When Levi Duchman and Lea Hadad, members of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement, married in front of more than 1,500 guests at the Hilton Abu Dhabi Yas Island hotel on September 14, there was a remarkable moment that it go viral on Instagram: a video of the Hasidic groom dancing happily with his friend, Abdalla Almaazmi, along with other Muslim and Jewish men.
The video is notable in part for what it symbolizes: The increase in the Jewish population in the United Arab Emirates, especially since 2020, when the country signed the Abrahamic Accords, a landmark agreement normalization of relations between Israel and several Arab countries.
Rabbi Duchman, 29, has been a rabbi and Chabad’s emissary to the United Arab Emirates since the age of 21. He estimates that since the signing, the number of Jews living in the Emirates has increased fivefold, to about 10,000.
“Bring my family, my parents, our heritage, our traditions and share this with the locals,” said Rabbi Duchman, who grew up in Brooklyn and studied in Chicago and Manchester, England. this is so special. Hadad, 27, was born in Brussels and lived in Quebec and Tel Aviv, where she met Rabbi Duchman. She has now accompanied him to Abu Dhabi.
Family and friends have flown in from Belgium, the United States, Morocco and Israel, and rabbis have come from Turkey, Iran, Singapore, Nigeria and more.
And as a result of Clergy Duchman’s extensive efforts in developing local relationships, the guest list also includes prominent members of the Emirate community. Among them is Mohamed Alabbar, founder of Emaar Properties, which has developed the Dubai Mall and Burj Khalifa; Xavier Chatel, French Ambassador to Emirates; and Alison Milton, Ireland’s ambassador to the Emirates.
Rabbi Duchman says such religious and cultural diversity is “not typical” for a Hasidic wedding. To help everyone understand the ceremony, the couple provided information booklets.
The couple also wanted their guests to connect with Hasidic wedding dance traditions, so they flew to Avraham Fried, a famous Jewish singer from New York. “You have different diplomats, secular people, people from the Jewish community,” Rabbi Duchman said. “I wanted someone who could speak to these crowds.” Mr. Fried was accompanied by the Neshama Choir from Israel.
“I can’t stop dancing,” Ms. Hadad said. “They called me so many times to sit down and take a breather, and I said, ‘No thanks.
Miss Hadad, whose father, Menahem Hadad, is the chief rabbi in Brussels, and Rabbi Duchman met this spring, after a family friend suggested that they might be a couple. romantic. At the time, Ms. Hadad was studying at Beit Shoshana, a religious studies program in Tel Aviv. Not long after the Passover holiday, which ended April 23, she received a call from her program director, Mindy Shmerling, who said that Rabbi Duchman wanted to see her.
“I said, ‘What? He is this famous rabbi, this amazing young man,” Mrs Hadad said. “” How did he know about me? “
Rabbi Duchman has made a name for himself among members of the Chabad movement, an offshoot of Hasidism that was founded about 250 years ago and whose representatives can be found around the world. During his tenure at the Emirates, Rabbi Duchman helped found a Hebrew-speaking nursery in Dubai called Mini Miracles; establishment of a government-licensed agency for dietary foods; and construction organization a mikvaha body of water used for purification.
Rabbi Duchman flew to Israel mainly to see Mrs. Hadad. They met on their first date at the Hilton Tel Aviv at 10pm on May 5, the only time he could squeeze into his schedule. Since it was past dinner time, Miss Hadad drank a can of Coca-Cola and he drank coffee. They talked for hours about their background and family – Rabbi Duchman has 12 siblings, and Miss Hadad has seven.
After the date, Ms. Hadad called her program director. “I remember saying that my first impression was that he was a very humble person,” she said. “I met Levi, not Rabbi Levi.”
Rabbi Duchman was also immediately impressed by Mrs. Hadad. “She is very humble, very kind, very soft, very motivated to build a nice, warm and friendly home,” he said.
After that, they met seven more times. According to Chabad tradition, people date for the purpose of finding a mate, so dating is more about quality than quantity. “We’re not going out to hang out,” Ms Hadad said. “We don’t want to be friends. We are looking to see if we can become husband and wife.”
It didn’t take long for Mrs. Hadad to decide that Rabbi Duchman was right for her. “I met a lot of guys before I met Levi,” she said. Each time, she felt something was wrong. “I always doubted myself or the guy, it was never obvious,” she said.
This time, after her third date, she realized that she had no doubt, and that if he proposed on the same day, she would say yes. “My mind is clear and my heart is clear,” she said.
She said she appreciated Rabbi Duchman’s listening skills, his intentionality in achieving his goals, and his broad heart. And she liked his openness. As she grew up, she said, “the door of her family was always wide open. We always organize people for holidays and Shabbat. It is very important that my partner will be open to this value. “
On one of their dates, on May 29, Mrs. Hadad and Rabbi Duchman took a day trip to Haifa and to Acre, also known as Akko, in northern Israel. They are expected to be gone in a few hours; In the end, they were gone for nine hours. It was during this trip that Duchman realized that he wanted to marry Miss Hadad. “When you’re with Lea, it’s a blast,” he said.
What convinced him was hearing different stories about her many friendships and he said, “see how open she is, and that she really respects and understands why I do it.” what I do in my professional life.” He knows that whoever marries him will have to be willing to move to Dubai and support his efforts to build a Jewish presence there, a task that requires frequent interaction. with people of all backgrounds.
Rabbi Duchman left Brooklyn to study at Yeshivas Ohr Eliyahu Lubavitch Mesivta in Chicago at the age of 13, then, at the age of 15, to Yeshivas Lubavitch Manchester in England. At the age of 17, he began participating in the Roving Rabbi program, through which, for a short time, Chabad sent student rabbis to cities and towns around the world that did not have full-time rabbis time. After traveling to Ko Samui, Thailand; Pasadena, California.; and Ovruch, Ukraine, Mr. Duchman introduced Abu Dhabi as his next destination.
When he and another student rabbi arrived on the NYU Abu Dhabi campus in 2014, their suitcases were filled with matzo and kosher food so they could host Seder, the party that took place over the Passover holiday , for about 34 people. “We were there to support the needs of a very small Jewish community at the time,” said Rabbi Duchman.
Months later, he moved to the Emirates permanently as a rabbi. Since then, he has opened four synagogues and this year 1,600 people attended Passover events organized by Rabbi Duchman.
Ms. Hadad, 27, studied for two years at Bais Moshe Chaim Teachers Seminary (BMC) for Jewish Women in Quebec, aged 18 to 20. She then worked as a dormitory counselor for a year in China. BMC center, then returned to Brussels, where she helped her father and mother, Batcheva Hadad, organize events such as the annual Purim and the annual “Mega Challah Bake”. She was visiting her sister in Tel Aviv when epidemic started and ended there more than two years.
After one of their dates, Rabbi Duchman called Hadad and said that their next meeting should be in New York. Although he didn’t state his intentions during the call, the location gave her a hint. New York is where cleric Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the revered leader of Chabad also known as the Rebbe, is buried. His grave is a spiritual site of profound significance to his followers, and couples go there to ask for his blessings before getting married.
In New York, Mrs. Hadad met a large part of Rabbi Duchman’s family, including his parents, Rabbi Sholom Duchman and Feige Duchman. He met her father and her two siblings, Sara Hadad, 34, and David Aharon Hadad, 20. In a brief moment of silence, Duchman formally asked Hadad if she would marry him.
At the graveyard, the two shared an intense moment as they prayed for Rabbi Schneerson to bless their union, their home and their mission in the Emirates. Ms Hadad said: “I was very emotional. “I shook.”
That evening, the couple received hundreds of congratulatory messages via email and WhatsApp. Because Rabbi Duchman is well known in the Chabad community, the notes come from many countries.
Their wedding reflects the same international ethos. “As the first rabbi to reside here, over eight years, I have made many friends,” said Rabbi Duchman. Only about 10 percent of the population in Dubai is the Emirate. The rest come from all over the world. At the wedding, Rabbi Duchman said, “you have a huge group of people from different backgrounds, different traditions.”
“It was a wedding I will never forget,” said David Zabinsky, 29, a businessman from the Boston area who first met Rabbi Duchman in 2018 at a Hanukkah party. “I’m filling my face with lox with a very close friend of mine. That, to me, is beautiful.”
Almaazmi, 44, a friend who appeared in the viral video said: “It was quite an interesting experience for me.
Almaazmi, an educator in Dubai, added that the mix of Arabs and Jews in the celebration left an indelible mark on him. “We’ve always had a lack of acceptance historically,” he said. “Suddenly, we accepted each other, we were together, we sat at the same table, we ate together. It was a wonderful feeling. I never thought it would happen.”
On this day
When September 14, 2022
Where Hilton Island Abu Dhabi Yas
Clothing from Rebbe During the part of the ceremony held in the presence of the huppah, Rabbi Duchman wore an old item of Rabbi Schneerson, and Mrs. Hadad wore a veil made from fabric once owned by Chaya Mushka Schneerson, the late wife of Rabbi Schneerson. According to custom, Rabbi Duchman wears a coat over his clothes to protect it, which has many guests asking why he is dressed so warmly in the heat of Abu Dhabi.
As Kosher as it is One of Rabbi Duchman’s accomplishments at Emirates is the establishment of the Emirates Authority for Kosher Certification in 2020. According to him, the wedding is “the largest Jewish kosher event in the country”. Unfortunately, the bride and groom are too busy with wedding etiquette to taste anything. “We don’t really get to eat,” Ms Hadad said.
A special day The date of the wedding deliberately coincided with the birthday of Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, founder of the Chabad movement, and the birthday of Baal Shem Tov, the founder of Hasidism.