New York Sikhs and Hassidic Jews open lives to create understanding 

By Hailey Deeds

New York is home to more than  800 languages and 8.38 million people, according to the World Federation of United Nations Association and 2020 United States Census Bureau. The Jewish and Sikh community in New York City make up almost two million of that population. 

BYU students partake of Langar after observing a Sikh service in Flushing, Queens.(Joel Campbell)

Rev. Nate Walker,,  said that the United States is living in the first generation where the majority of the population is not religious. Walker shared the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution which says  that ‘Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.’ Originally, the word free exercise was tolerance, but was changed. 

“If we just tolerate each other, it assumes the superiority of the one who’s tolerating, [but] free exercise demands something else and it demands that we defend the rights of others and we allow space for dissension,” Walker said..  

Both Sikh and Hassidic Jewish communities welcome community members and tourists to their homes and places of worship to help them understand, rather than tolerate, their religion. 

Hasidic Jews

Crown Heights is considered home to many Jews. Hasidic Jews make up 25% of the Crown Heights population. Rabbi Mayer Freeman opens his family’s home to tourists, who want to learn about the Hasidic Jewish culture, on a weekly basis. The interior of his home was filled with wall-to-wall photos of his family and ancestors. The dining room had a table fit for a family of 20. 

The men in the Hassidic Jewish culture wear kippahs (define) and black shtreimels on their heads. They grow long beards and wear black suits with button up shirts. On the pants is fringe, also referred to as tzitzit in Hebrew, which represents God and acts a reminder of Him and His commandments. Women, on the other hand, wear dresses and skirts. Married women wear wigs to stay modest and to keep their beauty sacred. Hasidic Jewish women do this because God still wants them to be able to be beautiful; sacred doesn’t mean ugly. 

Rabbi Yonitan Katz said that he believes people are born to the religion that they are meant to be with. 

Katz said because he was born Jewish, he was meant to be Jewish. He doesn’t encourage people to convert, but encourages people to serve others.

“If God needed you to be Jewish then you would have been a jew,” Katz said. 

Katz said he felt a strong importance to spread God’s word by example and inviting people to learn more about his religion. 

As part of the tour, Freeman’s mother brings people into her kitchen to show them how she “keeps kosher,” which is a Hebrew term. They have specific food they are able to eat and ways to prepare it. Freeman’s mother said it’s more than just about health, but about reverence and adherence to God. For example, her kitchen had two of everything; two dishwashers, two (technically three) sinks, two ovens, two stoves, two microwaves and one refrigerator. This is because milk and meat can’t be cooked together. However, they only have one refrigerator because it doesn’t deal with cooking.

In order to find milk and meat that is kosher, there are rabbis that are specialized to go to the factories where meats and milk are prepared, and approve the process. People can find kosher foods in everyday markets by finding labels with K or OU. 


Flushing, in Queens, is one of the most diverse places to live in the world with a diversity index of .60, according to the Furmance Center. The Sikh Center of New York Inc can be found on Parsons Blvd. 

When visiting a Sikh temple, people must first wash their hands, take off their shoes and cover their hair. This is meant to show respect to the Sikh’s God. Sikh were originally formed in India, and unlike most India religions, they believe in one God. Sikh’s believe in the equality of all mankind; men and women.

In worship, people bow to The Guru Granth Sahib as a sign of respect. The Guru Granth Sahib is a holy scripture and referred to as the last, eternal Guru. It follows the lineage of ten other Gurus. After bowing to the Guru Granth Sahib, people are given parshad to represent the blessings they receive for visiting the guru. 

The Sikh religion has Five K of which they have to follow and keep with them at all times. The first is kesh (uncut hair), keshki (small turban), kirpan (dagger), kanga (hair comb), kachera (uniform shorts), and kara (iron bracelet). 

Harpreet Singh Wahan, Sikh leader, said he has experienced more violence in New York. He explained a time after 9/11 where his car was damaged by rocks due to him wearing a turban. 

“My job is to convert the feeling of hatred into love,” Wahan said. 

Wahan said he felt that he needed to share with people who the Sikh people were. To share his religion, he passed pamphlets out at the Macey’s parade. 

Wahan said that he wasn’t there to convert people, but to show people that the turban means love. 

Wahan said, “We are all brothers and sisters and all friends.”. 

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