Grapevine: UAE in Talbiyeh

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

Chief Rabbi of the Jewish Council of the Emirates Rabbi Yehuda Sarna meets with Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan at ceremony in 2019 in which the crown prince was given a Torah scroll dedicated to his father’s memory.  (photo credit: RELIGION MEDIA COMPANY)
Chief Rabbi of the Jewish Council of the Emirates Rabbi Yehuda Sarna meets with Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan at ceremony in 2019 in which the crown prince was given a Torah scroll dedicated to his father’s memory.
(photo credit: RELIGION MEDIA COMPANY)

For two days toward the end of last week, UAE Chief Rabbi Yehuda Sarna attended Shabbat services at Hazvi Yisrael congregation in Talbiyeh in order to meet his former teacher, Rabbanit Miriam Hauer, whose late husband, Rabbi Binyamin Hauer, had been the rabbi of the Montreal, Canada, synagogue which Sarna had attended from early boyhood. Rabbanit Hauer is congratulated every few weeks on the birth of yet another great-grandchild, and last Shabbat was no exception.

Hazvi Yisrael has a custom of inviting different rabbis – especially visiting rabbis from abroad – to give a lecture in English after the Saturday morning service.

Naturally, Sarna was asked to give the lecture and was thrilled to see his former teacher in the audience; he knew that if he made a mistake, she would correct him, which of course she didn’t have cause to.

A man with many strings to his bow, Sarna also serves as the executive director of New York University’s Edgar M. Bronfman Center for Jewish Student Life and is a university chaplain in the Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service.

Students and visitors celebrate as the Har Etzion Yeshiva marks its 50th anniversary in the Jewish settlement of Alon Shvut, in Gush Etzion, on September 27, 2018.  (credit: GERSHON ELINSON/FLASH90)Students and visitors celebrate as the Har Etzion Yeshiva marks its 50th anniversary in the Jewish settlement of Alon Shvut, in Gush Etzion, on September 27, 2018. (credit: GERSHON ELINSON/FLASH90)

He studied at Yeshiva Har Etzion, graduated from Yeshiva College, and received his rabbinical ordination from the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary.

One of the reasons he was in Israel is that he teaches a course on extremism at NYU, which he continued to teach briefly in Israel before traveling to Berlin.

Extremism, he explained, is not always a sin of commission but also one of omission. Since the dawn of their history, the people of Israel had been outcasts, who were not considered equals. When Joseph was appointed viceroy of Egypt by Pharaoh, he granted sanctuary to his father and brothers with Pharaoh’s approval, although Pharaoh deeded the land not to them but to Joseph, his viceroy. 

Subsequently, neither Pharaoh nor those who came after him associated with ’’those people,” (Joseph’s father and brothers) who were not on an equal footing with the Egyptians. This kind of attitude led to extremism and continues today with the refusal to recognize the equal rights of others. 

Sarna also mentioned that a few weeks back, while riding on a train in the US, the door opened at Baltimore, and in stepped Rabbi Moshe Hauer, the son of Miriam Hauer and resident of Baltimore. Rabbi Hauer frequently commutes to New York, where he serves as the executive vice president of the Orthodox Union. Last September, he was appointed to the Department of Homeland Security’s 25-member faith-based Security Advisory Council.

Sarna and Hauer, who know each other well, had a very pleasant chat on the train. Sarna even joined in Hauer’s weekly call to his mother and was delighted to meet her in the flesh so soon after talking to her on the phone.

Another subject that Sarna mentioned was the Abrahamic Family House that was initiated in Abu Dhabi in 2019, in tandem with the visit to the UAE by Pope Francis. Enclosed in a single complex are a mosque, a church and a synagogue, collectively symbolizing the descendants of Abraham. The project, which Sarna said is magnificent, is nearing completion, but there is a problem with the mikveh – the Jewish ritual bath, which, according to Jewish law must be filled with rainwater. But as it hardly rains in the UAE, this has proven rather difficult. The solution? Specially packed snow imported from Siberia or Mont Blanc. 

REGARDLESS OF the age at which a person dies, whether it be young or old, their passing leaves a vacuum. Over the past week, among the senior residents of Jerusalem who passed away were two outstanding women of valor. One was philanthropist and fearless leader of worthwhile causes Els Bendheim; the other was Mimi Avner. Both lived into their 90s (Els passed away just shy of her 100th birthday) and were married to men of vision and influence.

Charles Bendheim, Els’s husband, was an industrialist and philanthropist who supported numerous Jewish causes in New York and in Israel. Following his death in 1997, his wife continued his philanthropic work. The couple had seven children – five daughters and two sons – who followed in their footsteps in community involvement and philanthropy. 

Mimi Avner was the widow of famed diplomat, writer and orator Yehuda Avner. The couple were among the founding members of Kibbutz Lavi in the Lower Galilee, founded in 1949 by Orthodox British Jews who had grown up in Bnei Akiva. After a few years, the couple moved to Jerusalem, where Yehuda Avner served as secretary and speechwriter to Golda Meir and Levi Eshkol and as an adviser to prime ministers Yitzhak Rabin, Menachem Begin and Shimon Peres. He also worked in the Israel Consulate in New York and was ambassador to the UK and to Australia. Both he and Mimi were extremely hospitable and deeply involved with the communities in which they lived. Although they maintained a religious lifestyle, they had many secular friends and acquaintances.

Yehuda Avner had 10 commandments in which he and Mimi passionately believed:

  1. When an enemy of our people says he seeks to destroy us, believe him.
  2. Stand tall in the knowledge that every tyrant in history who has ever sought our destruction, has himself been destroyed.
  3. Protect Jewish dignity and honor at all costs. Life is holy, but there are times when one must risk life for the sake of life itself.
  4. Never raise a hand against a fellow Jew, no matter what the provocation.
  5. Give the enemy no quarter in demolishing his malicious propaganda.
  6. When a threat against a fellow Jew looms, do all in your power to come to his aid, whatever the sacrifice.
  7. Never pause to wonder what others will think or say.
  8. Be forever loyal to the historic truth that Israel is the nation state of the Jewish people, and Jerusalem its eternal capital.
  9. Love peace, but freedom more.
  10. Build Jewish homes, not by accident of birth but by the conviction of our eternal Torah.

Both Els Bendheim and Mimi Avner did numerous good deeds, quietly and unassumingly. They will be missed by many.

WITH INTERNATIONAL Holocaust Remembrance Day coming up next week, organizations around the country will devote meetings to various aspects of Holocaust history.

On January 24 at 7.45 p.m., Dr. Simon Wiseman will address the Israel branch of the Jewish Historical Society of England on the life and times of Dr. Max Glatt, international expert on alcoholism and drug addiction.

The lecture, entitled “Berlin to Dachau, Internment and Return,” will be presented at Mercaz Hibba, Jerusalem. Admission NIS 30.  Check parking restrictions.

[email protected]