With social distancing rules preventing larger simchas in the UK for the foreseeable future, kosher caterer Arieh Wagner has taken advantage of the normalisation of ties between the United Arab Emirates and Israel to launch a venture with a luxury Dubai hotel — the Habtoor Palace.
The fine dining specialist is offering kosher weddings and holidays in the Dubai and Bahrain.
“Couples may have moved their wedding three times already, and are desperate to have a decent wedding. In Dubai, you may have fewer guests than if celebrating in London pre-coronavirus, but it will still be special; and at least it’s a possibility.”
The Swiss-born caterer brokered the deal after a series of visits in October.
“I flew to Dubai between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, after I had been introduced to Ahmed Al Habtoor — owner of the hotel — by one of my business partners. The Al Habtoor family are openly friends of Israel, and have recently negotiated a deal with an Israeli company to supply driverless cars in the UAE. He wanted to be the first to offer kosher and promote it to the Jewish traveller.”
Mr Wagner says he was wary before his first visit: “It was definitely not a mainstream place for a Jewish person to visit. But now I walk around there in my kippah and feel comfortable. I actually feel safer walking around in Dubai in a kippah than I do in Paris — I would wear a hat instead in France. People are welcoming and hospitable there generally, and the government has zero tolerance policy on any racism.”
On December 20 he will be opening a kosher kitchen in the hotel, which he says will be supervised by Rabbi Ben-Zion Rabbinowitz shlit’a of Biala, Chief Rabbi of Lugano. “That will be for the kosher holiday season, which we are offering from then until January 7. We’ll be flying out basic raw kosher ingredients, like meat, yoghurt and cheeses to prepare meals with.”
He says the UAE has a “healthy, pragmatic approach” to coronavirus. “You must who a negative test before you can board a plane, but once you are there, life is pretty much as normal. They all wear masks outside, but in the hotel you don’t have to.”
He will also be offering weddings in neighbouring Bahrain. “It’s six hours to fly there — Dubai is seven. We’ll be flying kosher food out there once a week — ready-made meals as well as kosher breakfast trays for hotel guests. I have already had an enquiry from a Belgian couple about a wedding there in December.”