This Rosh Hashana, we focus on the growth of Jewish life in the GCC

Published: August 24, 2021

By Houda Nonoo and Alex Peterfreund

Thanks to the creation of the Association of Gulf Jewish Communities, more than 1,000 Jews from 6 countries will celebrate the new year together 

Millions of Jewish families around the world will soon gather for Rosh Hashana. Tying in with the theme of the holiday, we teach our children from a young age about the importance of dipping apples into honey for a sweet New Year. The apple, reminiscent of the fruit of the Garden of Eden, reminds us of the creation theme that infuses Rosh Hashanah. The honey, a source of sweetness, represents our wishes for the coming year. Honey is also symbolic of the potential sweetness and strength found within community. This message is especially meaningful to those of us in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries.

Jewish life in the Gulf has grown dramatically over the last decade. Many have come here for business reasons and stayed because of the wonderful lifestyle. While you may have heard of – and visited – the Jewish communities in Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, you may be surprised to hear that there are Jewish families and individuals living in other Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries.

This year, more than 1,000 Jews from the six GCC countries – Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates – will celebrate Rosh Hashanah. While we have celebrated individually in the past, this will be the first time that the Jewish communities in all six countries will celebrate it together as a result of the creation of the Association of Gulf Jewish Communities (AGJC) earlier this year, 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. We have hosted virtual Purim, Pesach, Yom HaShoah, Lag B’Omer, Tisha B’Av and Selichot programs, as well as in-person Shabbat dinners in Dubai and Bahrain.

Under the spiritual leadership of Rabbi Dr. Elie Abadie, based in Dubai, and president Ebrahim Dawood Nonoo, based in Bahrain, along with our fellow board members consisting of representatives from all six Gulf countries, we are constantly evaluating the needs of the Jewish communities in each country and how we collectively can support them. While the Jewish communities in the Gulf vary in size from just a couple of Jews to larger and more established Jewish communities, each has much to offer the other and our hope is that we can harness our expertise and resources for the betterment of Jewish life in the region.

Thousands have joined us for programs during these last seven months, and as we look toward next year, we anticipate doubling the number of programs and hosting more in-person Shabbat dinners throughout the GCC.

In addition to the plethora of programming we have planned for the coming year, we also have many Jewish lifecycle events scheduled to take place in our community next year, including the official Chanukat Habayit for The House of Ten Commandments in Bahrain, weddings, Bar/Bat Mitzvahs and God willing a few Brit Milahs as well.

We also have many new Jewish families moving into the GCC due to a combination of factors: the region offers a great lifestyle and is a wonderful place to raise a Jewish family. Additionally, as antisemitism rises in the West, it isn’t an issue for us here in the Gulf.

This Rosh Hashana, we focus on how much Jewish life in the GCC has grown in the region over the last year and we also look forward to all of the opportunity it holds for the upcoming year. As we each dip a piece of apple into the honey bowl, it is symbolic of ourselves as individuals immersed within the community and all the positive aspects it encompasses. We pray for the end of the pandemic so that Jewish life will continue to flourish at a much faster pace once more people are able to travel to the GCC.

On behalf of the Association of Gulf Jewish Communities and the Jewish communities of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, we wish you a Shana Tova U’Metukah – a sweet year filled with good health and happiness.

This article was co-authored by Alex Peterfreund, co-founder of the Jewish Community of the Emirates