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  • Jewish Life Booms in the Islamic World

    Many will be surprised that there are Jewish Rabbis in Muslim countries or even Jewish communities for that matter. However, Jews have had a long historic presence in Muslim countries. Founded in 2019, one year before the Abraham accords, the Alliance of Rabbis in Islamic States has been a huge step forward in aiding Jews in Islamic countries to continue their traditions and community existence • Full Story

    TheJ.ca

    Many will be surprised that there are Jewish Rabbis in Muslim countries or even Jewish communities for that matter. However, Jews have had a long historic presence in Muslim countries. Founded in 2019, one year before the Abraham accords, the Alliance of Rabbis in Islamic States has been a huge step forward in aiding Jews in Islamic countries to continue their traditions and community existence.

    Rabbi Mendy Chitrik, serves as chairman and is chief rabbi of the Ashkenazi community of Istanbul, Turkey. He says that the alliance has 2 main purposes :

    1) Assist rabbis in their work with material, common issues and similar problems that they can discuss and help each other with

    2) Normalize Jewish life in Muslim countries so it is an accepted everyday part of life the way Muslims can live in Israel or Europe freely – so, we all can coexist and live in harmony.

    According to the Alliance website, “Ninety-five percent of world Jewry lives in just nine countries, which is less than ten percent of the world’s nations. And yet, there are pockets of Jews and active Jewish communities in most of the remaining 186 countries. Dedicated rabbis and their families make enormous personal sacrifices to serve these minor congregations.”

    Even though most have the belief that ‘Jews are European or Western’, this is a misconception! Jews, after all originate in the Middle East and have lived there long before they moved to the US or Europe.

    In fact, many Jews still do live and more lived in most Islamic countries – until the post 1948 war exodus. Some Jews in Muslim countries are the remnants of communities which are ancient. In Iran, Egypt, Syria and Iraq have had Jews since the Biblical era.

    At present, membership of the Alliance is composed of Rabbis in Albania, Azerbaijan, Morocco, Turkey, Tunisia, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kosovo, Kyrgyzstan, UAE, Uganda, Uzbekistan and Nigeria. They are also represented by North Cyprus, Tatarstan and Bashkortostan – which are autonomous regions of other countries.

    The modern day alliance began in 2019 at an informal meeting in New York – the same year their Twitter account was created. Most of the rabbis are Ashkenazi and hail from Chabad Lubavitcher, but there are also Mizrahi and Sephardic Jews. Rabbi Chitrik stated, “All are welcome, regardless of Jewish ethnic division, the goal is to unite.”

    Rabbi Chaim Azimov from Northern Cyprus explained that, “The reason many of us are from Chabad is because Chabad is known for outreach and sends us specifically to assist Jewish communities. To move with a wife and kids is a big commitment and that is something we Chabad rabbis are willing to do.”

    Rabbi Moshe Raskin of Uganda says that he has helped Jews who have lost their passports (of different nationalities) in Uganda, helped expats get together for holidays and serves the mostly expat community in any way they can.  Uganda is not Muslim majority, but is a member of the OIC (Organization of Islamic cooperation) and that is the criteria for inclusion – nevertheless Uganda has a sizeable Muslim community (around 15%).

    The Alliance has helped Jews in a variety of activities from obtaining kosher food to worst case scenarios – saving lives in a crisis. In one of its most prominent missions, the alliance helped rescue Zebulon Simantov, the last Jew in Afghanistan to flee when the Taliban took over in 2021. The Rabbis organized WhatsApp group chats that helped facilitate getting him out via Pakistan and Turkey (where Rabbi Chitrik received him at the airport) and ultimately he got to New York.

    They also helped Rudy Rochman and the film crew trio when they were detained in Nigeria this year for doing a documentary on a ‘Lost tribe’ of Igbo Jews. The team was given food and the Alliance facilitated their communication with the outside world.

    Rabbi Levi Duchman, a founding member based in the UAE told TheJ.ca, “We are grateful to the UAE government for accepting us and supporting us in every way.”

    He continued “Supporting the community is done in many different ways : right now we have a Jewish school, so we are building the infrastructure for young children to learn Jewish culture, Hebrew and our religious customs while in the UAE. They will continue to live either here or move elsewhere eventually. But, to raise these children with knowledge of Judaism and their heritage, and bring out the best in them via education, that is how we plan to make the world a better place.”

    He smiled and said, “In comparison, when I first moved here 7 years ago, it was much harder as Jewish parents had to educate the kids about Judaism at home – now there is more support from the government after the Abraham Accords and a vibrant community. We are witnessing history unfold.”

    Also, they have opened up the Emirates agency for kosher certification and there are kosher options in restaurants now. “We try to make sure any Jew can afford kosher meat like chicken or lamb.”

    “Jewish life is normalized in Muslim countries; it has been for a long time but we want to normalize it both in the Western and public eyes as well, so we live in harmony,” Rabbi Chitrick asserted. “It is not a political movement, but the Abraham accords did help us because it makes it easier to facilitate movement in general from Israel and Muslim countries, bringing us together and making it more comfortable for us.”

    The Rabbi in Nigeria, Yisrael Uzan has dug wells in Muslim majority villages in Nigeria, for the local community. The Jewish community (mostly Israeli and American Jewish expats) there is very small.

    Rabbi Duchman expressed great optimism: “We are not here just for the Jews, but for other communities as well, we help the entire society and strive to be an asset to whichever country we live in.”

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