The signing of the Abraham Accords was a beacon of hope for the Middle East in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, the UAE’s chief rabbi has said.
Yehuda Sarna spoke to The National after creating a special prayer to mark the first anniversary of the historic accords between the UAE and Israel.
The prayer has been shared with more than 1,000 synagogues around the world before the first anniversary of the signing of the Abraham Accords on August 13.
Rabbi Sarna said the benediction was for the whole Middle East region, and focused on shared blessings including “empowered youth, good health and blooming deserts”.
“For so many people the signing of the Abraham Accords was the silver lining of 2020, a year of so much suffering and isolation,” he said.
“It absolutely lifted so many people up in a difficult year.”
Rabbi Sarna said the positive effects the accords had on international relations could not be overestimated.
“For many, many people the Abraham Accords came out of nowhere,” he said.
“Many Jews around the world did not know about the UAE and its deep history of religious tolerance, nor did they know about the organic emergence of the Jewish community in the UAE.”
He estimated there was a community of close to 1,000 Jewish people living across the Emirates, and next year they will have a new house of worship, with a new synagogue being built as part of the Abrahamic House project on Saadiyat Island.
The project includes a church, synagogue and mosque on one plot – another sign of the culture of openness and tolerance in the UAE, he said.
Changing perceptions in Israel
Shortly after the signing of the peace accord last year, commercial flights between Tel Aviv and Abu Dhabi started – one of many measures normalising relations.
Rabbi Sarna said the influx of Israeli visitors to the UAE, despite the pandemic, showed attitudes were beginning to change.
“Over the past year, an increasing number of Jews all over the world have begun to feel differently about the relationship between Jews and Arabs,” he said.
“The kind of openness and hospitality that hundreds of thousands of Jewish visitors to the UAE have experienced has absolutely transformed their notion of the Arabic world.
“There previously had been a perception of Arabs, shaped by western media and Hollywood.
“However, the experience of visiting the UAE has transformed the possibility of resetting the conversation between Jews and Arabs worldwide.”
He said he hoped his prayer would help to highlight the shared aspirations that Arabs and Jews had for the Middle East.
“We are very excited to celebrate the first anniversary with the rest of the region, and prayer is one way we can do that,” Rabbi Sarna said.
“Our community has had the opportunity to host many Emiratis for Shabbat over the last year and we have had dynamic conversations about our commonalities and what unites us. This prayer furthers that.”