As she pours olive oil and spiced za’atar onto her pastry, Nehad Mohamed Jerada mixes in the joy and grief of her culture.
Ms Jerada is part of a social enterprise kitchen, Plate It Forward, based out of the bakery Anything But Humble in Alexandria in Sydney’s inner suburbs.
Her cooking is being showcased at the bakery with profits going towards her family’s efforts to rebuild in Gaza.
The Palestinian arrived in Australia as an asylum seeker before her home and neighbourhood in Shujaiya in east Gaza were destroyed by Israeli air strikes.
While she is now thousands of kilometres away with two of her sons, she feels guilty that she isn’t among the rubble with her eldest son and his family.
Kneading dough keeps her mind from thinking of them and the fate that has befallen more than 12,000 people over the past 40 days, according to Gaza’s health authority.
“If not for the boss and the work, I would only think about it, all the time,” Ms Jerada said in Arabic.
Every day she looks for his name among the growing list of the dead — which already includes 30 members of her family.
“Today, I don’t know if he’s alive or if he’s dead,” she said.
“We haven’t been able to communicate with them for two days.”
The last she heard, her son’s family were forced to shower in the rain as water had become scarce.
“Your mind couldn’t understand the pain and death that I think of,” she said through tears.
Using food to change the world
For Ms Jerada, her cooking is not solely a helpful distraction, but a way for people to understand her and her culture.
“The people love my food a lot,” she said.
“If they see us and eat our food, that is a very important thing in helping them understand Palestinians.”
Chief executive and founder of Plate It Forward, Shaun Christie-David, said the organisation’s choice to support Ms Jerada was easy.
They are also behind Kyiv Social, a pop-up in the inner Sydney suburb of Chippendale that focuses on Ukrainian dishes.
“For us, it’s never about anything beyond a human person that we adore and care for a lot,” Mr Christie-David said.
“Everybody has been positively impacted by Nehad and her beautiful smile and who she is as an individual.
“So it was the only way that we knew that we could do something.”
Mr Christie-David said every culture embraced in the kitchen was a way for the cooks to showcase “their strength, their resilience, their hope”.
“There’s an overwhelming sense from everybody about what they can do to see the world they want to be in.
“By eating something really good, they’re contributing to something bigger than us as individuals.”
No fear of blowback
Mr Christie-David said he is not concerned about any issues facing businesses showing support for Palestinian causes.
“That didn’t cross our mind,” he said.
“When we learned about what had happened back home, we realised that the way for her [Ms Jerada] to do what she does best and for her to have a long-lasting positive impact in this world is through getting her cooking out there.”
Ms Jerada’s pastries will be available until the end of the month, but she hopes they are remembered long after.
“With my cooking, the people of Australia learn what it means to be Palestinian, to feel what we do,” she said.