Senior rabbis across the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain have spoken of a year of tolerance shown to residents of the Jewish faith in the two GCC countries ahead of the first anniversary of the historic Abraham Accords.
On August 13, 2020, the United Arab Emirates and Israel announced that they would be establishing relations, this was followed by Bahrain and Israel on September 11, 2020.
Days later, on September 15th, the three countries signed the Abraham Accords Declaration which stated their recognition of “the importance of maintaining and strengthening peace in the Middle East and around the world based on mutual understanding and coexistence, as well as respect for human dignity and freedom, including religious freedom.” Sudan and Morocco have also since signed the peace agreement.
Dr Elie Abadie, a senior rabbi in the UAE, told Al Arabiya English that the deal has led to huge strides towards religious tolerance between the Middle East nations.
“It has led to the development and growth in the Jewish community in the UAE, but what is so much more is that the Jewish community can be open and worship their faith, with pride and comfort – that’s a major achievement.”
“For decades the people of the UAE and Israel did not know much about each, now we are becoming the best of friends and are experiencing a tremendous exchange of culture, science and technology. It is a huge achievement.”
In February, it was announced that the local Jewish communities of Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, and Qatar had come together to form the Association of Gulf Jewish Communities (AGJC), with plans to establish the region’s first Jewish court.
Dr Abadie said he believed, as relations continue to flourish between Israel and Middle East nations more countries will join the Abraham Accords.
For Dr Abadie, the historic peace deal marked a profound impact personally.
“Before I had visited the UAE, but never thought I would be living here and leading a Jewish community here. But it has been a wonderful experience and I have been welcomed with open arms and a smile.”
A historic year of change
Ebrahim D. Nonoo, president of the Jewish community of Bahrain, also spoke of an historic year of change.
“We have had a Jewish community here since the nineteenth century,” he told Al Arabiya English. “At that time, there were a group of people who didn’t know much about religion or how to pray properly. But then a rabbi came to Bahrain in the 1930s and set up a synagogue.
“I remember my dad telling me that how he learnt to pray in Hebrew – and it became the center of his life. At the time there was a beautiful mixture of Hindus, Christians, Jews, and those of Islam faith.”
This ended with the outbreak of the Palestine War in 1947, he said.
“The synagogue was razed down, and Jews got scared.”
Since the Abraham Accords, Bahrain now has a new working synagogue for the first time in over 60 years.
“To be able to go back to the pre-war days and practice festivals in the Jewish calendar has been incredible,” he said. “The Abraham Accords has brought a new impetus to our life and has allowed us to practice our faith properly.”
Nonoo also noted that Bahrainis have also become more open to understanding the Jewish faith.
“I have had locals – Bahrainis – who have come to synagogue and prayed in their own way,” he said. “They say this is a place of worship. That has been a a wonderful feeling to see Muslims coming into a synagogue and enjoying that aspect of their faith.
“It has been heartwarming to see that. The Bahrainis themselves are the most amazing people. There us empathy with religions here which a lot of people in the outside world can learn about.”
As the world marks the first anniversary of the Abraham Accords, the Chief Rabbinate in the UAE has created a special prayer for synagogues around the world to mark the historic occasion. The prayer will be distributed to more than 1,000 synagogues around the world, including those associated with the Rabbinical Council of America.
Chief Rabbi Yehuda Sarna said: “This is a prayer for the region as a whole and focuses on the shared blessings we all hope for – empowered youth, good health and blooming deserts."
“It is a prayer for all of the children of Abraham, be they from Sarah, Hagar or Keturah.”
Those wishing to view the prayer can do so by visiting: www.shaareimizrah.ae/prayer.