All she wanted to do was raise a few bucks for a soup kitchen in Israel.
Little did she know, her modest effort to chip in would celebrate the lives of over 240 Holocaust survivors, raise more than $800,000 for Jewish organizations all over the world, land her more than 250 speaking engagements in several countries, feature her on national news channels, and give her her own TV show.
Joanne Caras’s “Holocaust Survivor Cookbook” and “Miracles and Meals” feature hundreds of recipes and stories from Holocaust survivors. The books have received international critical acclaim and major publicity. Caras will speak at the Eastside Torah Center in Bellevue on Oct. 28.
The cookbook journey began when Caras visited her son in Israel a few years ago. He and his wife volunteered in a soup kitchen Carmel Ha’ir, which provided 500 meals a day to people in need. After watching the work of her son and daughter-in-law, Caras was inspired to help, and wanted to raise money for the soup kitchen.
Caras’s son suggested she write a cookbook with the proceeds benefiting the organization. Realizing she had two family members who had survived the Holocaust, Caras decided she wanted to honor survivors and their families, and create a cookbook featuring survivors’ recipes and stories.
“We decided to collect stories and recipes from every continent in the world,” Caras said.
It took two and a half years to put the first cookbook together.
“We gathered stories from the U.S., Israel, South Africa, Europe, Asia, Canada, New Zealand, Cuba, Iceland — all over.”
Once the media got wind of the project, Caras was snatched up by major news organizations, including Fox, CBS, and NBC, and national radio shows in the U.S., Canada, and Israel.
Caras solicited her recipes and stories by putting ads in local Jewish media outlets. She also put an ad in the newsletter of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.
“People would come up to me and would say, ‘I would love for you to honor my family and put our recipe in a book.’”
With so much demand, after the first book was published — with approximately 120 of both recipes and stories — Caras knew she had to make another one. Her second cookbook, “Miracles and Meals,” likewise contains over 100 recipes and stories.
The cookbooks also feature photos from wartime.
“The concept is, you make the recipe and then you tell the story of the Holocaust survivor,” she said. “We honor them with this beautiful book.”
The books have raised $800,000 for Jewish organizations all over the world. A portion of that is donated to the soup kitchen.
“All the survivors tell you they starved,” she said. “And now we’re coming full-circle — telling their stories and using this project to raise money for hungry people today in 2012.”
Caras has had her share of surprises during the project. “One day a lady called me from New Zealand [saying], ‘I hear there’s a woman in the States who’s collecting recipes.’ And I thought to myself, ‘I guess my message has traveled to the other side of the world!’”
She was also taken aback by how quickly hundreds of organizations were contacting her, asking her to appear on a TV or radio show. Caras, who travels with her husband, has toured hundreds of cities around the world. This year alone she’s had 90 speaking engagements.
“I have my own TV show, which airs on Monday evening in 37 million homes and in different countries,” she said. “Each week we make a recipe and tell the miraculous story of a survivor.
“I really believe this was my purpose in life: Tikkun olam,” she said.