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In UAE and Israel, Hanukkah and a National Day are a time to celebrate together

‘Hanukkah in the UAE was eight days of miracles,’ says local rabbi as joint events in both countries are latest sign of growing ties since signing of Abraham Accords in 2020

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

An Emirati embraces Rabbi Elie Abadie,  Senior Rabbi of the Jewish Council of the Emirates, November 29, 2021 (Sharaka)
An Emirati embraces Rabbi Elie Abadie, Senior Rabbi of the Jewish Council of the Emirates, November 29, 2021 (Sharaka)

The first Hanukkah, and the first UAE National Day since the United Arab Emirates and Israel opened their respective embassies saw Israelis and Emiratis celebrating the holidays together in both countries.

“Hanukkah in the UAE was eight days of miracles,” Rabbi Elie Abadie, Senior Rabbi of the Jewish Council of the Emirates, told the Times of Israel on Monday. “As the Jewish community celebrated each night in a different place with pride of being Jewish and living in the UAE. We were joined by many Emiratis that came to celebrate with us.”

On November 28, the first night of Hanukkah, Rabbi Levi Duchman, head of the UAE Jewish Community Center, lit candles at Israel’s Expo Dubai 2020 pavilion, along with consul Ilan Sztulman and Elazar Cohen, commissioner of Israel’s expo pavilion. Students from Duchman’s local Hebrew school joined him as well.

The next night, dozens of Emiratis joined Abadie, Duchman, the local Jewish community and Jewish tourists from Israel, the US, and elsewhere to light the hanukkiah and to mark the UAE’s 50th National Day in Dubai.

The event, at which a moment of silence for fallen UAE soldiers was observed, was organized by Sharaka, an NGO founded in the wake of the 2020 Abraham Accords to promote people-to-people relations between Israel and its new Arab partners.

“From the land of peace and coexistence, the UAE, we wish all the Jews around the world a happy Hanukkah. Hannukah is about light and hope, and we wish for a better future for all the nations around the world in harmony and peace,” said Sharaka UAE CEO Majid Al Sarrah.

On the third night of Hanukkah, November 30, the teachers and students of Mini Miracles Jewish Nursery joined Duchman for candle lighting.

UAE’s National Day is celebrated on December 2 and 3, and marks the federal unification of the country in 1971. It is preceded by the UAE Memorial Day.

There were joint celebrations in Israel too.

On the fourth night of Hanukkah, Sumaiiah AlMeheiri, the first female UAE student to study in Israel, joined dozens of Israelis in Herzliya to celebrate the holiday and UAE’s National Day. The event was organized by Sharaka along with SAWA, the Gulf Israel Student Initiative of Reichman University.

On December 2 in Israel, Tel Aviv lit up city hall with the UAE flag and the number 50 in the middle to mark UAE’s 50th anniversary.

“It is incredibly heartwarming to see how our Jewish community in the Emirates keeps growing,” Duchman told the Times of Israel. “We continue to work tirelessly to allow all Jews to live a Jewish life here in the UAE. We enjoy the co-existence and tolerance, and enable all Jews living and visiting here to celebrate, pray, enjoy a Kosher Shabbat meal, and practice their tradition.”

“The synagogues and Beit Tefilahs, kindergartens and schools we have established here allow our Jewish Abu Dhabi and Dubai communities to further thrive and we are ever grateful to the UAE government for this unique and most appreciated cooperation,” he said.

The UAE has made a conspicuous effort to show that the country is safe for Jews and supportive of attempts to build local communal infrastructure. The government is building a synagogue in Abu Dhabi next to a church and mosque, and weddings performed by rabbis are automatically registered by UAE authorities as valid civil marriages.

Sumaiiah AlMeheiri, the first female UAE student to study in Israel, celebrates Hanukkah and UAE National Day in Herzliya, December 1, 2021 (Sharaka)

Days ahead of the signing of the peace treaty between Israel and the UAE, local authorities in Abu Dhabi instructed all hotels in the city to prepare kosher food options.

The Abraham Accords have been credited with encouraging the emergence of Jewish life in the UAE, which used to operate largely beneath the radar. Since the accords were signed in August 2020, tens of thousands of Israeli tourists have visited Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

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