Instead of giving up after members of all four Valley Stream boards of education voted down her proposal to add Diwali to the school calendars last year, South High School senior Abigail Arjune is stepping up her efforts.
She spent the past few weeks trying to drum up support for her petition to have the holiday recognized on school calendars, which she planned to resubmit to the Valley Stream Central High School District Board of Education meeting on Tuesday, after the Herald went to press. “I’m trying to make a community of people who support this,” Arjune said.
To do so, she and her family spoke to their friends and neighbors about the importance of the holiday, which is a five-day celebration commemorating the Hindu New Year. The main day of the festival falls on the third day, when families gather for a prayer to the Hindu goddess Lakshmi, have a feast, clean and decorate their house to let the gods in, and light diyas, or oil lamps, to bring light to the darkest night of the Hindu lunar calendar.
Then, on Nov. 7, the Arjunes invited their friends and neighbors to their house in South Valley Stream to experience the holiday first-hand. There, Abigail walked down the stairs leading to her front door in a blue sahri with a pink shawl and told 13 Valley Streamers about her petition. She then invited them to light diyas in the shape of an aum sign, which represents strength and prosperity, and nosh on traditional Diwali treats, including gulab jamun, jalebis and samosas.
“This is how we would celebrate traditionally,” said Geeta Arjune, Abigail’s mother. “We use this day to reflect on how to be a better person.”
Abigail also spoke to them about her petition, and explained why she would like to have Diwali recognized as a school holiday. This year, she and her sister, Sarah, stayed home from school to properly celebrate the holiday, which is considered the holiest day for Hindus. If they had attended school, Abigail said, they would not have time to perform the rituals associated with the holiday and attend services at Shri Surya Narayan Mandir in Jamaica, Queens.
According to Geeda, the rituals could take several hours to perform. “You know, I try to take the day off, but with the children, by the time you’re finished performing your ceremony and doing what you have to do, there’s no time to really go to church and do what you’re supposed to,” Geeda told the Herald last year. “Had they had the day off, we could have fully celebrated the holiday just like the rest of the cultures.”
To remedy that, Abigail had petitioned the Central High School District Board of Education to recognize Diwali as a religious holiday on the school calendars. The petition had more than 200 signatures, but was ultimately voted down because not enough students took off of school on Diwali to warrant a school holiday.
“There was no drop in attendance whatsoever,” Superintendent Bill Heidenreich said at the time.
But those who attended the Arjunes’ Diwali celebration said that they support Abigail’s petition.
“It should be a no-brainer to have it at least talked about in school,” said Maya Knight, an eighth-grader at South High School who is friends with Sarah.