Ambitious plans… An Israeli rabbi talks about his “projects” in Saudi Arabia

After his repeated visits to Saudi Arabia during the past four years, the last of which was last week, Israeli Rabbi Jacob Herzog hopes to establish an integrated Jewish community in the kingdom, and to launch many projects that serve the Jewish faith.

Herzog, 46, who has American citizenship, also where he was born in the United States, began thinking about going to Saudi Arabia four years ago, and indeed, he visited in October 2021, and since then “divides his time between Israel and the kingdom he wants to become” Rabbi The “unofficial” elder, according to Jerusalem Post, expresses his fascination with it.

Herzog defines himself as “a businessman, specializing in commercial transactions, interfaith dialogue, and the provision of all the needs of Jews in Saudi Arabia.”

And Herzog wants to be responsible for the Jews, who come to Saudi Arabia to work, and to organize them into a functioning society, where he knows he will start from scratch.

He said: “Jews come to the kingdom mainly for work and tourism. Most of the expatriates who come to Saudi Arabia are doctors, teachers and employees in all these big international projects that are going on,” adding: “Now it takes a few minutes online to get a visitor visa.”

He explains that a certain percentage of these expatriates are Jews, “According to the statistics, there are about one hundred thousand American expatriates, let’s assume that the Jews represent one percent of them. This means that there are a thousand Jews in Saudi Arabia .of American citizenship, in addition to this there are also Jews from other countries such as the United Kingdom, France and South Africa.

“I started thinking about Saudi Arabia years ago; it always fascinated me. And now, everywhere I look, there is rapid growth, infrastructure, healthcare, artificial intelligence, cyber security, I was amazed, but I wondered: Who will take care of the religious needs of the Jews?”

And when Herzog told his wife his idea, she encouraged him to make a difference in this great country.

The aspiring rabbi got a visa in 2020 and was planning his first visit, but two weeks later the border was closed due to the coronavirus.

“When I opened the travel doors again, I did so, although I had no doubt that I would have no problem visiting there as a religious Jew, but it was important for me to show it to the world, that the Saudis have no problems with it. ,” Herzog said. the Jewish people.”

Herzog described his first visit as “very positive” and added: “I was warmly welcomed there.”

Herzog says he was welcomed in Saudi Arabia

The Saudi Embassy in Washington confirmed at the time that Herzog had entered the kingdom as an American tourist, according to a report by the Wall Street Journal, which quoted an official as saying: “Although Saudi Arabia has long encouraged interfaith dialogue have, our leadership has met many leaders representing all religions.” Although there are various types of efforts to promote this effort, Herzog’s visit to the Kingdom was not part of this effort.”

But Herzog then returned to Riyadh: “I continued my visits and established relationships with the local population, especially with the Jewish expatriates,” noting that some of them were initially reluctant until he was open to them in broad daylight in Riyadh.

He says, “Many Jews come to me and ask me before they move to Saudi Arabia, I have this job offer, which I have to ask for in my contract, and I tell them, they have to mention that they continue to take leave from work Shabbat and Jewish holidays, and I explain. They say that if they mention it, their employers will respect them more because they are proud of their heritage and traditions.”

Herzog believes that Jews and Muslims have always lived side by side, “There is no reason why Muslims and Jews cannot live together in the most important Muslim country in the world, I think it is possible.”

And Herzog served in the Israeli army for ten years, responsible for all the needs of the other religions in his unit, and believes that Saudi Arabia is the best place where he can serve the Jews, “because it is the most diverse community on the planet.”

Herzog, who has eight children with his wife, has big and ambitious plans: “I will live with my family in Saudi Arabia; my oldest child is 20 years old and my youngest daughter is one year old,” noting that he would like to import “kosher food to Saudi Arabia.”

He added, “My wife sees herself as part of this project because there are many Jewish women in Saudi Arabia,” noting that she is “in touch with Saudi women.”

He believed that his wife “has a lot to offer the Saudis in terms of education. Family relations and women’s empowerment while preserving and nurturing traditions, religion and family values.”

The rabbi expresses confidence that the Saudi government will fund the country’s Jewish centers in the future, “it’s only a matter of time until they fund and build Jewish institutions throughout the kingdom.”

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