Gulf’s Jewish communities are building for future generations

Published: January 1, 2022

By Ebrahim D. Nonoo

Jews have been living in Gulf Cooperation Council countries for more than a century. My own family moved to Bahrain from Iraq in the 1880s in search of a better life. Since then, the Jewish community has been part of the fabric of Bahraini society.

Over the past few years, we have seen Jewish life in the region growing, and it looks like it will continue to do so in 2022. It is important for us to build additional infrastructure in the first half of the year.

Last February, the Jewish communities of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE came together to form the Association of Gulf Jewish Communities with the aim of sharing resources.

Since then, we have celebrated the Jewish festivals together, and Jewish people in countries with smaller communities, such as Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, have reached out, asking for matzah for Passover, or to join us in Dubai for Yom Kippur. Some Jewish people in these countries learned that there was a larger Jewish community in the region of which they could be part — whether through in-person events or via Zoom.

While each of our communities remains independent, we share a common goal and desire for Jewish life in the GCC to flourish for the benefit of both residents and visitors. As we look toward 2022, there is an additional need to create more Jewish infrastructure to support those moving to the GCC and our expected visitors.

While most move to the UAE, Jewish people are moving to the other five countries as well. Additionally, thousands of Israeli tourists plan to visit Bahrain and the UAE. In 2022, there will also be an increase in American Jewish tourism throughout the entire GCC. A further sign of growth is that since the October launch of the first Jewish dating website in the region, Jewish Singles in the Gulf, more than 200 people have signed up. These individuals either live in the GCC or are interested in finding a spouse who would like to move with them to the GCC.

In order to support the growing regional Jewish community, we need kosher food and certification. In the first quarter of 2022, we will launch the Arabian Kosher Certification Agency, and already dozens of hotels and restaurants throughout the GCC have expressed an interest in being certified so that they can open their doors to the Jewish community.

Of course, halal food is widely available in the Gulf, but while there are similarities, there are also differences. Both diets have specific rules regarding the slaughtering of animals, and both also restrict certain types of meat. Halal food must not contain alcohol or blood, while kosher diets limit specific food pairings.

The Gulf nations have been highly supportive of the growth in Jewish life, but as more people move in and come to visit, we must establish programs and institutions to cater for their educational, cultural, spiritual and religious needs.

As more families move in, we will need to establish schools for our children to teach them about our faith and culture. Additionally, we need additional places to pray. Currently, there is only one operational synagogue in the GCC — the House of Ten Commandments in Bahrain.

However, in 2022, more will open in the region. In August, we celebrated the first bar mitzvah in 16 years here in Bahrain. But as Jewish life grows, there will be more children born and more bar and bat mitzvahs taking place. As a result, we will need more synagogues and Jewish education.

Early in 2022, the first Jewish court will open in the GCC. The Beth Din of Arabia will assist with issues pertaining to personal status, inheritance and voluntary business dispute resolutions in the region.

The coming year will be one of growth for Jewish communities in the GCC. In many ways, it will be a year in which we establish deeper foundations in regard to Jewish education, food, and cultural activities to support generations to come.

Ebrahim D. Nonoo is president of the Association of Gulf Jewish Communities. Twitter: @gulfjewish