OyChicago articles

‘Unhooked Generation’

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Author explores Gen Xers’ search for love

Unhooked Generation photo 1

Around the time that Jewish writer Jillian Straus turned 30, she noticed a lot of her friends complaining to her about their relationship troubles for hours over the phone.

Like her friends, Straus says she, too, didn’t have a clue how to find love, despite her parents’ 40-plus years of being happily married. She felt that her busy career and social life entertained her for much of the time, and yet she felt lonely. “The girls on “Sex and the City” would sneer at me if they knew,” she writes in her book. “The feminist in me did not want to let myself fall prey to the specious belief that I couldn’t be happy without a man in my life.”

Straus began pondering why her generation (Generation X) was encountering so many obstacles in its search for love and commitment, in contrast to her parents’ Baby Boomer generation. For instance, a third of men and nearly one-fourth of women between the ages of 30 and 34 have never been married, nearly four times the rate of the same demographic during the 1970s, according to Straus’s research.

So Straus—a Los Angeles native who relocated to Chicago for 12 years, where she attended Northwestern University and worked on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” and then finally settled in New York—traveled around the country looking for answers. She interviewed 100 Gen Xers, men and women between the ages of 25 and 39, in metropolises around the country, specifically Los Angeles, Chicago, Minneapolis, Dallas, and New York, about their quest to find love and commitment.

In her research, she observed a variety of types of people, but most with a shared attitude that made them part of the “Unhooked Generation,” a generation so “hooked up” in terms of instantaneous communication and technology, yet distant—“unhooked”—emotionally from one another. She compiled her interviews and research into her 2006 book called “Unhooked Generation,” (Hyperion books).

While writing the book, Straus met her future husband. “It was a very New York story,” says Straus. She was out dining with her girlfriend one night at a small Manhattan restaurant, the tables crowded close together. She and her friend were exclaiming how they couldn’t eat another bite of their meal when a man, who turned out to be her future husband, leaned over and struck up a conversation with them about the food. “A lot of people think they have to go online or put all this effort into dating, but I learned from my experience that you can meet someone anywhere,” she explains. The couple married three years ago and Straus gave birth to their daughter over the summer.

Straus worries that her generation is trying to “meet” their soul mates instantly, rather than “make” a soul mate with someone they’ve gotten to know and dated for a while. She writes in her book, “Ultimately, I learned that true love is not a chemical reaction, or a wish list. True love is a daily practice—the daily practice of being open to it.”

Oy! recently sat down for a phone interview with Straus about the “Unhooked Generation,” the added challenges that Jewish Gen Xers face in their search for love, and how Gen Xers differ from Baby Boomers in their approach to finding love.

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Oy!Chicago: What inspired you to write the book?
Jillian Straus: I was single, like many of my male and female friends, who were young professionals, who had good jobs and active social lives. They were attractive people, who weren’t necessarily at a loss for dates. The common denominator was that we were all having trouble finding the one… It seemed like there was something larger [going on], a generational thing.

You refer in the book to certain influences that often create obstacles in one’s search for true love. Tell me about some of these influences and some of the trends you found among the Gen Xers you interviewed.
I thought I was going to see a trend among men and a trend among women. I thought the men would be commitment-phobic and the women would want marriage. I was surprised to find that there were just as many women with commitment issues as men, and there were just as many men as women who were really longing for a long-term relationship.

Divorce was a common theme. Either people would say, “I don’t want to have what my parents have because they are divorced” or “I do want to have what my parents have because they’re still married and they seem like such an exception.”

Being very career-minded and independent was a very common theme.

And what I call a “Multiple Choice Culture” was a very common theme that I heard come up with so many people. Why should I choose just one person when there are so many people out there? Or, I would like to settle down with one person but everyone I date seems to have their options open and don’t want to settle down with one person.

There’s also “The Inadvertent Effects of Feminism,” where the women are all about, yes I have a job, I have a career, I make my own money, but I still want a guy who makes a good living. And then the men feel very intimidated because maybe they’re not earning more than the woman or maybe they don’t know what to do on a date. They don’t know whether they should open the door or be the one to call.

All of these factors definitely undermine dating. It was a lot simpler for our parents.

What do you feel is the downside to internet dating?
Many people have found the love of their life on the internet, but for a lot of other people, it creates this idea of endless possibilities and I’m going to keep searching. I’m going to keep looking for someone better, someone taller, someone richer. You can’t order the perfect mate online the way you order your Starbucks coffee with a million specifications—love, chemistry, common values. You only know those kinds of things after you’ve experienced them over time. Everybody doesn’t come in the perfect package. With online dating, you have to meet certain criteria in order for that person to find you, which may rule out the possibility of true love.

In the book, you say that people are trying to find their soul mate rather than make their soul mate once they’ve gotten to know the person they’re dating. Can you expand on that?
You don’t just find your soul mate online. You didn’t find your best friend online. You become friends with someone, you had a connection, you got to know them in a deeper context, you experienced things together, you grew closer, and now you call that person your best friend. If that person applied to be your best friend, you might not ever link up because you might not meet the same criteria in an online profile, yet you could have completely common values and share the things that are really important.

Did you interview many Jewish people for your book, and what are the added challenges that Jews of this generation face in the search for love and commitment? 
I Interviewed a lot of Jewish people, more than the statistical sample of Jewish people in the population. It makes it that much harder for Jewish people because they’re often only looking for someone who is Jewish, in addition to all the other generational factors. One of the big points I make in the book is that you shouldn’t be looking for someone based on a checklist or formal criteria. You should be looking at shared values. So if you have values specific to Judaism, then of course you need to marry someone Jewish. But if your values are not necessarily related to being Jewish and you’re using Jewish as yet another [reason to reject people], then you might be limiting yourself.

You discuss your parents’ long and happy 47 years of marriage in the book. What did you learn from your parents about love and marriage and how has the institution of marriage changed over the years? 
My generation is really looking to be in love, and one of the things that seems to be most important in my parents’ marriage is respect. I think they are in love, but I think it comes from a deeper place. My generation is a little bit immature in terms of the way we want to be in love—myself included. We want butterflies, we want to be swept off our feet, we want that kind of image of falling in love, which is probably created very much by Hollywood. We think that romance is the glue that holds us together because we no longer need marriage, the institution. It’s perfectly acceptable to be divorced… We don’t need marriage because women can pay their own bills. We want it more for companionship. We don’t need it to start a family because we can go to a sperm bank. There’s no “need” for marriage; it’s more looked at as a “choice”… My parents valued the commitment of marriage more than we do. They valued that they have a family together and we don’t want to break that up, and their love grew over time. We’re so impatient in this generation that we don’t take the time to develop the deep love and respect that my parents have.

What are your biggest pieces of advice to single people searching for love?
In my parents’ generation, they were expecting that there would be challenges and the goal would be to go through them together. These days, when there’s a bump in the road involving your spouse, people think, “Wow, maybe if I was with someone else, I wouldn’t be going through these challenges.”

Also, burn the checklist. Happy couples drop their expectations so that they’re open to love when it comes into their lives.

Finally, slow down. This idea of having stars and lightning bolts on the first date and expecting love to happen over night is unrealistic. Love can grow over time. People don’t want anything hard or challenging in the relationship, but going through those hard times together brings us closer. I think our parents’ generation knew that much better than we do.


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Completion photo 1

My sons Ryder, BJ and Phoenix are an absolute joy –
but someone was still missing.

Since I was 14 years old, I've wanted to adopt. I remember being in my room, listening to the radio. They were doing a story on the crisis with China's children and I was dumb-founded. In that moment, my dream of adoption began.

So how do you pursue something like adoption in eighth grade? You don't, technically. But like the kid who decides to be a doctor, you live your kid life, and you have this adult dream on the horizon that you slowly move towards. I never faltered. My dream morphed (e.g., the when, the where) but in my heart, it was always going to happen.

On my third date with my now husband, I asked what he thought about adoption. Not marriage. Adoption. We were at the Botanic Gardens by the little Japanese house, by the trees, by the water. He was 24 years old. He shrugged and said, "Um, why not?" Good answer, because if he had answered "no", he would not have become my husband. Maybe that sounds harsh, but would you stay with a person who wouldn't, who couldn’t support and share your life dreams?

I can look back on that moment and many moments since then and see how freaking lucky I was. It was a weird question to ask in general and specifically on like, a third date. But he gave a good answer which worked out, since I’m in love with him.

So life went on. We got engaged a year later, married the year after that. I wanted kids right away. My husband, not so much. Kids? Yes, but not immediately. Five years passed and we had our first child. Twenty-one months later came number two, and twenty-two months later number three. Suddenly, we had a loud, joyful chaos – three maniac boys, two dogs and a house in the burbs. Life was good. Life was great. But life was incomplete. Someone was missing.

We both wanted to pursue adoption internationally. For me, since I first heard that radio broadcast about children in a far away land, I imagined a child in my life that didn't look like me, came from somewhere different, came from somewhere I wanted to celebrate.

The journey to that "where" was never a straight line for us. There were places we ruled out immediately and places that ruled us out. Wherever our child was to come from, we had to be not just willing but passionate about learning more. We had to be committed to incorporating the culture, language, art, food and essence of our child's homeland into our home the best we possibly could. Through bumps and curves and for a number of reasons, our hearts landed us in Ethiopia.

Two years ago January, I called my friend who is from Ethiopia, and asked her to tell me, truthfully, how she felt about an Ethiopian child being raised in an almost completely white suburb by Jewish hippy folks. I shared with her every anxiety I had about it. She laughed and said we were a wonderful family. She said she knew the kind of love we had in our home. She said she thought it was meant to be. I cried tears of joy in the Trader Joe's parking lot. The simplicity of her answer gave me courage.

It only took four months to submit all our initial paperwork and complete our home study. And then the real work began. On the surface, all we had to do was wait. And wait. And wait. Until July, when we received our referral and our daughter’s beautiful face came into focus. And you know what? It was a really long wait. Because I've been waiting for this child since I was 14 years old.

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On October 9, 2009, Mike and I finally met our daughter. At first she just looked and looked at us. And we looked and looked at her. But when I crouched down, opened my arms and said, "nay" – "come here" in Amaharic – she came right to me in her pink sparkly shoes and I hugged her. And with that, we became a forever family.

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With our daughter, Fray, last week in Ethiopia. This weekend, Fray came
home to Glencoe and met her big brothers – more on that in a future Oy!

Running for a good cause

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Running for a good cause photo

Jordan Karlik was one of the 45,000 people who participated in the cold Chicago marathon this past Sunday.  A newbie marathoner Karlik didn’t just want to run, but to also raise money for a good cause— the Jewish United Fund.

“I wanted to raise money for some charity, said Karlik.  “And being a Jew is a very important part of my life so there was no other option in my opinion.  Coupled with that, I knew that fundraising [at JUF] is down this year and other events have left Jews and our agencies supporting Jews in financial trouble [so I knew they needed extra support.]

A native New Yorker, Karlik has been living in Chicago the past few years.  Always supportive of Jewish organizations, he grew up attending his local JCC and giving to UJA (New York Federation.)  Karlik became involved in Federation when he joined a 'next generation business owner' group that meets monthly.  But it wasn’t until the marathon that he became passionate about the cause.

“Like I said in my email to my friends and family, JUF needs the money now more than ever so they can help so many Jews in need in Chicago and around the world.”

In the end, Karlik raised more than $2,600 for JUF from 31 different contributors.  He also completed his “other” goal finishing the race in under four hours!  He said the best part of participating in the marathon was running for a good cause and “crossing the finish line of course!”

The Great Rabbino's Next Generation of Jewish Athletes

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Jeremy Fine photo

For generations Jews celebrated the storied baseball careers of Sandy Koufax and Hank Greenberg. Since then Jews have longed for more Jewish athletes. And in 2009 we look around the MLB, NFL, and NBA and see several Jews atop their sports. In Boston, Kevin Youkilis trots the bases after each home run; Jordan Farmar of the Los Angeles Lakers hoisted the NBA Championship trophy; and Igor Olshansky makes bone-crushing sacks for the Dallas Cowboys. But Jewish sports fans want to know who is next? Who is the next big thing in the Jewish sports world? Well here they are:


Isaac Davis – New York Mets (Minor Leagues)
Originally, drafted by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in 2005, Davis decided to go to college and play for the Arizona State Sun Devils. In 2008 Davis became the 18th overall pick by the Mets. He is naturally a first baseman, but he can also play either corner outfield position. This year in Binghamton he batted .309 with 13 HRs, 43 RBIs in 55 games. Davis is our best chance right now of the seeing the next Hank Greenberg.

Jason Kipnis – Cleveland Indians (Minor Leagues)
Kipnis grew up in Northbrook, Illinois. He was the 63rd overall pick in the 2009 draft. In his first taste of Minor league ball with the Mahoning Valley Scrappers, Kipnis had a .306 Avg. with 34 hits in 29 games. Last season for the Arizona State Sun Devils he batted .380 with 66 Rs, 14 HRs, 65 RBIs, and 144 TBs. The way he plays reminds me of a young Ian Kinsler.


Taylor Mays – University of Southern California (College)
Mays has started at free safety since his freshman year for the USC Trojans. He is a two time All-American and in his junior season was a Jim Thorpe Award Finalists. In his first three seasons he has played in three Rose Bowls and won all three (one against my Illini). Mock drafts boards have him going as high as fifth in this year’s draft. He has the potential to be the greatest Jewish football player ever (including Sid Luckman).


Rosalyn Gold-Onwude – Stanford University (College)
She plays for one of the best universities in the country. Gold-Onwude was named Pac-10 All-Defensive Team honorable mention.  Last season she saw action in all 38 games, averaging 3.8 ppg, 90 apg and had 32 steals. She does a little bit of everything on the court.

Jon Scheyer – Duke University (College)
Scheyer is definitely the best Jewish college basketball player in the country. Last season he averaged 14.9 ppg, 2.8 apg, and 3.6 rpg. When you play almost 33 minutes per game for coach Mike Krzyzewski you must be a pretty good basketball player. Scheyer has a chance of being a solid role player in the NBA.

Naama Shafir – University of Toledo (College)
Originally from Israel, Shafir is the first female Orthodox Jew to earn NCAA I scholarship. She has an Honorable-mention All-MAC and All-Freshman Team selection. Shafir averaged 11.7 ppg, 4.5 apg, 2.8 rpg and 1.4 steals.

For more information on these athletes and all different sorts of Jewish sports information check out www.thegreatrabbino.com.

From the stage to the bimah

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A conversation with Cantor Arik Luck, the newest addition to Beth Emet The Free Synagogue 

From the stage to the bimah photo 1

Up until a few years ago, Arik Luck had been living the typical life of a struggling actor in New York City, working in shows off-off Broadway, singing in musicals, acting in indie films, and waiting tables.

But, then, after a lot of soul-searching, he made the tough choice to switch career tracks, and blend his performance talents with a new line of work.

This summer, Luck relocated to the Chicago area and started his best and most challenging gig yet—as the cantor at Beth Emet The Free Synagogue, in Evanston. On the bimah, Cantor Luck has a soulful style, invoking strong Eastern European traditions and influences from the Jewish camping movement.

Before moving to the Midwest, Luck graduated from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR) in New York City, where he received his masters in sacred music and cantorial investitures. In cantorial school, he was the recipient of the Israel Goldstein Award, the honor given to a student who demonstrates the highest degree of fluency in traditional worship styles. In addition to singing, Luck also plays piano, guitar, percussion, and produces and directs theater. Back in 2000, Luck received his Bachelor of Fine Arts from Carnegie Mellon University’s School of Drama in acting and musical theatre. After several years out east, Luck, his wife, Rachel, and now their baby son, Yedidyah, have settled in Evanston.

They always planned on naming their son Yedidyah, which means “Beloved by God,” but the name’s meaning grew even more special and fitting after their son was born one Shabbat evening, because one of the first pieces of liturgy recited on Shabbat evening is a poem called Yedid Nefesh, or “Beloved of the soul.”

Originally from Milwaukee, Luck grew up in a large, close-knit family that includes three sisters and one brother who, between them, have eight children of their own. Full disclosure—he’s my cousin too!

On Friday, Oct. 2, Beth Emet celebrated Luck’s installation. Debbie Friedman, the Jewish singer/songwriter and Luck’s friend and former teacher at HUC-JIR, joined the congregation in Luck’s honor. In addition to Luck joining Beth Emet, the synagogue selected Andrea London as its third senior rabbi in its 60-year history. London, who has served as Beth Emet’s associate and associate senior rabbi since 2000, will become senior rabbi in July of 2010, the day after senior rabbi, Rabbi Peter Knobel ends 30 years in the position to become rabbi emeritus.

Just before the High Holidays, I caught up with my cousin to talk about switching careers, his new congregation, and what makes a piece of music Jewish.

From the stage to the bimah photo 2

Oy!Chicago: How do you like your new job so far?
Arik Luck: Beth Emet is a very open place with so much diversity in Jewish practice. Everything and everyone is welcome. The congregation has been open to what I can contribute musically. We did an all-musical Shabbat for two weeks in a row and I got a lot of positive feedback. It’s also very new because I’ve just graduated from school and I’m thankful to have a job, especially in this economy.

How do you characterize your cantorial style?
In cantorial school, we always grappled with the question of what makes a piece of music Jewish? Is it the mode that it’s composed in? Is it the person who wrote it? That would make “White Christmas” and “West Side Story” Jewish. If you’re using a piece of liturgy or a piece from the Torah, does that automatically make it Jewish? I make my decisions on what I’m going to present [to the congregants] based, first and foremost, on what moved me. If it doesn’t stir something inside me, how can I stir something inside of the congregation? I don’t automatically dismiss any genre, but most of my music tends to be Hebrew. I’m trying to communicate the liturgy through music. My background is in theater and there’s a similar objective in communicating a piece of text…The tune has to work within the context of the text and, within the context of your objective to achieve, in this case, a sense of spiritual connectedness.

What made you switch careers away from theater?
The theater will always be very near and dear to me. I’m very glad that I lived in New York and pursued theater for the time that I did because I know that I’ll never grow old with that gnawing question of why I didn’t ever pursue this dream. Any actor, whether successful or one that doesn’t have much luck, will tell you that the reality of acting is very difficult. What really switched the buttons for me was when I decided that ultimately, down the road, I really wanted a big family. I was working with or just encountering actors who were twice my age who maybe had one child, maybe had two, and found it extremely difficult to do what they felt was right in raising them, sending them to school, etc., particularly in New York. I also worked in my share of restaurants and it allowed for a lot of soul searching. I decided that I had to make a change and it wasn’t easy.

What sparked your interest in being a cantor?
Once I made that decision to switch careers, I had to decide what I wanted to do. Everyone in our generation has to grapple with that at some point. I see my friends struggle through it all the time. I struggled with it intensely for about six months. So I tried to make a game out of it. I would show up to a catering job and say, ‘Okay, whenever my mind drifts, while I’m serving people their chicken or fish, I just am going to focus on what my life would be like if I were a drama teacher or if I were a social studies teacher or if I were a lawyer.’ I would pick something different each day. I also spent a day where I imagined if I were a cantor. Ultimately, that’s not what led me to decide to become one, but it really let me sort everything out in my head…

…Then, I began to think about what really makes me happy, what I love doing in life.  Three of the things on the top of my list were singing, Judaism, and teaching.  It occurred to me that the cantorate would be a natural culmination of all three of these things.  After entering HUC-JIR, what I discovered was that this wasn’t just a “natural culmination,” but something that I absolutely loved.

What do you love most about being a cantor?
I love the Eastern European tradition, nusach, the golden age of chazanut (cantorial music), which was the turn of the century up until 1950. I listen to these cantors of old and get totally inspired. I also come out of the Jewish camping movement. While I do see a big difference between a cantor and a song leader, I still feel inspiration from the camping movement.

What was your upbringing like Jewishly growing up in Milwaukee?
Growing up, our home was very Jewish. We always observed Shabbat in the house. Most of my friends were not Jewish and they loved it and would come over for Shabbat dinner. It was always very happy and celebratory. We would always play Jewish music during dinner, and after dinner everyone would dance. There was a sweetness to that and, even though at the time I had no intention of going into Judaism professionally or becoming a cantor, that sweetness always remained in my consciousness, and ultimately when I decided to become a cantor, it certainly made sense, given my family background and my connection with Judaism and my love for music and teaching.

Are you excited for your first High Holidays at your synagogue?
At Beth Emet, it’s very important to me that people have a sense of consistency on the high holidays, especially my first year. I am learning a lot of new music because I don’t want to change anything right off the bat. So that’s an amount of work, but I enter the challenge eagerly.

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