OyChicago articles

All She Wants to do is Dance

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11/25/2008

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Amy Williams, Niki Wilk, and Kareem Dixon in Michael Sherman's "The Letter" 

There was an extended pause in the conversation when I asked my husband, Joe, if he would like to join me at a dance performance last Saturday night. I have dragged my poor jock husband to countless musicals and plays, but never to a dance show. I could see the images swirling through his brain – scantily clad men slithering on the floor in a bizarre interpretive dance – and braced myself for the “no.”

It never came. Always the trooper (no pun intended), Joe tagged along to Innervation Dance Cooperative’s 2008 fall concert, Nothing in Common, at The Galaxie in Logan Square.

Much to Joe’s – and my – delight, Innervation’s roots are based in both dance and theater, so even we dance novices were able to follow and appreciate the stories told in each of the 10 dances. The company was founded in 1998 by Michael Sherman as Irreverence Dance + Theater, and the focus of the contemporary dance company was on storytelling. The group has evolved into a cooperative led by nine volunteers with diverse backgrounds including ballet, dance team and modern.

“That is one of the coolest parts about Innervation,” says Rachel Zanders, one of the nine members of the co-op. “It makes for a varied aesthetic. It’s cohesive, but still interesting.”

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Rachel Zanders quit her day job and brings dance to the people

Rachel is a classically trained ballerina, donning her first pair of ballet slippers at age 2 and later spending as much time outside of school as she could at the studio.  While she majored in Comparative Literature at Haverford College, she minored in dance and kept it a central focus in her life. After college, she left a job at a publishing company because it didn’t allow her the time for dance.

Now working as a freelance writer/editor/proofreader (“whatever people will hire me to do with words,” she says), Rachel dedicates a large amount of her time to Innervation. Leading up to the performance we saw, the company rehearsed three nights a week practicing 10 pieces, unconnected by any common theme, hence the title of the show.

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Julie Haller, Diana Stewart, Sandy Donahue, Mandy Work, and Shayna Bjerke in Elisa Carlson's "Club"

Much of the music and dancing evoked emotional responses in Joe and me, particularly numbers like The Letter, choreographed by Michael Sherman, a story of wartime loss through the eyes of a military wife, and Dark Dreams, choreographed by Shayna Bjerke, which was like watching a live version of our childhood nightmares. Pieces like Crooked, choreographed by Mandy Work, and over (and over), choreographed by Amy Williams, were joyous and just plain fun to watch.

The company’s latest project is re-mounting a dance version of the classic play Everyman, which they have set to the music of Led Zeppelin. Their goal is to bring the production to Chicago Public Schools along with  a study guide that teachers can use to introduce the show to students and prepare them for what they’re going to see.

“I really like being able to associate the arts with things students are learning in school, and make [dance] something that applies to them as opposed to something that people just do for entertainment,” says Rachel. “It’s something that actually pertains to them in their lives, and to all of us in our lives. We want to be sure to give them the opportunity to be exposed to the arts.”

With Nothing in Common behind them, the company is busy planning its next production, which they hope will be staged in a “real” theater (The Galaxie is a very cold studio space – I wore gloves the whole time, and Joe complained of losing all sensation in his butt). While they make their plans, I’m busy trying to come up with a new art form that I can introduce to Joe. He took so well to the musicals and the dancing that I have high hopes that we can enjoy an opera together some day.

Marla’s Mandel Bread

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Mother-daughter team launches mandel bread business, making one family’s beloved recipe available to all 
11/25/2008

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Marla’s Mandel Bread is run by mother-and-daughter team Marla Templer and Rachael Halstuk

For as long as Rachael Halstuk can remember, her mother’s mandel bread has been a constant in her life.

From age four, Halstuk acted as a young sous-chef to her mother, Marla Templer, helping her to prepare the mandel bread, a dessert often called the Jewish biscotti. And when Halstuk was away at Jewish summer camp, Templer would ship her daughter a bag of the goodies. “It would be 90 degrees and I would make the mandel bread last for four weeks hidden under my bed. I guess that’s kind of disgusting,” jokes Halstuk.

Two decades later, in 2007, the mother and now-grown daughter were trying to occupy themselves in the kitchen on a wintery Chicago day so Halstuk whipped up a batch of her mom’s mandel bread for her co-workers. Back at work, her colleagues “went crazy” for the treats, which got Templer and Halstuk to thinking.

For so long, loved ones had urged Templer, a nurse by trade, to sell her mandel bread, a centerpiece of every Jewish holiday meal at Templer’s home. “Over the years, family and friends have stopped by my house and the first thing they do is look in the kitchen for my mandel bread stash,” says Templer, of Highland Park. “It’s rare that I’m invited to a dinner party and not asked to bring my ‘famous recipe.’”

With her instincts in the kitchen and Halstuk’s head for business and entrepreneurship –skills she built by working in finance for five years, the mother-daughter team launched Marla’s Mandel Bread in April.

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Marla’s Mandel Bread

Their mandel bread resembles Italian biscotti, but isn’t identical. Unlike its Italian counterpart which is made with no butter or oil, mandel bread is prepared with oil to give it a much lighter and crunchier texture and is coated with cinnamon sugar. “When the vast majority of people think of mandel bread, they think of a hard, more biscotti-like cookie that their grandparents made that was good, but not that great,” says Halstuk, who lives in Chicago where their business is based. “Ours has more of a contemporary twist to it and is more of a gourmet dessert as opposed to only something to dip in coffee and tea.”

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Chocolate chip mandel bread

Baking is part of their family’s roots, tracing back to Templer’s grandfather, a baker who immigrated to America from Poland at the turn of the 20th century. He settled in Canton, Ohio where, ironically, he wanted to open a bagel shop. People laughed at his business idea because Canton had been a predominantly non-Jewish town and bagels were still considered a solely Jewish food. “He never opened his bagel shop, but in a way we are carrying on the family [baking] legacy with mandel bread,” said Halstuk.

Mandel bread, too, has its own long history. According to Wikipedia, mandel bread (also spelled as mandelbrodt, mandelbrot among other spellings) has Eastern European Jewish origins. Mandel bread, a twice-baked cake usually prepared in a loaf, translates literally to mean almond bread, but can be made with other ingredients as well.

Besides the mandel bread itself, another sweet byproduct of the business is the mother-daughter bonding time. “I’m 27 and my mother is old enough to be my mom,” says Halstuk. “Without the business, we wouldn’t get to spend as much time together. Yesterday afternoon, we got together for four hours and baked. It is work, but it never feels like work.”

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Apricot and cranberry mandel bread

In addition to appealing to Jewish palates, Templer and Halstuk hope their mandel bread reaches a broader population of taste buds as well. “When I was a little girl, bagels were strictly a Jewish food and now they are everywhere,” says Templer. “When I was a little girl, I never heard of sushi and now it’s everywhere. Things become a part of the American culture because the culture is made up of so many different culture and we’re such a melting pot. I really want everyone to love the mandel bread.”

Marla’s Mandel Bread is available in the Chicago area at Sunset Foods, Goddess & Grocer, and Chicago’s Downtown Farmstand. The mandel bread is also available at  www.marlasmandels.com . If you order online by Dec. 31, 2008, you can receive 15% off your order. Enter the code “OY!CHICAGO” in the “Additional Information About Your Order” box at the website checkout to receive the discount. The discount will not appear at the checkout, but will be included in a receipt sent to you. 

8 Questions for Caroline Friduss and Jason Chess, foodies, gold coast dwellers, Oy!Chicago Lovers

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11/25/2008

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Jason and Caroline out and about in the city

Many of you have attended an Oy!Chicago gathering in the past and have gotten to know some of your fellow Oy!sters. Jason Chess and Caroline Friduss met and hit it off at the get together at Matilda last June, and the couple has since been inseparable. Caroline is a Registered Dietitian who works with the elderly as a nutritionist at Friendship Village (a retirement community) in Schaumburg. Jason, a recent West Bloomfield, Michigan transplant, is a Business Banking Officer and Assistant Vice President for National City Bank. The two have discovered that they share a lot in common. It doesn’t seem like much of a coincidence that they live just a few short blocks apart in the Gold Coast, but it’s the second time they are close neighbors. Caroline grew up in the town next door (Bloomfield Hills) to Jason and lived there until she was eight and her family moved to Highland Park.

So, if you too are looking to meet new people, enjoy eating out or hate Chicago traffic, Caroline and Jason are Jews You Should Know!

1. What did you want to be when you grew up?
Jason: When I was really little I wanted to be a baseball player. Later, I wanted to be a CEO.
Caroline: I wanted to be a chef on the food network.

2. What do you love about what you do today?
Jason: Making a difference for my small business clients and networking to meet new people everyday.
Caroline: I love working within the healthcare field, knowing that I am helping people everyday.

3. What are you reading?
Jason: Crain’s Chicago Business and the RedEye.
Caroline:  Loving Frank  by Nancy Horan. It is the next book on my book club list.

4. What's your favorite place to eat in Chicago?
Jason: It’s always hard to think of something on the spot because we always like to try something new. So we keep a list of restaurants we want to try. We just had sushi at Mirai, Indian at Veerasway, brunch at Bongo Room, and lunch at Steve’s Deli. And the next on our list is Le Lan.

5. If money and logistical reality played no part, what would you invent?
Jason: The ability to make it 75 and sunny every day.
Caroline: The ability to get to work with no traffic.

6. Would you rather have the ability to fly or ability to be invisible?
Jason: Definitely invisible. I can always fly in an airplane.
Caroline: Probably fly. So I can fly to work.

7. If I scrolled through your iPod, what guilty pleasure song would I find?
Jason: Hungry Eyes from the Dirty Dancing soundtrack.
Caroline: Anything Kenny Chesney! I’m a country fan.

8. What's your favorite Jewish thing to do in Chicago-in other words, how do you Jew?
Jason: My involvement at the Standard Club and being a member of the YLD board.
Caroline: Oy!Chicago, because I met Jason at the first Oy! event.

Wedding Woes

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The challenge of incorporating non-Jewish family into a traditional Jewish wedding ceremony 
11/25/2008

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A wedding of mixed religious faiths can be hard work.

A few years ago, I took the greatest risk of my life. I packed up my apartment in D.C., said goodbye to my friends and a great job, and moved to Cincinnati to be with my boyfriend, a Rabbinical student at HUC. The gamble paid off: two weeks after my move, he popped the question. After having dated for a little over five years, the engagement came as less than a surprise and more as a relief to our friends and family. (The relief on the side of my friends who were afraid they would have to carry out their threats and wind up in jail.)

To illustrate: my father’s response to our announcement was “Well, it’s about time.”  Describing my father as having an odd sense of humor is an understatement. Then, just to be clear what we were dealing with, he continued with: “I’m not going up in the chair, and I’m not wearing one of those hats.” Oy vey.

Let me explain: my husband is Jewish and, while dating my husband, I converted to Judaism. While my entire family has been overwhelmingly supportive of my religious choice, I knew that with my Jewish wedding, I had a challenge on my hands that went beyond finding a dress that didn’t make me look like the stay-puff marshmallow woman and didn’t cost more than my car. I needed to find a way to incorporate my Christian family into my Jewish wedding ceremony while respecting their personal boundaries and religious views.

Easier said than done. So many married couples I know can tell their own wedding woes of dealing with family jealousies that arise during wedding planning. Which side has more guests?  Who is paying for said guests? Just how much should this wedding cost? Which home town does the wedding take place in? Now add: Which side gets to understand and participate in the wedding ceremony?

But after all the intense negotiations that resolved issues about venue, budget, and details, we were at the point of no return. And I’m glad: our wedding afforded the opportunity for each side to learn about our respective religious backgrounds. It was the best thing that we ever could have done to merge our families together.

Now, while we are blessed with open minded family members, we had some work cut out for us with families very different from each other. (Philly, meet Texas. Yo y’all.)  And I’m pretty sure that my husband and I are the only Jewish people my aunts, uncles and cousins know because, quite simply, they live in areas where white, Anglo-Saxon Protestants are the overwhelming majority. No one in my family, parents included, had ever been to a Jewish wedding. The Hora was going to rock their worlds.

My husband’s side wondered just how my family would react to my choosing the Jewish faith. Would my family resent my husband’s side? Would they be comfortable during the ceremony and reception? Would they feel included? Would my family pat their heads looking for horns? (That wasn’t meant to be funny, honestly my grandparents probably would have.)  So, my husband and I looked at our wedding as an opportunity to build bridges between our cultural and religious differences. Thanks to the open-mindedness of our family, and the open bar, the day couldn’t have gone any better. Here’s what we did:

First, each of us spoke to our parents about what we wanted. We made it perfectly clear that what was incorporated into our wedding ceremony was not about what “we had to do” but what we wanted to do. This was especially important to my parents, to know that their daughter was having the wedding that she wanted, not just doing what the groom’s side wanted. Believe me, this is the key. And it worked on all the decisions we made about the wedding details, so that each side knew this is what WE wanted, not what his-or my-parents dictated.

Second, we were up-front with the Rabbis that my family was to be included as fully as my husband’s family. This may have limited the Rabbis that agreed to perform our wedding, but this was a deal-breaker.

Third, we held a class for our non-Jewish friends and family on Jewish wedding rituals. Our friend, also an HUC student, taught the ‘class’ Saturday afternoon (our ceremony was late Saturday night.)  The best part was that plenty of people from my husband’s side showed up either because they never fully knew about all the traditions and wanted to learn, or just wanted to keep my side company. THAT is Texas hospitality.

Fourth, we explained everything in our wedding program. Ok, so the program turned out more of a wedding manual than a program, but who cares?  There is nothing worse than sitting through a ceremony when you don’t know what is going on. Besides, it gave our guests something to read during the 20 minutes it took for my Father-in-law to recover from fainting.

Fifth, and most importantly, we respected the boundaries of our family members. I did not pressure my Dad, who is Baptist and does not drink nor dance, to participate in the Hora or wear a Kippot. And I kept him away from the Groom’s Tish. And my Mother-in-law respected my wishes not to have a Mikveh before the wedding.

In short, we threw away the manual and created our own way of doing things. The result was a fantastic wedding weekend where both sides really bonded. A few minds may even have been changed. Or, at the very least, my family now knows that yes, Rabbis can marry.

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Celebration was in order after the wedding ceremony went off without a hitch.

That’s not to say that there weren’t a couple of moments where I wanted to crawl under a chair and die of embarrassment from the well-meaning but off-putting comments of some of my family members. Ok, so actually it was just one family member: my uncle’s fourth wife who can best be described as “country”.

Somewhere in the middle of her fourth or fifth beer she screeched out quite loudly on the dance floor more than once “I want to be Jewish!”  Yes, she meant it as a compliment. However, I suspect her envy stemmed less from the meaning of the Jewish wedding rituals and more from the fun we were having (our band rocked.)  Frankly, she was into the idea that dancing and drinking - of which she was a BIG fan- were not sins for which she’d burn in hell. (I should note my husband and I are Reform Jews. Had we been at an Orthodox wedding she may not have been as comfortable.)  While I applaud her enthusiasm for Jewish people, at some point I think I’m going to have a discussion with her about what it really means to be Jewish. I might need a couple of beers in me for that.

Looking back, I realize that I underestimated my and my husband’s families. Where I feared there would be jealousy or rejection, I found willingness to learn and understand, not to tolerate but embrace Judaism as their daughter’s religion. I could not be more proud of their “Christian values” of love and acceptance that they displayed during my Jewish wedding. I wish the rest of the world was so. Now, can someone please help me explain the bris ceremony to my Dad?  I think this time, HE might be the one who faints!

This story originally appeared in David’s Voice,  www.davidsvoice.com .

Eternal Debate Rages On: Latke v. Hamantash

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11/25/2008

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Potatoes for Change or Cookies First? Find out who will take the prize tonight at the University of Chicago

Hamantash fans scoff at the latke: “It’s just potatoes,” they say. And latke aficionados can’t find much to be excited about in the hamantash.

The debate about the favorite Jewish holiday food has raged for so long that it spawned an institutional response: the annual Latke-Hamantash Debate at the University of Chicago. The 62-year-old tradition has spread to campuses nationwide for a humorous academic discussion about the relative merits of the two iconic Jewish foods.

University of Chicago professors Gary Tubb (South Asian languages and civilizations), Thomas Ginsburg (law), Roy Weiss (medicine) and Dean of the Rockefeller Chapel Elizabeth Davenport will duke it out in this year’s verbal food fight tonight at 7:30 p.m. at Mandel Hall (1131 E. 57th St.) on the University of Chicago campus. Ted Cohen, professor of Near Eastern languages and civilizations, will moderate. The latke has won more times than the hamantash, although in recent times the pendulum has swung back and forth—the latke side won last year’s debate, while the hamantash got the vote in 2006.

As the debate continues between cooks everywhere, Oy!Chicago asked the community to chime in with their opinions. And at least in this completely unscientific sample, the latke took the lead.

Sarah Levy, owner of Sarah’s Pastries and Candies: “I have always loved latkes, which are a family favorite. It’s sort of a habit. My grandmother has a really good recipe.”

Rabbi Michael Balinsky, executive vice president of JUF’s Chicago Board of Rabbis: “I prefer the latke. I make terrific latkes and I don’t know how to make hamantash—I have never tried, I’m not into baking. I do not fry my latkes, instead, I bake them in the oven. The secret to great potato latkes is to grate in some carrot, and I also make great sweet potato latkes. I don’t work with recipes, I don’t measure. I just put things together, and it’s never the same twice.”

Josie A.G. Shapiro, chief development officer at Temple Sholom and an avid cook: “I’m a latke girl! They’re more flexible, you can grate different things in—potatoes, beets, or zucchini,The hamantashen have different fillings, but they’re all on the same note, all sweet.”

Miriam Brosseau, singer-songwriter and community mensch extraordinaire:  “Coming from Wisconsin, where all food is fried, I’m kind of partial to the latke.  Now, if it were served on a stick, that’s something Wisconsinites could really go for.  Someday...”

Adam Davis, director of KFAR Jewish Arts Center: “It’s a difficult decision. On the one hand, I salivate at the thought of a savory potato and onion delicacy. I also am tantalized by the sweet triangular treat. I suggest a third way—the sufganiot. I’m a pluralist when it comes to the Jewish people and our food.”

Rabbi Rebecca Lillian, author, musician and spiritual leader: “How could I possibly compare latkes and hamantashen? Latkes are savory, and when fried to just the perfect crispy texture without burning, with a bit of sweet-tart applesauce on top, they are perfect on a cold winter night. I couldn’t imagine Chanukah without latkes. Hamantashen are sweet, although when filled with the right mohn (poppyseed) filling, not too sweet. They are perfect for a Purim meal when, together with more sweets and a bit of fermented beverage, one gets silly and giddy and goes a bit crazy with laughter. I couldn’t imagine Purim without hamantashen. But if you are really forcing me to choose, I'd pick the holiday of Purim—with latkes!”

Daniel Libenson, the director of the Newberger Hillel Center at the University of Chicago, has pledged to keep neutral on the issue. Libenson and the Newberger Hillel have betrayed a fondness for politics in the advertisements for the debate. In the ads, Obama’s signature “O” logo is repurposed for the latke, and “this is Obama’s year,” Libenson said.

Post-debate, hungry audience members can devour the contestants – three kinds of hamantash and two kinds of latke for $5.

8 Questions for Aviva Gibbs, Political Junkie, Theater Buff, Target Lover

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11/18/2008

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Aviva, doing it all

After graduating from the University of Michigan with a theater degree, Aviva Gibbs landed a development job at the Goodman Theater. As a hobby, she volunteered for political campaigns; then, one afternoon, she got a tip from a friend about a job opening as Chief of Staff for an Illinois State Representative. She wrote an email to Rep. John Fritchey, convincing him that her theater degree qualified her to be his Chief of Staff.  After three years in Rep. Fritchey’s office, Aviva made the jump to the corporate world, becoming a Senior Account Executive at Resolute Consulting, a public affairs and communications firm.

But she didn’t leave her theater degree too far behind.  Aviva can be spotted performing at bars all over the city, singing jazz and bluegrass music.  With what’s left of her free time, Aviva is pursuing a Master’s Degree in Public Policy from DePaul University.

So, if you too have charted your own course in life, wish there was a mute button for unruly shoppers, or enjoy Sunday brunch at The Bagel, Aviva Gibbs is a Jew You Should Know!

1. What did you want to be when you grew up?
For a while, I wanted to be a lawyer. Or rather, my grandparents wanted me to be a lawyer. Then I wanted to be a performer. And then a politician. But I repeat myself.

2. What do you love about what you do today?
I work with smart people and learn something about something from every project; no two days are the same which keeps me on my toes. My job also allows me to take a giant step back from a usually-complex situation and see several points of view, which is a unique and disarming place to stand.

3. What are you reading?
I keep restarting  The World is Flat , but get distracted by about nine newspapers and 17 blogs every day. I read it when it came out a few years ago, and think he issued a “3.0” update which I bet is pretty darn good.

4. What's your favorite place to eat in Chicago?
There are too many favorites to choose from. I like the popular, rated restaurants – the Fronteras, the Petterino’s – but I always fall for the neighborhood spots. Feast for brunch, Sola for shortribs, Nandu for empanadas, Club Lucky for dinner, and the S&G Restaurant for the best Sunday morning skillets in town. And that was just last weekend.

5. If money and logistical reality played no part, what would you invent?
This is going to sound harsh, but a remote that could mute screaming children would be amazing. Don’t get me wrong, I actually like kids, but sometimes a girl just wants to go to Target in peace, you know? Come to think of it, let’s make it work on adults too.

6. Would you rather have the ability to fly or the ability to be invisible?
Invisibility, so I could actually be that fly on the wall.

7. If I scrolled through your iPod, what guilty pleasure would I find?
It might run the gamut, but I’ll stand behind everything in my iPod! Then again, I'm Jewish, and we feel guilty about most things, right?

8. What's your favorite Jewish thing to do in Chicago – in other words, how do you Jew?
It’s a toss up between The Bagel and Wrigley Field. Nana never wrote down her recipe for brisket (or many things, for that matter) so until I can figure it out, I’ll go to the Bagel. As for Wrigley, let’s just say it’s taught me a lot more about faith than my seven years of Hebrew School.

The Entertainer

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T.J. Shanoff does it all 
11/18/2008

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T.J.’s super serious headshot

Whoever said you can’t have your cake and eat it too has not been in the shoes of T.J. Shanoff. He is passionate about his work, has never had a day job, owns a home in the city he loves, travels the world and has a flexible schedule. Jealous?

So what does he do? Apparently, it’s complicated, says T.J.: “If after I tell you, if you could please call my mother and let her know…I’m serious, would you?”

So this story goes out to T.J.’s mom.

In no particular order, T.J. is…

A Director

T.J. is the co-creator and director of Jewsical! The Musical , a sketch comedy show about Jewish life and culture for all ages, with songs of course (see A Musician, below). “One of the biggest projects I’m proud of is Jewsical. We just did a run in Michigan – we’ve been touring the country for three years."

Revamping and touring Jewsical is the next big thing on T.J.’s plate. After the last tour – “mostly in crappy rental cars with cassette decks” – he learned that the show can be easily customized to the venue and event. “One of the fun things about Jewish society is that it never stagnates- there’s always something going on. We want to make the show elastic.”

T.J. directs many other shows for Second City. He just returned from a Second City gig on a Norwegian cruise line where he directed a new show. Though he was only on the ship for eight days, the show will run for four months. He’s set to direct another cruise ship show in the Bahamas this January.

A Corporate Talk Show Host

Second City often sends T.J. on MC or hosting missions for corporate events all across the country. For this type of show, a 45-60 minute classic Second City show gets intertwined with scenes written specifically for that company. He’ll host meetings or talk shows for big events where he’ll interview the CFO or the Company’s President about serious topics and make them entertaining. Just back from Richmond, VA, he will soon visit Arizona and Florida during our coldest months.

A Chicagoan

On why he lives in Chicago: “It’s a simple answer. I grew up here, in the Gold Coast – though I hate calling it that – right by the Latin school. Since I’ve been a kid I loved the city. Almost every close friend I grew up with lives here still. If a job came up I would go, but I’m not looking to move. I’m very content here. And I’m a die hard Cubs fan.”

A Musician

Though he doesn’t gig in the typical sense, T.J. incorporates his piano skills as a musical director, song writer and on-stage performer in many Second City shows.

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T.J. directing Jewsical! The Musical on the road in West Palm Beach

A Writer

T.J. and another Second City writer work with theaters in other cities to write shows that blend classic Second City scenes with custom scenes about that city.

The two writers do research in the city for three days. They tour the city with tour guides who take them to all the touristy places that the locals never go to. This is not helpful in writing a funny show for the people of the town, so instead of paying attention to the locations, they listen to what the tour guides are saying – what they like to do, where they like to go, how they feel about the political spectrum. That insight is what gives them good material for the show. A custom show at the Alliance Theater in Atlanta just closed and got great reviews. “What’s really funny is at least one review said, ‘we were so offended that these two Chicago writers were coming in to write the show and then we saw it and we loved it.’”

A Camp Lover

T.J. is co-creator of the website mycampfriends.com discussed in depth here. One friend from camp now writes for the Colbert Report and talks about how camp makes you a stud, even if you’re not one back home. Eventually he sees this site as “the ultimate destination for all things camp.”

An Entertainer

Above all, T.J. calls himself an entertainer. (Anyone else hearing a Scott Joplin piece right now?) “One month I’m a musical director, one month I’m performing, in a good month I’m doing everything.”

The second project he’s most proud of is “The Roof Is On Fiddler,” a parody that he co-wrote and directed. The show uses the original script of Fiddler on the Roof, but with songs from the 80’s instead. Like a Virgin or the Who’s the Boss Theme might surprise you after a tearful scene, leaving you crying tears of laughter by the end of the show. It was a hit at Improv Olympic in 2001, playing every Thursday at midnight.

The projects he is most proud of are Jewishly themed, not surprising considering his strong affiliation to cultural Judaism. “I’m by no means the most religious of Jews, but I’m very culturally Jewish and tremendously respectful and proud of my Judaism. It’s not a coincidence that the two things I’m most proud of are Jewsical and Fiddler.”

What future entertainment does T.J. have in store for us? “I have a couple of projects coming up – one hopefully on television with the Second City. That’s all I can say for now.”

This is only a snapshot of what T.J. does. T.J.’s mom, take note. He has also been a radio personality, a lyricist, and a talk show co-host. That said, his self-assigned professional title of Entertainer seems to encompass it all.

Asshole, Part 2

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The Redemption of a Former Jackass 
11/18/2008

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Irving Flashman, asshole no more

They may not have taught you this in Hebrew School, but the number forty is the gematria , the mystical numerological value, for the Hebrew word for “asshole.”  I know this because I’m a former asshole myself.

She moved to my town for the start of junior year. And so began my serial transgression of our sacred commandments.

When a stranger resides with you in your land, you shall not wrong him. But what if a particular, rather humorless stranger just tumbles in from the boonies with a giant stick wedged up her scrawny behind? And honestly, does it really count as “wronging” said stranger, in the true, biblical sense, if you merely slap her books out of her hands and kick them across the floor at the bottom of a crowded stairwell? During her first week in a new school?

You shall not be a gossipmonger among the people. What the hell does this mean to a high school asshole—part baseball jock, part AP geek, but complete jerkoff? That I was supposed to get a fucking DNA sample before trafficking the rumor (starting the rumor, perpetuating the rumor, let’s not split hairs) that she banged the stud linebacker in the school library?

You shall not stand idly by while your brother’s blood is shed. Of course not. But if I stood idled while my friends wiped boogers on her pizza that night at Buffo’s, it wasn’t out of indifference to her gustatory suffering (at least not total indifference); it was only because I was paralyzed by laughter. Oh get over it, I don’t even think she kept kosher.

Luckily for me, you don’t need a conscience to earn a diploma; and by the time we graduated, I had broken easily one-third of the commandments over her clenched ass.

The former things shall not be remembered. Or maybe they shall. I saw her only once after that, seven or eight years later, in downtown Highland Park, a few blocks from the scene of the crime, the scene of my crime. We made small talk. Very small talk. I remembered. And she remembered. How could we not?

And the wolf shall dwell—or at least kibitz—with the lamb. Then one day, maybe five years after that encounter, she sent me an email. I paraphrase:  “I’m bored  today. I googled you. Are you still an asshole?” Stalker? Post-Traumatic Jewish Stockholm Syndrome? Neither, as it turns out. Just someone wanting an answer. I responded by saying I was sorry. No excuse, no explanation. Just an apology. And maybe a taunt or two, for old-time’s sake, but mostly an apology.

And while we would later debate (Did I mention that we’re best friends now? That we debate now? Mainly idiotic things like the utility of such words as “ass face” and “douche bag,” but that we debate now?) the difference between apologizing and asking for forgiveness, the truth is that she had given me a pass a long time ago. A pass I didn’t earn or deserve.

Is there a lesson in all this? I think there is:  Don’t be an asshole. People can change. Cherish your friendships.

Asshole, Part 1

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What happens when you befriend your bully 
11/18/2008

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Dana Rhodes, her Sweet 16 . . . eh, not so sweet 

I coerced my dear friend “Irving” into writing a story with me about how he used to be my bully. I told him he had to get off his lawyerly ass and write something creative about himself being an asshole a long, long time ago. That’s exactly what I told him.

Yes, you have six kids to schlep to Sunday school. Six kids, a goddamn migraine, impatient clients and a mouse on the loose in your twice-flooded, newly finished basement. No, you haven’t written anything since high school other than legal briefs, checks to your plumber and a shitload of email to me. Yes, this will require you to expose to the universe the fact that, once upon a time, you were not very nice. (Okay, a complete dick, prick and otherwise schmuck.) Yes, you may use a penname, if you insist, wuss.

At first he said, Whatever. But when I pulled out the big fat guilt card, the one that read: This will be your payback for 23 years ago when you were my bully, he surrendered. And I quote Irving Flashman, at 8:46 PM on 9/18/08: I will not let you down.

That alone should have signaled that this was about more than Oy!Chicago. But no, I – in my bionic stoicism, in my blinding blindness, in my astounding short-sightedness -- just thought this would be our funny little story with all of our favorite swear words. He was her bully and now he’s her friend, how sweet.

Let’s face it, folks. High school sucks, even for the most well adjusted among us. Try transferring to Highland Park High School your junior year with an Indiana twang, a chip on your shoulder, and your own private asshole seated one desk to your right in Mr. Larson's fifth period creative writing class.

We both liked to write. We both had a serious amount of respect for Holden Caulfield, we both hated trigonometry, and both our dads were doctors. But the similarities seemed to end there.

How ironic that he was the son of a cardiologist and I was the daughter of a pulmonologist. He had no heart. I held my breath.

His asshole friends jumped on his bully bandwagon and the next 15 months passed in a blur of spit. Spit, insults, threats, lies, a Ford Bronco coming straight at me in the school parking lot. You get the ugly picture.

Or maybe you don’t. My Oy! editors say you don’t – they want me to delve deeper into my painful memories for the sake of art. Fine. Join me for a little walk through the halls of HPHS in March of 1986. There’s Irving, blocking my locker with a desk as he’s done every day for the past two months. When he comments on my chicken legs, don’t answer. When he asks if I really had sex with J.S. in the school library, just stand there and stare at him.  Eventually the bell will ring and Irving will leave, we’ll grab my books for U.S. History and on our way to class, his dumbass friend will punch me in the arm hard enough to throw me off balance. Don’t blink.

One hour later, if you retrieve the crumpled up piece of paper that I’ve tossed in the trash can of room 212, U.S. History, it is probably says something like, Corners, hunched shoulders, take up less space. Tremble, voice tapers, keep a stone face. But this isn’t a fucking poetry blog.

As my colleague and fellow Oy!ster Aaron Cohen so eloquently recounted, if someone slaps you in the face with a rotting fish, you may come to hate fish. But let’s expand the list of options. Maybe you’ll hate the guy swinging the fish. Or maybe you’ll hate yourself.  If someone slaps you in the face with a rotting fish, maybe you’ll smear the fish guts back in his face or maybe you’ll run in the opposite direction, in search of a place where marine life does not exist.

For a longer time than I care to admit, I wondered what was wrong with me. And for a longer time than I care to admit, I chose neither fight nor flight. I chose silence.

It was a silence I didn’t break for 13 years. Until one random day I had some downtime, and I Googled Irving without thinking, and I emailed him without thinking, and he wrote right back.

>>>”Rhodes, Dana” 12/15/00 04:17 PM >>>

So Irving Flashman. All I can say by way of introduction is things get slow here on Friday afternoons. You start playing around on the Internet. You plug in the name of some schmuck from high school, for no apparent reason. And you find yourself writing an email to an associate at The Law Offices of Blankstein, Blankberg, and Blank, fully aware that there is no client who can be billed for the time it is going to take to read this. . .


For the record, Mr. Blankstein, Mr. Blankberg and Mr. Blank, on December 15, 2000, I wasn’t swinging rotten fish nor was I fishing for an apology. But 34 minutes later, I got one.

>>>”Flashman,  Irving” 12/15/00 04:51 PM >>>

Of course I remember you. Before tapping in one more word, in case I haven’t already done it, I apologize for the torment my degenerate friends and I subjected you to what seems like so long ago. The touching use of the word schmuck in your e-mail suggests to me that perhaps I failed to do this before. In any event, for future reference, I prefer the term asshole. . .

Can an asshole grow up to be a mensch? Can a misguided mensch behave like an asshole?  It seems the answer might be yes, because from that day on, we were friends. And like any friends, we share our silly observations, our dreams and disappointments, and our crazy antics which reveal how similar we actually are. After all, in times of quiet desperation, don’t we all make into a toilet that which otherwise appears to be a Pringles can, the Governor’s lawn, the back stairwell of the Hyatt Regency?

The profane and the sacred. The profound and pathetic. The prophetic and prolific. That’s us.

In a noble but unsuccessful last ditch effort to get out of writing Asshole with me, Irving asked what our story had to do with Living Jewishly and Oy!Chicago.  It’s not a D’var fucking Torah, I told him. Enough with the scripture, I told him. We are just two Jewish Chicagoans with a story to tell. We are two imperfect, potty-mouthed 39-year olds who – besides swearing – leave a lot unsaid. We are two writer wannabes and devoted parents with unanswered questions swimming around in our heads as we type away on our computers at ungodly hours, hoping our own kids do better than we did. Hoping they learn to look past people’s differences. Hoping they learn to forgive – themselves and others.

After 15 months of torment, 13 years of silence, 986 variations of the word asshole, and 8 years of friendship, Dana coerced Irving into writing a story with her. He didn’t let her down. See Asshole, Part 2. 

Embracing Your Inner Cheekiness

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New site celebrates cosmopolitan women, Chicago and cheekiness 
11/18/2008

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The ‘cheeky’ founders, Jessica Zweig and Erica Bethe Levin

For the CheekyChicago.com founders, it was food at first sight.

Erica Bethe Levin and Jessica Zweig had become fast friends after bonding over their shared love for food. In March, Zweig had dined at a new Chicago restaurant the night before and was gabbing to her friend and co-worker, Levin, all about it the next day on the job at the gym where they worked. In addition to their love for food, they shared other interests too. “We just clicked over being girls and going out in Chicago, trying new restaurants, and having fun,” says Zweig, a lifelong Chicagoan, originally from Highland Park.

Their mutual passion for Chicago hotspots propelled them to spend six hours that same March evening on Zweig’s couch—with a stack of post-it notes and a bottle of bubbly—and flesh out ideas for a new website, which would later morph into CheekyChicago.com.

“We came up with the idea of Cheeky—to be perfectly honest—because we both love to eat,” says Levin. “The idea evolved from restaurant reviews into something much bigger and all encompassing. Cheeky is a one-stop shop for information on restaurants, nightlife, health, fitness, sex, relationships, theater, music, you name it.”

Launched in October, CheekyChicago.com is an online magazine for, by, and about the women of Chicago. The founders—both Jewish 20-something Chicagoans with backgrounds in journalism, theater and public relations—hope the site becomes the ultimate guide for Chicago cosmopolitan women and a way to share the frenetic and “fabulous” city of Chicago.

Levin and Zweig write all the reviews on restaurants, nightlife, and theater themselves. They strive not to slam people in mean-spirited critiques, but focus on the best of Chicago, both newcomer restaurants and entertainment and hidden gems that have been around for years. The founders feel they have something to say because they are regular Chicago women, not professional reviewers. “We’re real people,” says Levin, a Chicago transplant from West Palm Beach, who originally moved here to attend Northwestern University. “We’re not trained in the culinary arts and we didn’t go to school for theater criticism. We’re just two girls who love this city and love to eat and see good shows and drink good wine and we want other women to experience that too.”

While there are many other hip Chicago sites, according to the founders, there’s really no other site reaching out exclusively to this niche demographic in Chicago. “We saw a big void for something like,” says Zweig. “There’s Metromix and Yelp and Daily Candy, and other city-centric resources that sort of touch on female issues and sort of don’t. Some sites are business-focused focused or fashion-focused. Yet, there’s nothing that really covers the gamut for women to enjoy and take something from.”

The homepage—a calendar of Chicago happenings—changes every week, while rotating columnists write features and advice columns on topics including politics, celebrities, wine, relationships, health, and sex. The site also features an open forum that poses daily questions for readers to respond to such as “Where is one city you would like to go live in for three months, purely for fun, and why?” CheekyChicago also offers promotions and discounts for women who navigate the site. Outside of the virtual world, CheekyChicago plans to throw real-world gatherings a couple of times a month, intimate events such as a chef tasting dinner and bigger parties including fashion shows and an upcoming holiday party.

In addition to their love of food and Chicago, Levin and Zweig shared the bond of their Jewish identity right off the bat. They felt an immediate connection, they say, when they met because they were both Jewish. “There was an instant familiarity between us and a sense of “home” because of our mutual heritage,” said Zweig. “I felt like I had known Erica my whole life, because she reminded me of my whole life.”

So what’s so “cheeky” about CheekyChicago? The Levin and Zweig say they’re big fans of the word and it isn’t used often enough. They define “cheeky” on their site as “definitely bold; impudent and saucy.” Who is the cheeky chick? According to the founders, she is “fun, fabulous and fierce…chic, intelligent, and in-the-know…but most of all, she is the kind of woman who embraces, admires, respects, smiles at, and opens her heart to other fabulous chicks.”

In that spirit, the founders hope the site will act not only as a resource for Chicago women, but also will foster positive relationships between women in their real lives. “Women, in general, need to be more open and nicer to each other,” says Zweig. “It’s a weird epidemic in our younger culture that sometimes we can be closed off, judgmental, and threatened. We’re trying to say that—by being “cheeky”—you can be fabulous, intelligent, and have a great job, but, most importantly, it’s about who you are on the inside and being better to each other. That’s what being cheeky is all about.”

CheekyChicago will throw a holiday party at Hub 51 in Chicago from 6-9 p.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 17. The cost to attend is $45, which will cover food, drinks, and goodies. For details, visit  www.cheekychicago.com .

8 Questions for Oren Dekalo, Matisyahu fan, diamond dealer, Vice President

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11/11/2008

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Oren, excited about the Big Event 

When Lincoln Park dweller Oren Dekalo isn’t at work as the 2009 Vice President of the YLD campaign—which isn’t often—the Glencoe native can be found working as a diamond wholesaler.

So, if you don’t have time to read actual books, look forward to lunches on the 6th floor of the JUF or like shiny things, Oren Dekalo is a Jew You Should Know!

1. What did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be an archaeologist like Indiana Jones, or a professional soccer player (my Bar Mitzvah was a couple weeks after the '94 World Cup, and that was the theme for my party).

2. What do you love about what you do today?
Hearing people's comments when they find out what I do.

3. What are you reading?
A lot of YLD emails about "The Big Event" featuring Matisyahu on December 13.  Books ... not so much right now.

4. What's your favorite place to eat in Chicago?
The JUF Conference Room - the food is half the fun of being on the Board!

5. If money and logistical reality played no part, what would you invent?
A machine that would produce money--specifically for the YLD Campaign--and a shield to protect Israel from its hostile neighbors.

6. Would you rather have the ability to fly or the ability to be invisible?
Definitely fly so that I could go to Israel for free - and avoid Chicago traffic, of course.

7. If I scrolled through your iPod, what guilty pleasure song would I find?
None since I don't have one.

8. What's your favorite Jewish thing to do in Chicago—in other words, how do you Jew?
I enjoy planning, and attending, YLD events.  Right now, the YLD Board's focus is on making "The Big Event" featuring Matisyahu a tremendous success - both in terms of the overall quality and the number of people who will be there to experience it.

Hineni

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I am here. Here I am.
11/11/2008

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Sarah is here. Here Sarah is.

My apartment is littered with post-its and print-outs bearing the words Hineni: Here I am and an X. Because, bizarre as it may seem, I sometimes forget it.

But of course I’m here. I can feel my couch underneath my butt. I can see the diamond-shaped painting my maternal grandmother did decades ago hanging on my wall. I can smell the cumin and lamb in the air from tonight’s dinner.

But over the last few years I have come to realize more than ever that hineni means more than existing in physical space and going through the motions of life. Hineni means making a conscious effort to be present and emotionally invested in each moment. It’s something I especially struggled with in college, when I didn’t know what I wanted to study or do with my life, or who I wanted to become. Back then, I decided not to really give a damn, and just float through classes and days and years until someone or something got in my way.

Having been in the real world for a few years now, I’ve established a pretty comfortable routine for myself. I wake up in a neighborhood filled with vibrant young people and small businesses, tasty food and good draft beers, easy access to the lake, and a burgeoning puppy and baby population.

I take the red line to work at an organization whose mission resonates with me, working with caring, intelligent, witty people for whom I have great respect and from whom I can learn a lot.

At the end of the day I get back on my beloved CTA train and head home. Sometimes I’ll meet a friend for dinner or drinks, or go to the gym, or take a walk up Clark Street to people watch and see what new books are in the window at Women and Children First.

It’s not that I’m unhappy with this routine; to be perfectly frank, it works very well for me. But I’m running on autopilot, once again just gliding through the days and weeks, tackling roadblocks as they come along but ultimately staying the course.

Not long after graduating from school I realized that with real world freedoms come real world responsibilities. Even though I was theoretically free to live however I wanted, and to do whatever I wanted whenever I wanted to do it, in practice, life became much more regimented and bland. I felt confined by my responsibilities, to the point where I didn’t feel like I really had choices, just tasks that had to be completed to get through the day. I felt like I was losing control over my life, even while it was all still very neat and tidy and functional.

So I decided to start keeping pseudo-kosher. I already wasn’t eating pork, so I decided to stop mixing milk and meat as well (I will never be able to give up shellfish). I admit that I made the decision in part to annoy my then-roommates. But I also hoped it would help me feel more present, decisive and in control of my own life. By scrutinizing a decision as mundane as whether to put Swiss cheese on my turkey sandwich or not, I was taking an active role in shaping my daily life. I was making active choices – however inconsequential to the world around me – rather than settling for whatever was most convenient or conventional.

It didn’t stick. It sort of worked for a while, but let’s cut to the chase: Swissburgers are damn tasty. I decided I needed a Plan B.

During high school I was an active B’nai B’rith Girl, part of the B’nai B’rith Youth Organization (BBYO). That was where I first learned the Hebrew word hineni, It’s how we responded when attendance was being taken at meetings.

At first I was confused by this response. I knew that ani was the Hebrew word for “I,” and that po meant “here,” so I didn’t understand why the reply wouldn’t be ani po or po ani (my Hebrew vocabulary is passable, but my grammar is ra m’od -- very bad).

I’m still friends with a few of my sister B’nai B’rith Girls, as we called each other, and one of them in particular has always truly been like a big sister to me. After one of our lengthy long distance conversations a little over a year ago I became nostalgic and pulled out some old photos, including some from that first meeting when I heard a roomful of girls proclaiming hineni. I decided to re-examine its meaning.

It turns out that in the Torah, hineni is used when someone is being called upon directly by G-d. Its meaning goes beyond the physical act of being and denotes a spiritual, intellectual, and corporal presence all at once.

G-d’s not doing a whole lot of talking to me these days, and I’m not necessarily picking up my phone and calling Him/Her/It. But that doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t be living each day and responding to myself and the world around me with the same fervor and dedication that Abraham or Moses showed when G-d called upon them back in the day.

I needed a way to remind myself of this fact day in and day out.

So Plan B: Get a tattoo of the word hineni. A permanent reminder that I am here. That it is time to stop passively floating through days. Time to actively choose my own path, rather than following the one of greatest comfort and least resistance. Time to take ownership over every minute, hour, and day of my life.

As the weeks went by and I hadn’t decided on the right Hebrew font or researched which tattoo artist or parlor to go to, I began to question why I couldn’t just take the plunge already. And then it dawned on me: the tattoo was just another crutch.

Irony of ironies, by permanently inking “here I am” on my body, I realized I would actually be giving myself an excuse not to be here. I could float along “present” in each moment because of course I’m here; I have the proof tattooed on my foot and I need to do no more! But it would lose all meaning. I would once again be taking the most convenient (albeit the most painful) path. I could forget to actually be here because I could use the tattoo to simply appear as though I was present in every moment. And I couldn’t let that happen.

So the hineni tattoo was scrapped.

Since giving up this idea, I haven’t massively overhauled my life. My daily routine still includes the same neighborhood, the same commute, and the same job, and yet nothing really feels the same. Because while there will no doubt be occasional days when I shift into autopilot, I am starting to embrace the fact that I am the lead actor in my own life; in each misstep, triumph, and everything in between. I am finally giving myself the chance to believe: hineni.

Oh So Very Thankful

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11/11/2008

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Stacey, thankful for Thanksgiving

It’s probably going to get me some flack to admit that my favorite holiday isn’t a Jewish holiday, but a secular one. Don’t get me wrong, I love many of our ages-old holy days, and look forward to both the sense of connectedness they bring as well as the comfort of traditional foods and the company of friends and family. Rosh Hashanah, Passover…both solidly in my top five holiday-wise. I love a latke, I’m moved by matzo balls, get blissed out over brisket. I even heart a hamentashen. But none of the celebrations mandated by the Torah come close to inspiring the passion I have for Thanksgiving.

Deep down, I sort of think of Thanksgiving as a Jewish holiday.  After all, it celebrates autumn, much like Sukkot. It is centered around a very prescribed traditional meal, sort of like Passover. It is a time to reflect on personal blessings, which is as much a part of Yom Kippur as the atoning part. It brings together family and friends, like Rosh Hashanah. And lets be frank, any holiday that devotes itself to total food indulgence has got to be something we Jews can get solidly behind, if not out and out co-opting it for ourselves!

As a home cook, Thanksgiving is my grail, my marathon--the ability to pull it off is a source of pride, and no moments of my year are as purely pleasurable as those brief moments of silence around the table when everyone tucks into their plates, followed by gradual exclamations of rapturous delight.  And while there is always something a little bit new or different every year, the basics stay the same, and I’ve gotten a lot of it down to a science. But science doesn’t mean clenched perfectionism. With all due respect to Martha Stewart, you don’t need twenty four matching turkey shaped bowls for the soup to taste good, you don’t have to weave your own napkins, grow your own cranberries, or even make your own pie crust (or pie for that matter) for this day to be wonderful. Good food, prepared with love, and served with a smile is all anyone needs for the holiday to be sublime…to each at the level of their own ability.

For those of you who are thinking of tackling the big day, I’ve got some tips to help you out. The most important thing about Thanksgiving is right there in the name, be thankful. If you burn the turkey, make PB&J and laugh it off. And if at all possible, set yourself up for success with some simple advice and simpler recipes.

First, know thyself. Do you regularly make your own puff pastry, serve towering soufflés, and finish your sauces with homemade demi-glace? Then find any challenging menu that inspires you and have at it. But if you burn the toast four days out of ten, this isn’t the time to try anything complicated. Keep things simple, and don’t be afraid to get help with the hard stuff or fiddly bits. People love to participate, so let guests bring something to take some of the pressure off you. If you’ve never made pie crust, buy a good quality frozen crust. Look at local prepared foods sections of grocery stores and see who is offering side dishes and do a tasting the week before. If Whole Foods is making a killer stuffing, there’s no shame in serving it.  Does gravy make you nervous?  Add five or six whole peeled shallots to the turkey roasting pan along with your bird, and simply blend them into the de-fatted pan juices to thicken it easily without all that tricky flour business.

Thanksgiving is also a great time to connect with Mom, Grandma, or your favorite Aunt…call and ask for advice and recipes, they’ll be flattered and you’ll be amazed how many great tips they can give you.

So, if you’re getting ready for the big day, here are Stacey’s Thanksgiving Commandments:

1. Thou shalt buy a fresh turkey from a butcher, and brine before roasting.
I know Butterball seems like a good idea, but they are so filled with preservatives and salt and other unnatural stuff, they don’t really taste like turkey.  Call two to three weeks before the holiday and have your local butcher order you a fresh turkey for pick up the day before Thanksgiving. Take it home and brine overnight using the brine recipe of your choice…mine is below. You’ll be delighted with the results.

2. Thou shalt discover how easy it is to make awesome cranberry sauce, and not have to serve the slice-able stuff from the can.
Cranberry sauce is not just the easiest part of the meal, it can be made up to a week in advance. You’ll never go back to the tinned stuff.

3. Thou shalt not be ashamed to make the green bean casserole with the Campbell’s Condensed Soup.
Sure, I’m a foodie/crazy person, so I make my cream of mushroom soup from scratch before assembling the ubiquitous casserole…but honestly, it’s a tradition for a reason, the original recipe is pretty comforting and delicious, and easy to make, so even if you consider yourself a major gourmet, pull out the processed food version and serve with a smile. Ditto sweet potatoes with marshmallows.

4. Thou shalt not overdo the appetizers.
You’re going to spend two days cooking for this meal. Let your guests be hungry when they get to the table. Keep your pre-dinner nibbles to small bowls of nuts or olives or pretzels or the like, think basic bar snacks…you just want your guests to have something to nosh on with their pre-dinner drinks, but if they fill up on hors d’oeuvres you’ll all be sad when you get to the table and can’t manage seconds.

5. Thou shalt not bother with salad.
I know it always seems like such a good idea to make a fresh green salad. But frankly, it takes up valuable space on a plate that should be devoted to fourteen different starches, and you’re just going to throw most of it away, since it will be all wilty and depressed by the time you go to put the leftovers away. No one will miss it.

6. Thou shalt not count calories, skimp on ingredients, measure portions, or whinge and pout about how bad the food is for you.
We are all very sensitive to healthy eating these days, and more than a few of us are dealing with the need to lose a couple pounds. THIS IS NOT THE DAY TO DO IT. Thanksgiving is, at its very core, a celebration of food and the memories that food invokes and the new memories created at the table. You do yourself, your host, and the day a disservice if you think of it as anything else, or deprive yourself of the sheer joy of this meal. If you’re the cook, don’t alter recipes with low fat/low salt/low taste versions of things. Don’t skip meals before, so that you aren’t blindly starving by the time you get to the buffet, and if you’re really concerned, fill your plate anyway you like, but don’t go back for seconds. Any nutritionist worth their salt will tell you that one meal cannot derail your overall progress, especially if you get back to your program the next day and maybe add a workout that week. And any counselor will tell you that the surest way to be cranky is to deprive yourself while all around you are celebrating. Give yourself a break…you’ll be amazed that if you give yourself permission to have everything you want, how easy it is not to overdo it.

7. Thou shalt not stuff your bird.
I can hear you crying about it now….you are used to the bird packed with stuffing, you dream about the really crispy good part in the front over the neck, why can’t we stuff our turkeys?  Here’s why….one, a stuffed bird is the best way to get food poisoning. If the stuffing doesn’t get up to at least 180 degrees internally, it can breed bacteria, not fun. Two, in order to get the stuffing to 180, you are going to overcook the crap out of the turkey itself, especially the breast meat. Three, all that moistness you love in the in-the-bird stuffing?  That is all the juices from the meat that are getting sucked out by the huge stuffing sponge, and you not only dry out your bird, you have many fewer juices with which to make gravy. Make your stuffing and bake in a separate dish, and if you really miss that dense moistness, melt a stick of butter in a cup of chicken stock and pour it over the stuffing ten minutes before taking it out of the oven.  And get over it.

8. Thou shalt not test more than one new recipe for this meal.
Thanksgiving is a wonderful meal to add to, but don’t do everything at once. I know that the cooking mags have all sorts of new-fangled versions of things, but they have to reinvent the holiday menu every year. Experimentation is good, but if you change the whole thing up at once, people are going to miss their old standby favorites. Pick one dish that you think is ready for a revamp, and throw in that curveball. If you love it, add it to the repertoire. But don’t do the chipotle rubbed turkey, sweet potato tofu bake, barley stuffing, green beans with fresh ricotta, and sherried fig cranberry coulis all in one meal. Someone will weep openly, and everyone will have to run out the next day and make a few traditional items to get them through to next year.

9. Thou shalt not be a Thanksgiving Dictator.
If people want to help in the kitchen, let them. And don’t criticize the quality of their small dice, or the way they wash the pots. Ditto assigning specific foods to guests who want to bring something…if someone offers to bring a dish, ask them what they love to make or what they crave most about Thanksgiving and let them bring that. Who cares if you have two kinds of sweet potatoes, or both cornbread and regular stuffing?   On Thanksgiving, more is more, and abundance rules. Besides, you have a three-day weekend that needs quality leftovers.

10. Thou shalt be thankful.
We are all very blessed. Take a few moments to think about all of the gifts you have in your life, the family and friends who surround you, all of the wonderful things you may take for granted in the hustle and bustle of your day to day.  Close your eyes, be joyful, and in all sincerity and humbleness thank the universe for your life.

Yours in good taste,
Stacey
www.staceyballis.com

NOSH of the week:

Here are some of my go-to turkey day recipes. Follow to the letter or use as a springboard for your own touches…

Brined Turkey

1 16 lb. turkey

Brine:
9 Q water
1 gallon apple cider
1 bottle Riesling or other fruity white wine
2 ½ c kosher salt
2 c brown sugar
8 bay leaves
2 ½ T coriander
1 ½ T juniper
2 T peppercorns
1 ½ T fennel seed
1 T mustard seed
3 onions-quartered
2 apples-quartered
1 bunch thyme

Boil 1 Q water with salt, sugar and all spices. Cool. Put in brining bag. Add rest of ingredients and turkey. Brine overnight. Remove turkey from brine, rinse and dry. Add an herb butter under the skin if you like. Put an onion and an apple in the cavity of the bird. Preheat oven to 500 degrees. In roasting pan, make rack of ribs of celery, carrots, sliced onion, 5-6 whole shallots, thyme. Put turkey breast side down, put in oven, and immediately reduce to 400 degrees. Cook 30 minutes. Reduce heat to 325, cook 90 minutes. Flip breast side up, cook to 155 internal temp, approximately another  30-40 minutes. Rest 30 minutes before carving.

Cranberry sauce

2 bags cranberries
1 ½ c port
1 c sugar
1 t salt
5 T orange juice
1 ½ t cornstarch
1 t ground mustard
1 t lemon juice
Zest of 1 orange
Pinch ground clove
Pinch fresh ginger
Zest of 1 lemon
½ c dried cherries-rehydrate in ¼ c port

Cook cranberries and port in a saucepan over med-high heat 10 minutes, until cranberries burst. Add sugar and salt. Whisk OJ, cornstarch, mustard, lemon juice in a bowl and add to berries. Stir to combine. Add rest of ingredients, cook 5-6 minutes more, cool.

Mashed potatoes

10 lb. Yukon Gold potatoes (peeled, cubed)
2 sticks butter, cubed
1 pt. whole milk (or half and half or cream, depending on how rich you like it)
1 pt. sour cream
1 bunch chives, chopped fine
S&P to taste

Boil potatoes till soft. Drain completely. Put potatoes through ricer, or just use hand mixer to mash. Add butter first, and then milk to just shy of your preferred texture. Once the potatoes are almost there, add in the sour cream and chives and season well.

Basic Stuffing

1 XL loaf country bread or French bread cubed and toasted till totally dry  (2 lbs.)
1 pkg soft rolls or hot dog buns torn coarsely
2 ½ sticks butter
1 ½ c chopped onion
1 ½ c chopped celery
Celery leaves from 2 heads, chopped
¼ c chopped flat leaf parsley
Dried sage, thyme, marjoram (1 T each)
S/P to taste
4 lg eggs, beaten
1 box chicken stock…add as necessary to moisten.

Sautee veggies and herbs in 1 ½ sticks butter. Toss with bread. Add stock slowly till moist but not overly soggy. Taste for seasoning. Stir in eggs and mix well. Put in deep foil pan. Drizzle with melted stick of butter and sprinkle of breadcrumbs.

400 degrees 25 minutes covered, 20 uncovered. If you want extra moistness, melt another 4-8 T butter in 1 c chicken stock and pour over top when you uncover the stuffing, then continue cooking.

Pickled carrots
(great pre-dinner nibble!  A bowl of these and a bowl of nuts are all you need.)

1 large bag baby carrots (2 1bs)
1 bottle apple cider vinegar
1 large jar honey
4 T mustard seed
1 bunch dill

Combine vinegar, honey and mustard seed in saucepan. Add carrots and cook over med-high heat till carrots are cooked but still crisp, 5-8 minutes. Store in pickling liquid in fridge. Before serving, drain liquid, add chopped fresh dill.

NOSH Food read of the week:  The Devil in the Kitchen by Marco Pierre White

Girl Power

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Jewish Women International combats self-destructive behavior among Jewish girls 
11/11/2008

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Speakers Leslie Goldman, Lori Weinstein, Mary Jo Barrett and program facilitator Alyson Weinberg combine their brain power for girl power 

Cady: And they have this book, this burn book, where they write mean things about all the girls in our grade.
Janis: What does it say about me?
Cady: You're not in it.
Janis: Those bitches!
--Mean Girls


If you’ve ever seen the movie “Mean Girls” with Lindsay Lohan, you know it’s not easy being a teenage girl these days. On top of the social pressure to look a certain way, there’s the desire to hang out with the right crowd, find the right boyfriend and get good enough grades to get into the right college. And, between ages 9 and 16, girls start to mature both physically and emotionally--much earlier than their male counterparts. Now add in the pressure from the media, television shows like “Gossip Girl,” complete 24/7 access to what everyone is doing through Facebook and texting. Girls today have no choice but to grow up fast, and sometimes turn to self-destructive behaviors like disordered eating, bullying, alcohol abuse and self mutilation to help cope with the stress and anxiety of everyday life.

I know you’re probably thinking, ‘that never happened to me,’ or ‘my daughter would never do something like that,’ but Jewish girls are no exception. In fact, they sometimes face even more pressure from their peers, family and themselves to succeed and live up to often unrealistic expectations. And it’s not just a coincidence that “Mean Girls” takes place on the North Shore of Chicago…

Washington D.C.-based Jewish Women’s International (JWI) is tackling the problem head on by going right to the source—mothers, educators and social workers. In response to a recently completed survey of professionals who work directly with Jewish girls, JWI has launched Brain Power for Girl Power Think Tanks, an initiative that brings together Jewish women to learn about and engage in constructive brainstorming around the issues that affect Jewish girls. The first of these brainstorming sessions was held Oct. 29 at the Spertus Institute of Jewish Studies in Chicago.

“In the blink of an eye, there will be a new group of women standing in our shoes,” says Lori Weinstein, executive director, JWI. “Jewish girls need a path and we’re here to partner with you and clear it for them.”

The survey, “Jewish Girls and Their Behaviors,” which was designed by JWI in conjunction with Professions Research, Inc. of Washington, DC, polled 1,000 Jewish professionals on Jewish girls’ participation in behaviors such as anorexia, alcohol abuse and self-mutilation, or “cutting.” The survey revealed that the three most common destructive behaviors encountered in Jewish professionals’ work with Jewish girls are: disordered eating habits and patterns (48%), bullying (40%) and risky or precocious sexual behavior (38%). For girls ages 9 to 11, the most common behaviors included bullying (66%), disordered eating (35%), alcohol abuse (6%) and cutting (3%). For girls ages 12 to 15, disordered eating patterns and bullying were the most common (75%), followed risky sexual behavior (69%), cutting (58%) and alcohol abuse (48%). And of those surveyed, only 1 to 6 % said they felt parents were very aware of the problems facing their daughters.

“Jewish girls are coming of age in a time that is much more complicated than we did,” says Weinstein. “We want to create that metaphorical embrace among teenage girls, to make sure they have a safer passage along the bridge.”

How long is a girl a child? She is a child, and then one morning you wake up she's a woman, and a dozen different people of whom you recognize none.
--Louis L'Amour


Mary Jo Barret, a leading authority on trauma and violence and executive director and co-founder of the Center for Contextual Change, spoke to the group first, answering the question: Why do girls participate in these destructive behaviors?

Young girls, she said, view self-destructive behaviors as empowering, and as a friend during a time in their lives of naturally heightened activity and anxiety. Sometimes, she says, they know exactly why they are engaging in these dangerous behaviors, but don’t have a lot of motivation to stop. One girl explained that she cut herself because “When I see the blood, I know I’m not empty.” It’s something their parents cannot control, Barrett says, something that’s only theirs.

“These behaviors are the way that these girls try to and successfully empower themselves, give themselves value and control,” she says, and for Jewish girls who come from affluent homes, “it’s the convergence of a perfect storm.”

Today’s young girls have more of everything and constant access to information. They can create a Facebook profile that has nothing to do with who they really are, and are often losing their own true identities, she says.

“They live in a society that values this materialism and values being something you’re not,” Barrett says, “not even having the opportunity to build that self-esteem because too busy building a faux being.”

There are no rules in this house.
I'm not like a regular mom.
I'm a cool mom. Right, Regina?
--Mean Girls


Parenting styles have changed as well, and maybe not all for the better, Barrett says.

“We want to be our daughters’ friends and we’re ambivalent about limit setting,” she says. “The other thing we don’t teach our kids is how to cope with frustration.”

Also, Barrett says, because there is such an emphasis on competition, parents aren’t emphasizing altruism, or taking care of other people in the community.

The differences between boys and girls at this age can be explained by neuroscience. Before puberty, Barrett says, boys and girls have the same level of depression. After, girls double while boys remain the same. Also, girls go through puberty much earlier than boys, so their bodies mature much faster than their brains.

“Their bodies are literally ready for sex before their brains are,” she says.

Additionally, women store memories on the right side of the brain, the more emotional side, and so they tend to ruminate on things while men store memories on their left side, remembering facts, and coping through  problem solving. Sometimes, to stop the cycle of rumination and worry, girls turn to self-destructive behaviors to try to release those feelings.

What the daughter does, the mother did.
--Jewish Proverb


Following Barrett, Leslie Goldman, health writer and author of  Locker Room Diaries: The Naked Truth about Women, Body Image and Re-imagining the “Perfect” Body , spoke about her battle with an eating disorder during her time as a student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Leaving Adlai E. Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire for UW was a big change for Goldman, who had always been successful in high school.  “I went from being a big fish in a little pond to a little fish in a huge pond of 40,000,” she says. “What better way to handle it than to avoid it?”

She began feeling the pressure to fit in and the need for control and began under-eating and over-exercising. When she came home for Thanksgiving, everything hit the fan and she was put into a treatment center for anorexia. Years later, Goldman’s experiences would inspire her to write her book, talking with women in gym locker rooms to reveal the truth about body image.

Though there is no proven research, Goldman says she thinks there is a definite link between being Jewish and eating disorders. Among the reasons, she included the pressure to succeed, strong dedication to education, putting others before yourself and, for many, having to the money to finance gym memberships and plastic surgery.

“I believe to be Jewish is to have an eating disorder of some sort,” she says. “In Jewish life, food is used to show love, food is used to mourn, holidays are based around food,” she says.

I love to see a young girl go out and grab the world by the lapels. Life's a bitch. You've got to go out and kick ass.
--Maya Angelou


Following the speakers, the participants split into groups to define several problems—the influence of food, the media, sexual pressures on self-destructive behaviors—and proposed programming to combat those problems.

After a similar Think Tank program in Detroit the following day, a December seminar in Washington, D.C. about girls in leadership—how accomplished Jewish girls are, and a spring seminar in Los Angeles about girls and money, JWI will likely conduct another survey and eventually develop new programming based on these findings.

“Our goal is to drill down our understanding of where Jewish girls are,” Weinstein says, “and create new programming driven through the bloodstream of Jewish organizations.”

To learn more about JWI and the Brain Power for Girl Power Think Tanks, visit  www.jwi.org . 

8 Questions for Michael Goldenberg, Financial Planner, Superhero, Bjork Fan

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11/04/2008

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Michael Goldenberg, citizen of the Jewish World

In his 31 years, Michael Goldenberg has lived in three very different places. Born in Nizhnii Novgorod (then Gorkii), Russia, Goldenberg moved to Israel at the age of 13, and then came to Chicago in 2002 to earn his MBA from Loyola University. Now a financial planner at MB Bank, Goldenberg has also devoted time to engaging other Russian-speaking Jews in community initiatives.

So whether you’ve served in elite Israeli army divisions, love Russian American literature or crunch numbers for a living, Michael Goldenberg is a Jew You Should Know!

1. What did you want to be when you grew up?
A superhero: I always thought it would be fun to jump around, fly and save people.

2. What do you love about what you do today?
As a financial planner, I meet a lot of different people and see a variety of situations. I actually did become a superhero of a sort – I help people in different situations.

3. What are you reading?
I’m part of the Russian Jewish American book club. The most recent book was Anya Ulinich’s Petropolis ,  which showed me the reality of Russia in a way that I didn’t understand it as a child when I left it at 13. It made me appreciate the fact that my parents emigrated from Russia and provided me with the opportunity to grow up in the Western world.

4. What is your favorite place to eat in Chicago?

I love Flat Top Grill, a make-your-own-stir-fry place. I get to make my own choices about ingredients and invent new combinations. It’s a bit about exploring life.

5. If money and logistics played no part, what would you invent?
That’s a hard one. I’m quite satisfied with the world the way it is. But if I really had to, I would invent a real all-in-one workout machine that would also let you play actual video games. Not like WiiFit, but one where you actually exert yourself.

6. Would you rather have the ability to fly or to be invisible?
I never really wanted to fly; I just wanted to have powers to jump really high. I definitely never wanted to be invisible – that’s somewhat depressing because it’s total solitude. If no one can see you, no one can communicate with you.

7. If I scrolled through your iPod what guilty pleasure would I find?
The strangest thing that I wouldn’t expect myself to listen to is Bjork. It’s a weird sound, but I like her music.

8. What’s your favorite Jewish thing to do in Chicago? In other words, how do you Jew?
I like doing all kinds of Jewish things with my friends: Hillel parties, Shabbat dinners; most recently a Purim in October party a friend hosted on Halloween night. And I like the Israeli Film Festival – I’ve attended every single year since I came to the States and will definitely check out the movies from this year.

Losers

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Matthue Roth’s new novel, a love letter to his past 
11/04/2008

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Matthue Roth, blending Orthodox and Pop culture

Former Lakeview resident Matthue Roth has always been a writer, spending many of his early teen years running home after school to write science fiction stories. His new novel,  Losers  might not be about outer space, but the story of a Russian Jew named Jupiter Glazer’s struggle against loser-dom does have elements of a stranger in a strange land.

While Roth has written about Jewish life before—his first book,  Never Mind the Goldbergs , tells the story of an Orthodox punk-rock girl who runs off to Hollywood to star on a sitcom—he says that Losers is a more personal story.

“When I was in Jr. High and I had no friends, I would come home every day and write more. I grew up in a working class Jewish environment in Philly, the neighborhood is somewhat like Rogers Park, just a little too far from the city to go hang out after school. Because the story takes place in the kind of neighborhood I grew up in, writing Losers was like going home.”

I spoke with Roth about the book and his life as a self-described Hasidic Jew who embraces the modern world.

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Oy!: You’ve written about teenagers a few times now. What is it about that age group that inspires you?
Roth: I kinda feel like I’m still 15 sometimes! Teenagers have the autonomy to inspire themselves and the real world hasn’t gotten them down. When you’re a teenager, you’re angry and righteously so, but you’re idealistic. I hope I haven’t lost my passion, idealism or the ability to stay up all night. It’s the time in life when stuff is starting to happen and you’re in control of your destiny. Nothing has ever been so hard or so exciting.

How much of your own life inspired the character of Jupiter Glazer? Do you miss him now that the book is finished?
I miss my characters tremendously. I want to write more about the characters from Goldberg but I am not ready. A lot of characters in Losers are based on parts of people I know—the book is dedicated to my best friend who died recently. We met in third grade and became friends and stuck it out. Everyone thinks that I’m Jupiter or he is, but that’s not it. There are parts of him in [all of the characters]. I am writing because I can’t hold these characters back, they surprise you and they should.

What do you do when you’re not working on novels?
I’m an editor at MyJewishLearning.com--it’s actually really cool, I get to do the weirder things like videos and multi-media and the blog.  The whole concept of a day job is still really new to me, in the past; I have done a lot of freelancing and a lot of spoken word performing. But now I have a baby and I want things to be a bit more stable. My wife and I had a baby eight months ago and it’s really awesome. Every time you hear a song on the radio it’s like a new song for the first time. She’s in love with everything--right now she’s in love with Prince and They Might Giants. I’m in love with Losers. I see a million flaws in Jupiter, but that’s why I love him. But love for my kid trumps my love for the book, which is a new concept.

Your bio describes you as a Hasidic Jew who embraces the modern world. Can you talk about those seemingly opposing religious and cultural ideas?
I grew up conservative and then became modern Orthodox. My wife grew up Hasidic. My Rabbi had always said the difference between modern and traditional Orthodox is that modern Orthodox people sees holiness in everything—his philosophy is that everything is holy, all music has some degree of passion and holiness and godliness. I met my wife’s family who are all Hasidic and learned that my father-in-law’s favorite band is Dire Straits. I mean you can question his taste but there’s a degree to which passion extends to the things they love.

How does that blending of religion and pop culture influence your work?
My first two books are about being Orthodox. The sitcom in Never Mind the Goldbergs is about an Orthodox family, but she is also a punk girl playing a straight Orthodox girl. At its heart, the book is about how you can’t say this is Orthodox, this is Judaism, this is God. In Losers, Jupiter is just a Russian dork that is not sure about himself or his place in the universe. But over the course of the book, he is learning and making connections to people. That’s religion to me, this process of discovery where you never actually discover anything –the process is where the love is.

What advice do you have to aspiring authors or performers?
Before I sold Losers I had literally five books I have written get rejected. When I sold my first book, I came to New York to walk into offices and tell agents to be interested in me. After doing that a lot and people looked at me like I was crazy, I got a call from a company in San Francisco asking me to write a memoir. They had seen my ‘zines and heard about my spoken word--I was at open mikes six nights a week for three years. My advice would be never underestimate the power of saying things. Say things loud and in as many places as you can because you never know who’s listening.

What are you working on now?
I’m working on a sequel to Losers, right now it’s called Enemies but I’m bad with sticking to a title. I’m also working on big project called G-dcast, it’s basically getting artists and musicians and writers and other cool people to tell stories from the Torah portions each week.

For more from Matthue Roth, check out his blog  http://matthues.diaryland.com/ . 

Song leader inspired through music, acceptance

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Falling in love with being Jewish 
11/04/2008

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In a continuing exploration of Jewishness, Jane Charney discovered Jewish history and Jewish life on Gibraltar in August 2008

Gilana Alpert had a way with music. She played guitar like it was an extension of her hands rather than a separate instrument. As she led Friday-night Reform services at Indiana University Hillel, she brought music into the service that made the sanctuary feel empty for me when the guitar wasn’t there. A striking redhead, Gilana made me – a newbie to the world of Jewish practice – feel welcomed and accepted.

In a testament to how small the Jewish world is, I now work with Gilana’s sister Aleza at the Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago. We played Jewish geography recently and figured out that Gilana and I studied at IU at nearly the same time. I lost touch with Gilana when she graduated and stopped leading services after my sophomore year at Indiana University. Aleza told me last week that Gilana suffered a stroke last year and died tragically at 26. Her yarzheit was Monday, November 3, and I want to let her family know that they are not the only ones missing her voice and her music.

The Friday night services were something my friends and I looked forward to all week. We’d go to services, have Hillel dinner made by a Baptist cook (who by now knew more about kashrut than many rabbis), and then go out for dessert, a movie or to a party afterward. I had never been big into Judaism as a religion. By then, I’d gone to a Reform Sunday School for three years (mostly because I loved the history courses), and I struggled – and still do – with my relationship with G-d. I had also tried to forget three atrocious summers at a Lubavitcher summer camp just outside of Moscow, where my parents had sent my sister and me because other Jewish experiences were hard to come by in Russia in the early 1990s. My sister loved it; I hated it. Now our roles have reversed.

I can’t pinpoint exactly which moment it was that I fell in love with being Jewish, but it was definitely one of the Friday night services Gilana led. A Rabbi’s daughter from Michigan, she taught me that the melodies we produce with our hearts have a worthy accompaniment in the guitar. Her melodies and easygoing style made me see that offering a prayer doesn’t have to be about perfection or fervent belief. It can also be about participating in a tradition that makes you feel like part of a community.

This idea is at the root of my connection to Judaism. Whether I’m making challah, lighting Shabbat candles, or reciting the Haggadah on Passover, I’m feeling an instantaneous connection to the community. Since those freshman year Friday nights, I’ve married a nice Russian Jewish boy. I’ve gone to Israel twice and hope to return again and again. I’ve explored what it means to be a Russian Jewish American through volunteering for Russian Hillel and working as a madricha at the annual Midwest Russian Shabbaton. I’ve attended retreats and leadership training sessions. I’ve worked for the Jewish community in three states. I’ve grown as a Jew and as a human, having decided that combining elements from different movements in a “do-it-yourself Judaism” approach was just as good as each of the movements within official Judaism.

Through it all, I have kept Gilana’s wisdom and gift of music as a source of inspiration throughout the past seven years. In the years to come I will continue to explore what it means to be Jewish. And every time I do, I’ll think back to those wonderful Friday night services and the song leader who has given me one of the greatest gifts – the ability to love my people, my culture, my faith and myself.

Historical Preservation Meets Green Innovation

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Green Exchange: committed to environmental sustainability, profit and positive social impact 
11/04/2008

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A rendering of what the building will look like upon completion

It’s impossible to turn on the TV or open a magazine without hearing about going green, sustainability, hybrid cars and other issues related to the environment. Today, it’s easy to find organic produce and green cleaning products at most grocery stores and there are entire stores that only sell items made from recycled or repurposed materials. With all the hype, it might be tempting to buy new counter cleaner and call it a day. But in Logan Square, neighbors and business owners are getting together to make sure that going green is more than a trend.

The massive warehouse at 2545 West Diversey has been a landmark in the Logan Square neighborhood since it was erected at the turn of the 20th century.  Throughout the years, it has been a vital source of employment for the community and a driving force in the local economy.  It has survived different owners and changing work environments and today, the building is going green.

Built by the Vasser Swiss Underwear Company to house “the finest knitting mill in the world,” during its heyday, the factory employed over 1,000 people. The mill was equipped with its own power plant, area for coal storage, laboratories and a clock tower. It was one of the first to provide space for employees to eat and take breaks. The company produced a variety of undergarments up until 1967 when Frederick Cooper Lamps purchased the factory to manufacture its high-end lamps. In 2005, Frederick Cooper Lamps closed the factory and put the building up for sale.

Upset over the loss of jobs in the community, neighbors organized to create the Cooper Lamps Task Force to keep the building from being turned into condominiums. With the support of 1st Ward Alderman Manuel Flores, the building was sold to Baum Development, a real estate development company recognized for its expertise in adaptive reuse and acclaimed for its preservation of historic landmarks. Co-founders Doug and David Baum bought the building initially unsure of how to develop it, but recognizing its “great bones,” Doug and David Baum promised that the building’s purpose would be to revitalize the area economy.

Green Exchange

The new concept for the building originated with Barry Bursak, a local longtime environmentalist who saw potential in such a large space. According to David Baum, “[Barry] was envisioning a green marketplace where he could house his sustainable furniture store alongside other eco-friendly businesses.” Bursak envisioned a green building that would encourage the creation and development of different types of green industries. While the brothers had never developed a green building, the concept of a totally green space immediately appealed to them. Having grown up in a household that emphasized recycling, they had always been passionate about environmental issues.

“My mother was a school teacher and a big proponent of taking care of the environment,” says Baum. “I have clear memories of driving to the recycling center with my mom so that my brother [Doug] and I could throw glass bottles into the recycling bins. We thought it was a blast, but it also had a lasting effect on how we live and work. Being an environmental steward has long been a part of my life experience, and my brother and I carried that ethos into both our personal and professional lives. And now that we both have children, the health and welfare of this planet and the condition in which we leave it is even more important.”

The two realized that going green was the next evolution in their business plan. The company has what it calls a “triple bottom line approach.”  Meaning that their measure of success is not only a financial return on investment, but also an examination of how the project contributed to the community and how it protected the environment through sustainable development.

Baum explains, “Green Exchange is a prime example of this approach as we are, without a doubt, in this venture to make money, but we are working closely with the local community to create green collar jobs and revitalize the area economically. Finally, from an environmental perspective, the building is aspiring to LEED Platinum status which is the highest level of certification available for green buildings.”

Construction still has to be completed on the site before the building will become the sixth in Chicago to receive its LEED Platinum status; but it has already been rewarded with another impressive designation---historical landmark status, which seems a bit incongruous. A building that receives historical landmark status, it goes without saying, is pretty old. The use of sustainable green technology usually happens within the framework of new construction. The Baum brothers have managed to do both.

Ninety-five percent of the original structure will remain intact. By cutting down on the tons of waste normally produced in a tear down, this building has turned into one big recycling project. Just by adapting the building and re-using the space, it is already well on its way to going green.

A marriage between historic and green has equaled huge savings for the future Green Exchange businesses and their customers. Tenants will benefit from Class L tax incentives that significantly reduce property taxes for historical landmarks. In addition, LEED Platinum building will lower all utility costs due to the highly insulated walls and roofs combined with 600 high-performance windows. In addition, a sophisticated HVAC system will allow for individualized temperature control of tenant spaces, cutting down on individual energy consumption.

“One discovery we made is that a green escalator that incorporates occupancy sensors and varying speeds – using 30% less energy than a traditional escalator,” says Baum. “In addition to cool new features there are green options that are being re-discovered. For example, we will be using a 41,000-gallon rain cistern to irrigate the green roof and sky garden. While some of the technology used to predict rainfall and to pull the water from the basement to the roof is modern, the concept of gathering rain for re-use goes back to ancient civilizations. It’s a lovely blend of the past and the future.”

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The sky garden adjacent to the organic restaurant

Inside the Space

Slated to open in the spring of 2009, the 272,000 square-foot building will be the largest eco friendly building in the country. “This will be the healthiest building you can build,” explains Jennifer Schellinger, director of marketing and PR for Green Exchange. Currently, there are six green businesses with plans to move into the space ranging from a packing company that uses sustainable handmade products to a marketing company that specializes in green services. There will also be an organic restaurant adjacent to an 8,000 square foot sky garden and a parking lot with priority spots designated for low-emitting vehicles.

The building will also be able to accommodate entrepreneurs and small businesses that want to be in a green environment, but don’t necessarily need a large, freestanding store. These turn-key type spaces will be equipped with many amenities including an option to rent a space that includes living quarters. The current plan offers any tenant the opportunity to work and live in the same environmentally friendly building.

“The lofts offer the perfect amount of seclusion and interaction, as you are neighbors with some of the world’s most pioneering green businesses, said Schellinger. “You’ll be exposed to myriad networking events, marketing opportunities, educational seminars and eco-leader speaker series as a tenant of the Green Exchange.”

The future of green

Cautiously optimistic about the success of the project, Baum Development hopes to develop similar buildings on a much larger scale. “Green Exchange will hopefully be a business model for the planet,” says Schellinger. And locally, there are plans in place to create an educational center within the building to help educate the city of Chicago about how to live green lifestyles.

“We are creating a one-stop environment where people can learn about green initiatives and the latest innovations, where they can purchase green goods and services and where they can meet and mingle with others who have similar goals and objectives,” says Baum.

According to Baum, the green movement is here to stay. “The future is bright green. This has moved beyond the trend phase and into the mainstream consciousness; we have no choice … attention needs to be paid and changes need to happen if we want our children and our children’s children to inherit a healthy planet.”

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