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Parsis: The Zoroastrians of India, Pakistan and the World
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Parsi Khabar

Parsis: The Zoroastrians of India Pakistan and The World

7TH WORLD ZOROASTRIAN
YOUTH CONGRESS 2019

 

A SPECIAL REPORT


Posted Exclusively on Parsi Khabar [ Link ]
400 Zarathushti youth from all over the world gathered in sunny Southern California to participate in the 7th World Zoroastrian Congress earlier this month. The Congress returned to Los Angeles, also the home of the very first Youth Congress 25 years ago. There was a sense of déjà vu for some of the Congress mentors and advisors, but also one of unbridled optimism that this would be an event that begins something new. And the Congress delivered on that in abundance.

Participants from 12 countries (India, Pakistan, UK, UAE, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Iran, Singapore, Hong Kong, Kenya and the host nation USA) started arriving a day earlier on Sunday June 30th, 2019 at the beautiful Pacific Palms Resort in City of Industry, California. Many of them started bonding at the LAX and ONT airports itself as they waited for the volunteers to pick them up by buses and vans. A lucky few even got to arrive in a party bus!

The Congress began on a perfectly beautiful sunny California morning.  A Jashan ceremony performed by 14 Mobeds and Mobedyars set the tone for the morning. It was very heartening to see the youth sit through the entire jashan that was beautifully conducted by youth Mobed Zerkxis Bhandara a local of Southern California and one of the volunteers at the Congress.
The opening ceremony saw a series of beautiful performances by the local kids and youth and speeches by Arman Ariane, Chair of the Board of Trustees of California Zoroastrian Center, the host association. FEZANA President Homi Gandhi also addressed the gathering. The biggest cheer was reserved for youth Parshan Khosravi the Chair of the 7WZYC. Addressing his fellow youth from all over the world Parshan made a strong case for inclusivity and breaching the barriers that politics and governments put on our small community. He called on his fellow youth to speak their mind, share, discuss and network with each other over the next 6 days, and do it with respect, dignity and within the framework of the tenets of our beautiful religion. Parshan reiterated inclusivity at the Congress and said that no matter who we love, we are all Zarathushtis and welcome to this Congress.

Dr. Mickey Mehta, the legendary wellness and holistic health guru from India delivered the keynote. This was the largest gathering of Zoroastrians he had spoken to, outside of India and he regaled the crowd in his patented style and left them all “Mickeymized”.

After the keynote, the regular sessions for the day began. It included a variety of talks by Meher Amalsad and Arman Ariane and panel discussions on Climate Change and how the World Youth Congresses had come a full circle.
The Climate Change discussion generated lots of energy and one could feel that the youth totally got it that they need to do something for our planet and especially the fact that our ancient religion has always respect for nature and the elements at the core of all our beliefs and practice.

Food Trucks pulled into the resort’s parking lot for a fun evening of merriment and dinner. Over tacos and dosas, the youth bonded as the first day drew to an end.

The movie Bohemian Rhapsody, featuring the life story of Aapro Freddy Mercury was screened at night along with a competition for participants to dress up as Freddie. An old school ice cream parlor was set up for intermission time at the movies.

Day 2 was split between talks and panels at the venue and then taking all the participants for a truly LA experience. The morning started with Rosheen Kabraji making a fantastic case for Home and Belonging as it pertains to the youth growing up in the Zoroastrian diaspora. The Zoroastrian Return To Roots program presented their previous trips through an awesome video and presentation by three of their alumni. At the end of their presentation 29 of their alumni who were present in the crowd came up on stage. It was heartening to see many of these alumni also being speakers and panelists through the duration of the Congress. It showed that one of the aims of the RTR program, to get youth involved in community events is actually happening.
The last session of the day saw 8 amazing women take the stage to speak about how they and their generation can change and influence the world’s oldest faith. Moderated by the articulate Benafsha Shroff, the panelists spoke about their stories as it pertains to the countries they come from and their hopes and aspirations for the future.

A testament to the success of all these talks was the fact that the Q&A sessions would extend way beyond the allocated time as the energy in the room was charged up.

Later that afternoon everyone got on to buses, experienced the legendary traffic of LA, before being dropped off for a few hours at the Santa Monica Pier and beach. Later that evening everyone got back on the buses to go to Hollywood Walk of Fame and check out the stars of their favorite stars. A big shoutout to the 7WYC transport team that not a single person from the 400 odd youth got lost or missed the bus !!

Day 3 of the Congress was a complete first on all levels. Never before had any Congress hosts invited other Zoroastrian institutions to run an entire day at the Congress. As a first, the 7WZYC invited the Youth Wing of the World Zarathushti Chamber of Commerce (WZCC) to have an entire day of events, panels, talks and the world’s very first Zoroastrian Shark Tank.

WZCC Youth led by its International Youth Director Jehaan Kotwal and ably assisted by Rashna Sanjana organized a fantastic series of events that kept the energy high and the audience participation at full capacity the entire day. Xerxes Wania, Cyrus Mistry, Tanaz Mody, Homa Dashtaki enthralled the crowds with their unique perspectives and stories. The Boss Women’s panel brought out the amazing work that Zoroastrian women are doing in their spheres of business, profession and the unique challenges and opportunies they see.

The professional networking session saw all the participants meeting others in a professional networking roundtable with the opportunity to meet new folks every 20 minutes in a speed-networking style.
 
The Zoroastrian Shark Tank brought 5 Zoroastrian run business from all over the world to pitch their ideas to 5 Zarathushti “sharks”. What followed was an unbelievable session for over two hours and nearly every one of the businesses getting at least one, if not more offers from the “Sharks”.

Once the formal part of the day was over, the participants gathered with other local Zarathushti guests for a night of standup comedy followed by a Dance night.

Day 4 of the Congress began with speakers who spoke about various aspects of our religion as they relate to practice in daily life. Mobed Fariborz Shahzadi and youth Ervad Jimmy Mistry spoke about practice of the faith in daily life. Youth lady Mobedyar Mahshad Khosraviani spoke about her journey in becoming a mobedyar and her struggles, hopes and aspirations for the future.

Pearl Mistry made a compelling case for youth involvement in community matters and Nazneen Engineer took us through the implications of the Mazgaon navjotes from more than a century ago and their repercussions to this day.

The second half of the morning had young Zoroastrian filmmakers speak about their experiences in documenting community life on the big screen. And the 7WZYC welcomed Nazneen Contractor, Behzad Dabu and Sue Obaidi to speak about Zoroastrians in the Media.

To celebrate the Independence day of the USA, the participants then made their way across town by buses, to board a boat for a harbor cruise which ended with a fantastic display of fireworks.
Day 5 was the penultimate day of the Congress. It began with the first of its kind experiential installation at a Congress. Choreographed by the amazing Tinaz Karbhari, it gave the participants a feeling of experiencing an entry to a sacred place of worship. In total darkness, with the smell of “loban” in the air, and to the tolling of bells and the beautiful voice of a dasturji in prayer, the participants entered the main ballroom. For a second one could believe that they were transported to their favorite agiary in India, Pakistan or Iran. Vada Dasturji Khurshed Dastur addressed the youth and answered questions patiently over video conference from Udvada.

This led to the second marquee panel of the 7WZYC that appropriately brought 5 young active mobeds from all over the world along with 3 mentors for an indepth discussion on the roles of Mobeds today and in the years ahead. The 5 young mobeds calmly spoke of their beliefs and took on some tough questions from the audience. It was heartening to see these young mobeds take stands and what emerged from the session was that even though these young mobeds reside in different parts of the world, they are equipped to guide the community on matters of religion in the years to come. This panel was organized and facilitated by the North American Mobed Council who were invited by 7WYZC to lead it.

A series of concurrent sessions followed the entire day. The panel on LGBTQ issues had an open and frank discussion by some of the participants on the stereotypes that exist in our society and community and the amazing takeaway was the welcoming inclusive nature of our community in general, and the participants in particular bringing an amazing quality of inclusiveness to the congress. Pablo Vazquez spoke about the emergence of Zoroastrianism in Kurdish lands. Sanaya Master enthralled the audience with information about the World Zoroastrian Young Leaders Forum. It was great to see 11 of the 20 WZYLF Fellows present in the audience at the Congress, and a testament to the success of the Forum that every single of the Fellows present at the Congress was a speaker or panelist, some on multiple ones.

The panel on Zoroastrian Advocacy was an eye opener. It showed the potential of strong advocacy at all levels and the benefits it would have on our community, especially in countries where we are newer minorities. Through the dialogue between the panelists what was also evident is that Advocacy is not an option but a compulsion in today’s society.


 
The post-lunch sessions addressed the presence of Zoroastrians at the United Nations and the role FEZANA plays in facilitating that. Elected community leaders made a case to the youth for more involvement and the pros and cons of that in the session on the Joys and Pitfalls of Community Service.

The evening Gala started with a formal vote of thanks by the chair Parshan Khosravi to the various donors, sponsors and the entire volunteer team that made the Congress a reality. This was followed by a fantastic Indian dinner spread out. And then Nauzad Sudry and his band got the crowd moving and shaking way past midnight.

Day 6 arrived and it was a somber mood as people realized that it was the last day and most folks would head home.

The day began with a Congress retrospective where Arzan Sam Wadia took the audience through some of the key moments of the Congress. This was followed by a couple of song and dance performances by the local children. Future Zoroastrian Olympics and Congress Hosts gave short presentations about their events.

The final event was the passing of the torch to the next hosts of the 8WZYC. Sheherazad Kapadia and Sanaya Khambatta co-chairs of the 8th World Zoroastrian Congress 2023 accepted the torch from Parshan Khosravi, Chair of the 7WZYC. London will be the host city of the 8WZYC 2023 and the audience gave a thunderous applause as the Congress was declared closed by Parshan.
Now some candid observations, all my own.

This youth Congress brought together a large swath of Persian Iranian and Parsi Zarathushtis in the core team to work side by side. This was a very positive development.

The Congress showed that a little bit of guidance and mentorship goes a very long way in empowering youth to pull off a successful event.

This was a Congress of many firsts.

First Congress to have a true social media impact with pre-Congress buildup on Facebook and Instagram.

First Zoroastrian Congress of any kind to be streamed live completely.

First Zoroastrian Congress of any kind to have a majority of women speakers and panelists.

The first Youth Congress to have the videos of all the sessions posted online on Youtube for posterity.

And some lessons learnt…

Youth Congresses should not have sessions that begin before 9:30 J

Youth Congresses need to build in more time for overflow and delays. Unlike regular adult Congresses, these youth Congresses don’t necessarily run on Swiss time !

 
The Zoroastrian youth the world over are more similar to each other than say a generation ago. In a globalized world that they live in today, with social media and the internet keeping them connected, they made the jump from acquaintances to buddies very quickly. It was heartening to see youth from all parts of the world and with differing belief systems, be they traditional or liberal, being friends first.

The Congress provided the right and safe space for everyone to be open and share their views and take a stand, without having to worry about how they will be perceived.
The passion and the energy of the volunteers was outstanding. For nearly 90% of the volunteers this was their first Congress of any kind. Even with no prior experience of having attended the Congress, they pulled out all the stops to make it a truly memorable event for the attendees. The passion and commitment was a real eye opener, and the hope is that the host association will harness this youth power to good use in the years to come. That indeed will be the lasting legacy of this Congress.

May the Zarathushti youth meet in larger numbers in 2023 in London at the next Youth  Congress.

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