The amazing story, as told to Aish, of how Iranian shi’ite Jamshed Hassani – anti-Khomeini activist, military sharp-shooter, translator and adventurer – became Daniel Dana, Israeli citizen. (With thanks: Patrick)
In 1994, Dana was granted a research
fellowship for two months at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. While in
Israel, the Australian government used the opportunity to cancel his
“asylum status,” citing him as a security risk for provoking Islamic
This put Dana in real geo-political limbo – he could not travel to
Iran, France, Australia or any other country for that matter. He had no
choice but to remain in Israel.
In Israel he was introduced to Jews and Judaism for the first time.
As he learned more, he rejected Christianity and came to conclusion that
Torah is authentic. He soon met a Russian immigrant to Israel and got married.
Around this time Dana was diagnosed with a rare blood disease that is
found predominantly in Middle Eastern Jews. “I started to think about
the idea of Jewish blood in my veins,” he says.
Little did he know. In 2007 he traveled to the U.S. for a relative’s
wedding. Also in attendance was his cousin, Dr. Miriam Dnada, the
daughter of his uncle Musa, his mother’s brother.
Miriam told Dana how, when her father [Dana’s uncle Musa] had died a few years earlier, he revealed in his final hours:
“When my own father [Dana’s grandfather] was on his deathbed, he told
me a family secret: That we are really Jews,” Musa told Miriam. “And
now, I am passing that secret along to you. Our real family name is
Abayef, and we are Jews.”
Upon hearing the shocking news, Dana suddenly understood why his
grandmother always insisted on not eating meat with milk. And thus began
his quest to unravel the mystery of his family history.
centuries ago, Dana’s ancestors lived in Mashad, in the northeast
corner of Iran. It is a Muslim stronghold, attracting 20 million Muslim
pilgrims every year, who come to worship at the shrine of the Imam Reza.
In 1839 a terrible pogrom
called for the forced conversion of Jews to Islam. Many lived dual
lives as crypto-Jews, but Dana’s ancestors fled to Baku, the capital of
Azerbaijan in the former Soviet Union, where they were able to practice
Fast-forward to 1925, when the Reza Shah (the father of the noted
Shah of Iran) rose to power and instituted freedom of religion in Iran.
“My grandparents were unhappy with the recent Communist takeover, so
in 1927 they moved back across the border into northwest Iran,” says
Dana. “But they feared another pogrom and made a conscious decision to
keep their Jewishness a secret. So they changed their last name and
pretended to be Shiite Muslims.”
At the time, Dana’s mother was age 3 and had no inkling of the
family’s Jewish roots. But her brother Musa was 8, and the family secret
was entrusted to him – only to be revealed decades later, on his
deathbed, to his daughter Miriam.
“Now I understand why my grandmother pushed me so much to become an
Ayatollah,” says Dana. “She bent over backwards and made every effort to
prove herself as a good Muslim, to drive out our Jewish roots.”