In first, Pittsburgh Federation visits UAE Jewish community

The leadership of the UAE has operated on a simple, overused axiom: if you build it, they will come.

The saying has held true for many government expansion efforts, including a palm-shaped island, the tallest building in the world, an indoor ski resort in a desert country and, since the Abraham Accords , a revived Jewish community.

Following the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh’s mega mission to Israel, a group of approximately 20 mission participants traveled June 22-26 from Jerusalem to the United Arab Emirates.

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“We wanted to go to the United Arab Emirates to connect with the growing and thriving Jewish community in Dubai,” said Brian Eglash, senior vice president and director of development for the Federation. “It was fascinating to go to an Arab or Muslim country and see a growing and thriving Jewish community.”

Officially, there are between 2,500 and 3,000 people who identify as Jews in the United Arab Emirates, but there could be thousands more who do not admit to being Jewish. In fact, Jews have been living in the area for a long time, but many have only begun to feel comfortable identifying as such since the Abraham Accords and the easing of relations with Israel.

Despite the tension, the community grows and creates infrastructure.

Eglash said the Federation group visited a Jewish preschool run by Chabad.

“We connected with three different congregations while we were there,” Federation President and CEO Jeff Finkelstein said, offering the oft-repeated Jewish punch line: “You can’t get it.” have one, you must have three.

The Shabbat dinner was shared with two Emiratis who had ties to the government, Eglash said.

“We were there with the chairman of the Jewish community, who is from Johannesburg,” Finkelstein said. “They are all working together to build bridges between the Emiratis and the Jewish community and Israel. It’s great to see them working in the field – slowly, deliberately. It will take time, but they are committed to it.

David Silverman participated in the trip with his wife, Erica Zimmerman. He said they were impressed with both the itinerary and the accommodation, as well as the welcome they found in the country.

“We didn’t see anyone potentially anti-Semitic, from hotel staff to the city, to how they helped rabbis set up synagogues,” Silverman said. “It’s really very safe and very welcoming.

One of the highlights of the visit, he said, was visiting the Crossroads of Civilization Museum, which traces the history of Dubai’s role as a trading link between East and West.

Entrance to the Holocaust Gallery at the Crossroads of Civilizations Museum. Photo by Stacey Seewald.

“Within the museum there was a section on the Holocaust,” he said. “It was really well done, obviously on a smaller scale than Yad Vashem, but the fact that the museum had a section to tell people about what happened during the Holocaust was very nice and quite surprising.”

“I don’t think you’ll find a section like this in any other Arab museum,” Zimmerman added.

Zimmerman was particularly impressed with a painting outside the museum called “Cousins ​​Meetup”. Painted by both an Arab and Israeli artist, the work shows an Emirati in traditional costume and an Israeli sharing a cup of coffee in front of the Dubai skyline. Between the two are the flags of Israel and the United Arab Emirates, each next to the other figure.

“It’s really a telltale sign,” Zimmerman said. “If ever there is to be a real community, it is a sign of agreement. It was so sharp.

Dubai Museum Holocaust Gallery Crossroads of Civilizations Museum. Photo provided by Erica Zimmerman.

Stacey Seewald and her husband, Scott, also traveled from Israel to the United Arab Emirates. She was impressed not only by the community, but also by the country’s commitment to supporting its Jews.

“It seems that the UAE and the sheikhs who control the region are very forward-thinking and believe in the motto ‘If you dream it, you can do it,'” she said. “It’s a very ‘go big or go home’ place.”

Her husband called the country “impressive”, pointing to its advances in technology, architecture and business. At the same time, he said, there is still work to be done.

“It’s not a perfect place,” Scott Sewald said. “Twelve percent of the population are Emiratis and the remaining 88% are expatriates and there is a clear difference between the two, but at least it was a society strongly based on tolerance and respect for each other. ”

The UAE government has done everything possible since the signing of the Abraham Accords to support the Jewish community, Scott Sewald added, noting kosher restaurants, a synagogue in a hotel and a mikveh.

The trip to Dubai demonstrated the Federation’s history as a pioneer, Finkelstein said, recalling the organization’s visit to Morocco several years ago – before there were direct flights between Israel and the country. . He looks forward to continuing to visit Jewish communities wherever they are, he said.

Eglash also believes that the mission of the Federation includes building relationships with Jewish communities around the world.

“Whether it’s Israel, the United Arab Emirates or Morocco, wherever we go in the world and see those places, there’s no better way to do it than with the Federation and its missions” , he said, “because the way you can engage with communities, you would never have that access if you went there on your own. PJC

David Rullo can be contacted at [email protected]

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