Friday, 12 Aug 2022 - 15 of Av, 5782

Jewish life has grown significantly in the UAE, says the Gulf nation’s Senior Rabbi

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62-year-old Arabic-speaking Rabbi Elie Abadie leads the Jewish Council of the Emirates, a network of Jewish communal leaders who are building Jewish life in the Gulf nation.

He lives in Dubai since 2020, the year that saw the signing of the Abraham Accords, which normalized relations between the UAE and Israel.

 

‘’The Jewish community in the Unied Arab Emirates (UAE) is one of the safest, if not the safest, in the world,’’ Rabbi Elie Abadie likes to mention when meeting with journalists.

The 62-year-old senior rabbi of the UAE who leads the Jewish Council of the Emirates, a network of Jewish communal leaders who are building Jewish life in the Gulf nation, lives in Dubai since 2020, the year that saw the signing of the Abraham Accords, which normalized relations between the UAE and Israel.

Born in Beirut,  Lebanon, where he lived until he was 10, his family later moved to Mexico and then to New York City where he attended Yeshiva University. He is both a rabbi and a physician specialized in gastroenteroloy.

He served as rabbi at the Edmond J. Safra synagogue, founded the School of the Sephardic Academy of Manhattan and headed the Jacob E. Safra Institute of Sephardic Studies at Yeshiva University.

He stresses that he speaks Arabic and understands the culture and the Arab mentality and traditions.

‘’Over the 10 years prior to coming to the UAE, I had the honor and privilege to welcome and host UAE officers and businessmen in New York City at my community. We established  connections,’’ he told European Jewish Press (EJP).

In February 2019, he was invited to the UAE  to bring to the small Jewish community in Dubai, a Torah scroll in honor and memory  of  Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan., a gesture highlighting the desire of the country to foster tolerance and interfaith dialogue and foreshadowing the Abraham Accords. As a scribe, Rabbi Abadie concluded the Torah scroll which was presented to his son, Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the current UAE President.

‘’A second trip to the UAE for November 2019 was scheduled when then Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed was able to receive us and the Torah scroll. I had the honor of meeting him and speaking with him in Arabic at length about our childhood in Lebanon, the significance of the Torah and Judaism. Sheikh Nahayan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, was also present. I presented the Torah scroll in a ceremony and we left,’’ recounted the Rabbi.

He returned to the USA but kept in touch with the Jewish community in the Emirates. While  in the USA, I was invited twice to attend events of The Higher Committee of Human Fraternity, one in New York and one in Washington, an international and independent committee instituted to uphold and advance the values of human fraternity and coexistence.

After the signing of the Abraham Accords, Rabbi Abadie was asked by the Jewish community in the UAE with the government consent to come and be the Senior Rabbi of the Jewish Council of the Emirates.

When he arrived, there were less than 200 known Jews in the UAE. ‘’Today we are more than 600 known Jews with many more that we are not aware of,’’ he said. It is  believed that 2,000 Jews reside in the UAE, a number that has not ceased of growing since the signing of the Abraham Accords. In addition tot hat, more than half a million Israelis and Jewish tourists  have visited the UAE since the normalization. Rabbi Abadie expects this number to double in the next five years.

‘’Jewish life has grown significantly in the UAE. Prayer services in several locations take place daily and on Shabbat. There are over 6 kosher restaurants and 3 kosher caterers. There is a Mikvah and a Jewish nursery. The UAE is very well equipped to host and cater to the hundreds of thousands of Jewish tourists and business people,’’ he said.

What is his role as Chief Rabbi?

‘’Most importantly is to represent not only the Jewish community in the UAE to the government and society, but also to represent the Jewish People in general. I’m like the Ambassador of the Jewish People to the country and to the entire region. My responsibilities are also to organize the Jewish community, make sure they have all the religious services and rituals that they need. Kosher food, holiday services and traditions, pastoral care, Jewish education and much more. ‘’

He has projects to establish the Jewish community with all the necessary services that it needs : religious, spiritual, educational, social, cultural, life cycle milestones, and much more.

Earlier this year, he revealed plans to develop the Gulf Cooperation Council’s (GCC) first fully-functioning Jewish neighborhood. He added that “we would like a neighborhood with a synagogue, private homes, condominiums, hotels, shopping centers.”

The GCC is made up of six countries: Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain and Oman.

Abadie also leads the Association of Gulf Jewish Communities, an umbrella organization for the Jewish communities of the GCC  nations.

He is convinced that  Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries will join the Abraham Accords. ‘’Absolutely, sooner rather than later, it will happen,’’ he said.

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