Abu Dhabi: Consistent with the UAE’s openness and spirit of tolerance, the biggest traditional Jewish wedding, attended by over 1,500 guests, was held on Wednesday at Hilton Yas Island in Abu Dhabi.
The matrimony of the UAE’s first rabbi, Rabbi Levi Duchman, 29, to Lea Hadad, 27, was replete with religious symbolism and tradition. It was held two years after the UAE and Israel formally established relations, following the signing of the Abraham Accords in 2020 that also included Bahrain and Morocco.
Before the official ceremony, two separate receptions were held for the groom and bride, who as per the tradition did not see each other for one week before the wedding. Friends and relatives greeted the couple and gave their heartfelt wishes in the ceremony called Kabbalat Panim or greeting of the groom and bride.
“This wedding is an important statement for the community, the UAE government and the world that we aren’t just here to visit, but we want to be part of the fabric of the UAE,” said Rabbi Duchman, adding: “We want to be that couple who can bring people together, not judging people by religion, race or nationality but here to support humanity. The wedding symbolises the way we would like to continue our life as a community.”
The wedding ceremony started when Rabbi Duchman was escorted to the chuppah, the traditional Jewish wedding canopy, by his father, Rabbi Sholom Duchman, and father-in-law, Rabbi Menachem Hadad, chief rabbi of Brussels. Lea Hadad, meanwhile, was escorted to the chuppah by her mother Batcheva Hadad and mother-in-law Feige Duchman.
Upon arriving at the chuppah, the bride circled the groom seven times, symbolising the “perfection of creation”. Female guests were seated on the left, facing the chuppah; while the men, wearing black suits and borsalino hats or kippah, were on the right.
The prayers and blessings were held under the chuppah, which according to tradition, is open on all sides to symbolise openness and to welcome guests from all sides. It is here where the couple made their vows and commitment that their ‘home’ will be as hospitable as their ancestors.
Rabbis from abroad and leaders of the Jewish community in the UAE led in the reciting of prayers and blessings. Emirati businessman Mohamed Alabbar, founder of Emaar Properties PJSC, recited one of the seven prayers for the couple in Arabic.
The father of the groom led the blessing. More traditions followed under the chuppah, including the signing of the Ketubah or marriage contract, a binding document that details the husband’s obligations to his wife. The wording of the Keubah itself is in Talmudic Aramaic, which dates back thousands of years.
The wedding ceremony concluded with the recitation of the seven blessings by seven guests who pronounced the benedictions.
After the ceremony, the bride and groom retreated to a Yichud (a private room), where they spent a few minutes together as an expression of their new intimate relationship.
Know the couple
Rabbi Levi Duchman, 29, has been living in the UAE for over eight years. The son of Feige and Rabbi Shalom Duchman, he is one of 13 siblings, including six rabbis. He was born in Brooklyn and spent two years in Morocco with his sister Chana and her family, before coming to the UAE. His father is the director of Colel Chabad, a charity founded in 1788 and the oldest continuously operating charity in Israel that runs a national network of food security, medical and educational services, widow and orphan support and immigrant assistance programmes.
The bride, Lea Hadad, 27, is of Moroccan heritage and was born and raised in Belgium. She is the daughter of chief Rabbi Menachem Hadad. Her grandfather began the tradition of emissary work when he set up the Chabad community in Milan. She has a strong background in the Arab world with both sets of grandparents born in Morocco.
Duchman helped in the establishment of Jewish communities in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, including the setting up of a Jewish school, a Hebrew supplemental school, a Mikvah for the Jewish rite of purification, and the government-licensed Kosher agency. He has also brought several rabbis to the UAE to join him in serving the community and established a rabbinical training programme for rabbinical interns. Hadad, meanwhile, will take on vital roles to support the Jewish community, including supporting new families moving to Abu Dhabi.
Wedding facts and figures
• 1,500 guests from 15 countries attended the wedding
• 7 days of celebrations, beginning on Wednesday, is taking place in Abu Dhabi, known as the seven blessings, or ‘Sheva Brachot’.
• Over 20 religious leaders from Christian, Catholic and Buddhist communities in the UAE , plus Chief Rabbi of Central Africa Shlomo Ben Tallila were in attendance
• More than 20 dignitaries from Japan, South Korea and Finland also present
• Wedding date, September 14, 2022, is 18th day of the month of Elul, a day of great sanctity in the Chassidic tradition, the birthdate of The Baal Shemtov (1698), the founder of the Chassidic (a Jewish religious group) movement.