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Orthodox Forum Event Features Talk On Impact of the Abraham Accords

On Motzei Shabbat October 29, the Orthodox Forum of Highland Park and Edison held its inaugural 2022/2023 event via Zoom, featuring Ariella Steinreich, a prominent communications professional and strategic adviser in the United States and the Middle East. She discussed “The Impact of the Abraham Accords on Creating a New Middle East, and What’s to Come Next.”

Mark Abraham, Orthodox Forum chairperson and marketing chair, welcomed the Zoom assemblage. Program chair and moderator Josh Caplan noted that Steinreich, a senior VP at Steinreich Communications, works closely with Israeli companies looking to do business in the Gulf cooperation countries (GCC) and with GCC companies looking to do business in Israel. She is also a founding member of the UAE-Israel Business Council and of the Gulf-Israel Women’s Forum. Originally from New Jersey, she attended Yavneh Academy in Paramus and Ma’ayanot Yeshiva High School for Girls in Teaneck before attending college in Manhattan.

Steinreich began by saying that there were signs that something was going on approximately a year and a half before the Abraham Accords were signed in the fall of 2020. For example, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) sent two planes of COVID-related relief supplies to the Palestinian Authority in late spring—something that could not have been done without tacit approval from Israel. There was also activity on Twitter discussing the UAE’s relationship with Israel, with later tweets included Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan. Countries were joining in because of the increased economic opportunities.

The countries are predominantly Muslim, with a smattering of other faiths (Hindu, Bahai, Christian). Most people are unaware that there is a tiny, indigenous Jewish community in Bahrain that for centuries had the only synagogue in the region, and still maintains the only active Jewish cemetery. The desire to form ties with Israel had its roots in the contacts made by the younger generations of “Gulfies” who were receiving their education at Western universities and met other students from different faiths from around the world. When creating tech startups, it was natural for new CEOs to use contacts made during their university education, which often included Israelis. Gulf residents were already fans of Israeli television programming on Netflix and saw the commonalities in social media and music.

The first signers of the Accords were the UAE and Bahrain—both countries with strong ties to the West. The signing has seen massive economic growth, with a $1.2 billion in business between the UAE and Israel in 2021.

Culturally, it is not unusual to hear Hebrew spoken among the Muslim population and in workplaces and stores. It is not only Israeli expats speaking Hebrew, it is also the native population who have gone to Israel to visit and enjoy the restaurants and entertainment. Visitors to Israel often post about their good times on social media, which then magnifies the effect and makes others want to visit.

The trade benefit of the Abraham Accords has also benefited Israel greatly.

A misconception that Steinreich addressed was the general Western sense that women are second-class citizens in the Gulf States. In reality, the UAE Parliament is 50% female, while corporate boards are required to include a percentage of females. Women in Bahrain were accorded the right to vote before women in the United States were permitted to do so. Oman and Bahrain have had female ambassadors to the United States and other countries.

What do the populations of the Arab states in the Abraham Accords think about America?

Surprisingly, they don’t understand the antisemitism and violence that plagues the United States. “Whenever there is an attack in America, locals reach out to their Jewish friends to make sure everything is OK with their families,” said Steinreich. “There isn’t antisemitism in the UAE as there is in America.” It is hard for them to understand that some Jews feel uncomfortable wearing a kippah or other identifiably Jewish symbol in America, while it is completely possible to identify as such in the UAE. “There was no risk to do this before the Abraham Accords, and it is even more comfortable now to do so.”

The largest Jewish community in the UAE is in Dubai, with the community in Abu Dhabi growing exponentially. Steinreich is especially excited about the new kosher supermarket that will be opening soon in Dubai. There is already a mikvah, a Jewish preschool, multiple minyanim and several kosher restaurants. A new synagogue will be opening in the Abrahamic Family Campus that will include a shul, mosque and church. It is fairly certain that another Jewish day school will open within five years as the community adds families, children now in preschool increase in age and parents wish to keep their religious connection. There are also Jews in the American military stationed in the region and American expats who increase the Jewish population.

In February 2021 the Jewish communities of the Gulf States got together to create the Association of Gulf Jewish Communities (AGJC). The group would allow each community to keep its own cultural identity, but allow them to pool their resources in the interest of keeping Jewish life flourishing. The AGJC also recently developed the first Jewish dating website in the region to help the many singles. There are active Sephardic, Ashkenazic and Chabad groups, so there is someplace for every Jew to feel at home. There are even Facebook and Instagram accounts dedicated to Kosher/Jewish life in the region.

The Orthodox Jewish Forum of Highland Park and Edison is a community-wide educational endeavor to discuss contemporary issues and ideas in the ideology of Torah Umadda. The aim is an open discussion and dialogue on contemporary topics. The Orthodox Forum gladly accepts season sponsorships, as well as program sponsorships. For more information regarding sponsorships and future programming visit: https://orthodoxjewishforum.dreamhosters.com/hpedison/

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