The United Arab Emirates’ first Jewish children’s camp opened on Monday in what the country’s resident rabbi described as a “game changer.”
Camp Gan Izzy at the Mini Miracles Jewish preschool in al-Safa intersperses activities such as bowling and talent shows with lessons on Jewish history and religious practices.
“This is something tremendous,” the UAE’s Rabbi Levi Duchman told Al Arabiya English. “This is a direct outcome of the Abraham Accords, and we’re very excited about this.”
The first day of Camp Gan Izzy coincided with a historic visit by Israel’s Prime Minister Naftali Bennett where he met Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed, the first official visit of an Israeli leader to the UAE.
Camp Gan Izzy has dozens of locations around the world and is bringing in counselors from the US and France to teach Jewish children in the UAE about their religious heritage.
More than 50 children have signed up for the camp, which runs until December 22.
Rabbi Duchman, who himself worked at a Camp Gan Izzy as a young man, has lived in the UAE for seven years.
“I think this camp is a game changer to Jewish children growing up in the UAE,” Duchman explained.
“This gives them the opportunity to meet new friends, meet new people, and this makes it normal for a child to grow up in the United Arab Emirates.”
Although a Jewish community existed in the UAE since well before the country formally established ties with Israel in mid-2020, the signing of the Abraham Accords was a signal to Jewish people worldwide that the UAE could make a good home for them, Rabbi Duchman said.
“In terms of families, all of a sudden the UAE came on the map. Before the Abraham Accords, maybe they would never consider to move to the UAE, they weren’t sure. What is their view on Israel? What is their view on other topics?”
But the rabbi had nothing but praise for the way the UAE’s leaders have treated the fledging Jewish community, which he says has grown rapidly since relations were normalized.
“As we continue to build Jewish life in the UAE, build tolerance and coexistence, we want to have children growing up in the UAE with the same values that the UAE leadership has – values of tolerance, values of respect, and coexistence.”