Gulf Jews Seek Matchmaker App Support

With Fading Traditional Matchmaking Networks, Online Platform Brings Romantic Hope to Gulf Jews
An Official picture of the couple in the first Jewish wedding in Bahrain in 52 years! (Photo courtesy of Ambassador Houda Nonoo)

The indigenous Jewish community in the Gulf is tiny – just about 1500 in number, spread across the GCC states. Most of them trace their roots to the Iraqi Jewish families who have long had trading relations with the GCC and later settled in these countries too. Of these, the Bahrain Jewish community is the oldest and now, after the Abraham Accords, the Dubai community is the largest, thanks to a busy business relationship between UAE and Israel.

Of the approximately 1500 Jews and now those who visit Bahrain and the UAE on work, there are about 400 Jews who are single and of marriageable age. But the problem, according to Ebrahim Nonoo, President of the regional Association of Gulf Jewish Communities (AGJC), is that the community itself has shrunk since the migration of the post-1948 establishment of Israel and the social infrastructure which encouraged friendly ‘go-between’ senior women matchmakers with a finger on the pulse of every family, fall apart.

Ebrahim Nonoo, President of the regional Association of Gulf Jewish Communities (AGJC)

 

“Very soon we literally did not have the connections within our community to bring families together in marriage,” Nonoo said, speaking to Majalla, “Sure, many young men and women sought partners abroad in America and the UK – at one point we even held our weddings and bar mitzvahs abroad because of the logistics and red tape involved in getting visas for the family from Israel for these occasions. But the more serious truth was that we had simply run out of people of marriageable age and the network to connect those who were still here.”

Nonoo says that in Bahrain, for example, at least five Jewish men stayed bachelors into middle age simply because they could not find partners within the community and the same was the case with quite a few women in the community.

That is why one of the interesting ideas that the AGJC has come up with is to replace the old human matchmaker interface with a dating platform on the web exclusively for Jewish singles JSG (gulfjewish.org/jsg) in the Gulf.

"The platform’s name is ‘Jewish Singles in the Gulf’ and by helping these singles find their spouses in the GCC, they are more likely to get married here and establish their families here, which in turn grows Jewish communal life and the need for more Jewish institutions like schools, kosher food, etc," Nonoo said.

However, Nonoo pointed out that, unlike regular dating and matrimony apps and platforms, this is not based on algorithms. Instead, the community’s rabbi Dr. Eli Abadie and his wife, based in Dubai, personally administer the platform. As a first step, applicants submit responses to a detailed questionnaire. The questionnaires help prepare information about the applicants’ personalities, hobbies, what they were looking for in their potential partners among other points to help in the matchmaking process. This is then vetted and approved by a panel of matchmakers. Once this stage is completed, two Jewish people with a history of matchmaking experience then interview applicants.

Rabbi Elie Abadie who administers the matchmaking platform.

 

According to Dr. Abadie (in a recent interview), “Matchmakers can answer questions the couples may be embarrassed to ask each other.

Couples will be coached and supported through the process, and we can help with any religious or spiritual issues they may have.”

To the surprise of the community, nearly one hundred single Jews residents in the GCC and beyond have registered within the first 10 days of the platform being launched.

“Times have changed and unlike our times or even unlike the Arab community where elders still have a big say in matrimonial matters, we cannot force our marriageable youngsters to make commitments based on the social and community opinions of how suitable a match is. That is why we feel this platform will help facilitate introductions and bring interested parties together, who can then take a decision about matrimony by themselves,” Nonoo explained.

The AGJC hopes that the platform will soon grow from just a website into organizing singles events and programs very soon.

“It is so important for us to work with singles living in our region to help them find relationships with other Jews."

Despite the early success of the platform, Nonoo is cautious about sharing details of applicants.

“We are all still reviewing and learning how to make the best use of the platform,” he demurred, “Perhaps in about six months, we will be ready to share success stories with the public.”

The signs are promising – Dubai hosted its first Orthodox Jewish wedding in December 2020, when a couple from New York exchanged vows at the Park Hyatt hotel in front of about 150 guests. And just last month, Bahrain’s Jewish former ambassador to the US, Houda Nonoo’s son’s marriage took place in Bahrain – the first strictly kosher wedding in the community to take place in the Kingdom in 52 years. The wedding was arranged by the Orthodox Union, the world’s largest kosher certification agency.

Community leaders hailed the wedding as a sign of the community’s resurgence and expressed hope that more young people would raise families there. The wedding saw the participation of Bahrain’s Ambassador to Israel, Khaled Yousef Al-Jalahma and even elicited a comment from the Israeli Foreign Ministry that it was “one of the fruits of peace between Israel and Bahrain.”

“This wedding was an important moment for our family, the community here in Bahrain, and more broadly, for the Jewish community in the region,” said Ebrahim Nonoo, who is a cousin of Houda Nonoo, in a statement.

“The atmosphere was euphoric as we sat around the Chuppah (Jewish wedding canopy) which symbolizes the new home being built by the couple, it was also symbolic of the opportunity to further grow Jewish life in the region.”

Houda Nonoo, the mother of the groom, tweeted, “While I know that every mother thinks their child’s wedding is monumental, this one truly was!” She went on to thank local airline Gulf Air for the Bahrain-Israel flight connection which made it possible for relatives to fly in for the wedding and also for arranging minute details such as kosher meals in-flight. The wedding arrangements also included a kosher butcher and chef in attendance and a special kosher menu at the Ritz-Carlton.

Bahrain, which has the oldest continuous Jewish community presence in the GCC, was once home to around 2,000 Jewish families, many having migrated here from Iraq and other countries around 140 years ago. There are now only about 35 families remaining and the community itself numbers less than 100.  The return of prayers and hymns to the Jewish synagogue in Manama immediately after the signing of the Abraham Accords, came as a vital first step in renewing the community.

The UAE has around 1,000 members of the Jewish community, many of whom are working on new projects that have come about thanks to the new relations between UAE and Israel.

 

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