In 2005, as a first year rabbinic student in Jerusalem, I was given the honor of lighting one of the six candles for the Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day) commemoration at Hebrew Union College. Each candle represents 1 million lives cut down by evil hatred.
I decided to dedicate my candle to the women of Terezin:
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 by Michael Berenbaum.
As we prepare meals for our families and friends, let us never forget those women. May we always recall their will to survive through their memories of nourishing others.