Let's Eat

Feeding interfaith relations

Meet the team behind Nottingham community project, SaSh kitchen


There is a strict order to food preparation. You look up a recipe, buy the ingredients and make a dish. But for Tali Scott, the process happens in reverse. The Israeli, who cooks meals for homeless and vulnerable people with SaSh Kitchen, never knows what ingredients will be available before she collects them.
Thankfully, her years of working as a chef mean she can turn whatever is at her disposal into a tasty, colourful and, most importantly, nutritious dish. “Some people cut corners when they are making food for homeless people. I don’t. I really put my heart and soul into it since it might be the only hot meal they are getting that week.”

Courgettes lend themselves well to frittatas, butternut squash become a delicious roast and a whole array of vegetables can be transformed into ratatouille. Scott likes to make green salad, especially during the summer, but if mangoes are in abundance one week, she will adapt the menu to include a fruit salad instead.

The cook, who runs her own falafel business (Falafel Baffle), is careful to not make dishes too spicy. “People who are vulnerable or homeless might not have such healthy digestive systems.” She also includes some non-dairy and non-egg options for people with allergies or intolerances. “Because of who our clients are, we need to think of everything.”

SaSh (an abbreviation of Salaam Shalom) Kitchen is a joint project of the Jewish and Muslim communities in Nottingham. It was set up six years ago by Rabbi Tanya Sakhnovich of Nottingham Liberal Synagogue and Sajid Mohammed, the director of Himmah, a Muslim charity which tackles food poverty and social exclusion. Himmah food bank stores the ingredients for SaSh, of which Mohammed is now co-chair.

He says SaSh came from the desire to create interfaith experiences at grassroots level. “Leaders were already working together to tackle antisemitism and Islamophobia, but we needed to bring depth and breadth into our relationship. So the idea came to feed the poor and invite members of our communities to chop vegetables and hand out food.”

Pre-Covid, all the food was prepared at and served from the Bridge Centre, a community hall in Hyson Green, one of the country’s most deprived areas. “The idea was that it wasn’t like a normal soup kitchen, but more like a café with tables, where people could spend a few hours,” explains Mohammed. “People would say to me: ‘You are the first person I have spoken to all week.’”


Having been forced to close during the first lockdown, SaSh had to adapt to strict social distancing guidelines when it reopened last August. Volunteers now work in bubbles of four, rather than the usual group of 12 and food preparation is split between two kitchens. Scott cooks the vegetable dishes in the synagogue kitchen, while “the carbs” — rice, pasta or bulgar wheat — are prepared by volunteers in the kitchens of St Barnabas Catholic Cathedral in another display of cross-communal support. People then collect meals from the forecourt of the Bridge Centre.

“We are getting busier and busier,” says SaSh co-chair Karen Worth, a member of Nottingham Liberal Synagogue. “We are managing, but it’s a challenge.” In addition to handing out 180 cooked meals, up from the 70 meals pre-Covid, SaSh also gives away around 100 bags of groceries a week. It was delighted to receive a recent donation of £5,000 from the Duchess of Sussex and in 2017, was the recipient of the Mitzvah Day 365 Award.

People attending SaSh’s Wednesday evening kitchen include families on benefits, asylum seekers and people with mental health difficulties. “For me, it’s about tikkun olam — improving the world and making a difference,” says Worth.

Mohammed emphasises that SaSh is “about demonstrating the Jewish and Muslim values of compassion, dignity, charity and justice.” Jewish and Muslim festivals don’t pass by unnoticed. On Chanukah, doughnuts are served and at Eid, samosas.

Over the years, strong friendships have grown between committee members, who share in one another’s family celebrations. Ferzana Shan, a member of the steering committee at SaSh and also a trustee at Himmah, says that they “don’t allow politics to play a part”, other than the shared desire to see peace in the Middle East. “We wish we could influence and do something, but all I can do is phone Tali, whose mum is in Israel, and say: ‘Is everything OK back home?’”

The hope is that SaSh will soon return to business as usual with its café up and running and its organisers holding meetings over meals in each other’s homes, rather than over Zoom. As Scott says: “Food brings people together to share a table. Food is the basis of life.”

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