• Noam Schechter ('22)

An Event of Diplomacy and Unity

On Monday, October 4, a select group of MTA students had the unique opportunity to meet with His Excellency, the Bahraini Undersecretary of Political Affairs and Deputy Secretary-General of the Supreme Defense Council, Dr. Sheikh Abdulla bin Ahmed bin Abdulla Al Khalifa. The event, which included a luncheon, speech, and a chance to ask questions, took place in Belfer Hall, a unique opportunity that was only able to experienced due to MTA’s location on the campus of YU.

On a diplomatic trip to the United States, His Excellency desired to visit YU, arguably the most prominent Jewish institution in America as a way to obtain closer ties to Israel through the Jewish people as a whole. Bahrain has recently been a frontrunner in the goal of achieving peace throughout the Middle East with Dr. Sheikh spearheading much of the effort. Dr. Sheikh had just returned from a six-week trip to Israel (which he expounded about in his speech) in which he became the first Bahraini diplomat to visit and tour in Israel and the first Bahraini to ever visit with the IDF.

A little more than a year ago Bahrain signed the Abraham Accords and has been doing whatever in their power since then to continue a peaceful and diplomatic relationship with the State of Israel. The Abraham Accords, the peace agreement which was finalized with the help of former President Donald Trump, plans to establish and maintain peace among the three Abrahamic religions, with a primary focus on relations between the Gulf states and Israel. The accords attempt to “encourage efforts to promote interfaith and intercultural dialogue to advance a culture of peace among the three Abrahamic religions and all humanity” (a quote from lines 6-8 of the Abraham Accords Declaration). The Accords have made headlines recently as The House Foreign Affairs Committee approved on Thursday night the bipartisan Israel Relations Normalization Act during its markup. According to the act’s summary “This bill requires the Department of State to take certain actions promoting the normalization of relations between Israel, Arab states, and other relevant countries and regions.” If signed into law, the US State Department would leverage diplomatic lines of effort and resources from other stakeholders to encourage normalization, economic development, and people-to-people programming, according to The Jerusalem Post.

His Excellency spoke to the crowd consisting of YU faculty, students, and a few MTA students, about what Bahrain has accomplished, what Bahrain hopes to accomplish, and the importance of peace, stressing that Bahrain hopes to “build bridges of peace and unity” with Israel and the Jewish people. The floor was then opened to a question and answer session in which a variety of questions were asked by students, including many questions asked by the students of MTA. One member of the crowd asked a question about the shared challenges between YU and The Kingdom of Bahrain. The student inquired about how Bahrain manages to balance its religion ( Bahrain being an Islamic kingdom) and the modern era, an issue pertinent to YU, which attempts to balance traditional Judaism with the modern world. His Excellency answered that religion is vital to The Kingdom of Bahrain . He explained that “[Bahraini people] have a saying that ‘one who lacks a past, lacks a present.” Religion is a vitality of life and culture in Bahrain, and, as His Excellency explained, religion comes before all else. He explained that he sees this same centrality of religion in YU. Just as Bahrain puts religion first and all else second, His Excellency commended YU on the fact that students begin their day with Judaic Studies and only begin Secular Studies later in the day. “We must all remember,” explained His Excellency, “that religion is who we are, and it should always be who we are.” Following the enlightening question and answer, Yeshiva University President Rabbi Dr. Berman and Dr. Sheikh Abdulla bin Ahmed bin Abdulla Al Khalifa exchanged diplomatic gifts. On behalf of YU, President Berman presented a book written by a staff member of YU written on the importance of the Menorah, an object which, President Berman explained, symbolizes an eternal light of peace and unity, an appropriate symbol for an event that is meant to achieve peace and unity among not only countries but religions as well. His Excellency then presented President Berman with golden replicas of ancient Bahrani artifacts used in burial which were intended to symbolize the shared importance of religion and a religious past, present, and future. The event then concluded with a group photo and a brief informal chat.

“The event was truly an enlightening and extremely unique experience which I am thrilled I was able to attend and learn from,” said an anonymous MTA senior. Raffi Weil, a fellow MTA senior in attendance, shared his thoughts on the event, saying “it was truly an honor and a privilege to have the opportunity to meet with His Excellency Dr. Sheikh Abdulla bin Ahmed bin Abdulla Al Khalifa. I gained tremendously from hearing his speech and learned immensely from hearing a first-hand account of the strong relationship which The Kingdom of Bahrain is building with Israel.”