West End Synagogue Practicing Tikkon Olam With United Sikhs and Interfaith Hunger Van
November 2, 2014. What better way to spend a Sunday than participate in a full-blown charity event promoting acts of kindness and awareness about hunger issues in the state of New York at a beautiful uptown Manhattan synagogue on 68th Street? At 2:00 PM, there was a large congregation of mainly adult people on the floor below the coat check, where a pizza party clearly took up one corner of the room, including a variety of sodas. A few children engaged sharing in activities in their own play area while people got seated above a “Rules for Hygiene Guide” at the tables. The first speaker who is a regular at Wet End explains, “Our tradition involves helping the needy,” and that, “A good 10% or 12% attended this event last year.”
Zamir Hassan, founder of Muslims Against Hunger, Faith Against Hunger, and Hunger Van, embarks on his customary speech. “What is hunger?” Is the first question he generally poses. An older woman wearing black immediately gets the answer right, “It’s when you don’t know where your next meal is coming from.” Out of the total US population which is 316 million, the volunteers are asked to guess how many persons are defined as being hungry. A child guesses 4 million, and an adult asks if it’s 55 million, but the answer is actually 49 million. “We live in the riches country in the world. Is this number acceptable?” Mr. Hassan continues. Everyone replies, no.
One member of the Sikh community explains, “All temples offer hot food to the needy and walk-ins. Worshippers also bring in food. Homeless people get treated like everybody else.” “Hunger has no religion,” Mr. Hassan adds. The Hunger Van program also happened to start with this, his greatest slogan. “Where do you find the neediest people? They live right in our backyard.”
He is planning to have 200 meals prepared today, to be distributed two blocks away from the synagogue.
Among Sunday’s volunteers were: Ken Klein of the social action committee, Nadia Gold, Stacy Atkins, Ken Burt, Judith Friedman, Michelle Becker, Judith D’Agostino, Michael Sappiro, and many others, both regular attendees of West End and otherwise.
According to the Sikhs, “We’re all created in the image of God. We recognize the godliness in us as well as of everyone else. We go through the cycle of reading the 5 books of Moses; Abraham is called by God to go to a land made for him, and told about Sodom and Gomorrah, he shows his concern for the people.” Then, “Sadaqah, charity, comes from righteousness; God commands us to do what is right,” states Ken Klein.
What Barbara states about the people at West End, “We are open to all beliefs. What’s important to us is community.” Mr. Singh continues, “It’s good to communicate with other religions. Learn to live together as just humans, one God, and after all the praises, in the end, he’s just One.”
“We need to realize one thing; how blessed we are,” states Mr. Hassan. “You have choices, for example, what Mom gives you for breakfast. There are people who wind up eating what they are eating.”
The program is not going to be using squeezable honey for it’s usual Honey-B sandwiches today as the last time it was at West End, the walls were somehow redecorated by it, so there are jars of jelly instead. Aside from banana, peanut butter, and jam sandwiches, there is a hearty type of salad made with peas, corn, secret spices, and other ingredients, served in 8 ounce cups. All foods go into plastic bags along with spoons.
Most of the Sikhs are busily making salad at the room’s far end. They do not all belong to the same family, yet are acquainted fairly well with each other. Pritpal Singh is one of them, who helped with Hurricane Sandy; he explains to me what seva, or service, is and states that of every aspect of life, the essential parts are to serve, meditate, and work. He mentions that the reason Sikhs grow their hair long is to respect God and not be afraid about doing it.
“This has been a great event. We all did well,” says Ken Klein to the collected volunteers at the end.
“Remembering the Lord helps me be who I am. Oh, my Lord, when you come to my mind, when I remember you, there is bliss. Everyone else is dead except you. When He is kind to you, the Lord is loving you. As to why Sikhs wear turbans, it is that, those moments where I am not thinking about God, I am dead. Sikh teachings are about the oneness of humankind. A Sikh is always a disciple, always learning the way. Anything that is good is God and guru, everything that’s bad is entirely mine. Another Sikh volunteer explains, “In the Bible, a Nazarite is a holy person distinguished by the fact that he doesn’t cut his hair. Samson also did not cut his hair.”
Back to the first Sikh speaker: “The holy men wore turbans and never cut off their hair. Seva, service – to live you have to serve all of mankind. You have to see God everywhere, in all people. Simran is meditation; it may be hard. If you’re in simran, though, problems do not seem as tough; problems in general do not seem as tough….We don’t ever donate or receive charity per se, we serve. It’s a different way of looking at things. All Sikh temples are open to everyone. There are one million meals served out from the Golden Temple every day, made by volunteers….In Sikhism, the scriptures do not become dogmatic, and Sikhs don’t separate themselves from anybody out of love and respect. According the other three main religions, no one else can be saved, but according to Sikhs, it’s possible for everyone to achieve salvation. Through doing good deeds, one becomes holy, and this is tradition.”
Mr. Hassan went to 168th Stereet to distribute today’s meals, right in front of the Presbyterian Hospital on Broadway. The program ends with a traditional Jewish song. Even the children happily sing along and already seem to know the words. Through Hunger Van, they get to learn skills, social and otherwise, including how to made salads and sandwiches, for the community, all of them working together harmoniously.
Click here to see volunteers in Action……
About HUNGER VAN
The Hunger Van project was born in 2011 because Muslims Against Hunger founder Zamir Hassan, a practicing Muslim and resident of Bedminster, New Jersey decided that if hungry people such as the ones congregating around parks and train stations, could not come to the food, the food would come to them in vans, conveniently packaged and ready to eat. The cost of producing one hot meal is $6.07 and $4.85 for cold ones; and meals as well as events are donation-based. Sponsors are encouraged to raise funds for the feeding event. All of the food is vegan and can last for a long period of time without spoiling. for more information about Hunger Van project click here
The author of this blog, Alice M. Baskous, is a New Jersey resident and Hunter College grad who works in and frequents Manhattan Island where she spends many of her hours studying French, walking around, and writing poetry as well as fiction. She does community service with the homeless as well as hungry locals of Tompkins Square Park in downtown New York City three times a week between 10 AM and 11, and also at other Hunger Van sponsored events.