Hebrew schools to open in Dubai and Abu Dhabi as hundreds sign up for language courses

Business leaders and Arabic speakers among those looking to learn one of the world's oldest languages

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A new Hebrew language school will hold classes in Dubai and Abu Dhabi to meet demand to learn one of the oldest languages spoken today.

The Educational Hebrew Institute said it had fielded several thousand queries since it announced it would set up in the Emirates.

Several hundred Emiratis and expats have signed up for classes, which begin next month.

The move follows the deal to normalise ties between the UAE and Israel in September, paving the way for trade and business agreements, tourism and co-operation.

Although English is widely spoken in the Emirates and in Israel, the benefits of knowing some of the local language can break the ice in business and make a holiday smoother.

People want to be able to communicate with Israelis and to do business with them

“This is a historical moment in the UAE, I really can’t believe how many people want to study our language,” said the institute’s director, Josh Samet, who moved to the Emirates three weeks ago. He will be joined by fellow teachers in the coming weeks.

“There has been huge demand, not just from Emiratis but from government departments and private businesses,” he said.

“Everyone has a good reason to study Hebrew.

“People want to be able to communicate with Israelis and to do business with them.”

Mr Samet said Arabic speakers can often grasp the basics of Hebrew fairly quickly.

An Israir A320 is parked beside Emirates jets at Dubai International Airport. Dubai Media Office

“Emiratis are planning trips to Israel, and it is an easy language for them to pick up,” he said.

The EHI offers classes from January 3 with a maximum class size of 10, and also one-to-one teaching sessions.

Mr Samet said it would take up to a year for an Arabic speaker to become proficient in Hebrew.

But learning about the culture, food, traditions and customs of Israel is equally important, he said.

“We have had thousands of applications to courses – it really is unbelievable. The first flights between Israel and the UAE has started a lot of interest,” he said.

“People want to at least speak a few words of Hebrew to make a visit extra special for them.

“They want to go to Jerusalem and they want to know how to behave.

“The Jewish and Arabic cultures are very similar; I have taken phone calls from people here saying ‘we are cousins’, or in-laws – there are strong ties.

“There are a lot of connections. People want to study one of the oldest languages in the world and it makes me very proud.”

Among the UAE residents planning a trip to Israel is Emirati author and food blogger May Al Badi.

She has been studying Hebrew online for the past year and is looking forward to putting her new language skills to use when tourists are allowed back into Israel.

"I studied Hebrew online because it was not available in the UAE," she told The National.

“Modern Hebrew is influenced by Arabic, so it is easier to understand.

“I have always had a fascination with Israel, its culture, people, food and traditions.

Emirati author May Al Badi said watching the Israeli thriller Fauda, pictured, helped her to pick up some of the language

“I listen to a lot of Israeli music and TV so learning the language helped.”

One of Ms Al Badi's favourite shows is Fauda, the hit Israeli television thriller on Netflix.

The series follows an undercover counterterrorism unit called the Mista’arvim and is based on writer and star actor Lior Raz’s experiences in Israeli armed forces.

Raz is a friend of Ms Al Badi, who helps develop networks between the two countries via her position with the UAE-Israel Business Council.

"There was a lot of Arabic mixed in with Hebrew in Fauda, so I could follow it easily, although I still needed the subtitles in parts," Ms Al Badi said.

“I have been meeting a lot of Israelis since the signing of the Abraham Accord, taking them to all the sights and local hot spots. It’s been amazing.

“As soon as Israel opens up again I’ll be one of the first visitors. I would love to see Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

“It already feels like a family reunion.”