OyChicago articles

Jewish Chicagoans to share daylong celebration of Jewish learning

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Imagine a room filled with hundreds of Jews, all from different backgrounds, perspectives, denominations and generations, learning together. If you can picture yourself in that room, you should be sure to check out Limmud Chicago 2012.

Limmud is the Hebrew word for "learning" and Limmud Chicago is part of an international, volunteer-run movement which began in England in 1980 and has been replicated in over 50 cities throughout the world. According to a recent study by Steven M. Cohen and Ezra Kopelowitz, Limmud has grown from a UK movement reaching 80 participants per year, to an international movement reaching over 30,000 individuals annually.

Anita Silvert, co-chair of this year's Limmud Chicago 2012 with Shoshana Waskow, was asked to present at Limmud UK years ago and then got involved with bringing the program to Chicago. The third Limmud Chicago, taking place Sunday, Feb. 19 at the University of Illinois Chicago UIC Student Center East, will feature 100 learning sessions, with themes of sustainability and diversity running throughout the day.

This daylong celebration of Jewish learning and culture is filled with lectures, discussion groups, workshops, films, exhibits and performances on a variety of Jewish topics including Jewish body art, Jewish organic farming, Israel's social justice movement, Hebrew feminist poets, Jews and food, Perspectives from the 2010 Jewish Population Study conducted by JUF/JF and more. Presenters range from Jewish professionals to educators to clergy to passionate members of the community.

This year, there is a special emphasis on engaging young Jewish adults. "We paid a lot of attention to the surveys that we got back from the past two years of Limmud Chicago," Silvert said, "...and one of the things that came through loud and clear was we weren't representative across the entire age spectrum and we needed to break more into that young adult demographic."

So they moved the conference into the city this year, andthanks to generous funding provided by the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago and NEXT: A Division of the Birthright Israel Foundationdeveloped the Young Adult Initiative, a subsidy  to provide significantly reduced registration fees for young adults aged 18 to 30.

"Limmud is perfect for this outreach because Limmud is who shows up," Silvert said. "Limmud itself doesn't have a bent or a slant or an agenda at all, but there's an aspect of Jewish engagement that is really interesting to anybody…It's not anybody's agenda, it's not anybody's denominationit is completely beyond that kind of scopeso it's perfect for people who are truly figuring out who they want to be as Jewish adults."

Limmud participants can elect to "volunticipate." Empowering the community to build the kind of thing they want to build, "Limmud empowers people to develop their own Jewish identity and to go forward with it on their own terms," Silvert said.

Barry Krost, Limmud Chicago 2012 Program Team Co-Chair, first learned about Limmud from a friend who was one of the founders of Limmud Chicago. At the time, he was not involved in Jewish life, but found his place in Limmud. "Limmud's been a really amazing opportunity for me, a really positive Jewish experience, and I feel like I have a seat at the table as somewhat of a secular Jew," Krost said. "Limmud is a place where I'm welcomed in."

For him, the best part about Limmud is getting together people of so many backgrounds into one room, where everyone is referred to only by their first name. "It's really an opportunity to get Jews to step out of their normal boundaries and interact with other Jews that might live in a different world normally," he said. "Limmud is all about mutual respect…The encounter with other Jews gives [participants] a stronger sense of what it means to be a Jew."

Limmud Chicago will host its third conference on Sunday, Feb. 19 at the University of Illinois Chicago UIC Student Center East at 750 S. Halsted. An evening program with entertainment will also be presented. Reduced rates are available for young adults at www.limmudchicago.org.

8 Questions for David Goldman, gym owner, nature fan, and celebrity follower

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8 Questions for David Goldman photo

For the past few years I’ve been working out at a small gym down the street from my condo. It’s intimate in size, everyone is nice, each machine has its own personal TV and they offer free apples at the door. It turns out my gym, Wicker Park Fitness, is co-owned by Chicagoan Dave Goldman and his partner Mason Goldberg, who’ve been best friends since 7th grade. Who said Jews can’t be athletic!

Dave and his partner are currently in the process of opening a new gym in the Southport Corridor just steps from the brown line. Recently, Dave took a few minutes from his busy schedule— the new gym is scheduled to be open by March 1— to answer our 8 questions.

So whether you love to workout, want to meet Genghis Khan, or dream of traveling to South Africa, Dave Goldman is A Jew You Should Know!

What is your favorite blog or website?
Tmz or Perezhilton. I like the gossip sites.

If time and money were limitless, where would you travel?
Cape town, South Africa. I’d love to go to Seal Island off the coast of South Africa, too. I’m very into sharks and nature. I love National Geographic and travel shows.

If a movie was made about your life, who would play you?
Mark Wahlberg

If you could have a meal with any two people, living or dead, famous or not, who would they be?
My grandfather would be the first one because I loved being around him and seeing him again would be an extra bonus. For the other person, I’d love to meet someone from way back in the past. Just to see what life was like for them. [Someone] like Genghis Khan. Life must have been so different. We stress about parking spots…they had to stress about surviving each day and fighting for land and territory.

What's your idea of the perfect day?
Walking into the gym at 6pm and no one is waiting for a treadmill at a peak hour and everyone is happy.

What do you love about what you do?
Honestly, I love what I do and have been doing this for 17 years. The gym serves a really healthy need. Seeing people do something positive for themselves is a great feeling. You’d have to dig very hard to find something negative about this job. I’m serving a good need.

What job would you have had if not the one you have now?
A professional athlete. Golfer or tennis player.

What's your favorite Jewish thing to do in Chicago?
Eat at a Jewish deli like Manny’s.

Miri Ben-Ari

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Standing on her own, with the violin as her voice


Miri Ben Ari photo 1

Miri Ben-Ari is an Israeli Grammy award-winning violinist who has created her own unique sound by a combining classical with jazz, R&B, and hip hop. Ben-Ari has sold millions of records by collaborating with other world renowned artists such as Jennifer Lopez, Kanye West, Jay Z, Wyclef Jean, Alicia Keys, Wynton Marsalis, Britney Spears, Maroon 5, Donna Summer, and John Legend.

The musician will perform on Thursday, Feb. 9 at Lincoln Hall in Chicago at an event sponsored by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), Israel Sport Center for the Disabled, and Friends of Magen David Adom. Recently, I did a phone interview for Oy!Chicago with Ben-Ari to discuss the evolution of her work as a musician and a performer, as well as her social activism endeavors.

Oy!Chicago: Please describe your upbringing in Israel and your musical training. 
Miri Ben-Ari: I grew up in Israel and lived there until I completed the army. I started playing violin at an early age and was a part of a gifted group of students that were taught by the legendary Isaac Stern. Throughout my childhood I grew up playing classical music, chamber music, and very early on started winning awards to pay for my classical education. At the age of 16, I traveled to the United States for the first time and immediately fell in love with the American culture and especially with Jazz music. I knew that if I studied jazz I would be able to eventually improvise, compose, and produce my own music. It was the originality that attracted me to this genre of music. After the army I moved to the United States where I studied for two semesters at the New School, and continued my musical learning by performing regularly with great musicians.

Is there a particular artist that you have worked with that you believe significantly shaped you as a musician?
It is hard for me to choose one artist that has significantly shaped my work… all of the artists that I worked with are talented, hard-working, and unique. Of all the collaborations that I have been involved in, my most recent work "Sympathy of Brotherhood" highlights the words of the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. I chose to highlight this particular speech because it was an historic moment not only for America, but for the world.

If I had to choose one person that impacted my art…it would be Kanye West. I was connected to Kanye very early on—at the start of his career. It was a great experience to watch him turn into the artist that he is today. 

How did you start making connections with such talented and successful artists? 
I started doing a few TV shows [and] concerts, and the public very quickly became interested…One show led to another and pretty soon I was working with everyone.

What has been the highlight of your musical career? Is this where you want to be musically? Could you have gotten to this point without the help of your collaborators? 
My experience made me the artist that I am today. After collaborating with so many artists, my music is now able to stand on its own. I feel that the world has become much more receptive to real art and organic music.

From the Apollo stage to being invited to the White House by First Lady, Michelle Obama, to playing concerts with Jay Z and Kanye West. All of these events and collaborations have shaped me as an artist.

Miri Ben Ari photo 2

Are you content with where you are and what more do you want to achieve musically? 
This is the music that I always dreamed of creating. Part of being an artist is to never stop progressing. There is always something to learn, always skills to develop—this is the journey. As far as my five-year plan, you can say anything, but the question is are you actually going to do it? I am always chasing my dreams. 

Can you tell us about Gedenk, the non-for-profit organization you founded? Why is the organization's mission if particular importance to you?  
A few years ago I created Gedenk which means 'remember' in Yiddish. Gedenk is a humanitarian movement dedicated to teaching and raising youth awareness about the Holocaust as well as anti-Semitism, racism, and its negative consequences on the world today. I created the organization with two of my best friends. As a third generation of Holocaust survivors, I am emotionally attached and committed to ensuring that this story be told. The organization uses the power of celebrity to help raise awareness about Holocaust education and unconventional campaigns to pique the public's interest.

Are you excited about your upcoming performance in Chicago? 
Yes, very much so! I feel very passionate about the work that your [Chicago Jewish] organizations are doing—and it is a privilege to be able to support your efforts locally.

Miri Ben-Ari will be performing on Thursday, Feb. 9 at Lincoln Hall in Chicago. For tickets, visit www.fiscd.org.

The Great Rabbino’s alter ego: Pulpit Rabbi

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The Great Rabbino’s alter ego photo 1

You all know Jeremy Fine as The Great Rabbino updating us on all the latest Jewish sports news and interviewing our favorite athletes but did you also know that he is a soon-to-be rabbi? Recently, Oy!Chicago decided to turn the tables on Jeremy and interview him about his Jewish upbringing, why he became a rabbi and as a fellow 20-30something, what he thinks about the future of synagogues and Judaism for our generation. Check out his thoughts below! 

Where did you grow up? What was your Jewish upbringing? 
I lived in Skokie until I was five, but then mainly Deerfield until I left for college at U of I. My home was across the street from Moriah Congregation in Deerfield, which is Conservative. Between Moriah, Solomon Schechter, and Camp Ramah one could make a pretty good argument that I was raised as a Conservative Jew. Highlights were for sure Shabbat dinners with my family and friends.

When did you decide to become a rabbi? Why? 
I was a freshman in college. I had just come back from a transformative summer as sports staff at Camp Ramah. My dream as a young child was to coach college basketball. But after deciding to attend U of I and coaching at the local high school, I realized that I wanted to help the Jewish community and the Rabbi idea fell into place. Coaching and rabbi-ing can be pretty similar. Both professions need creativity, a love of people, and a desire to help others do their best. Also, both professions require life-long learning.

What kind of rabbi do you see yourself being in five years, 20 years? 
That is a tricky question, but ideally in five years I want to be a part of a warm and exciting community. I want to still be growing into my role as rabbi. Right now I would say I am on the path to serve in a pulpit although Ramah, Schechter, and Hillel are all near and dear to my heart. I would certainly be happy to serve as the director of a Ramah Camp or the rabbi at a Solomon Schechter school. In a synagogue, on a daily basis, I get to educate and deal hands on with people from one to 120 years old that is a true privilege. In 20 years, I would like to be settled in a position that I love going to every morning, mentoring future rabbis, and have written a few books.

It's a big challenge these days to get your peers (20 and 30somethings) to join synagogues, how do you plan to address that issue/draw them into the fold? 
The saying is, "30 is the new 20." Well, that term isn't just for dating and partying, I think it holds true for their Jewish lives, too. People get bits and pieces of Judaism all over the place and the synagogue, which traditionally was the home for everything Jewish, doesn't have a monopoly anymore. But trends like these come and go. I think there are a few things we need to do. The first is meet people where they are. As a rabbi it is my job to get out there and connect with them on the softball field, at their big social events, and wherever else they might be. Secondly, is to create different access points into the synagogue through social groups, learning opportunities, and experiences. Synagogue can be intimidating; it's the rabbi's job to make it welcoming. Third and finally, if all else fails, use Jewish guilt! Just kidding. Ultimately, everyone in some way or another wants a community. A synagogue is a fantastic place to latch onto a community that celebrates your happiness, comforts you during the hard times, and brings deeper meaning and connection to one's life.

How big should the Jewish tent be? Who do we include? 
A Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus size tent. Realistically, I think we are in a very unique time to understanding who is a Jew. As a soon-to-be Conservative Rabbi I believe in a binding set of Jewish laws that inform us of who is Jewish. But I certainly recognize that my opinion and stance is not the only one that counts. We are in a very vital time in Jewish historywhere freedom has been so widely felt which I believe has caused the lines of who is Jewish to waver both in the United States and Israel. I think the key is to be welcoming, understanding, and honest when dealing with these issues.

How do we encourage interfaith families to practice and raise Jewish children? 
I am a big believer in understanding that everyone who walks through the doors of my synagogue has their own story. If that story wants to be shared, I am happy to listen. The encouragement comes when they walk in the door, by setting an example of a Jewish lifestyle and creating a warm and comfortable environment. Each family makes their own decisions and I am happy to help those families formulate a meaningful Jewish life. As for the kids, the importance is providing them with a strong Jewish education, so when decisions have to be made or those children seek out their Jewish heritage they are better equipped to tackle Judaism.

What do you think of the rise in popularity of non-institutional Jewish groups like kehilla and independent minyanim? 
Honestly, I think it is a trend. It's a potentially wonderful and meaningful fad that I have partaken in, but ultimately I believe in the power of the synagogue. I want my future kids to be around many other Jewish kids and to feel that synagogue is a second home. There is a lot of initial appeal to young people to be a part of independent minyanim because they are less intimidating, more laid back, and frankly cheaper (most of the time). But I think the future is still in the synagogue even if synagogues might have to revise themselves along the way.

What do you love about what you do today? 
Being a pulpit rabbi for the last six months has been amazing. My wife and I have been blessed to be at a supportive synagogue that is so welcoming and exciting. I have found so much joy in the little things like our youth basketball and our small group dialogues in congregants' homes. What a great privilege it was to speak to 1,500 people over the High Holidays and share with them the Torah that I have been fortunate enough to have learned. Ultimately, the people make the job.

The Great Rabbino’s alter ego photo 2x

Switching to your alter ego for a second, The Great Rabbino, tell us who is your favorite Jewish athlete of all time and why? 
Probably Hank Greenberg for sentimental reasons. While I never got to see him play, when I was a child my father took me to Deerbrook Mall to see his documentary. I fell in love with him right then and there. But I am also a big fan of Omri Casspi, Gabe Carimi, and Colt Cabana because they really embrace being Jewish. It means a lot to Jewish people when their athletes wear their religion across their chest.

What's your favorite Jewish thing to do in Chicago? 
Personally, it is to go back to the places that helped me build a strong Jewish identity. I try to visit Solomon Schechter and Ida Crown whenever I get a chance. But right now, I love going back to my parents' synagogue and just being a congregant. Nothing like sitting in back and falling asleep during a sermon! Just kidding, it's nice to see my home rabbi and listen to his words that have inspired me to take my journey through Rabbinical School.

The ‘Jewish Jordan’ talks basketball, Judaism, and giving back

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The ‘Jewish Jordan’ talks basketball photo

"Jewish Jordan"—that's the nickname Sports Illustrated gave Tamir Goodman when he was merely 17 years old and a high school junior at the Talmudical Academy of Baltimore. Ranked among the best 25 high school basketball players in America, Goodman seemed set to become the first Orthodox Jew to play for the NBA.

Things didn't go as expected—plans to attend the University of Maryland fell through because the basketball schedule would have forced him to play on the Sabbath. He attended Towson University instead, but only played basketball for two seasons.

Despite the setbacks, Goodman did become a pro-basketball player, playing in Israel for six seasons on teams such as Maccabi Tel Aviv and Maccabi Haifa. He also played for the Maryland Nighthawks, but eventually a series of injuries caused him to retire from basketball in 2009.

Since then, he has been focused on inspiring the next generation through a variety of initiatives aimed at connecting children with sports and their Jewish identity, both in Israel and the United States. Thanks to a partnership with iCenter, Goodman was able to bring his Coolanu Israel Basketball Camps to Illinois in December. He coached 3rd - 8th grade boys and girls at Joy of the Game in Deerfield, and Anshe Emet Synagogue in Chicago.

Oy!Chicago conducted a phone interview with Goodman, who now lives in Cleveland, Ohio, before his visit to Illinois.

Oy!Chicago: How would you say Judaism and basketball intertwined in your life?
Tamir Goodman: Basketball and Judaism have always been one thing to me. I always played basketball for the Jewish people and Israel, because when I had that in my mind, it gave me extra motivation…to come back from injuries or to practice harder or play harder, to succeed. Because it wasn't about me—it was about something much bigger than me…It gave me a stronger work ethic than if I had just played for myself…

There were other players who would say, "I played well today, I can take it easy tomorrow." I was never like that. I could never be satisfied with my performance; I always had a need to move forward…And many things we learn from Judaism you need for basketball, such as the value of a work ethic.

How do you feel about being called the "Jewish Jordan?"
Being called the "Jewish Jordan," I always used it as a tool to inspire or help other people. I never played basketball for myself—I always played for the Jewish people and Israel… I always used it as a tool to inspire other people. I would think, "Wow, maybe someone looks up to me because they call me the "Jewish Jordan." How am I going to take that media attention and inspire people? I was never really comfortable with being called that, so I tried to use the media attention that came along with the nickname to do as much good as possible.

You didn't end up playing college basketball at the University of Maryland because of scheduling that conflicted with your religious practices.  You also didn't end up making it into the NBA. Do you lament the way things turned out or do you think everything happens for a reason?
With everything in my career, I feel so fortunate and blessed and believe that everything that happened was for a reason.  The challenges I faced have prepared me for the work I do now. I can relate to kids and their struggles in a way that I would not have been able to had everything been smooth sailing. 

Even with the challenges, I was able to live out my dream. I played basketball in college and pro-basketball in Israel and the U.S.—all without playing on Shabbat. It was an amazing experience and I feel so fortunate.

I also did military service in the IDF Service and was awarded the "Outstanding Soldier Award." 

It was a miracle that I was able to reach so many of my goals without playing on Shabbat, and I'm grateful to my coaches and everyone who helped me along the way.

What do you ultimately hope to inspire in young people by being so involved with youth programming? 
I hope to inspire them to be proud of their Jewish identity. Uniting the physical and spiritual is what Judaism is about. If you want to be a professional athlete, you shouldn't see it as hindrance that you are Jewish… It's the opposite.

Judaism is a blessing… Judaism teachers us to embrace our talents and channel them in the right way… This concept directly relates to sports, such as in the ideas of team building, work ethic, reaching goals, being organized, being positive… We bring out all these Jewish values through sports because it resonates with the kids…We talk to them in a language they understand to teach those values.

We teach them that even before you step on the court, you need to understand who you are and what you represent. You represent more than yourself—as a Jewish athlete, you represent the Jewish people and Israel.

For more information about Tamir Goodman and Coolanu Israel, visit www.tamirgoodman.com.

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