Day 01: XVII North American Zoroastrian Congress 2014

Faith and Unity is the theme of the XVII North American Zoroastrian Congress that begins today on Monday December 29, 2014 at the Hilton LAX in Los Angeles. Organized on behalf of FEZANA by the Zoroastrian Association of California in conjunction with the California Zoroastrian Center, the Congress brings together 760 Zarathushtis from all over North America and beyond….India, Pakistan, Hong Kong, United Kingdom etc.

The Congress already had hit the ground running with their pre-Congress tracks, which have been a spectacular success. And the first day’s events were a good continuation of that energy and spirit.

The morning started with a beautiful Khushali nu Jashan led by local priest Zarrir Bhandara who was accompanied by the very young and some of the seniormost priests like our own Ervad Soli Dastur.

The completion of the Jashan brought about the Opening ceremony. A flag march by Zarathushti Eagle Scouts started the proceedings. The USA and Canadian National Anthems were sung by young Zarathushti Sopranos. The delegates were then welcomed by Katayun Kapadia, President FEZANA; Bomi Patel NAZC Committee Chair FEZANA; Tehmi Damania; President ZAC LA and Shida Anoshiravani; President CZC.

The CZC Choir gave a musical performance that included the beautiful Khan Ashem Vohu. The ZAC Choir then took stage and began with Chaiye Hame Zarthoshti and then included some other popular Parsi Gujarati songs.

The largest applause was for the ZAC Children Choir which included the tiny tots and the very young kids who performed to a Disney tune; and looking at them perform everyone in the audience knew they were seeing the Zoroastrian future at its finest !!

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After the opening ceremony, the first Keynote Speaker took the stage. Nadir Godrej in what is his unique and customary style recited a poem he had written for this occassion. He acknowledged the strides that Zoroastrians in North America had made and the entire text of his speech is available on FEZANA’s website.

The second Keynote Speaker was the very senior journalist Parisa Khosravi of CNN fame. She spoke about her path professionally and how her faith, religion and family played important rules through the journey. She urged the young Zarathushtis in the crowd to make experiences and learn and not only pursue the first high paying opportunity that comes their way.

The kids program began with the wonderful Vahishta Kaikobad leading it and creating a wonderful series of events to keep the very young occupied.

The afternoon luncheon on the first day was also an opportunity to felicitate three outstanding Zarathushtis. Zubin Mehta, Jamshed Marker and Ratan Tata were felicitated. None of them were able to be present but their awards were collected by other family members present and attending the event.

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The afternoon sessions started with a panel discussing Generational Perspectives on the Issues of the Day. Moderated by Farzin Avari, the outstanding presentations that stood out were by Poruz Khambatta, this year’s FEZANA Young Professional Award Winner, and Homi Gandhi, Vice President FEZANA. Both spoke with a conviction and passion that only comes from having walked the walk and doing their own bits as a youth, and a parent respectively in embracing community life and learning/teaching religion as the case may be.

The afternoon saw another first at a North American Zoroastrian Congress. A completely new Teen Track has been set up for those between the ages of 13 and 18. The brainchild of the Congress Secretary Shazneen Gandhi; the Teen track began with a workshop by Shirin Kumaana-Wadia (Parsi Khabar Editor) on the topic of Zarathushti Creativity. Shirrin elaborated about the power of images to tell stories and set out a series of exercises for the teens to do over the next three days.

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Dinsha Mistree of AgiaryConnect and Return To Roots fame made an excellent presentation of the activities and works of PARZOR Foundation.

Mobed Pervez Bajan took the audience through a wonderful talk titled “Across the Arabian Seas….But for Faith and Unity”.

I had an opportunity to present a talk titled “Aapru Internet….The State of the Zarathushti Online” which explored the Zoroastrian presence on the web, and invoked the audience to embrace the positives in the virtual world.

Zane Dalal spoke about Zoroastrians and the Next Generation and pushed the audience to introspect and understand the Gathas and older texts to find the real meaning.

The social entertainment for the evening was a Persian themed night, which showcased local talent in a variety entertainment program.

Some candid thoughts on Day One:

  • The Congress is running on time ! As much as this seems a logical thing to happen; its one of the most difficult things to pull off. NAZC2014 is on top of their game on this one.
  • Multiple lectures in multiple venues leaves one having to make difficult decisions. Personally I prefer the model set by ZAGNY at the 2012 NAZC where there was only one mega event on at any time. But that’s a personal preference. Not to be taken as a criticism of any sort.
  • Logistics in certain areas has been a bit challenging for the hosts. It of course has to do with things outside of the NAZC control.
  • A loud and distracted audience at the evening entertainment performance was a bit disrespectful of the performers. Audience had to be reminded time and again to keep quiet.
  • Food…..of course, how can we forget that. The lunch left a bit to be deserved but dinner was a surprising success with Persian dishes to go with Persian entertainment

The local organising team, many of whom I have come to know personally during the event are doing a fantastic job. Khushroo Lakdawala, Darayus Mistry, Shazneen Gandhi, Persis Choksy, Sheila Madon, Tehmi Damania, Vira Suntoke, Merzi Taraporewala, Hormazd Dalal, Cyrus Irani, Khushchehr Italia and their colleagues have been doing a great job with a big smile on at all times, however crazy a request put forth to them.

  • Shazneen Gandhi

    The teen track was inspired by Parastu Dubash and her teenager Zarius Dubash. They were very helpful to me in designing the sessions. Many thanks to them for this pilot program.