The world’s tallest building, the world’s largest shopping mall, the world’s biggest Ferris wheel – so much of Dubai can be viewed through the prism of its superlatives.
We spent a week there on a tour organized by Joey Freudmann of Ophir Tours. Freudmann is a very experienced travel agent but even he had some difficult hurdles to overcome, including providing kosher food for his travelers in a distant Arab country. He succeeded admirably – this was truly the holiday of a lifetime.
There was something surreal about strolling around in a group, where all the men wore their kipot as though they were in Mea Shearim. But that is Dubai, the epitome of tolerance.
It’s a three-hour flight so in no time we were installed in our very comfortable hotel, The Dukes, situated on the Palm, the artificial island shaped like a palm leaf, dating from 2001. We had our own dining room, with excellent kosher food, but could use all the hotel facilities including an indoor and outdoor pool.
Our first tourist act was to go and look at the Burj-el-Arab, the iconic building designed by British architect, Tom Wright, to look like the sail of a ship. It’s actually a five-star hotel and you can stay in the Royal Suite for $24,000 a night. We just gawped at it, took pictures then moved on.
Expo 2020 is due to end very soon (March 31st) so we were lucky to catch it. There are 192 pavilions and you need plenty of stamina and a good comfy pair of shoes. For me, the highlight was the Israel Pavilion, small but giving a lively view of Israel’s diversity, presented by the lovely Lucy Ayoub. She has an Arab father and a Jewish mother whose parents were Holocaust survivors and she is currently presenting Dancing with Stars on Israel television.
It was now Friday and we had a packed day before the blessed day of rest and no sight-seeing. First we were taken in our tour bus to the Miracle Flower Garden (world’s largest natural flower garden, another superlative), a sort of flower Disney world with 150 million blooms, most of them petunias, turned into teddy bears and airplanes. Lovely!
Then it was time to visit Burj-el-Khalifa (the world’s tallest structure). This involved long waits, packed lifts and a few minutes to look at views on the 124th floor. Not the top but still pretty high.
Shabbat at the hotel was a great way to unwind and rest our weary feet. The two resident rabbis, Stewart Weiss and Yitzhak Askof made sure it all went smoothly. Rabbanit Susie Weiss organized a post-prandial game in which everyone had to describe their roommate and use an adjective beginning with their initial. This produced some hilarious answers.
On Shabbat, we were addressed by Rabbi Elie Abadi, the charismatic rabbi of the Dubai community and heard his fascinating life story - He is also a doctor.
On Sunday, we visited several museums including a Holocaust museum founded by an Arab, Ahmed Obeid Al Mansoori, and the first memorial in an Arab country.
Among familiar Holocaust images and portraits of victims, the emphasis is on Arabs who saved Jews, a subject that is not generally well known.
After this sobering experience, we were treated to a river cruise, where we had our evening meal.
The next day, we saw the Van Gogh exhibition Infinity des Lumieres, which some of our group had already seen in Ra’anana. Finally, we were let loose on the mall – huge, spotless and full of mouth-watering shops.
Later that day, the more adventurous indulged in dune-bashing, camel riding and quad biking. Later, dinner was eaten in what looked like a Foreign Legion fort in the desert. We were entertained by a belly dancer and a whirling dervish.
On our final day, we visited another emirate, Sharjaya, where the Museum of Islamic Civilisation is situated. My husband (a surgeon) found the medieval medical knowledge of the Arabs astonishing. Well worth a visit for its displays of early time-keeping and navigational contraptions.
On our last evening, we were taken to La Perla, a spectacular show with trapeze artists, acrobats and a great deal of water splashed around the huge stage.
Before leaving Dubai, we ate our lunch at The Kosher Place, a meat restaurant in the heart of the city.
It was wonderful to come home to Israel, but without exception, we all felt it had been an outstanding trip.
Israelis are visiting Dubai in droves, with several airlines offering multiple flights a day.
Peaceful coexistence is definitely the way to go.