ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates — National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat joined a quickly organized morning prayer service Tuesday morning at the hotel of the Israeli delegation to Abu Dhabi.
The rare minyan was completed by a group of Jews living in Dubai who had come to the Emirati capital especially for the historic visit of a joint US-Israel delegation to the UAE, here to lay the groundwork for a normalization treaty with Israel.
Members of Dubai’s two rival Orthodox communities — one affiliated with the Hasidic Chabad Lubavitch movement and one that’s Modern Orthodox — joined the service in a rare show of unity.
Although the Torah is not read on Tuesdays, members of the two communities had brought two scrolls with them to Abu Dhabi. After the service, Ben-Shabbat briefly opened one of the scrolls and recited a brief passage from the weekly portion that talks about peace.
With Rosh Hashanah a little over two weeks away, Rabbi Levi Duchman, who is affiliated with Chabad, blew the shofar. He also recited a special prayer, in Hebrew, for the welfare of the UAE, its leaders and armed forces. He handed a copy of the prayer in a velvet cover to Ben-Shabbat as a present to take home to Israel.
Ben-Shabbat, who is Orthodox, chanted a short part of the selichot, a special penitentiary prayer Jews recite before Rosh Hashanah.
“We’ve waited for you for a long time,” Ross Kriel, the president of the Jewish Council of the Emirates — the Modern Orthodox community — told Ben-Shabbat, congratulating him on the normalization of ties between Israel and the UAE.
Kriel stated that “in previous years our members have been informal ambassadors of the Jewish People through hundreds of acts of friendship, courage and loyalty to their Jewish identity.
“At this moment, and always, we feel proud to be Jews of the UAE. We wish the delegations success in their work and give thanks for the decisive and visionary leadership of the UAE’s leaders that has allowed for friendship with Israel.”
In recent years, the UAE has made great efforts to show itself as a tolerant country welcoming to all religions, including Judaism. President Khalifa bin-Zayed al-Nahyan declared 2019 to be the “The Year of Tolerance” in the UAE. In this context, the country announced the building of a massive interfaith compound in Abu Dhabi that will also include a synagogue. The so-called Abrahamic Family House is slated to open in 2022.
A Jewish community has been operating in Dubai for a decade, initially with tacit support but more recently with overt backing from the local authorities, and is currently in the process of officially becoming a licensed religious community.
Estimates of how many Jews currently live in the UAE range from the low hundreds to 1,500.