Pardeep Singh Kaleka Hopes Interfaith Can Help Heal Past Wounds

We sat down with the new executive director of the Interfaith Conference of Greater Milwaukee.

Pardeep Singh Kaleka became executive director of the Interfaith Conference of Greater Milwaukee on July 1, replacing longtime director Tom Heinen. Kaleka has worn many hats in Milwaukee — he’s a Marquette grad, a co-author of a recent book about forgiveness, a clinician and a former police officer, as well as a father of four with his wife, Jaspreet Kaur Kaleka.

Kaleka, 42, says Interfaith has played an important role in his own community since the August 2012 Sikh Temple of Wisconsin shooting in Oak Creek, in which Kaleka’s father and five others were killed. Interfaith embraces its mission, “to uphold the dignity of every person and the solidarity of the human community,” through dinner dialogues and other forms of community outreach.

In terms of the new role, “80% of it has been just phenomenal,” and the other 20% has been “a bit overwhelming,” he says. He envisions creating a more trusting Milwaukee and having a concrete gathering space someday, among other goals.

We sat down with Kaleka at the beginning of his new role and caught up with him again after his first two months.

On Interfaith’s past and future presence in the city:

Next year will be Interfaith’s 50th anniversary. There’s so many challenges that have been navigated by this little group. I want to be able to tell the history of Interfaith and where we’ve been, but I think, more importantly, I want to be able to usher in the next 50 years.

On the next 50 years of Interfaith’s work in Milwaukee:

I hope that it looks like healing from some of the wounds of the past and the role that faith leaders play in that. I think some of these challenges that we’re going to face are actually much more of a spiritual and existential crisis.

On that spiritual crisis he sees today:

We think about research showing us that we are more lonely than ever before, and yet we seem to be more connected than ever. Somehow, some way, that connection is not a real connection. It’s artificial, and it’s not us having conversations with one another. And when we don’t have those conversations with one another, we feel like we’re less understood and more judged. When we think about interreligious and interfaith dialogue, it’s less about judging if you’re right, wrong or have the right God, but more about understanding. And if we can build a more understanding culture, I can’t help but to think that we’ll feel more connected.

On his own faith:

I’m a practicing Sikh. The U.N. of respecting all faiths and all religions and anything that helps us lead a better life — that’s what I am.