Meet The Rabbi Who Made It Possible To Live A Jewish Life In The UAE


Jews, Muslims and Christians came together in September 2022 to celebrate the monumental union of Rabbi Levi Duchman and Lea Hadad, and the fruits of normalization, cooperation and peace. This was the first Jewish wedding ever held in Abu Dhabi with the wedded couple both being emissaries of the Chabad movement.  With a large guest list which included the Egyptian, Moroccan and Chinese ambassadors to the UAE, the wedding simultaneously celebrated the second anniversary of the signing of the Abraham Accords. Duchman is the first and chief rabbi of the Jewish community in the United Arab Emirates and has committed himself to building strong ties between Jews and the larger Arab world.

“I have lived in the United Arab Emirates for approximately eight years. Before the normalization agreements, I was living in Casablanca, Morocco. During my time in Morocco, I had the opportunity to travel to the UAE and host a Passover seder for New York University in Abu Dhabi. Nearly six years before normalization, I moved to the UAE.” said Duchman in an exclusive interview.

Jewish wedding ceremony in garden (Free photo by Buccina Studios) 

Speaking on how Jewish life in the UAE has changed as a result of the Abraham Accords he expressed having always felt welcome by the government. “They always ensured our community has everything we need. In terms of kosher slaughterhouses, institutions for Jewish education, places of worship, or anything else our community needed, we could always count on the full support of the government. Now, with the Abraham Accords, a huge door was opened for Israelis and Jews around the world who had never heard of the UAE or its levels of religious tolerance. The growth of the Jewish community meant growth in infrastructure, for example, bigger educational facilities, more kosher restaurants, bringing more rabbis into the country, and building Jewish cemeteries.”

In the UAE, a knowledge of Jews and Jewish history, had been absent in former years, but since the Abraham Accords were agreed upon, this has been remedied. “Prior to the Abraham Accords, very little education existed about Israel and Jewish history. Now, this has very much changed. For example, I’ve been to a few Holocaust remembrance events in the UAE and have seen in attendance members of the government such as the minister of culture. Jewish and Israel education has certainly risen in the UAE as a result of the Abraham Accords.” Duchman iterated.

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Jewish wedding couple dancing (Free photo by Liquidlibrary) 

Since the Abraham Accords were signed, many Jews have since migrated to the UAE to work and do business. “Much of it is coming from Israeli startup companies. Major Israeli companies such as Rapyd (a fintech company) are establishing offices in the UAE. This in turn has led to a surge of Jewish families moving to the country since the normalization agreement. You have companies like Hilton, where top Jewish executives have begun moving to the UAE knowing that the community now has the infrastructure in place to cater to their needs. Our community has grown from a few hundred to several thousand.”

Duchman’s wedding in Abu Dhabi was a significant and historic moment as the first Jewish wedding in the UAE. Asked about what he thought of the experience, he said, “It was quite incredible because we had 1,500, if not more, attendees at our wedding, including ambassadors, UAE government officials, and both colleagues and friends from around the world who came to Abu Dhabi to celebrate a Chassidic wedding. It was absolutely incredible. We had a Chassidic singer, Israeli band and Neshama choir, all coming to Abu Dhabi to celebrate a kosher Jewish wedding.” He continues, “It was at our wedding, where we saw Chassidim dancing and celebrating with Emiratis, that we truly saw the power of the Abraham Accords. We had the chief rabbis of Iran, Singapore, Nigeria and Turkey attend and dance at the wedding. We had the Chinese, Egyptian, Moroccan and Irish ambassadors to the UAE attend as well.”

Orthodox religious Jewish man walking in the streets of Jerusalem, near the Mahne Yehuda Shuk, Jerusalem Market. (Unsplash/ Laura Siegal)

Celebratory moments between Jews, Christians and Muslims are few and far between and this wedding serves as an illustration of the progress made as a result of the Abraham Accords. “I did not expect all of these guests to attend, and the wedding was beautifully covered by both Arab and Jewish news outlets. I have been the first resident rabbi here in the UAE. After eight years, I was able to see all the meaningful and wonderful relationships we have built in this country, and it was absolutely incredible.”

By Yonie Michanie

Produced in association with Jewish News Syndicate.

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