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2012 Bostonians of the Year Honorable Mention

Sikh leader Sarbpreet Singh forged community from tragedy

Following the Wisconsin shootings, this Hopkinton man organized a service that enlightened a region.

Sarbpreet Singh

Matt Kalinowski

Sarbpreet Singh

ON SUNDAY, AUGUST 5, as Sarbpreet Singh was driving home from Baltimore with his family, his daughter’s iPhone began picking up reports of a mass shooting at a Sikh gurdwara, or temple, outside Milwaukee. A flurry of phone calls and news reports soon confirmed the tragedy: A man linked to white supremacist groups had killed six people and wounded three.

The shooting rocked the Boston-area Sikh community, which has gurdwaras in Milford, Millis, Everett, and Medford. But it presented an opportunity to educate people about the monotheistic faith, which has about 20 million members worldwide, mostly in India, and emphasizes egalitarianism, sharing, and service. So Singh, a longtime leader in the Milford gurdwara, worked with Christian, Jewish, and Muslim leaders to organize a late-August service rooted in Sikh tradition, along with a customary communal Sikh meal, at Trinity Church in Copley Square. “At some level, all of us understand that there are things that are common between various faiths,” says Singh, a 49-year-old from Hopkinton who runs a technology start-up. “And yet it’s so easy to focus on our differences.” Singh says he and other local Sikhs were surprised when as many as 1,500 packed into Trinity to show solidarity. Participants lingered afterward to eat, talk, and mourn. “It was surreal,” he says.

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With that event, and through his writings, his promotion of traditional Sikh music, and his interfaith nonprofit work on behalf of refugees, Singh has helped weave Sikhism into the fabric of religious life in Boston. “I continue to be amazed at how generous and tolerant he was about our questions and our curiosity and how he helped us understand the beauty of their tradition,” says the Rev. Laura Everett, executive director of the Massachusetts Council of Churches, who was integral to the Trinity event.

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