Rabbi Danny Yiftach: The Iranian Chabad-Lubavitch Chassid

Yiftach was so inspired by Hasidic teachings and his encounters with the Rebbe and his teachers at yeshiva that he decided to become ordained.
August 18, 2022
Rabbi Danny Yiftach

When the Iranian Revolution occurred, it became clear to the Jewish community that their country wasn’t going to be safe for them anymore. However, it wasn’t easy for them to leave. They were forced to get creative to find a way out.

Thankfully, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson, who was based in New York, had an idea: he would send emissaries to Iran to make arrangements for Jewish children to escape. He would give them student visas to study in Chabad schools in New York. Rabbi Danny Yiftach, the rabbi at Chabad of Marina del Rey, was one of the several thousand children the Rebbe rescued.

“When I came out of Iran, I was alone,” said Yiftach. “In those days, it was nearly impossible to get everyone out, and not everyone wanted to get out. My parents got out later.” 

Yiftach spent time in New York, learning about Judaism from a Hasidic perspective. Though he grew up observant, it wasn’t the same as Chabad.

“There was no Chabad in Iran,” the rabbi said. “My parents were typical Sephardim. We were very traditional and we observed everything like keeping kosher and Shabbat to the extent we had learned. We were considered one of the more observant families.”

While in New York, Yiftach met the Rebbe and experienced a real-life miracle. He was standing in a long line to talk with the Rebbe and ask him for a special blessing for his great uncle, who was in need of a heart transplant and running out of time. The entire time he was in line, he was saying his great uncle’s Hebrew name and the fact that he needed a blessing for a refuah shlema (speedy recovery).

“When it was my turn, the Rebbe gave me a dollar, and it was time to say what I wanted,” said Yiftach. “I was standing there, trying to compose myself and say something, but nothing came out. The Rebbe said ‘bracha v’hatzlacha,’ blessings and success, like he told everyone. But then he paused for a moment, looked up at me, and said ‘refuah shlema.’ I was a frozen. I was in a daze. He gave me the blessing I was going to ask for even though I didn’t ask for it.”

Yiftach called his family members afterwards, but he couldn’t get hold of anyone. Eventually, later that evening, his mom got back to him. At the same time the Rebbe was wishing Yiftach’s great uncle a speedy recovery, his family got a phone call that a heart had been found, and it was time to run to the hospital for the transplant.

“That’s why I couldn’t reach them,” Yiftach said. 

Yiftach was so inspired by Hasidic teachings and his encounters with the Rebbe and his teachers at yeshiva that he decided to become ordained.

“What really drew me close to Chabad was the unconditional love and non-judgmental mindset,” he said. “People feel genuine love and care in a Chabad house.”

After learning in New York upon his arrival in America, Yiftach ended up at Yeshiva Ohr Elchonon, a Chabad yeshiva in Los Angeles. Professionally, he ran the Bais Chaya Mushka Chabad School for Girls in Pico-Robertson for 34 years and now, he teaches online classes for 150 Jewish women in Iran. They talk about topics like the weekly Torah portion and Jewish law.

Even though the rabbi and his family are the only Orthodox Jews in his Marina del Rey community, he said it doesn’t make a difference. Either way, he’s there for anyone who needs him.

“Chabad sees everyone the same regardless of their background or where they came from,” he said. “That’s what makes our Chabad a welcoming place.”

The rabbi runs Chabad of Marina Del Rey with his wife, Sonya, who is an equal partner in all the work they do. 

“Sonya has been a partner in everything that we have accomplished in our decades long, serving the community in various capacities,” Yiftach said. “She graciously allows me to be the front man for what she is really mostly behind. She is the thinker, innovator and orchestrator of our activities.”

Yiftach said that a teaching in the Tanya, written by Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, the founder of Chabad Hasidism, motivates him to work hard for his Jewish community and be there for them whenever they need him.

“Our souls are literally part of God himself,” he said. “That, to me, opens the floodgates of understanding yourself, who you are and where you come from. Chabad Hasidic teaching is founded on that. Through that, Judaism comes alive. It’s not just an ideology. It’s a way of life.”

Fast Takes with Danny Yiftach

Jewish Journal: What is your favorite Jewish food?
Danny Yiftach: Anything being served at a Hasidic farbrengen (gathering). 

JJ: What would you be doing if you weren’t a rabbi? 

DY: I would still want to be in a line of work that helps people. Maybe I’d be a psychologist. These days, unfortunately, society is in desperate need of help. 

JJ: Where’s your favorite spot in Marina del Rey?

DY: The Chabad house is where my life is. I don’t often make it to the marina or the ocean. But when I do, I go to the canals, which are peaceful if you want to go for a nice walk.

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