Ancient traditions of Hinduism, Judaism ‘celebrate similarities’

PEORIA —The Hindu Temple of Central Illinois was filled with Jews on Saturday.

In a joint effort to “celebrate similarities,” members of the Jewish Federation of Peoria and Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh gathered at the temple, 4224 W. Prairie Lane, for “Jerusalem to Mumbai” to dance, share food and learn about each group’s culture.

“We hope to build bridges between the two most ancient traditions in the world,” said Dr. Mandar Pattekar, who helped organize the event. “The best way to form those bridges is through food and dance.”

Added Susan Katz, the executive director of the Jewish Federation, “Historically, there has been a good relationship between the two groups, and we want to build that in Peoria. We feel there is probably a lot of common interest.”

Some of those common interests are the “strong beliefs of freedom and democracy,” Katz said. Both also are minorities in the United States, and both homelands are geographically surrounded by violent parts of the world.

“Both groups have been misunderstood and misrepresented and this has led to a lot of violence toward us,” Pattekar said.

To greet those in attendance, each person had a spot of dark powder placed on their forehead, which is called “kumkum.”

“It’s a way of welcoming people and saying, ‘I acknowledge the soul in you,’ ” Pattekar said.

Prasad Shastry, an electrical engineering professor at Bradley University, then spoke on the “basic tenets of Hinduism” and added more reasons why the two groups have gotten along so well historically.

“India has supported and accommodated different schools of thought,” he said, which coincided well with what Pattekar said before the program started.

“For centuries Jews have lived in India, where there is no anti-Semitism,” Pattekar said. “For us, anti-Semitism is a strange concept.”

Then Rabbi Michael Arsers, the leader the Agudas Achim congregation, connected what he had learned through Shastry’s speech with his own knowledge of Judaism.

“There’s a joke that goes, ‘Why do Jews do so well on the SAT? Because they’ve been studying for it for 3,000 years,'” he said. “And I think you could say the same thing about Hinduism.”

The night concluded with Hindus teaching Jews an Indian dance and vice versa, but also with the prospect of future gatherings.

“I hope that this is the first event of many,” Katz said. “I’m excited to learn more about this culture.”
(Tags: Jews, HIndus)

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