By: Iris Hami
Dubai might not be the first country that comes to mind when you think of Jewish travel, but it’s about to be at the top of the list for your next holiday. After the normalization agreement in 2020, Jewish life in Dubai is growing at a fast pace. There’s already a new synagogue, an exciting kosher food scene, and an embrace of Jewish culture in the city.
But why are people traveling to Dubai for Jewish travel now?
The most exciting part of Dubai right now is the new emerging Jewish community. Most Jewish travel is about the past, from visiting Mikvehs long abandoned to walking through synagogues where, in some cases, no one has prayed for hundreds of years.
Visiting Dubai isn’t about the history of the Jewish people, about persecutions, inquisitions, or the Holocaust. It’s about witnessing a developing community that is defying the odds that a Jewish community can thrive in the Middle East – outside of Israel. It’s about exploring the beginnings of what appears to be a strong and rooted Jewish community for years to come.
The growth of the Jewish community aside, Dubai is a fascinating place for everything the country has accomplished. The UAE is a country that in a very short period of time has built itself up to have some of the most awe-inspiring sights–the largest, biggest, widest, most expensive–all of these things exist in this country that is determined to make its mark on the world. Similarly, the people in the UAE also want to make their mark on the world–and it’s truly a spectacle to behold and a once in a lifetime travel experience.
Get ready for your next Jewish trip to the exciting city of Dubai. Here is a list of reasons you will love it:
Dubai has three synagogues and a growing Jewish community
As of 2019, there were about 150 families/3,000 Jews who live in Dubai. In 2020, the first officially licensed synagogue was opened in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the UAE.
Even more interesting, in the Abrahamic Family House, dedicated to the Abrahamic religions, the complex will house a church, a mosque, and a synagogue. They will all be connected to each other by an education center and gardens.
The JCC in the Al Wasl district hosts holidays, Hebrew School, and other social gatherings and there’s a Talmud Torah with around 40 students.
There’s great Kosher food in Dubai
Elli Kriel, a Jewish community member in the UAE, originally from South Africa, started the first kosher food service in the country in 2019. She now has a partnership with Aloft Abu Dhabi and Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Center. Under the certification of the OU, Elli’s Kosher kitchen provides catering for hotels, tourists, events, conferences, and exhibitions. There’s also Kosher Arabia, which makes kosher meals for the tourism industry. Cafe Bibi serves dairy throughout the day, Armani Kaf is a great kosher restaurant located inside a 5-star hotel, and Mulhayam serves delicious Israeli Kosher cuisine with a great view of the Dubai coastline.
At the Dubai Marina, you can attend an all-inclusive Shabbat Experience at the Address Dubai Marina Hotel. The meals are catered and the services are led by the JCC associate rabbis.
There’s a Long Jewish history in the UAE
While there may not be Jewish history in Dubai, it’s a different story for the UAE as a whole. From 1165 to 1173, Rabbi Benjamin of Tudela explored the world, searching for Jewish communities. One of the locations he wrote about was a place called “Kis,” which is located in the UAE.
Today, much of the Jewish community in the UAE is made up of Sephardic Jews from Morocco, Libya, Egypt, Tunisia, and Algeria. Many are in the UAE for business.
Dubai is a great tourist destination
There’s something in Dubai for every kind of traveler. If you’re an art lover, the Louvre Abu Dhabi showcases Buddhist, Christian, and Jewish artifacts next to Islamic ones. They even have an interactive virtual exhibit called “Religions of the Book” to explore Jewish, Christian, and Islamic sacred texts. It’s the largest art museum on the Arabian Peninsula. If you’re into archaeology, the emirate of Ras Al-Khaimah’s National Museum is home to a Jewish archaeological piece from the Arabian Gulf. It’s a Jewish gravestone of a Jewish man named David from between 1507 and 1650. If you like skiing, check out the Mall of the Emirates for the only indoor skiing in the Middle east. If you’re looking for adventure, go sandboarding or camel riding in the desert.
After finishing a trip to Dubai, I like to ask people what they think.
At the end of a recent trip after the Abraham Accords, a woman got up, cried, and said she had four grandchildren. She was worried about the world they were growing up in, but after her trip to the UAE, she had a profound sense of hope in terms of tolerance and acceptance in the country. Travel to the UAE has changed the whole narrative of Israel and how its neighbors coexist. People see the impact of the Abraham Accords, how it’s creating relationships between people and promising a better future for everyone in the region. Dubai is a trip about hope.
Dubai is an untapped resource of great Jewish travel. From exploring a Jewish community blooming in the desert to sandboarding in the desert, this destination has something for everyone.
Iris Hami is President of Gil Travel Group, the largest travel management firm sending people to Israel. She has over 40 years of experience in the travel industry, and uses that knowledge to craft unique Jewish journeys around the world. Her company has won multiple awards, including one from State of Israel Bonds for Extraordinary Achievements Promoting the State of Israel. They send over 40,000 travelers to Israel and other international locations each year and their clients include well-known Jewish organizations such as Birthright, Maccabi USA, Israel Bonds and many more.