After meeting for years in one another’s homes, Dubai’s Jews—expatriates in fields such as finance, law, energy, and diamonds—three years ago rented a villa in a quiet residential neighborhood and founded that city’s first shul.
The unmarked building features a shul, a kosher kitchen, and a few bedrooms for visitors or community members who don’t drive on the Shabbos. Dozens of mispallelim take part in the weekly minyan. Although the congregation has no rabbi, several visit from time to time.
Some members of the shul ask visitors not to reveal its location or write about its activities, and some are still opposed to speaking openly about it. However the mere existence of shul in Dubai is testament to the amount of acceptance Israel has gained in recent years.
“We’ve come a long way since I first started going to Dubai 30 years ago,” says Eli Epstein, a New Yorker who helped found the synagogue and donated a Sefer Torah with a cover dedicated in Arabic to Mohamed Alabbar, chairman of Emaar Properties, builder of the 163-story Burj Khalifa tower in Dubai. “Back then, people actually told me that I should avoid using my last name because it sounds too Jewish.”
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