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LI Sikhs react in horror to Wisconsin shootings

Mohinder Singh Taneja (left) and Virender Sikka (right)

Mohinder Singh Taneja (left) and Virender Sikka (right) listen as Teji Bindra (center), reacts to the multiple shootings in Wisconsin at the Guru Gobind Singh Sikh Center in Plainview. (Aug. 5, 2012) Credit: Newsday/Jessica Rotkiewicz

Long Island's Sikh community reacted with horror to Sunday's deadly shooting at a Wisconsin temple, as local police increased patrols of their places of worship.

At Gurdwara Sahib in Glen Cove, one of two open Sikh temples on Long Island, the attack hit close to home. Temple leaders said a member's sister recently was married at the Oak Creek, Wis., site, where seven people were killed, including the gunman.

"It was shock. Really, shock," said Inder Chhabra, a Woodbury resident and trustee at the Glen Cove congregation, who announced news of the shooting at the end of Sunday's service. "It makes you wonder whether we need to do a threat assessment."

Sunday night, Chhabra was among more than a dozen of the religion's local leaders who met at the Guru Gobind Singh Center in Plainview to discuss repercussions. A Nassau County police official told attendees that officers -- as is the case in New York City -- had increased their presence at Sikh temples, but no specific threats had been received.

Authorities in Oak Creek, south of Milwaukee, said the gunman died in a shootout with police. Officials there have not yet identified his motive.

But local Sikh leaders immediately feared the shooting was similar to attacks that took place immediately after Sept. 11, 2001, when Sikhs were mistaken for Muslims, whose worshippers also can wear beards and turbans.

T.J. Bindra, president of Sikh Organization of New York, said the shooting should be "a wake-up call" for local Sikhs to increase awareness of their religion.

"We need to come out of our cocoon and become involved on a grassroots level," Bindra said. "Our community has started to make inroads, but we can do it on a much broader level."

There are 25,000 practicing Sikhs across Long Island, organization officials estimated. The Plainview temple counts about 300 families as members, and about 1,000 people attend in Glen Cove.

"We are concerned, but it can happen anywhere," a Glen Cove congregant, Surjeet Singh Sahni, said of the shooting. "That's one in a million."

As he spoke, a monitor in the room showed live views of the temple's parking lot and lobby. Members, who were having a post-service meal and trading cellphone news reports about the shooting, said the security system had been recently installed, but not in anticipation of an Oak Creek-like event.

Gurdwara Sahib is making a concerted effort to connect with its community at large, reducing the chance of misunderstandings, officials said. Sunday, signage was displayed for its first Sikh Sports Day at nearby Glen Cove High School, which will be open to all.

Recently the property hosted an interfaith fair, attended by hundreds from the region.

Manmeet Lamba, another Gurdwara Sahib trustee, said her prime message to the public would be: "Please get to know us before you make a judgment."

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