Diwali, Indian Festival of Lights, Draws Large Support as Millburn School Holiday
Tuesday, November 26, 2013 • 6:42am
MILLBURN, NJ - A large contingent of the township’s Indian population came to the Board of Education meeting on Monday to show its support for recognition by the township school district of the Indian Festival of Lights known as Diwali.
Board member Rupali Whadwa, at the school body’s last meeting, said the festival, which celebrates life, positive feelings and personal renewal, should be added to the district’s calendar as a day free from school.
A majority of board members, however, at that meeting, voted to approve the 1914-1915 calendar without inclusion of Diwali as a school holiday.
Those opposed to inclusion of the holiday at that meeting said the entire matter of a policy on adding school holidays was a subject requiring greater in-depth discussion.
However, at Monday’s meeting, resident Jyoti Sharma said Diwali goes beyond a celebration for just one religion. She said it is shared by Hindus, Christians and a large number of other cultures emanating from India. She added it is a celebration of right over wrong and good over evil, and it is a time for families to gather and worship together in their temples. She also said Indian businessmen often show their spirit of renewal during the 12-day celebration by starting new ledgers.
Sharma noted that, this past year, more than 250 people attended a Diwali Festival in Millburn at which middle school students performed a number of traditional Indian dances.
She also said school district celebration of the holiday would give students of various backgrounds the opportunity to learn about other cultures. At the same time, she added, it would allow Indian students to more fully celebrate their heritage with their families.
Another resident added that the White House and the United States Congress have recognized the holiday, while another resident said even New York City recently suspended alternate-side-of-the street parking to help Indians in observing the celebration.
Whadwa made a motion at Monday’s meeting to have the board program committee fully report its discussion of Diwali, scheduled for its Dec. 11 committee session, at the full board meeting on Dec. 16.
Some board members, however, said this would go against board procedure, which usually only requires reporting of committee meeting minutes at the full board meeting.
Board member Raymond Wong, whose wife is Indian, said he celebrates the holiday, wears traditional Indian clothing for the celebration and eats Indian meals, but also said that the board has to consider the feelings of the entire community when making a decision about the holiday.
Board member Michael Birnberg noted that he had researched a great deal about the holiday since the last meeting, noting that there are about 1,000 people of Indian origin in Millburn.
He added, however, that if only one in 20 residents were against the change he was not sure that should be the determining factor one way or the other for the board’s decision on the holiday.
Birnberg urged his fellow board members to take a broad look at holidays affecting all groups in the township before making a decision on the change.
Whadwa replied, however, that she is co-chair of a cultural group representing all cultures in the township and was sensitive to all cultures. At the same time, she added, the school body should recognize that the township’s cultural landscape was changing and it should act on this.
She also said her attempt to have Diwali considered as a school holiday was “swept under the table” at the last board meeting after which the 2014-2015 school calendar was adopted.
Birnberg replied that this was not the case and that the calendar was adopted separately.
Programming chairwoman Rona Wenik and committee member Regina Truitt both told Whadwa on Monday that the question was on the committee’s agenda and would be discussed at the Dec. 11 committee session.
Wong also offered to give up his seat at the Dec. 11 session so that Whadwa, who is not a member of the committee, could attend and give her point of view.
When a vote on Whadwa’s motion to have the committee report on its Dec. 11 discussion at the next board meeting on Dec. 16 was taken at Monday’s meeting it passed.