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Best Surprise in Dubai: Decade Old Synagogue Serves Jewish Community

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The Dubai Synagogue, established 10 years ago, is the sole operating institution of The Jewish Community of the Emirates. It is also a very well-kept secret, with many Jewish residents and visitors not knowing of its existence. It is a heartening and welcoming haven for Jews in the Middle East’s business powerhouse.

The Dubai Synagogue, established 10 years ago, is the sole operating institution of The Jewish Community of the Emirates. It is also a very well-kept secret, with many Jewish residents and visitors not knowing of its existence. It is a heartening and welcoming haven for Jews in the Middle East’s business powerhouse. As reported by the Times of Israel, the synagogue, known as “The Villa,” is a converted residence, which the community rents. It includes a sanctuary, full kitchen, areas for socializing and playing, an outdoor pool, and several rooms upstairs where Sabbath observant visitors can stay.

Since its creation in 2008, the community has worked hard to keep a low profile. The community has no signpost, no website, no listing on Jewish travel sites, and no presence on social media. Members learn about it by word of mouth, and the address is only supplied after a cautious screening.

Notwithstanding, those who live in Dubai say that there is a strong projection of tolerance and courtesy within the diverse population, which constitutes 200 different nationalities. In Dubai, which is of course a monarchy of the United Arab Emirates, only 11 percent of its 3 million residents are actually citizens.

The small Jewish community recites a prayer for the welfare of the government of the UAE following the prayer sessions, as many shuls around the world do. So far, the community has seen only quiet support from the country, but still the shul prefers to remain in the shadows. After all, rulers of the UAE have total control over welfare of the Jewish community. “It’s to the credit of the rulers that they have allowed and in some ways encouraged the Jewish presence there,” says Eli Epstein, a business man in New York who donated the Shul’s Torah Scroll.

Still, a little bit of publicity might help the tiny institution to find more congregants, and to draw in events such as a brit-mila once in a while. It would also help fundraising, for their dream of one day opening a mikveh, or ritual bath.

With this in mind, the community took a hesitant step out of the obscurities, and agreed last week, for the first time, to be featured in articles published by Bloomberg News and The Times of Israel, with some conditions and requesting certain names and photos to be kept private.

“The Middle East is ripe for a strategic change and I think if we have done anything to adjust their view towards Judaism — and, in parentheses, Israel — and if we can change some of our views about Islam and Arabia, we’ll have done a lot to help each other,” said Epstein, who has a close business friendship with Mohamed Ali Alabbar, Chairman of Emaar Properties based in Dubai, one of the world’s largest real estate development companies. Together, the pair have founded, The Children of Abraham, a Jewish-Muslim dialogue initiative for teens. We have a huge gap in knowledge about the other, particularly Jewish-Islam. So I’ve benefited from closing small parts of that gap. It’s an ongoing experiment in my life,” says Epstein.

By: Hellen Zaboulani

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