Gulf Jews unite: New communal association features Beth Din of Arabia

The AGJC was officially formed on February 15 after last September’s Abraham Accords which normalized relations between Israel and both the UAE and Bahrain.

Ambassador Houda Nonoo and Rabbi Dr. Elie Abadie (photo credit: Courtesy)
Ambassador Houda Nonoo and Rabbi Dr. Elie Abadie
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The newly-created Association of Gulf Jewish Communities (AGJC) is meant to unite Jews in six Gulf countries, from those where the Jewish community has about 1,000 members such as the United Arab Emirates to others where there are only a few Jews, like Oman and Qatar. Most of the Jews living in the Gulf are expatriates, except for Bahrain, where there are about 50 Bahraini Jews.
The AGJC was officially formed on February 15 after last September’s Abraham Accords which normalized relations between Israel and both the UAE and Bahrain. It also shone a spotlight on the Jewish community in the UAE, which had previously been holding services at a private home in Dubai.
Arguably the most famous Bahraini Jew is Houda Nonoo, the former Bahraini Ambassador to Washington. Her cousin, Eebrahim Daoud Nonoo, is the president of the AGJC.
“We created the Association of Gulf Jewish Communities to create a people-to-people network of Jewish communities from the GCC countries so that together, we can share resources and work on a variety of programs and services to benefit all Jews in the region. This Association makes us stronger by uniting us and harnessing our collective resources,” Houda Noonoo said in an e-mail exchange with The Jerusalem Report.
Ambassador Houda Nonoo and Rabbi Dr. Elie Abadie
She said that Jews have lived in Bahrain since the 1880s and can understand the needs of some of the newer Jewish communities like those in the United Arab Emirates, the largest Jewish community and the focus of communal life in the Gulf.
Rabbi Elie Abadie, the spiritual leader of the AGJC who was born in Lebanon and is based in Dubai, could barely contain his excitement.
“Would we have imagined something like this a year ago or even six months ago and of course the answer is no,” he said in a Zoom conversation with The Jerusalem Report. “This has historic significance. I always say we are at the crossroad of history in that entire region if not the world because something like that would not have been even a thought process just a few months ago. So here we are Jewish communities, some large, some small getting together publicly, forming an association to service the Jewish community as necessary, the Jewish communities in this entire region.”
The first two projects of the AGJC are the Beth Din of Arabia and the Arabian Kosher Certification Agency, which will provide kosher food to observant locals and tourists.
“The Beth Din will serve as a repository of personal status life cycle events and of course if there are any disputes, either family disputes or marital disputes or business disputes of people who would want to be adjudicated by a Jewish Beth Din instead of the local court,” Rabbi Abadie said. “Of course, we will not deal with any criminal issues, we will deal only with civil issues.”
Several of the members of the AGJC, including Saudi Arabia, do not have diplomatic relations with Israel. Rabbi Abadie said that local governments in all six countries have been supportive of the association. There are believed to be several dozen Jews living in Kuwait, most of them affiliated with the US naval base there.
A mezuzah is placed on the Israel Diamond Exchange office in Dubai on January 28
Raphael, who did not want to give his last name to an Israeli publication, said the Association has already made a difference to Jews in the Gulf, some of whom were feeling isolated. He is the AGJC representative from Kuwait.
“It’s the first time I’ve been able to meet people in a similar situation to myself in other countries such as Qatar and Bahrain that I wasn’t able to meet previously,” he said in a Zoom interview. “If you think about it, we’re islands of virtual Jewish communities like in Kuwait and we are being connected up, and that is good because (slight beep on tape) you get to know the people, use the resources, help each other and it’s good for contacts as well.”
From October, 2020 until Israel closed its skies in January, 2021, more than 50,000 Israelis traveled to Dubai. Many of them keep kosher, even if they are not fully observant, and were looking for kosher food. Rabbi Abadie says that local kosher entrepreneur Elli Kriel was overwhelmed trying to cater to all the kosher guests.
Many Jews are also interested in visiting Bahrain.
“Since September, there has been a lot of interest from hotels throughout Bahrain who are considering kosher offerings,” said Houda Nonoo. “Back in November, the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Manama became the first hotel in the Kingdom of Bahrain to offer kosher food and it kicked off a cascading effect whereby nearly a dozen hotels have expressed interest in doing the same.
“On the other side, almost every day our community receives inquiries from Jews around the world who are interested in coming to Bahrain and are asking about the kosher options here. Having a regional kosher authority who understands the way hotels in the GCC work and who understand the Jewish business traveler or tourist who is coming to the region and what their needs are, will be a game-changer, not just for Bahrain but for the region in general.”■