Guests from around the world flew into Abu Dhabi to join celebrations of the biggest Jewish wedding held in the UAE two years on from the historic signing of the Abraham Accords.
Rabbi Levi Duchman, a New Yorker, has lived in the UAE for eight years and married Lea Hadad, from Belgium, at the Hilton Hotel on Yas Island in a ceremony attended by more than 1,500 people on Wednesday evening.
The couple will continue Rabbi Levi's commitment to building the UAE’s Jewish community together from their home in Abu Dhabi.
His father, Rabbi Sholom Duchman, is the director of Colel Chabad, a charity founded in 1788 and the oldest continuously operating charity in Israel for people of all backgrounds. It is also the largest food security organisation in Israel.
“The UAE is the epitome of hospitality,” Rabbi Sholom said.
“We all feel more than at home, it is remarkable.
“To have a special day with this wonderful couple is significant itself, but to know they have been able to build a home and a life in this country makes it an even bigger celebration.
“Levi has chosen to be a pioneer in building Judaism and bringing it to this part of the world.
“So it is not only a celebration for them, but for the entire Jewish population.”
Born in Brooklyn, Rabbi Levi, 29, spent two years in Morocco with his sister Chana and her family, which is where he drew his inspiration to help Jewish life flourish in the Arab world.
Lea Hadad, 27, is of Moroccan heritage and was born and raised in Belgium, the daughter of Chief Rabbi Menachem Hadad. Her grandfather began the tradition of emissary work when he set up the Chabad community in Milan.
A joyous union in the UAE
A welcoming ceremony in Abu Dhabi saw families and friends gather, with many united for the first time since the pandemic.
The mothers of bride and groom together smashed a ceremonial plate, a gesture of goodwill for a long lasting marriage between their children.
Conversation flowed between Israelis and Emiratis, before Rabbi Levi was escorted to the chuppah, the wedding canopy, by his father, and father-in-law.
With her face covered by an opaque veil to protect her modesty, the bride followed shortly afterwards, escorted to the chuppah by her mother, Batcheva Hadad, and mother-in-law, Feige Duchman.
“To see a young couple getting married in true Jewish tradition in the UAE is truly amazing,” said Feige, who has 13 children.
“They are starting a new life, so it is a celebration for them to build their family and to continue to build the Jewish community in Abu Dhabi.
“Levi and Lea are perfect together.
“Abu Dhabi is Levi’s place now, it is where he is growing the community.
“We always hoped he would get married here, but we did not ever think it would be possible until quite recently. It is an amazing celebration.”
The wedding ceremony was the first time Lea had seen her husband-to-be in a week, both separated as is customary.
Once reunited, as per Jewish law, the couple signed the Ketubah, or wedding contract.
During the ceremony, the new bride circled the groom seven times as part of the elaborate rituals, a Jewish symbol of a long and joyful life together. Later, Rabbi Levi smashed a glass with his foot.
Levi’s older sister, Zeldy Engel-Duchman, from Colorado, arrived in the UAE with her husband Shmuel and is staying in Abu Dhabi until Sunday.
For her, the ceremony was the highlight of her week.
“The wedding starts off on a very serious note, with serious melodies. It is very spiritual for the bride and groom,” she said.
“Once the glass is broken it is very joyous and the party begins.”
The wedding was attended by the Chief Rabbis of Russia, Iran, Turkey and Singapore.
Since 2014, Rabbi to the UAE Levi Duchman has built the infrastructure for Jewish life across the Emirates, establishing Jewish communities, institutions and houses of worship in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, including a Jewish school, Hebrew supplemental school, a Mikvah for the Jewish rite of purification, and the government-licensed kosher agency.
He has also brought several rabbis to the UAE to join him in serving the community, and established a rabbinical training programme.
His older sister, Ms Engel-Duchman, performs a similar role in building Jewish communities in the US.
“There is no way we could have imagined this wedding happening in the UAE just a few years ago, for so many reasons,” she said.
“For all of his siblings, it has been a dream to come to Abu Dhabi to see where Levi lives.
“The fact the whole wedding came together here in Abu Dhabi was beyond exciting.
“For a minute, my mum said let’s do it in New York, but Levi said it is happening in the UAE, no questions asked.
“We are very proud of Levi and the work he has done here in Abu Dhabi. He has been a go-getter and a real powerhouse since he was four.”