As Israel’s Prime Minister Naftali Bennett makes history with the first Israeli head-of-state visit to the United Arab Emirates, he’s making history in other ways, too. Bennett was honored by Rabbi Levi Duchman, Chabad-Lubavitch emissary and rabbi to the United Arab Emirates, to begin writing the first letter of a Torah scroll in Abu Dhabi.

Jewish life has blossomed in the UAE since Duchman’s move there in 2015, when he began providing for the community’s religious needs as the sole resident rabbi. That November, the rabbi opened a Talmud Torah, providing supplementary Jewish education, with four students. Today, it numbers 60 students and boasts Jewish preschool, Mini Miracles, that runs along it.

This month, Duchman's organization, Jewish UAE, opened Dubai’s first Jewish children’s camp—a branch of Chabad’s international camping arm, Gan Israel—with more than 50 campers attending. The rabbi oversees the kashrut–there are scores of kosher options throughout the Emirates–and four synagogues across Abu Dhabi and Dubai, that serve the Jewish expat community as well as Jewish travelers from around the world.

In August, 2020, Duchman watched the signing of the Abrahamic Accords from the VIP section on The White House lawn, which made travel for Israelis possible and brought an influx of Jewish visitors to the gulf country. With help from Duchman, the authorities made the local travel industry aware of the needs that Jewish travelers and kosher options sprouted up, including a luxury restaurant at the Armani Hotel in the Burj Khalifa–the world’s tallest building.

Several months later, in December–on the last day of Chanukah, the Chief Rabbi of Israel, Rabbi Yitzchok Yosef, visited–a first for a sitting Israeli chief rabbi to an Arab country–to invest Duchman as Rabbi of the UAE and he dedicated the Jewish community’s newly certified school, Mini Miracles—the first Jewish school in modern Gulf history—viewed the plans and proposed site for the community’s new mikvah, and inspected Duchman’s kosher shechita operation.

Chabad's involvement in the community stretches back to 2008, when New York Jewish businesspeople who had been traveling to the UAE approached Rabbi Yehuda Krinsky—chairman of Merkos L’Inyonei Chinuch, the educational arm of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement—requesting a rabbi to help develop Jewish life in the UAE. In 2010, Chabad rabbinical students led the first-ever Yom Kippur service in the Emirates and continued to send rabbinical students for every Jewish holiday since.

The Torah scroll will serve the many Jewish families in the country, as well as the thousands of Jewish tourists that visit the UAE every month.

The historic letter-writing ceremony was held at the Emirates Palace, a luxury hotel in Abu Dhabi, overlooking a pristine waterfront next to the royal palace.

“This moment will finally inscribe our community on parchment, linking us with the Jewish communities around the world that have commissioned their own Torah scrolls for millenia–transcending time and space,” Duchman tells “The Torah has a welcome home in the UAE, thanks to the warm reception our community has received from the Emirati government and leaders.”