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Local Rabbi: During a rough year, something worth celebrating
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Local Rabbi: During a rough year, something worth celebrating

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The following column is the opinion and analysis of the writer:

One of the most comfortable flights I took was on Etihad Airways in April 2008 from New York to Kathmandu, Nepal. Sporting a golden dust color, my seat in economy was spacious as a typical business-class seat is on an American carrier.

Only one thing disturbed the peaceful setting: my friend who was left behind.

We were a group of Chabad rabbis-in-training traveling to conduct communal Passover Seders in Nepal. When we got to JFK airport, my friend wasn’t allowed to board. The flight had a stopover in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates. He had an Israeli passport and Israeli citizens were barred from the country — even for a mere layover.

It felt wrong to me that discrimination still exists anywhere in the world solely based on the Jewish identity of a country.

That is why I was elated when the Emirates reached a peace agreement with Israel and are now forging diplomatic, trade and cultural connections. For the first time in modern history, Israelis can legally visit these Gulf states.

Twelve years ago, Etihad wouldn’t let my Israeli friend on board. This month, Etihad flew its first-ever commercial passenger flight to Israel’s Ben-Gurion International Airport, and it launched a Hebrew language website.

The headlines over the past six months may have been more negative than they’ve been in decades, but beneath the chaos, there’s a lot of good happening in the world right now — and we shouldn’t lose track of it. This new peace is something worth celebrating.

Our forefather Abraham was given the name Abraham by G-d for its meaning: that he would become “Av Hamon Goyim” — “The father of a multitude of nations.” The appropriately named Abraham Accords recognize and promote the shared values that this multitude of nations hold dear — “tolerance and respect for every person in order to make this world a place where all can enjoy a life of dignity and hope, no matter their race, faith or ethnicity,” it declaration reads.

This peace agreement was followed by additional agreements and overtures of peace in the Middle East — a welcome turn of events for all of humankind.

My cousin, Rabbi Levi Duchman, has led the Jewish community in the UAE for five years, and has now been appointed as the Chabad representative to the UAE. He tells me that under the visionary rule of his Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the country is a peaceful and forward-thinking place. He described it as a place where a rabbi is welcomed to guide his flock in their observance, a place where people of all cultures and faiths are extended warm hospitality and welcomed into the fast-growing metropolises of the UAE.

That is something worth celebrating.

And no, the celebration of peace and progress does not mean we can gloss over the injustices that continue to exist. We must continue to make every effort to bring the dignity, hope and equality espoused in the Abraham Accords to all people. As the devastating effects of the pandemic rage on, it can be difficult to notice the good that is taking place in the world.

But notice it we must. It will inspire us to continue to strive for peace and tolerance. It will lift our spirits in a time of darkness and bleakness. And it will keep alive the hope for a better tomorrow.

And that is something worth celebrating.

Rabbi Yehuda Ceitlin is the outreach director at Chabad Tucson, a Jewish outreach and education network.


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