By Lisa Kintish
The Parsippany-Troy Hills School District has received a request to add the Hindu holiday of Diwali to its calendar.
Drawing publicity to the cause is Nevada resident Rajan Zed, who, on his website, calls himself a “distinguished religious statesman who has taken up Hindu, interfaith, religion, environmental, Roma and other causes all over the world.”
Zed sent out a press release stating:
“Hindus are urging Parsippany-Troy Hills Township School District (PTHSD) in New Jersey to include Diwali, the most popular Hindu holy day, as a schools holiday in their 2016-2017 calendar and beyond.
“The 2015-2016 Calendar of PTHSD, whose ‘mission’ includes ‘to develop a feeling of self-worth and confidence,’ showed schools were closed for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, while the district was closed for Good Friday.
“Hindu statesman Rajan Zed said that it was not fair with Hindu pupils and their families as they had to attend school on their most popular festival.
“Zed, who is president of Universal Society of Hinduism, indicated that this unfairness did not send a good signal to the impressionable minds of schoolchildren who would be the leaders of tomorrow. Holidays of all major religions should be honored and no one should be penalized for practicing their religion. Moreover, it was important to meet the religious and spiritual needs of these students, Zed added
“Rajan Zed stressed that since it was important for Hindu families to celebrate Diwali day together at home with their children, we did not want our children to be deprived of any privileges at the school because of thus resulting absences on this day. Closing schools on Diwali would ensure that and it would be a step in the positive direction.
“Zed noted that awareness about other religions thus created by such holidays like Diwali would make the PTHSD pupils well-nurtured, well-balanced, and enlightened citizens of tomorrow.
“PTHSD needed to develop some sensitivity to diversity in the changing demographics and grant holidays on Diwali and major festivals of other religions so the students did not have to miss school to celebrate their sacred days. PTHSD should awake and understand that we live in 2016 now, Rajan Zed stated.
“Zed further says that Hinduism is rich in festivals and religious festivals are very dear and sacred to Hindus. Diwali, the festival of lights, aims at dispelling the darkness and lighting up the lives and symbolizes the victory of good over evil. Besides Hindus, Sikhs and Jains and some Buddhists also celebrate Diwali. Hinduism, oldest and third largest religion of the world, has about one billion adherents and moksh (liberation) is its ultimate goal. There are about three million Hindus in USA.”
Joan F. Benos, chief of staff/public information officer, sent Parsippany Life an email on behalf of interim Parsippany superintendent, Lee Seitz, in which she reported that a request came in from “a few members of our community to consider making Diwali a day off from school.”
Such requests go before a committee comprising members of the educational community, including students, teachers, parents, and administrators, which meets annually to develop the school calendar for the following school year. The two individuals who made the request were invited to attend the committee’s meeting and provide information on the matter.
Benos wrote, “The Calendar Committee has and will continue to give full consideration to this request. For the 2016-2017 calendar, since Diwali falls on a Sunday, the committee has not made a recommendation regarding this request to the Board of Education at this time.”
Benos added, “I am confident that when the committee meets next year, they will consider this request as well as other possible holidays when making a recommendation for the 2017-2018 school calendar to the Board of Education. Please note that the calendar committee simply makes recommendations to the Board of Education and the Board of Education makes the final decision regarding the final calendar.”
Diwali, one of the biggest Hindu festivals, is celebrated in either October or November for five continuous days. The third of which is the main celebration, or “Festival of Lights.” People light diyas and candles around the house and seek divine blessings from Lakshmi, the Goddess of Wealth.
Traditionally, Diwali includes a family feast, the exchanging of gifts, and a fireworks display.