As described in the new Hebrew and English editions of his fascinating autobiography “Abayef – A Bridge-Builder Between Faiths”
Lover of Zion, Iranian gymnastic champion, leading opponent of Khameini and the current Iranian regime, visionary bridge builder between Iran and Israel.
Reviewed by David Herman
This article was originally written in 2012 shortly after the publication of the English Edition of Dr. Dana’s autobiography. The reason I am publishing it again as a blog is because in November 2019 Dr. Dana will be celebrating his 25 years in Israel to be commemorated by a 5-day exhibition featuring his many works and achievements and organized by the Iranian community in Israel.
Dr.Daniel Dana with two of his Iranian friends
Last month I had the good fortune to attend the Jerusalem book launch of the Hebrew edition of Dr. Dana’s autobiography. Many members of the local Iranian Jewish community and leading intellectuals were present to express their admiration for this remarkable man. And after the official book launch of the English edition on November 12 at the OU Center (22 Keren Hayesod Street) English speakers will be able to read his riveting, uniquely moving and inspiring autobiography, “Abayef – A Bridge Builder Between Faiths,” published by Chaim Mazo.
Dr. Dana has excelled in far more areas of human activity than most other men, both in intellectual and physical pursuits. He has excelled in the study and practice of law, in sports, as writer and playwright, as a charismatic speaker, as a leader of men, and indeed in every field in which he engaged. And yet, for all his achievements and many tribulations, he remains modest and blessed with a charming, good-natured personality that endears him to all who know him.Dr. Daniel Dana was born in Teheran on 22 November 1945 into a Shiite Moslem family.
In 1973 he was the National University gymnastic champion of Iran, and represented Iran at the 1972 Student Olympics in Moscow
After graduating from the Teheran University Law School with a Bachelor of Law degree, he studied at Paris University from 1978 to 1984, receiving an M.A and PhD in Comparative Constitutional Law.
In Paris he was the first Iranian to resist Khameini among the Paris students. And in 1981 he was the commander of the force which captured the Iranian Tabarzin missile gunboat.
For organizing young students to fight the Islamic Republic he was sentenced to death 3 times in absentia.
In March 1986 he arrived in Iran and expected to be executed, but they didn’t do so and he worked there as a lawyer in private International law.
In December 1989 he left Iran, and from Bombay came to Melbourne.
On 14 July 1990 he converted to Christianity and began to translate Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses into Persian. He was studying at Melbourne University and training for the Australian Bar. The Australian Intelligence Services sent him to Tasmania to stop the translation and to do a post-doctorate in International Private Law. 13 months later he received an 8-week research scholarship from the Sir Henry Baker Institute in Tasmania, and on 22 November 1994 came for the first time to Jerusalem and was forced to remain in Israel because the Australian government pronounced him persona non-grata??
In November 1995 he married Marina, a Russian Israeli architect (“my gift of G-d), and she helped him to find his roots as a Jew whose family was forced to convert to Islam in Mashad in the 1839 pogrom.
He only discovered that he was in fact automatically Jewish (although studying for conversion for 3 years) when doctors in Hadassah discovered that his blood had a uniquely Jewish blood sickness. “To complete this miracle G-d made me a faithful soldier for defending Zion.” On 14 July 1990 he founded the PLIM Peace and Love International Movement for promoting peace between Iran and Israel, and for the past few years he has traveled extensively in Europe and elsewhere to spread the word and love of Israel among Iranian exiles of the various faiths.
Among his numerous literary achievements are the translation into Persian of many Bible stories, the writing of hundreds of articles in Persian, a comparative study of the French and Islamic legal systems in French; “Khorshidak,” a political novel in Persian; “Tabarzin,” the story of a captured missile boat in Spain during August 1981 by a nationalist Iranian group; “My sister Zion,” Judaism and Iran; “Behdini”, the history of Bahaism; a study of Shiite Theology; and he is currently working on a two-volume history of the Shirazi Jewish Community. He also edited the memoirs of Zion Ezri, the first Israeli ambassador to Iran,
His play about travesties of justice in modern Iran, “Injustice”, has been translated into Hebrew, English and French, from the original Persian.
In addition to the above he is also the founder of the Blue Star local Iranian Jewish cultural group.
“Abayef”, the searingly honest chronicle of this remarkable individual’s life is also amazingly timely because of the light it throws on the history and politics and culture of the Iran of the past and the Iran we know today. And through the prism of Daniel Dana’s odyssey we are able to understand with far greater insight the position and condition of present-day Iran. In the book we read how Daniel Dana, was born as Jamshid Hassani on November 22 1945 in Teheran into an ostensibly Muslim Shiite Muslim family His grandmother always tried to teach him the pure Shiite faith and to become a future leading Ayatollah. However, many questions arose in Daniel’s mind by the time he was in high school.
In the book we read how, following his studies in Tehran University, he worked in the Iranian National Police Force for about 8 years following his 2 year military service. During his studies he was the national universities gymnastic champion and represented Iran in the Student Olympic Games in Moscow in 1973.
The book goes on to tell how he left Iran in 1976 to France to continue his legal studies, graduating from Paris University in 1980 with an MA in the History of Law and a PhD in Constitutional law in 1984. His studies and residence in Paris coincided with the arrival in Paris in 1978 of Ayatollah Khomeini, and Daniel Dana emerged as one of the leaders of the anti-Khomeini students, for which he paid the heavy price of being sentenced to death by execution by the revolutionary court in absentia. He met the exiled Queen Farah Pahlavi in Rabat in 1980 and proposed shooting the Ayatollah Khomeini and changing the course of Iranian history, but his proposal was rejected despite his having been awarded a medal as the best marksman in the Iranian Police Force. He returned to Paris and established the first paramilitary anti-regime organization called Javan in 1980. The book tells in detail how he and his followers captured the Iranian “Tabarzin” missile gunboat. In the next operation we learn how Javan prevented the construction of a large Mosque in a Paris suburb to mark the third year of the Shiite Revolution, and destroyed the mosque.
An important aspect of this part of the book is the analysis of the impact and dangers of the Shiite revolution and its anti-humanitarian concepts to Western civilization, causing the deaths of tens of thousands of Iranians and terrible damage to millions of Iranian families.
In March 1986, prompted by family and financial straits, he courageously defied the death threats and returned to Iran, but instead of executing him the Intelligence Services of the Islamic Republic used his return for propaganda purposes, and he was hailed as a hero instead. After working as a distinguished lawyer in Iran he left in December 1989 for Australia via India, where he requested asylum as a political refugee In Australia he converted to Christianity and undertook the translation of Salman Rashdie’s Satanic Verses into Persian, After Christian Theological studies in Melbourne, he was sent to Tasmania to do a second PhD in Private International Law at Hobart University. Then he received a scholarship for 8 weeks’ research at the Hebrew University and arrived in Israel for the first time (22Nov 1994). But then the Australian Embassy in Tel Aviv confiscated his travel document and Political Refugee certificate and he was officially notified as being a direct risk to Australian national security. Ms. Zina Harman, the UN Refugees Advisor in Jerusalem, sent him to the International Christian Embassy in Jerusalem. In March 1995 he established the PLIM Peace and Love International Movement which over the years has invited hundreds of Iranian opposition, cultural and religious leaders to Israel and also arranged hundreds of meetings in the west to bring the message of peace and love between the sister-nations of Israel and Iran.
While studying for the Israeli Bar Association exams, he attended the Bet Ha’am Ulpan where he met and subsequently married his beautiful Russian born architect wife, Marina. While working as a night-watchman he was diagnosed with Talasemia Anemia in May 2001, a blood disease which the professors at Shaare Tzedek and Hadassa confirmed as only found in the blood of Middle Eastern Jews, and then, quite miraculously, from a cousin he met at his brother’s wedding he received confirmation of the family’s Jewish roots. She told him that her father, just before he passed away in 2005, had told her “We are Jewish and our family name was Abayef. When we arrived in Iran from Russia we were forced to change the family name and present ourselves as Shiite Moslems.” This is when Daniel finally understood why his grandmother always insisted that he should never eat meat with milk.These remarkable personal revelations, and his boundless love of Israel motivated him to start studying Judaism with the American Rabbinate in Jerusalem.
Reading “Abayef,” the reader will gasp in wonderment at how one man has managed to cram so many achievements into a single life under such trying circumstances, to excel in so many different fields and to emerge unbowed and prepared to fight on for the causes he holds dear: his Judaism and the message of Israel and Zionism, as well as his opposition to the current Shiite Moslem regime in Iran and his vision of a future of brotherhood and cooperation between Israel and Iran symbolized by the historic act of King Cyrus in aiding the Jewish exiles to return to Israel and rebuild their Temple and homeland.
The book is a mine of information about Iranian history and culture, and there is a very informative Appendix on the background of Shiism and the conflict with Sunni Islam.
One hopes that the publication of this important book in its Hebrew, Persian and English editions will encourage the Israeli policymakers and mass media to make use of Dr. Dana’s expertise and unparalleled knowledge of Iran past and present.