(October 29, 2019 / JNS) The leaders of a private synagogue in Dubai said they are hopeful about the future of Jewish life in the United Arab Emirates.
“We have slowly found our place in the ecosystem of the UAE,” Ross Kriel, the president of the new Jewish Community of the Emirates, told the Associated Press. “It reflects our optimism about the future of the UAE as a place for us to commune, contribute and flourish.”
The UAE, a federation of seven sheikhdoms, was founded in 1971. Although it has no diplomatic relations with Israel, Israeli officials have been allowed to visit, and the Israeli national anthem was played last year at an Abu Dhabi judo tournament.
The UAE also announced in September plans to begin constructing its first synagogue.
Members of the synagogue in Dubai, located in an unmarked villa whose exact location is kept a secret to outsiders, gather for weekly prayers, kosher meals, celebrations and holidays. Jews who do not travel on Shabbat can also stay in the home’s upstairs living quarters.
Kriel said he feels very safe in Dubai, but still does not wear a kipah outside. Many in the community asked not to be identified, and an A.P. reporter had to agree not to photograph the synagogue or describe its location before visiting.
“Although our community is very unique in the Jewish world, we have not wanted to sensationalize our presence here,” he said. “Our future vision is a Jewish community that is not just considered a normal feature of life in the UAE, but is considered to be a place where Jews flourish.”
Rabbi Yehuda Sarna, the new chief rabbi of the UAE’s Jewish community, said the country has genuinely become “a major global hub and point of encounter between religions.”
He added, “We are being invited to that encounter. Are we going to dwell on the past or look to the future? I feel that this history has yet to be written, and we are going to write it by living it.”
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