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José Andrés Eulogizes 7 World Central Kitchen Employees Killed in Gaza

A stone pulpit within the Nationwide Cathedral in Washington, D.C., is not any place the chef José Andrés anticipated to be when he created the meals charity World Central Kitchen almost 15 years in the past. However on Thursday he stood there, eulogizing seven of the group’s employees who had been killed within the Gaza Strip whereas attempting to hold out a singular mission: bringing meals right into a area of two.2 million individuals going through a rising humanitarian disaster.

“They risked every little thing to feed individuals they didn’t know and can by no means meet,” Mr. Andrés stated. “They had been the very best of humanity.”

The seven employees had been killed on April 1 after they helped unload a barge of meals help in northern Gaza and had been heading to the southern metropolis Rafah. Their well-marked convoy of automobiles was hit by armed Israeli drones. Israeli army officers stated the assault was a critical mistake that shouldn’t have occurred. They cited a sequence of failures, together with a breakdown in communication and violations of the army’s personal guidelines of engagement.

An unusually subdued and infrequently tearful Mr. Andrés stated he was consumed with remorse, sorrow and anger over the deaths. “I do know there are additionally many questions on why World Central Kitchen was in Gaza,” he stated. “We ask ourselves the identical questions day and evening.”

However the employees took the danger, he stated, as a result of they believed that displaying up and feeding individuals of their darkest hours would allow them to know they weren’t alone.

“Meals is a common human proper,” Mr. Andrés stated. “Feeding one another, cooking and consuming collectively is what makes us human. The dishes we prepare dinner and ship will not be simply components, or energy. A plate of meals is a plate of hope. “

Attendance on the service, which included prayers and readings by Jewish, Muslim and Christian leaders, and a musical interlude by the cellist Yo-Yo Ma, was by invitation — though the service was streamed stay on World Central Kitchen’s web site. The group and Mr. Andrés restaurant group are based mostly in Washington.

Funerals for the victims have already been held, however this was the one memorial noticed in the USA. Among the many 560 individuals attending had been Doug Emhoff, the husband of Vice President Kamala Harris; representatives from three of the victims’ households; and some dozen World Central Kitchen volunteers and contractors who had labored collectively in disasters and conflicts throughout the globe. They stuffed solely a small a part of the cathedral, which has been the positioning of 4 presidential state funerals and memorials for victims of the 9/11 assaults.

Whereas the World Central Kitchen deaths sparked world outrage, greater than 220 different help employees have additionally been killed in Gaza.

However the seven had been the primary casualties the group has endured since Mr. Andrés dreamed up the group whereas doing culinary reduction work in Haiti after a 2010 earthquake.

His idea was easy: Cooks residing within the areas hit by catastrophe might feed struggling individuals extra rapidly and infrequently with extra scrumptious and comforting meals than conventional reduction organizations.

Mr. Andrés leveraged his connections, charisma and the intelligent use of social media to amass a military of culinary volunteers and construct World Central Kitchen right into a $550 million worldwide enterprise.

Final week, lots of of mourners, together with Mr. Andrés and a consultant from the workplace of the Polish president, attended a Roman Catholic Mass in Przemysl, Poland, the hometown of the slain employee Damian Sobol.

Mr. Sobol, 35, an exuberant former hospitality scholar who was engaged to be married, started serving to World Central Kitchen feed Ukrainian battle refugees pouring right into a Polish prepare station in early 2022. He turned a logistical wizard for the group because it arrange operations somewhere else, together with Gaza.

Mr. Andrés additionally attended a service final week in St.-Georges, Quebec, for Jacob Flickinger, 33, an avid outdoorsman and former member of the Canadian Armed Forces. Mr. Flickinger started working for the group in October, serving to feed residents after a hurricane close to Acapulco, Mexico. Then he headed to Gaza.

“We mentioned the danger,” his father, John Flickinger, stated in an interview with The Related Press shortly after his son was killed. “He stated principally, “Dad, persons are ravenous there and I feel I will help. And I appreciated that.”

On Thursday, Mr. Andrés broke into tears as he eulogized Lalzawmi Frankcom, 43, an Australian whom everybody known as Zomi. She was like a sister to him, he stated — robust and humorous, and essentially the most senior member of the group in Gaza.

She first volunteered in 2018 when a volcano erupted in Guatemala, and went on to assist victims of floods in Bangladesh, earthquakes in Morocco, poverty in Venezuela and wildfires in California. She had just lately been named senior supervisor for World Central Kitchen’s Asia operations and was based mostly in Bangkok.

Saifeddin Abutaha, a 25-year-old Palestinian on the reduction group, had been translating and driving for the group for the reason that starting of the 12 months. He had returned from the United Arab Emirates to assist together with his household’s flour mill. He had contacts in Israel, which helped the group coordinate permissions.

The remaining three employees — John Chapman, 57, James Kirby, 47, and Jim Henderson, 33 — had been a part of a British-based safety agency known as Solace International. They’d been employed as a part of the group’s safety group. All three had served in numerous arms of the British army.

When Russia invaded Ukraine in October 2022, World Central Kitchen waded right into a battle for the primary time. When Hamas attacked Israel on Oct. 7, the group rapidly arrange reduction kitchens in Israel, after which expanded its mission to assist Palestinians in Gaza, the place lots of of hundreds are getting ready to famine.

The seven employees had spent a protracted day serving to unload a barge with greater than 100 tons of meals that World Central Kitchen and Open Arms, a Spanish nonprofit, had shipped to the Gaza coast from Cyprus, and had been headed to Rafah to sleep. At simply previous 10 p.m. Gaza time, the primary of three automobiles carrying the employees was hit by armed drones. The automobiles — white and with distinguished World Central Kitchen logos — had been cleared by Israel for passage.

Inside minutes, the drones hit the second after which the third automotive.

“I do know all of us have many unanswered questions on what occurred and why,” Mr. Andrés stated in his eulogy. “We nonetheless demand an unbiased investigation into the actions of the IDF towards our group.”

World Central Kitchen instantly paused work in Gaza after the bombing. The group is predicted to announce its subsequent steps there quickly, stated Linda Roth, its communications officer.

Mr. Andrés indicated he isn’t prone to stroll away. He learn a message from Mr. Abutaha’s brother, who wrote, “I hope that World Central Kitchen continues its humanitarian work world wide, carrying on the spirit of the fallen and the resilience of the Palestinian individuals.”

Zach Montague contributed reporting.

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