Dubai’s secret Jews come out of the shadows

Israel’s rising status in the Middle East has helped Dubai’s Jewish community step out of the shadows.

By Jack Gold, World Israel News

A small community of Jews has opened Dubai’s first synagogue amid a tolerance campaign that has eased restrictions on minority religions in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bloomberg reported.

While Jews have maintained connections with their Arab neighbors for centuries, the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948 generated a wave of anti-Semitism that led to the expulsion of the majority of the Jews from Arab lands.

Today, as the region’s economy grows, a small Jewish community in Dubai has founded that city’s first synagogue, after meeting for years in  various private homes to pray.

Dubai’s Jews rented a villa for prayer services and hospitality three years ago, and the synagogue’s “emergence from the shadows reflects warming relations between Israel and governments in the region,” Bloomberg noted. However, community members have asked visitors not to reveal its location or write about its activities, while some are even opposed to speaking openly about its existence.

On a typical Sabbath or Jewish holiday, a few dozen of the 150 or so members attend services. The congregation currently has no rabbi.

Following the reading of the weekly Torah portion, the prayer leader recites a traditional Jewish benediction for the welfare of the community’s host government. In Dubai, the prayer is recited as follows: “Bless and protect, guard and assist, exalt, magnify, and uplift the president of the U.A.E., Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed, and his deputy, the ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, and all the rulers of the other emirates and their crown princes.”

Recently, Israel has enjoyed warming ties with Arab countries in the region. They share concerns over Iran’s activities across the region, including its nuclear program and its involvement in civil wars in Syria and Yemen.

In October, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu paid a historic visit to the Gulf state of Oman, and two other Israeli ministers visited the UAE.

Bloomberg highlighted the UAE’s effort to project an image of openness, easing restrictions on religious minorities in a campaign aimed at generating more business.

The Muslim country’s minister of tolerance, Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak, sponsored a World Tolerance Summit in November for 1,200 Muslims, Christians, Hindus, Jews, and others from around the world.

“For decades, anything Jewish was avoided in the Arab world, and explicit signs of Jewishness were risky,” Ghanem Nuseibeh, a co-founder of political risk consultants Cornerstone Global Associates Ltd., told Bloomberg. “A new generation of Arabs and Jews are more culturally accepting of each other.”