In New York: A new year for Zoroastrians, a new challenge

Members of the Dar-e-Mehr Zoroastrian Temple in Pomona get ready for their new year celebration as they worry about the Trump travel ban

Report by Peter Carr/The Journal News

New City’s Marzie Jafari looks forward to an annual family ritual tied to her Zoroastrian faith: Every vernal equinox, she calls her family in Iran to wish them happy Persian New Year, or Norwuz.

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Marzie Jafari, a trustee at the Dar-e-Mehr Zoroastrian Temple in Pomona March 22, 2017. (Photo: Peter Carr/The Journal News)

Before long, the conversation always turns to when they’ll see each other again.

But not this year.

“It comes to your mind that you’ll have some family gathering,” Jafari said. “But now, when you think about it, uh-oh, there’s this travel ban in the background. What is going to happen? Can we plan in advance for the summertime? We don’t know.”

This year, in that time when that phone conversation would have turned to the coming summer, there was silence on both ends of the phone.

“They didn’t want to say anything to upset me, I didn’t want to say anything to upset them,” Jafari said, her voice catching the slightest bit. “So we didn’t talk about a near-future gathering.”

President Donald Trump has signed two executive orders banning travel from predominantly Muslim nations, including Iran, where Jafari’s family still lives.

“They have stopped taking appointments for visas,” Jafari said.

Her niece, a top student at the University of Tehran, had an internship in the States last summer. This year, Bahar — her name means “spring” — missed the deadline to apply for another internship because of the uncertainty triggered by the ban, which is now working its way through the courts.

‘New day’

When spring came to Rockland County at 6:20 a.m. on March 20, 2017, it was greeted, as always, with a New-Year’s-Eve-style countdown by the region’s Zoroastrians, including Marzie Jafari.

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Ferzin Patel, a trustee at the Dar-e-Mehr Zoroastrian Temple in Pomona March 22, 2017.

Local followers of what is believed to be the world’s oldest monotheistic religion face Nowruz — literally “new day” — with a mix of hope, pride and uncertainty.

There is hope in the new year’s renewal, the turning of a page.

There is pride in a gleaming new temple (or dar-e-mehr) and community center in Ramapo, where Jafari and her friend Ferzin Patel are trustees.

A Nowruz table is set with seven items – traditionally, apples, grass, dried sumac berries, dried fruit of the oleaster tree, coins, garlic and a semolina pudding – signifying renewal, love, kindness, service and rebirth. All seven of the symbols begin with an “s” sound, and the table is called a “Haft-sin” – for seven “S”. This is the haft-sin table Marzie Jafari set for her Nowruz celebration in New City this year.

There is uncertainty in the impact of the travel ban, which has cast a pall over future travel to America by family members from Iran.

Zoroastrians welcome each vernal equinox, the start of spring, with family and symbols of renewal – no matter what time the equinox arrives. This year, spring arrived at 6:20 a.m. In 2012, the equinox was at 1:14 a.m., meaning that Zoroastrians began their Nowruz celebrations at that hour. They read from their holy book and greet the new year in new clothes.

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A table is set with seven items – apples, grass, dried sumac berries, dried fruit of the oleaster tree, coins, garlic and a semolina pudding — signifying renewal, love, kindness, service, rebirth. All seven of the symbols begin with an “s” sound, and the table is called a “Haft-sin” — for seven “S”. As the day progresses, there are visits to family, and elders bestow money on children.

A milestone

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The Dar-e-Mehr Zoroastrian Temple in Pomona March 22, 2017.

On Saturday, the region’s Zoroastrians will gather at the temple for a Nowruz celebration, a dinner for 400.

The prayer room at the Dar-e-Mehr Zoroastrian Temple in Pomona March 22, 2017.

On Sunday, they will gather again to mark the one-year anniversary of their temple, technically a “dar-e-mehr” or “door to peace” – on Pomona Road, just down the hill from Palisades Credit Union baseball stadium.

The gleaming square building with an impressive collonaded portico is the Dar-e-Mehr Zoroastrian Temple, or DMZT. It is the meeting place and sanctuary for some 1,000 followers of Zoroastrian faith from across the tri-state area.

In the year since it opened, the temple has become the community center it was envisioned to be:

One religion; two branches

Before there were Christians and Muslims and Jews, there were Zarathushtis, as its followers are called, after their prophet Zarathustra.

 

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Marzie Jafari, left, and Ferzin Patel, trustees at the Dar-e-Mehr Zoroastrian Temple in Pomona March 22, 2017.

About 1,400 years ago, when Persia was invaded by Muslims, some Zarathushtis fled to India, where their faith took root. They are called Parsis, while those who stayed in Persia are called Iranian Zoroastrians. Jafari is an Irania Zoroastrian; Patel is a Parsi.

Both said they saw irony in the fact that an executive order that has been characterized as a “Muslim ban” is having an impact on a faith that was displaced by Muslims centuries ago.

A long view

Today, there are fewer than 200,000 Zarathushtis worldwide, and their numbers are shrinking, making the shining $4.5 million temple a beacon of optimism and hope in the next generation.

While the travel ban is concerning, both women took the longer view, perhaps a byproduct of following a religion that is 4,000 years old.

“The tradition has survived for thousands of years,” Jafari said.

“Yeah, this is nothing,” Patel said with a laugh.

  • Sohrab Kamdin

    Glad to see that our faith is being kept alive in N.Y. City & small “POCKETS” of PARSEES are observing our festivals.. I congratulate Our Zorastrians abroad & may they multiply & keep the Zoroastrian Flag flying high.