On Hanukkah, Bahrain's Jewish community looks toward future

Jews in Bahrain are integrated due to their long presence in the Kingdom.

Kingdom of Bahrain flag (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Kingdom of Bahrain flag
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
While Dubai was having concerts and parties for Hanukkah, below the towering lights of the Burj Khalifa skyscraper, Bahrain’s small Jewish community was preparing more modest get-togethers at home. Ebrahim Nonoo, a leader of the community, said that there are several families and around fifty local Jews in Bahrain. Jews have been here since the 1860s and their long history makes them unique in the Gulf. 
“The authorities here have welcomed us and said to the Jewish people who used to live here they are welcome to come back, if they choose. When they left for Israel they started their own lives,” says Nonoo. The community once numbered around 800 but most left after the foundation of Israel and ended up all over the world. Some came to the United Kingdom, others to the US and others settled in Petah Tikva and Ramat Gan. The small community that remained feels an intense sense of belonging and are Bahrainis first and foremost. 
The synagogue is being refurbished and there are no national Hanukkah celebrations. However, Bahrain has been an early adopter of coexistence initiatives, of the kind that have now bloomed in neighboring Abu Dhabi and Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. The UAE was the first to normalize with Israel in the Gulf, but Bahrain has been talking and pushing coexistence for years. The King Hamad Centre for Coexistence is key to this and it has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the US State Department’s special envoy on antisemitism. It has also sent a delegation to Israel recently that met with President Reuven Rivlin.
Nonoo says that the community has a Torah scroll that was also sent to the UK for restoration. That scroll was actually returned to the community in the 1980s and then sent for the required restorations. Families in Bahrain light the candles of hanukkah at home and use Zoom to connect to each other and Jews around the world. 
“We are learning a lot more about our history and the community now is only about 50 people and it’s a small community, and we understand Israelis will be coming, and they will create minyans,” Nonoo says referring to the wave of Israelis now flying to the Gulf. It is believed that some 50,000 people could fly to Dubai this month with several flights a day by three airlines. El Al began flights this week, and Israir and Fly Dubai are already plying the route. Thousands arrive daily to Dubai. Flights are. Likely to begin to Manama in Bahrain on January 7.
Nonoo says Jews in Bahrain are integrated due to their long presence in the Kingdom. Bahrain is home to one of the first hotels to offer kosher cuisine in the Gulf at the Ritz Carlton, Manama. This is a major message of welcome to Jews. Back in 2015 Rabbi Moshe Lewin, Vice-President of the Conference of European rabbis and Special adviser for the Chief Rabbi of France came to Bahrain and celebrated Hanukkah. This was one of the first global and visual changes showcasing the Jewish community in Manama. In addition, Bahrain appointed a Jewish woman, Houda Nonoo, ambassador to the United States. Another symbol of its embrace of the community and the community’s profile.