At the dawn of the UAE’s recognition of the state of Israel, a Rosh Hashanah visit brought a sense of hope to Eric D. Fingerhut, president and CEO of the Jewish Federations of North America.
“They were so excited about the normalization agreements, business, tourism, security,” Fingerhut told the CJN on Oct. 9. “It was beyond anything I could have hoped for.”
Fingerhut – who was raised in the Cleveland area and also lived in Central Ohio as an elected official – flew to the UAE with a delegation of Jewish Federation leaders following the signing of the Abraham Accords Sept. 15 in Washington, D.C. On the trip, he met with ministry leaders, attended services with the country’s growing Jewish community and attended the launch of a kosher catering company.
The agenda was to support the Arab world’s first, new Jewish community in centuries.
Fingerhut said he enjoyed meeting with the UAE’s minister of youth, “who herself is 25 years old,” and found her willingness to build relationships and cultural understanding to be “inspiring.”
“The government is so open,” Fingerhut said. “They’ve been promoting kosher food and making it more accessible.”
The launch of Emirates Air Kosher Catering, called Kosher Arabia, celebrated a partnership between Emirates Flight Catering and CCL Holdings, a company founded by the head of the Jewish Council in the UAE. Operations are expected to start in January. Fingerhut said the food will be top-of-the-line.
Modern Orthodox services took place at a Dubai hotel, led by Rabbi Yehuda Sarna, chief rabbi of the UAE, and his wife, Michelle Waldman Sarna.
“It was a little bit like a Disney hotel,” he said, with a water park and pool.
The group had a conference wing for services, singing and study sessions.
“It was very open and welcoming,” Fingerhut said. “I couldn’t count all the young children, maybe 100 people, plus 100 young children.”
Elli’s Kosher Kitchen in Dubai catered meals for the group.
“They kashered a kitchen,” said Fingerhut, and the group took all of its meals for the holiday at the hotel.
Fingerhut described the people of the UAE to be highly educated and English speaking, with many having had educations in Great Britain or the United States.
“There’s a huge emphasis on learning English, on being educated in the West,” he said.
The Jewish community of UAE is entirely made up of ex-Patriots from around the world, who have come there for business. Fingerhut said he met people from around the world on Rosh Hashanah.
Fingerhut said he expects Jews from the U.S. will visit UAE and its Jewish community, and that such visits will be encouraged as JFNA assists the Jews of UAE build what Fingerhut called a Jewish infrastructure.
“We’ll want to help the Jewish community not be overwhelmed by it,” he said. “I think it’s one of the really remarkable developments going on right now. “
In the meantime, he said, both in UAE and Bahrain, the other signer of the Abraham Accords, “We will do everything we can to promote the side of peace and normalization.”