Special: Jewish community celebrates Hanukkah in UAE

Dubai - Tonight is the second night of Hanukkah and will mark a historic moment in Dubai

By Michal Michelle Divon

Published: Fri 11 Dec 2020, 9:30 AM

Last updated: Fri 11 Dec 2020, 1:55 PM

Hanukkah celebration’s kicked off in Dubai with a candle-lighting ceremony at the Burj Khalifa overlooking the Dubai fountain.

The sight of a 3-meter-high menorah on the backdrop of the world’s tallest building is a sight that has astonished Jewish community members around the world. The idea of Jewish life being celebrated on Arab land is both emotional and joyous- and above all, a reflection of the post Abraham Accords era that we live in.

Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem Fleur Hassan-Nahoum who is spending Hannukah in Dubai says it still feels like a dream.

“It seems surreal to be celebrating the Festival of Lights in Dubai this year where last year they were amongst the regional countries that Israelis were not allowed to visit. It is indeed a miracle and hopefully the light of this warm peace will shine on the entire region,” says Hassan-Nahoum.

Rabbi Elie Abadie who recently moved to Dubai to serve as the Senior Rabbi of the Jewish Council of the Emirates says the region is changing in front of our eyes.

“Hanukkah is a holiday known to be filled with miracles and indeed almost in every generation we see miracles happening on Hanukkah. This year it’s certainly a miraculous year as we witness the entire Middle East and Gulf region becoming a place of tolerance, coexistence, harmony and living together” says Abadie

The first night of Hanukkah organised by the Chabad-Lubavitch Jewish Community Center, one of Dubai’s two Jewish communities, hosted roughly 250 people just outside of the Armani-Kaf kosher restaurant, with several smaller events held across the city. The giant menorah will remain at the base of Burj Khalifa until the end of Hanukkah, as an additional candle is lit every night throughout the eight-day celebration.

The story of Hanukkah is based on a miracle that happened some 2,500 years ago when the Greek empire tried stopping Jews from practicing their religion. The idea that an Arab country is not only enabling the Jewish community to practice their religion, but is encouraging them to do so – is in many ways coming full circle.

“We have the government’s support, we’ve always had it – long before the Abraham Accords,” says JCC Chief Rabbi Levi Duchman. According to him the UAE government is in constant contact with the community and its leaders, making sure all needs are met. “They make sure we are as comfortable as possible,” says Duchman.

The miracle of Hanukkah highlights the story of the Maccabees who defeated the Greek emperor Antiochus and rededicate the second Temple where the miracle of oil occurred. According to Judaism’s central text, the Talmud, the Macabees discovered a jug of pure oil that was enough to light the lamp for one day, but instead lasted eight days. This wonderous event inspired Jewish sages to proclaim a yearly eight-day festival.

The Menorah is an age-old symbol of religious tolerance and can be found at almost every Jewish home. Within the Jewish community it is customary to gather with family and friends on every night of Hanukkah and light the menorah, sing songs, eat jelly donuts (known as sufganiyot), while children spin dreidels.

This year’s Hanukkah celebration came with a surprise from the White House who announced Morocco has agreed to normalise relations with Israel, the fourth country to do so since the UAE signed the Abraham Accords agreement and paved the way for normalisation with Israel.

Since the signing of the Accords, the Jewish community in the UAE is said to have doubled in size, and both Rabbi Levi Duchman and Rabbi Elie Abadie expect the community to continue growing significantly in the coming years.

Tonight (Friday) is the second night of Hanukkah and will mark a historic moment in Dubai as three prominent rabbis are hosting candle-lighting Shabbat dinners; Rabbi Elie Abadie of the JCE will lead a service with special guest Elan Carr, US Envoy for Monitoring and Combatting Antisemitism and Deputy Ellie Cohanim, along with other Jewish community leaders who flew in specially for the occasion. Rabbi Marc Schneier, Chief Rabbi of the Hamptons Synagogue and Special Advisor to the King of Bahrain will host a dinner on the Palm Jumeirah, and Rabbi Levi Duchman will lead celebrations at the base of Burj Khalifa.

In Hannukah the Jewish community in Israel says- ‘Nes Gadol Haya Po’ which translates to ‘a great miracle happened here’, while the Jewish diaspora says ‘Nes Gadol Haya Sham’, meaning ‘a great miracle happened there’. This year, the miracle is still happening.


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