Throughout the holiday of Passover, we connect with our ancestors’ departure from Egyptian servitude and their transition from bondage to liberation. We observe the commandment for each generation to experience the exodus ourselves, setting forth perhaps from metaphorical or metaphysical slavery to a new outlook or mindset of freedom.
Traditionally, Israelis observe Passover for the biblically mandated seven days, while Jews in the diaspora add an eighth day. This year, with the seventh day concluding on Friday night and the beginning of Shabbat, Israelis, too, had to observe an eighth day without chametz. I heard a wonderful, short, inspiring thought — that this provided us a glimpse into our future, a time when all Jews, aligned together across geographies and without borders, remain united, working together toward the celebration of what we hope will soon be the ultimate redemption.
I hope for many of us this holiday can truly mark an escape from covid restrictions and a pandemic mindset to a new, enhanced lifestyle, appropriately aware and careful, yet charting a new path forward.
For our family, this first Pesach observance following the death of our matriarch was certainly diminished, but we felt her guiding spirit and legacy pushing into a new and different future. We also had the opportunity to experience a very different kind of Passover holiday, traveling to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, a location and mindset that personifies a futuristic mindset.
What the UAE has created in the past 50 years is nothing short of remarkable. We toured the world’s tallest building (Burj Kalifa), largest indoor shopping mall (Dubai Mall), and largest floral arrangement (Dubai Miracle Garden). Dayenu. We were wowed by Dubai’s Gold Frame, bridging past, present, and future and the iconic manmade island landmark, Palm Jumeriah. Dayenu. (For the record, we did not stay at the world’s only seven-star hotel, Burj Al Arab.)
We learned of and experienced the UAE’s guiding philosophies to embrace diversity and tolerance, inspire wonder and creativity, and surpass expectations and excellence. We felt welcomed, safe, and valued. The words of Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum adorn large billboards; one of them read: “The future belongs to those who can imagine it, design it, and execute it. It isn’t something you await, but rather create.”
During the holiday, we were addressed by His Excellency Fahad AlGergawi, CEO of the Dubai Investment Development Agency, who shared his perspectives and insights on the history, plans, and strategies for the growing relationship between Israel and the UAE. He intends to make his first visit to Israel next month. We also had the benefit of hearing from Dr. Sabah al-Binali, executive chairman of OurCrowd Arabia, part of the OurCrowd venture capital firm headquartered in Jerusalem. Less than two years after the signing of the historic Abraham Accords, the unprecedented agreement, based on mutual understanding, respect, and peaceful coexistence, both leaders emphasized the power of human relationships to overcome challenges and to advance cooperation. They marveled at the progress that has been made to date, and the prospects for future shared growth and prosperity between the UAE and Israel. They both also predicted that other nations will join in signing the Abraham Accords in the not-too-distant future.
Last year, I had heard from Rabbi Yehuda Sarna, the UAE’s chief rabbi, about the tremendous growth of its Jewish community, estimated to be 3,500 and counting. During our trip, we also were inspired to hear of the growth of Chabad’s programs under Rabbi Duchman’s leadership in the past seven years. The availability of Shabbat minyanim in different areas, kosher eating establishments, growth in educational opportunities for families with young kids — it was beyond anything we might have ever imagined. The safe, clean, and open environment of Dubai made it easy to envision continued expansion of the Jewish communal institutions and populations.
On Pesach, we commemorate the exodus of our ancestors from Egypt and the beginning of our desert journey and formation as a people. We celebrate our freedom to come together, express ourselves, and forge a nation. In doing so, we have created a vibrant 3000+ year history.
This Passover, our family’s experience in Dubai inspires me to think more expansively and optimistically about the future. May we work together to be freed from the darkness of covid and negative current events and enter an optimistic, post-pandemic mindset, dreaming not of what is but rather of what could be. I hope we will bring with us a limitless, ambitious view for what can be achieved — communally, professionally, and personally — as we move forward with a futuristic mindset together.
Jeremy J. Fingerman has been the CEO of Foundation for Jewish Camp since 2010, and he is a vice president of JPRO Network, the network of North American Jewish communal professionals. He lives in Fort Lee with his family. Write to him at Jeremy@jewishcamp.org.