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By Jonathan Guyer

On Friday night in Brooklyn, the kitchen of the Palestinian restaurant Ayat brought out platter after platter of stewed lamb and piles of delicate rice for a line of people wrapped past the grocery next door.

“Everyone and their bubbie is here,” a graduate student said, bumping into friends from leftist, progressive, and queer communities.

They were all there for a Jewish Sabbath meal hosted by the restaurant, which has faced a steady stream of hate since 7 October for its vocal support of the Palestinian cause. But on Friday, the mellow, dirge-like melodies of Moroccan Jewish songs filled the restaurant’s second floor, where the walls were covered with hand-painted murals depicting folkloric Palestinian symbols and a vintage Arabic ad for Pepsi. A standing-room only crowd joined in with dancing and table banging.

More than 1,300 people lined up and down the block to support the restaurant’s owners, Abdul Elenani and Ayat Masoud, many wearing keffiyehs and embroidered yarmulkes, others with tzitzit (Jewish ritual fringes) flowing out of shirts or in hijab.

“My only goal and my only motivation behind this concept when I created it was to speak through food and culture about the occupation of Palestine,” Elenani told the Guardian.

He jumped on the controversy to find common ground between communities of different faiths seeking an end to the Gaza war. “So why don’t I just throw a large Shabbat dinner during these difficult times?” he said.


Elenani wanted observant Jews to feel welcome and, even after three caterers turned him down, arranged for kosher food. A sign in the restaurant window said: “Down With the Occupation”. A dozen or so volunteers from Jews For Racial & Economic Justice, in neon vests, directed the queue and made sure everything went smoothly.

After sundown, a white tent set up outside became a sacred space for a service led by Jewish people from the Middle East and North Africa – Arab Jews, as some consider themselves. Musician Laura Elkeslassy began leading the service with an invocation focusing on the atrocities of 7 October, the plight of hostages, displaced people and political prisoners, and Israel’s ongoing destruction of Gaza.

She spoke of how the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948 led to a rupture between Arab Jews and their countries. “May this Shabbat bear the hope of a free Palestine and a collective liberation for all of us,” she said, as the worshippers ululated. The service concludes with the Mourner’s Kaddish, a prayer the bereaved chant to grieve close family members. A community leader invited the whole tent to stand up and say it together for those who have no one to remember them, a tradition that dates to the years after the Holocaust and has taken on new salience, as Israel has wiped out whole Palestinian family trees in Gaza. “Each one of us feels a huge loss,” she said.

Then came warm shouts of “Shabbat Shalom” and applause for Ayat’s owners, and the worshippers headed toward the buffet of slow-cooked chicken and lamb, yellow rice, garlicky baba ganouj, creamy hummus, and of course, herb-covered fish.

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