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At Muslim-Owned Brooklyn Deli, Breaking Bread to Support Refugees

Aug 14, 2017

Blog Post

Gabe Cahn, HIAS.org

“It's always easier to understand the unfamiliar when you sit down and break bread together.”

This is the mantra of Breaking Bread NYC, a food project started earlier this year with the goal of connecting communities through cuisine. Since February, the group has hosted numerous events across New York City.

All Breaking Bread events seek to increase exposure to the foods of the countries marginalized by the Trump administration’s travel ban, such as Iraq, Somalia and Iran. However, three recent meals have also sought to raise funds for HIAS in a way that organizer David Freedenberg calls, “perfect synergy.”

Freedenberg, who also goes by “Famous Fat Dave,” has helped organize these events at David’s Brisket House, a staple in the Bed-Stuy neighborhood of Brooklyn since the 1930’s.

Founded by a Jewish man named David, the establishment was later co-owned by a Jew and a Muslim both from Yemen. When the Jewish partner retired, the deli was then owned and run by a Muslim Yemeni family and today is operated by Riyadh Gazali, the nephew of the original Muslim co-owner.

After the second event at David’s Brisket House in June, Freedenberg told Haaretz that he first found out about HIAS’ work after seeing TV coverage of the organization’s February 2017 Battery Park rally against the refugee ban.

“I’d never heard of HIAS,” Freedenberg, who is Jewish and grew up in Maryland, told the newspaper. “But I thought ‘wow, this HIAS is helping Muslim refugees, that’s great. I wanted to donate but don’t have any money. So I thought, ‘let’s raise money and support the deli and have a great time.’”

On August 3, the group held the third fundraiser at the deli, where for $45 attendees were treated to pastrami and brisket on rye, pickles, french fries, macaroni salad and a slice of cake from a nearby bakery for dessert. Part of the proceeds will go to HIAS.

Freedenberg said that the the latest feast was “raucous and joyous,” and one Jewish attendee shared a personal story with Gazali about how Yemeni Muslims had hid his grandparents during the Holocaust.

Breaking Bread NYC plans to have the next event at David’s Brisket House in October, with one scheduled every couple months after that.