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Historic new agreement between Israel and UAE follows on heels of last year’s establishment of Jewish Community Center in Dubai

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Rabbi Levi Duchman of the Jewish Community Center in Dubai reading from the Sefer Torah at the JCC while Naum Koen’s son Daniel receives an Aliyah in January 2020 | Photo: Rabbi Levi Duchman / JCC Dubai

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Last week, a historic agreement to formalize relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) was announced by those respective heads of states.

Following the announcement, the Jewish Council of the Emirates (JCE), an organization of Jews who live in the UAE, released a statement that read in part, “Among other things, this will allow Israelis to visit the UAE and share our daily experience of… tolerance and pluralism that typifies the UAE.”

The group’s president, Ross Kriel, said that, “I am so moved by the many messages of hope that I have received from Emirati friends of our community on hearing this news.”

Dubai’s Jewish community thrilled with agreement

The small Jewish community in Dubai—a city in the UAE known for its modern architecture, high-end shopping, and luxurious lifestyle—  praised the Arab Gulf state for accepting their culture and demonstrating religious tolerance.

Although their numbers are relatively few, a Jewish community has existed in the United Arab Emirates, and specifically in Dubai, for the past decade. Estimates of the population range from a few hundred to as many as 1,500 members, who comprise three distinct congregations—two Orthodox and one egalitarian. For the most part, Jews in the UAE lived quietly, called no attention to themselves, and maintained a low-key existence in a part of the world that’s long been ruled by Arabs sheikhs, and their royal families.

Last year though, things began to change after Rabbi Levi Duchman joined with Solly Wolf, a Jewish businessman who’d relocated from London to Dubai, to establish a new Jewish Community Center in Dubai.

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The center was established with the financial backing of Ukrainian-Jewish business leader and philanthropist, Naum Koen, and includes, among other features, a synagogue and a center for Jewish studies. Since then, the community center has provided a number of needed services to the region’s Jewish population, from religious education to delivering kosher poultry to families in need.

Koen, a gemologist by education, was in an advantageous position to provide funding. His company, the NY Koen Group, is a holding corporation that serves as an umbrella, under which a number of companies in a variety of industries operate. His business typifies the fostering of working relationships between Jews and Arabs, who can not only coexist, but also flourish together. One example was the most recent deal by Gemgow, Koen’s company, in attracting investment of His Highness Sheikh Hamad, a member of the Ruling Family in Abu Dhabi.

In recent years, Koen has been active in developing a number of projects in and around Dubai, including the world’s first portable amber palm mosque, and built at a cost of $1 million by one of his companies, Amber Palm Group, at the opulent Burj Al Arab Hotel.

When the news broke about the agreement between Jerusalem and Abu Dhabi, Koen said it was, “a tremendously important and welcome announcement. This is an event for all Jewish people to celebrate.”

Mr. Naum Koen in his office in Dubai, UAE in July 2020 | Photo: Rabbi Levi Duchman / JCC Dubai

Koen noted that, in recent years, the United Arab Emirates has been very proactive in positioning itself as a tolerant nation that accepts all religions, including the Jewish faith. In fact, he noted that last year, Khalifa bin-Zayed al-Nahyan, president of the UAE, declared 2019 “The Year of Tolerance” in his country.

Solly Wolf said that the Dubai Jewish community’s daily life was mostly under the radar until recently, but he says they’ve forged special ties with the country’s leadership and their Muslim neighbors.

Mr. Solly Wolf in his office in Dubai, UAE in June 2020 | Photo: Rabbi Levi Duchman / JCC Dubai

Wolf told YNet News that for the past five years, one of the city’s rabbis, Levi Duchman, “sees to the religious needs of the community”, including supplying challah and wine, facilitating the acquisition of kosher meat – now slaughtered locally – and bringing in matzah for Passover. 

For Koen’s part, he says he’s encouraged by the UAE’s continued acceptance of Jews, noting that “a huge interfaith compound called the Abrahamic Family House, which will include a synagogue, is scheduled to take open in Abu Dhabi in 2022.”

He believes that the ongoing positive relationship that is being advanced by the UAE and Israel will result in increased collegiality between Arabs and Jews.

Chani Jos is excited to be a regular contributor to TheJ.ca, and has a lot to say about all things Jewish. She owns an electric scooter, a turtle, and wants everyone to know she just cancelled her Rogers account

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Thank you for choosing TheJ.Ca as your source for Canadian Jewish News.

We do news differently!

Our positioning as a Zionist News Media platform sets us apart from the rest. While other Canadian Jewish media are advocating increasingly biased progressive political and social agendas, TheJ.Ca is providing more and more readers with a welcome alternative and an ideological home.

We revealed the incursion of anti-Israel progressive elements such as IfNotNow into our communities. We have exposed the distorted hateful agenda of the “progressive” left political radicals who brought Linda Sarsour to our cities, and we were first to report on many disturbing incidents of Nazi-based hate towards Jews across Canada.

But we can’t do it alone. We need your HELP!

Our ability to thrive and grow in 2020 and beyond depends on the generosity of committed readers and supporters like you.

Monthly support is a great way to help us sustain our operations. We greatly appreciate any contributions you can make to support Jewish Journalism.

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