Sunday December 17, 2017
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How New Jersey is handling religious intolerance

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image: movoto.com

By Vanita Gupta and Paul J. Fishma

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Gurbir S Grewal nominated to be the next attorney general of New Jersey, US

Gurbir S Grewal has been nominated to be the next attorney general of US and would be the first Sikh to assume the top state law enforcement position in United States

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Gurbir S Grewal nominated to be the next attorney general of US.
Gurbir S Grewal nominated to be the next attorney general of US. Facebook
  • Gurbir S Grewal is nominated to be the next attorney general of New Jersey, US
  • He would be the first Sikh to assume the top state law enforcement position

In a historic first, a distinguished Sikh public prosecutor “who has experienced hate and intolerance first-hand” has been nominated to be the next attorney general of the US state of New Jersey.

If Gurbir S. Grewal’s nomination by Democrat Governor-elect Phil Murphy is approved by the State Senate early next year, he will be the first Sikh to assume the top state law enforcement position in the United States and the second Indian-American, after Kamala Harris, who held the position in California before her election to the US Senate.

Announcing the nomination in the state capital, Trenton, on Tuesday, Murphy said: “In light of all that is being thrown at us by the president, we need an attorney general unafraid to join our fellow states in using the law to protect all New Jersey residents.”

Grewal, 44, is the prosecutor of Bergen County, an important district across the river from New York city. He was appointed to by the current Republican Governor Chris Christie and that is likely to mute any opposition the senate.

Symbolic of the public acceptance of minorities despite scattered incidents of bigotry, two Sikhs were elected mayors last month, Ravi Bhalla in Hoboken, New Jersey, and Preet Didbal in Yuba City, California.

Vin Gopal, who became the first Indian-American to be elected to the New Jersey State Senate last month, said that Grewal is someone “not only eminently qualified, but who will bring a perspective to the office that is diverse and long-overdue.”

After Murphy made the announcement, Grewal said: “I wanted to give back to a country that has given us and other immigrant families like us so much.”

Turning to his three daughters, Kyrpa, Mayher and Mahek, who were with him, he said: “As someone who has experienced hate and intolerance first-hand throughout my life, I wanted to work to ensure we all live in and that the three of you grow up in a fair and just society.”

Grewal added: “I wanted to perhaps also show people that while I and others like me may look different or worship differently, that we, too, are committed to this country.”

Hailing Grewal’s nomination, Rajwant Singh, the co-founder of the National Sikh Campaign, said: “These are exactly the kind of role models our youngsters need to feel proud of being a Sikh and an American.”

“While America could be seen having a very polarized situation politically and yet there are some very shining moments to show that people of all backgrounds can aspire for top positions,” he added.

South Asian Bar Association President Rishi Bagga, said: “The decision to appoint a visible minority as the chief law enforcement officer for New Jersey reflects the diversity of the state and of the US, and is especially important in a time where minorities and immigrants have often felt targeted by law enforcement.”

Attorney General is a very powerful position New Jersey heading the Department of Law and Public Safety, which includes the state police.

Grewal has earlier served as an assistant federal prosecutor in New York and in New Jersey, where he was also the chief of the Economic Crimes Unit.

In the administration of former President Barack Obama, Indian Americans have held senior law positions. Neal Kumar Katyal was an Acting Solicitor General.

Sri Srinivasan, now a federal appeals court judge in Washington, did a stint as the Principal Deputy Solicitor General.

Vanita Gupta was the Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General and headed the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.

US President Donald Trump has appointed Uttam Dhillon to be his special assistant and associate counsel. (IANS)

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Hindus in New Jersey Welcome Diwali Holiday in Millburn Schools Draft Calendar

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Millburn High School in New Jersey.
Millburn High School in New Jersey. Universal Society of Hinduism

New Jersey October 07: Hindus in New Jersey have welcomed the reports of closing Millburn Township Public Schools (MTPS) on November seven in the Draft Calendar 2018-2019.

Distinguished Hindu statesman Rajan Zed, in a statement in Nevada today, urged the MTPS Board of Education to unanimously approve this Diwali holiday included in the calendar draft when it meets on October nine evening. The board should respect the feelings of Hindus, who had been pushing for Diwali holiday in Millburn Township Public Schools for many years.

Zed, who is President of Universal Society of Hinduism, indicated that the New Jersey Hindus community felt left out as, despite fast-changing state demographics and continuing growth of Hindu populations, only three public school districts had reportedly declared a holiday for students on October 19, the date on which Diwali falls this year.

For 2017 in New Jersey, Glen Rock Public Schools has announced the closure of schools and offices on Diwali; in West Windsor-Plainsboro Regional School District, schools will be closed on October 19; and in Piscataway Township Schools, there is “No School for Students” on Diwali; reports suggest.

In neighbouring New York, six school districts have declared a holiday for students on October 19, which include: East Meadow School District, East Williston Union Free School District, Half Hollow Hills Central School District, Herricks Union Free School District, Hicksville Union Free School District and Syosset Central School District. Another Mineola Union Free School District announced that no homework or examinations would be given on Diwali, reports add.

In Pennsylvania, Unionville-Chadds Ford School District headquartered in Kennett Square approved closure of schools on Diwali; while Harvard Public Schools in Massachusetts has declared October 19 as “early release day”, reports note.

Rajan Zed suggested that all other 674 public school districts and private-charter-independent schools in New Jersey should seriously look into declaring Diwali as an official holiday, thus recognizing the intersection of spirituality and education. Zed noted that awareness about other religions thus created by such holidays like Diwali would make New Jersey students well-nurtured, well-balanced, and enlightened citizens of tomorrow.

Zed pointed out that it would be a positive thing to do in view of the presence of a substantial number of New Jersey Hindus, who are students at schools around the state, as it was important to meet the religious and spiritual needs of these pupils.

Rajan Zed stated that it was not fair to Hindu pupils and their families as they had to attend school on their most popular festival while many schools in the state were closed on holy days of some other communities. This unfairness did not send a good signal to the impressionable minds of schoolchildren who would be the leaders of tomorrow; Zed said and added that New Jersey schools needed to urgently revisit their policies on this issue.

Zed further said 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.

Rajan Zed also urged New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, New Jersey State Board of Education President Arcelio Aponte and New Jersey Department of Education Commissioner Kimberley Harrington; to work towards adding Diwali as an official holiday in all the public school districts in the state and persuading the private-charter-independent schools to follow.

Zed stresses 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. Hinduism is oldest and third largest religion of the world with about 1.1 billion adherents. There are about three million Hindus in the USA.

MTPS, known for academic excellence whose 99% of graduating seniors reportedly attend four-year colleges, has about 5,000 pupils. Emily Jaffe and Dr Christine Burton are Board President and Superintendent respectively. (Universal Society of Hinduism)

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Don’t miss out on this otherworldly Hindu Temple in New Jersey

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BAPS Shri Swaminarayan mandir
BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Temple, New Jersey. Wikimedia commons

New Jersey, April 23, 2017: It is a fact that Hinduism is not only confined to the peninsular country of India but this religion transcends over the world. The BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir in New Jersey is a result of this very growth of Hinduism. Robbinsville, New Jersey may seem like an odd place for a religious pilgrimage, but that is exactly what it became when the Bochasanwasi Shri Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha, also known at BAPS, inaugurated what is reported to be one of the largest U.S. Hindu temples in early August 2014 and since then huge crowd has been drawn to Robbinsville every year.

If you see photos of the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir, a Hindu temple that is adorned with intricate Italian Carrara marble hand-carvings and images sacred to the Hindu faithful, you may think that you’re looking at the image of a structure thousands of miles away.

But this otherworldly temple is right around the corner in Robbinsville, Mercer County, and has been attracting those of the Hindu faith as well as those interested in its architecture and significance since it was built in 2014.

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“For the Hindus, this is a place to see God, purify themselves and increase their faith in God,” said Lenin Joshi, a mandir volunteer who lives in Lawrenceville and visits the mandir about twice a week. “For those who are not Hindu, they feel that coming here calms their minds and they experience peace. They learn the messages of tolerance, nonviolence and coexistence, and many also find the strength to give up addictions when they come.”

“The mandir is a one-of-a-kind temple made completely out of marble carved by hand using the ancient knowledge of temple making,” said Joshi. “Be prepared to be blown away by the craftsmanship. Many say that being there made them feel like they were in a dream or they found it to be heavenly.”

The carvings that adorn the mandir feature unique depictions of animals, deities and designs. Each of the 98 seven-foot pillars that fill the mandir, it took four artisans about two months to carve.

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Although there are nearly 80 BAPS temples in North America, the Robbinsville mandir is just the sixth built entirely of stone and according to an ancient Hindu architectural tradition based in the Shilpa Shastras, the Times of Trenton reported. It took three years, many volunteer hours and roughly $18 million to build.

Individuals and families are not required to book their visit in advance to the mandir, which has free admission and can accommodate about 150 people at a time, and on arrival, they can inquire about the availability of a tour guide or the audio tour guide. Tours last about 40 minutes to one hour, and visitors can learn about the artwork that adorns the mandir, Bhagwan Swaminarayan (to whom the mandir is dedicated), His Holiness Pramukh Swami Maharaj (who inspired the mandir), see the greenery surrounding the mandir as well as see an arti ceremony.

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The arti ceremonies, which occurs three times per day at 7:30 a.m., 11:30 a.m. and 7 p.m., are ancient Hindu offerings made by waving lighted wicks before sacred images to the accompaniment of a musical prayer. Many visitors have described the experience as awe-inspiring.

“At the heart of a Hindu mandir is personal devotion, bhakti, a one-on-one devotion with God,” said Trivedi, one of the founders of the mandir. “Primarily it provides a home, and it is not only a house of God but a house for the devotee”

“I always leave the mandir with a lot of peace,” said Joshi. “I feel that I have had hope renewed in me. This place can inspire everyone to live a better life.”

 prepared by Nikita Tayal of NewsGram, Twitter: @NikitaTayal6