The small Muslim monarchy of Bahrain hosted a ceremony to celebrate the first night of Hanukkah, and the resulting video of kaffiyeh-wearing sheikhs dancing with Orthodox Jews to Hasidic music has been going viral on Facebook.
On Saturday night, the kingdom, ruled by King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, held a candle-lighting ceremony in which Jews, businesspeople and other Bahraini people took part.
Bahrain, a group of islands in Persian gulf with a population of 1.4 million, is the only Arab gulf state that has a synagogue. The country had a Jewish population of some 1,500 Jews in 1948. However, after the declaration of the State of Israel many left, and almost all those who remained followed suit after 1967’s Six Day War. Today there are less than 50 Jews in the country.
The kingdom is also unique in that its ambassador to the US from 2008-2010 was Houda Nonoo, a Jewish woman who had formerly served in the nation’s parliament.
Last year was the first time that the king of Bahrain marked Hanukkah. He invited Conference of European Rabbis Director Rabbi Moshe Levin, who recited the traditional blessings while lighting the candles, and sang a verse of “Ma’oz Tzur,” the traditional Hanukkah hymn. Some 50 Jews were present for the ceremony.
At that time the king welcomed his guests, saying that “the call to war against terror needs to come from the leaders of all the religions as one. Here in Bahrain members of all the religions live with no fear, and we will continue to allow Jews to live peacefully and quietly, maintaining their lifestyle, their customs and the commandments of their religion without any fear.”