On a clear Saturday in mid-July, the corner of Fifth and Bay Ridge Avenues in southwest Brooklyn is alive with the hum of small-town urban life. Clusters of children shamble and scoot down the sidewalk, weaving around older men as they debate the latest news out of Syria. Restaurants serving Moroccan, Egyptian, and Yemeni cuisine beckon to passersby, competing for attention with hookah lounges and Syrian pastry shops. Down the street a pair of housewives—sisters from Iraq—inspect the mounds of feta cheese and olives on offer at Balady Halal Market. Their daughters, teenage girls in skinny jeans and hijabs, loiter near a shelf lined with loose sumac and thyme, flipping through Instagram.
Just off Fifth Avenue, the doors of a glass-plated storefront swing in both directions as a mix of local students, earnest-eyed hipsters, and purse-bearing mothers breeze in and out, carrying clipboards, voter registration cards, and campaign literature. Signs on the door read “welcome” in Arabic and English, and color-coded maps of the neighborhood cover most of the walls. In the back, a large poster crowded with dozens of volunteers’ signatures hangs alongside a handwritten message: “Team El-Yateem, Putting People Over Politics.”