Saturday, April 9, 2011

Shabbat in Dubai?


When I have told people that one of our stops on this sabbatical was Dubai, there was always a double take.  Seriously, Dubai?  I even had to get a second passport without an Israel stamp in it just in case.  But still, why Dubai?

Besides wanting to see some of the kitsch (tallest skyscraper in the world, mega resorts, etc.) the main reason is that I have a very good friend there from childhood, Justin Siberell, who happens to be the U.S. Consul General in Dubai and is hosting us at his beautiful home.  It's great to catch up on old times and talk about what we are both doing today.  It also helps that he has a 9 year old boy and a 6 year old girl for Micah and Jonah to play with.  It helps even more that he has a cook and cleaning staff.  This is the life, let me tell you.
                      From South School 2nd Grade Class
                       to a Rabbi and a Consul General in Dubai
Their Kids:  Emmie, Sam, Micah, and Jonah

Dubai reminds us of Shanghai in that it is one interesting skyscraper after another. I'll do another post on the sites (tallest skyscraper in the world, indoor ski resort, etc.) The new pushes out the old, not always for the better.

A fairly typical looking Dubai Mosque in the older section of the city.

Boats across the creek, about 25 cents a ride
Just a few of the many skyscrapers of today's Dubai
In any case, whether real or imagined, it is never comfortable to be Jewish in the Arab world.  Perhaps I am being paranoid, but I have told the kids that we are not talking about Judaism or Israel out in public here (the "I" and "J" words). As a result there is no official Jewish community in Dubai, though there are a few individual Jews and even Israelis working here for multinational corporations.  Justin asked a Jewish friend who works for him at the consulate if anyone was gathering for Shabbat or if he wanted a rabbi to come visit him, but the person was going away for the weekend, so we were on our own.

We lit candles, said Kiddush over wine, and motzi over a braided bread that looked like Challah in Justin's home.  We shared the blessings with the Siberell's, and despite the fact that there would be no minyan for us, it was really a beautiful, peaceful moment, knowing that even in Dubai, there was Shabbat for us.

The moment of peace was shattered the next morning when looking at the headline of the newspaper, which read.
The story actually provided some context for the current conflict, but the headline and lead paragraphs for what Israel was trying to do (respond to a Hamas rocket which struck a bus of Israeli teenagers) was jarring.  There was also an appropriate story about Shimon Peres and his thoughts about Palestinian statehood right next to the article placing the blame for this latest round solely on Israel.

Dubai is actually quite a diverse and tolerant place in many ways.  Gulf Arabs are actually the minority here, and you rarely hear Arabic being spoken.  There are many Indians here, as well as Pakistanis, Pharsees, and Westerners.  There are gigantic malls with American stores and fast food restaurants (but the meat is all Halal), and there is no de facto the "West is evil" mentality here at all.   But Israel is still the ultimate pariah

I decided to look at some of the books on the shelf here about Dubai.  An autobiography by Easa Saleh  Al-Gurg, one of the most prominent business figures in Dubai, is pretty typical in its aproach.  In the introduction, he says:
The Wells of Memory: An Autobiography
"one aspect of my rejection of foreign influence in the Arab world...which was, in my view,    definitely not for the better.  The result was the creation of the state of Israel and its implantation in our midst with the consequent suffering which it provoked.  The reader will find that this is a theme which echoes through these pages... If I return to this matter in my narrative it is certainly not because I am anti-Jewish but because, with the understanding which I have of our history, I know that a great wrong was done, whatever may have been the motives for it."

It's a polite way of saying that Israel has no right to exist and is the cause of all the problems in the Middle East.  The word "implantation" is especially unnerving, because it assumes that Israel is an artificial Western entity, almost ignoring our 3000 plus years there.  Oddly enough the author understands it and quotes the Passover Seder "next year in Jerusalem," but it doesn't translate to the acknowledgment that Israel has a right to be there.  Of equal importance and irrationality is that Israel has almost nothing to do with Dubai, and yet it is a significant part of this man's story.  The irrational intrudes on the rational, and it is hard for us to wrap our heads around it.

Another post on the tourist side, after our visits to the tallest building in the world and gigantic waterparks will follow later in the week.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks--I especially liked the comment regarding "implantation" even from someone who seems to acknowledge some historical basis for the Jewish yearning for the land of Israel.

    Be safe and be well.

    David Rosenthal