In Pursuit of Enlightenment

Diwali-themed animation lights up One World Trade Center’ and City, State and Federal Government  Leaders Push for Community, National Observances NYPD ceremonial honor guard and American singer-actress Mary Millben (far left), who performed the US national anthem and a verse from the popular Diwali hymn-Om Jai Jagdish Hare, stand with organizers of the All-American Diwali  event on Nov. 4. The experience included, for the first time ever, Diwali-themed animation adorning One World Trade Center from  Nov 2, 2021 to  Nov. 4, 2021. Also,  a spectacular fireworks display was viewed by audiences on both sides of the Hudson.  This historic first Diwali celebration was dedicated to 9/11 first responders. (Photos: South Asian Engagement Foundation)

“As a police officer of Indian origin, I’m particularly excited to see the One World Trade Center light up for this festival, a symbol of our city’s enduring spirit,” said Det. Annand Narayan, president of NYPD Desi Society,  the first South Asian American fraternal law enforcement organization in the United States.
Key benefactors of the ‘All American Diwali’ celebration include crypto exchange, CrossTower and Atlanta based 27th Investments, a national investment firm. Indiaspora served as community patron and supporters include EQ Factor, Touchdown Media and Kawan Foods. Indian-American artist Varun Patel of Vichaar & Prem provided inspiration for the animation.


“Diwali is a time that celebrates family and universal compassion, and we are grateful to be sharing the values of solidarity and peace with the greater New York Community,” Kapil Rathi, CEO and Co-Founder of CrossTower, is quoted saying in the press release.
“All American Diwali embodies the spirit of not only the sentiment behind the festival but also integrates itself into the fabric of Americana. 27th Investments is proud to support this experience,” says Anil Damani, CEO 27th Investments.


The SAEF says it is dedicated to building a strong brand for the Indian-American community “by empowering them and catalyzing the conversation around Indian Americans.”
On November 4, more  than 1 billion Hindus worldwide observed Divali by setting off fireworks and exchanging gifts with friends and family.  The November 2 event at the World Trade Center was the first observance of its kind in New York City. 


The non-profit SAEF counts among its initiatives, the South Asian Spelling Bee and the Cricket Bee. Its “vision is to continue supporting and organizing educational initiatives and cultural outreach to expand national awareness of the Indian American community.” In the future, it plans to hold a digital mural depicting 75 years of India’s democracy, a National STEM competition, an Indian Edition Smorgasbord and an All-American Holi at Governors Island, NY.


Attendees of the NYC inaugural event included NYC  Eric Adams; Randhir Jaiswal, India’s Consul General in New York; and Mayor  Steven Fulop of Jersey City, recently named the most diverse city in America.


About Diwali 
Diwali or Deepavali, also known as the “Festival of Lights,” is the biggest festival in the Hindu calendar, celebrated in autumn — October or November of each year. It lasts five days and the main celebrations are held on the third day of the festival.  Divali means “row of lights” in Sanskrit and honors Lakshimi, the Hindi goddess of wealth, prosperity, power and fortune. The festival gets its name from the row (avali) of clay lamps (deepa) that Indians light outside their homes to symbolize the inner light that protects from spiritual darkness  The actual date of Deepavali is set in accordance with the new moon and on the darkest night in the month of Kartik. As mythology goes, at the time the night is at its longest, coldest and darkest, “rows of lights” make that darkness easier to bear.
Spiritually, Diwali symbolizes the victory of light over darkness, good over evil, and knowledge over ignorance. As the term “Festival of Lights” suggests, in these times, the celebration involves millions of lights illuminated from rooftops, doorways, and windows in thousands of temples and buildings all over the countries where the festival is observed.

Push to make Diwali a NYC public school holiday is starting to see some light

By Christopher Alvarez,
THE CITY 
Additional reporting by Katie Honan

Asked recently about why Diwali isn’t a day off in the public schools, Mayor Bill de Blasio said the “school calendar has gotten very, very full,” putting the city in danger of not meeting the state minimum standard for class time.
De Blasio had already added as days off the Asian Lunar New Year and the Muslim holidays Eid Al-Fitr and Eid Al-Adha, joining the Jewish Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur and Christian Christmas holidays as fixtures on the city schools calendar.
Still, the mayor expressed hope that students could honor Diwali in some way. “Diwali is a very important holiday,” de Blasio said. “We want it celebrated in schools. We want there to be a recognition.”
This year, the school calendar has midday parent-teacher conferences for elementary and K-8 schools scheduled on the same day as Diwali.
“It’s shocking to me and it’s disrespectful,” said Richard David, a member of the Diwali Coalition of New York City. “Imagine having your PTA [meeting] on Christmas night.”
Diwali is when families celebrate the victory of light over evil, knowledge over ignorance and unity and togetherness. It’s traditional for families to clean, set up diya lamps outside of temples, in the home, or on the streets, cook and pray together, and give gifts. But the school day intrudes on the sense of unity, observers of the holiday say.

‘It’s Long Overdue’
During a Zoom call last year with the Diwali Coalition of New York City, then-mayoral candidate Adams promised to add the holiday to the school calendar.
“The city must look like the diversity of the people who are actually in the city,” Adams said. “I’m the United Nations candidate. I resonate throughout the entire city and the holiday is a way of saying that ‘We acknowledge your existence, and we respect the culture that you bring to this great city.’”

State Assemblymember Jenifer Rajkumar (D-Queens), a sponsor of the Assembly version of the Diwali bill, said she was hopeful that next year would bring change.

“It has widespread support and widespread acknowledgement that the time has come to finally make Diwali a school holiday,” said Rajkumar, the first South Asian-American woman to be elected to a state office in New York. “I think everyone knows that it’s long overdue and the enthusiasm is there among New Yorkers.”

Diwali in the House
On November 3rd, Congresswoman Carolyn B Maloney (D.-NY)  led  United States lawmakers in introducing The Deepavali Day Act, a bill to “enshrine Diwali  into law as a federal holiday.”  The lawmaker announced the bill  in the House of Representatives. Making the landmark announcement,  Congresswoman Maloney said that celebrations like Diwali will help the US achieve the wish of becoming a beacon …


The historic legislation is being supported by a number of lawmakers including Indian-American Representative Raja Krishnamoorthi who also has introduced a resolution in the US Congress to recognize the religious and historical significance of Diwali’s festival of lights. 
Cong. Maloney also said,  “I am very proud to celebrate …  the victory of light over darkness, the triumph of good over evil and the pursuit of knowledge over ignorance as we do every day. It is truly appropriate that Diwali this year symbolizes our nation’s continuing journey out of the darkness of COVID-19.” adding, “I’m very, very happy and excited to be introducing the Deepavali Day Act  alongside members of the Congressional Indian Caucus,” Maloney said at an event at the U.S. Capitol Nov. 3. She is the first woman to represent New York’s 12th Congressional District.  Her  district includes most of Manhattan’s East Side, Astoria and Long Island City in Queens, Greenpoint, Brooklyn as well as Roosevelt Island.
In 2016,  after a seven-year long, uphill battle with the US Postal Service, Congresswoman Maloney was victorious in her quest for a stamp commemorating Diwali.  Maloney has authored and passed more than 74 measures, either as stand-alone bills or as measures incorporated into larger legislation packages. Twelve of these were signed into law at formal presidential signing ceremonies.

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