Pastor's Message


August 12, 2018

PASTOR’S MESSAGE 

 
I was fortunate to be interviewing our new N.J. Attorney General the same day he was in the news as the object of derision by two NJ 101.5 DJ's.  The Jersey City born lawyer made history as the first Sikh to hold a high public office in any state in the union.  He is close to Mayor Ravi Bhalla, also a history maker.  Here is my JERSEY JOURNAL column.
Fr. Alex Santora
 
Sikh values prove helpful to state AG | Faith Matters
 
When I sat down last week to interview N.J. Attorney General Gurbir Grewal in his Trenton office, we both had Jersey City on our minds.  I was interested to hear his recollections about his early years in the city where he was born. He was being deluged with media requests after his decision to suspend Mayor Fulop's plan to decriminalize marijuana in the second-largest city in the state.  "We can't be rushed," the 61st AG told me.  Earlier that day, he had a conference call with the 21 country prosecutors to lay out a timetable. In the end, he decided to put a hold on all marijuana cases in municipal courts statewide until at least Sept. 4.
 
If you listen to Grewal, a gracious man, he fits the mold of the top state law enforcement officer. When you see him, you cannot help but notice that he is a Sikh -- a member of an Indian religion that dates back to the 16th century -- and wears a turban. He readily acknowledges he was taunted, like most Sikh boys in America, in elementary school in Bergen County because they wear their hair long and in a bun.
 
 
"One hundred percent of the time," he said with no trace of bitterness in his voice.  Grewal learned to avoid sitting near those boys on the school bus who would pull his hair, he said, adding that the experiences gave him the resolve "to be more gregarious.'
 
Little did he know during our conversation that soon after, at age 45, he would face taunting again, this time at the hands of adults: two radio hosts who derisively referred to his turban during a discussion of his marijuana policy.  "This is not the first indignity I've faced and it probably won't be the last," he wrote in response on Twitter. "Sometimes, I endure it alone. Yesterday, all of New Jersey heard it. It's time to end small-minded intolerance."  Grewal recalled for me that when his parents moved to Bergen County, the Glen Rock temple where his family worships was undeveloped and they sat under tents. Today, he brings his three girls -- ages 5, 7, and 9 -- to the active and developed temple, where Hoboken Mayor Ravi Bhalla, also Sikh, worships with his family.  Grewal, an only child, considers Bhalla and Bhalla's brother, Amar, like his own brothers.
 
Brotherhood is a desired goal of Sikhs, who welcome anyone to their temples. They always have plenty of food and do not question why someone would come.  Grewal has never been to the Jersey City temple off Broadway in the Marion section, which is growing as Jersey City becomes even more diverse.  Grewal's first years were spent on Sip Avenue in a multi -family home with a Guyanese family and another Indian family residing in the building.  "It's a very welcoming city," he said of Jersey City.  Some desired traits Sikhs promote are, in Grewal's words, "selfless service and prosperity for all."  These guide some of the initiatives he has created.
 
During his tenure as the Bergen County prosecutor, before becoming AG after Murphy took office in January, Grewal implemented Operation Helping Hand, for example, to assist drug addicts. Out of 180 arrests, 150 people received treatment.  "We do not want to humiliate people," he said.
 
As AG, his "21 for 21" program requires the top prosecutor in each of New Jersey's 21 counties to offer quarterly programs for religious and community leaders. This year's topics are police use of deadly force, opioid and drug addiction, community policing and immigration policies.  "There is an uptick in bi- as crimes," Grewal said, mentioning anti-immigrant sentiment, pro-Nazism, hate and intolerance as behaviors he believes we must respond to and suppress.
 
"I want to set an example as an attorney general, as a good leader with proper values," he said.  Grewal is a strong believer in social justice, another Sikh trait, and lit up when I asked about his years at Jesuit-run Georgetown. He graduated from their highly touted School of Foreign Service and acknowledged the Jesuits he had as teachers and mentors, saying he wants his daughters to go to Jesuit schools.
 
Another Sikh trait is "honest conduct" and if he can survive the ruthless N.J. politics intact, he might make history like another Georgetown graduate, Bill Clinton.


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