An Evening with June Hersh

An Evening with June Hersh – April 24 – 7 pm

When passionate home cook and twice published cookbook author June Hersh and her family sold their lighting business in 2004, she wasn’t sure what she would do next. But she knew she wanted to give back in some way and to support the cause of NYC’s Museum of Jewish Heritage-a Living Memorial to the Holocaust. That’s when the idea for the book, Recipes Remembered: A Celebration of Survival, the Remarkable Stories and Authentic Recipes of Holocaust Survivors, was born.

“I wanted my ‘good’ to combine the things I was passionate about in life. One of them was supporting the museum. And I love to cook, so those two interests came together in coming up with the concept to write a cookbook based on the stories and recipes of their members,” Hersh explained.

Hersh, a Manhattan resident who will be visiting the Jewish Community Center of Greater Columbus later this month, has been a member of the Museum of Jewish Heritage for many years. She began her project modestly enough by meeting with Holocaust survivors who were members of the museum.

She collected their recipes and listened as they shared their stories with her. The project grew from there. “We started out with a few dozen, and it eventually became more than 80 survivors from all over the world,” she said.

Of the 20,000 books that have sold so far, Hersh has not kept a penny. All of the proceeds from the sales of the book go towards the Museum of Jewish Heritage and to the many JCCs at which Hersh has discussed and sold her book.

Hersh will visit the JCC at 7 pm on Thursday, April 24, where the stories and recipes of the survivors will not only be shared, but also tasted. At the JCC Columbus Jewish Bookfair’s second event of the year, a sampling of foods from the survivors’ authentic recipes will be prepared by the JCC’s Kosher kitchen and served while Hersh leads an interactive discussion with Bookfair attendees.

Those who RSVP to Cheryl Dritz at cdritz@columbusjcc.org or call 614-559-6238 can look forward to noshing on a variety of cookies and cakes, including chocolate mousse and honey cake, while learning more about the many inspirational stories of courage and hope featured in Hersh’s uplifting book.

Hersh hopes the talk will be meaningful for participants but also lively and lighthearted, focusing on the positive rather than the maudlin. “I approached [the topic of the Holocaust] from a completely different angle,” Hersh explained.

“I tried very hard to retell these with a much more positive and life-affirming message. By bringing in food, it’s just a really warm, wonderful way to remember these stories and these people. I love this book to be used at the holidays; that’s what our family does. We share a story and then we enjoy that recipe. It’s just another way to ensure the legacy of this community,” she said.

Hersh’s project truly was a labor of love, as she devoted a full year of her life to personally meeting each of the survivors featured, learning their remembered recipes, and then testing and replicating each one. “The food is just fascinating. They ran the gamut from a handful of written down recipes in real measurements to those with measurements like a glassful or a half eggshell of matzah meal or a bissel of sugar. And there were those who did not have a recipe at all, only a memory.”

One woman from France remembered an onion tart her grandmother would make. It was with the help of professional chefs like Jonathan Waxman, Ina Garten, Mark Bittman, and Susie Fishbein that Hersh then turned around and created entire recipes from scratch, in homage to the memories of these survivors and to honor their recollections, Hersh explained.

“Every person we created a recipe for, we shared that recipe with them and it was really exciting to hear that a-ha moment when they would say, ‘Yes, yes, yes, that is what she used to put in it!,’” Hersh said. What surprised Hersh most about her experience meeting survivors, and lovingly testing their recipes, was how eclectic and interesting the recipes were.

Because the recipes come from refugees living in far-flung places like the Dominican Republic or Shanghai China, they represent every corner of the globe. “We think of Jewish cooking as being Ashkenazi food like kugel and matzah ball soup and brisket. Those recipes certainly are in this book, but you also have recipes that represent those places that we normally don’t associate with traditional Jewish cooking. The book has recipes for arroz con pollo and tres leches cake and beef bourguignon and chocolate mousse cake. And these are all representative of what Jewish cooking is to that individual,” said Hersh.

The most rewarding part of writing the book, for Hersh, was getting to meet so many inspiring people and learn their stories. She added, “This is the most remarkable community of people that I’ve ever met. These are people who endured the worst that life could throw at them, and yet… they have an amazing way of looking at life. They have a perspective that can teach all of us so much…. Meeting these people without question was my bonus. At the end of the day, the most important thing this book does is to ensure the continual retelling and legacy.”

Attendees of the JCC’s April 24 Columbus Jewish Bookfair event will enjoy learning more about the stories and anecdotes featured alongside the Recipes Remembered, coffee and desserts sampled from recipes in the book, and purchasing a signed copy of the book which is in the JCC lobby all month long. The event costs $10 for JCC members and $12 for non-members. Order your tickets to this event online at https://columbusjcc.org///programs/cultural-arts/jewish-bookfair/bookfair-tickets/ or contact Cheryl Dritz to RSVP at cdritz@columbusjcc.org or 614-559-6238.