DUBAI: Two years after the signing of the Abraham Accords, normalizing relations between the UAE and Israel, the UAE rabbi got married on Wednesday at the Hilton Yas Island in Abu Dhabi.
Rabbi Levi Duchman, 29, tied the knot with Lea Hadad, 27, the daughter of Rabbi Menachem Hadad, the chabad chief rabbi in Brussels.
The event, which purposefully coincided with the second anniversary of the accords, highlighted the growing presence of Jewish life in the Emirates where until just a few years ago Jews would have to keep their services almost hidden from the public.
About 1,500 guests attended the ceremony, including high-ranking officials from the UAE government and more than 20 ambassadors from France, Japan, South Korea, Finland and elsewhere. Prominent businessmen, including Emirati entrepreneur Mohamed Alabbar were also at the event, as were male and female Catholic priests, reflecting the UAE’s growing commitment to interfaith and co-existence.
“We are most fortunate to be in this great place the United Arab Emirates,” Rabbi Levi Banon of the chabad of Morocco — Duchman’s brother-in-law and master of ceremonies for the evening — told guests from the chuppah, or wedding canopy.
“We feel your motto of excellence and hospitality. Thank you for making us feel at home.”
While the exact number of Jews residing in the UAE is unknown, estimates range from 500 to 3,000 or more since the Abraham Accords were signed. Since normalization, the UAE has welcomed over 200,000 Jewish tourists, a figure that is on the rise given the increasing number of Israelis and Jews living in the UAE and establishing businesses there.
The welcoming ceremony in Abu Dhabi was attended by friends and family from around the world, some making their first trips since the start of the pandemic. During the ceremony, the mothers of the bride and groom “broke the glass,” — the Jewish tradition representing goodwill for a long-lasting marriage between their children.
Hundreds of guests watched as the couple were united in marriage in the chuppah, which symbolizes the home they will build together. Emiratis, Israelis, Americans and other nationalities mingled and conversed as they watched the young couple take their vows.
Rabbi Levi, who has lived in the UAE since 2014, is committed to serving the country’s growing Jewish community. Since his arrival, he has established communities in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, including numerous places of worship, and founded Mini Miracles, the country’s only kosher multilingual nursery and preschool in the Jumeirah neighborhood of Dubai. A second branch is set to open in Abu Dhabi.
He also established a Hebrew supplemental school, a mikvah for the Jewish rite of purification and the government-licensed kosher agency, as well as bringing several rabbis to the UAE to join him in serving the community.
He also set up a training program for rabbinical interns and has helped Israeli and Jewish businesses take root in the Emirates following the accords.
“The couple’s commitment to get married in Abu Dhabi demonstrates their long-term commitment to serving the UAE’s growing Jewish community,” said a Jewish New Yorker who flew in for the occasion.
Rabbi Levi was born in Brooklyn and spent two years in Morocco with his sister Chana and her family. It was there that he was inspired to help grow Jewish life in the Arab world.
His father, Rabbi Sholom Duchman, is the director of the Colel chabad, which was founded in 1788 and is the oldest operating charity in Israel.
Hadad is of Moroccan heritage and was born and raised in Belgium. She is the daughter of Chief Rabbi Menachem Hadad. Her grandfather began the tradition of emissary work when he set up the chabad community in Milan.
“Rabbi Levi and Lea are a perfect couple,” said Alan Kay, a Jew from the UK who has lived in Abu Dhabi for 11 years.
“The fact that they chose their marriage to take place in Abu Dhabi, the UAE capital, is testament to their commitment to the country and to building the Jewish community here.”