend in Oak Creek. Both Robbie Parker and Pardeep Kaleka join us. And it's never too late for condolences, so we are so sorry for what brought you both together.

PARKER: Thank you.

PARDEEP KALEKA: Appreciate it.

YOUNG: And Pardeep, tell us more about what moved you to invite Robbie?

KALEKA: Well, I mean, I just - when you're part of the news, when you have gone through a tragedy, and it's broadcast all over the place, and you sympathize, and I think our community, the Sikh community, especially sympathized with what was going on in Newtown.

All us are fathers, mothers, and we couldn't imagine anything like that ever happening to our families.

PARKER: Just to kind of echo what Pardeep said, I mean, I was just really humbled that the offer was given to me because I think it helps with my healing process and to help others. I was able to bring my wife and kids with me, as well, just to help us understand that in order to really find peace in our lives, we have to all be able to understand how to overcome the enemies of peace.

YOUNG: Tell us more about this. Pardeep, we're thinking your father, who was the leader of the temple, he fought off or tried to fight off the gunman with a butter knife. That seemed like such a metaphor for, you know, for the peacefulness of the Sikh faith.

And Pardeep, in your faith there's something called we understand Chardi Kala. What does that mean?

KALEKA: Well, Chardi Kala, well what it means is to go with relentless optimism. You know, bad things are going to happen to good people. And to go with relentless optimism means that you learn from those things. And as a community we kind of knew right away, we knew the enemy that day might have been Wade Michael Page, but the bigger overall enemy was hate.

And to counteract hate with more hate, which initially, originally it started to happen, and there was a lot of people, whether it be in India or across seas, that were responding with hate. So we made an emphasis to adopt that philosophy of Chardi Kala and counteract hate with peace.

We wanted to be everything that Adam Lanza was not. We wanted to be everything that Wade Michael Page was not. And we continue to run with that theme.

YOUNG: In fact right after the massacre at your temple, temple members held a prayer vigil for the victims and included the shooter in your prayers. And I'm thinking, too, while the Sikhs have Chardi Kala, a state of constant optimism, (technical difficulties). Robbie, you are Mormon, and many would say that the Mormons are very optimistic, as well.

I'm just wondering if you shared something more because of your different faiths, maybe also because at times both faiths have been persecuted.

PARKER: Yeah, I think what was really interesting for me and what was the opportunity to get to know a lot of Sikhs and to understand them a lot better, and the more that I was around them, and the more that I understood them, you start to realize that you definitely have a lot more in common than you have differences.

YOUNG: Pardeep, I'm wondering, though, how do you keep that state of constant optimism? Your temple website is inviting everyone to attend the remembrances today. Sikh temples, we learned, generally have four doors so they can welcome people from every single direction. We know since the shooting the temple's added a lot more security.

But you'd be forgiven for closing those doors. Why didn't you choose that?

KALEKA: It sounds a little bit corny, but the community. You know, after this happened, there was a lot of people who not only came to the temple but found out where we lived, came to the house and just said, you know, we want to make sure that you guys are all right.

I think just like Robbie was talking about before between the similarity between Mormons and Sikhs, there's also a lot of similarities between Mormons, Sikhs, Muslims, Jewish people, Christians, the principle of peace, the principle of compassion and the principle that God is one.

What generally I understand from God being one is that people are one.

YOUNG: Well, Pardeep, we know that you're part of a group that's been lobbying the Justice Department to start tracking hate crimes against Sikhs. And in fact Eric Holder just announced last week that the Justice Department is now going to start tracking crimes against six different groups: Hindus, Arabs, Buddhists, Jehovah's Witnesses, Orthodox Christians, Sikhs and Mormons.

And so it's interesting that you are both kind of in that constellation. Robbie, though, tell us what's going on where you are because we understand that while Pardeep is talking about opening to the community, it almost got too much in Sandy Hook. At a certain point, town leaders said we want to sort of close the circle around us and be by ourselves for a while.

PARKER: You know, everybody here, all of the families, all of the town members, appreciate the love and support that was coming from all over the world. But at some point the offers to participate in different things, such as whether it be somebody's political agendas or people wanting to, you know, make films, or some of the offers seemed to try and almost exploit your situation.

And so those were the things that we want to be protected from, especially at a time when you do, despite everything that's going on around you, you do have to focus on healing.

YOUNG: Well meanwhile I'm just wondering, you know, Robbie, you spoke to a wider group, but you stayed at Pardeep's house. What do you think happens going forward with this new acquaintance?

PARKER: Well, it's definitely a friendship. I mean my daughter, when we landed in Milwaukee, she just said, she's like I've never been here before. And I'm like you're right, neither have I. She goes are we - so we're going to meet some new friends here. You know, here we are talking about, as adults, we talk about the differences, or at least we notice them. My daughter doesn't.

And I think that's where we want to go from here because we can really instill that sense of unity and oneness amongst the children that are going to grow up and lead this nation. I think that's where the real change will take place.

KALEKA: I mean we definitely see it as a friendship, as well. Initially when we picked Robbie and Alyssa(ph) up from the airport, both of the daughters, Samantha(ph) and Madeleine(ph), ran into our arms and hugged us. And Robbie kind of joked around and said yeah, it takes them a little while to warm up.

(LAUGHTER)

KALEKA: And I was like wow, you know, and they, you know, just chatting and talking. And my wife, you know, we were just surprised at how optimistic kids can be, even as they know that something bad has happened. Kids I think have that spirit of Chardi Kala more than adults do sometimes.

YOUNG: That's Pardeep Kaleka. His father was one of six Sikh worshippers killed a year ago today by a gunman in Oak Creek, Wisconsin. He's talking about his new friend Robbie Parker, whose daughter Emily was one of the children killed in the Newtown shootings.

I hate that it's a club. You know, I hate that you'll probably have more members, but...

KALEKA: Yeah, I mean, you're part of this strange fraternity now.

PARKER: And that's what it is. It's that sense of understanding. I mean, those conversations that we were having, you finally were around somebody else that almost you were able to kind of feel normal with because they're feeling and going through the same things that you were feeling and going through, and you just don't find that anymore in life.

YOUNG: Yeah, well, I'm glad you have each other, although I'm sorry you have each other.

PARKER: Yeah, thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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