OyChicago articles

Oy!Chicago to host first ever live storytelling event

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Oy Let Me Tell You photo

What do you think of when you hear “Jewish storytelling?”

Is it some made-up tale about a rabbi and a beggar that ends with a nice Jewish moral? Or your Zayde’s tired old yarn about how back in the day he used to walk five miles by himself to Hebrew school three days a week (rain or snow)?

We don’t think so. That’s why Oy!Chicago is reclaiming Jewish storytelling for the next generation. Join us and JUF News on Wednesday, Nov. 19 at 7 p.m. at Matilda (3101 N. Sheffield Ave.) for “Oy! Let Me Tell You …” an evening of live Jewish storytelling featuring real, personal, sometimes-hilarious, always-insightful stories told by people like you: young adults navigating Jewish life in Chicago.

Similar to “The Moth” and other live lit events in Chicago, “Oy! Let Me Tell You …” will feature non-fiction stories and readings from Oy!Chicago contributing bloggers as well as other special guest performers. The evening will be hosted by Jeremy Owens, Oy! contributor and co-creator of the live lit show “You’re Being Ridiculous.”

The cost of the event is $10 gift to the Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago to support its work helping those in need and strengthening the Jewish community. Register online now or at the door.

Matilda will offer a drink special featuring $5 glasses of wine, $5 draft beer and $5 wells. Some snacks will also be provided. Seating may be limited, so those hoping to sit are encouraged to arrive early.

For questions or more information, contact info@oychicago.com.

Double Chai Check-In: Cameron Smith opens Chicago’s newest day school

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Double Chai Check-In: Cameron Smith photo 1

Photo credit: TK Photography

When he was named to Oy!Chicago and JUF’s Young Leadership Division’s inaugural 36 under 36 list, Cameron Smith had only dreamed of what the next great Chicago day school would look like. Two years later, the school has not only opened its doors, but quickly become a bustling learning environment.

Bennett Day School is a pre-kindergarten through eighth grade independent day school rooted in the Reggio Emilia approach, a collaborative, environment-based take on education that incorporates students’ individual curiosities and sees self-direction as integral to the learning process. And Smith, its co-founder and CEO, has quickly become one of Chicago’s leaders in progressive education.

Double Chai Check-In: Cameron Smith photo 2

Photo credit: TK Photography

Smith’s journey from working for a private equity firm to heading Bennett Day School is an unusual one, but neither is it entirely surprising. When his oldest son was born four years ago, Smith – whose mother and sister are both elementary school teachers – began to think about where his children would go to school. Meanwhile, at his day job at CHS Capital, Smith was charged with investing in the education and health care sectors, and as such, learned a lot about education practices. One day, he came across a fact that resonated with him: having a portfolio of a child’s work could really make a difference when applying to colleges and universities. So while researching educational approaches and philosophies full-time, he looked for styles that included a portfolio as a product of students’ learning. That’s when he discovered Reggio Emilia, and after more intensive research, he decided a school featuring this approach was what he wanted for his children, and what Chicago needed.  

“There are more great schools badly needed downtown for people to live and work close to the heart of the city and not feel like they need to move,” Smith said.

Smith also said Reggio Emilia gels with his Jewish values. In fact, some local Jewish pre-schools are dedicated to this approach.

“Learning from your surroundings, being in a collaborative community, this really resonates, I’ve found, with Jewish values and our upbringing,” he said. “There have been a number of families that have come to [Bennett Day School] and really appreciated the transition from their Jewish pre-school.”

Double Chai Check-In: Cameron Smith photo 3

Photo credit: TK Photography

Opened in August at 657 W. Fulton St., Bennett is the first independent school in Chicago devoted to implementing this approach beyond early childhood. Although the 34 students currently enrolled are all between two and five years old, a new grade will open each year, and eventually junior kindergarten through eighth grade students will move to the school’s future flagship campus at 955 W. Grand Ave.

Looking back on what the school has accomplished so far, Smith said it’s hard to put into words.

“We’ve gone from a small team working on a school to being a community,” he said. “It’s just a warm and wonderful, gratifying feeling.”

Smith credits the parents as well, saying the founding families have been tremendously active in the school and that parent excitement, response and feedback so far has been more than he could’ve hoped for.

As one of these parents himself, Smith said he has also been amazed by the projects the students have dreamed up. One class wanted another table in their classroom, so they flipped over the existing one, studied it and built their own weight-bearing table from cardboard and paper towel rolls. Another class found a dragonfly on a trip to the nearby park and were curious where it lived, which evolved into learning about lakes and even building one in their classroom.

“I think what’s been most emotional for me is seeing my son Hunter and the other students together doing things I never could’ve imagined four-year-olds could do,” he said. “They’re just so much more capable than we give them credit for.”

The name Bennett comes from Hunter’s middle name, given to him for two of his great-grandmothers who were self-made women from immigrant families who despite not receiving a college education, helped start family businesses and put their siblings through school.

“They really embodied grit, perseverance and creativity, the traits that we’re embodying in our kids and cultivating,” Smith said.

Also since being named Double Chai in the Chi, Smith and his wife, Erica, welcomed their second son, Leo. They belong to Anshe Emet Synagogue and live in Lincoln Park, where Cameron and Hunter take the Halsted bus together to school each day.

Singing for a South Side trauma center

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Singing for a South Side trauma center photo

At the synagogue where I grew up – Congregation B’nai Amoona in St. Louis – I heard Debbie Friedman’s “Mi Sheberach” often.

“Bless those inneed of healing with r'fuah sh'leimah, the renewal of body, the renewal ofspirit…"

That song took on deeper meaning for me when I heard it sung recently by a group of Chicago cantors, and not within the walls of any synagogue.

I recently began a year-long assignment as a new Organizing Fellow with the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs. I’m working with JCUA this year while serving as a corps member with AVODAH: The Jewish Service Corps. Living with 15 housemates in a house known as the Bayit in Lakeview, all of us work at poverty-focused non-profits while receiving mentoring, education and training on social justice, Judaism, poverty in Chicago and non-profit careers.

As a newcomer to Chicago, I was only aware – on a surface level – of the division between the North and South sides. But as I began my work for JCUA on a campaign to help establish a level one trauma center to the South Side of Chicago, I discovered how stark the contrast is between these parts of the city.

Last year, Chicago was ranked as the seventh most racially segregated city in the United States, and of the eight level one trauma centers in Chicago, none is on the South Side. Many people have been shot on the South Side, only to die in ambulance rides to distant trauma centers on the North and West sides. In fact, if you are shot and travel more than five miles to receive emergency care at a trauma center, you are 23 percent more likely to die.

For these reasons, more than 50 community members from JCUA, Students for Health Equity, Fearless Leading by the Youth from STOP Chicago, Kenwood United Church of Christ, St. Phillip Lutheran Church, Park Manor Christian Church, and Trinity United Church of Christ, gathered outside of the University of Chicago Duchossois Center for Advanced Medicine on Thursday, Sept. 18 to “Sing for a Trauma Center.”

This is where I heard “Mi Sheberach” in a context I never had before – to emphasize the need for healing in the greater community. Song leaders included Cantor Vicky Glikin from Congregation Solel, Cantor Faryn Rudnick from Congregation Beth El, Cantorial Soloist Heather Aranyi from Har-Shalom Synagogue, Rabbi Lizzi Heydemann, Cantor Michael Davis from Lakeside Congregation, Cantor David Berger from KAM Isaiah Israel Congregation, and Cantorial Soloist Debby Lewis. I’m sure that people several blocks away could hear the Jewish song leaders and community members joining in “We Shall Overcome.”

It is our duty as Jewish people to combat systemic racism. In Leviticus, God commands to “not stand idly by when your neighbor bleeds” (19:16). Pirkei Avot teaches “You are not expected to complete the task, but neither are you free to avoid it.”

The interconnectedness between gun violence, racism, healthcare, education and so many other problems in Chicago is so complex that it will take a long time to overcome them all. Yet we can definitely work to solve a significant portion of this web in advocating for the opening of a level one adult trauma center to serve the South Side.

We all have a stake in this, as Chicagoans and as Jews.

Nate Seeskin is acurrent Chicago corps member of AVODAH: The Jewish Service Corps working withthe Jewish Council on Urban Affairs.

A full sukkah

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On Sukkot, starting this year on the evening of Oct. 8, it's considered a mitzvah to dwell in your sukkah.

The Torah says: "In Succot, you should dwell for seven days. Every citizen of Israel should dwell in succot, so that your generation will know that I caused the Children of Israel to dwell in succot when I brought them forth from the Land of Egypt." (Vayikra/Lev. 23:42-3)

In that spirit, Oy!Chicago asked its readers the following hypothetical question: If you could invite any "ushpizin"-Sukkah guests-into your sukkah-living or dead, famous or not-who would top your guest list?


A full sukkah photo 1

I would invite my baby niece, Sloane Agdern. Since she was born I have been anxious to show her the extreme joy and beauty I have found in Judaism.  I simply can't wait to share each and every holiday with her, and then start over, and share them all again.
-Beverly Agdern, Chicago


A full sukkah photo 2

My first reaction was I would invite my son, Jeffery, who died of Leukemia at the age of 12 on Sept. 11, 1981. He has left a hole in my heart. Then I thought of my three granddaughters-Lily, Bella, and Sage who have helped me to keep going. It is a hard choice, the past or the future!
-Charlene Wexler, Richmond, IL


A full sukkah photo 3

I would have people who are known to be great conversationalists: Paul Simon (the singer), Spike Lee, Billy Crystal, Meryl Streep, Dick Cavett, Anna Quindlen, and George Will. Oh, who am I kidding- they'd just end up talking about baseball.
-Paul Wieder, Chicago


A full sukkah photo 4

I would invite Angelina Jolie. I'm a big fan of hers, and hopefully she would bring her kids and her husband.
-Jonathan Weissbrot, Chicago


A full sukkah photo 5

I would like to invite my future great-great-grandson to eat with me in our sukkah so we could talk about being Jewish and the state of Israel.
-Robert Feiger, Deerfield


A full sukkah photo 6

If I could invite anyone to my Sukkah this year, it would have to be the Chicago-native writer, actor, and comedian, the late Harold Ramis.  Sukkot occurs just after a very intense time on the Jewish calendar and with his perfect comedic timing, philosophical insight, and easy going manner, Mr. Ramis would bring just the right balance of laughs and thoughtfulness to any Sukkot celebration. Sukkot is a time when we remember and get to experience how the Jews lived when they wandered the desert in search of a better place, and Mr. Ramis would most certainly makes us stop and think about how we could make this year better for each other, and not just like another Groundhog day.
-Brad Arlen, Chicago


A full sukkah photo 7

I would invite the Dalai Lama to my sukkah.  I feel that simply being around him would be peaceful. He promotes everything that I try to live by-being present, living in the moment, and living a life of kindness, peace, and love. "Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them, humanity cannot survive." ~Dalai Lama
-Jaime Olson, Chicago


A full sukkah photo 8

Justin Timberlake. You said anyone, right? Sukkot always feels so festive to me and there's nothing more festive than laughing, singing, and dancing with your family and friends. Well, JT has got it all: he sings, he dances, and his comedy skills are dead on. Why not have him join the Lovitz family celebration?
-Lori Lovitz, Chicago

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