I first learned about Zoroastrians in the spring of 2007. I had heard the word, I was familiar with Thus Spake Zarathustra, but I didn’t know anything about the religion. That spring, I came across a flyer for a fire jumping ceremony that was taking place in the South Bronx section of New York. No one there was Zoroastrian, oddly enough. The guy hosting it was Iranian and simply enjoyed the meaning of the ceremony – to rid oneself of what’s holding you back and focus on the future.
A couple of years later, as a graduate student at Columbia University’s Journalism school, I needed to pick a topic for my Master’s project. Thinking back to the fire jumping ceremony, and the cursory research I did into Zoroastrians, I felt like there was an interesting story to tell. As a Jew, I know what it’s like to live in a community negotiating religious continuity. There are fewer Jewish families today engaged in the Jewish community, and many are working to find out how to reach those who are unaffiliated and get them to “choose Jewish.”
As I started to look deeper into the Zoroastrian community, I realized they shared many of the same issues as Judaism – only more so.
Going up to the Zoroastrian Association of Greater New York, I found a set of folks who are dedicated to raising children who identify strongly with their heritage. But something was quickly pointed out to me: this works well in a large metropolitan area. It doesn’t work so well in area’s where there is literally only one Zoroastrian family.
It’s impossible for me to put myself into a situation where I can understand what it’s like to be the “last” of something. And I can see how it would be so easy to assimilate, forget about your past and move forward.
That’s what makes the work of groups like NextGenNow so remarkable.
Finding, engaging youth and trying to grow a religion that is often written off – nearly every major news article about Zoroastrians written in the last couple of years focuses on their decline – is a herculean task. But my impression as an outsider looking in is that there innumerable people willing to accept that challenge, willing to figure out how to educate and inspire today’s generation and equip them – beyond religious classes – to lead Zoroastrians in the future.
Blog Note: You can read Levi’s full thesis on Zoroastrianism also on https://nextgennow.wordpress.com/.
Levi Fishman is a freelance writer living in New York City. A recent graduate of Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, his work has appeared in the New York Press, the Chicago Tribune, the Albany Times-Union, and the New York Jewish Week.