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By Rohan Mascarenhas
Religion News Service

Palermo, N.Y. – Members of the Gobind Sadan USA temple hurried with last-minute chores last Saturday morning (March 22) as they prepared to dedicate their new temple.
Adults readied musical instruments and food, while children played with balloons on a floor covered with Oriental carpets and white sheets.
And then, more than six years after arsonists destroyed their first place of worship on a November night, the new spiritual building was ready.
A procession began through the doors. Some had tambourines; one held the temple’s holy book, which survived the fire unscathed. Worshippers of all faiths and community leaders, about 60 in all, joined in the singing. Images of Sikh gurus and Jesus Christ adorned the walls.
Gobind Sadan members saw the day’s events as a triumph over intolerance. The interfaith congregation is rooted in the Sikh teachings of Baba Virsa Singh, a noted Indian religious leader who died last December at age 73.
The temple attracted national attention when, two months after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, four teenage arsonists mistakenly linked the Palermo institution — where many members wear turbans and beards — with al-Qaida and Osama bin Laden.
The arsonists misread the Gobind Sadan sign to say “Go bin Laden.”
Breaking the farmhouse’s windows and uttering racial slurs, one member of the group used motor oil to spark a blaze that severely damaged the building.
Gurjot Singh, a 25-year member from Toronto who helped rebuild the temple, recalled the charred remains. “The entirety of one side was pretty much burned down, gone,” he said.
Ralph Singh, a co-founder of the group, helped preside over a ceremony that included prayers from a Sikh guru from India and leaders of local Buddhist, Hindu, Christian and Muslim traditions.
“This is special,” Singh said. “Even though you’re in the middle of nowhere, people of all faiths can still gather to worship God.”
While volunteers spent countless weekends erecting a new building, the center, whose name means “God’s house without walls,” used the event to open a dialogue with the local community.
Its leaders urged forgiveness for the arsonists, while local students and churches organized fundraisers to help the temple.
As he looked around the new structure, Richard Breyer, a professor at nearby Syracuse University who filmed a documentary on the fire’s aftermath, said he felt the spirit of the old building.
“It’s physically different, but spiritually, the music — that’s the same,” he said.
Nelson Bauersfeld, a local school district superintendent, praised the ceremony as he watched it unfold from the back of the room.
“This is a great day,” he said, noting that he had set up a diversity committee to better tackle intolerance. “We’ve come a long way in the last five years to really make a difference here.”
Rohan Mascarenhas writes for The Post-Standard in Syracuse, N.Y.
Copyright 2008 Religion News Service. All rights reserved. No part of this transmission may be distributed or reproduced without written permission.

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