Last night, Wilton does what Wilton does best–rallied to the side of a member of its community in need, to offer help, friendship and love.
It just so happens that the ‘member’ of the community is a community itself–the worshipers of the Hindu Mandir Wilton temple on Westport Rd., which recently was the victim of an act of vandalism, when someone threw a rock through the window of a building belonging to the temple, the house next door where one of the clergy members lives. This incident was the third time in the last six months that someone had attacked the temple and its members in this way, but it was the first time that Swami Balgopal, the leader of the Wilton temple, reported the incident to the police.
When Wilton heard about the vandalism, residents responded–What can we do to help? How can we be there for our fellow residents? Balgopal told Rev. Shannon White (of Wilton Presbyterian Church) when she offered that they didn’t need money to repair the window or a candlelight vigil; what would help most would be for the wider Wilton community to come inside and worship with Temple members as guests, and then join in the celebratory dinner afterward.
So last night, the Hindu Mandir temple was packed with guests, more than 150 filled the room to share in the service. In the Hindu religion, every night is devoted to the worship of a different God, and Tuesday night is dedicated to the Hindu God Lord Hanuman. Guests removed their shoes before entering, and sat together in companionship as worshipers shared their tradition.
Swami Balgopal explained each of the gods that are worshiped and represented around the sanctuary. He thanked Wilton for coming inside to stand (or sit, as the case may be) alongside his community.
He said he was grateful for the concern and compassion that had been shown by town employees and officials, the Police and Fire Departments. “It was very sad. even if you are strong still you get scared. We need your support, and tonight we have that.”
Later, each representative from different Wilton houses of worship, as well as public officials, spoke to offer their own words of support.
Rev. Shannon White, Wilton Presbyterian Church: “I was so moved when you and your congregation invited all of these people here, in the midst of a time that is scary, we stand together, with hope and love. Your beautiful, beautiful place of worship, we bring greetings of solidarity.”
Rabbi Rachel Bearman, Temple B’nai Chaim: “Tonight is one of the most holy nights in the Jewish calendar, and I’m so honored that we were invited to spend one of our holiest nights with you. From our temple to yours, we stand with you in friendship and appreciate your hospitality. We hope that our friendship can continue in such meaningful ways.”
Dr. Golnar Sadehgi: On behalf of the Muslim community, we stand with each and every one of you. We do not accept and violence or any hate toward any religion. I’m an optimistic person. I take this vicious act as an opportunity for all of us to get together, from different backgrounds, from different religions, and we are all here to worship one God under peace and harmony. In this wonderful town of Wilton, there is absolutely no place for hate. You are always going to be safe here, and we are with you.
Deb McFadden: “I’m a mother, a wife, the chair of the Democratic Town Committee, and a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, the Mormon Church. But I’m here as a neighbor, I live three doors down. I consider this congregation my neighbors and my friends. I am here to stand with you, that I am appalled by the acts committed against this congregation. As I stand here, and feel this spirit, the spirit we all feel in this room, regardless of our faith, or where we come from or who we are, we can stand in respect of one another. I am here with love and I will do all that I can to stand against this hate. I invite us all to go as emissaries from this place, to reach out and find ways that we can heal the wounds, and find new opportunities to stand together, united, in love, without hatred.”
Father Reggie Norman, Our Lady of Fatima Church: “In our religion there’s a saying, that, ‘He who is without sin casts the first stone. The reverse–someone with sin cast that stone. Somewhere in their heart they learned to hate. We can be outraged, but we must be outraged in a positive way. We pray for these people, that their hearts may heal and that they stop the nonsense. We must take that outrage into action–we, as the people of Wilton, must continue to stand together, when we see something, we must say something. We must send the message out that we will not tolerate it. Although we love you, we will not allow you to act badly.”
Jeffrey Rutishauser, Board of Finance member, on behalf of first selectman Lynne Vanderslice, who couldn’t make the gathering: Wilton is 34 sq. miles, with 18,000 people and 6,000 homes. But that’s what we are–it’s not who we are. I think of Wilton as one big family. We’re diverse, and one of the elements of that diversity is religious diversity. When someone throws a stone at one of our houses of worship, they’re throwing a stone at all of our houses of worship. We come together as community to show our faith and support for you because that’s what a family does in a time of need.”
State Representative Gail Lavielle: “You are our neighbors, our friends, we are all people and we are all the same. And we must never tolerate any act of hatred or violence in our community, and most of all, anything that scares people. I can’t countenance that people in our community are frightened by complete needless act. We mustn’t stand for it and we must continue to show how strongly we feel about this, and how important it is to all of us that everyone in our community be serene.”
Stephen Hudspeth, WiACT Steering Community: “The one good thing about despicable acts is that it draws community together. This is an act that brings us together, in sad circumstances, but together with action with all our faith communities.”
Afterward, Swami Balgopal told GOOD Morning Wilton what it felt like to have members of Wilton’s wider community join his congregation in prayer last night. “That you are not alone. That they are not a separate religion, we are a model life and we have to cooperate with one another. If we are not like that, then war would be there. It’s loving to have support like that.”
UPDATE 2 p.m.–State Senator Toni Boucher emailed a statement about the act of vandalism at the Hindu temple: “This type of act of vandalism directed our community’s religious institution is unacceptable and clearly a hate crime that should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Just this year we stood together in a bipartisan show of unity in passing a bill that would add additional penalties to these types of abhorrent actions. Our Hindu neighbors should know that we stand with them shoulder to shoulder in support and defending them against those that perpetrated these indefensible acts.”