Saturday, November 28, 2020

Surprise exodus of Jewish Americans moving to once-hostile UAE

Elie Abadie

When Elie Abadie was in his Upper East Side home watching the signing of the historic Abraham Accords — the peace treaty between the United Arab Emirates and Israel — on TV in September, he had no idea he’d be living in the UAE some two months later. After all, the UAE had historically been so hostile to Jews that Israelis were once barred from even visiting. But last earlier this month he moved with his wife, Estie, to Dubai, where he is now the senior rabbi for the Jewish Council of the Emirates.

“I realized this is the place to be,” the Orthodox Abadie, 59, told The Post, looking out from his Dubai penthouse overlooking the Palm Jumeirah, a glitzy artificial island studded with soaring luxe skyscrapers.

The peace treaty with Israel has paved the way for the UAE’s known Jews — numbering around 300 or so, according to Abadie — to “come out of the shadows and proudly display their Jewishness.”

Now, said the former rabbi at the Edmond J. Safra Synagogue on the UES, who proudly wears kippah and traditional black rabbinical hat on the streets of Dubai, “There’s definitely curiosity and interest in Jews: who they are, what they are. Someone [recently] wanted to take a picture with a friend who had a kippah.



He predicts an influx of 5,000 Jewish newcomers in the next three years. Michal Divon, a 34-year-old Israeli native who lives in Murray Hill, plans to be one of them. “Every day I tell my husband, ‘We’re moving to Dubai,’” said the journalist who’s visited the country twice in the past two months and freelances for the UAE’s Khaleej Times.

It’s a long way from what Jean Candiotte and her husband Barry Greenberg experienced when they first moved to Dubai in 2014 for her media job.

“Being Jewish was something we kept extremely private,” said Candiotte, adding that they even worshiped in a secret location out of fear of anti-Semitism and intolerance. “I understood by coming here, it wasn’t to lead an open Jewish life. We were very much in the shadows.”

Greenberg, a lawyer, said of his last name: “People noted it and I was concerned. Because of the geopolitical issues, there’s a certain level of animosity, mostly towards Israel, but arguably to Jewish people as well. I wasn’t comfortable with people knowing [I’m Jewish].”

They left in 2017, moving to London and then NYC with no intention of going back to the Emirates, but when Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, President of the UAE, announced 2019 as the Year of Tolerance — encouraging citizens to be accepting of other culture — the couple decided to return to Dubai.

“We saw an historic opportunity here,” said Greenberg. Before the accords, he was prohibited from doing business with anyone in Israel — even dialing directly was impossible. “At the bookstore, you wouldn’t find books about Israel. It was as if the country didn’t exist. Things are changing and changing for the better.”

Abadie, who lived in New York City for 40 years, said Dubai also offers welcome changes from his hometown. “You don’t see a cigarette butt or garbage bag on the street or a bubble gum stuck to the pavement,” said Abadie, noting there’s no homeless on the streets of Dubai. “The situation in NYC has been dismal in the last several months.

“Many of my community members told me, ‘Keep us in mind, and if there’s a need for us to escape where we are, please make a beachhead for us,'” he added. “The US used to be a safe haven for Jews all over the world. Now many of those Jews are thinking about a different safe haven. That’s very revealing for members of my community, who in their wildest dreams wouldn’t think it’s possible to come to the Middle East.”

Now Abadie, who’s also a practicing gastroenterologist, enjoys kosher food at a restaurant in the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building, and eagerly awaits 2022’s much-heralded Abrahamic Family House, a compound in Abu Dhabi that will include places of worship for followers of Judaism, Islam and Christianity.

“The UAE is home to a diverse population of 200 nationalities and practitioners of numerous faiths who live and worship side-by-side. We are proud of the growing and vibrant Jewish community that worships and gathers in Dubai,” a rep from the UAE Embassy in Washington, DC, told The Post.

Candiotte noted that some Emirati policies took her aback, like not getting drunk in public or insulting others on social media, took her aback when she first arrived. “Those are American things. As an American, it’s weird, but on the other side, we see the benefits,” she said. “Maybe it’s good not to get so angry [on social media]. It’s a waste of time.”

Besides, she said: “Having a front-row seat to the tolerance movement is a privilege.”



No comments: