In the wake of the 2020 Abraham Accords and, more recently, the flight of Jewish refugees from Ukraine, the United Arab Emirates has become home to a fast-growing Jewish community. But as Isabel Debre reports, the country’s convoluted rules regarding non-Muslim religious institutions have presented unexpected challenges.
Every Saturday, in secluded beach villas, hotel banquet halls, and luxury apartment towers across Dubai, Jews arrive to worship at some of the world’s most hidden synagogues even as the United Arab Emirates encourages the dramatic growth and openness of its Jewish community.
Plans to build a permanent sanctuary for Dubai’s fast-expanding congregation have sputtered to a standstill, Jewish leaders say. The new community is running up against hurdles that religious groups long have grappled with in this federation, where the state’s official religion of Islam is closely monitored, non-Muslim practice is controlled, and religious buildings are limited.
A Jewish nursery has sprung up. So has a mikveh, or ritual bath for women. New kosher restaurants do brisk business. Recent Passover seders drew thousands. But without a home base, some Jewish leaders fear a state of perpetual limbo.
“You cannot grow a community in a hotel,” said Elie Abadie, senior rabbi of the Jewish Council of the Emirates. “It gives the feeling of instability, of not belonging.”