Saturday, January 16, 2021
Home World In new playground Dubai, Israelis find parties, Jewish rites

In new playground Dubai, Israelis find parties, Jewish rites


DUBAI, #United #Arab #Emirates (AP) — #It was a scene that just a few months ago would have been unthinkable. #As #Emiratis in flowing white robes and headdresses looked on, the #Israeli bride and groom were hoisted on the shoulders of skullcap-wearing groomsmen and carried toward the dance floor, where dozens joined the throng swaying and singing in #Hebrew.

#Noemie #Azerad and #Simon #David #Benhamou didn’t just throw a somewhat normal wedding bash in the middle of a pandemic that has shut down their country and ravaged the world. They were reveling in #Dubai in the #United #Arab #Emirates, which—like most of the #Arab world—had been off-limits to #Israeli passport holders for decades.

The pair was among tens of thousands of #Israelis who had flocked to the UAE in #December after the two countries normalized ties in a breakthrough U.S.-brokered deal.

- Advertisement -

#Israel’s latest virus-induced lockdown, which began earlier this week, temporarily cooled the travel fever. #But #Israelis with dashed vacation plans, now stuck at home, hope that vaccination campaigns will help contain the outbreak and make #Dubai trips possible again soon.

The lure of #Dubai, the UAE’s skyscraper-studded commercial hub with sandy beaches and marbled malls, has already proven powerful. #Scores of #Israeli tourists, seeking revelry and relief from monthslong virus restrictions and undeterred by their government’s warnings about possible #Iranian attacks in the region, have celebrated weddings, bar mitzvahs and the eight-day #Jewish festival of #Hanukkah with large gatherings banned back home.

“I expected to feel really uncomfortable here,” said 25-year-old #Azerad, the #Israeli bride, from the hotel ballroom, bathed in the glow of #Dubai’s glittering skyline. #But all of her preferred wedding destinations announced tough restrictions on gatherings to check the spread of the virus. #Dubai caps parties at 200.

#Unwilling to delay the wedding, the choice was obvious.

“I feel like it’s #Tel #Aviv,” #Azerad said of #Dubai. “I hear #Hebrew everywhere.”

#Her #French father, #Igal #Azerad, said he always hides his skullcap in his pocket for fear of assault on the streets of #Paris. #But in #Dubai the sight of his kippah prompts “Emiratis to come up and tell me ‘Shalom,’” he said.

The dizzying pace of normalization has stunned even the skeptics. #Despite the countries’ long-secret ties, the UAE had considered #Israel a political pariah over the decades-old #Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The modest expat #Jewish community in the federation of seven sheikhdoms kept a low profile and prayed in an unmarked villa.

- Advertisement -

#But the arrival of 70,000 #Israeli tourists, according to travel agents’ estimates, on 15 nonstop daily flights in #December changed everything. A 12-foot (3.5-meter) #Hanukkah candelabra appeared under the #Burj #Khalifa, the world’s tallest tower, where #Jews gathered to light the candles and take selfies as festive #Hebrew songs blared across the massive fountain downtown.

The #Jewish community’s furtive #Friday night #Shabbat meal has transformed into celebrations at two cavernous banquet halls with spillover seating for #Israeli visitors. “Made in #Israel” signs have popped up in #Dubai’s chain grocery and liquor stores, which now sell wine from the #Israeli-annexed #Golan #Heights. #Wine, honey and tahini from #Israeli settlements in the occupied #West #Bank will hit the shelves in the coming weeks and be labeled products of #Israel, according to a #Dubai-based commodities company.

#On social media, a trip to the UAE has become a status symbol for #Israelis who display photos of themselves in #Dubai. A dozen hotels across the city say they’ve booked thousands of #Israeli travelers and hosted a range of #Israeli business conferences, holiday parties and days-long weddings. #Israeli singers have planned concerts for spring. #Kosher catering companies from the #United #Kingdom and elsewhere have set up shop in the UAE. #Plans are underway to break ground on the country’s first #Jewish cemetery and ritual bath known as a mikvah, according to #Rabbi #Mendel #Duchman, who helps run the country’s #Jewish #Community #Center.

“It was unbelievable, it was a tsunami,” said #Mark #Feldman, head of #Jerusalem-based #Ziontours, noting the contrast to #Israel’s “cold peace” with #Egypt and #Jordan. “Dubai became an oasis for #Israelis in the middle of the pandemic.”

#For weeks in #December, the only other countries where #Israelis could land without a 14-day home quarantine upon return were #Rwanda and the #Seychelles. #Dubai has remained open for business and tourism, with few restrictions beyond social-distancing indoors and masks outside. #Guests at weddings and other gatherings often do not wear masks.

#Even as #Israelis gush about the warm embrace of their hosts, very little has been heard about the UAE’s 180-degree shift from its 1 million citizens, who are granted free housing, education and health care and tend to seclude themselves from their country’s vast expatriate population. The sheikhdom’s hereditary rulers suppress dissent. #Even dramatic political decisions are met with acquiescence.

- Advertisement -

#Ahmed al-Mansoori, an #Emirati museum director who has welcomed dozens of #Israeli visitors to his collection of ancient maps and manuscripts, including a fourth-century #Torah scroll, acknowledged “some cultural misunderstandings among populations that haven’t really dealt with each other before.”

“Each #Emirati has their own psychology about this,” he said when asked about the policy reversal that #Palestinians view as a betrayal of their quest for a state on lands occupied by #Israel.

#But he noted that #Dubai, a city powered by millions of workers from #Africa, #Asia and the #Middle #East, easily absorbs waves of expats, including from countries locked in bitter struggles with each other.

#Despite initial worries about #Iranian threats and diplomatic fallout from misbehaving tourists, travel agents say there have been only minor hiccups. A few #Israeli tourists got stuck in sand dunes while racing on quad bikes, prompting an elaborate rescue mission by a government helicopter, said #Yaniv #Stainberg, owner of #Privilege #Tourism. #Some were arrested for snapping photos at a mosque, he added. #Others were scolded for kissing in public, an offense punishable under the UAE’s #Islamic legal system with prison time.

#But as the virus surged in #Israel and photos of raucous unmasked parties in #Dubai splashed across social media, #Israel’s health and foreign ministries were reportedly sparring over whether to classify the UAE as a high-infection zone, which would require quarantine upon arrival in #Israel and perhaps mar the countries’ new courtship.

#Within days, the point was moot. #Israel entered its third lockdown on #Sunday. #By then, the newlyweds, #Azerad and #Benhamou, had returned home.

“COVID has really hindered us, it’s unfortunate for all the new friends in the region who we want to meet,” said #Eliav #Benjamin, an #Israeli #Foreign #Ministry official, referring to #Israel’s other recent normalization agreements with #Bahrain, #Sudan and #Morocco. “Vaccines, however, will be a game-changer.”



[ source link ]
https://apnews.com/article/dubai-united-arab-emirates-weddings-coronavirus-pandemic-israel-4c0262bfd384ef9f7bbd52dd1d447392

#playground ##Dubai ##Israelis #find #parties ##Jewish #rites

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Most Popular

Recent Comments