Thursday, July 04, 2013
How Jamshed Hassani became Daniel Dana
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 hatred.
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.
Two 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 Judaism openly.
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.”
Read article in full
How a Tunisian Muslim became an Orthodox Jew
The Jew from Kuwait
Muslim-Jews lost in the no-man's land of identity
A Moroccan 'marrano' comes 'home'