On Wednesday, April 7, 2021, Rabbi Dr. Ari Berman, President of Yeshiva University, joined Jewish and Arab leaders in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, for the first Yom HaShoah commemoration in an Arab country.
The event was the outgrowth of years of work on the ground by a small but very committed Dubai Jewish community as well as high-level political work in the government to establish the Abraham Accords.
The commemoration was historic in that it signals a change not just between two countries but between two peoples, in which Jews and Muslims can gather and mourn together, focusing on their common humanity and their joint commitment to build a more cohesive future.
In addition to Rabbi Berman, speakers at the event included Rabbi Yehuda Sarna, Chief Rabbi of the Jewish Council of the Emirates; Yael Grafy, COO of the Crossroads of Civilizations Museum; Ahmed Obaid Al-Mansoori, founder of the Crossroads of Civilizations Museum; and Rabbi Elie Abadie, the senior rabbi of the Jewish Council of the Emirates.
The event also marked the opening of a new exhibition at the Crossroads of Civilizations Museum in Dubai that documents the atrocities of the Holocaust while also highlighting stories of Muslim courage during World War II.
“Though this evening we are looking backwards to the darkest period in Jewish history, tonight’s event is actually an evening of light,” noted Rabbi Berman in his remarks during the event. “It is lighting the way for a godly partnership of faith between communities who will not rest until hate is defeated. We stand side-by-side with our new friends and allies in the battle against anti-Semitism and in the fight for tolerance.”
In addition to participating in the event, Rabbi Berman met with local policymakers, business leaders, and educational and government officials in Dubai.
Reflecting on the historic visit to Dubai, Rabbi Berman described the feeling during the Holocaust Remembrance Commemoration as one that was not “simply of coexistence and tolerance but of reuniting members of a family. The economic and technological benefits of the Abraham Accords are no doubt important to current strategic alliances. But the opportunity of the coming together of two faiths, in friendship, holds possibilities unseen for millennia. This opportunity calls for attention and investments in areas like education that humanizes and enriches people’s understanding of one another.”
In a letter to the Yeshiva University community following his return from Dubai, Rabbi Berman shared the following thought: “As the Yom HaShoah program drew to a close, a memorial prayer for victims of the Holocaust was being recited by a rabbi in Arabic, when suddenly a muezzin’s call to prayer could be heard from a nearby tower. Both hymns remained distinct, but there was a certain touch of harmony and history to them being sung simultaneously. Perhaps a fitting metaphor for the possibilities that rest ahead.”