150,000 to 300,000 Jewish visitors expected per year

Gefilte in the Gulf? Abu Dhabi tells all its hotels to offer kosher food

Anticipating influx of Jewish tourists, city instructs its many hotels to offer kosher items on all menus and bars, ‘designate an area in all kitchens for Kosher food preparation’

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Kosher food, prepared by Baker and Spice, that was served to a delegation of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations visiting Abu Dhabi in February 2018. It was certified as kosher by the South African UOS (courtesy)
Kosher food, prepared by Baker and Spice, that was served to a delegation of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations visiting Abu Dhabi in February 2018. It was certified as kosher by the South African UOS (courtesy)

Apparently anticipating hordes of Jewish tourists in the aftermath of the upcoming signing of a peace treaty between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, local authorities in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday instructed all hotels in the city to prepare kosher food options.

In a written message sent to the managers of all hotels in the Emirati capital, its Department of Culture and Tourism cites is commitment to serve “all visitors and tourists in the emirate of Abu Dhabi.” Therefore, “all hotel establishments are advised to include Kosher food options on room service menus and at all food and beverage outlets in their establishments.”

All hotels are asked to “seek Kosher certification for handling kosher meals;” to “designate an area in all kitchens for Kosher food preparation;” and to “label Kosher menu items with a clear and visible label/reference with a recognisable symbol that denotes ‘Kosher,’ as per acquired certification.” The city has about 160 hotels and apartment hotels.

The president of the Jewish Council of the Emirates, Ross Kriel, welcomed the news as a “wonderful expression of welcome and hospitality” by Abu Dhabi.

View of Abu Dhabi Skyline at sunset, United Arab Emirates (vwalakte; iStock by Getty Images)

“This will benefit Jewish visitors as well as local residents who follow a kosher diet. As a long-time kosher resident of the UAE, this moment is reflective of the many ways in which our lives in the UAE are being transformed in the days since the Abraham Accord was announced.”

The peace treaty — named for the Biblical patriarch revered by Jews and Muslims alike — will be signed at a White House ceremony on September 15 attended by US President Donald Trump, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and UAE Foreign Ministry Abdullah bin Zayed.

“In the days since the Abraham Accord was announced on August 13, tour operators have already begun to arrange tours to the UAE especially for next year, including Passover,” Kriel told The Times of Israel.

Chef Alex, Ross Kriel and Elli Kriel, ahead of a dinner for Israeli journalists in Abu Dhabi, August 31, 2020 (courtesy)

“It is expected that annual numbers could be in the range of 150,000 to 300,000 visitors. We as the Jewish Council of the Emirates look foreword to welcoming Israelis and visitors from the Jewish Diaspora. The UAE is a wonderful destination and is quickly equipping itself to receive Jewish visitors.”

His wife, Elli Kriel, who owns the UAE’s first kosher catering business, hailed Abu Dhabi’s decision as well.

“The UAE is already known for its excellent service and standards for food production and this will ensure that it is extended to kosher travelers,” she said.

Elli’s Kosher Kitchen, her Dubai-based business, was responsible for food served to Israeli journalists and some members of a joint US-Israel delegation to Abu Dhabi last week.

“The announcement from Abu Dhabi demonstrates their commitment to building and growing Jewish life,” said Rabbi Marc Schneier of New York, who has close ties to several Gulf states and has been involved in efforts to provide kosher food to Jewish tourists in the region. “By instructing hotels to provide kosher food, they are opening their doors to Jewish travelers from around the world.”

Dubai-based Rabbi Levi Duchman, who is affiliated with the Chabad-Lubavitch movement, has for several months been bringing kosher food, including meat products, to the UAE for members of his community and Jewish visitors.

Also on Tuesday, the US-based Orthodox Union, or OU, announced that it will be the leading kosher certification agency in the UAE. The Emirati government requested that the OU take up the position after the organization supervised the kosher food served to the delegation to Abu Dhabi last week.

OU Kosher, which the group says is the world’s largest kosher certification body, will oversee the implementation of the dietary regulations in partnership with the UAE’s local Jewish community, the group said in a statement.

A sign seen at the St. Regis hotel where the Israeli delegation to Abu Dhabi was staying, September 1, 2020 (Raphael Ahren/TOI)

It will be responsible for kosher food at hotels in the UAE, and at events, including Expo 2020, a major international exhibition that will be held in Dubai starting in October 2021.

“As the Jewish community in the United Arab Emirates continues to grow and due to the influx of Jewish tourists, there is a need for kosher food and a certification that is internationally known,” said OU Kosher CEO Rabbi Menachem Genack. “We thank the UAE government for reaching out to us to provide this service and are looking forward to partnering with the local Jewish community to provide kosher food and certification.”

Rabbi Yissachar Krakowski of OU Kosher flew from Israel to the UAE to facilitate all of the kosher food approval for the Israeli delegation last week.

Krakowski has experience with kosher catering in the Gulf, having organized kosher meals for the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations when they visited the UAE and Saudi Arabia.

US Jewish leaders enjoying kosher food, during a trip to Abu Dhabi in February 2018. It was certified as kosher by the South African UOS (courtesy)

The group is one of the leading Orthodox Jewish organizations in the US and says that its kosher certification agency verifies over 1 million ingredients in over 100 countries.

Estimates of how many Jews currently live in the Emirates range from the low hundreds to 1,500. There are three congregations — two Orthodox and one egalitarian. The vast majority of Jews in the UAE live in Dubai.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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