OyChicago articles

What makes for a meaningful, successful Jewish wedding

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Perhaps the most popular time of year for engagements is between the holidays of Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve. And so I’ve recently been spending a great deal of time helping clients develop visions for weddings that truly reflect the bride and groom. This may be achieved by customizing the “standard” components of a wedding and choosing to implement a few details to make the evening stand out.

Luckily, the typical structure of a Jewish wedding provides some ideal opportunities for customization. An essential component to any Jewish wedding is the chuppah. Profoundly symbolic and meaningful, the chuppah frames the ceremony in tradition. And yet it can also provide the opportunity to personalize.

Some clients choose to have a very simple, traditional chuppah made of family members’ tallitot (prayer shawls). Another meaningful yet more elaborate option is to send family and friends fabric swatches to decorate and send back to the couple. The swatches are then sewn together to make the chuppah. After the wedding, as a nice memento, it can be made into a quilt. Yet another option is a sculptural interpretation of a traditional Jewish symbol. For example, the chuppah pictured here (by Kehoe Designs) is inspired by the Eternal Flame.

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Photo credit: Phil Farber & Kehoe Designs

As the chuppah provides the opportunity to personalize a major component of the wedding, there are numerous smaller details that can be affected. I have had clients add special meaning to their ceremonies by inviting seven significant guests, each to recite one of the seven blessings. Or, in addition to handing out yarmulkes and programs, I have seen guests enjoy small spice boxes while Havdalah is incorporated into a Saturday evening ceremony.

Imaginative musical arrangements can also help make the event distinct. Ceremonies can be personalized with instrumental versions of songs by a favorite band. These favorites sound beautiful and engage the guests when they unexpectedly recognize them.

Receptions offer countless opportunities for unique details. I have found though that the small details are what really personalize a wedding and are what guests often remember most. A recent groom hailed from Alaska. His bachelor party included a fishing trip with friends back home. The wedding caterer served the fish the guys caught on that trip at dinner! Another couple loves to camp and hike. Instead of table numbers, we decided to name tables after National Parks they had visited. And instead of nuts and toffee on the dinner tables, gourmet trail mix was served and s’mores were part of the dessert. Yet another couple numbered their dinner tables but as a fun spin, at each table they placed photos of themselves at the corresponding age. So Table One had photos of the bride and groom at age one, and so on.

Whether a couple chooses to have a symbolic chuppah, incorporate a unique aspect into the ceremony or an unexpected ingredient into the reception, if the details mirror the couple’s interests and values guests will feed off of that positive energy and enjoy themselves as well, which is really the greatest result of all.

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Bambi Caicedo Rogers is the owner of  BCR Events , a Chicago-based event planning company.

Vegas, baby!

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Tribefest 2011 logo

The Young Leadership Division (YLD) of JUF is heading to Las Vegas this March 6-8 for Tribefest…and you’re invited!  Every year, YLD participates in the Jewish Federation of North America's (JFNA) National Leadership Conferences and this year’s event, Tribefest, will bring together young adults from across the country to explore why it matters to be Jewish, volunteer, network, and of course, socialize!  TribeFest will offer inspiring programming, music, food, arts, and entertainment, all celebrating the richness of our Jewish culture and heritage.  Please join us for this incredible opportunity in Las Vegas with more than 1,800 of your fellow members-of-the-tribe in attendance.

If you haven’t already started booking your trip, then here are a few more incentives to come.  Meet local Chicagoans, Melissa Burstein, Scott Lieber and Jon Meyer, they’ve all already booked their trips to Vegas and want you to join them in representing Chicago in Vegas this spring!

Melissa Burstein:

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Tell us about yourself.  I am a second year YLD Board member from Bloomfield Hills, MI.  I have lived in Chicago for 10 years and love it!  I have been on many trips with YLD and can't wait for this one! 

Why is it important for you to connect with other young Jewish adults?  It is important, because I love meeting new people and creating new friendships.  It's also nice to have the same faith as your friends, so you can share the holidays and attend similar events together.

What are you most looking forward to at the Conference?  I am looking forward to meeting a lot of new people from all over the country, and for the events and speakers that will be at the event.  And of course, Vegas!

Scott Lieber:

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Tell us about yourself.  I am a Leo.  I enjoy watching and playing many sports, but my top list includes football, baseball and golf.  Three words that would best describe me are creative, athletic, and funny.  I currently live in the Gold Coast and work at an insurance brokerage firm called Associated Agencies.  I attended Ithaca College where I majored in Sport Management and Finance and graduated in ’08.  I also played football during my time at Ithaca College.

Why is it important for you to connect with other young Jewish adults?  It is important to connect with young Jewish adults because we are the future of the Jewish community.  As long as we stay together and help others in our community, there will always be a sense of Judaism in the US and the world.

What are you most looking forward to at the Conference?  I am looking forward to meeting a lot of new people at the conference.  I have found that the easiest way to meet new people is at conferences.  Plus, this one is in Las Vegas.

Jon Meyer:

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Tell us about yourself.  I grew up in a suburb of Chicago and attended Indiana University.  Upon graduating in 2004, I took a job as a trading assistant at a small proprietary trading firm in Chicago where I am still employed and trading my own account.  I enjoy staying active by playing sports and working out.  If there’s a good movie out, I'm generally the first one to see it, and if I've read a good book (which I often do), I'm not shy about telling everyone about it.  My most recent favorites are the Hunger Games Trilogy and City of Thieves.  I love drinking Corona in the summer, but in the winter I go with Guiness to keep me warm on those cold Chicago nights.
Why is it important for you to connect with other young Jewish adults?  Because we are such a small segment of the global population, it is so important that we stick together as Jews.  Sometimes you'll see rivalries between American Jews based on what city they are from or what fraternity they were in, etc.  I find this silly.  We all have the same ancestors who have endured the same hardships.  As a group we need to understand that and grow from it.
What are you most looking forward to at the Conference?  I'm most looking forward to meeting young people from other cities.  When I've visited Vegas in the past it’s mostly been for a work trip or a bachelor party.  I'm excited to be there with so many different people in a different capacity than I have in the past.  The vibe is going to be electric!

For more information and for all trip details, please visit the YLD website.  Also, you’re invited to join us at a Tribefest Informational Happy Hour this Thursday, January 20.

Cooking gourmet the lazy way

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Back during the women’s lib movement, Marjorie Gelb was part of the first generation of professional women that were climbing the career ladder.

She was a fulltime working lawyer, a wife, and a mother of two. She wanted a fulfilling career, but she still desired to put high-quality food on the table for her family. In fact, Gelb identifies herself as a gourmet, defined by the French as “someone who likes to eat good things.”

Her love of cooking had started many years before having a family when she had taken classes at the prestigious Cordon Bleu cooking school in Paris. From her culinary beginnings, she strived to use fine ingredients, fresh produce, vibrant herbs and spices, and the freshest fish, chicken, and meat, and avoid processed foods as much as possible.

After learning to cook the old-fashioned way, Gelb relearned to cook gourmet food, this time in a fraction of the time. Translation: She became a “lazy gourmet.”

“Women like me discovered it was hard to work all day and then come home and have the time and energy to put a nice meal on the table,” said Gelb, who is Jewish, and lives with her husband in Oakland, Calif. “…But I didn’t want to compromise on good food. I wanted to know what we were eating. So I looked for recipes everywhere that seemed to cut corners.” 

In the past 40 years, Gelb has amassed a phenomenal repertoire of fast and easy recipes that meet her high standards. Some of her dishes have been adapted from Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking, intended for the American cook looking for “something wonderful to eat.” Others have come from other busy moms and chef friends she has met along her culinary journey.

Now, Gelb is a semi-retired grandmother, who has more time and energy for cooking than she used to. But she wanted to teach others—like her daughters and their friends working long hours and establishing households with little time on their hands—her “lazy gourmet” techniques.

So, with the help of her daughter Josie A.G. Shapiro, a writer, an avid “cooking contester,” and a busy working wife and mother herself, Gelb has released a cookbook called  The Lazy Gourmet  (Watchword Press), publishing all her lazy recipes and shortcuts for people who want to eat good food fast. (Gelb’s sister, Stephanie Gelb, drew the illustrations in the cookbook, making the project a family affair.)

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Josie A.G. Shapiro takes a break from the cooking and has a drink.

“For me, the most fun part of writing the cookbook was talking to my mom on the phone and learning her stories, tips, and tricks, the origins of her recipes, and her telling me things about her life that I didn’t know,” said A.G. Shapiro, a former Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago employee, who now lives in San Francisco. “I could hear all my mom’s stories and her perspective about what it was like being a working mom with two girls when I had just had my daughter, Naomi.”

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2-year-old Naomi follows in her mom and grandma’s cooking footsteps.

Naomi, age 2, it seems, is the next generation of chefs in her family, already cracking eggs for her mom and grandma’s recipes. “Part of l’dor v’dor (from generation to generation) is what my mom did for me—nurturing and loving me through the kitchen,” A.G. Shapiro said. “I want to show my daughter that I care what I’m giving to her and I want her to grow up and love cooking too.”

The Lazy Gourmet defines a “lazy recipe” as one that won’t require an obscure ingredient, won’t call for lots of steps or chopping, and won’t employ lots of dishes, pots, pans, or utensils. Gelb confesses, though, that her husband always does the dishes in her home, but she wants to be kind to others reading the cookbook who aren’t so lucky.

The book of 127 recipes includes tips and tricks from “The Lazy Gourmet,” includes a list of recipes made from “Imperishable Ingredients,” food you can keep stocked in your kitchen to save you a grocery trip after a long day. Another section called “One Dish Wonders,” serves up recipes you can make using you guessed it—only one dish. And “Make Ahead Magic,” offers sauces and marinades to prepare in advance.

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The “lazy gourmet” in action.

Gelb shares a couple of her laziest tips of all: Serving breakfast for dinner has changed her life, she says, like her simple Egg Soufflé, which she’ll make in 20 minutes for her family after a long airplane trip when no one has gone to the grocery store.

And, she adds, “I think lettuce in a bag is the best thing since sliced bread.”

To order a book, visit  www.realfoodrealeasy.com .

Giffords known for her openness and Judaism

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The event was typical Gabrielle Giffords: no barriers, all comers -- Democrats, Republicans and independents welcome to talk about what was on their minds and in their hearts.

While she was deep in a conversation with an older couple about health care -- the issue for which she was willing to risk her career -- a gunman strode up to the Arizona congresswoman and shot her point blank in the head.

The critical wounding Jan. 8 of Giffords and the slaughter of six people standing near her -- including a federal judge, her chief of community outreach and a 9-year-old girl interested in politics -- brought to a screeching halt the easy, open ambience that typified Giffords’ politics, friends and associates said.

“She's a warm person,” Stuart Mellan, the president of the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona, said as he walked away from a prayer service Saturday night at Temple Emanuel in Tucson, one of the southeastern Arizona cities that Giffords represents in Congress. “Everyone called her Gabby, and she would give a hug and remember your name.”

Giffords was the president of the tire company founded by her grandfather when she was propelled into state politics in part because of her concerns about the availability of health care. She switched her registration from Republican to Democrat and in 2001, at 30, she was elected to the Arizona Legislature.

She gained prominence quickly in that body and in 2006, at 36, she became the first Jewish woman elected to Congress from her state.

At the same time, her Judaism was becoming more central to her identity. The turning point came in 2001 following a tour of Israel with the American Jewish Committee, she told The Arizona Star in 2007.

"It just cemented the fact that I wanted to spend more time with my own personal, spiritual growth. I felt very committed to Judaism," she said. "Religion means different things to different people. It provides me with grounding, a better understanding of who I came from."

Her wedding to Cmdr. Mark Kelly, an astronaut, was written up in The New York Times. The item noted that a mariachi band played Jewish music and there were two canopies -- a chupah and one of swords held up by Kelly’s Navy buddies.

“That was Gabby,” Jonathan Rothschild, a longtime friend who served on her campaign’s executive committee, recalled to JTA. “The real irony of this thing is her Judaism is central to her, but she is the kind of person who reaches out to everybody.”

Giffords’ father is Jewish and her mother is a Christian Scientist, and she was raised in both faiths. Her grandfather, Akiba Hornstein, changed his name to Giffords after moving from New York to Arizona, in part because he did not want his Jewishness to be an issue in unfamiliar territory.

The women on her father’s side of the family seemed to guide her toward identifying with Judaism.

“In my family, if you want to get something done you take it to the Jewish women relatives,” she told JTA in 2006. “Jewish women, by and large, know how to get things done.”

Giffords, who last week took the oath of office for her third term in Congress, has pushed Jewish and pro-Israel issues to the forefront at the state and federal levels. She initiated an Arizona law facilitating Holocaust-era insurance claims for survivors, and in Congress she led an effort to keep Iran from obtaining parts for combat aircraft.

She didn’t stint in seeking Jewish and pro-Israel funding. Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-Nev.), the premier pro-Israel lawmaker in Congress, fundraised for her, as did Steve Rabinowitz, the Washington public relations maven whose shop represents a slate of Jewish groups.
“She was so heimishe, so down to earth,” Rabinowitz, himself from Tucson, recalled of his fundraiser last spring.

Almost as soon as she was elected to the state Legislature, Giffords was enmeshed in Arizona’s signature issue -- rights for undocumented immigrants -- according to Josh Protas, who directed the Tucson-area Jewish Community Relations Council for years before moving to Washington in 2009 to direct the D.C. office of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs.
Protas recalled meeting with Giffords as part of the area faith coalition promoting immigrant rights.

“We met with her around immigration issues and she was sensitive to the faith community’s concerns,” he said.

Her approach to the issue was typical for the moderate Democrat, Protas said: She attempted to synthesize what she regarded as the valid viewpoints of both sides on the divisive issue.
“Understanding the complexities of the immigration situation was something important to her,” he said. It came from “a sense of the Jewish value around how we treat the stranger, a history of the Jewish community -- but she had recognition of the strong need for security.”

It was a posture that led Giffords to hit both the state and federal governments last year: She blasted the Obama administration for not doing enough to secure the border, but also slammed as repressive a new Arizona law that allowed police to arrest undocumented immigrants during routine stops.

“She was very moderate in her views and willing to meet with folks on all sides,” Protas said. “She took a lot of heat particularly the last couple of years from both the far right and the far left.”

In the end, her greatest vulnerability might have been her openness.

The day Jim Kolbe said he was not seeking re-election to Congress, Giffords told Rothschild that she would run for the seat. Rothschild had one bit of advice for her: Come back every weekend to meet constituents. Not hanging out with the locals had led to the defeat of Kolbe’s Democratic predecessor.

He didn’t need to convince her; she was back virtually every weekend.

And her open, engaging approach appeared to pay off.

Despite representing a swing district, she survived the Republican wave in November. And just three days before the shooting she was back in Washington -- with one hand up and one hand on the Jewish Bible, grinning at her swearing-in at the Capitol.

On Saturday she was back in Tucson, at a parking lot smiling at all comers.

This article originally appeared on  Jewish Telegraphic Agency .

Meet the Possessionista!

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A few weeks ago, a friend sent me the link to a really amazing website that combines two of my favorite things—fashion and reality TV.  Started by local stay-at-home-mom Dana Weiss, the site—which tells readers where to find clothes like those worn on their favorite TV shows—was just meant for Dana and her friends.  But when fashion meets TV, it turns out the fans just can’t keep away and before Dana had even realized it, she was amassing thousands of hits to her site each week.  Now turning a profit while doing what she loves, Dana’s built a thriving empire as the Posessionista.  Recently, Dana chatted with me about being a fashionable couch potato, her celebrity obsessions, where she shops and the Posessionista January shopping hangover giveaway.

Oy!Chicago: What is your professional background?
Dana Weiss: I was a journalism major at Indiana University.  I worked at CNN and FOX and then I moved over to PR.  For years and years, I worked at agencies and my last job, before I became a mom, was the director of PR for Fairmont hotels.  I had a lot of opportunities there to watch bad outfits walk in and out of the hotel.

How did you come up with the idea for the  Posessionista ?
It was an accident, really.  I’m just really compulsive.  I’d say I’m a fashionable couch potato—I watch a lot of TV.  I’d find myself obsessing about what characters I saw [on TV] were wearing, so I would watch these shows and then I would go to Google and I would google and google and google and look for their clothes.  If I still couldn’t find the clothes, I would look on Facebook or Twitter and it was taking up a lot of my time.  I would talk to my friends about it and eventually I just started posting it on this blog thinking no one would ever look at it.  It was just for my three or four friends and just very cathartic for me.

When Jillian Harris was on the Bachelorette, I was obsessed with her.  I was following all of her clothes [on my blog] and people started googling her clothes (and no one was really doing this for reality TV at the time).  There are a lot of sites out there that track what celebs are wearing, but no one was doing it for reality TV.  And people were googling Jillian Harris and they would end up at my site and I was getting thousands and thousands of visitors and I didn’t even know!  It was never intended to be anything and if you go back and look at the very beginning of the blog, it is very different than what it is now.

Were you surprised by the massive response you’ve gotten?
Yes!  Absolutely!  I mean I’m not surprised that people use it [the blog] because I think a lot of women are like that.  We watch TV and we see celebs and we want to wear what they are wearing and we google it.  I’m surprised at how many people come back.  It’s not like a one-time thing.  I get emails all the time from people who really feel connected to me and that’s sort of a really amazing feeling, to know that people like my taste and they like the way I write.

Have you been surprised by the response stores have had to your site?
I’m surprised.  I’ll tell you the first time I was really surprised was I was doing the movie I Love You Man and I couldn’t find this yellow blouse that Rashida Jones was wearing in it.  I couldn’t find it anywhere, so I called the agency that reps Leesa Evans who was the costume designer on the film and she emailed me back directly!  I just couldn’t believe that an Academy Award-winning costumer would call me back.  Lou Eyrich from Glee texts me every single week.  Cary Fetman from the Bachelor and I email back and forth.  Mandi Line from Pretty Little Liars and I talk on the phone.  When Jillian Harris was done with The Bachelorette, I was the first person she emailed to say how much she liked the blog.  I’m doing these 31 days of giveaways in January with 7 for all mankind and Cuba and they want to work with me and I’m always surprised because I feel like I’m just this stay-at-home-mom who is doing this for fun and now everyone wants to be a part of it.  It’s really cool.

Who are your fashion icons?  Who are your favorite designers?
I mean I love Alice + Olivia and I love Elizabeth + James.  You know if I had all the money in the world I would want to wear Louboutin shoes and I would want to wear Prada and I would want to wear Lanvin, but you know, I’m just like a normal girl.  I love Current/Elliot Jeans.  I love modern vintage boots and I’m obsessed with Jeffrey Cambell shoes and I love things that not everyone is wearing.  I love this store arizia that’s Canadian.  Its been around but people don’t know about it.  I like wearing a really current thing that’s not exactly the same as what everyone is wearing.

I know you are a big fan of Nordstrom, what are your other go-to stores for shopping?
Nordstrom is like, it to me,  I cannot get enough of their customer service and their selection.  When Nordstrom agreed to be one of my affiliates, it was like the mother ship calling me.  I was happy.

I love Urban Outfitters.  I think it’s the most underrated store.  They have amazing clothes, if you want to be on trend, but don’t want to spend the money.  I love Barney’s co-op.  I love Cusp.  I love the Gap.  I mean nobody seems to like going to the Gap, but the Gap has great clothes.  Their jeans are awesome right now.  I love Forever 21.  I’m way too old to be shopping there, but if you have an impulse buy, Forever 21 is the greatest place.  They have awesome rock and roll tees and their jewelry is amazing and you don’t care if you break it.  If you want to wear one of those big Muppet fur coats, get it at Forever 21 because I promise you, you are not going to wear it next year.  It looks good on Rachel Zoe, so if you only drink coffee and smoke cigs all day and all night, then you call pull it off.  I have this challenge out there, I don’t believe anyone besides RZ can pull off that fake fur vest look without looking like a ridiculous Muppet and if anyone can send me a pic proving me wrong, I will buy you a venti non-fat latte.  I just don’t think in real life a woman would be walking down the street on Michigan Ave wearing one of those vest and looking really good.

We just interviewed Jill Zarin from the RHofNY about her book “Secrets of a Jewish Mother,” who do you think is the best dressed housewife?  Which cast is the most fashionable?
Omg, Beverly Hills.  The clothes are amazing!  I love Kyle Richards!  I love her hair— she says she uses Dove or Pantene.  Her hair is beautiful.  There’s something so approachable about her.  If you message her on Twitter, she will respond to you and tell you what she’s wearing.  Bethany Frankel is another one who is just an awesome, awesome dresser who gets her body.  If you have enough money, you can dress really badly, but you can also dress really beautifully.

What’s your favorite TV show for good fashion finds?
Well, obviously Glee.  Lou’s created characters in those clothes.  Gossip Girl is amazing.  I love that show Pretty Little Liars, Mandi Line is the costumer.  She has no budget, so she literally took clothes and ripped them apart and sewed them back together.  It’s a really great lesson in reusing and recycling.  I love The Bachelorette because these are just normal girls and not celebrities, so the things that they are wearing, if you like them, you can go out and get it that day.  They just bought it for that show.  Chances are you can go to the mall and get it.  There’s something relatable about that.  Obvi, Sex and the City.  It’s awhile ago, but I think Patricia Fields was the first time that people noticed what the characters were wearing and that clothes became a character themselves.

Being a costume designer is such a thankless job…How many people know name Eric Daman?  He is the genius behind it.  Blake and Leighton are just wearing the clothes, they didn’t pick them out.  Blake Lively is the new face of Chanel and she’s beautiful, but we never stop to think about the people dressing them, the stylists, and the costumers, these are people who are really talented.

What are your future plans for Possessionista?  Where do you see the site in five years?
I don’t know.  That’s the million dollar question.  If you had told me two years ago that I would be talking to Oy!Chicago or that I would have 50,000 weekly readers, I would have said give me your pharmacists number, you are smoking something.  I would love to collaborate with a designer.  I’m working right now with a jeweler who makes bracelets and we’re going to make a Possessionista bracelet for my readers.  I love the partnership that Emily Shuman at Cupcakes and Cashmere got to design a handbag for Coach.  I think it’s really cool that designers are taking note of bloggers and bringing their voices to fruition.  I would love to work with people like Oy!Chicago and get my writing out there and touch new people and that’s sort of it.  Keep writing more places and keep getting my voice out there and collaborating with designers and retailers.

What’s your favorite Jewish thing to do in Chicago?
I love to go for like deli with my kids. I grew up on the East Coast, so being in Chicago, I like to take my kids for knishes and corn beef and just like tell them about what it was like to go visit my grandmother in Brooklyn and have the NY Jewish deli experience.  It’s really fun for me, because it’s my childhood.  It’s not so much religious as it is cultural, but the food was definitely a part of my Jewish upbringing and I love sharing it with my kids. 

Is there anything else you want to tell or preview to the Oy!Chicago readers?
I’d like to tell them and I think it’s really fun…in January, we all get our credit card bills for our holiday shopping and our holiday gifts and everyone kind of goes, “oh, crap” when it shows up…I call it the shopping hangover.  Every day in January, I’m giving away something.  It’s the 31 days of giveaways.  I have 7 for all MankindPaigeTrue ReligionSmash Box, huge, huge names.  Every day one of them is giving something to one reader—so that is a great time to start reading Posessionista, because I’m giving away tons of free stuff.  I’ll be like the Oprah of blogging.

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