In Bahrain, Arabs and Jews Gather (and Dance) at a Hanukkah Celebration
Orthodox Jews in black coats and skullcaps danced with Arabs in flowing robes and checkered kaffiyehs at a Hanukkah celebration over the weekend in Bahrain, a Muslim-majority monarchy whose king has sanctioned celebrations of the Jewish holiday.
Video of the celebration, which included a Jewish delegation giving a large silver menorah to Arab dignitaries and members of both groups dancing together, appeared on Monday on YouTube, where many commenters lauded the multicultural celebration.
“The positive energy that there was tonight needs to be spread around,” an unidentified Jewish man tells the group in American-accented English before handing over the menorah, which he called symbolic. “The symbol is that hopefully through this night we can bring infinite light to the world.”
The Jewish Telegraphic Agency reported that Bahraini officials hosted the Hanukkah candle-lighting ceremony on Saturday, the first night of the eight-day holiday, and that it was attended by members of the country’s small Jewish population, foreign businessmen and “other local Bahrainis.”
The identities of the members of either delegation could not immediately be determined, but American Orthodox Jews suggested online that the Jewish group might have been backed by Eliezer Scheiner, a businessman and philanthropist from Brooklyn. Calls to Mr. Scheiner were not answered.
In 2015, King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa of Bahrain invited European Jewish leaders to conduct a Hanukkah candle-lighting ceremony in the capital, Manama, the first such ritual performed in the country since 1948, according to the Conference of European Rabbis.
“Here in Bahrain members of all the religions live with no fear, and we will continue to allow Jews to live peacefully and quietly, maintaining their lifestyle, their customs and the commandments of their religion without any fear,” the king said at the time.
There are fewer than 50 Jews living in Bahrain, but the king has embraced them, adding Jews to his Shura Council, which advises him, and appointing a Jewish woman, Houda Ezra Ebrahim Nonoo, as ambassador to the United States in 2008. She is the first Jewish ambassador posted abroad by any Arab country.
In a statement, Hamas criticized the celebration in light of a recently passed United Nations Security Council resolution condemning Israel’s construction of settlements in disputed territory.
“In light of the increasing pace of international sympathy for the Palestinian cause and support for the rights of the Palestinian people, and the growing international boycott of the Zionist entity movements in all forms, that a group of dignitaries and traders in the State of Bahrain hosted a Jewish, Zionist, racist, extremist delegation and danced with them is a humiliating and disgraceful display,” the group said in a statement posted on Twitter.
Originally published here: https://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/27/world/middleeast/bahrain-hanukkah-arabs-jews.html