Press Release by ZAGNY
Photo Credits: Shirin Kumaana-Wadia, Mahafreen H. Mistry, Malcolm Shroff, Urmez Davar & Arzan Sam Wadia
New York, March 26, 2016: Today, six hundred Zarathushtis (Zoroastrians), their friends and families from the tri-state area of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut came together to celebrate a once in a lifetime event - the opening of a Zoroastrian religious and cultural community center in Pomona, NY. The inaugural event held during the week of Nowruz, the start of the Persian new year also coincides with the birthday of Zarathustra, the Zoroastrian prophet. The goal of this new building is to house the active community of Zarathushtis which has grown tremendously over the past 40 years and is currently estimated to be about one thousand.
Dar-e-Mehr is believed to mean “Door of Peace”, and denotes a Zarathushti temple without a permanently consecrated devotional fire. The inauguration of the Arbab Rustam Guiv Dar-e-Mehr building was hosted by The Zoroastrian Association of Greater New York (ZAGNY), the Iranian Zoroastrian Association (IZA) and the Dar-e-Mehr Zoroastrian Temple (DMZT). Thirty priests converged from all over North America to bless the building. The prayers were lead by the honorable Vada Dasturji Khurshed Dastoor the high priest and religious leader of the Zarathushti community who joined from Udvada, India. The event was interwoven with music, food prepared by community restaurateurs, performances by children as well as formal speeches by local dignitaries including officials from the Mayor of Pomona’s Office, respected academians and revered community members. The event was made accessible to viewers worldwide and broadcast by a live stream - it was viewed in close to 1,500 households in 32 countries and garnered an average viewing time of 2 hours (out of the 6 hour event.) In fact, the social media engagement has reflected the tremendous interest in this event including: 5,000 YouTube views and growing, and a Facebook Weekly Total Reach of 98,000 for the week of the event.
It has been a long road for this community who has fought against the odds for it’s spot in the New York area community. Thirty nine years ago, the first Zoroastrian Dar-e-Mehr in North America opened in New Rochelle on December 3, 1977 with little over 200 in attendance. A generous donor, Arbab Rustam Guiv contributed $180,000 to purchase the simple house that was converted to a community center and served the community for 23 years.
A second center in Pomona was purchased in 2001. Based on the rapid growth of the community and unrealistic maintenance of the existing center, a new Dar-e-Mehr building was conceived - one that reflected a Zarathushti ambiance and created a sense of belonging, so as to preserve the faith and culture, grow the community, and create a legacy for future generations to enjoy and cherish.
Inspired by ancient Persian and Zoroastrian architecture of the fire temples of India and Iran, the new building was designed by award-winning architect Dinyar Wadia of Wadia Associates. It features a stone facade with a colonnaded portico, and decorative capitols, evoking the architectural style of Persepolis (the ancient Zoroastrian city and heritage site) as a nod to the long road traveled. It is a 22,000 square foot structure which has four classrooms, three meeting rooms, a library, a traditional prayer hall, chef’s kitchen, recreation room and a main hall that can accommodate up to 400 guests. Special features include an Afarghanyu (fire vessel) based on the 250 year old prototype found at a historic temple in Mumbai, India, a custom crafted WinterstoneŽ panel inspired by the ancient Tripylon Palace in Persepolis and a traditional Persian-inspired water fountain (that is yet to be built).
The building took 2 years to construct and approximately $5M. The small but unwavering and dedicated community fundraised locally, nationally and internationally for close to 6 years to construct and complete the building. Zoroastrian populations are growing in numbers and acceptance generating a need for cultural and community centers throughout North America.
“Today we take a moment to appreciate what we have built as a community.” said Astad J. Clubwala, President of ZAGNY. “This will be the legacy of our generation and can be seen as a gift from the generation that was born in our homelands of India, Iran and Pakistan to the generation of Zoroastrians born in North America.”
“This is a monumental achievement for the Zarthushti communities of New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut to be able to see the day that they have been dreaming about, and contributing their time, their work, and their funds towards.” said Shirin Khosravi, President of IZA.
Inauguration: Arbab Rustam Guiv Dar-E-Mehr New York
Zoroastrianism or the Zarathushti religion is considered to be the first monotheistic faith and one of the world’s oldest religions. The faith flourished through the rise and fall of many civilizations. For a thousand years (558BC to 652AD) it was the court religion of three Persian empires, however suffered a setback when Persia was conquered by Alexander in 330BC. After a revival, it reeled once again with the Muslim invasion of Persia in 652AD. At this time a few shiploads of devotees fled and landed on the western shores of India. Their descendents, the Parsis, still keep the faith alive in India. Today the total number of Zoroastrians in the world is about 200,000 with the majority being in India and Iran. Zoroastrians have also settled in USA, Canada, Pakistan, Europe, Africa and Australia. Wherever they have settled, Zoroastrians have well served the countries of their adoption.
The tri-state community has sought to maintain its Zarathushti identity and follow the teachings of the Prophet Zarathushtra, who preached the importance of “Good Thoughts”, “Good Words”, and “Good Deeds” in the service of one God, over 3,000 years ago.
ZAGNY is a non-profit, cultural and educational organization, registered in New York. ZAGNY aspires to sustain Zoroastrian identity, preserve and share cultural traditions, and strives to create a sense of belonging for community members of the tri-state area of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. ZAGNY members are proud ambassadors of the Zoroastrian community at official events at the United Nations, at various interfaith events, and other social events like the Persian Day Parade in New York City, and the New York City Mayor’s Celebrations during Nowruz. Since its inception, ZAGNY has been a champion for worthy causes in India such as the B.D. Petit Parsee General Hospital, Parsi Ambulance Division, Udvada, Surat and Navsari Atash Behrams and has provided assistance to the priestly community - the Mobeds. ZAGNY is also an active participant in the local community through involvement with local Westchester and Rockland County schools in educating students about the tradition of Nowruz as well as supporting local causes such as with People to People of Rockland, Red Cross Blood Drives, Revlon Walk for Women’s Cancers and the Bone Marrow registry.
The Iranian Zoroastrian Association, originally functioning with ZAGNY, was formed in 1986. IZA aspires to meet the educational, cultural, and religious needs of the growing Iranian-American Zarathushti communities in the Northeastern region of the United States. Although IZA is based in the State of New York, its coverage also encompasses interested members and enthusiastic prospects from the States of New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Washington D.C. As a non-profit, educational, religious and cultural organization, IZA conducts religious ceremonies, celebrates Persian holidays and rituals (Nowruz, Tirgan, Mehregan, Yalda, Sadeh, etc.), and organizes and/or sponsors cultural congregations and events. IZA strives to sustain and pass on the Zarathushti faith, preserve Persian cultural rituals, provide educational opportunities in the teachings of Zarathusht: Asha and harmony of the beings, the Persian language, and the culture and history of Iran.
The Dar-e-Mehr Zoroastrian Temple is a Religious Corporation that holds title to the property. The Trustees of DMZT are responsible for the maintenance and upkeep of the premises. Both ZAGNY and IZA share the use of the premises.
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