Bahrain and Israel can spread the light

By Houda Nonoo

For me, this year’s Hanukkah miracle began in my kingdom’s longstanding welcome of Jews and will continue in shared opportunities for the region

Hanukkah reminds us all to be thankful for the miracles in our lives – both large and small. This year, we are reminded of the Abraham Accords, a modern-day miracle that took place in the last few months. It is very personal for the Jewish communities of the Gulf – those of us in Bahrain and in the United Arab Emirates.

On each night of Hanukkah, as we light the candles, we make the blessing over miracles, “she’asa nissim le’avotenu bayamim hahem bzman hazeh” (who made miracles for our forefathers in their days and in our time). This year, this blessing holds special meaning for us as we recognize the miracle of the newfound relationship between Bahrain and Israel. We must also keep in mind the future miracles that will develop as a result of this friendship.

For me personally, I experienced my own miracle last month when I was asked to participate in the first delegation from the Kingdom of Bahrain to the State of Israel, led by Foreign Minister H.E. Dr. Abdullatif bin Rashid Al-Zayani. Then, less than a week later, I was in Israel for a second time, this time joining the delegation from the King Hamad Global Centre for Peaceful Coexistence. All my life, I hoped and prayed for the opportunity to visit Israel, but I was determined to wait for the moment when circumstances would allow such a visit. As a loyal and committed citizen of Bahrain, I naturally respected the reality of the situation. Visiting Israel twice in one week was a personal miracle for me and one for which I am extremely grateful.

On a national level, we are thankful for the new relationship between Bahrain and Israel, which has already led to wonderful opportunities for our people. In November, the Ritz Carlton in Manama announced it would be the first hotel in the Kingdom to offer kosher food. A few weeks ago, our national airline, Gulf Air, announced plans to launch its first Tel Aviv flight on January 7, 2021. During this time, there were a number of Bahraini delegations visiting Israel. The expected boom in tourism is another miracle we all appreciate, especially as our economies rebound from the coronavirus pandemic.

Going back to the blessing, “who made miracles for our forefathers in their days and in our time,” I am reminded of the miracle that has been taking place for decades in the generations before us: The Kingdom of Bahrain and the leadership of Bahrain have always opened their doors and hearts to the local Jewish community. We are very thankful for His Majesty King Hamad Bin Isa Al Khalifa’s personal commitment to spreading a culture of peace, dialogue and coexistence, and his support of our Jewish community.

During a meeting with President Reuven Rivlin last month, I was honored to be given the opportunity to talk about the indigenous Jewish community of Bahrain. During our meeting, I proposed that President Rivlin join us for the reopening of our synagogue, which is in the process of being refurbished and is scheduled to reopen around Purim. That is another miracle we are looking forward to celebrating, as many of us were not sure the day would come during our lifetime when the president of Israel would come and visit us in our home in Bahrain.

As we gather with our families to celebrate Hanukkah and both the past and present miracles of which we are the beneficiaries, we must appreciate the miracles we have experienced this year through the Abraham Accords. The Hanukkah lights are designed to be lit outside, to help bring some light unto the world. That message is ever-present this Hanukkah as we look at the candles and are reminded how the relationship between Bahrain and Israel can help bring some light of opportunity to the world.

The late Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks put forward the idea that using one Hanukkah candle to help light the other candles is akin to spreading light to other Jewish souls. I believe we can extend this to the relationship between Bahrain and Israel. Together, we can help light the souls of other countries and join together to better the lives of people around the world. As we light the candles this Chanukah, let us continue to shed light on the shared opportunities that lay ahead between our two great countries.

Monday evening, I joined H.E. Marcy Grossman, Canada’s Ambassador to the UAE, Israeli M.K. Michal Cotler-Wunsch, member of the Knesset and Chair of the Subcommittee on Israel-Diaspora Relations; and Rabbi Yehuda Sarna, Chief Rabbi of the Jewish Council of the Emirates, in a historic event, “Lights across the Middle East,” the first-ever simultaneous Hanukkah candle-lighting in Bahrain, UAE, Canada and Israel. Following the lighting of the menorah, we discussed the impact of the Abraham Accords in the region and the amelioration of Jewish-Arab / Muslim relations around the world.

Houda Nonoo served as Bahrain’s ambassador to the United States from 2008-2013. She is the first Jew to be appointed an ambassador of Bahrain.

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