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Iftar for Gaza

Three women. Two UNRWA USA events. One unexpected friendship.

Three women. Two UNRWA USA events. One unexpected friendship.

Three women sat around a table in the Josephine Butler Parks Center in Washington, DC for UNRWA USA’s experiential and interactive charitable iftar for Gaza featuring authentic Middle Eastern cuisine. Their names were Lisa, Dominique, and Nahed.

Each woman was drawn to the charitable dinner for a different reason.

Lisa saw it advertised online when she first came back from the West Bank, where she was running a USAID healthcare improvement project, supporting a network of hospitals, including an UNRWA health center in Qalqilya. Palestine was on her mind and on her newsfeed, so she sprang at the opportunity to attend the event supporting Palestine refugees.

Dominique had heard of the event through her former colleague who now works for UNRWA USA. She was already familiar with UNRWA USA and UNRWA’s work on the ground in the Middle East, so she signed up on the spot.

Nahed is Lebanese, and having been born in Lebanon, she was well aware of the struggles faced by Palestine refugees.

It [dinner] became an intimate experience. The only way we could have a good deep conversation — which we got into quickly — was by leaning into each other. It’s what started our friendship!
— Dominique, describing meeting Lisa and Nahed for the first time at the UNRWA USA charitable iftar, where the bustling noise in the room required them to come closer -- physically and emotionally.

However, when these women gathered around the table, the various paths that brought them there quickly became irrelevant.

The iftar program evoked a day in the life of a Palestine refugee in Gaza, and proceeds from the event in Washington, DC put food on the table for 169 Palestine refugee families in the Gaza Strip for the entire summer.

The room where the dinner was held was busy, full of excitement and chatter, and the acoustics of the room only amplified this buzz. “As a result,” Lisa said, “the only way we could speak to each other was by whispering into each other's ears.”

Highlights from the DC charitable iftar for Gaza

“It became an intimate experience,” Dominique chimed in. “The only way we could have a good deep conversation -- which we got into quickly -- was by leaning into each other. It’s what started our friendship!”  

When speaking to these three, it was easy to see how they immediately clicked. The chemistry among them is palatable. Their banter flows quickly and easily, like old friends who have known each other for years.

Inspired after the charitable iftar, Nahed created a painting highlighting symbols of the Palestinian diaspora and refugee experience, including a Palestinian flag, a vase with a Lebanese cedar, and a mother of pearl mosaic as a symbol of Syria.

Inspired after the charitable iftar, Nahed created a painting highlighting symbols of the Palestinian diaspora and refugee experience, including a Palestinian flag, a vase with a Lebanese cedar, and a mother of pearl mosaic as a symbol of Syria.

Despite being from different parts of the world and carrying with them different experiences, they overlapped and found common ground over language, interests, and values. In a fashion that epitomizes DC cosmopolitan culture, their conversation wove in and out of English, French, and Arabic. Lisa cheerfully shared, “it was a funny mix of language that brought us together; we all spoke just little bits of each.”

Over the course of the dinner, Lisa commented that “not only did we connect on values, but we over created actual connections -- the type that make you want to get together again -- which is what we did!”

A few months later, UNRWA USA announced that it was having its seventh annual DC Gaza 5K + Dabke Party, benefiting UNRWA’s mental health services for Palestine refugee kids in the Gaza Strip. Lisa saw the event advertised online and invited the other two to join her 5K team — Sisters together for Gaza. Appropriately named to reflect their friendship, they went above and beyond and invited a few other friends beyond the original three. Together, the team raised an impressive $1,487 to support access to UNRWA mental health care services.

It was all three women’s first times participating in the event, held on September 22, 2018, but they all claimed it would not be their last. For Dominique, the dabke dancing was the highlight, though she jokingly said it was not easy on her knees after running a 5K! She said she loved how it brought everyone together, creating a literal circle of friends.

Wahad w Nos (واحد ونص): dabke afterparty at the DC Gaza 5K

It was all kids of magical having all the little, additional pieces of the event — even beyond the 5K. It’s hard to bring hope in such circumstances, but the energy of the UNRWA USA team and the community brings us all to such a positive place.
— Lisa, speaking about her 2018 DC Gaza 5K experience

team sisters together for Gaza

video from the dc gaza 5k captured by team member ricardo

For Lisa, the highlight was hearing Alaa Hammouda, the Advocacy Media Officer at the Gaza Community Mental Health Programme, speak. Alaa is visiting the US with her two daughters from the Gaza Strip and spoke to the participants about her firsthand experience living in Gaza and dealing with trauma both from a personal and professional standpoint. Lisa said getting to speak to her and seeing her beautiful traditional Palestinian thobe (dress) brought her back to her time in Palestine.

“It was all kinds of magical having all the little, additional pieces of the event -- even beyond the 5K,” said Lisa. “It’s hard to bring hope in such circumstances, but the energy of the UNRWA USA team and the community brings us all to such a positive place.”

We asked what happened in between the two events, whether they kept in touch between the iftar dinner and the Gaza 5K. Dominique immediately let out a cheerful laugh and responded, “Have we kept in touch? We have fifty pages of text messages!”

And without missing a beat, the trio immediately launched into planning their next meet up, comparing schedules, and coordinating their next gathering…


Dominique, Nahed, and Lisa have dinner together at Nahed’s home

Dominique, Nahed, and Lisa have dinner together at Nahed’s home

Ultimately, beyond supporting Palestine refugees through UNRWA’s services, UNRWA USA aims to create an American community invested in the lives and livelihoods of refugees. We are fortunate to have witnessed a little bit of that community magic take form among Lisa, Dominique, Nahed, and the rest of the “Sisters together for Gaza.” Thank you for coming together to show Palestine refugees Americans care!

Follow these ladies’ lead and keep up to date on all UNRWA USA events, including Gaza 5Ks here.

Who knows what kinds of friendship it could lead to!

Iftar for Gaza around the US: 30 days, 35 iftars, $125,700+ raised, 839 refugee families in Gaza fed

Iftar for Gaza around the US: 30 days, 35 iftars, $125,700+ raised, 839 refugee families in Gaza fed

Why UNRWA food assistance is needed

The Gaza Strip has been under an illegal blockade for eleven years, and unemployment and poverty levels are at record highs. As a result, nearly one million of the 1.3 million Palestine refugees in Gaza rely on UNRWA food assistance to meet their basic daily needs. 

A $150 donation can provide enough flour, rice, whole milk, oil, chickpeas, lentils, and protein-rich sardines to feed a family for the summer.

Iftar for Gaza 

For the second year, UNRWA USA supporters chose to narrow the gap between the US and the Gaza Strip by bringing the thoughts, experiences, and struggles of Palestine refugee families into their homes and around their dining tables. 

Iftar for Gaza means feeding more than just those around the table; it's bringing together friends and family to ensure that Palestine refugees meet basic food needs through Ramadan and for the entire summer. 


find your iftar: where iftar for gaza events were hosted across the us

UNRWA USA supporters hosted Iftar for Gaza events all across the country -- from picnics to potlucks to restaurant-catered dinners, Americans got creative to feed more than just those around their tables!

UNRWA USA supporters hosted Iftar for Gaza events all across the country -- from picnics to potlucks to restaurant-catered dinners, Americans got creative to feed more than just those around their tables!

This Ramadan, UNRWA USA supporters held 35 iftars across the United States, raising over $125,700, to provide UNRWA food assistance to more than 839 of the most vulnerable Palestine refugee families in the Gaza Strip. From New Jersey to California, New York to Texas, Maryland to Pennsylvania, these hosts and attendees showed Palestine refugees that Americans care and care deeply.

Here are some of the highlights: 

Burtonsville, Maryland

Anika and Aamir took the idea of iftar for Gaza and got creative with it, flipping the concept and hosting a "sahoor for Gaza" party instead. Sahoor, the pre-dawn meal Muslims consume prior to fasting, takes place early in the morning, so the couple invited their friends and family to their home in Maryland and treated them to a huge late night party that started at 1 am and went on until 4 am, featuring a local chicken and waffle food truck, shawarma bowls and wraps from Georgetown's popular Muncheez restaurant, a barista serving up various coffees drinks, teas, and fresh fruit cocktails, and complimentary t-shirts. The generous couple not only hosted a sahoor to remember, they matched all donations made to their fundraising page. Together, Anika and Aamir's community provided enough funding to assist over 190 refugee families in the Gaza Strip!

Albuquerque, New Mexico

Longtime supporter Lora, along with 21 friends and neighbors, came together at Sahara Restaurant -- a local favorite -- for a delicious meal of basmati rice, falafel, hummus, dolmas, shawarma, and fattoush salad. As they ate together, Lora reflected on her time in Gaza. She states in her blog piece encapsulating the event, "I had a flashback to many of the families in Gaza who served me wonderful meals — too numerous to count. I wish I could have bridged the miles and shared my Iftar with them."

While she couldn't physically offer the same meals to families in Gaza, Lora's efforts, along with the efforts and generosity of her energetic and passionate community, amounted to 16 families receiving UNRWA food assistance for the entire summer

Orange County, California

Two friends and entrepreneurs, Sara (A Little Bit of Lemon) and Lana (Olive & Heart), partnered together to host a Supper Club for Gaza in southern California featuring their favorite traditional Iraqi and Palestinian dishes alongside their close group of friends. One attendee encouraged her friends to attend and donate to their iftar event as a way to celebrate her birthday while also giving to charity. Lana reflected on the event in a recent Olive & Heart blog piece.

new york, new york

Our friends at Komeeda -- an organization that delivers creative cultural food experiences -- have been long-standing partners of our work assisting with the NYC Gaza 5Ks, hosting displaced dinners, and other outreach and fundraising events for Palestine refugees. And for the second year in a row, they hosted a charitable iftar to benefit Palestine refugees in Gaza at the Food and Arts Center in downtown Manhattan. The tickets to the dinner along with donations made during and prior to the event contributed to 65 families in the Gaza Strip receiving UNRWA food assistance for Ramadan and the rest of summer.

The event featured an impressive menu showcasing a molecular gastronomy interpretation of the Palestinian cuisine, including a lentil soup and basterma-wrapped dates, sous vide steak with cacao and Aleppo pepper, and halloumi cheese and blood oranges. What's even more impressive than the menu, is their passionate community service and dedication to empowering refugees here in the United States and abroad.

Bergen, New Jersey

Sara and Dina co-hosted an iftar together, renting out Maggianos Restaurant and filling it with their closest friends and family for an elaborate and beautiful Italian dinner. Sara and Dina each pledged to feed ten families and invited their friends to join them in reaching their total goal.

By the end of the night, they were able to collect enough to feed 51 families! Following the event, Sara and Dina continued to share their fundraising page on social media, and friends continued to donate, ultimately raising enough to feed over 58 families! Sara, a trained counselor, hopes to continue her efforts as a volunteer to strengthen UNRWA's Community Mental Health Programme in the Middle East.

Wilmington, Delaware

Mike and the Delawareans for Palestine shared a delicious meal in Wilmington while raising funds and awareness in solidarity with Palestine refugees in the Gaza Strip. Together, these powerhouse community members of all ages gathered together for a memorable and rewarding afternoon. Watch their thoughtful video: 

new york, new york 

Ariella, Michelle, and a group of their friends came together for an intimate potluck dinner, hosted in their apartment in NYC. Together, they shared a meal and raised enough to feed four families in Gaza

san francisco, california

Time after time, Googlers Zanoon and Rhonda have stepped up and taken initiative to support Palestine refugees. Most recently, they showed tremendous compassion and thoughtfulness during a time of exceptional need for refugees in Gaza by successfully mobilizing over 200 fellow Googlers to raise a staggering $38,000 for Palestine refugees in Gaza. In addition to hosting a huge dinner at Google, they shared a presentation highlighting UNRWA's work in the Gaza Strip and the impact of the UNRWA food assistance program with friends and colleagues who otherwise may not have known about UNRWA's critical work for Palestine refugees. 

brooklyn, new york

In a cozy Brooklyn apartment, a group of friends from 8 different countries (along with a cute furry friend!) got together to break fast over a delicious meal, show solidarity with refugees in Gaza, and celebrate their friendships. In the process, they raised enough money to feed 7 Palestine refugee families in the Gaza Strip!

coney island, new york

High school students from Coney Island Prep have now hosted an iftar for Gaza two years in a row. This year, they made it even bigger and better, drawing students and teachers from all grades to participate and learn more about the situation facing refugees in the Gaza Strip. They hope to host another iftar next year, but until then, read about their successful iftar and what the event meant to them


Photos and highlights from other iftars around the US


Did you host an #IftarforGaza? 

Share your photos and videos with us via email or using hashtag #IftarforGaza so we can feature what you and your community achieved together! Thank you for keeping Gaza in your hearts and minds and for continuing to show Palestine refugees Americans care. 


unrwa usa hosts iftar for gaza events in nyc and washington, dc

In addition, UNRWA USA held two experiential and interactive charitable Iftar for Gaza events in the United States, where hundreds of supporters from the area attended to demonstrate solidarity and provide UNRWA food assistance to Palestine refugee families in the Gaza Strip. Check out photos from the recent New York City and Washington DC dinners.