OyChicago articles

JCC Chicago launches third year of fellowship for entrepreneurs

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JCC Chicago launches third year of fellowship for entrepreneurs photo

Pictured is the JCC Chicago PresenTense 2013 cohort: Scott Beslow, Claire Denton-Spalding, Jane Shersher, Lihy Epstein, Veronica Vyazovsky Zamir, Rachel Dreytser, Rachel Sumekh. Not pictured: Jeremy Weisbach.

For the third year in a row, JCC Chicago is providing an avenue for social justice activism interpreted through a Jewish perspective. JCC PresenTense Chicago, a largely volunteer-run, vibrant grassroots community of entrepreneurs, mentors and volunteers, invests talent and energy to foster innovation and revitalize our community.

JCC PresenTense Chicago engages young entrepreneurs and professionals within the Jewish community to develop ideas into transformational, sustainable and socially responsible ventures through an intensive, six-month Fellowship boot camp by tapping into the talents and passions of everyday professionals in our community. In turn, those mentors, coaches, and volunteers also grow their skills, knowledge, and networks as they invest their experience and energy to foster the next generation of social entrepreneurs and to revitalize our established Jewish community.

“All great innovators and creators need a fertile environment to grow their ideas,” said 2012 Fellow Karen Berk Barak. “PresenTense is an organization dedicated to doing just that.”

Each Fellow works closely with at least one mentor and coach who have volunteered their passion and expertise in guidance and support. The Fellows also attend monthly seminars learning business skills necessary to succeed as entrepreneurs.

Over the past two years, 20 Fellows have gained skills and connections while working on the development of socially responsible ideas into sustainable businesses. Fellows focus on many different social problems, but they all share an idealistic mission and an urgent desire to make our imperfect world a better place.

Past coaches and mentors are also inspired and enriched by this experience. 2013 Fellow Scott Beslow, founded Hydrophilic, a cloud-based application that connects household residents and organizations into a data-driven conversation filled with metrics, incentives, and social nudges.

“Judaism teaches a tremendous reverence toward water,” said Beslow. “But as modern-day Chicagoans, it is difficult to assign value to something which is cheap and seemingly endless in supply.”

2013 Fellow Rachel Sumekh founded Swipes for the Homeless as a student at UCLA. Students were asked to donate their remaining college dining hall meal credits to be used to purchase food for the homeless. Thanks to her Fellowship experience, Swipes continues to grow, with Sumekh now working as the first paid staff member.

“If you are inspired by our Fellows’ ideas, and the social good that this program aspires to accomplish, check out our Web site and join us to learn more at an upcoming Social Innovation Night,” said Becky Adelberg, JCC PresenTense Chicago Manager.

Professionals and business-savvy community members are also needed as mentors and coaches to guide Fellows in developing their visions into sustainable ventures. Volunteers are needed to engage, inspire, and drive PresenTense, overseeing and managing all aspects of the program with passion, vision and energy.

“It is more than just a volunteer program, it’s a community of sharp minded, socially conscious people working together to create a safe place for budding social entrepreneurs to receive support, guidance and direction,” said Jeremy Forman, a 2013 Coach, Advisory Team member, and Chair of the Launch Night. “Participating in this community gave me a feeling of deep satisfaction.”

Forman is an example of how enthusiastic volunteers drive the program’s success. “We believe that a supportive community of bold thinkers can change the status quo, improve the quality of life in Chicago and impact the world,” he said.

With the support of a vibrant grassroots community, young entrepreneurs are enabled to take their ideas, build them into pioneering expeditions, and launch them into sustainable ventures.

Applications are now available for the 2014 Fellowship, through Nov. 12 at www.gojcc.org/presenTense.

The 18 People You’ll Meet at a Jewish Young Adult Event

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There’s nothing like a Jewish young adult event to mingle with Jewish friends, do some quality networking and maybe even search for that special someone. Or, perhaps you just need to prove that you do indeed still exist and don’t spend every night curled up with your DVR remote or spooning with your laptop.

When you finally do put on your schmoozing shoes, you’ll meet all kinds of people at these events. Some will simply offer good conversation, some will be supremely awkward and some will change your life. But no matter how it shakes out, where would you rather be than with hundreds of fun-loving, like-minded Jews?

1. A friend from a previous Jewish life

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Hebrew school, Jewish summer camp, youth group, an Israel trip – if you’re at a Jewish young adult event, you can probably check one or two things off of that list. (Otherwise, why would you be getting your party on at a Jewish young adult event?) Consequently, someone from “a lifetime ago” will most likely be there, whether you recognize them or not. Hopefully you recognize them – and hopefully reconnecting leads to more than awkward “remember when?” stories only one of you remembers.


2. The person you’ve never met but see at literally everything Jewish

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No matter how involved you try to be in Jewish social events in the city, this person always has you beat. They’re at everything, you know their name, and you’ve seen them so many times that when you do happen to interact face-to-face, you are left with no choice but to pretend you’ve met before.

3. The Jewish professional

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If you ask someone what they do and they reply with an acronym of some sort and just assume you know what it stands for, you’ve probably just met a Jewish professional. Tip: conversations with Jewish professionals will be interrupted multiple times by other people wanting to say hello. Be patient and you may be rewarded through personal introductions to new people.


4. The overly enthusiastic Jewish geographer

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Talking with someone you’ve recently met about the overlap in your Jewish circles is a natural part of conversation. But to the overly enthusiastic Jewish geographer, investigating Jewish social Venn diagrams is a full-time hobby. This person will give themselves away pretty quickly by actually saying the term “Jewish geography” aloud along with phrases such as, “what a small world!” and “that’s so funny!”

5. The networking maven

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The networking maven is a well-trained, stealthy Jewish geographer. So outgoing, warm and friendly, you won’t even know you’ve just spilled your life and resume to them until it’s too late. Hopefully you’re ready for and open to the barrage of connections that will ensue. Some of the suggestions might be a bit obscure, but if you’re lucky, the right connection might be just across the room.

6. That kid from high school

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Although you might do anything to avoid them, there’s just no getting away from that kid from high school whom you technically know but haven’t spoken with in around 10 years. He or she WILL be at this event. Neither of you particularly want to catch up, but neither can you pretend like you don’t know each other. If you can’t suck it up and approach them, be prepared to dart your eyes away all night and take long and unnecessary paths to the bar or snack table.

7. The person who just moved here

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If you feel uncomfortable at a Jewish young adult event, once you meet this newbie, you will suddenly feel loads better. You will probably want to try and adopt them, sharing wisdom about the city introducing them to everyone at the party whose name you remember… even though in reality they’re probably more comfortable at this event than you are.


8. The suburban couch-crasher

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This person drove in from the suburbs just for this event and will be crashing on a friend’s couch after. The only thing this person is more desperate to do than find a job that will let them move out of their parents’ house is have the most amazing fun social night in the city ever. Get them a drink and make them feel awesome, or stay out of their way.


9. The person who makes you feel old

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Maybe you were their camp counselor or even their babysitter, and now they are at this party drinking with you. No one really cares how old anyone is after college, but seriously, those recent graduates in the corner are practically babies! Like, didn’t you just graduate from college? What the hell?

10. The person who makes you feel young

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For every baby-faced young ‘un at the event, someone will be talking about how they’re almost some age that ends in a zero. Cue sigh of relief. Good thing you’re not that old …

11. The touchy-feely person who keeps violating your personal space

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Loud, crowded rooms and social drinking often lead people to be less cognizant of personal space. In a sea of many people looking to meet their future friend or soul mate, you may find it hard to avoid a sweaty palm on your shoulder, an awkward hug, or someone talking an inch from your ear. You may as well just embrace it. (Ba-dum, ching.)

12. The person who tries to lock you into a “really deep” conversation

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Them: Trying to discover the meaning of life.
You: Just trying to reach for a bagel.


13. The Israeli whom you desperately want to impress

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They’re likely (definitely) the most attractive person in the room, they have a cute accent and they probably make a mean hummus. Obviously, you are drawn to the Israeli at the event and desperately want them to know how up you are on all things Israel. Finally, an opportunity to put those years of Hebrew lessons to good use! Aifo ha-shei-ru-tim indeed.

14. The new mom who finally has the night off

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She’s the first one on the dance floor, but she’ll stop on a dime to show off photos of her bundle of joy. She’s also done by 8 p.m. – maybe 9 if she had a nap today, so show up late and you’ll miss her. And if she arrives with a little bit of baby vomit in her hair, give her a break – she just created a small new human.

15. The guy who thinks this is a college party

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No, you can’t rock that polo like you used to, no, this event is not serving Old Style in red solo cups and lastly no, nobody wants a shot of whatever mouthwash liquor you love even if you can pay for a dozen with your big boy job. Please try to control your disappointment.

16. The person who asked for your number at the last Jewish event

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If this person was looking for love at the last Jewish event, chances are they’re at it again this time around. If you blew them off, you can probably get by, but if you gave them a fake number, well ... Pro tip for next time: Give your real number but with one digit off, so if you see them again you can pretend it was an honest mistake.

17. The person you awkwardly messaged with on JDate for awhile

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You had just started bonding over your mutual hatred of mayonnaise when they dropped off the face of the earth and stopped replying to your messages. You had convinced yourself they lost their phone or had a traumatic brain injury… but alas, here they are. Awkwaaaaard ...

18. Your beshert

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Hey, it could happen.

Looking for the next great Jewish young adult event? Check out YLD’s Big Event on Nov. 16 featuring comedians Amy Schumer and Jim Gaffigan. Register here.

Most gifs from reactiongifs.com.

Chanukah, Oy! Chanukah come write for Oy!Chicago

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Chanukah, Oy! Chanukah photo

When you think about Chanukah memories, what comes to mind? Did you look forward to an annual family gathering? A relative's amazing latkes? A gift that changed your life? Was there a year you celebrated Chanukah in an unusual way or unusual place? We want to hear these stories, so we're calling for submissions for Oy!Chicago's first ever blog series, "Chanukah, Oy! Chanukah: Stories from Days Long Ago."

All week from Nov. 18-22, we will publish blog posts inspired by this theme and we want some of them to come from you! So if you're a writer, an occasional writer-for-fun, or you know someone who might want to contribute to this blog series, here's how to submit: write a paragraph describing what the post is about and demonstrating your best writing and send it to info@oychicago.com by Tuesday, October 29. The only requirement is that the post should in some way relate to the theme, however you interpret it. We will review these pitches and reach out to those whose pieces we are interested in running in full on Oy!Chicago the week of the blog series.

We look forward to hearing your awesome ideas and sharing your talent with the entire Oy!Chicago community. If you have any questions, email them to info@oychicago.com

Stef & Steven

An interview with author Jami Attenberg

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Jami Attenberg’s new novel The Middlesteins is the story of family relationships and individual obsessions, set in suburban Chicago. Earlier this year the book was chosen as the official selection for One Book | One Community, the Chicago Jewish Community’s Jewish Book Month initiative. One Book | One Community, which is organized by Spertus Institute for Jewish Learning and Leadership, seeks to encourage a community-wide conversation around a single book, providing a month’s worth of discussion groups and events in locations across Chicago. Programs begin in October. In November, Jami Attenberg will join us in Chicago for a series of author events, including one near her hometown of Buffalo Grove.

In this interview, Attenberg shares her inspiration behind the story, reveals which character she would most like to have dinner with, and reminisces about some of her favorite mealtime memories.

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What started you on your path to becoming a writer?
I’ve always written. I’ve loved writing since I was four or five years old. For a while I wrote in high school, was editor of my high school newspaper, that kind of thing. I wrote poems and stories here and there. But what really started me on my path was when I went to school and got a degree in creative writing at Johns Hopkins University. Writing was always the thing I loved most, and I’m a firm believer that if you can find the thing you love most in this world that you should definitely pursue it. A lot of people spend their whole lives trying to figure that out. I feel I got lucky figuring it out right away.

Addiction and obsession seem to be major themes in The Middlesteins. How did writing the book allow you to explore these topics in depth?
In all of my books I have characters who have issues. So it wasn’t necessarily new territory for me. Still, it was very interesting to explore issues of food, mostly because I love food. I think about food a lot, and I see in America that we have a problem with obesity. But I didn’t set out thinking I was going to write a book addressing this big American issue. But food addiction is a really interesting subject. It’s something that you can’t really get away from. You know, if you have a problem with drugs or alcohol, and you quit those things, you don’t ever have to deal with them again. But if you have a problem with food, it’s something you have to face every single day.

This book is notable for the way its characters can engage in destructive behavior, but still gain our empathy. How did you achieve that effect in your writing?
I just tried to write from a place of compassion. That was the most important thing for me. I was just trying to understand them, and I hope the reader is trying to understand them along with me.

A big element in this book is food. In the course of your research, did you encounter any interesting theories about how Jews relate to food? Was food a big part of your family growing up?
Writing about food felt very instinctual. I didn’t have to think too hard about it. I have a family and friends and I’ve traveled—so I already had some ideas about how people relate to food and how Jews relate to food. And again, it’s not all Jews that relate to food the way I do, but I’m glad it feels universal to people. I did, however, research some stuff about Chinese food.

Did you discover the secret of why Jews love Chinese food?
There are a bunch of reasons, and everybody has a different story behind it. To be honest, though, my family wasn’t much of a Chinese food family. We were more like a pizza family, or a hot dog from Portillo’s family. We did Eduardo’s a lot, but not necessarily Chinese food. It wasn’t until I moved to New York that I started eating Chinese food.

Do you consider The Middlesteins a Jewish book?
I didn’t really set out to write a Jewish book. None of my other books have been about characters that are Jewish, even though I’m Jewish. It’s certainly been embraced by the Jewish community, which is wonderful. People have been incredibly generous with me in the last year, inviting me to speak and inviting me into their temples and homes. It’s a wonderful experience to have people feel a personal connection to my work.

8 Questions for Erica Weisz: children’s book author, illustrator and educator

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8 Questions for Erica Weisz photo

Last we heard from Erica Weisz, it was 2011 and she and her husband, Sam, were blogging for Oy!Chicago about their trip to Uganda to bring dental aid and education to the Abayudaya Jewish community. Just two years later, Weisz is now the author of her first children's book: One Thousand and One Words.

The book tells the story of Theodore, who speaks recklessly to the kids in his class. Despite his father's warning that he'll use up all his words, he does not watch what he says, and one day he wakes up totally speechless.

Weisz, a Highland Park native and graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, says she has storytelling in her blood, a trait passed from her papa to her mother to her. As a teacher, she began to work storytelling into her lessons, and now she's bringing her stories to life through art.

The idea for One Thousand and One Words came about because Weisz had witnessed a lot of verbal bullying in and around the classroom, and saw a need for a children's book that could teach the importance of creating a safe space in schools for children to express themselves and communicate without fear of peer ridicule. This inspired her to write and illustrate a book that would capture the attention of elementary-aged students and challenge them to "think and read between the lines," a book that "speaks to character-building, communication and personal growth."

Seeing as a number of you enjoyed our recent post "5 children's books to read as a grown-up," we thought Weisz - a grown-up who writes children's books - was definitely A Jew You Should Know.

1. Tell us about the workshops you bring to schools and why combining art and storytelling is such a valuable teaching tool.
Through my workshops in schools and libraries, I use One Thousand and One Words to create a dialogue with students to address in a positive and engaging way, how we can be kinder and turn down the volume on bullying and hurtful speech. Coupling the story with an art project connects their learning from the book to a personalized experience. It can be very challenging for children to verbalize their emotions. Through art, students explore a different outlet to authentically express themselves.

2. What Jewish values do you think most influence the work you do and the stories you tell?
The essence of all Jewish values was taught by Hillel who said, "What is hateful to you, do not do unto others." Focusing on this simple, yet still so profound golden rule, is what continues to motivate me. My goal in teaching and with this book is to fill students with chesed (kindness) and mindfulness of their actions.

3. How did your time in Uganda change your perspective and/or enhance the work you do as an author and educator?
The support that the Abayudaya community provided for one another was incredibly beautiful and overwhelming. I was especially moved by how the children interacted and were so intuitively aware of how to help, without being asked. Seeing these qualities displayed, I realized how my own community back in the States has pulled further away from this type of support system. It made me want to bring it back through positive stories and books that hold a teaching message.

4. What are some of the best newer children's books out there that you recommend for young families?
I fell in love with Line 135 by Germano Zullo and illustrated by Albertine. I am captured by its simplicity in word choice, while sending a powerful message about navigating one's own compass in life. It's a powerful read for young families, encouraging children to express their own views, especially when it differs.

I also enjoy If You Want to See a Whale by Julia Fogliano and illustrated by Erin E. Stead. When I first read it, I was immediately reminded of one of my favorite stories, The Missing Piece by Shel Silverstein. As Silverstein explored in his book, Fogliano explores the wonderfully simple joys that can often get lost when on a larger-than-life journey.

5. If you could write and illustrate the next adventure of any famous children's lit character, which character would it be and what might the story be?
I would have so much fun entering into the whimsical world of Max from Maurice Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are. Max's imagination would carry him to another far off place, this time, venturing to the mysterious underwater world. He would travel through the dark depths of the ocean, encountering the sea monkeys and their kingdom. I think this time, though, Max would find himself taking on a different role under their rule, and not as lucky to be king...

6. What do you love most about what you do?
I love the process of drawing-where it takes me and how I get lost playing with different mediums, juxtaposing textures, and interacting with the colors. I love to explore the emotions of the characters both visually and with playful words. I also have so much fun watching kids' expressions as they read and discover emotions that the story and pictures evoke inside of them.

7. In an alternate universe where you couldn't draw, write or teach, what would you do?
I could see myself as a fishing guide. I can't imagine anything more peaceful and relaxing than being out on the water all the time. And sharing the secrets to find the best fishing holes. When you catch a fish no matter your first or your hundredth, I would get to see that same expression of sheer excitement that keeps me going.

8. What's your favorite Jewish thing to do (or how do you Jew?) in Chicago?
On a spiritual level, the L'chaim Center has helped me explore and grow spiritually as a Jew, and I find myself much more conscious and aware of my Jewish values through their growth-centered programs. When it comes to making and keeping my Jewish connections, I have the most fun with organizing throwdowns. We bring our Jewish friends together to celebrate different holidays with a Bobby Flay-inspired kosher eating fest. Using the essence of the traditional holiday elements and twisting our own flavors gives us an excuse to extend the holidays to friends that might not otherwise celebrate.

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