The lines were as long as spirits were high at Ayat in Ditmas Park last Friday for a Shabbat dinner at the Palestinian eatery.
You read that correctly: Shabbat at a Palestinian restaurant. Restaurateur Abdul Elenani and his wife, Ayat Masoud, for whom the restaurant is named, welcomed the local Jewish community for a meal to thank them for their support during the ongoing conflict in Gaza. More that 1,300 people showed up over the course of the evening to break bread and show solidarity — the line stretching down the block and around the corner. Among them were City Council Member Shahana Hanif, who represents Ditmas Park, and Comptroller Brad Lander and other local leaders.
People were chit-chatting and laughing, unbothered by the wait as an impromptu Klezmer quartet entertained people with songs about “making a better world, right now.” Twinkling Stars of David were as commonly on display as keffiyehs, the traditional Palestinian scarf.
Although slated to start at 9, many people arrived early for a Shabbat prayer where a female Moroccan rabbi led the prayers in a separate tent.
“It’s very important for me to be here as a Jewish person to show support especially in a time where they really want us to think we are more divided than we are and we really are not,” said Liliya Sabler, 39, one of the evening’s many enthusiastic attendees. “We are a lot more united than they think and I’m here to show that solidarity.”
Inside, Elenani and Masoud were busily putting out large trays of traditional Levantine food: hummus, pita, cucumber salad, and slow cooked lamb. There was a kosher option from Lev caterers, who prepared branzino in chraime, a spicy pepper and tomato sauce, with challah on the side. Tables had been arranged family style in long lines, one with a six-foot challah on it was set near a large painting of a face wrapped in a keffiyeh. Jewish guests dined elbow-to-elbow with their Arab, Muslim and Palestinian neighbors.
“It’s always been a thing of mine growing up seeing the conflict between Palestinians and Jews, Muslim and Jews,” Elenani told Brooklyn Magazine. “I’ve always wanted to create something to bring them both together under one roof and just communicate. This will be perfect timing to make this restaurant into that environment where they can come break bread with each other and just talk about life.”
The restaurant, defiantly and proudly pro-Palestinian since its founding, has faced online backlash since the October 7 terrorist attack on Israel by Hamas. Ayat was targeted by trolls who left negative reviews in an effort to punish the restaurant for, among other things, its embrace of the traditional Palestinian slogan “From the River to the Sea” on their menus. Elenani, maintains that this saying is just that, a traditional saying that does not mean anything negative towards Jews.
“This phrase simply means, ‘equality and justice for the Palestinian people,’” he said. “There has been a lot of misinterpretation of this phrase. It’s a peaceful slogan. After I saw the reaction to this phrase, I decided to go harder and try to explain who the Palestinian people really are. During the time when my businesses were being attacked on the internet, I got a lot of community support from my Jewish neighbors. I did not expect it, but it really touched me, that support was like the light at the end of the tunnel. I really appreciated it. The light at the end of the tunnel would be for everyone to live in peace.”
Here are a few more scenes from the evening.
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