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    Revelers uncork a hopeful future

    Baha'is are ready for a new year and renewed efforts toward outer and inner peace.

    By WAVENEY ANN MOORE, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published March 16, 2002

    ST. PETERSBURG -- Wednesday evening, the Baha'i community of Pinellas County will look back on the start of a peaceful society, one unmarred by unpleasantness such as prejudice and hate. Such a Utopia will be one of the imagination, theater created to mark Naw-Ruz, the Baha'i new year.

    The new calendar, which begins at sundown Wednesday, coincides with the start of spring and a time of renewal and fresh starts for Baha'is worldwide.

    For Barbara Bostian, a former Southern Baptist who converted to the Baha'i faith in 1979, Naw-Ruz brings at least one reprieve.

    "The end of fasting?" she laughingly said when asked her thoughts of the holiday. Naw-Ruz is preceded by 19 days of fasting and spiritual reflection.

    "All during the period of fasting, you've been thinking of your spiritual life and the things you need to work on and thinking about what sort of spiritual goals you want to work on in the coming year," Ms. Bostian said.

    Naw-Ruz also lends itself to festivity and fellowship, she said.

    That will come Wednesday, when Baha'is gather in Palm Harbor for a new year celebration. Sixteen-year-old Nina Rouhani will help to provide entertainment for the evening, which includes Persian and Spanish dances, a performance by a Baha'i gospel choir and a special drama.

    The play, said Nina, a Largo High School student, is set 20 years in the future.

    "It's about a girl and she has brought about so much peace. She has asked people to come together all over the world and bring down prejudice."

    The play's message highlights Baha'i beliefs and efforts to dispel racial discord and create a unified world. Bahaullah, the faith's founder, taught that there is only one God and one race and he condemned prejudice of all sorts.

    Followers believe that their international administrative body, the Universal House of Justice on Mount Carmel in Haifa, Israel, will play an important role in world leadership to bring about the peace Bahaullah envisioned.

    The Baha'i faith, which has about 6-million followers worldwide, including about 750 in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties, began in Iran 159 years ago. Adherents believe in a series of divine manifestations that include Moses, Jesus, Buddha and Mohammed, but believe that their founder, Bahaullah, is the latest manifestation of the divine. According to Baha'is, the next divine messenger is not scheduled to appear for at least another 1,000 years.

    In the meantime, Nina, who is of Iranian descent, and fellow believers are preparing to celebrate another new year.

    "I always look forward to it. You just have this feeling inside and you're so happy. It's a time of rebirth and a joyous celebration," said the teenager, whose Thursday exams mean she will not be able to take the holiday off.

    "It's a time to socialize. You see Baha'is you haven't seen all year long," said Rason Dobbs, a retired architect and treasurer of the St. Petersburg Local Spiritual Assembly, which meets at 676 Second Ave. S.

    But the holiday's spiritual significance should not be forgotten, Dobbs said.

    "It's a time of renewal," he said.

    Fariba Cavitt, who grew up in a Baha'i family, said that's the reason the period of fasting and reflection that precedes Naw-Ruz is so important.

    "It's a simple celebration," she said of the holiday.

    "For Baha'is there are no really set rituals or ways of doing this. The significance for Baha'is is that there is a new calendar that Bahaullah has given us."

    Though the holiday is a spiritual one for Baha'is, Mrs. Cavitt, who was born in Iran, said it has a long cultural history in that country.

    "Naw-Ruz has been celebrated in Iran for thousands of years. The kids would stay out of school in Iran for two weeks," she said.

    In Mrs. Cavitt's St. Petersburg home, she and her husband, Mark, and their children, Layla, 15, Alex, 12, Ian, 7, and Connor, 5, will incorporate Iranian customs into their religious holiday.

    "There is a rice and vegetable dish with fish that is a must at Naw-Ruz," Mrs. Cavitt said, adding that she will make the aromatic sabzi pulaw, whose ingredients are rice, white fish, chopped parsley, coriander and green onions, and buy holiday cookies at an Iranian store in Tampa.

    In her home she also will set up a haft seen, a table with at least seven symbolic items, including gold fish, colored eggs, hyacinths, garlic, apples, vinegar, sprouts of wheat or lentils, and coins.

    "It's purely for fun," she said of the display. "But the things that we put on the table symbolize growth, fortune and health for the coming year."

    While she may incorporate Iranian customs into her family's observance of Naw-Ruz, Mrs. Cavitt said other Baha'is might introduce other elements that make the holiday meaningful to them.

    "The Baha'i faith is so new that people can bring anything to it," she said.

    Some believers put up trees, symbolizing spring, and hang symbols of Baha'i teachings on the branches, she said.

    "People think of creative ways of celebrating," said Mrs. Cavitt, whose father will travel to St. Petersburg from Louisville, Ky., for the holiday.

    "This is a festive time of year for us."

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