My great-grandmother, Rose Jacobs, used to bake. Every day. When I knew her she was over 90 years old and still she baked every day. I'm not sure who ate all those cookies, all that mandl-breyt. But that question seemed to be beside the point. Baking was a practice, not just a means to a desired end. It was what she did. You'd get out of the elevator on her floor and you would be hit with the smell of melted butter and sugar. You'd come into her apartment, and she'd be waiting with a tin of cookies, or a plate of them still warm, the tops pressed down with a fork, and non-pareil sprinkles strewn on top. Others with nuts, or powdered sugar. It was her practice – an act of love not specifically directed at us or anyone. Through it she conjured into reality something of beauty and sweetness.
At some point my mother tried to learn her recipes and write them down. A mid-century cook, she'd want to know quantities. "Grandma, how much of that do you put in," my mother would ask. "Nu, shit arayn," Grandma Jacobs would respond in Yiddish. Meaning (unlike how it might sound to American ears) "you just pour some in."
Over the last 10 days I've tried to imagine what it will take to create something of beauty and sweetness in this country. I've tried to observe and absorb what people are saying. Where the attention is going. I've wondered what kind of work each of us now needs to take on to face the future. And it's hard to know exactly, because so many different things could happen, and the landscape changes a little every day.
But I am feeling strongly that this is a moment for each of us, and for all of us communally, to begin to cook up something new. A new consciousness, a new connectedness, a new determination, a new love of the common good. And it seems to me that we can start baking now even without knowing exactly what we are trying to make or who (or what) will be knocking on the door. But in the meantime we will be ready and we will be nourished.
So here is my first draft of a Recipe for the Coming Era. Modify at will. No specific measurements. Just shit arayn.
Ingredient 1. Community.
The most important thing, I think, is not to feel alone. It is easy to feel alone in a time that seems threatening and difficult. But we really are in such wonderful company! I can't think of any group of people I'd rather be marginalized with! So let's enjoy each other. Let's have good conversations. Let's raise each other's consciousnesses. Let's laugh together and breathe together. Take walks. Make food. Let's care for each other even when we disagree on priorities. This is the moment when the Left is expected to self-devour. But we don't need to do that. We can love each other. And loving each other is a radical act.
Ingredient 2. Solidarity.
Let's be sure to have each other's backs. There could be hard times ahead. So introduce yourself to people in your environment who don't look like you, people who can't pass the way some of us can. Greet them heartily. Learn their names and let them learn yours. And be ready to help, locally or nationally or sometimes personally. If Muslims are singled out, we can show up to unsingle them. If people of color say now is the time for allies, then we can be allies. The Native Americans at Standing Rock are asking for our support right now. So let's support them right now, and not put it off because there was an election that we're still trying to figure out.
Ingredient 3. Specialty.
It is easy to be overwhelmed at this moment. There is no limit to the number of upsetting facts one could be drawn to. I myself have struggled to figure out which of the thousands of articles, Facebook posts and petitions I should be trying to digest. So here's my suggestion. Be a specialist. Don't try to be a generalist; don't try to assimilate it all. Find the area that moves you, excites you, outrages you, and focus there. Environment, racial justice, poverty, food, healthcare, foreign policy. Something global or something local. It doesn't matter. Find your area. And trust that others will find their area and that together we will be a network of experts, informing and mobilizing each other. Who knows? Maybe your specialty will beconnecting people with different specialties. The switchboard operator of the new activism. That would be a noble specialty too.
Ingredient 4. Self-Awareness.
I think it's important in this next era not just to act or react, but to look inward and see what's coming from where. It might be that what's happening now in Washington feels like old stuff, an old wound or trauma. And so you feel helpless or angry or afraid like you did back then. And in doing so, you hand over to others the power to make you feel helpless and afraid. So if this feels like some other awful moment in your life, notice that. And notice that you're not the same person you were then. You are older, stronger. Whatever it was that happened before, you survived it. You have the strength and wisdom of that survival in you.
Ingredient 5. Restraint.
Ironically, I suggest this ingredient cautiously. Because none of us wants, years from now, to look back and say, "I should have done X." But there are some elements of restraint that might serve us well. One piece close to my heart has to do with language. We are at a moment where we can be part of bringing about a new consciousness. It will be hard work. But I don't want to call it a war, or a fight. I don't want to take aim at anything or target anyone. I don't need love to conquer hate; I need hate to open up and transform. I want us to feel powerful enough to create new language and new metaphors for the process we are entering and the world we want to see. So restraint about metaphors of violence.
I'd also urge restraint in going to the Holocaust place. Now, this is tricky. As Jews this is tricky. Because we do need to notice similarities where they are apt. But then we need to imagine how to change it, how to rewrite it. I don't want our history to be a source of crazed panic. I want it to be a source of wisdom aand commitment. Because of the Holocaust, we now know what to do – we know many things we can do – to bring about a different outcome. So – restraint in invoking the Shoah.
Ingredient 6. Creativity.
This is a great time to make art. Paint. Garden. Write poetry. Sing. Make delicious food. My friend Yonit Friedman, a young activist in New York, posted a picture on Instagram of a pear-chocolate-raspberry crumble she had made, with the wise caption, "Because the revolution will have baked goods."
Exercising our creativity might be about staying balanced and centered. But I think there's more. Through our creative acts we can get in the habit of manifesting our ideas in reality, of making what we imagine real. We get real life practice bringing about, conjuring, things of value and beauty and meaning. It might start with a poem. But it might end with a protest or a policy. Make art or music or food now, so that when we are called upon to do so on a neighborhood or national or global level, we will already know that we can.
Ingredient 7. Prayer.
Now by "prayer" I don't mean constant lamentation over what happened, or petitions for miraculous rescue. I mean adopting a practice of framing our activism, within a larger spiritual frame. Making sure our actions - the big symbolic ones and the charitable ones and the private ones – are infused with spiritual significance. So, for instance, as you head to a protest or as you write a check to Black Lives Matter, you might close your eyes and say something like, "Through this act may I serve this Earth and the common good." Or, "May my writing of this check bring forth the generous instincts of all people seeking a better world." Or some such thing. It's the same impulse by which we Jews offer blessings before eating or sleeping or lighting holiday candles. It's about elevating a simple act into the realm of holiness, and surely everything we do now and in the time to come to make this world better deserves that kind of treatment.
This can be done without any reference to a deity if theism isn't your thing. Just take a breath and set an intention that by your action the world may be well served; that it will help people be safe or happy or free. And you can take a moment to feel not only how you are supporting others, but how supported you are.
And this prayerfulness does not have be limited to political or charitable acts. You can magick anything. Visionary activist Caroline Casey suggests invocations in the everyday. By the stirring of this soup, may all beings be invited to dance together in hope and dedication and be nourished with joy in doing so...
You can bring this to any act. Cooking, cleaning, walking, sex. Let no act be divorced from the holiness of who we are and what we care about, what we long for and what we offer the world.
* * *
We have a marathon, not a sprint, in front of us. And we will need to be well nourished. These are my seven ingredients: Community, Solidarity, Specialty, Self-awareness, Restraint, Creativity and Prayer. But I know that everyone will have their own recipe; their own favorite ingredients: nature, humor, meditation, licking envelopes. And everyone's proportions will differ. So we have to experiment. Pour some in. A teaspoon. A handful. Shit arayn. You'll know when it's enough. And the revolution – or maybe I''d be happier saying the imminent evolution – will have baked goods.
Thank you to Yonit Friedman, Shira Hadditt, Caroline Casey and all the inspiring participants in the Commonweal Fall Gathering, 2016. And thank you to Anna Belle Kaufman for a turn of phrase that she will recognize.