Community Profile — Som Sharma


By Arun Jatkar, Monroeville, PA                e-mail:   ajmarathi@yahoo.com

Som Sharma, now retired after a three-decade long career as a financial planner, has presented and represented India and Hinduism in many forums for many years well before l ocal temples and other organizations got into the act.  Recently Arun Jatkar (picture on the left), another long-time resident here, talked to Som Sharma (left in the picture below) about this journey. Arun talked to Som on various topics over dinner at Green Mango, a Thai restaurant in Wilkins Twp.  Arun, an engineer-researcher by profession, has worked in various capacities in many industries. Both are now active on other fronts. Since 2001 Arun has been the editor of Ekata, the first Marathi quarterly magazine of North America published from Toronto, Canada since 1978. Som has been organizing the Gandhi Jayanti (birthday) (October 2) in fall for the last fifteen years.  —  Editor

Long-time residents of the Greater Pittsburgh Metro area know Mr. Som Sharma of Monroeville through at least one of the myriad endeavors (apart from his profession as a financial planner), of which Sharma is, or has been, the vital force and the prime mover. I was delighted to talk to him at the Green Mango Thai restaurant on Business 22. The primary intent was to learn more about  Sharma’s association with the Monroeville Interfaith Ministerium, a group of representatives from different faiths,  including  Catholics, mainstream Protestants, Jews, Muslims, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, and Hindus.

Interfaith dialogue is important in any society where people of many different faiths have to live and work together. In the US, in the early days, there were only the various denominations within Christianity to begin with. Jews arrived later. Many Americans until recently, were not even aware of other faiths such as Hindu, Moslem, Zoroastrian, Buddhist, Jain, Sikh, and Baha’I.

Som explained that in the early 1980s his wife Vandana volunteered as the director of the Indian community’s dance groups participating in the Pittsburgh Folk Festival and he helped in her organizational effort. This led to contacts with several ethnic communities in and around Pittsburgh and invitations from local churches to speak about the Hindu religion.

This was one of the reasons why Som got involved in the interfaith dialogue, as a member of Monroeville Interfaith Ministerium. Ministerium is an association of clergy from various religious groups coming together to accomplish a specific purpose, often to build collegiality and address socioeconomic needs in the community. The clergy represented churches, synagogues, temples, mosques, and other congregations that are often connected geographically in a small town or group of small towns.

The Archdiocese of Chicago’s Office for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs differentiates between ecumenical, interfaith, and interreligious relations. But for most people “Interreligious” is synonymous with “Interfaith.”

Som said, “The 1893 Parliament of World Religions in Chicago is often regarded as the birth of the ‘Interfaith Movement.’ This congress was the first organized international gathering of religious leaders.”  Swami Vivekananda spoke at this congress over 120 years ago. However, it seems to this writer that Indian communities all over the US are slow to see the merit of participating in local interfaith organizations.

Som Sharma’s example was followed by Vinod Doshi (from the H-J Temple) representing the Jains, and  Gurdayal Singh Mehta (Monroeville Gurudwara) representing the Sikhs.

The seed sown by Som has grown into the Hindu-Jain Temple of Monroeville now becoming a member of the Monroeville Interfaith Ministerium, wherein Harilal Patel and Damayant Agarwal represent the Hindu-Jain Temple Pariwar. During Thanksgiving, the member organizations within the Ministerium take turns gathering at one of the participants’ place of worship to share a simple meal to bring people of all faiths together.

After the ghastly 9/11 attack in 2001 on the World Trade Center in New York, interfaith dialogue became a necessity all across the US. Som has eloquently represented the Hindu faith at many of these gatherings, some of them held in open play grounds.

Given the recent events in Charlottesville, NC (and earlier events of hate crimes committed against innocent Indians in Pittsburgh), one sees the need for the interfaith dialogue to keep going from strength to greater strength, for which Som sowed the seeds over three decades ago.

The ultimate goal of the Indian community ought to be to cultivate an environment of interfaith amity and understanding in the US, wherein all faiths will regard each other with mutual respect, going beyond the stock expression of tolerance, commonly used in Interfaith interactions.   ♣

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