When the Abraham Accords were announced in September 2020, I knew that the one thing that was going to change for sure was the political and diplomatic relationship between Israel and the UAE. Almost a year into the accords, the unexpected happened: I was invited to spend a traditional Shabbat experience In Manhattan. Together with our Jewish colleague, a group of 4 Muslim Arabs from the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Israel attended a Shabbat service at the Lincoln Center Synagogue, had a Shabbat dinner and Kiddush, Shabbat lunch and a Havdalah service. We joined with Jews of all ages and denominations, eager to host us and share the beauty of Shabbat with us.
I would like to describe my experience. The reason why I decided to share this story is that the experience, from start to finish, was so overwhelming that I plan to apply one of the most important rules from Shabbat to my own life: no digital communication or entertainment allowed at the table or in the room.
I know this may seem overblown, but this simple yet difficult rule for many to follow reminded me about the importance of real human to human connection. The fact that everyone at the table was lost in time, exchanging stories, jokes and positive vibes, was the definition of how we must treat each other every single day. This experience allowed me to self-reflect on the walk back to my hotel about how we need to shut out distractions and pay close attention to what is communicated to us openly and clearly by the ones closest to us.
Miscommunication is the mother of all conflicts, and this may be one of the solutions to avoid unnecessary arguments amongst people. I owe this experience thanks to Sharaka, a peace start-up – an NGO that serves as a model for human-to-human connection between Israelis, Emaratis, Bahrainis, Moroccans and Sudanese youth – and hopefully more Arab countries. Since the establishment of the State of Israel, the people from these Arab states had almost no connection to Israelis unless it was through travel in other countries where the interaction would be seldom friendly and at times awkward.
This is a platform to discuss our challenges and opportunities and where new ideas can grow and hopefully be just as transformative as the Abraham Accords itself.
Of course, the communication is just one aspect of Shabbat. The food, the smells, and the prayers make the experience all worthwhile. I’m grateful to Sharaka for being able to not only bring these people together but to help teach me about my Jewish cousins’ customs and traditions that I will share with my family and friends when I return to the UAE.
Omar Al Busaidy
Omar Al Busaidy is the CEO of Sharaka USA, a Fulbright Scholar, Author and Economic Affairs Liaison at the Consulate General of the United Arab Emirates in New York. He is also the Co-Founder of Creative Space Events Management based in Saudi Arabia.