It’s not often that one opens the Op Ed page of The Washington Post and finds an old friend gazing back. This was my happy experience on July 6th, when columnist Megan McArdle wrote about her classic Betty Crocker’s Picture Cook Book, and its apt relevance for our time. I eagerly plucked my mother’s tattered red-covered Betty Crocker cookbook from its shelf. This early edition was printed in 1950, a few years after my parents married following the War. The yellowed and spattered pages bespoke the many afternoons when my sister and I honed our baking skills as we whipped up a layer cake after school. We followed Mom-the-bride’s path through the book as we learned to separate eggs, season a meatloaf, and make a nourishing meal with what we had on hand. It remains the most common-sense, useful cookbook on my shelf.
Like many of us, I do a lot of cooking these days. As I chop parsley stems (trendy now but common sense in the ‘50s) and save vegetable ends and peels for soup stock, I sense the approval of my waste-nothing parents, Max and Janet Simon. The Depression-era perspectives that annoyed me as a teen and young adult now seem valid and deeply moral. As the world slides through months of pandemic, my parents’ wisdom helps me rise each day and stay productive. They admonished their three children to clean our plates, work hard, spend carefully, and turn out the light every time we left a room. Without to-do, they modeled our core mitzvot: Don’t gossip. Visit the sick. Clothe the poor. Stay Jewish.
My parents are closer to me since the Adat Shalom Spirituality Retreat last winter (thanks Adrienne Kohn and Garry Grossman!). Late that day, Rabbi Tirzah Firestone opened us to the stunning possibility that our ancestors gaze back at us with love from their photographs, not just the other way around. Now, I welcome their presence and silent counsel. They came through some of the 20th century’s greatest trials — the Great Depression and World War II. As these events transpired, my parents surely knew, as we know now, that their world would not return to “normal”. History looks backward, but life only moves ahead.
How is this relevant to my spiritual preparations for the High Holidays? I feel like I have been mentally preparing for the High Holidays since the early days of the pandemic, when it became clear that Zoom Pesach would segue into Zoom Shavuot, Zoom S’lichot, and beyond. I confess that I am not drawn this year toward the deep introspection encouraged during the Hebrew month of Elul. Still, I know I can be a better person, and if I move in that direction maybe that will be enough. As we approach Rosh Hashanah I am willing myself to believe that we will move past these paroxysmal public health, civic and economic crises, and into a kinder, more hopeful time. My parents believed simply that God has a plan and that everything will work out. Sometimes, Mom and Dad know best.