My sisters and I found a cookbook among a collection of saved family books — and not just any cookbook, but a Hadassah fundraiser cookbook from the Hadassah Danbury Connecticut Chapter titled “Hadassah — The Healing of the Daughters of Our People.”
It is yellowed and well loved. The index is organized by categories: soups and garnishes, meat and fowl, fish, small cakes, frostings, and candy dessert.
Did I know my grandmother was a Hadassah member? No, I did not. At that moment, I realized I was a third-generation Hadassah member, and I was filled with pride.
Like an anthropologist uncovering an ancient civilization, this cookbook was a window into a time past. What did I learn about this Hadassah Danbury Chapter?
Well, many of the recipes were submitted by generations of women whose identities were tied up with their husbands: Mrs. Harry. Cohen (my grandmother), Mrs. A. Feinson, Mrs. S. Feinson, Mrs. B Heyman, Mrs. P. Loshin, and Mrs. J. Malino (the rabbi’s wife), and so on.
Initially, I noticed that these women were only known by their relationship to their spouses, and it bothered me. I recognized names of many of my grandmothers’ friends and some relatives. In doing so I realized how important Hadassah was to these women and cemented lifelong friendships — just like today’s Hadassah!
I also realized Hadassah’s leadership role in the area of women’s empowerment and health equity, and the evolution to today’s lifestyle where women are seen individuals not just in relation to their husband’s name. Contemporary Hadassah cookbooks reflect this shift. But the importance is in the work and the friendships forged.
There were lots of recipes for things such as potato liver knishes, elbow macaroni, tuna fish pineapple salad, or crispy crunchy kichel. But just as important were some entries by many notable women: Molly Picon submitted a recipe for cheese lotkes; Eleanor Roosevelt contributed with a dairy recipe of cheese fondue; Mrs. Eddie Cantor gave a deli recipe for sour cream cheese pie! And Elizabeth McConaughy, wife of Connecticut governor James McConaughy submitted a strawberry ice and kisses dessert received straight from the Executive Residence.
Singer Kate Smith gave us three recipes: beaten biscuits, Johnny cake and deep-dish apple pie. Author and US ambassador Clare Booth Luce shared her recipe for small songs cakes, and radio host Mary Margaret McBride shared aunties white cake. Wife of author and art dealer James Waterman Wise shared a recipe for cracker cake. Metropolitan Opera star Geraldine Farrar shared her recipe for Boston baked beans.
Some noted names are forgotten as time marches on, others are still in our memory. Mrs. Stephen Wise gave us walnut ring with icing! Former National Hadassah President Mrs. Moses Epstein submitted a recipe of pear zabaglione.
On White House stationery, First Lady Bess Truman shared her recipe for bran rolls, which needed to be chilled in the ice box! My sleuthing skills revealed that Connecticut Governor McConaughy was in office until 1948, and together with the White House stationery from Bess Truman, means this cookbook is almost 74 years old!
Cookbooks as a fundraising tool is not new, but the true treasure of the cookbook is to look back in time to see a committed group of women of 70 years ago collecting a treasure trove of recipes to hand down to future generations.
I can imagine the thrill of a Hadassah member receiving recipes from Molly, Eleanor, Kate, Clare or Bess. Were these group of women sitting down to a potluck of “milachdige meals” knowing they were eating the same meals as these noted women? I wondered if these women forged their friendships over a task whose fundraising efforts made a greater difference across the globe.
I can still fondly recall baking hamantaschen with women from the Northern Virginia chapter of Hadassah shortly after I moved to the area from Boston. Having to start my life over in the 40s meant reaching out to the one organization I count on to find impassioned and empowered women – Hadassah: The Power of Women Who Do.
A good cookbook has a reference index, a good cookbook has timeless meals which nourish the palate and the soul. As a member of the National Assembly’s Education and Outreach Division, and part of the Northern Virginia Presidium, I am part of two “cookbooks” – they both nourish the mind and spirit, and both feed the soul. In meetings I get to use my “reference index” of Hadassah leadership skills to guide others towards a successful project or advocacy effort.
Cookbooks are a culinary time capsule, but they are more — bound within those pages are also the social ties which bind a chapter of remarkable women as they raised hospital funds for a new nation, Israel, through the establishment of the Hadassah Medical Organization. Timeless meals for a grateful nation.