A small Jewish community in the UAE is the subject of a new documentary, Amen-Amen-Amen.
The trailer for the film was released this week and outlines the story of the first Jewish congregation in the UAE, which, in 2018, created a Torah scroll in honour of Sheikh Zayed, the Founding Father. In November 2019, the scroll was presented in a ceremony to Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, by the community's rabbi and other members.
Amen-Amen-Amen – its title derived from the holy word present in Arabic, Hebrew and English – traces the journey leading up to that moment, from the writing of the scroll in Israel to the making of the Torah's golden case in Brooklyn, New York.
“The gesture of dedicating a Torah scroll to an Arab ruler is unimaginable,” says Eli Epstein, a businessman and interfaith activist who first came up with the idea.
In the film, however, Rabbi Yehuda Sarna, Chief Rabbi of the Jewish Community of the Emirates, acknowledges that the gesture does not undo the entangled issues of politics and history in the region.
“I am under no illusion that this gift [of a Torah] will solve complicated geopolitical problems,” he says. “What this gift does do is give us new material to creating a new narrative in the Middle East.”
Rabbi Sarna first came to the UAE in 2009 as a visitor to the newly opened NYU Abu Dhabi. He currently serves as executive director at the Bronfman Centre for Jewish Student Life at NYU in New York.
In August, the landmark Abraham Accord normalised relations between the UAE and Israel, making the UAE the first Arab state to do so in more than two decades.
By 2022, Abu Dhabi is set to open the Abrahamic Family House on Saadiyat Island, an interfaith compound that will house a mosque, church and synagogue.
Amen-Amen-Amen highlights other key moments in the UAE's history that demonstrate religious tolerance, including Pope Francis's visit in February 2019.
The film features interviews with scholars and religious leaders, including a senior rabbi of the Jewish Community of the Emirates, Rabbi Elie Abadie, and a former senior chaplain of St Andrew’s Anglican Church in Abu Dhabi, Reverend Andy Thompson.
Also interviewed are former US Ambassador to the UAE, Marcelle M Wahba; journalist Robert F Worth, a veteran Middle East correspondent for The New York Times Magazine; and John Sexton, president emeritus of New York University and co-creator of NYU Abu Dhabi.
Funded by Religion Media Company, Amen-Amen-Amen will be released in early 2021.