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Jewish community from UAE joins virtual Tu b’shvat celebration for the first time

Families from Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Israel and Chicago come together for historic Tu b'Shvat event organized by The Jewish Agency for Israel

The Straussman children planting a willow tree in Israel on behalf of the Chicago and UAE Jewish communities, as a symbol of the connection between global Jewry and Israel. (Photo: Guy Yechiely for The Jewish Agency)

Members of the United Arab Emirates Jewish community participated in a unique Tu b’Shvat virtual gathering along with families from Israel and Chicago to celebrate last week the Jewish holiday of renewal known for its common tradition of tree planting. 

During the Tu b'Shvat event, families shared personal stories about their respective Jewish communities. The Straussman family from Israel’s southern Lachish region planted a willow tree on behalf of all the families who participated in the celebration — a symbol of the deep bond that exists among members of the global Jewish community.

The signing of the Abraham Accords normalization agreement has sparked a revival in the UAE Jewish community and the Tu b’Shvat gathering  marked the first time ever meeting with Israel and the U.S. for a joint celebration. There are more than 1,000 members of the Jewish community in the UAE, mostly from Dubai and Abu Dhabi, made up of Jews from around the globe. 

Jewish Agency Chairman Isaac Herzog and Amira Ahronoviz, chief executive officer of the Jewish Agency, also participated in the festive occasion. 

"Having the Jewish community from the United Arab Emirates openly join in the Jewish Agency's Tu b'shvat celebrations, connecting with other communities, is one of the exciting moments in this time of severe health crisis, closures and restrictions around the world," said Herzog. “Let us hope that next year at this time we will be able to host the Jewish communities of the Gulf states here in Israel for tree planting, taking full part in our Jewish tradition."

Dubai residents Jeremy and Aurelie Cohen are originally from Paris and lived in London prior to relocating to the UAE. 

"Jewish life in Dubai has been amazing and even thriving since the signing of the Abraham Accords. We have everything we need — kosher food, kosher wine and kosher restaurants,” Jeremy said, adding that there is rich Jewish life in their community and their two children, Axel, 6, and Emma, 4, have learned to recite songs in Hebrew. 

Ambassador Eitan Na'eh, Israel's newly appointed ambassador to the UAE, was present, as well as Rabbi Levi Duchman, who has been serving in the UAE for over six years and Beirut-born Rabbi Levi Duchman Elie Abadie who relocated to the UAE from New York City at the end of 2020, shortly after the normalization agreements with Israel were signed.

President of the Jewish United Fund (JUF) - Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago, Lonnie Nasatir, also joined the landmark event. The JUF maintains a connection with the Lachish, Kiryat Gat and Shafir regions in Israel via the joint initiative, Partnership2Gether, a program created by the Jewish Agency and the Jewish Federations of North America.

"Tu b’shvat, a holiday of renewal and fresh start, is the perfect occasion to plant the seeds of new bonds between the Jewish community in the U.S., the Jewish community in the UAE and our partnership community in Israel — a living bridge connecting our people," Nasatir said. "I am particularly excited to be present as our sisters and brothers in Dubai and Abu Dhabi have, for the first time, an opportunity to celebrate a Jewish holiday proudly and openly."

PHOTO: The Straussman children planting a willow tree in southern Israel on behalf of Chicago and the UAE Jewish communities. Credit: Guy Yechiely for The Jewish Agency.

Founded in 1929, the Jewish Agency for Israel has been helping to build a better society in Israel and to help Jews around the world to rediscover a collective sense of Jewish purpose. The agency was instrumental in founding and building the State of Israel and continues to serve as the main link between the Jewish state and Jewish communities everywhere. Today, the Jewish Agency connects the global Jewish family, bringing Jews to Israel, and Israel to Jews, by providing meaningful Israel engagement and facilitating Aliyah.  

The Jewish Agency for Israel’s Partnership2Gether program connects Israeli cities with Jewish communities worldwide, creating a growing network of support and friendship, as well as provide a way to understand the rich variety of religious expression around the world. There are 46 partnerships happening right now that engage and connect more than 350,000 Jewish people. The Partnership2Gether initiative helps to build and support these relationships to create a stronger connection to Israel and the Jewish experience.   

The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.

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