UAE to Set Up First 'Jewish Neighborhood' in The Gulf

Published April 17th, 2022 - 06:37 GMT
View of Dubai
View of Dubai (AFP File Folder)

The United Arab Emirates’ senior-most rabbi has revealed plans to develop the Gulf Cooperation Council’s first dedicated Jewish neighborhood, containing faculties and institutions for the thousands of Jews who have made the Emirates their home.

Dr. Elie Abadie, the senior rabbi of the Jewish Council of the Emirates in the UAE, currently leads the Association of Gulf Jewish Communities (AGJC), established in 2021 to provide the Jewish populations in the UAE, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman, and Saudi Arabia with the Beth Din of Arabia rabbinical court.

Abadie says there are some 2,000 Jewish residents in the UAE, with about 500 “active Jewish” people practicing their religion.

This number has doubled since the historic Abraham Accords, which normalized relations between the UAE, Bahrain, and Israel, were signed in 2020, he says.

The UAE alone has welcomed more than 200,000 Jewish tourists since the peace deal, with many exploring the idea of moving to the Emirates and establishing businesses. Abadie predicts this number will quadruple over the next five years.

It means, the rabbi said, that it is time for the UAE to have its own dedicated Jewish neighborhood, home to hotels, shopping centers, schools, a synagogue, and a community center.

“We will be seeing more houses of worship, schools − from nurseries to higher education – a dedicated place for the mikveh, a ritual bath designed for the Jewish rite of purification, more kosher food establishments, a community center,” Abadie said. “What we need is a Jewish neighborhood, and I have been speaking with a few real estate developers about this.”

Having a dedicated fully functioning neighborhood will be particularly important on Shabbat, when Orthodox Jews do not drive except in life-threatening emergencies, the rabbi said. “So we would like a neighborhood with a synagogue, private homes, condominiums, hotels, shopping centers. That is something I am looking toward and talks are ongoing,” he continued.

The AGJC is headed by its president, Bahrain’s Ebrahim Dawood Nonoo, and led by the Beirut-born Abadie.

The rabbi said, “Since the Abraham Accords and the establishment of the AGJC, we have been really able to help the Jewish communities in the Gulf and many individual Jews in other countries that don’t have a formal Jewish community with their pastoral, religious and spiritual needs.”

Elsewhere in the GCC, Abadie estimates that Saudi Arabia has about 1,000 Jews, with smaller numbers across Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, and Oman.

He predicts that every GCC country will have recognized Jewish communities in the next five years, building on the Abraham Accords peace treaties between the UAE, Bahrain, and Israel.

He said he firmly believes that Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, and Oman will follow suit and join the process of normalization with Israel, paving the way for Jews to openly practice their faith across the Gulf.

“I do hope the rest of the GCC opens up more and gives recognition to their Jewish communities, or allows their individuals to form a community,” Abadie said. “I am hoping for that and I’m positive that all the GCC will follow suit. Some countries will take longer than others, but I am sure that over the next five years all the [GCC] countries will make that change.”

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