Not many weeks have passed since the signing of the historic Abraham Accords with Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, but the effects of the peace deals with Israel are already being felt.
Arutz Sheva spoke with Rabbi Levi Duchman, the Rabbi of the Jewish Community Center in the United Arab Emirates, to find out how he and his community have been impacted by the political developments in the region.
“First of all, it’s important to understand the unique character of the United Arab Emirates,” Rabbi Duchman stresses. “The UAE as a whole is a very international country. We have over 200 nationalities represented here, and it’s really a place of tolerance and coexistence, so in that sense, the Abraham Accords haven’t turned things upside-down.”
Rabbi Duchman arrived in the UAE six years ago, and he is the only resident rabbi in the country to this day. “If we rewind a few years – in fact, even just a few months, to right before the Accords, we had a really nice Jewish community back then too,” he recalls. “There was everything we needed for Jewish life here, with kosher food, and what we needed for the festivals. Of course, since the signing of the Accords, there has been a much larger influx of tourists, so we’re seeing a much bigger demand for kosher food, for example.”
For Jews in other parts of the world, it’s fascinating to take a look at a community where Arabs and Jews coexist peacefully, but Rabbi Duchman points out that the UAE has always been, as he describes it, “a beacon of light for the region, showing people what it can be like to live in a tolerant society where ‘religion is not allowed to be an excuse’ for discord, as the government puts it.”
In that sense, perhaps what has changed with the Accords is not so much the situation on the ground, but the opportunities it has created for Jews across the world, and specifically in Israel, to get a taste of life in the UAE. “All kinds of opportunities have opened up since the peace deal was signed,” Rabbi Duchman confirms. “It’s not at all just tourism, though of course we’re seeing much more of that now, and also a small increase in the number of Jews settling here. But it’s also technological cooperation, finance, banking and so forth. And we’re likely to see a lot more of that in the future.”
Rabbi Duchman was recently appointed as the official Chabad shaliach (emissary) to the UAE, and he points out that the very first shaliach ever appointed by the Lubavitcher Rebbe was sent to an Arab country – to Meknes in Morocco.
“That was at a time when most Jewish organizations were busy helping Jews to leave Muslim countries, but the Rebbe focused on helping those Jews who were left,” he notes. “This is what we do – we place an emphasis on communities, looking after all our members, and building coexistence. And in the United Arab Emirates, that’s something we specialize in – learning from each other, fostering dialogue – and hopefully we’ll be doing that more and more.”