On the cusp of Ramadan, as the hot August sun was beginning its evening descent ushering in the Holy Month, David Eden, the newly hired "journalist expert" at United Arab Emirates University, stood on the side of the deserted road in downtown Al Ain dripping sweat and hopelessly trying to hail a taxi. As he cursed his circumstance and was about to give up, a battered Corolla pulled to the curb.
Could it be insha'Allah, "God's will," that brought him the taxi? Or was it beshert, "Destined to be?" And if that was the case, "Who" destined it?
Sometimes a chance encounter can change your life forever. Rarely is it with someone so different and from such a dissimilar world. Even more scarce still is when it touches your heart and soul, and becomes weaved into your life's fabric. But that's what happened when an expat Pashtun taxi driver from North Waziristan picked up an expat American Jewish journalist on the evening before his first class.
A narrative of identity, religion, brotherhood, renewal, and trust, David Eden's "My Pashtun Rabbi" is an eye-opening tale of his life-changing experience as an American Jew hired to be the "journalism expert" at United Arab Emirates University as the worldwide financial collapse began, the Great Recession took hold, and another war in Gaza erupted. In the days leading up to the 2008 collapse of the world's financial markets, David has just arrived in the UAE to begin his new job at the national university based in Al Ain, an ancient inland desert city situated on an archipelago of millennial-old oases in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi on the rugged border with Oman.
David was surprised he was hired and wonders what will happen when his Jewish identity becomes known to his students, faculty, friends, and nearly everybody? What would happen when they found out? How would the fact he was Jewish effect his relationships with his students and friends as the truth is revealed?
That's the heart of My Pashtun Rabbi, the story about David Eden, a middle-aged American Jew, and journalist by training, who embarks on a journey of faith and redemption that lands him in Al Ain, an ancient inland oasis city in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi. David's life takes a major turn when that taxi driver, Noor, sees the potential in his passenger that germinates and blooms into a golden bond of friendship. Noor's family lives in the tribal territories of Pakistan, and he rarely has the opportunity to visit his parents, wife and five children. There is something special and different about Noor, and David begins to think of him as his very own Pashtun rabbi.
David's journey also takes him inside the world of a prominent Emirati family connected to the nation's royal founding patriarch, and into the classroom where he "pushes the limits" on "allowed topics," and encounters a firebrand female Palestinian student who longs to return to Gaza, who doesn't know David is Jewish until the end of the semester, as a new war with Hamas breaks out in Israel.
By telling a story about and through the people David holds dear in the UAE, he is able to weave in political, social, religious and cultural issues. These real-world issues linger persistently in the background of the story and directly contribute to a singular tension -- ''What is a Jew doing living and teaching in the UAE?"
"My Pashtun Rabbi" is a timely, in-depth look at a little-known corner of the oil-rich Arab Muslim world through a totally different lens, more human than political – and more about the potential of tomorrow, rather than the turmoil of today. If people can somehow get beyond labels of religion and nationality, and get to know each other as human beings first, maybe we can help transform the world and help rid it of so much strife and discord?