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Assyrian Congregation Plans to Open Tarzana Church, School

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The first Assyrian church in the United States with a school will open in Tarzana next month, making it one of the largest properties owned by the Assyrian Church of the East in the Western world.

The congregation at St. Mary’s Holy Apostolic Catholic Assyrian Church of the East, now based in North Hollywood, will move to the Encino Community Church in Tarzana.

“We needed a school because we needed to think of our future,” the Rev. Gewargis Bet-Rasho said. “In order for us to survive as a nation, we need our children to learn self-esteem and the only way to do this is to learn it in school.”

The school, which is intended to open within two years, will create a sense of centralization for the scattered Assyrian American community, he said. Once a feared nation that conquered the Mesopotamian region more than 3,000 years ago, the Assyrians now have no formal country, Bet-Rasho said.

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On Friday, members of the congregation will walk nine miles from the old parish in North Hollywood to the new one in Tarzana in a fund-raiser. And on July 5, the congregation will hold its first mass--in Aramaic, as has been done for centuries--in the new church.

Since the 1970s, after a large wave of Assyrians from the Middle East migrated to the United States, Assyrian churches began to flourish, most notably in Northern California and in cities such as Chicago and Detroit, Bet-Rasho said. The parish has been in North Hollywood for 18 years.

“In the last 20 years, Assyrians been buying churches and paying off debts, but now we’re ready to grow,” said the 34-year-old priest, who was born in Baghdad, and was a businessman in Modesto. The Tarzana property is on 2.4 acres, and includes church space for 530 people, a banquet hall, a two-story building with 10 classrooms and a large courtyard.

While the church, which has an estimated 500-family congregation, will serve as a community center, it also symbolizes an integral structure for preserving the Assyrian language that has nearly become extinct, Bet-Rasho said.

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“The church has been the only thing we have left of our nation,” he said.


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