Kallos, Benjamin, Rajkumar’s Holiday Celebrations Highlight City’s Diversity

L-R: Brian Benjamin (Photo credit: T.S. Shaw/NY Senate under CC BY-SA 4.0), Ben Kallos (Photo source: benkallos.com), Jenifer Rajkumar (Photo credit: Greencarrot23 under CC BY-SA 4.0)

Though Christmas gets most of the attention, New Yorkers of many cultural backgrounds celebrate various other holidays as the days get shorter towards the end of the year. 

Most Jewish New Yorkers celebrate the season by observing Chanukah, a minor eight-day festival commemorating the victory of the Maccabees, a group of Jewish rebels, over the Syrian Greek Seleucid Empire that tried to destroy their culture in the mid-second century BCE. After driving them out, they rededicated the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.

“We make potato pancakes, play dreidel [top game] with my daughter, and light the Chanukah [menorah] as a family,” said Councilmember Ben Kallos (D-Manhattan) of his family’s traditional Chanukah celebration.

Though Senator Brian Benjamin (D-Manhattan) did not celebrate it growing up, he has grown to appreciate the seven-day African-American holiday of Kwanzaa, especially relating to his family.

“Last year, it was my daughter’s first Kwanzaa and I held her as she lit one of the candles of the Kinara at a community celebration. Although the tradition will be different this time around, I always celebrate Kwanzaa with the Harlem community,” said Benjamin. “This holiday is about sharing and enjoying the fruits of your labor and recommitting yourself to the collective achievement of a better life for your family and the Black community. We eat, provide toys for the children, and reflect on the seven principles.”

Meanwhile, Assemblymember-Elect Jenifer Rajkumar (D-Woodhaven, Ridgewood), the first Hindu-American elected to a seat in Albany, talked about her Diwali experiences, which involved lighting diya lamps and speaking at temples in Ozone Park and Richmond Hill.

She elaborated further on what the festival means to her.

“Diwali celebrates values I hold dear. I am inspired by the Hindu value of Karma Yoga, selfless action for the community. Hindus believe God can take many forms, whether Goddess Lakshmi, Jesus, Allah, or a person who performs acts of kindness,” said Rajkumar. “In the story of Diwali, God was incarnated on earth as a man named Ram, who undertook a long journey to defeat the evil Demon King. Ram’s struggle and his ultimate victory shows that all of us have the power within ourselves to overcome the forces of evil, darkness, and ignorance in the world. Diwali is a celebration of that special power that we have within ourselves to spread light.”

This story first appeared on QCP’s sister site, New York County Politics.

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