‘Holocaust Cookbook’ author shares survivors’ tales & recipes at Chabad
Occasionally, there were gasps as she outlined some of the interviews that led to the publication of this remarkable collection of recipes with meanings light years beyond mere food and how to prepare it. This is a cookbook into which Caras poured her heart and soul after a visit to Israel with her family— always memorable—but in this case, also personally life-changing.
“Back in 2005, we were taken to an Israeli soup kitchen where my son, Jonathan, who had made aliyah, volunteers with his wife. I was so moved by the dignity with which it treats its visitors—people even got a menu as they arrive—that I desperately wanted to help,” Caras, now a resident of Florida, told the 75 women gathered at the Chabad Ladies Night Out event.
At about the same time, her daughter-in-law’s mother, a Holocaust survivor, had passed away.
And somehow, that urgency to help Carmei Ha’ir, the soup kitchen—and the reminder that the last of the survivors won’t be with us much longer—led to a “Eureka!” moment for Caras.
“The idea hit to compile a cookbook made up of survivor stories—and their family recipes,” she explained. “Of course, the stories became far more important than the treasured recipes.”
All proceeds go to the maintenance and support of the Carmei Ha’ir soup kitchen. So far, Caras has raised $630,000 from the book, and she is justifiably proud that it is the number one best-selling book at the United States Holocaust Museum in Washington. DC.
The goal for this determined woman, now the mother of a Chabad rabbi, an Israeli son and a young adult daughter, was not modest: “I wanted to collect recipes from all over the world, and I wanted, most of all, to honor the survivors, and the memories of those we lost.”
Caras has been doing just that. The research has indeed been global, and part of her mission is to encourage those who prepare the foods also to share the stories of the survivors as they sample the cherished individual recipes. “I want families to listen to the stories together… and to think about what they’re reading.”
And what stories!
As Dinie Mangel of Chabad in Cherry Hill explained, “When I heard about the amazing work of Joanne Caras and her family, I immediately bought the book and got to work organizing an evening to host her. When I read the stories in the book, I was even more impressed. Many thousands of people have been touched, and I wanted the women in our community to be among them.”
In her remarkable book, Caras tells story after story of survivors whose luck, pluck, courage and sheer strength got them through the darkest chapter of modern Jewish history.
“We cried with them, and realized that each and every story is a miracle,” Caras told a rapt audience.
There was Ann Eisenberg of Michigan, who had survived Auschwitz and the infamous death march as the Allies were approaching, and who felt that she had survived because “…God wanted living witnesses.” Her recipe contributions: Ruggala, Poppy Seed Cake and Apple Cake. Remarkably, Eisenberg, a resident of West Bloomfield, Michigan, had never told her story before.
Ruth Steinfeld of Houston, Texas was only seven when her mother was able to help her and her sister get away from a concentration camp through an underground network. Her mother and father died at Auschwitz.
“I don’t remember what my mother looked like, but I remember the smell of her chicken soup,” Steinfeld is quoted in the “Holocaust Survivor Cookbook.”
And her recipe contribution? Her mother’s chicken soup, which begins with the essential words “Always use a hen…”
Recipes run the gamut from challah and gefilte fish to New Zealand cheesecake, meat loaf and matzo balls.
But it is the stories that make this a singular cookbook. There are stories in the book of people spared because a guard happened to read an identity bracelet upside down, mothers who changed places with daughters in line to save them from the gas chambers, and occasionally, stories of joyful post-war reunions.
Some survivors spoke of the joy of having the family table full again with children and grandchildren, while others spoke of still-broken hearts over unfathomable losses.
And the celebration of food, mixed with memories, savory and sweet, is also at the core of this one-of-a-kind cookbook.
“We were all totally in awe and so inspired by Joanne and the ‘Holocaust Survivor Cookbook,’” said Dinie Mangel. “The event was a huge success in more ways than I could have imagined.”
And for Joanne Caras, who has toured and lectured since the cookbook was published in 2007, the evening in Cherry Hill was memorable.
“There is a wonderful feeling in this room,” said Caras as she cheerfully signed the books that sold out at the Chabad event, literally down to the very last one, as many purchased books not just for themselves, but for others as gifts.
“I’m honored that these women came out to hear my story, and honored that now this cookbook is in their homes. I like to believe that it’s the most important cookbook that people will ever own!”
The Holocaust Survivor Cookbook is available for $36 plus $3.99 shipping and handling through www.survivorcookbook.org .