Arab Business Leader Loves Hebrew, Fulfills Lifelong Dream to Visit Israel
Amina Taher of Etihad Airways lives in the UAE and has been fascinated with the Hebrew language her whole life.
By Yakir Benzion, United With Israel
The Abraham Accords established groundbreaking peace treaties between Israel and several Arab countries, revealing some surprising relationships that predate the establishment of diplomatic relations.
Amina Taher, a vice president at the UAE-based Etihad Airways, surprised Israelis when during the first official Etihad flight from Abu Dhabi to Tel Aviv last month she gave a speech in perfect Hebrew, Jewish Insider (JI) reported Monday.
Grounded by the coronavirus pandemic, Taher’s first flight in over a year was the historic trip from the UAE to Ben Gurion Airport.
As an Arab from the Gulf, it was also her first ever trip to Israel and she said she was hooked.
“I was only there [in Israel] for 26 hours, but I had 22 dishes that I wanted to try, food that I didn’t have time to experience,” Taher told JI, adding “the only one takeaway that I brought back… was the people, and how hospitable and warm and welcoming the Israelis were. It was unbelievable, and that was my key takeaway from my very short round trip.”
Taher’s short speech in Hebrew was a shocker for the Israelis, who didn’t expect an Emirati to have such a good grasp of the language.
“I’m very excited to be a part of this historic event and to inaugurate the new route between Abu Dhabi and Tel Aviv,” she said in accented but clear Hebrew. “The Abraham Accords are, first of all, about peace between nations, between the Emiratis and the Israelis.”
Taher speaks six languages and told JI that her lifelong interest in the Hebrew language started when she was a child.
“The relationship I have with Hebrew … when I was in third grade, I was in an international school in Dubai. And there was a girl in my class called Tamar, and I really liked her name,” Taher explained, discovering that Tamar came from Hebrew.
“That was the first time I realized that Hebrew existed,” she said. “I started to, as a kid, being curious, I love the language. I’m very much into the typography and… over the years I’ve started listening to Israeli music.”
And when her speech in Hebrew went viral on social media, she bashfully said she had no idea it would it would attract that much attention.
“The fact that people appreciated it — I was very grateful, it was overwhelming in a good way.”
After graduating university in Abu Dhabi, Taher got a master’s in public administration at Harvard and an MBA from the London Business School, crediting her success to her grandmother — who never learned how to read.
“She was illiterate, she didn’t read and write, but she was so pro-education, and she was my biggest supporter and fan,” Taher said. “She encouraged me always to continue my education, and I felt, especially as a young girl, if you want to be out of your box, and out of your world, the best thing to do is learn and be curious and inquisitive.”
Like other first time visitors to Jerusalem, she fell in love with the city.
“Walking through the old streets of Jerusalem, I felt like I was living a moment frozen in time – an experience many can only dream of these days. It meant everything to me,” Taher tweeted during her trip to the city. “What’s not to love about an ancient city so holy to all three Abrahamic religions?”
Taher expects to be back in Israel in June for a longer work trip to strengthen tourism connections as well as position Etihad as a stopover airline for flights that connect at Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport.
“People are very supportive; everyone that I’m exposed to, and I’m exposed to a lot of people, are happy,” she said. “There are a lot of Emiratis … who are excited and want to go to Israel.”
“This is something exciting for us, not just for Etihad, but also for Emiratis as a nation, to be able to experience and come to Israel,” she said. “So obviously with launching the new route, this is incredibly exciting.”
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