Tiny Jewish community opens a synagogue in Dubai

A SMALL community of Jews has opened Dubai’s first synagogue.

It has happened amid a tolerance campaign that has eased restrictions on minority religions in the United Arab Emirates.

While Jews have maintained connections with their Arab neighbours for centuries, the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948 generated a wave of antisemitism that led to the expulsion of the majority of the Jews from Arab lands.

Today, as the region’s economy grows, a group of Dubai Jews founded the synagogue after meeting for years in private homes to pray.

Dubai’s small community rented a villa for prayer services and hospitality three years ago.

“The synagogue’s emergence from the shadows reflects warming relations between Israel and governments in the region,” the news and data company Bloomberg reported.

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.

The prayer says: “Bless and protect, guard and assist, exalt, magnify and uplift the president of the UAE, 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, including its nuclear programme and its involvement in civil wars in Syria and Yemen.

In October, Israeli 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.

“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.”

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