Special: Senior Rabbi in the UAE is a doctor and interfaith healer

For Beirut-born Rabbi Elie Abadie, this assignment is like returning to his roots

By Michal Michelle Divon

Published: Sun 1 Nov 2020, 1:21 PM

The past two weeks have been extremely busy for Rabbi Elie Abadie, the new Senior Rabbi of the Jewish Council of the Emirates who is relocating to Dubai.

Since his appointment was made public on October 16, calls have been pouring in from all over the world to congratulate him, with many on social media praising him as being “the right person at the right time”.

Speaking to Khaleej Times from Washington D.C, Abadie says he feels like he is going back to his roots.

Rabbi Abadie is no stranger to the region. A Lebanese native, Abadie was born in Beirut to parents who fled Aleppo, Syria in the late 1940s following the UN Partition Plan for Palestine in 1947. His first spoken language was Arabic, and his upbringing in the Middle East greatly shaped his cultural identity and Rabbinical approach as a prominent Sephardic Rabbi.

As a high profile Rabbi in NYC, Abadie says he will bring to Dubai his experience as a religious and interfaith leader, and most importantly his own DNA. “I’ll be taking with me my cultural background, being from the Middle East myself. I’ll be taking the traditional background with me, and apply all that synthesis of traditions, idiosyncrasies, and cultures to the position that I have in Dubai. The Arabic culture, the music, the culinary art - having been raised in a country in the Middle East has given me the understanding, the feeling, the nuances of that culture. That’s why I feel kind of going back to my roots”

His Washington meeting with Shaikh Khalid bin Khalifa Al Khalifa, the Chairman of the King Hamad Global Center for Peaceful Coexistence offers a glimpse into the regional approach he will be taking.

“I am planning interfaith initiatives as I’ve been doing interfaith work for over two decades throughout the world”.

A veteran interfaith leader and activist, Abadie has attended major global events such as the World Congress of Imams and Rabbis in Paris, Azerbaijan’s second Baku World Summit for Religious Leaders, and Muslim World League in Sri Lanka among others.

Rabbi Abadie says he will focus a great deal on interfaith dialogue, the establishment of educational and cultural exchanges, and collaboration with his Imam counterparts to strengthen religious ties, both in the United Arab Emirates and neighbouring countries.

Rabbi Abadie visited the UAE for the first time in 2018 where he met with government officials and Jewish community leaders. The first visit took place during the holiday of Purim, while his second visit in 2019 helped deliver a Torah Scroll.

His vision in the UAE includes building up the community and establishing the necessary institutions. Like any new beginning, the Rabbi expects to face growing pains.

“Like in any community anywhere in the world we’re going to face some difficulties; technical ones, bureaucratic ones, human nature ones. I’m ready for those challenges”

Many in the emirates will be surprised to find out that the countries new Senior Rabbi is also a practicing physician. He has a private practice in gastroenterology in NYC and plans to continue working as a part time doctor (full time Rabbi) in Dubai.

“It is actually the tradition of my ancestors and the tradition of Sephardic sages. Not only did they have a religious vocation, but they also had a secular professional vocation. Most if not all of the sages in the golden age of Spain were Rabbis or religious leaders, but at the same time they had a secular profession in which they earned their livelihood”

As relations between Israel and the UAE continue to warm up following the Abraham Accords, Rabbi Abadie is expecting large numbers of Jewish tourists from all over the world, especially from Israel. His message to the local Jewish community and Emirati community is that he comes with an extended hand and open heart.

“In wanting to work with them and for them. I want to establish and build bridges between the communities, and show the beauty of Judaism and the beauty of Jewish history in order to cement the relationship for generations to come”

As he prepares to embark on this new journey, Rabbi Abadie recognises the climate in the UAE and praises the leadership for its culture of coexistence and acceptance.

- Michal Michelle Divon is journalist based in New York

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