UAE rabbi weds before 1,500 as Abraham Accords enter third year
Chabad leader Levi Duchman’s marriage to Lea Hadad brings royals, rabbis and friends from around the world to celebrate in Abu Dhabi
ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates – Capping his role in helping to bring Jewish life, kosher food and joyful Hasidic spirit to the United Arab Emirates, Rabbi Levi Duchman married Lea Hadad before some 1,500 guests invited to the ceremony in the Emirati capital.
Guests flew in from around the world to celebrate with Duchman, a Brooklyn-born, 29-year-old representative of the Chabad-Lubavitch Hasidic movement and Hadad, the 27-year-old daughter of the chief Chabad rabbi in Brussels. The wedding at the Hilton Yas Island hotel on the evening of Sept. 14 was timed to coincide the next day with the second anniversary of the Abraham Accords, in which the UAE and Bahrain normalized relations with Israel.
It was a historic event in many ways, embodying the UAE’s promotion of cultural tolerance and Arab-Israeli cooperation. Duchman’s synagogue is one of several that have sprung up since the agreements were signed. Previously, a single synagogue operated inconspicuously in a Dubai residential neighborhood to serve the small Jewish population.
“We are most fortunate to be in this great place, the United Arab Emirates,” said Rabbi Levi Banon, Duchman’s brother-in-law from Morocco, who spoke under the chuppah, or ritual wedding canopy, to the cheering guests. “Thank you for making us feel at home.”
While there have been Jewish weddings in the UAE since the Abraham Accords were signed at the White House on Sept. 15, 2020 – many of them performed by Duchman – none of them was close to the scale of Wednesday’s nuptials. Guests came from at least 33 countries, including the U.S., Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Singapore and Nigeria. There were members of the Abu Dhabi Royal Court and officials from the UAE government.
Rabbis arrived from Iran, Russia, Turkey, Nigeria, Singapore and New York, with more than 20 resident ambassadors present. Emaar Properties founder Mohamed Alabbar, builder of the 162-story Burj Khalifa tower in Dubai, was sighted at the wedding, as was Terry Kane, CEO of Meta Middle East, and Manuel Rabaté, director of the Louvre Abu Dhabi.
“This was one of the most magnificent Jewish events that we have ever had in the UAE,” Saoud Saqer Bin Hamoodah, an Emirati aerospace consultant who works with Israelis and attended the wedding, told The Circuit. “This is one of the fruits of the Abraham Accords that we are harvesting now.”
Since Duchman’s arrival in the UAE in 2014, he has established Chabad congregations in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. He is a member of the executive board of the Alliance of Rabbis in Islamic States and founded the Emirates Agency for Kosher Certification.
“Arabs, Jews and Christians were celebrating together and dancing together and that is a testament to the network of goodwill that Rabbi Levi himself has built,” Frank Free, an American chiropractor who moved to Dubai last year and attended the wedding, told The Circuit. Such an event “would have been unthinkable only three years ago,” he said.
While there has been no census of Jews in the UAE, the numbers range from around 500 to 3,000 or higher since the signing of the Accords. Since normalization, some 450,000 Israelis have visited the UAE, according to the Israeli Embassy in Abu Dhabi, as well as tens of thousands of Jewish tourists from around the world.
The ceremony took place near Abu Dhabi’s Saadiyat Island, where the government is building the Abrahamic Family House, neighboring the Louvre’s domed UAE branch. The unique prayer compound, designed by knighted British architect Sir David Adjaye and scheduled for completion later this year, houses a mosque, a synagogue and a church, each of similar proportions with iconic facades reflecting the individual faiths.
“As Jews we feel very comfortable and safe, and it is a big deal for us to feel this way in the UAE,” Avital Shneller, who moved to the UAE two years ago from Israel and now works in tourism, focusing on Jewish markets, told The Circuit. “I feel that Abu Dhabi is definitely the place to be, especially with Rabbi Levi and Lea now making their life here.”