NEW YORK – The Hampton Synagogue’s Rabbi Marc Schneier will lead a congregational mission to Bahrain in early 2018 after being invited by King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa.
The congregation, located in Westhampton Beach in New York State, will be the very first Jewish one to visit an Arab country in the Gulf.
Dates and itineraries of the visit are expected to be distributed to participants in the coming weeks. The visit will also include a trip to Israel.
Schneier’s relationship with the king has developed over the years as the rabbi has been a trailblazer in the field of Muslim-Jewish relations. He spearheaded the international annual Weekend of Twinning of Mosques and Synagogues and was involved in many missions connecting Muslim and Jewish leaders.
In 2010, Schneier was the keynote speaker at the Doha Conference for Interfaith Dialogue in Qatar. Today, he also serves as the president of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding.
In 2011, he was the first rabbi to be hosted by Bahrain’s king at the royal palace in Manama.
“On my many visits to Bahrain to meet with King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa and the royal family, I was invited several times to bring my community to Bahrain for them to see and experience the kingdom’s dedication to its own indigenous Jewish community and interreligious dialogue and cooperation,” Schneier told The Jerusalem Post. “Since I began working with the king in 2011, he had made it clear his commitment to building relations with Israel.
In fact, in our first meeting we agreed that Bahrain and Israel share a common threat – Iran.
He believes that the great hope for maintaining a moderate Arab presence in the Middle East is a strong Israel.”
Schneier had also worked with King Hamad on getting the Gulf Cooperation Council to formally label Hezbollah as a terrorist organization, which it did in March 2016.
The purpose of the congregational mission to Bahrain is to “set a paradigm for what we hope and pray for this time of year during the High Holy Days,” he told the Post.
“We pray for peace in the Middle East and cooperation between Israel and its neighboring countries,” he said. “We are seeing changes in the Gulf and my hope is that this mission will inspire other congregations and Jewish organizations to recognize that as the children of Abraham, Muslims and Jews share a common faith and a common fate.”
Last week, leaders of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles revealed that during their meeting with him early this year Bahrain’s king denounced the Arab boycott of Israel and said his subjects are free to visit the Jewish state.
According to the delegation, the ruler also discussed plans to establish a museum of religious tolerance in Manama by 2018.
Bahrain has 1,423,000 inhabitants and a breakdown of their religious faiths indicate that 70% are Muslims, 14.5% are Christians, 10% Hindus and 2.5% Buddhists. The percentage of Jews is listed in different surveys as a fraction of 1%, but the actual number is even smaller, ranging between 36 to 40 actual residents.
Tom Tugend contributed to this report.