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OpinionColumnistsLane Filler

Syosset School District’s new holidays have bigger meaning

Aria dance company performs Sunday in Hicksville ahead

Aria dance company performs Sunday in Hicksville ahead of the Diwali holiday on Oct. 30. Photo Credit: Yvonne Albinowski

Among the questions that could be asked at tonight’s presidential debate, here’s a telling one:

“Do you think the Syosset School District was correct in making Diwali, Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha school holidays?”

On Monday, the Syosset school board unanimously approved the holidays for the 2017-18 school year. About 600 people signed a petition supporting the observance of Diwali, a key Hindu holiday known as the Festival of Lights.

About 700 people signed a request to make the two crucial Muslim observances school holidays. Eid al-Fitr marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan. Eid al-Adha is known as the Feast of Sacrifice and has a broad aspect: It celebrates the willingness of Abraham to sacrifice his son at God’s command.

Although there was no opposition to the moves on the school board, there has been plenty on the Newsday comment board. It mostly falls into these categories:

  • Next thing you know they’ll be taking off for every religious holiday under the sun!
  • America is being consumed by multi-culturalism and political correctness!

It is fair to address the fear that the school calendar will soon be nothing but a Swiss cheese of off-days. Syosset, after all, added a Chinese New Year holiday last school year to go along with Christmas, Easter, Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur and Passover. You wouldn’t want the school district to grind to a halt because of two kids from a tiny environmentalist sect for whom Sept. 30 is Prius Day.

But if a district has a significant percentage of members of a certain group, as Syosset does with Hindus and Muslims and people of Chinese descent, why not take it off? Are we worried we’ll be forced to shorten a summer recess that education experts now think is too long for students to maintain learning?

For Syosset resident Mariam Munawer, a 36-year-old Muslim who has two kids in middle school and one in high school, the lack of an official holiday had become a conundrum, and the change is a huge relief.

“To take a day off school, particularly high school, puts a child so far behind now,” said Munawer, who helps run Syosset High School’s Muslim Awareness Club. “It’s been a struggle to choose between their studies and taking off for Eid.”

But the bigger issue is cultural, the idea that newcomers are not like the old newcomers and that observing their holidays means they don’t want to be real Americans.

Here, Munawer, who was born in Pakistan and came to the United States at age 3, is also a reminder of how this nation really works. “I grew up here and I love it when Christmas comes around,” Munawer said. “That’s what America is; we share our cultures and festivities with each other.”

I spent my Christmases and Easters with Christian friends until I got married. Now I spend them with my Christian family, whose ancestors came here 300 years before mine. Usually, my Passover and Rosh Hashana celebrations have been graced with non-Jewish friends. At Hannukkah, they storm the kitchen once they smell the latkes.

In 1955, William F. Buckley Jr. wrote, “A conservative is someone who stands athwart history, yelling Stop, at a time when no one is inclined to do so, or to have much patience with those who so urge it.”

History never listens. History never stops. And at times it seems nothing separates Hillary Clinton’s supporters from Donald Trump’s more obviously than this realization. The coming America is going to be more ethnically exotic and religiously diverse than the one many Trump supporters crave. It already is. And it ought to be.

I’ve never celebrated Eid, or Diwali. But I am available.

Lane Filler is a member of Newsday’s editorial board.


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