May Al Badi Spreads Peace from the UAE to Israel with Challah Bread
By Joseph Wolkin
May Al Badi loves challah bread. Who can blame her? The sweet bread eaten by thousands of families each Shabbat provides a special essence, a way to share a bond from house-to-house.
The Abu Dhabi native is currently penning a book called Kosherati with Elli Kriel, the creator of Elli’s Kosher Kitchen, a popular kosher restaurant in Dubai. Al Badi immersed herself in Jewish culture thanks to the creation of the Abraham Accords in late 2020, so much so that she added Hebrew to her Twitter name.
Al Badi is living life to its fullest potential, making as many connections with Israelis as she can. She even met Chief Rabbi of Israel Yitzhak Yosef last year when he visited the United Arab Emirates, and she wants to spread love between Israel and its Arab neighbors for years to come.
But even before the Abraham Accords were finalized in October to normalize relations between Israel and multiple Arab states, Al Badi was interested in Jewish and Israeli culture.
“The way I met Elli was through her kosher catering business,” Al Badi, a mother to two children, said in a conversation with Jewish National Fund-USA (JNF-USA) IsraelCast host Steven Shalowitz. “I was on Instagram and found her page. I saw she had challah bread and rugelach. I like challah bread, and I usually have it when I travel. I was surprised we have challah bread in Dubai.”
Kriel delivered the challah and rugelach on a Friday afternoon and the rest, as they say, is history.
Al Badi explains to Shalowitz exactly how Kosherati came to be, as well as how food can be the center of creating peace between Jews and Muslims.
“She made an effort in bringing my challah bread right before Shabbat,” Al Badi said of her co-author. “I thought of giving her something from my home, which was a basket of dates that my grandmother sent me. It was a very symbolic cultural exchange.”
Soon, Al Badi found herself at the Kriel dinner table on Shabbat. She realized the similarities between the Jewish food she started eating and that of Emirati cuisine. The two foodies began brainstorming, and lo and behold Kosherati was created.
“We thought of doing a book on Emirati food for the kosher home,” Al Badi said. “Whenever I travel, I always look for Israeli restaurants or Jewish bakeries.
“I noticed that Israeli food is a combination of inspired food from different countries. Then, they made their own cuisine.”
What really stood out to Al Badi, though, was the different delicacies she saw for each of the Jewish holidays. No holiday has the same food, she observed, and it is still inspiring her to this day as a self-described “foodie.”
The dynamic duo is currently testing recipes out for their new book. Thanks to the Abraham Accords, the book is expected to sell throughout the region.
Kriel’s business is booming, specifically with hotels in the United Arab Emirates ordering kosher food more than ever before. The book will teach readers about the different foods eaten on the multitude of Jewish holidays, the Jewish community of the United Arab Emirates, and how the kosher process is similar but also different to halal.
“This book will uncover a lot of important things that have to do with the Jewish community living here in the Emirates,” Al Badi said. “It’ll show Emirati traditions, local produce and spices.”
As peace continues to flow throughout the gulf like milk and honey in Israel, more kosher food is being offered than ever before. Food is building bridges, and Al Badi loves to see it.
“A lot of the coffee shops in Dubai now have babka and some started getting challah bread,” she said. “It’s slowly getting into our restaurants and cafes.”
Now, Al Badi wants to share her passion for Jewish cuisine with the world.
“I believe in culinary diplomacy,” she said. “I believe this is a soft power that brings people together.”
JNF-USA’s IsraelCast comes out every other Wednesday at jnf.org/israelcast and is available wherever you listen to your favorite podcasts.