Matters of Heart and Faith Guide a Zoroastrian Matchmaker

When Pouroo Dorabshaw flew to Los Angeles four years ago on a business trip, her mother urged her to visit a family friend just outside the city. The friend, it just so happened, was having a party the night of Miss Dorabshaw’s arrival. There was even another guest who could drive her straight from the airport.

So through two hours of gnarled freeway traffic, Miss Dorabshaw, a corporate trainer from Ohio, sat beside a California accountant named Yazdi Dastur. They quickly discovered they both were Zoroastrian by faith, both Indian immigrants to the United States by experience, both signed up for a conference on telemarketing.

Over the course of the party that evening, Mr. Dastur asked Miss Dorabshaw if she was interested in visiting Disneyland the next day. (No thanks, she had already gone.) Then how about Universal Studios? (Sorry, been there, too.) But there were some new attractions there that surely Miss Dorabshaw had not seen.

At about that persistent point, or maybe over dinner the next night at Red Lobster, the realization crept over Miss Dorabshaw that all this coincidence was not coincidental at all. It turned out that both Miss Dorabshaw’s mother and Mr. Dastur had used the same matchmaker, a retired nuclear physicist in suburban Chicago, and the entire intent of the weekend had been to nudge two unmarried Zoroastrians on the road not merely to matrimony but endogamy.

Exactly that happened on April 7, 2006, in what Mrs. Dastur (as she now is) believes to have been the first Zoroastrian wedding ceremony in the history of Columbus, Ohio. Meanwhile, the matchmaker, Roshan Rivetna, moved the papers with the Dasturs’ personal information from her active files into the folder containing about 50 other successes.

All this social engineering defies the American model of romantic autonomy, love-for-love’s-sake, which reaches its commercial apex a week from now on Valentine’s Day. It also goes beyond the sort of formal and informal matchmaking that is common within dozens of religious and ethnic communities. For the small and shrinking Zoroastrian population, both in the United States and abroad, the voluntary efforts of brokers like Mrs. Rivetna are driven by the imperative of survival.

“I felt that I owed it to my ancestors,” Mrs. Dastur said in a telephone interview this week. “They did whatever they had to do to survive. For them, I was trying to keep the culture and religion alive.”

Once the religion of millions in ancient Persia, Zoroastrianism now counts 124,000 to 190,000 followers worldwide, and about 10,000 in the United States. While the most precipitous decline in its numbers came from the Muslim conquest of Persia in the 10th century, more recently Zoroastrians have been, paradoxically, the victims of tolerance.

Their religion does not formally bar interfaith marriage. Ambitious, highly educated and upwardly mobile, Zoroastrians inevitably study, work and socialize outside the community.

In polyglot countries with (relatively speaking) substantial Zoroastrian populations — Australia, Canada, England, India and the United States — the rate of mixed marriage has reached as high as 40 percent in recent years, according to statistics compiled by Mrs. Rivetna for the quarterly magazine Fezana Journal.

“I cannot but feel in my heart,” she wrote in an editorial, “that, unless we sit up and do something, it could very well be the ‘sunset,’ if not the ‘twilight.’ ”

Such anxiety is not, of course, the province of Zoroastrians alone. The American Jewish community has been for decades in a state of turmoil over an interfaith marriage rate that various studies place at 40 percent to 50 percent. Still, there are roughly 600 times as many Jews in the United States as there are Zoroastrians. There are, for that matter, more Amish, more Wiccans, more Taoists, more Baha’is.

Yet the fate of Zoroastrianism has some relevance to other faiths. At its origins about 3,000 years ago, Zoroastrianism was the first religion to worship a single god. Its theology perceived a cosmos divided between good and evil, and an afterlife that could be achieved through an earthly life of goodness. In all those concepts, Zoroastrian doctrine influenced Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

“We are a roots religion,” Mrs. Rivetna put it.

Her campaign to preserve her religion began about 20 years ago, as she first collected the names and profiles of prospective matches. When she and her husband, Rohinton, founded the Fezana Journal in 1991, she started writing a monthly matrimonial column. It persists to this day, offering thumbnail sketches and contact information for Zoroastrians from Karachi to Sydney, from Manhattan to Mumbai.

“At first I was a little apprehensive,” Mr. Dastur recalled of placing his listing with Mrs. Rivetna. “It looks like you’re on sale. But then I started thinking rationally, that a lot of people would see my ad, rather than just telling people mouth to mouth.”

What Mrs. Rivetna has done is bring a scientist’s sense of order to the traditional role of the Zoroastrian “aunty.” That communal endearment refers to a middle-aged or older woman likely to plop down on the sofa next to any eligible young lady — who may at that moment be rolling her eyes knowing what is coming next — and start talking up “a nice Zoroastrian boy who’s perfect for you.”

The biannual conferences of Zoroastrians from throughout North America, or less frequently from around the world, also serve a kind of speed-dating purpose. Mrs. Rivetna gave major play in Fezana Journal to the wedding of Cyrus Mehta, an immigration lawyer-cum-conductor, and Liley Gheewalla, a financial analyst and cellist, who had met through an all-Zoroastrian orchestra being assembled to perform at the Zoroastrian World Congress.

Mrs. Rivetna has never even considered charging for her services. “When a match is made,” she said, “I’m amply rewarded.”

Original article in the NY Times.

  • rustom jamasji

    The lady does a fabulous Job and a deed very meritious according to Zarathushtra and Ahura Mazda

    According to Zoroastrianism
    Marriage being thus considered a good institution and well-nigh a religious duty, recommended by religious scriptures, a Parsee considers it a meritorious act to help his co-religionist to marry. The Vendidad (IV, 44) says:

    “If a co-religionist — be he brother or friend — comes to thee with a desire for a wife, get him married to a wife.”To bring about the marriage of a maiden, who has reached her puberty, with a good righteoun man, is considered to be very meritorious and an act of atonement for a sin {Vend. XIV, 15).

    Quotes from Scholar J.J Modi’s Book’..The religious ceremonies and customs of the Parsis…

    Whilst the Jains, sikhs and the various small castes within other communities flourish as they can shoulder the responsibility towards their faith, we have our’ so what? who eliminate great efforts like those of Mrs Rivetna

    Up to the last century every Zoroastrian understood the responsibility of being one, This responsibility naturaly kindled since most knew the history of our roots and also the great sacrifice our ancestors made coupled with great courage to preserve the Zoroastrian faith.
    Our ancestors had to fight empires and were nearly exhausted in their endavour yet neer gave up to remain zoroastrians so that other generations could follow suit.

    Each zoroastrian family boasted of dozen children, those who could not have, took over financial responsibility of others, so they could produce one more zoroastrian baby, each family had a turmoil-ic expreience of infant death and dangers to the mothers, each Zoroastrian ate a bit less , so that another Zoroastrian could be born…all this so that the zoroastrian religion survies thru Zoroastrians.

    Our forfathers saw the important link tween zoroastrians and zoroastrianism and gave their all.

    Their all even included agiaries, dakhmas, colonies and funds for such left behind,they also had funds so that Zoroastrians could go abroad and study and settle there.

    Alas, we have settled everywhere, each one of us at some time thru one of our generation has used those donations, yet most of us have forgotten our responsibility towards our faith, towards our ancestors and immdediate forfather’s sacrifices and thus to contribute towards the continuation of Zoroastrianism.

    The lady does a magnificient Job in such a precarious situation.

  • Pervin Kapadia

    how does one contact ms rivetna as i would like her to help me out with my daughter;s matchmaking.

  • Meher Irani

    I would like to have the e-mail id of Mrs. Rivetna as I am highly impressed by her work for our community. It is indeed necessary for the youngsters to marry and procreate for the survival of our community. I would like to inform the good work that she has been doing to more members of our community.

  • Jimmy Kumana

    Roshan Rivetna and her husband Rohinton are both stalwarts of the community, and have provided the glue that has held our community together in the USA.

    I appluad Roshoan’s efforts as a matchamaker. However, there is one issue that we parsis have been reluctant to address – a high divorce rate.

    From my observations, most parsi girls are raised to believe they are “princesses” who are too good for the average man. What they want and expect as their right is a man who is all of the following:

    Fit, healthy, good body
    Financially well off
    Socially charming, fashionable dresser
    Helpful around the house
    Good cook
    Generous, indulgent, and all-forgiving

    Devoted to the wife
    Tolerant of narcicism

    It is only when they reach their mid-30s do most parsi women realize that the man of their fantasy will probably never enter their life, and that the biological clock is ticking. Then they compromise to mary someone whom they usually regard as being unworthy, and go on to treat the new husband accordingly. Not surpsisingly, the marriage fails.

    The culprits are the parents (especially the fathers) who inculcate these unrealistic expectations by raising their daughters as if they can do no wrong, and fostering the attitude of “entitlement”.

    What is needed for the parsi community to survive and prosper is better parenting.