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Festival cookbook feeds the soul

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Jewish cookbooks abound and so do special Pesach editions, but this year, Linksfield Shul put together a Pesach cookbook with a difference. The SA Jewish Report spoke to Bernice Berson who led the project.

What inspired the idea for a shul Pesach cookbook?

It was created to raise funds for the Linksfield Natan Chesed Fund, which enables us to help our community members who have simchas or are facing illness and crisis. Our chesed committee makes a difference to their lives.

What’s different about this cookbook?

Each recipe we collected was dedicated to the loving memory of a family member. This book is about sharing tradition, keeping our strong Jewish roots, legacy, and memories alive, and passing on our stories and recipes to the next generation.

The book is titled Uplifting the Neshama, Food for the Soul. Why?

Each dedication is offered as an aliya for the special neshamas (souls) who are no longer with us and whose legacy plays out in our hearts and the food on our plate. This is what makes this book so much more meaningful and unique.

Who was involved in its creation, and what did they do, or did you make use of professionals?

One of our members assisted in typing recipes, and I started to get orders in place and see what traditional recipes were missing. A young graphic designer, Jodi Horne, worked with me, mostly at night and on Sundays. Danyell Nestadt was a tremendous support in sharing her ideas, and she contributed a beautiful article about her family tradition of making Pesach wine.

We spent many hours going back and forth with the design for the front page. After researching many images, I came across a beautiful art piece of a family sitting around the seder table, which depicts the theme of our book. We contacted the artist in New York, Lynne Feldman, who felt honoured that we chose her artwork for our front cover. She said, “I think of each work of art as a puzzle that has never been solved before. My task is to find the perfect way to put it all together.”

The inside image was designed by my sister-in-law, Cara Garnitz. It’s an image of a young girl looking up at a giant Haggadah with the words “L’dor va-dor” (From generation to generation). Each content page is designed to remind us of our generation using bobba and zaida’s cutlery and crockery and huge soup pots handed down.

How many copies have you sold and to whom?

Since launching on Friday, 1 April, the response has been overwhelming. As of today, we have sold just more than 500 copies. We advertised first to the Linksfield community through my ladies’ chesed group, Rabbi Avtzon’s shiurs and WhatsApp groups, email, and Facebook.

Once people got their first copy, I had orders from all social-media platforms. In addition, books have been sent to the Cape Town Jewish Museum gift shop and Selwyn Segal gift shop, and we have donated a few books to some seniors in our community.

What kind of response have you had?

The reviews and feedback have been humbling. Many have truly understood and appreciated the heart and soul of the book. Thank you to our beautiful community for your support.

Jewish news travels fast. Books have already travelled to Sydney, Melbourne, Israel, and the United States, and there are many more requests from Canada and Manchester.

People speak of the book “pulling at their heartstrings”. Why

They see the honour we give our ancestors and the charm of the past, and it resonates deeply. We are our memories.

What does this project mean to you?

There’s no word for history in Judaism that can be read as his-story. It’s our story. I have always been passionate about my family story and understand who I am based on where I come from. So, this project was my way of honouring the people that brought me and the world we live in into being.

My late dad’s yahrzeit falls on the third day of Pesach. This project was very much a tribute to him. It was also through this meaningful project that I discovered my paternal great grandparents’ place of birth after searching for many years. My late grandfather and his brother left Dagda in Latvia to escape the war, and unfortunately the remaining family were murdered.

You say this project far exceeded your expectations. What do you mean by this?

We originally printed 200 copies. Within a day, I ordered another 200, and then more. I was hoping for it to touch a few people. Instead, it has touched hundreds, and I know that we will have many more editions in the future. It’s beautiful to see how the stories have resonated as much – if not more – than the recipes.

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