After the deadliest attack against Jews in the history of the US, the first phone call of condolence Rabbi Marc Schneier received came from the UAE.
Eleven worshippers died and six were injured after a gunman opened fire at a synagogue in Pittsburgh in October last year.
The attack happened on a Saturday, or the Sabbath, a holy day in the Jewish faith, and when Rabbi Schneier, as an Orthodox Jew, neither makes nor receives phone calls.
"The first call I received after the Sabbath was from Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak, the UAE's Minister of Tolerance, to express his condolences and his solidarity to me and to the American Jewish community," he told The National.
“He always calls me 'Marc dear'. I remember seeing the phone number and hearing 'Marc dear' and I said 'Sheikh Nahyan?' He said ‘Listen, I just wanted to express my deepest sympathies and condolences to you and to the Jewish community on this terrible tragedy and how here in the UAE we are bereft and so saddened, which is why we need to come together and stand together in the same path’.”
The message was "pure, genuine, authentic," and "greatly, greatly appreciated," said the rabbi, 60, who pointed out it was the Muslim community in Pittsburgh who raised $200,000 to pay for the funerals of the victims of the attack — that was carried out by a white nationalist American man.
Rabbi Schneier, who has been called the Rabbi to the Muslim world, is in the UAE to attend the Global Conference of Human Fraternity, an interfaith conference which he will address on Monday. His efforts to establish greater dialogue between Jews and Muslims stretch back almost 15 years.
Rabbi Schneier said he has been visiting the Gulf for the past 12 years. He is a member of the advisory forum of the King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz International Centre for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue and acts as special adviser to the King Hamad Global Centre for Peaceful Coexistence in Bahrain, and others.
“When it comes to Muslim-Jewish relations, I remind my Jewish and Muslim colleagues that there are no other two other faith communities that have more in common than Judaism and Islam,” said the rabbi.
“And that’s how I will address the conference today, that in terms of bringing faith communities together, I often say that people who fight for their own rights are only as honourable when they fight for the rights of all people. It’s about developing prophetic imagination, being able to see the other,” he said.
“It’s about feeling the pain of the other and what greater demonstration of that act than that gesture on behalf of Sheikh Nahyan.”
The small Jewish community has great potential, said Rabbi Schneier, who co-authored of Sons of Abraham: a Candid Conversation about the Issues that Divide and Unite Jews and Muslims.
“My hopes would be to create an infrastructure here, whether it’s a synagogue, a kosher restaurant, a ritual bath, the necessary elementary ingredients you need in terms of having a Jewish community,” he said.
The community in the UAE reminds him of his personal journey in the US in the early 1990s to build a Jewish community in the Hamptons, which he said was not historically the most welcoming place for Jews.
“I has this vision and I opened my heart and today the Jewish community in the Hamptons is probably one of the most celebrated in the world,” he said.
“So when I look at this young congregation and I look at the determination and perseverance of many of these very successful young leaders here in the UAE, I am bullish on this Jewish community.
"And I am also bullish because I know they will enjoy the support of the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and the Minister of Tolerance.”