JULY 6, 2016 - My family came closer together this Ramadan as we collectively tried to find the words to explain what separation is like to those fortunate enough not to know. You listened and let my family in Gaza know that they were heard. Thank you for letting us share our experiences as Palestinians with you.
Most importantly, as a result of all your efforts, over 4,200 Palestine refugee families in Gaza had food on the table to break their fasts, and will be able to celebrate Eid with one less worry weighing them down. That's 700 families more than our original Ramadan goal, proving that Americans really will go above and beyond! Your kindness will be remembered well after the holiday celebrations end. To all who celebrate, I wish you and your loved ones a very happy Eid!
JULY 3, 2016 - You've provided food assistance through UNRWA over 3,866 Palestine refugee families in Gaza this Ramadan. Will you commit to feed one more family before Eid? Your $120 will provide food assistance to get them through an entire month.
JUNE 29, 2016 - You brought joy to so many iftar tables this Ramadan, including mine and my family's. I told my teta in Gaza how excited so many of you were with he maqlooba recipe. She was thrilled that Americans were trying their hand at Palestinian cuisine.You made her so happy that I thought I should show my appreciation with another recipe. This time, I'm sharing my favorite dessert: mahalabia, a custard-like sweet with hints of orange blossom water. It's easy and delicious!
JUNE 22, 2016 - It's only the third week of Ramadan and you already made a world of difference for 2,233 Palestine refugee families in Gaza. I also caught up with one of my cousins in Gaza on Skype. Watch here
JUNE 14, 2016 - I emailed my Teta's secret maqlooba recipe to you. Download it here.
Show me how it turns out using Instagram or Twitter and the #ramadanacrossborders hashtag!
MATCHING GIFT ANNOUNCEMENT
Every dollar donated this Ramadan will be DOUBLED up to $100,000! And 100% of donations to UNRWA's Ramadan campaign will go directly to Gaza. Your $120 donation doubles to $240 to feed TWO families. Donate here
JUNE 8, 2016 - LENA'S LETTER
When I think of Ramadan, I think of my family sitting around the dinner table together.
As we begin this holy month, I – along with 3.3 million other Muslim Americans – will fast from sun up until sundown in spiritual reflection. As each day’s last rays give way to darkness, we join together with loved ones to enjoy iftar (breaking of the fast) dinners that go late into the night. I always look forward to making maqlooba – an upside down rice dish featuring layers of spiced chicken, tomatoes, baked eggplant, potatoes, and fried cauliflower.
It’s a time for me to deeply connect with my family. Growing up, I couldn’t wait to help my grandmother Fatima, who we lovingly call teta, as she buzzed around the kitchen, and I loved reciting after my grandfather Younes, who we call sido, as he led us in prayer before our meal.
However, I can’t have moments like those with teta Fatima and sido Younes anymore. You see, they, along with my entire extended family, live under siege in Gaza.
Because of the 10 year illegal Israeli blockade, they are unable to leave, and I am unable to visit. These days our Ramadan celebrations together take place over Skype or by phone – never together around the table like it should be.
In Gaza, this holiday is not a respite for the 1.8 million people living there:
Clean water is scarce.
Fresh produce and fish are limited, as farmers and fishermen are targeted by Israeli forces.
People’s lives revolve around the 12-hour per day power cuts, making it impossible to plan anything with certainty.
But if you ask my family in Gaza what the hardest part of Ramadan is, they will tell you it’s the pain they feel when they gather for iftar dinner and are reminded of the loved ones who won’t be enjoying it with them. There are now more empty chairs than people, as so many families, including my own, lost loved ones in the most recent assault on Gaza. Instead of being a time of celebration, it becomes a time of renewed mourning for many families.
I want to help bring hope back to my family and the people of Gaza – that’s why I joined the UNRWA USA team in 2015. UNRWA is the largest humanitarian organization serving the refugee population of Gaza. This Ramadan, we will provide food aid to 1 million people there.
Overall, this organization provides education, healthcare, food aid, social services, and emergency protection to some 5 million Palestinian refugees in Gaza, the West Bank, Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan. UNRWA is a direct service provider with 98% of our 33,000 person staff being Palestinian refugees themselves. In fact, we’re the largest employer in all of Gaza.
My parents received their education at UNRWA schools. My aunts are both employed by UNRWA – one sewing embroidery through the Job Creation Program and another teaching children at the school for the visually impaired.
Where others have failed, UNRWA has invested in creating countless opportunities for my family, empowering them with the skills they need to persevere. With your help, we can do so much more.
Ramadan is a time to give thanks for what we have, contemplate how to better ourselves, and help those who are less fortunate.
Whether you observe or not, your tax-deductible gift of $120 will provide a family in Gaza with flour, sugar, olive oil, meat, lentils, chickpeas, and other essential food items to help bring joy to their table this month.
And the sooner you give, the sooner we can act.
This Ramadan, as I look around my table, I will be thankful for the family I have with me – and I will pray that one day I will be able to celebrate in person with my teta Fatima and my sido Younes, and all my loved ones in Gaza.
In the meantime, I will do all that I can to help them from afar, and I hope you will too.
From my family to yours,Lena Badr AbdelhamidFinance and Administrative OfficerUNRWA USA@lenambadr
RAMADAN ACROSS BORDERS
There is also a conversation happening on Twitter and Instagram: #ramadanacrossborders
You don't have to celebrate Ramadan to participate in this conversation. Holidays, family, and separation are universal themes. Many of us have family and loved ones across borders, whether those are state lines or international.
So join the #ramadanacrossborders exchange:
1. Share your stories of what it's like to celebrate holidays (Ramadan is just one example) with loved ones who aren't in the same geographical place. Can you imagine Christmas without family ten years in a row?
2. If you are Muslim, share what Ramadan looks like for you. We're talking suhoor and iftar photos, gatherings with families and friends, or even community events.
Palestine refugees in Gaza and elsewhere in the world will do the same, creating an exchange across borders. We can't wait to see what you have to say.