Houda Nonoo
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Shalom and welcome to Bahrain

I was the first Bahraini female Jewish envoy to the US, so you can believe me when I tell you that my country is a bastion of religious freedom. Come see it for yourselves!
Dr. Shaikh Khalid bin Khalifa Al-Khalifa of the King Hamad Global Center for Peaceful Coexistence, speaks to Israeli journalists at the Bahrain Jewish Community Synagogue, October 18, 2020. (Matty Stern/US Embassy Jerusalem)
Dr. Shaikh Khalid bin Khalifa Al-Khalifa of the King Hamad Global Center for Peaceful Coexistence, speaks to Israeli journalists at the Bahrain Jewish Community Synagogue, October 18, 2020. (Matty Stern/US Embassy Jerusalem)

As the excitement following the signing of the Abraham Accords continues to reverberate around the world, we are already seeing the underpinning of not just peace, but a warm peace between our two nations. One byproduct of this is the surge in interest from Israelis and the broader global Jewish community in coming to visit Bahrain, and we are looking forward to welcoming you.

Bahrain is known for its warmth and hospitality, our centers of art and culture and education institutions. One thing you will encounter throughout your stay is our commitment to interfaith dialogue and peaceful coexistence, a core principle that is important to His Majesty, King Hamad Bin Isa Al Khalifa.

For decades, His Majesty has personally backed a policy of interfaith engagement. Notably, Bahrain has been the only Gulf Arab state with a small, yet vibrant, Jewish community, which plays an integral role in the country’s social, economic, and political scenes. His Majesty has provided our community with a seat on the Shura Council so that our voice can be heard. He is proud of Manama’s synagogue — the first in a Gulf country — and his grandfather provided the land for the Jewish cemetery, currently the only one in the Gulf. For decades, our Jewish community has enjoyed a climate of religious freedom in Bahrain, where various religions and sects have coexisted for centuries, and where one can find a synagogue a few meters away from mosques and matams, the Hindu temple, and churches.

What some may not know is that the Jewish community of Bahrain dates back about 140 years to the late 1800s, when a group of Iraqi Jews arrived in search of economic opportunities and made their way to Bahrain. At its height in the 1920s and 1930s, the community had about 1,500 members. Today, we still have an active community, but it is considerably smaller. Our synagogue is under renovation, and is slated to open next year as both a synagogue for prayers and as a Jewish museum — the first of its kind in the Arabian Gulf.

In June 2019, we hosted the first minyan – a prayer quorum – in decades, when Israeli journalists, rabbis, and Jewish leaders, from around the world came to Manama for the White House’s, Peace to Prosperity conference in Manama. During the conference, Dr. Khalid bin Khalifa Al Khalifa, chairman of the board of trustees of the King Hamad Global Centre for Peaceful Coexistence in Manama, told the Times of Israel’s Raphael Ahren, “It’s very important for us to preserve the Jewish community, because it’s part of the structure of the country.” This is a further expression of what is already a cornerstone of the fabric of Bahraini society. Interfaith dialogue and peaceful coexistence have been a top priority in Bahrain for decades, which is what makes our country unique.

Bahrain has been committed to spreading the culture of peace, dialogue, and coexistence in its domestic and international dealings. Last week, Bahrain and Israel took the first step toward building friendly, peaceful and diplomatic bilateral relations. This is important: as a citizen of this region, I am filled with excitement to see the construction of a new Middle East, one focused on coexistence and prosperity.

Our nations have signed a number of agreements and memoranda of understanding to collaborate in economic areas such as commerce, financial services, agriculture and technology. Just last Friday, on October 23rd, Dr. Khalid bin Khalifa Al Khalifa and Elan Carr, the US Special Envoy for Monitoring and Combating Anti-Semitism, signed an MOU on combatting anti-Semitism. Before the signing, Elan Carr shared that Bahrain, is the first in the Middle East to join the United States to do so. As a result of this partnership, the King Hamad Global Centre and the US State Department’s Office of the Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism have agreed to work to develop and implement programs to combat anti-Semitism and promote peaceful coexistence.

It has been less than two months since the historic announcement from Bahrain and Israel, and they have been exciting and thrilling. Not a day goes by without Jews from around the world reaching out to wish us their “mazel tov” or “mabrouk” messages, and we’re getting countless requests from Jewish travelers and tour groups who want to come and visit. Equally so, the excitement in Bahrain is palpable, as we look forward to Jewish travel and tourism.

About the Author
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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