The Promises and Pitfalls of Jewish Life in Dubai

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.”

Subscribe to Mosaic

Welcome to Mosaic

Subscribe now to get unlimited access to the best of Jewish thought and culture

Subscribe

Subscribe to Mosaic

Welcome to Mosaic

Subscribe now to get unlimited access to the best of Jewish thought and culture

Subscribe

Read more at Associated Press

More about: Jewish-Muslim Relations, Synagogues, United Arab Emirates

 

Gaza’s Quiet Dissenters

Last year, the Dubai-based television channel Al-Arabiya, the Times of Israel, and several other media organizations worked together to conduct numerous interviews with residents of the Gaza Strip, taking great pains to protect their identities. The result is a video series titled Whispers in Gaza, which presents a picture of life under Hamas’s tyranny unlike anything that can be found in the press. Jeff Jacoby writes:

Through official intimidation or social pressure, Gazans may face intense pressure to show support for Hamas and its murderous policies. So when Hamas organizes gaudy street revels to celebrate a terrorist attack—like the fireworks and sweets it arranged after a gunman murdered seven Israelis outside a Jerusalem synagogue Friday night—it can be a challenge to remember that there are many Palestinians who don’t rejoice at the murder of innocent Jews.

In one [interview], “Fatima” describes the persecution endured by her brother, a humble vegetable seller, after he refused to pay protection money to Hamas. The police arrested him on a trumped-up drug charge and locked him in prison. “They beat him repeatedly to make him confess to things he had nothing to do with,” she says. Then they threatened to kill him. Eventually he fled the country, leaving behind a family devastated by his absence.

For those of us who detest Hamas no less than for those who defend it, it is powerful to hear the voices of Palestinians like “Layla,” who is sickened by the constant exaltation of war and “resistance” in the Palestinian media. “If you’re a Gazan citizen who opposes war and says, ‘I don’t want war,’ you’re branded a traitor,” she tells her interviewer. “It’s forbidden to say you don’t want war.” So people keep quiet, she explains, for fear of being tarred as disloyal.

Subscribe to Mosaic

Welcome to Mosaic

Subscribe now to get unlimited access to the best of Jewish thought and culture

Subscribe

Subscribe to Mosaic

Welcome to Mosaic

Subscribe now to get unlimited access to the best of Jewish thought and culture

Subscribe

Read more at Boston Globe

More about: Gaza Strip, Hamas, Palestinian dissidents, Palestinian public opinion