Though Jews began settling in Iran about 2,700 years ago, the reign of the Shah (from 1941 to 1979) was considered a particularly golden age. Jews thrived economically under his modernization plan and the vast majority, numbering around 80,000, were middle or upper middle class. Jewish schools, shuls, and cultural organizations flourished.

And then, in 1979, it all changed.

Strikes and demonstrations paralyzed the country as the Shah left Iran for exile. Soon afterwards, guerrillas and rebel troops brought Ruhollah Khomeini to official power as the Grand Ayatollah—their “Supreme Leader” of the country.

Almost overnight, Iran was transformed from a pro-Western monarchy to an anti-Western authoritarian theocracy. Expressions of anti-Jewish animosity intensified. Pamphlets threatened “death to the Jews,” as a wave of anti-Israel sentiment swept the country.

Amid the chaos of the revolution, the Lubavitcher Rebbe took immediate action while it was still possible. He arranged the rescue of Jewish youth and teenagers from Iran. In 1979 and 1980, several thousand Iranian children were flown to safety in New York.

I can’t even begin to imagine the turbulent emotions of these families. Parents allowing children to leave with strangers to an unknown land; children parting from parents not knowing when or if they would ever be reunited.

I also can’t fathom the logistics of suddenly absorbing such huge amounts of youngsters, finding food, housing, and educational arrangements, while slowly gaining their trust.

Fast-forward 37 years. The year was 2016 in Marina del Ray, California.

It was a Sunday afternoon, and I had just arrived on the West Coast. I was in the car of Rabbi Danny Yiftach, who was driving me to his Chabad center in Marina del Ray to lecture for his community. As I asked him a few questions, his story began to emerge.

Rabbi Yiftach was one of those children that the Rebbe saved from Iran.

He recalled the flight. He remembered being housed in different locations in New York, at one point in an empty hospital building, before finally being sent to study in yeshivah in Los Angeles. He thought about the letters he wrote to his family back in Iran and the few phone conversations that he was able to have, all guarded due to security. It would take decades for him to be united with his parents.

I sat in the car marveling at the courageous path taken by this humble individual. But most of all, I was getting a sense of his strength of purpose. Though soft-spoken and unassuming, this chossid carries a fire in his heart.

In this week’s portion, we read: “The fire on the Altar shall be kept burning, it shall not go out... and the priest should kindle wood on it every morning.” (Lev. 6:5)

The Alshich explains: There is a fire of love for G‑d that burns within every soul. It is the task of the “kohen”—the spiritual leaders of the generation—to find and feed this fire.

Rabbi Yiftach’s mission today is to ignite that fire in the souls of the youth and adults in his community.

Just as the Rebbe did for him so many years ago.