How did a yeshiva ended up in the UAE? – The Jerusalem Post

Posted By on June 9, 2021

Tolerance and coexistence were the key words last week for Yeshivat Migdal HaTorah as it became the first gap-year yeshiva to travel to the United Arab Emirates since the Abraham Accords were signed.

The students began their next day with a visit to the Sheikh Mohammed Center for Cultural Understanding.

The students sat with Ruqaya and Mira in a majlis, a special gathering in a room where they were treated like friends, not just tourists.

[Students] asked penetrating questions, and each was answered without a shred of a defensive tone. The respect demonstrated to each other was profound, said Rabbi Dr. Dvir Ginsberg, the rosh yeshiva, or principal, of Migdal HaTorah. They answered questions about their own lives, too.

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The students moved on to the Dubai frame, the largest picture frame in the world, where Matthew Lipman, Makom Israel educator and an expert on the Israel-Palestinian conflict, explained how the Abraham Accords developed, and discussed the UAE in a regional framework.

From there, the yeshiva made its way to the Jewish Community Center of Dubai, where Chabad emissary Rabbi Levy Duchman explained that while founding a new community from scratch was not easy, the government was extremely supportive and even eager to help with the various challenges that arose.

One major challenge the Chabad needed to address was building a mikveh ritual bath. Mikvaot require rainwater that hasnt been carried in a vessel, which can be hard to obtain in a country where average rainfall is less than four inches per year.

The rabbi stressed that throughout the entire process, the Emirati government was supportive and eager to learn, ensuring that despite the unusual request, the proper permits and licenses were obtained and that facilities were available to store the ice.

While at the community center, students also had the opportunity to hear from Moshe Shapoff, a businessman and devout Jew who explained to the students how, at a business conference in Dubai, he had the opportunity to briefly meet Sheikh Ahmed bin Faisal Al-Qassimi, a member of the Al-Qassimi royal family. While the two had only a brief discussion, the sheikh was impressed by the fact that out of all of the Jewish participants, only Shapoff was wearing a kippah.

The hassidic businessman stressed that it was extremely important that the students never forget their heritage, and that they should be proud of their Judaism. He himself walks around the Emirates in full hassidic garb and is treated with respect and kindness.

After their visit to the Chabad house, the yeshiva went on a speed boat tour of the coastline of Dubai. Splashing water provided a welcome reprieve from the sweltering heat as guides pointed out the vast variety of landmarks in the Emirates.

THE STUDENTS ended the day with dinner at the home of H.E. Ahmed Obaid Al Mansoori, the founder of the Crossroads of Civilizations Museum and a former member of the UAE Federal National Council. He spoke to them about his career and about Emirati culture, as well as the importance of coexistence.

The yeshiva joined up with Al Mansoori again the next day at the museum. The facility is split into a number of sections exploring regional and Emirati history, and includes an entire section on the Holocaust, the first of its kind in the Middle East outside of Israel. Al Mansoori spoke in detail about a vast variety of artifacts, answering questions and eagerly discussing the rich history and story the artifacts told.

Al Mansoori stressed multiple times during the museum visit that, throughout the Middle East and North Africa, Jews and Arabs had lived in coexistence for much of history. He added that the region hosted a great amount of religious discourse throughout history, saying it was unfortunate that so many people failed to understand that.

The Holocaust exhibit at the Crossroads of Civilizations Museum is solemn, but also stresses the need for hope. While much of the exhibit focuses on the atrocities committed during the Holocaust, it also tells the stories of the Righteous Among the Nations in Arab countries who saved their Jewish neighbors, and stresses how many Jews have now found a safe place to live in the UAE.

While at the museum, Matthew Lipman took the time to discuss similarities and differences between the UAE and Israel. Lipman stressed that the UAE was also under a British mandate, like Israel, up until the 1970s. However, instead of devolving into conflict as a did a number of other mandates, the UAE worked to unite and grow stronger.

Hosting the yeshiva school was an honor, and the intellectual discussion added value to bringing both nations closer, said Al Mansoori. In addition, the fruitful exchange of thoughts and perspectives between both sides indicated how both religions are so close to one another.... We all, as monotheists, believe in the same God, share [the] same religious roots and values.... Jews and Arabs, are brothers before being cousins.

Moreover, historically, because the Jews and the Arabs had lived in positive coexistence and harmony, the Middle East and North Africa [MENA] region was one of the sources of knowledge and religion that enlightened the whole world, added Al Mansoori. Therefore, it is important that both nations work hard to bring back stability, and should learn to live in harmony again, to make MENA great again, for the best for both countries, region, humanity and the world.

At the end of the tour, Al Mansoori presented the yeshiva with a replica of an ancient copper bowl containing writings and prayers in three Semitic languages: Hebrew, Aramaic and Arabic.

After hours exploring the museum, the students all walking around comfortably while wearing kippot and tzitzit continued with a visit to the Burj Khalifa and the Dubai Mall. The students explored the massive shopping mall, which features an ice rink, aquarium and a variety of other attractions including kosher ice cream.

Throughout the trip, students had easy access to quality kosher meals provided by the Hiltons Al Habtoor City, supervised by the Emirates Agency for Kosher Certification (EAKC), Kosher Arabia, Mul Hayam and Treat Kosher.

On the last day of the trip, the students toured the Kosher Arabia facility on the outskirts of Dubai. There they saw how the local Jewish community provides kosher food for itself, while the regions largest kosher facility aims to become an international exporter of kosher cuisine.

Kosher Arabia co-founder and director Ross Kriel told the Magazine, Kosher Arabia was delighted to host the yeshiva students from Migdal HaTorah. They sampled hummus made by a Syrian chef supervised by an Israeli mashgiach in a kosher kitchen jointly founded with Emirates Catering. The symbolism was powerful. My hope is that other groups will join these Yeshiva students and experience the art of the impossible here in Dubai.

BEFORE THE TOUR of the facility, Kriel who is also president of the Jewish Council of the Emirates explained how he helped found the Jewish community in the UAE. Kriel stressed that despite the many challenges of starting a new community from the bottom up, the Jewish community was thriving in the UAE, which he referred to as the safest place for Jews in the world.

The students next went to the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, where they engaged in deep discussions about Islam, Judaism and the mosque itself. The massive structure can host tens of thousands of worshippers (which it did before COVID restrictions were implemented). The guides were happy to answer all questions as the two sides respectfully discussed their similarities and differences.

The students were stunned by the intricate detail in every part of the mosque, from floral murals that blossom across the floors and up the columns and walls, to the domes that are each uniquely designed. The guides explained every detail, telling how the design was meant to represent and unite a variety of different cultures.

They stressed that Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan was focused on unity and coexistence, and wanted the mosque to become a place where all people could visit safely and respectfully. While the mosque is not open for tours on Fridays when communal prayer takes place at the mosque, those interested in respectfully learning about Muslim prayer are not turned away and may join the services.

The tour of the mosque ended at the library, featuring dozens of books ranging from childrens books, to books on architecture, to analyses of the Hadith, the collected traditions of the Prophet Muhammad. The librarians acted as guides to the students, who expressed deep interest in the wide range of knowledge contained in the library.

The trip was brought to a close with one last dinner and two final speakers: Dr. Essam Al-Nadjy, director of the International Council of MuseumsUAE, and Loay Alshareef, founder of Loay Academy. Both speakers discussed the importance of coexistence, stressing that, in the end, we all have common roots.

The trip to the UAE was not simple, especially considering continuing coronavirus restrictions and the fact that the majority of the yeshiva students are not citizens of Israel. However, weeks of hard work by yeshiva faculty and generous support from Mark and Galina Moerdler helped the trip go off without a hitch.

Throughout the entire trip, the ideals of coexistence and tolerance were everywhere students looked. Residents of the Emirates who met the students were exceedingly kind and respectful, and encouraged discussion and understanding.

We werent subject to any negative comments. For that matter, we werent subject to positive ones either. We were looked upon as being human, and the feeling of being part of the whole was quite strong, said Rabbi Ginsberg. The spirit of tolerance and acceptance is part of the ethos of the UAE. People treat each other with the highest level of respect.

He stressed that one thing the trip helped students understand was that Judaism and Islam actually have a lot in common.

For instance, in Jewish philosophy, theres a certain intertwining that exists between Jewish and Islamic philosophy, many ideas that were out there that made their way both from Jewish philosophy into Islamic philosophy and vice versa, so theres a shared history of philosophy between the two religions. Of course there are obviously differences as well, but theres definitely shared philosophies.

The yeshiva students were still in awe of their experiences as their visit was ending. As they prepared to fly home on the still unbelievable route over Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Qatar, a number of students remarked that what they saw in the UAE gave them hope that such tolerance and coexistence could eventually exist in Israel as well.

The writer teaches at Migdal HaTorah.

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How did a yeshiva ended up in the UAE? - The Jerusalem Post

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