Yes, You Can Go Home Again

In April-May of 2018 SikhNet visited the East Coast. Here's an account of our journey.

Before I discovered that I was a citizen of the world, I thought of myself as a New Yorker. You see, I was born and raised in New York City. But of course, wherever we are raised, as children we feel that’s our turf. No matter where in the world it is, it feels familiar to us. In April of this year, when SikhNet decided to plan community outreach trips as a team, we chose our first trip to be to Southern New Jersey and New York City. Our goal in Community Outreach is to connect with SikhNet supporters face-to-face so that we all get to know each other better. To that end, we stayed with our hosts in their homes, did kirtan, katha, community workshops and cozy evening events in homes and Gurdwaras. We also had an opportunity to invite Sangat members to participate in the seva that SikhNet does worldwide.

It has been over 30 years since I’ve been in New York. Over the years many New Yorkers visiting us in New Mexico have said to me, “Oh, you won’t even recognize the place now!” Well, Thomas Wolfe not withstanding, nothing could have been further from the truth. Returning to New York was not only deeply familiar but deeply joyful as well. Everything seemed familiar to me, fresh and alive as when I was 10 years old. It was not simply the places, but the people as well. You see, New Yorkers have a lot of grit, humor, a strong community identity and a common fellowship. This city of nine million people has been through total electrical blackouts, hurricanes, flooding, and of course 9/11. In every case, New Yorkers have come together to support each other, rescue each other, help and serve each other and heal each other.

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On the plane

Our tour began in Brook, New Jersey with Navjot Kaur and Harpreet Singh graciously hosting the whole SikhNet Team in her home. The following day we had a beautiful diwan at the home of Sumandeep Kaur in Warren, NJ and spent the evening Gurvinder Singh and Jaspreet Kaur and their entire family at their lovely home in Short Hills where we shared a delicious home-cooked dinner and wonderful conversation filled with stories and jokes. It was such a blessing to share our evening with three generations of Gurvinder Singh’s family including his dad, Harbhajan Singh, who was visiting from Delhi, along with all the children. The feeling of support for SikhNet’s work was deep and strong.

On Sunday we visited the Lawrenceville Gurdwara where we were blessed to share our work with the children’s Sikh History class and then do katha in the Diwan Hall where we met many enchanting souls and received enthusiastic support from the Lawrenceville Sangat.

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Children's history class at the Lawrenceville Gurdwara

 

That evening we were hosted at the home of Shalu and Gagandeep’s home in Monmouth Junction where we spoke of SikhNet’s work and received support and constructive suggestions from the invited Sangat.

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Evening at Shalu and Gagandeep’s home

On Monday we traveled into Manhattan. SikhNet supporters Rabinder Pal Singh and Mansukh Bir Singh arranged accommodations for the whole team at an upper west side hotel just off Broadway and a just short walk from Central Park.

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Guruka Singh visiting with some old friends in Central Park
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Gurumustuk Singh in Central Park

Our first day in New York was a play day. We dropped our gear at the hotel and made a beeline for Central Park, the living heart of New York City. Apparently, the weather in New York had just turned from Winter to Spring and the denizens of the city were feeling as joyous as we were. Central Park was full of thousands of people all relaxing on the grass, taking leisurely walks, hanging out around the reservoir, Belvedere Fountain and the boating lake. We enjoyed the sight of a man walking ten dogs at the same time (or maybe they were walking him) and rowboats on the lake filled with adults and children of every race, creed and ethnic origin. New York is a true melting pot of cultures, from which it not only derives much of its charm, but its strength as well. We were so happy to share the joy that day that we walked over eight miles in the park.

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The Dogwalker

That evening I visited with Sat Jivan Singh ( a well-known Lawyer I have known for over 40 years and his wife, Sat Jivan Kaur who has built and sustained hundreds of students and teachers at the oldest Kundalini Yoga Center in New York, Kundalini Yoga East.

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Sat Jivan Kaur and Sat Jivan Singh

On Tuesday, we met with the Sikh Coalition team at their office in the Wall Street district in lower Manhattan. Harleen Kaur, Manbeena Kaur, Rucha Kaur and the entire team treated us to a delicious Middle-Eastern lunch in their offices where we talked about their work and mission and how we could collaborate more going forwards. That evening, the Manhattan Sikh Association hosted us at “the Treehouse” in Manhattan, where we led a workshop, showed the work SikhNet is doing and shared langar together. It was a cozy and inspiring evening which brought young and old, Indian born and American born, together in love and harmony.

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With the Sikh Coalition staff

On Wednesday we were blessed to be able to get tickets to the Tony Award winning musical “The Band’s Visit” an intimate and gentle show about Israeli/Egyptian cultures and the common ground of music and human emotions. The singing and acting were both superb.

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Evening at "The Treehouse" with the Manhattan Sikh Association

That evening we joined Rabinder Pal Singh and Mansukh Bir Singh at their midtown Manhattan hotel restaurant where we enjoyed a wonderful Italian dinner and shared inspiring conversation.

On Thursday we all took walks in Manhattan, Gurumustuk Singh and Gurujot Singh took the High Line and I visited my favorite place in Manhattan, the Cloisters, dedicated to the art, architecture, and gardens of medieval Europe. Deriving its name from the medieval cloisters that form the core of the building, it presents a harmonious and evocative setting for more than 2,000 exceptional artworks and architectural elements from the medieval West.

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The Cloisters

Thursday afternoon we returned to New Jersey and stayed with Rajnarind Kaur and Jangpartap Singh and their three sons, Isher Singh, Kabir Singh and Gurdas Singh. Here a high time was had by all. Gurujot Singh practiced kirtan with the boys and we played together, ate together and hung out together in happy Sadhsangat. When we departed, the boys gave each of us drawings they had made for us.

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Evening at Rajnarind Kaur and Jangpartap Singh's home
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Friday evening a Diwan was held at the house of Jagjeevan Kaur and her children. The Partap Brothers had driven down from upstate and offered kirtan to the gathered Sangat. Afterwards, Gurumustuk Singh presented a slide show and stories about the impact of SikhNet’s work.

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Evening Kirtan at Jagjeevan Kaur's home with the Partap Brothers

On Saturday Sikhs of Princeton hosted a workshop at Princeton University. Guruka Singh led the morning workshop entitled, “Walking the Guru’s Path in the 21st Century” then, after a break for Langar, Gurumustuk led the afternoon presentation on SikhNet’s work. We received lots of great input and ideas from the Sangat at the Princeton workshop, which participated enthusiastically.

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The Princeton University workshop

That night saw a hosted fundraiser/dinner at the lovely home of Kawaldeep Singh and Tanu Kaur, where we spent Saturday night as well. The food was superb and the company even better. What a lovely family. We all felt most welcome.

Our final day on the East coast was Mother’s Day and it saw our return to Navjot and Harpreet’s house where we spent a most cozy evening, going out for Italian Food together to celebrate. The food was amazing! After that we returned for a peaceful evening, prayers and a loving departure the following morning when Harpreet Singh drove us all the way to La Guardia airport, leaving at 5:30 am for our departing flight.

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The memories from this trip, and the warm reception we had from all the Sangats we visited, will live in my heart long after the journey itself. For me this tour was filled with deep joy all the way. It was a return and a homecoming that exceeded any expectations I might have had. Old connections renewed, and new ones made in the joy of gathering together at Guru Ji’s feet.

My deepest gratitude to IJ Singh who inspired me to write this article and especially to all who welcomed us, hosted us, supported our work and shared their lives with us. We will return.

 

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