In November 2013, for the first time, more than 200 Millburn & Short Hills Residents celebrated Diwali, the Hindu Festival of Lights that marks the beginning of the New Year for Hindus, as a community.
The children participated in the religious prayers (Pooja), performed Indian Classical dances, showcased colorful and sparkly new Indian Outfits during a fashion show. There was Bollywood music to dance to, Henna tattoos and gourmet Indian dinner and desserts to enjoy the evening. It was a memorable evening that helped the Hindu kids in the Millburn community to come together and celebrate their rich cultural diversity.
Diwali is the biggest festival of Hindus and for Hindus living in America it’s hard for the parents to expose the school going kids to their religious and cultural beliefs unless they take a long trip to India during the school year.
Diwali is a celebration of good over evil and righteousness over wrong, Hindu families all over the world celebrate it by worshiping in the Hindu Temples, decorating the house, visiting/calling friends and family, cooking extensive meals and shopping for new clothes and household items.
In the past five years there has been a big influx of Americans of Indian origin in Millburn and Short Hills that has changed the demographics of our community and the face of our schools. America thrives on this diversity since all these different races, religions and cultures make our country the greatest country in the world.
However, we can not forget that our kids are growing up in a Global economy and we need to make them World Citizens not just the citizens of America.
It is important for Millburn schools to recognize the need to educate our students about the third largest religion in the world next to only Christianity and Islam. While we have Hinduism as part of the school curriculum it would make a much bigger impact if the school held Diwali Assembly on the day before Diwali and declared the day of Diwali as a school holiday. Not only will that give a chance to the Hindu students to celebrate Diwali with their families but also educate the rest of the school community about Hinduism.
In the last few Millburn Board of Education meetings the Hindus living in the town have expressed the need for observing one day school holiday on Diwali in Fall every year and requested the Board to add it to the school calendar starting 2014-2015. This would allow a large number of Hindus in the town to celebrate the day with their kids in a meaningful way and teaching them the importance of their religion & culture that is hard to preserve in a far away land. It would reinforce in all the children that we as a community uphold the constitution by celebrating all the religions equally.
This would make our Millburn students true Global Citizens and prepare them for Careers around the world. They will emerge as enlightened citizens who are well aware of the different religions & Cultures in the world & have respect for diversity.
This request to recognize one of the major festivals celebrated in town is neither radical nor unreasonable. The White House has been celebrating Diwali for the past five years. Millburn School district would become a pioneer in declaring Diwali as a holiday in the schools across New Jersey which has a huge Hindu population and someday also throughout the country. This is a historic decision and it will take an effort from all of us as a community to recognize and celebrate diversity in our community.
The Hindus rejoice in the rest of the Millburn community enjoying Indian foods at strawberry festival and applying Henna on their teens Bat Mitzvah, that’s unity in diversity and that makes Millburn the best town to live in and grow in. The Hindu community requests the Millburn community, of which we are an integral part of, to support the movement and join us to urge the Millburn Board of Education to declare Diwali as a school holiday in Millburn.
Dr. Jyoti B. Sharma
Short Hills, NJ