The Jewish community in the UAE and Muslim citizens must work together for peaceful coexistence and tolerance, a senior rabbi said yesterday.
Michael Schudrich, the chief rabbi of Poland, said that the emergence of a small Jewish community in the country was tremendous to see.
"Jews and Muslims have lived together peacefully for a thousand years," Rabbi Schudrich told The National.
“But it was only in the past century that we came on this tremendous tension. Let’s diminish the tension.”
His comments yesterday came on the sidelines of the first day of the Global Conference of Human Fraternity, in which dozens of religious figures gathered in Abu Dhabi to chart a way towards world peace.
The event is being held to coincide with Pope Francis’s visit to the UAE.
Rabbi Schudrich, 63, is originally from New York and he referred to the recent launch of Celebrating Tolerance: Religious Diversity in the UAE, a book by Rev Andy Thompson, chaplain at St Andrew’s Anglican Church in Abu Dhabi.
The book examines the religious groups in the country, including the Jewish community. There are believed to fewer than 200 Jews, mostly in Dubai.
“I saw a small and vibrant Jewish community that wants to live here, wants to be Jewish, who feel comfortable being Jewish,” Rabbi Schudrich said.
“This is something that was not obvious three to five years ago.”
He called Rev Thompson’s book a turning point and said that the new community of Jews showed the way the country is developing.
“There were Jews in Bahrain, Yemen, Egypt and across North Africa, but this corner they didn’t get to,” Rabbi Sundrich said.
“So the fact the newest Jewish community is in an Arab country is a tremendous statement.
He was part of a panel that discussed the world’s collective responsibility to build human fraternity by promoting peace, celebrating diversity and encouraging tolerance.
The chief rabbi said the fact the conference was held in the UAE confronted incorrect stereotypes about the region.
“There is a wrong stereotype that we use that says different religions can’t speak to each other – that a Jew can’t talk to a Muslim,” Rabbi Schudrich said.
“But the fact that Jews, Muslims, Christians and Sikhs can all sit together and discuss things, that is essential.”
Mr Schudrich said that the papal visit sends a powerful message. “With the coming of the Pope, where tens of millions will see that photograph of all the religions sitting together, it confronts a wrong stereotype,” he said.
“I’m hopeful, naively perhaps, that this could be another step to break that. It is also helpful that it is in the UAE to break that stereotype.”