The organization will include Jews and Jewish communities from the UAE, Bahrain, Oman, Qatar, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, according to a statement Sunday morning.
As Jewish life has become more public in Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, Jews from across the Gulf countries are forming the Association of Gulf Jewish Communities. The new organization, the first of its kind, will include Jews and Jewish communities from the UAE, Bahrain, Oman, Qatar, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, according to a statement Sunday morning.
“During the pandemic, many of us started attending the Jewish Council of the Emirates’ pre-Shabbat Zooms where we met each other. That ultimately became the genesis for the creation of the Association of Gulf Jewish Communities because as we got to know one another on the call, we realized that there were certain resources we could share,” said Ambassador Houda Nonoo from Bahrain. Nonoo previously served as Ambassador to the US.
“Today, the Jewish communities of Bahrain and the Emirates are the largest in the region and we can assist the Jews in the other GCC countries in getting matzah for Pesach, yahrtzeit candles, siddurim and chumashim etc. Our hope is that this people-to-people network will create more opportunities for Jewish life in the region. We are all here to support one another,” she says. “For us in Bahrain, this marks an important milestone as we will now have access to a Rabbi who can come to Bahrain to officiate Jewish lifecycle events. I have known Rabbi Dr. Abadie for more than a decade as I had the honor of spending some high holidays with his synagogue during my time as Bahrain’s Ambassador to the United States and am very excited about this opportunity for our local community.”
The AGJC is intended to be a network of communities that will enable people-to-people contacts across the Gulf Cooperation Council countries. “While each community is independent, they share a common goal and vision: for Jewish life in the GCC to flourish for the benefit of both residents and visitors,” a statement said.” Under the spiritual leadership of Rabbi Dr. Elie Abadie, based in Dubai, and president Ebrahim Dawood Nonoo, based in Bahrain, the group is partnering on different communal programs and services so that their resources will enhance each other. The Association’s board consists of members from all six Gulf countries who together will forge the path forward for growing Jewish life in the Gulf.”
The group will include a Beth Din of Arabia (Jewish Court) that is in the process of being established to assist with issues pertaining to personal status, inheritance, and voluntary business dispute resolutions in the region. There will also be an Arabian Kosher Certification Agency. “The Gulf nations have been very supportive of the growth in Jewish life but as more people move in and come to visit, we must tend to their educational, cultural, spiritual, and religious needs by establishing programs and institutions to service these increased needs,” said Rabbi Abadie.
In Oman one of the community’s members, who asked we use his initials “M.K,” described how important it was to be able to reach out to other Jews. He has worked in the region since the 1970s in several of the Gulf countries. He has been in Oman for the past ten years investing in aquaculture and hydroponics “In a way I guess it couldn’t have happened until this time when we have so many ways of communication available to us that didn’t exist previously,” he says. “We all believe that we need the connectedness that binds us not only as Jewish people of many varied backgrounds from all over the world but as people with a common faith. Over the years a few people in the Middle East that I have associated with have known of my Jewish heritage and many have not,” says M.K. He has been part of Jewish communities where the communal associations could be more public, such as in Asia and Australia.
“There have been Jews living and working in the Middle East for a very long time, however communication has not been easy,” says M.K. “To be able to make connections with our friends and families as well as our religious affiliations is important for everyone. Before we lived in an era with TELEX and long distance calls and now we can be on Zoom or Skype in an instant. As Jewish people, no matter where we are living, we are all still Jews and we crave to have some connection to our friends and families. Living in the Middle East, a lot of people are afraid [to express their Judaism],” he says.
He says that many people are sympathetic to Jews and that even in cases where people are not it is usually past biases that are to blame. “By living with our shared values and showing by example empathy and tolerance in this part of the world, I believe people will respond more positively,” says M.K. He praises Oman as a country of tolerance where there is little crime and interactions with locals are positive. In Bahrain there is a historic Jewish community dating back to the 19th century. In the UAE there are many more Jews and some 130,000 Israelis have recently visited since the Abraham Accords were signed. Oman is only a short drive from the UAE.
M.K says that “we want to be able to connect with Jewish people all over the Gulf, and be able to provide what they may need, such as advice or religious assistance or to daven [pray] together or whatever it may be. That is our intention and some of us who have been here a long time, to also give a short course on etiquette on how to live successfully in this part of the world: The do’s and don’ts.” He says that while there used to be around 40 Jews in Oman that he knows of, there are now only 19. Few Jews openly identify in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. Qatar, which has had more amicable relations with Jewish leaders in the past is also different than the other Gulf states.
M.K says the new Association of Gulf Jewish Communities will be a link that offers assistance and help and provides a sense of community. “I believe this type of connection is universal with Jewish people all over the world, we want to make that connection, whether it is with the rabbi or other Jews just living or getting together for a meal or a minyan or a celebration. People can come and visit, join us if they want to come to Oman for instance, and there can be a connection. It’s a connection for anyone living and working short term or long term in the GCC or just visiting here.” The association says people can find more information at www.gulfjewish.org.
In recent months the profile of Rabbi Abadie, and Rabbi Yehuda Sarna in the UAE has grown as more became aware of the needs of Jews in the Emirates. Kosher catering by chef Elli Kriel has also become an important part of the community in the UAE. Alex Peterfreund, a co-founder of the Jewish Community of the Emirates is expected to play a key role in the new AGJC, along with Ambassador Nonoo, Adabie and M.K in Oman.
There are also other institutions in Dubai, such as Rabbi Levi Duchman’s Jewish Community Center of the UAE.