UAE Chief Rabbi Asks Feds for Support with “Lighthouse Jewish Community”

Today, as a senior delegation of American and Israeli officials landed in the UAE on the first commercial flight from Israel, the Arab country’s nascent Jewish community sought guidance and support from The Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA). Yehuda Sarna, Chief Rabbi of the Jewish Council of the Emirates, has asked JFNA to help establish the necessary infrastructure for a  “lighthouse Jewish community” in the Arabian Gulf.

“The Jewish community here is rightly proud of what it has accomplished,” said Rabbi Sarna, “but we know that there are more established Jewish communities that can help us grow. That is why we turned to JFNA. With decades of experience supporting vibrant Jewish life around the globe, they are able to offer endless resources and, representing 146 Jewish Federations across the U.S. and Canada, JFNA's involvement reflects the excitement of North American Jewry to participate in building upon the Abraham Accord.”

Rabbi Sarna discussed the community's plans for the future in a webinar hosted by JFNA last week. They envision a community center that includes synagogue space and sanctuaries that accommodate different forms of Jewish practice; office space for international Jewish organizations; and a cultural center for conferences, cultural exchanges and community programs. They would also like to host leading rabbis from around the world in conversation with religious leaders from across the Gulf region. It would be a “lighthouse Jewish community,” he said, "among the other lighthouse faith communities in the UAE."

“This is the first new Jewish community in the heart of the Arab world in centuries, and thanks to the support they have received from the Emirates, the opportunities are endless,” said JFNA Board Chair Mark Wilf. “We were thrilled to help build upon what they have already accomplished and find new ways to ensure that this community reached their full potential.”

Karen Rutman-Weiss, who traveled to the UAE with Rabbi Sarna last year, said that “the news of an agreement between Israel and the UAE came as a surprise to so many, but for those of us that watch closely we knew it was on the horizon – and, from what I have seen, the most exciting developments have yet to come.”

Learn more about Federations' work with the Jewish community in the United Arab Emirates here.