This week, we commemorate Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day. When we lived in Israel for a year, as part of my rabbinic training, I was asked to participate in a ceremony remembering the victims of the Holocaust. These ceremonies, many of which are centered around lighting 6 candles, one for each million people who perished, occur all over Israel. In addition, on the day itself, a siren blares for 3 minutes at 10 am and everything in the entire country stops. People pull over on the freeway and get out and stand by their vehicles in silence. People leave shops and homes and schools and go to the street and stand and listen, pointing their hearts in the same direction.
At the ceremony I was honored to be a part of, I lit a candle in memory of the women of Terezin concentration camp:
Kugel, plum strudel, chocolate torte…Recipes from memory, scribbled with broken pencils on tiny scraps of paper survived Terezin concentration camp, even though the starving women who wrote them did not. This candle is dedicated to those Jewish mothers, who perished in the Holocaust, who fed their souls by sharing recipes of the meals they cooked that nourished their families in better times. Their food was their Torah – the way they showed their love, passed on family traditions, and sustained Jewish life. Perhaps their husbands and children smelled their pot roast as they were coming up the stairs to the apartment and knew that their mother or grandmother had been preparing for them all day, with love and attention.
Terezin was a way station on the way to Auschwitz. As the women starved, they talked incessantly about food, and kept their hope for the future alive by sharing recipes from their past. The snippets of paper were collected by Mina Pachter, a 70-year-old inmate at the death camp. Before she herself starved to death, she was able to smuggle the hand-sewn manuscript out of Terezin in hopes that it would reach her daughter in Palestine. The scraps of paper eventually made it into the hands of Carla de Silva, who published them in a book called In Memory’s Kitchen.
As we prepare meals for our families and friends today, let us never forget those women. May we always recall their will to survive through their memories of nourishing others.