(CNN) — For Laila El-Haddad, Eid-al-Fitr calls for sumagiyya.

In Gaza, where El-Haddad spent summers growing up, the tangy lamb stew with sumac, chard and chickpeas is synonymous with joyous occasions, especially the three-day Muslim holiday that breaks the month-long fasting period of Ramadan. The dish was her aunt’s specialty, and El-Haddad — who now lives in Maryland with her husband and four children — has fond memories of eating bowlfuls during family celebrations.

But this Eid, which began at sundown on April 9, the sumagiyya will taste bittersweet.

Last November, her aunt An’am Dalloul, along with El-Haddad’s cousins Hoda, Wafaa and Hani, were killed in an Israeli airstrike in their neighborhood in Gaza City, El-Haddad told CNN.

Dalloul — whom El-Haddad refers to by the fond familial name of “Um Hani,” or “mother of Hani”  connected her to her family’s recipes and culinary traditions. El-Haddad spent countless hours interviewing her for the 2012 cookbook “The Gaza Kitchen.”

Now, those traditions — along with Gaza and its people — are in crisis.

Israel’s unrelenting siege on Gaza following Hamas’ October 7 attacks on Israel has killed more than 33,000 people, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health. The violence has wiped out neighborhoods, cultural landmarks and historic sites, and brought the population to the brink of starvation and famine.

More than six months into the war and with little sign of a permanent ceasefire, some Muslim American communities aren’t much in the mood for an elaborate Eid celebration.

But even as El-Haddad grapples with feelings of overwhelm and hopelessness, her resolve to honor the holiday has only deepened.

“I feel panicked in a way,” she said. “I have this urgency, this desperation, this need of ‘I have to bake,’ ‘I have to cook,’ ‘I have to make sure to do all of this before that’s gone, too.’”

For one chef, celebrating Eid is an act of resistance

Determined to preserve the culinary heritage of her homeland, El-Haddad has been hard at work preparing for Eid.

During a phone interview with CNN on Monday, El-Haddad and her daughter were making ka’ik, ring-shaped cookies stuffed with date paste. In Gaza, it’s customary to make large batches of the cookies during Eid and other holidays to distribute to family and friends.

At a time when nearly 2 million Palestinians in the territory are displaced and struggling to find enough food and water, El-Haddad says she finds empowerment in these traditions.

“It’s very uplifting to be able to do this because you feel like you have some semblance of control,” she said.

It’s not lost on her that people in Gaza have limited access to food at all, let alone the specific ingredients needed to make ka’ik or sumagiyya.

For the last 17 years, Israel has imposed a blockade on the Gaza Strip that has severely limited the flow of food and other supplies into the territory, saying its actions are necessary to protect its citizens from Hamas. The blockade has intensified since October, and humanitarian workers and government officials working to deliver aid to Gaza have said Israel is demonstrating a clear pattern of obstruction. (Israel says that it “assists, encourages and facilitates the entry of humanitarian aid for the residents of the Gaza Strip” and that its war is against Hamas, not everyday Gazans.)

Given that reality, El-Haddad sees celebrating Eid as an act of resistance — and from what she’s hearing from those currently in Gaza, she’s not alone.

A northern Gaza soup kitchen that El-Haddad donated to is encouraging people to make a version of ka’ik with whatever ingredients they can get their hands on, she said.

A cousin in Rafah, the southernmost part of the enclave where around 1.5 million displaced Palestinians are sheltering and where Israel says it is planning a ground offensive, told her in a WhatsApp message shared with CNN that his family would be cooking sumagiyya despite the circumstances, “though it may have an aftertaste of missile and bomb debris.”

“In that context, where you’re dealing with this profound sense of loss and dispossession, preparing a dish like sumagiyya or celebrating Eid takes on an added significance,” El-Haddad said.

Some other Muslim Americans aren’t in the mood to celebrate

For some other Muslim Americans, the ongoing assault on Gaza has cast a shadow over Eid festivities.

The Palestinian American Community Center in New Jersey recently held a demonstration in Patterson, also known as Little Palestine, vowing “no Eid while Gaza has no Eid.” Meanwhile, several people declined invitations to the White House’s iftar dinner marking the end of daily Ramadan fasting, three sources familiar with the plans told CNN, pointing to their frustration over President Joe Biden’s continued support of Israel amid the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

Arafat Herzallah, owner of the Palestinian restaurant Freekeh in San Francisco, said Eid will be difficult for him this year.

“I really really had high hopes that we’d have a ceasefire by (Eid) at the beginning of Ramadan. Now I don’t even see it coming,” he said. “I can’t really celebrate.”

In the quiet pre-dawn hours during the month of Ramadan, Herzallah said he reflected each day on the gulf between his life in the US and what his relatives are enduring in Gaza. Much of Herzallah’s extended family is still there, although communication with them has been so sporadic that he can’t be certain how many are still alive.

Of the deaths he knows about, he said one of his cousins lost four sons and is now responsible for his 11 grandchildren.

This Eid, Herzallah said he plans to go to the mosque and thank God for his health and safety. He’ll try to get his brothers and all their respective children together for a meal, but he’s not sure whether they’ll be up for it.

If the recent conversations at iftar are any indication, they’ll spend the time talking about what’s happening in Gaza and what, if anything, they can do to help.

Abdul Elenani, who owns the Palestinian restaurant Ayat in New York with his wife Ayat Masoud, said Eid for his family this year will look like “a regular day.” They plan to pray and fulfill their religious obligations, but the festivities around the holiday will be much more muted.

The solemn mood is something he’s seeing among his restaurant patrons, too. In previous years, Elenani said large groups of people gathered at his establishments during Ramadan to break their fasts each evening. This year, it seems like people are no longer bothering to go out.

“We don’t look forward to breaking our fast,” he said. “I think it’s affected everybody.”

Cooking is keeping her heritage alive

El-Haddad, the cookbook author, knows it might seem futile to labor over Gazan recipes at a time when the people of the territory are barely surviving.

But as she sees it, that’s precisely why she must: Food is history; food is community; and it’s imperative to keep those parts of Gaza alive.

“What happens then if you lose your traditions as well?” she said. “Then nothing remains.”

After her aunt died in Gaza last November, El-Haddad went back through old transcripts of interviews she conducted for “The Gaza Kitchen,” the cookbook she co-authored with Maggie Schmitt. During those conversations in her aunt’s kitchen more than a decade ago, her aunt shared photos and memories about the grandmother El-Haddad never met, like how she would take sumagiyya to the beach on Fridays.

Her aunt offered to teach her how to make the dish in the same way her grandmother once did, but exhausted from the day, El-Haddad replied that they’d go over it another time.

She never did learn her grandmother’s recipe for sumagiyya. Now her aunt, her link to the native cuisine of Gaza, is gone.

So on Eid, El-Haddad will honor her aunt by cooking sumagiyya the way she knows how. Though it won’t taste quite like the version her aunt and her grandmother made, she said she finds solace passing it on the next generation, just like they did.

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