Gulf Jewry experiences renaissance after Abraham Accords
December 08, 2022
As Jewish communities thrive in friendly Gulf states, some believe the accords may go on to usher in a golden era for Jews in the Arab world at large
The Abraham Accords brought about a renaissance for Jewish communities in the Arabian Gulf states. They're coming out of the shadows, unafraid to be observant in public. Their situation is improving and brings a gust of hope for coexistence to other places as well.
According to estimates, somewhere between around 10,000-15,000 Jews live in Six gulf states: The United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Oman, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Qatar.
UAE Rabbi Levi Duchman says that ever since the Abraham Accords were signed, many Israeli businessmen and tourists began arriving, often in the hundreds. No less than 20 Orthodox Jewish weddings were ordained by Duchman in the past two years.
He himself recently married his wife Leah Hadad with 1,500 people in attendance — Abu Dhabi's biggest Jewish wedding to date.
Hundreds of Jewish students have signed up for various educational programs (revolving around Talmudic law, mostly) in the Gulf states, and eight Kosher restaurants are up and running, one of which is located in the world's tallest building — Burj Khalifa.
U.S.-born Rabbi Duchman started his journey in the Gulf eight years ago and has since established various Jewish institutions and communities, including a governmental Kosher agency, religious educational systems and community centers. Even a Kosher fountain with ice water flown in from Iceland in a logistically complex operation.
"We are helping to build a large synagogue called Beit Avraham, operating alongside a mosque and a church. We've built good infrastructure," he says
According to Duchman, most Jews arrive from Israel, the U.S., Argentina, South Africa, France and England. "There's Kosher food, good education, places to pray, Kosher restaurants. Even a Jewish cemetery."
While most of the Gulf's Jews live in Dubai, Rabbi Duchman believes the focus will shift to Abu Dhabi within five years. "The Abraham Accords made it so Jews feel safer here than they do in the U.S. or Europe."
Israeli Ambassador to the UAE Amir Hayek says nearly half a million Israelis have visited the country since the U.S.-brokered peace treaty was signed in September 2020.
Rabbi Duchman says the accords have helped reduce Islamophobia by teaching Israel and the West about Arabs and Islam. "Arabs now feel safer walking around in America and Europe. It's incredible. What Sheikh Mohamed Bin-Zayed, the President of the UAE, did broke a decades-old stalemate."
In May 2022, right after the passing of former president Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the current president invited Duchman to the Presidential Palace to pay his respects on the behalf of the Jewish community.
Among other innovations, the Jewish community has even started a dating website geared towards Jews in the Gulf, which led to the first Jewish wedding in Bahrain in 52 years, complete with an all-Kosher menu. The first rabbinical tribunal has also been established.
And while small, at least for now, the Jewish community in Bahrain enjoys a warm and supportive environment from the locals.
Chabbad emissary in Turkey Rabbi Mendy Chitrik says the accords have brought about different thinking patterns with regard to Jewish-Muslim interactions, probably more than any diplomatic relations.
Another Abraham Accords signee is Morocco, where Jewish communities have lived for many generations. "The Jewish Moroccan community is ancient," says Rabbi Chitrik. "An influx of Jewish tourists has brought about the opening of more Kosher hotels and restaurants, which strengthens the Jewish Moroccan legacy.
Turkey acknowledged Israel in 1949. The relations between the two countries have fluctuated with time but they're currently on the rise. In Lebanon, Syria and Lybia things are far more strained and only a few Jews still reside there."
Chitrik says he believes the Abraham Accords will usher in a golden era for Jews in the Arab world.
"Things are looking up," he says.