Dubai: The Next Kosher Destination
by Menachem Lubinsky
It seemed like Dubai became a kosher destination almost overnight. It usually takes years to acclimate a hotel in a tourist destination to the whole concept of kosher. Yet, within a few weeks of the signing of the Abraham Accords between Israel and the UAE on the White House lawn, the UAE quickly became the new charm destination for the lucrative kosher travel industry despite the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. Open any Orthodox publication these days and you are likely to see ads for a vacation in Dubai.
According to Raphy Bloom of Totally Jewish Travel, the hotels benefitted from a number of factors. Several key management people seemed to have kosher experience from other properties in Europe, the Caribbean and even the US. The Orthodox Union (OU) was invited to help open a kosher kitchen in a luxury hotel and to counsel local entrepreneurs about kosher. The Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Manama, Bahrain, became the first hotel in the kingdom to offer kosher certified food through the help of the (OU) Kosher.
Arieh Wagner of Starguest Kosher Catering in London, with vast experience in kosher travel, immediately became involved in planning kosher tours to Dubai. Ophir Tours (Israel) began offering a comprehensive choice of kosher tours to the UAE for groups or independent travelers.
Pioneered by the Armani Hotel, options for kosher hospitality in the United Arab Emirates are expanding. There are already three kosher restaurants or food venues in Dubai: Elli's Kitchen – a local kosher caterer supervised by the Orthodox Union (OU). Eli’s Kitchen is owned by Elli Kriel who along with husband Ross Kriel are leaders in the tiny Jewish community of Dubai. Elli’s Kitchen exhibited at Kosherfest 2019.
In addition to Elli’s, there are other kosher options. Armani/Kaf inside the Armani Hotel features Dubai's first kosher restaurant – an exclusive kosher venue located in Burj Khalifa. There is also Treat Kosher, a kosher catering service. The Armani Hotel Kosher Restaurant and Treat Kosher are supervised by Rabbi Levi Duchman, Chabad Rabbi of the UAE, who heads the Emirates Agency for Kosher Certification (EAKC). Both kosher establishments are Glatt Le Mehadrin and Pas Yisrael.
The Armani Hotel is the first hotel in the UAE to operate as a kosher hotel, offering kosher meals and kosher take out for Shabbat. The Palace hotel will be offering kosher Shabbat meals, and the Habtoor Palace will be hosting a Glatt Kosher winter sun program. In Abu Dhabi, the first hotel to offer a kosher kitchen is the Armed Forces Officers Club. More kosher hotels are expected to come soon.
The year 2020 was the first to see a public Sukkah built in Dubai. The Sukkah was built in front of the Burj Khalifa to serve the guests of the Armani/Kaf kosher restaurant and the Armani Hotel.
So, the mystery of how Dubai so quickly adapted to kosher is solved. It was a combination of having the right people there at the right time!