This week in honor of Yom Hashoah – Holocaust Remembrance Day, we interviewed Mrs. Joanne Caras, author of the Holocaust Survivor Cookbook and Miracles and Meals.
Q. Please tell us about your books? How did it all begin?
In 2005 Joanne Caras visited Jerusalem to spend time with her son Jonathan and his wife Sarah. The newlyweds had recently moved to Israel and this was Joanne’s first chance to see them as Israeli citizens. Among the many sites they showed her was Carmei Ha’ir, a Soup Kitchen that feeds over 500 poor and hungry Israelis every day.
Joanne was so impressed with the Soup Kitchen and with the dignified way they treated their patrons that she came home to America determined to raise money to help them do their wonderful work. Her son and daughter-in-law suggested that she do a cookbook of great Jewish recipes and sell it to benefit the Soup Kitchen.
Shortly after she returned from Israel Joanne received a moving letter from Sarah. Her grandmother had recently passed away and she had written to all of her friends to tell them about what a wonderful woman her grandmother was. She also told everyone that her grandmother was a Holocaust Survivor, the only one from her family to survive, and because she lost her parents and siblings, she always taught her children and grandchildren that family is the most important thing in your life.
And then the idea hit Joanne. Why not combine stories from Holocaust Survivors with their family recipes?
Over the next two years Joanne and her family collected 129 stories from all over the world, including Israel, South Africa, Europe, Asia, South America, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and over twenty US states. She called it the Holocaust Survivor Cookbook.
In 2011 Joanne created a second cookbook Miracles & Meals, which contains 115 more stories and 250 recipes. Miracles & Meals contains stories and recipes from Cuba, Iceland, Belgium, Scotland, Venezuela, and other places the first cookbook had not reached.
“Actually, my husband and I had no intention of creating a second cookbook,” Joanne said, “but everywhere I went to speak about the first cookbook people would come up to me and tell me that they had a relative who was a survivor, and they hoped we would do a second book and include their story to honor their family.”
The stories in the cookbooks are amazing. Each one is a miracle.
Joanne received stories from people who survived because of the kindness and courage of Christian friends and neighbors who hid them from the Nazis, risking their own lives and their children’s lives in the process.
Others were hidden by Nuns in orphanages, and some even Baptized, not learning that they were Jewish until years later.
Some were sent away as children from their parents on the Kinder transport to safe havens with notes and family possessions sewn into their clothes. Most of them never saw their parents again.
There are survivors who hid in forests, ditches, attics, secret compartments and barns and others who escaped to South America, China, Japan, and other countries.
And of course there are so many stories about those who endured the horrors of Auschwitz and other concentration camps, and by luck and sheer will to live, they managed to make it out alive.
Q. What is your mission? What has been the impact of these books?
The cookbooks are sold as a fundraiser by Jewish groups all around the world. Each group purchases the cookbooks for the wholesale price and raises money by selling them to their members at the retail price of $36 dollars. By doing this the group can honor the survivors and also raise money for the important work they do.
The remaining profits from each cookbook then go to Carmei
Ha’ir. This means that every cookbook sold creates four mitzvahs:
It raises money for a variety of Jewish groups and charities
It helps to feed poor Israelis
It preserves great recipes
It honors all survivors and keeps their memories alive for generations to come.
Joanne has worked tirelessly on this project for many years. She and her family are doing everything themselves, acting as publishers for the book so that they can maximize the amount of money that goes to charity. Joanne takes no salary or any profits from the cookbook.
To date the Caras family has raised over one million dollars in total for charities through the sale of the cookbooks.
Joanne has appeared on Fox TV, CBS news, NBC, National Public Radio and other radio shows in Israel and Canada. She has spoken before hundreds of groups all over the world and signed thousands of cookbooks. For the past five years she has also been the star of the TV show Miracles & Meals which appears on JLTV network in over 40 million homes in the United States and 116 countries.
Q. What is your message for young Jewish women around the world?
“My message to young Jewish women is this”, Joanne says. “We have always told the stories of our people around our tables and through our food. Passover is the most obvious example of that. I hope that as you begin to raise families of your own you will make recipes from our cookbooks, serve them to your children, and tell them the stories of these brave Holocaust Survivors. We want to make sure that our children and grandchildren hear the stories that come from these Survivors so they will never forget and never let this happen to our people again.”
To learn more about this amazing cookbook project please visit their website:
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