The story of the Jewish community growing in the United Arab Emirates is one that continues to evolve. But the historical notes of the first to settle and live in an Arab nation in recent times are documented in Amen Amen Amen, an award-winning film that is centered around a Torah scroll gifted to Crown Prince Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan in memory of his father, Sheikh Zayed.
First screened in the United States, Amen Amen Amen was recently shown on the PBS network. More recently it was presented to an Israeli audience in Tel Aviv.
The film follows the initial writing of the Torah scroll in Israel, the making of its golden case in Brooklyn, New York, and its presentation to the crown prince in November 2019.
Businessman Eli Epstein said that when the UAE declared 2019 a Year of Tolerance and held major ceremonies including the pope and Muslim leaders, Jews were not included. He wanted to find a way to express gratitude and acknowledge the growing presence of Jews in the UAE and show the crown prince’s appreciation for this. Thus, the idea of presenting a Torah scroll to the crown prince was born.
Rabbi Yehuda Sarna, chief rabbi of the Jewish Council of the Emirates and one of the community leaders present when the crown prince received the Torah, said: “There’s no way else to describe it than historic for everyone who was present in that room. It wasn’t just a feeling of a high, like with adrenalin pumping. It was more like a kind of trembling or shaking, absorbing the impact of being party to something which is truly historic, the first Torah scroll ever gifted to an Arab ruler.”
The name of the documentary “comes from the fact that of the words that we all share, the word amen is precious to the Christian world, the Hebrew world, and the Islamic world", says Jean Candiotte, the Dubai producer of the film.
“The late Sheikh Zayed welcomed the stranger,” explained filmmaker Tom Gallagher. He checked off important milestones in Emirati’s tradition of religious pluralism, going back to 1958 when the first Hindu temple was established in the country. A Catholic Church was built in 1964 and Pope Francis visited in 2019. “This year, the Abrahamic Family House is going to open, and so each one of these steps along the way reaffirms that core public virtue that religious pluralism is real and tangible in the UAE.”
The newfound relationship between Israel and the Emirates has brought many Israelis to the UAE but few Emiratis to Israel.
Tel Aviv-Jaffa Deputy Mayor Tzippy Brand, who attended the screening, said that she wished to see not only Emirati business people come to Israel but also “the regular people, just for vacation.”
The sentiment was shared by Sumaiiah Al Mheiri, the first Emirati nursing student in Israel, who also attended the screening. “I’d love to see more Emiratis come and visit Israel,” she stated, “because it’s filled with history, culture, and nature – all aspects of the country are amazing!”
The story was written by Felice Friedson and reprinted with permission from the Media Line.