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Israeli and Jewish-owned restaurants in the US are raising money for Hamas victims

NEW YORK — Inna Mashiach was in the hospital, about to give birth to her twin daughters, when she learned about the Hamas onslaught that killed some 1,400 Israelis, mostly civilians, and saw at least 224 more kidnapped by the terror group and held hostage in the Gaza Strip.

“It’s been the best week and the worst week. My body is broken by the babies and my heart is broken by the attack. The pictures are horrible. It’s just so hard to understand,” said Mashiach, who, together with her husband Eldad, owns Reunion, a small Israeli café in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn.

As soon as she got home, Mashiach and her husband knew they had to help — and so they turned to food as a way to contribute to the healing effort. Now, three weeks into the war, theirs is one of several Jewish and Israeli restaurants in New York City raising money for humanitarian aid organizations in Israel while also supporting staff who have been directly affected.

At Reunion — whose menu features Israeli staples such as schnitzel and shakshuka — that means providing dozens of meals for the Israeli Consulate, as well as raising money for displaced families with babies and young children who were living in the now-devastated towns and villages near the Gaza border.

“We decided most of the money we raise will go to babies and children in the south [of Israel],” Mashiach said. Additionally, the restaurant hosted an auction on October 21 through FridayTables, a Shabbat supper club.

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Mashiach said she and her husband have been able to keep their pace largely because her parents are here from Tel Aviv. They had arrived before the twins’ birth to help with Mashiach’s older children, who are 11 and 8. Mashiach’s sister, who had also been visiting, has since returned to Israel.

Inna and Eldad Mashiach, owners of the Israeli café Reunion, are supplying meals to the Israeli Consulate in New York City and raising money for humanitarian causes in Israel. (Courtesy: Patrick Dolande)

A few blocks away from Reunion, Rotem Itzhaky, manager of the Middle Eastern restaurant 12 Chairs Café, sits by her phone juggling non-stop phone calls.

“People are asking how they can help. We will not forget it,” she said.

Itzhaky’s first inkling that “something was not right” came around 11:30 p.m. Eastern Time on October 6, around the time the terror onslaught was unfolding on Saturday morning in Israel. Upon learning the extent of the massacre, she and the rest of the management team resolved to act.

“First and foremost we wanted to take care of the employees, most of them being Israelis far from home, while they continuously get names of people they have lost. It was also clear to us that we will do anything in our power to help,” Itzhaky said.

Since the war started, 12 Chairs, which has locations in Soho and Williamsburg, hosted several private gatherings for staff, their friends, and customers to share stories and comfort one another.

12 Chairs Cafe, a Middle Eastern restaurant in New York City, has been hosting private gatherings for staff impacted by the October 7 massacres as well as raising money for humanitarian aid. (Courtesy: 12 Chairs Cafe)

It’s also donating proceeds to support soldiers who returned to Israel to help defend their country. In addition, the Williamsburg location hosted a fundraiser on October 24 for $150 per person. The ticket included a family-style multi-course dinner, open bar, and dancing to raise spirits and donations. The initiative will support survivors and soldiers.

“It is the least we can do right now. Seeing so many people leave their daily jobs and lives and being 200 percent dedicated to helping soldiers in the reserves go back home, donating money, sending equipment, helping people who are left with nothing — that gives us hope that our community is strong,” Itzhaky said.

Drawing strength from, and giving to, the Jewish community is familiar to Jake Cohen, the best-selling author of “I Could Nosh: Classic Jew-ish Recipes Revamped for Every Day,” and board member of the nonprofit One Table, which helps people find, share and host Shabbat dinners.

Cookbook authors Adeena Sussman and Jake Cohen at a fundraising effort for Asif, the Jewish Food and Culinary Institute of Israel in Tel Aviv, which is providing meals and food for displaced families and hospital workers in Israel. (Courtesy Jake Cohen)

Cohen spent part of last weekend baking 100 “Super Fudgy Date Brownies” to contribute to a giant bake sale last week organized by the Jewish Food Society.

The event raised $26,000 for ASIF, the Jewish Food and Culinary Institute of Israel in Tel Aviv. The nonprofit’s staff has been preparing meals for displaced families and hospital workers in Israel.

“It was a chance to create space for pride in Jewish food, Israeli food, and most of all a connection to community. Everyone is one degree away from knowing someone who has been killed or taken hostage,” Cohen said, adding that he and his husband Alex spent part of last weekend hanging posters of the hostages in Manhattan.

The 2nd Avenue Deli sent profits from its two locations to the United Hatzalah volunteer paramedic organization. Proceeds from special heart-shaped challahs being sold at New York’s “Lehamim” bakery — in partnership with Israeli baker Ben (Jinji) Siman Tov — will go to Magen David Adom, Israel’s emergency ambulance service.

“Challah symbolizes unity. The braids woven together are like how we stand together during these extraordinary times. We braided this challah in the shape of a heart to express our solidarity and support for those who have been hurt and affected by the events,” Siman Tov said in a launch video.

Challah Back Girls (CBG) usually partners with organizations and leaders working to advance social and racial justice in the United States. However, this time the “stark injustice was toward our own Jewish community, on the global stage,” said Sara Loffman, the group’s CEO and co-founder.

CBG launched a global campaign; for every 10 challah items ordered in October, it will donate $18 toward humanitarian relief efforts distributing local aid to communities in Israel. So far it has raised over $700.

Sara Loffman, CEO and co-founder of Challah Back Girls, points to stacks of challahs ready to be shipped. Her group has so far raised $700 to go to humanitarian efforts in Israel. (Courtesy Challah Back Girls)

“While CBG’s mission aligns with the value of tikkun olam, this moment inspires me to turn inward and work toward centering and helping my own community, through the connection of challah. What is taking place in Israel and Gaza affects each of us,” Loffman said, using the Hebrew phrase for repairing the world.

Outside of New York, Elon Shaya, whose Pomegranate Hospitality runs the restaurants Saba in New Orleans and Safta in Denver, joined the effort. This month proceeds from its monthly fundraiser “Hummus for a Cause,” will help support Magen David Adom. And Simple Venue, a NYC-based hospitality group, raised over $50,000 for Israel Friends, which will go towards essential humanitarian aid and medical supplies.

Taking to Instagram, Shaya described the attack as similar to the atrocities of the Holocaust, adding, “It’s imperative that we draw a line between terrorists like Hamas, who murder innocent people and commit war crimes, and the Palestinian community. We also mourn the loss of Palestinian lives, of children, families—civilians who want nothing more than to live in peace.”

Back in New York City, Palestinian restaurants are also trying to help fund relief efforts in Gaza as the humanitarian crisis there increases daily.

For example, Ayat, a Palestinian restaurant in Brooklyn’s Bay Ridge neighborhood run by Ayat Masoud and her husband Abdul Elenani, is directing people who want to help to UNRWA, the UN relief agency for Palestinian refugees.

With the war well into its third week, most restaurant owners said they are trying to take it moment by moment.

“Soups, we make soup every day. In between bottles, we cry and we make soup and we hug and we make soup,” Reunion’s Mashiach said.