The Chabad-Lubavitch movement announced its appointment of Rabbi Levi Duchman, the rabbi of the United Arab Emirates, as the Chabad emissary to the UAE.
“Thank G‑d, Jewish life here in the UAE has been able to blossom like a desert rose,” says Duchman. “The coexistence and true respect people have for one another here is beautiful and unfortunately all too unique. It’s also clear that none of this could have happened without the support and vision of the UAE’s benevolent leader, his highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, and is something the entire world can learn from.”
The UAE has in recent years become known for its commitment to tolerance and coexistence—more than 200 nationalities live and work in the Gulf state—and Jews have lived in the seven emirates on and off for decades.
Chabad’s involvement with the UAE stretches back as early as 2008, when New York Jewish business people who had been traveling to the UAE approached Rabbi Yehuda Krinsky—chairman of Merkos L’Inyonei Chinuch, Chabad’s educational arm—requesting the movement send a rabbi to help develop Jewish life in the UAE.
In 2010, Chabad rabbinical students arrived in Dubai to lead the first-ever Yom Kippur service in the Arab state, and rabbinical students have been visiting for every Jewish holiday ever since.
Duchman first came to the UAE in the winter of 2015, following up a few months later to lead the communal Passover seder in the capital city of Abu Dhabi. He moved to the country later that year.
“At the time there were a number of Jewish families here already, and nothing by way of Jewish education,” explains Duchman. That November Duchman opened a Talmud Torah with four children; today it boasts 40 students.
Dubai, a city of 3.3 million people and the UAE’s largest, is home to two synagogues. One is led by Ross Kriel and New York-based Rabbi Yehuda Sarna, a chaplain at New York University, the other is led by Solly Wolf, who has lived in the UAE for the last 20 years, and Rabbi Duchman, who has been the only resident rabbi for six years and has been granted permanent residency.
Duchman, who speaks five languages including Arabic and French, also helped found the Jewish community in Abu Dhabi, and recently opened the capital’s only synagogue and Jewish community center, which held its inaugural services this past Rosh Hashanah.
“I’ve been closely following the growth and success of the UAE Jewish community over the last decade and have been able to see it with my own eyes,” says Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky, vice chairman of Merkos L’Inyonei Chinuch, who over the past years has visited the UAE to meet with its Jewish leadership.
Kotlarsky, among whose responsibilities is overseeing Chabad’s rabbinical visitation program, has for decades maintained contact with small outlying Jewish communities around the world, the UAE among them. “I congratulate the community and its leaders on their monumental past success and bless them to go from strength to strength as they celebrate these new milestones.”
“There’s a unique bond between Rabbi Duchman and the Jews of the UAE,” says Kotlarsky. “Since his initial visit six years ago we’ve been hearing from residents requesting that Rabbi Duchman remain there.”
Jewish life in the UAE has bloomed since Duchman first arrived, and just last year the rabbi presided over one of the UAE’s first bar mitzvahs. Things have been moving at a breathtaking pace since.
Aside from running Shabbat and holiday services and teaching a host of regular Torah classes, Duchman—who is vice president of ARIS, or the Association of Rabbis in Islamic States, which includes rabbis serving communities in countries such as Turkey, Kyrgyzstan and Uganda, among other states—has been instrumental in making kosher food available in the emirates. What began with photographing kosher products in supermarkets and tagging them on Instagram for public awareness morphed into the country’s first kosher shechita, which he arranged in 2017.
Earlier this year he opened the Emirates Agency for Kosher Certification (EAKC), which works hand in hand with a number of worldwide kosher supervision organizations and today EAKC supervises one glatt kosher meat restaurant, Armani/Kaf. Another food establishment, Elli’s Kosher Kitchen catering service in Dubai, is under the Orthodox Union’s (OU) supervision, and the OU is also active in supporting Jewish life in the UAE.
Duchman, who was a member of the UAE’s delegation to the Peace and Prosperity conference in Bahrain last year, has also spent time assisting Jewish communities throughout the Gulf region.
He’s visited the small Jewish community in Kuwait as well as Jewish members of the U.S. armed forces stationed on two bases there, conducted a funeral in Bahrain and flown to Oman to help the tiny Jewish presence in Muscat. With his appointment as the Chabad emissary to the UAE Duchman will be focusing his efforts on the emirates, yet with a continued eye towards helping every Jew in the region.
“The rapid growth of authentic Jewish life and learning in the UAE is truly a herald of the prophet Isaiah’s words of the era when ‘nation shall not lift the sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore,’” Duchman shares. “We’re living in a very special time.”
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