Jews in the UAE prepare to mark Holocaust Remembrance Day

Senior rabbi says it will be an emotional day of prayers, speeches and candle-lighting

Dr Elie Abadie, rabbi of the Association of Gulf Jewish Communities in Dubai in September, 2021. Pawan Singh / The National.

The UAE will host Holocaust Memorial Day with prayers and survivors’ testimonies on Thursday, Dr Elie Abadie, the Emirates' senior rabbi in residence said.

The occasion, which falls on January 27 and will also be marked in Bahrain, represents a step forward towards peaceful co-existence among multi-faith societies in the Gulf.

“It is emotional, sometimes you have to pinch yourself, to make sure if it’s real and if it’s really happening, and of course it’s real,” Rabbi Abadie told The National.

Rabbi Abadie said the memorial is “a testimony to the welcoming view of the authorities here in the UAE and Bahrain, to the pledge of tolerance and coexistence in their region”.

It follows a historic resolution signed in September 2020 by the UAE and Bahraini leaders to formally establish ties with Israel.

The Abraham Accords were seen as one of the most significant breakthroughs in the Middle East peace process, which had been stalled for years. They opened the door for diplomatic, trade, travel and business ties between signatory countries.

Rabbi Abadie, who took the post on November 1, 2020, said special memorial prayers for those who were killed and survived will take place at the forthcoming service.

“On the religious side we have prayers and we have commemoration tomorrow night at the Crossroads of the Civilisation Museum in Dubai, where a ceremony will take place with speeches and the lighting of candles,” he said.

The Israeli Pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai will also hold a commemoration with memorial prayers, candles and speeches and will also feature survivors' testimonies and children of survivors' testimonies.

“I believe this entire region is changing and their attitudes will change,” Rabbi Abadie said.

Abu Dhabi, UAE - May 18, 2009 - Jews studying the Torah in a synagogue, 1907. Part of Zayed University exhibit of historical photographs. (Nicole Hill / The National) *** Local Caption ***  NH Zayed06.jpgNH Zayed06.jpgNH Zayed06.jpg

Last May, a memorial exhibition dedicated to the victims of the Holocaust was held at the Crossroads of Civilisation Museum. Its organisers said it was the first exhibition centred on the Holocaust to be staged in the Gulf.

Since the normalisation of relations between the UAE and Israel, politicians and business leaders have met and made numerous deals. Defence, technology and energy have been particularly popular sectors.

“Life is changing for the better for the Jewish communities in the UAE and Bahrain, as they are both recognised and welcomed to perform prayers, to have kosher food, to conduct marriages and live like any other community of faith that is licensed, authorised and recognised,” Rabbi Abadie said.

"It makes me feel good because we are able to live together, learn from each other, to build a community, so it’s a positive feeling," he said.

Rabbi Abadie said the developments made him nostalgic.

"It throws me back to my childhood in Lebanon, seeing Jews socialising with Muslims, Christians and all kinds of religions in a peaceful and friendly way," he said.

Rabbi Abadie is fluent in Arabic and six other languages. He was born in Beirut and his family left Lebanon in 1971 when he was only 6. He moved to the US after eight years.

He belongs to a rabbinical lineage that dates back to the 15th century and has roots in Spain and France.

Updated: January 26, 2022, 6:30 PM