UAE Jewish leader says state can be ‘beacon for Jews all around the world’

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UAE Jewish leader says state can be ‘beacon for Jews all around the world’

Ross Kriel tells Limmud's virtual festival the country should be praised for its 'vision of a pluralist Islamic society based on the Quran’s notion of tolerance'

Ross Kriel speaking at Limmud, with an inset picture of his community's activities
Ross Kriel speaking at Limmud, with an inset picture of his community's activities

The UAE’s most senior Jewish leader yesterday argued the Arab nation was ready to become a “beacon for Jews all around the world.”

Ross Kriel, President of the Jewish Council of the Emirates, praised the Emiratis for working incredibly hard to develop a “vision of a pluralist Islamic society based on the Quran’s notion of tolerance, which the UAE has piloted, thought about and conceptualised.”

He called upon the Jewish community to “similarly reimagine itself in a fundamental way, in terms of how we relate to Muslims and ourselves as well.”

The United Arab Emirates’ Jewish community was founded in 2010, with inclusivity and hospitality serving as mainstay values. The subsequent decade has seen the community grow exponentially, now numbering close to 400 people.

Kriel argued that his community was unique because of its “extraordinary diversity”.

“When defining who a Jew is, we do it in the most inclusive possible way,” he explained. “This allows Jews from all walks of life to be involved in our structures and to be elected as leaders in our community.”

Ross Kriel speaking at Limmud

“We also have many expats in our community, giving us a real soup of the Jewish world!”

Joining Kriel for the virtual Limmud session, attended by over 250 people, was Jessica Katz, a former JDC Fellow placed in Dubai for three months.

“Prior to my placement (in August 2019), I had no idea there were Jews in Dubai at all. When I arrived, I saw a real opportunity to grow a community with dedicated leaders,” she recalled.

“The Dubai Jewish community is also unique because of the lack of historical baggage. The ‘elders’ of the community have only been there for 10 years or so.”

Earlier this year, the Abraham Accords were signed between Israel, the UAE and Bahrain. The statements marked the first normalisation of relations between an Arab country and Israel since the treaty with Jordan in 1994.

On the future of Dubai’s Jewish community, Kriel pressed the need for improved infrastructure: “We need funding to build and maintain Jewish schools, synagogues, places of learning and Kosher restaurants.

“However, we will miss a very valuable opportunity if we just do that. Most importantly, we have to focus on what this extraordinary moment means for us as Jews.

“The invitation is open to everyone to help engage with us in this historic opportunity, a new land for the Jewish people.”

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