Communities of Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Oman, Kuwait and Qatar come together for the inaugural joint celebration of one of the most joyous days in the calendar
Jews and Arabs across the Gulf this week celebrated Purim together for the first time in a digital meet-up attended by senior figures.
The virtual event was hosted by the Association of Gulf Jewish Communities (AGJC), a new umbrella group for Jewish communities in Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries that includes a Beth Din and a kosher certification agency.
Participating were representatives of Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Oman, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), with the keynote speaker H.E. Dr Sheikh Khalid bin Khalifa Al Khalifa, chairman of the Board of Trustees of the King Hamad Global Centre for Peaceful Co-existence.
In the 1980s, Sheikh Khalid studied economic history at the University of Essex and is currently a member of the International Academic Affairs Committee at the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies.
Appointed by the king to the Bahraini Shura Council (Upper House), he later serving as head of the Foreign Affairs, Defence and National Security Committee, and spoke to AJGC president Ebrahim Dawood Nonoo at the event.
The Megillah was read by Rabbi Dr Elie Abadie, with a presentation by calligraphy artist Thoufeek Zakriya, as Jews living in the region experienced their first organised communal Jewish festival.
It comes after Israel, Bahrain, and the UAE signed historic normalisation agreements last year. Ever since, the mood has been very different, and other Gulf states are expected to follow suit.
The agreements, dubbed the Abraham Accords, led to an influx of 130,000 Israeli tourists, who mainly headed to Dubai, with large public Chanukah events in December symbolising a giant shift in the region’s mentality.
Abadie, who is based in Dubai, said: “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.”
Sheikh Khalid said it was “high time” that Jews in the region had an organisation to represent them and recalled with pride how Jewish Bahrainis were first elected to political positions almost 100 years ago, following a law passed in 1920.
He said this was his first ever celebration of Purim, adding that the festival “reminds us that evil cannot last forever, that there is a saviour, that there is an end… Even when you talk about the Holocaust, it is important to learn that evil will end”.
Sheikh Khalid added that is was imperative that adherents of all religions “work together to eliminate hatred” and that efforts to rid the world of antisemitism “should be a cornerstone we get together around”.