1,500 guests. Kosher food. The setting for this grand Jewish wedding? Abu Dhabi
Two years after signing a normalization agreement with Israel, Emirati royals and prominent rabbis from across the globe will celebrate the wedding of the United Arab Emirates’ chief rabbi on Wednesday in what is being touted as the largest Jewish event in the Arabian Gulf in recent history.
About 1,500 guests are expected to participate in the wedding of Rabbi Levi Duchman and Lea Hadad, the daughter of Rabbi Menachem Hadad, the Chabad chief rabbi in Brussels, at the Hilton Yas Island in Abu Dhabi, the Emirati capital, according to the organizers.
With the average daily high in the UAE topping 102 degrees, the chuppah will be set up under a large air-conditioned tent overlooking the Etihad Arena, the Middle East’s largest indoor entertainment venue.
The event, coinciding with the second anniversary of the Abraham Accords, will highlight the increasing openness of Jewish life in the Persian Gulf. But the Jewish presence in the region has been growing in the UAE for decades, mainly in Dubai — its largest city — with more Jews doing business and moving there. The Jewish population of the UAE is estimated at 500.
Rabbi Motti Seligson, director of public relations for Chabad, who is a friend of Duchman and traveled to attend the wedding, said, “Seeing all these people coming out to celebrate this couple’s wedding, it points to the incredible impact that these two individuals have had on so many people’s lives.”
Until 2020, the Jewish community in the nation kept its traditions and services private. But recently, the UAE government has welcomed more public observances and celebrations.
Duchman, who was born in Brooklyn, moved to the UAE in 2014 and helped build much of the infrastructure for Jewish life there, including a Jewish day school, a mikvah and a government-licensed Kosher agency. He now heads the Jewish Community Center of UAE in Dubai, though he resides in Abu Dhabi, serving as the rabbi of the Beit Tefilah Synagogue. Before moving to the UAE, Duchman lived for two years in Casablanca, where his brother-in-law serves as the Chabad emissary.
Following the normalization deal, Duchman opened an upscale kosher restaurant in the Burj Khalifa tower in Dubai, the world’s tallest building. In the past year, at least four new kosher restaurants have opened and there are seven locations holding weekly services in Dubai and Abu Dhabi.
“This event is a historic moment for Jewish life in the Arab world,” Seligson said.