Last month Gil Travel hosted a program called "Kosherati – A Kosher Spin on Gulf Food" with Dr. Elli Kriel, who started the first kosher kitchen in the UAE and the Gulf region. Before she ‘got down and dirty’ on teaching the virtual group on how to make her unique challah based on an emirate bread recipe including saffron, cardamom and, of course, dates, Elli talked about her experience of being a Jewish woman, and a Jewish mother, in Dubai. Her business venture, Elli’s Kosher Kitchen, was a result of her own kosher lifestyle that she and her family maintain, even in Dubai. Elli described Dubai as an International community – even the Jewish community is made up of ex-patriates from all over the world. There isn’t an indigenous Emirate Jewish community. Up until the Abraham Accords, with the normalization of relations with Israel, the members of the Jewish community were not necessarily comfortable about displaying their Jewish identity – they weren’t always sure how open they could be with their peers or colleagues or what response they would receive from their emirate acquaintances once their identity was made public. What I learned from Elli – is that today post Abraham Accords – in addition to 28 direct flights to Israel weekly, visa entry to Israeli’s and Americans upon entry into the UAE, to Kosher kitchens being created in many of the luxury hotels, to integrative business prospects, potential collaborative ventures in medicine, agronomy, water and perhaps even defense - being Jewish in the UAE 2020 is an altogether different experience. One of openness, opportunity and freedom in one’s Jewish Identity; allowing the Jewish community to ‘come out’ and begin to assess its needs, develop goals and create strategy and planning to develop a strong future in this part of the world.
The week after meeting Elli (virtually), I had the pleasure of meeting another Jewish woman in the Gulf – this time in Bahrain. My friend and colleague, Rabbi Dr. Ari Zivotofsky, a professor of brain sciences at Bar Ilan University in Israel, a shochet (ritual slaughterer) and mohel (ritual circumciser) who travels the globe to discover and record ancient Jewish traditions, introduced me to Nancy Elly Khedouri, appointed by His Majesty to sit in one of the 80 seats of the Bahraini Parliament as a member of the Jewish community. Unlike UAE, Bahrain has a Jewish community going back more than 1,000 years. In its heyday in the 1930’s and early 1940’s, there was an estimated 1,500 Jews residing in Bahrain. Today, only a few dozen Jews remain struggling to maintain their history, a synagogue and a cemetery, despite the lack of a strong communal infrastructure. Nancy has written a book entitled From Our Beginning to Present Day, which documents Bahraini Jewish history so that the legacy of this community will never be forgotten. The Persian Gulf States are, one by one, signing peace agreements with Israel. This new era of acceptance, along with increased stability and security in the region, will enable Jewish travelers to enjoy experiences previously inaccessible. Moreover, visits to the Gulf States will not only offer a glimpse into the region's Jewish past and present, but also the ability to experience history in the making. We look forward to making history together and introducing you to both Elli and Nancy!
- Rebecca Stern, Gil Travel's Jewish Content Specialist