This Pesach we’ll celebrate the rebirth and renewal of Jewish life in the Gulf

Published: March 18, 2021

By Houda Nonoo and Alex Peterfreund

Since we established a network that serves Jews in the region, we’ve discovered many more Jews living here than we previously thought

Millions of Jewish families around the world will soon gather for Passover seders and discuss the themes of the holiday. We will tell our children the story of the exodus from Egypt, encourage them to ask the Four Questions, drink the four cups, and more. For those of us in the Gulf, the themes of rebirth and renewal that are peppered throughout the seders will have a special meaning as we are seeing the rebirth and renewal of Jewish life in the Gulf.

This year, more than 1,000 Jews from the six Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries – Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates – will celebrate Pesach. The newly established Association of Gulf Jewish Communities (AGJC) has been working for the past month to arrange for matzah and kosher-for-Pesach food to be delivered throughout the GCC. In years past, we had a bare-bones selection of Pesach food. However, in light of the resurgence of Jewish life here and with the numbers of Jews living and visiting reaching an all-time high, we now have enough demand to bring in even more products. This was part of the vision when we created the AGJC – our hope was to pool and share resources for the betterment of all Jews in the region and we are now seeing that vision become a reality.

Much of this new reality is due to the creation of the AGJC in February, which helped to create a network of Jewish communities and individuals living in the GCC and showed that there are many more Jews living here than previously thought. The response has been more than we could have anticipated. The week after the announcement of the Association, we held our first event – a virtual Purim celebration. More than 1,100 people joined us. Since then, dozens of Jews in the region have reached out asking to join the AGJC and together, we are developing a framework for what Jewish life here can become.

There has been a great deal of interest in the new Beth Din of Arabia, which is in the process of being established to assist with Halachic issues pertaining to personal status, inheritance, and voluntary business dispute resolutions in the region. There have also been a number of inquiries about the Arabian Kosher Certification Agency that is in the process of being created to oversee kashrut (kosher certification) regionally using the same set of standards throughout all six Gulf countries, thereby making it easier for Jewish individuals to live in or travel around the region. All of these developments would not be possible without the rebirth and renewal of Jewish life in the GCC.

For those of us in Bahrain, our community dates back 140 years to the late 1880s and it is very exciting to see Jewish life grow and flourish in our neighboring GCC countries. For those of us in the UAE, we are proud to be the largest Jewish community in the Gulf and to be able to share resources – such as kosher food – with the Jewish communities in our neighboring countries.

This year, as we sit around the table for the Seders and discuss the themes and symbolism tied to rebirth and renewal, we will do so thinking about all of the new possibilities for the rebirth of Jewish life in the Gulf. We are looking forward to celebrating Pesach together as the broader Jewish community in the region.

We hope to welcome you all to our Seder tables next year.

The post is co-authored by Alex Peterfreund, a founding member of the Jewish Community of the Emirates and AGJC board member.

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Houda Nonoo served as Bahrain’s ambassador to the United States from 2008-2013. She is the first Jew to be appointed an ambassador of Bahrain.

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