Jewish Educators in the Middle East

Long before the turmoil we’re witnessing today in the Middle East, I was offered a teaching position at the International School of Aleppo, Syria. As a history buff, I was totally on-board by the prospect of exploring the vibrant cultures and history of the region. But….What would life be like for a Jewish teacher living in Syria?

The recruiter was upfront with answers to my questions: I would be exposed to anti-Semitic remarks from students who use the term “Jew,” accompanied by derogatory expletives. I should keep my Jewish heritage secret. If I decided to travel to Israel, my stamped passports could bar me from re-entering Syria. Common sense and prudence said loud and clear: Don’t go!

Today, in my position (as Moderator of the ISR Forum), I was intrigued by this recent thread:

Anyone have experience with being Jewish in the ME?

Postby ap410 » Thu Jan 25, 2018 5:07 pm
I’m considering applying for positions at a few schools in the ME (Bahrain, UAE, and possibly Oman), but I’m concerned that since my children and I are Jewish, we could run into trouble, hostilities, etc. We’re not super religious, but my kids have a habit of singing the Dreidel song in December, and I don’t want them to feel like they have to hide their religion. Does anyone have experience with this in the ME? Thanks!

.My first reaction was, ‘Are you kidding!?’ My opportunity was pre-9/11. What could it be like today for a Jew teaching in the Middle East? International Schools do tend to promote diversity, tolerance, inclusion, equality and a host of Mission Statement ideals. But … as we all know, life can be quite different outside that supposed safe haven.

Here’s some positive and negative Forum Comments that illustrate the dilemma…

by reisgio » Mon Jan 29, 2018 9:12 pm  For goodness sake, don’t take your innocent Jewish children to the Middle East!… I wouldn’t be comfortable having my children basically hide their identities just so I could work somewhere exotic. What’s wrong with you?

by justlooking » Fri Jan 26, 2018 10:35 am This has not been my experience working in four international schools in the ME in Egypt, Oman, Morocco, and Dubai. All the schools were top tier with a very international student body. I found most people respect Judaism and Jews; it’s Israel that’s the problem. As long as you’re not espousing pro-Israeli sentiment, you’ll be left alone.

by Nomad68 » Mon Jan 29, 2018 10:54 pm I really would not recommend going to places like Saudi, Kuwait or Qatar even if you hid your Jewish identity. The anti-Jewish sentiments would shock you.

 by shadowjack » Fri Jan 26, 2018 7:45 pm 7 years in Saudi. Our Saudi friends had Jewish neighbours and didn’t care.” “Israel is not a good country.” They knew the difference between the two, that’s for sure….

 My purpose in calling attention to this topic is to hopefully encourage ISR Members to initiate a place where my Jewish brothers and sisters can turn to for first-hand information on what it’s really like for a Jewish International Educator to live and teach in the Middle East, a decision clearly not to be taken lightly.

Have an experience or information to share?

Please scroll down to participate

25 Responses to Jewish Educators in the Middle East

  1. Anonymous says:

    I know a colleague who worked in the UAE at UOS and was accused of being a Jewish Zionist….and this person wasn’t even Jewish! It sounded like it was just a very toxic work environment with insecure, snake like and incompetent staff that led to such ridiculous accusations.

    Like

  2. Anonymous says:

    I am not Jewish, but think ME people are tolerant. However, if you want to your children have Jewish identity, it is not the best region to raise them. There are no synagogues. It would take great effort on your behalf to raise them in your faith when the majority is different. I am Christian, and it has not been easy to keep them in our faith even if the land for the church was given by the Sheikh himself. I would choose Marocco, where there is a Jewish community. Whatthe point is the money iwhich is here in the ME, but if there is concern about religion, I could recommend only Marocco. My son had to represent at the Model United Nations Israel, and everyone made comment on him.
    Otherwise you can hide your religion, but at the and, what is about to hide? Our identity?

    Like

  3. Anonymous says:

    I worked in the ME for four years in two different countries. I met great people and made some great friends, however, never felt comfortable enough to be openly Jewish and based on derogatories comments made to me about Jewish people (in Qatar they really think we are the “lowest of the lowest”) and Israel, I truly felt I made the right decision. Maybe in North Africa is different, however, in the Gulf region (GCC), if you decide to relocate with your family, I would not make it public, if anything for safety reasons. You never know what kind of crazy people you will meet and even if you don’t know them, people may become aware and you just don’t how they will react. In some places, if parents become aware, they may bring the issue to the ministry of education and clearly indicate that they do not wish to have their child educated by a Jewish teacher.

    Ultimately, I left because I found hard to reconcile my identity and recognition of Israel and a Jewish state and the reality that as a school administrator I had the legal obligation to erase any reference to Israel in our textbooks (mainly from America) – if you don’t, your school may be penalized and ultimately may lose its accreditation if you fail to do so.

    I also have a young child who I wish to impart a Jewish identity and living in the ME made it impossible.

    The bottom line is, if you wish to come to the ME, you have to put anything Jewish on the shelve. Easier said than done, however, because of you have young children that identify as Jewish, I would not recommend taking the risk.

    One positive thing is that it is relatively easy to keep kosher.

    Like

  4. dismasdolben says:

    I think that Americans, whether Jewish or not, should never go to countries in the Middle East. The best-informed Arabs and Israelis there know that we are part of the problem. A practical solution, such as the one advocated HERE can never be advocated or negotiated for by American governments–only by European ones, and, realistically speaking, most of the educated Muslims of the Middle East think that the political influence of American Jews, in particular, is standing in the way of such a peaceful resolution.
    Do not go there, unless you wish, inevitably and within any extended period of time, to immerse yourselves and your children in this conflict, as you begin to become more and more acquainted with the region’s extremely volatile populations. This is what happened to me in Egypt because I stayed too long, and I will never go back to the Middle East.

    Like

    • P says:

      I hope you teach your students not to generalize, as you have here. 7 years in the UAE, and I haven’t heard an anti-Semitic comment. Of course the US government is the problem, but I’m not blamed personally.

      Like

    • dismasdolben says:

      Well, I heard them constantly. I tell my students to beware of applying generalizations to individuals, but that I’m not going to play into political correctness by pretending that generalizations aren’t sometimes quite useful. The “inductive method” is about forming hypotheses that are, in fact, generalizations.

      Like

    • dismasdolben says:

      Oh, and by the way, those “generalizations” can help one to avoid situations in the Middle East that can actually become quite dangerous—dangerous to physical health and dangerous to careers. I found almost nothing in Egypt to be straightforward.

      Like

  5. Anonymous says:

    I taught in Jordan… It was not uncommon to come to class and see the slogan “Arbeit Mach Frei” (slogan on the gate of the concentration camps) on the board, and this was at the most expensive school in the region. On many occasions I had taxi drivers tell me that “Hitler was a good man,” or that “Hitler did not finish the job.” While there are many wonderful people in the ME, it only take a few bad apples. Unfortunately, those bad apples are not condemned, for antisemitism is not considered a hate crime, and is often celebrated.

    Go if you have thick skin. If you have children, it could be considered child abuse.

    Like

  6. anon says:

    When you travel to Israel you do not get your passport stamped. You get a small paper visa not attached to the passport. Pork, and even alcohol are freely available once you make contact with anyone based in a military camp – military or civilian contractor.

    Like

  7. Dana says:

    I can only speak for Egypt and Kuwait. In Egypt there were other Jewish expats, their children attended the most western of the schools, though they practiced their religion at home and it was known to their expat friends they were very slow to reveal their religion to others. At the school I taught at they did talk about the holocaust in reference to WWII, but many of the Egyptian students would often say that Hiller was their hero for killing all the Jews. Overall you can be there without persecution but you would face some anti-semitism.

    In Kuwait it was a different story, there, they are much more anti-Semitic. All the texts were censored for anything “jewish”. We were not allowed to teach about the Holocaust. Israel was censored from all maps and did not ‘exist’. As teachers we were warned that if it was discovered that we had travelled to Israel our visa’s could be revoked. Although not all Kuwaitis were racist towards Jews, there was enough there that I would not recommend it as place to relocate.

    Like

  8. Michelle Rath says:

    I spent three years in Dubai and unfortunately only found out about the extensive and very active Jewish community after my first year there. There are weekly minyans and celebration of ALL of the holidays including bar/bat mitzvahs. The community is not overt but very active and inclusive. This is from someone who holds an Israeli passport and was concerned prior to arriving in the UAE. That being said, I do not think I would feel the same sense of community in other parts of the ME (SA, Kuwait for example). My administrators had NO clue when I asked except to say that I should keep my Israeli passport at home and not advertise my religion overtly. I would be happy to discuss this more in PM.

    Like

    • ap410 says:

      I was the original poster of the question about being Jewish in the ME. Thank you so much for your response and insight. The places I am considering are Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and Ras Al-Khameih — all in the UAE.

      Like

    • Anonymous says:

      I would honestly avoid all middle eastern countries if you are concerned about raising your children Jewish. It wasn’t until coming to the UAE that I fully realized the hatred against Israel. I have been told to blackout anything related to Israel in any school books and no map in the school can show Israel. Any books related to the holocaust such as Anne Franks Diary or Number the Stars diary are banned from school. There are much better countries to pick for you and your family.

      Like

  9. Anonymous says:

    Better safe than sorry. If you don’t want trouble, and you don’t want your kids to hide who they are, don’t do it. It’s a big world.

    Like

  10. svppyp says:

    I have worked in the Middle East for an extensive period of time. This is how it works: You must respect everything about their religion and they ignore and do not reciprocate any respect. You have to openly celebrate your religion, do not go anywhere near the ME

    Like

  11. Tahira Metwally says:

    The ME has a culture issue and with this comes an uneducated mind pattern. Let them employ their local women as Educators. Do they think that Foreigners are rushing to the ME for what? The money is shocking? The ppl are another issue (generalizing) if the men had manners and culture it would make a difference, but hell no I had Israeli in my passport,worked for the marine core and reported to the Israeli Embassy in Cairo before hitting Sharm el Sheikh. When I was sick and tired of their spitting and disgusting ways I should have gone to Eilat. With a million places to teach stay away from the ME unless your surname is Trump or Billderberg.Foreign teachers are running away from the ME and I dont blame them. Make sure you have a legal work permit as well – nothing seems to be legal there. Corruption has nothing on them. Dont you dare take your children and expose them to that environment an grow up with these ppl please. Consider their Education and Safety. I hve lived in both Egypt and Sharm El Sheik.

    Like

  12. Jonas Rejda says:

    I think you and your children would be better served by avoiding the Middle East. I can only speak for Qatar, but I can say with certainty that you would have to hide what would be considered a ‘dirty secret’ and if it was ever suspected or found out you and your kids’ lives would be a living hell. Hatred, racism, and ignorance run rampant here and being Jewish would make you and your children easy targets. Many of the local students openly and with pride express their hatred for all things Jewish and Israeli. Do yourselves a favor and find somewhere that will allow you to be who you are and not live in fear.

    Like

  13. Veteran Jewish ME International Teacher says:

    It depends whether you’re in a true international school with an international student body, parents and administration/board/owners, or a de-facto local school with a mostly local student/parent body and local admin./owners. In the former, you can be open within the school community but should exercise judgement outside. In the latter, best to remain crypto-Judaic for the time being. Though within the de facto local set, it also depends upon country and level of cosmopolitanism/socio-economic status of the student/parent body.

    Like

  14. Al says:

    Bahrain has traditionally had a small Jewish community who even served in the government and Qatar (contrary to a previous quote) has hosted Jewish delegations and is officially a highly tolerant society who embrace others beliefs. As long as you do not go around trying to convert people (which goes for all religions outside Islam) or proactively supporting Israeli policy you should be alright. Just check with the school before you go.

    Like

  15. Warren says:

    Your children will have to hide their Jewish identity and there will be no Jewish life for your family. They will not be able to receive Bar/Bat Mitzvah training. It isn’t difficult to get in trouble with the authorities there with just the slightest mischief. There are better alternatives for your family.

    Like

  16. Anonymous says:

    I am a Christian and I have been advised not to go to the Middle East, except in countries where Christians are free to worship, and those are very few. I am not sure that subjecting either yourself or your children to such an experience would be advisable.

    Like

  17. dismasdolben says:

    I have never lived in any social environment more anti-Semitic than Egypt. Don’t go anywhere in the Middle East, except Israel, and don’t go there, either, if you are a deeply religious Jew, because the majority there seem to worship a state, rather than Yahweh.

    Like

  18. LP says:

    Talk to the school admin. Some time ago I’d attended a job fair and was was considering a position in the Middle East. One of the questions I was asked during the interview was would I be comfortable teaching from censored texts. That country did not recognize Israel as such and redacted all references to same. Jewish or not, could you do that?

    Like

  19. Iain Martin says:

    Forgive my French, but are you NUTS??? You would be crazy to go work there being Jewish, let alone take your kids there???
    I worked in Qatar, but got out fast once I realized what a cess pit it is; depressing but not surprising how many so called western teachers turn a blind eye to the racism and wretchedness all around them , just for the sake of money.
    Please, don’t do it, there are many more civilized countries that need civilized teachers, especially Jewish ones, eg. Scotland, Canada, etc…

    Like

  20. Domhnal says:

    I am not Jewish BUT I saw what it was like in Kuwait. You will definitely have to hide your religious preference for awhile but once people get to know you, they will accept you. If you visit Israel, ask the customs to stamp a blank sheet taped to your passport and when you board the plane to return, throw it away.
    You MUST avoid all political or religious discussion or display, so you won’t find a synagogue anywhere in Kuwait BUT there are Catholic and Protestant churches permitted there. Don’t wear a star of David or an Israeli flagpin in public but you can have a menorah, sing traditional songs and have a seder etc., as long as it’s in your residence.be prepared for some anti-Israeli feedback but most Gulf States can differentiate between Jewish people and Israel. By the way, the Halal requirements for Muslims closely resemble the Kosher dietary traditions of Jews, so you can get many things you might be comfortable with, even if not Kosher per se and pork is NOT available anywhere in the Gulf States.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.