Tracing the journey of a Torah scroll gifted by the young Jewish community of Abu Dhabi to Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan also tells the story of the Jewish community’s emergence and growth, and of religious pluralism in the United Arab Emirates in a new documentary.
The trailer for “Amen-Amen-Amen” was released on Tuesday. The documentary, funded by the Religion Media Company, is expected to be released in early 2021.
“The narrative and scope of the film looks at specifically religious pluralism in this Muslim country through the eyes and experiences of a small but thriving Jewish community, as well as the experiences of Christians and others of faith” in the UAE, Thomas L. Gallagher, executive producer of the documentary, and founder and CEO of Religion Media Company told The Media Line.
“From closing the curtains when we were praying at the Villa [an Ashkenazi synagogue in Dubai in the UAE] five years ago to being able to carry a sefer Torah [Torah scroll] through the gates of the palace. I would never have imagined that this would be possible,” Alex Peterfreund, community leader and businessman, told The Media Line about the acceptance and growth of the Jewish community in the UAE.
This film shares an uplifting human story of mutual respect and religious pluralism, in a place that will probably surprise many Americans, and offers a powerful counterpoint to much of the news today
Gallagher said that during a December 2018 visit to Abu Dhabi, where he served as a panelist on a peace forum, he was told that the Jewish community was planning to gift a Torah scroll to the crown prince. The scroll is dedicated to the memory of the founding father of the United Arab Emirates, the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan.
“I immediately said that this needs to be documented and a documentary needs to be created. It was intuitive, instinctive that this would be a historical moment,” he told The Media Line.
The documentary, he said, is also the story of mutual respect and religious pluralism.
“Many in the West, especially Christians, may not be aware that this mutual respect exists in this Muslim country, the United Arab Emirates. Understanding Islam as a religion of peace is woefully misunderstood in the West. This film shares an uplifting human story of mutual respect and religious pluralism, in a place that will probably surprise many Americans, and offers a powerful counterpoint to much of the news today,” he said.
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The film follows the Torah scroll from a workshop in Israel where it was written to a workshop in Brooklyn where its silver case was crafted, and then to the November 2019 dedication ceremony at a palace in Abu Dhabi.
“It was a distinct honor to be able to attend as a guest the Torah scroll presentation to His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, and further to be permitted to have my film team capture the ceremony,” Gallagher said.
A Torah scroll was the appropriate gift, Rabbi Yehuda Sarna, chief rabbi of the Jewish Council of the Emirates, told The Media Line.
“The premise of the Torah dedication is that in Judaism, a Torah scroll has the value of a human life. By gifting our most sacred item to this Arab ruler — a historic first — we wanted to signal the level and quality of trust the Jewish community had come to feel in the UAE leadership,” Sarna said.
Among those interviewed for the film are the former US ambassador to the UAE, Marcelle M. Wahba; journalist Robert Worth, a veteran Middle East correspondent for the New York Times Magazine; John Sexton, president emeritus, New York University and co-creator of NYU Abu Dhabi; Rev. Andy Thompson, former longtime senior chaplain, St. Andrew’s Anglican Church in Abu Dhabi; Rabbi Elie Abadie, MD, senior rabbi of the Jewish Council of the Emirates; and Pastor Bob Roberts, senior pastor at Northwood Church in Keller, Texas and a leading American evangelical and interfaith activist.
It was a distinct honor to be able to attend as a guest the Torah scroll presentation to His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, and further to be permitted to have my film team capture the ceremony
“The gesture of dedicating a Torah scroll to an Arab ruler is unimaginable,” Eli Epstein, a businessman and interfaith activist who first came up with the idea of gifting the Torah scroll, said in the film.
“I was honored to be part of this historic gift to honor Sheikh Zayed. The nation he founded, the UAE, carries his DNA of tolerance, respect and dignity for all people. The blessing of his vision and values illuminate a better future fit the Middle East,” Epstein told The Media Line on Wednesday.
Sarna says in the film that the Torah scroll is just a starting point. “I am under no illusion that this gift will solve complicated geopolitical problems. What this gift does do is it gives us material for creating a new narrative in the Middle East,” he said.