A small but growing Jewish community now calls Dubai home.
Following the signing of the Abraham Accords, hundreds of Jewish families moved to the country, setting up businesses, registering their children in school and worshipping at a community centre that doubles as a small synagogue.
The promise of new business opportunities and the sense of safety women enjoy in the UAE has made the transition easy, community members say, and they are preparing to welcome even more families.
Sparkle of the diamond trade
It made perfect sense for Adi Zamir, who runs a diamond and jewellery business in Ramat Gan city near Tel Aviv, to relocate to Dubai after the accords were signed in September 2020.
The shifting of power centres from Belgium’s Antwerp, the traditional hub for the diamond trade, to Dubai influenced his decision.
“It looks like this [Dubai] will be centre of the diamond business in the world instead of Belgium,” he said.
“So I took a decision that this is the best location and I will do my business here and then I brought my family.”
Mr Zamir, 51, is in the rough diamond business and previously spent most weeks flying from Israel to India to meet clients. Living in Dubai has made life simpler, as his customers often travel to the Emirates for work and holidays.
His move came even before Dubai Multi Commodities Centre authorities confirmed the UAE had overtaken Belgium in 2021 to become the top trading hub for rough diamonds.
India cuts or polishes about 90 per cent of the world’s diamonds.
“Most of my clients are Indian, the majority of the diamond business is in India so I have to be close to India. My clients have no problem coming to Dubai because India is a three-hour flight away,” he said.
Sunny skies and a business-friendly atmosphere are a bonus.
“The weather is good most of the time. Conditions for work are good and I’m impressed with the DMCC. You come here and you are welcome,” he said.
And more tourists from Israel have come to explore the country over the past year.
“In the beginning, in Israel, people were afraid, especially people who have never been here before. They said, why would you go to an Arab Muslim country?” he said.
“That changed very quickly because Israelis like to travel. People now understand it’s a very secure place, there is no reason to be afraid. There are many attractions and it’s a fun place for tourists so lately people don’t ask me anymore.”
His two elder children live in Israel and his younger daughters are in school in Dubai.
They join others for Shabbat prayers in a Dubai villa on Friday and travel with families to Fujairah and Abu Dhabi to explore the country.
Mr Zamir said he is not worried when his teenage daughters and wife take taxis at night.
“Dubai — it’s open for everybody. There is a sense of security. This is the most important for everyone,” he said.
“This is the most secure place in the world, to my knowledge.
“Believe me, with my two daughters, I feel this is the safest place in the world.”
'Life is sweet, relaxed, slow'
For Kelly Masliah, 31, who was born and raised in Paris, the accords gave her family the chance to move to a new country.
She had travelled with her husband, a tax adviser, several times to Dubai on holiday, and was impressed with what she saw.
“After Covid, we wanted to experience another city,” she said.
“We came to Dubai three times on holiday and we loved the city very much.
“The accords makes us very happy as it helped us to come here.”
She spoke of Dubai’s relaxed vibe and how people are always ready to help in supermarkets or restaurants.
“The quality of life is absolutely different. The weather makes everything better. The children can play outside every day,” she said.
“And you get good service. In the grocery stores, and in restaurants, they serve you fast and they have a smile.
“In Paris, when you go out, you think it should not be too late because of work the next day.
“When you have an event in Dubai, you really enjoy it, everybody is relaxed.
“Life is sweeter, more relaxed here, slower here.”
Her husband manages a tax advisory team in France from Dubai.
Their children go to a Jewish nursery and a bilingual French-English school in Dubai.
Before they moved, Ms Masliah called the Jewish centre in an Al Wasl villa and learnt about the small but growing community.
“It was important to find people like us in a country where we don’t know nobody,” she said.
“We as Jews feel very safe. I know local people respect the Jewish people.
“When we have celebrations, they respect and understand that we have our services and prayers.”
Visiting relatives and friends realise it is futile to ask them to return.
“Our family said — enjoy but come back in one year. But now we told them that we are enjoying it too much,” she said.
“I hope the community will grow more and more. I love this life. I hope to stay here a long time.”
From around the world
Levi Duchman, the first resident chief rabbi in the UAE, said Jews from more than 15 countries including Argentina, the US, Canada, the UK, France, Netherlands, Japan, Australia and Israel now live in the UAE.
“We plan to welcome thousands of new families that will be moving here in the next 10 years,” he said.
“Being the first rabbi here, it is important for me that families live in the UAE where there is a culture of tolerance and coexistence.”
The community is working with Dubai authorities to identify a location for a permanent synagogue.
Rabbi Duchman said it was “heartwarming” to know the community was welcome.
“When I came here eight years ago, people asked what I was trying to accomplish,” he said.
“Today, there is such a warm relationship where people are working together, living with each other, supporting one another, building projects together.
“This is how you can see the tremendous success of the Abraham Accords.”