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Have you been personally inspired by a Holocaust survivor?

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Part of our collective Jewish responsibility is to remember. In commemoration of Yom HaShoah, Oy!Chicago is looking for guest writers of all writing experience levels to contribute to our next special blog series, "We Will Never Forget," a collection of first-person blog posts about how our lives have been impacted by survivors of the Holocaust and their stories.

Whether you are the descendant of a survivor, or simply wouldn't be here today if it weren't for a survivor; whether you have made sharing a survivor's story part of your mission or had one meaningful moment when a survivor touched your life, we want to get your story -- and their story -- out there.

To pitch your idea, write a paragraph describing what your piece would be about and send it to info@oychicago.comby Friday, April 15.

The only other requirements are that the post should in some way relate to the theme, and that you are 21 or older. We will review your submission and let you know if we are interested in working with you and running your piece in the series, which will run May 2-6.

Please note that Oy!Chicago is a volunteer-staffed website, so we are unable to pay for published submissions at this time.

Thanks for your interest!

Stef & Steven

‘Nurture the Wow’ focuses on the spirituality of parenting

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Chicago-area Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg's new book, "Nurture the Wow," recognizes parenthood as nothing less than a spiritual practice.

After Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg became a mother for the first time, she found herself trying to make sense of this profound life-changing experience that we call parenthood.

"With parenthood you have this whole set of absolutely transformative experiences, but it has not been informed by how we talk about what prayer is or what God is or what spirituality is," she said. Because Judaism and Jewish thought, which had sustained her for so many years, seemed at first out of touch with her new role as parent, full of sleepless nights, tantrums, and mounds of laundry.

And that was when a light bulb went off in her head. "I started wondering how many theologians throughout history have been mothers?"

Of course Ruttenberg already knew the answer to that question. "The answer is very few. While many of the men writing theology have been fathers, they have not been engaged in taking care of children," she said.

In her new book, Nurture the Wow: Finding Spirituality in the Frustration, Boredom, Tears, Poop, Desperation, Wonder, and Radical Amazement of Parenting (Flatiron Books), Ruttenberg, a Chicago-based rabbi, returns once again to the treasures of Judaism that had sustained her for so long and shows how they can "illuminate the work of parenting -- the love, the drudgery, the exasperation, all of it."

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Because Nurture the Wow, which reads like a parenting guide grounded in Jewish thought and wisdom as told by a friend who is in the midst of it herself, goes so far as to say that the act of parenthood is nothing less than an act of spirituality.

"I went looking for ways to speak to my exhausted, crazy-making, blissful, confusing experience of being a mother and I came to the conclusion that parenting can be a legitimate spiritual practice in its own right. It can change who you are and how you are in the world," she said.

Ruttenberg, who has been named by Newsweek and The Daily Beast as one of 10 "rabbis to watch" and one of the top 50 most influential women rabbis, is also the author of Surprised By God: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Religion (Beacon Press), and the editor of numerous anthologies.

She received her rabbinic ordination from the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies in Los Angeles, and is currently Director of Education for Ask Big Questions, an initiative of Hillel International, and a rabbinic consultant to Hillel International.

She and her husband, a professor at Northwestern University, have three children ages 7, 4 and 7 months. Currently on sabbatical in Israel, they will return to the Chicago area over the summer.

With "Nurture the Wow," Ruttenberg foresees her primary audience as parents of young children those who are in the thick of the crazy years. "Hopefully, I've given them a framework and ways to think about what they're going through in a more thoughtful way so that they have a few extra resources when the tantrum starts," she said. But she also hopes anyone "inside the Jewish conversation" also picks up her book.

"I think of what I'm doing as feminist theology," she said. "I want to talk to them about what it means if we take parents of all genders and take their experiences seriously and incorporate that into our conversation about what Judaism is."

Because Ruttenberg feels that raising children -- and everything that goes with it, from the profound to the mundane and everything in between (including moments of despair) -- is just as spiritually enlightening as the most zenful meditation practice. "Individual parents need to understand their parenting as a spiritual practice and we need to shift our culture in how we think about it," said Ruttenberg. "Because if you go deep enough in your parenting it will take you everywhere. The transcendent love that you feel for your child can take you to the doorway of the holy. It will take you all the way."

Abigail Pickus is a Chicago-based writer and editor.

Third annual JCC Chicago Jewish Film Festival opens March 10

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Budding young filmmaker Jack Yonover will share his food allergies documentary 'That Bites!' with audiences at this year's JCC Chicago Jewish Film Festival. (Photo credit: Jack Mueller)

Jack Yonover is quite an impressive and articulate eighth grader. Two years ago, Yonover, who is allergic to pistachios and cashews, came up with the idea to make a documentary for his bar mitzvah project reflecting on the fears and frustrations of living with food allergies.

A self-starter and an aspiring filmmaker, Yonover raised $10,000 to fund That Bites! through a crowdfunding campaign. The Wilmette native took lessons at Chicago's FACETS Multi-Media film school to learn the basics of documentary filmmaking and learned to edit film from the geniuses at the Apple Store. Then, for Chanukah, his family bought him some movie-making equipment.

Yonover says he hopes his film helps other kids, like himself, who struggle with allergies. "I know that when I was diagnosed with my allergy, if I had seen my movie, the first few months of living with a food allergy would have been a lot easier," he said.

His film is about to get a much wider audience when the third annual JCC Chicago Jewish Film Festival opens March 10. The documentary is one of 18 Jewish-inspired films that will be screened at the festival, which runs through March 20 in Chicago and the suburbs.

"We have such a fantastic selection of films," said Addie Goodman, chief advancement officer for JCC Chicago. "There really is something for everyone -- documentaries, shorts and feature-lengths -- stories that will make you laugh, cry, be inspired, learn, and love. The film festival celebrates great art and powerful storytelling all through a Jewish lens."

In addition to Yonover's documentary, two other festival films specifically relate to the Chicago community -- Surviving Skokie and Breakfast at Ina's. Surviving Skokie, created by the son of a Holocaust survivor, chronicles how the quiet existence of hundreds of survivors is disrupted when a neo-Nazi group announces plan to march through town. For lighter fare, Breakfast at Ina's tells the story of Ina Pinkney, a.k.a. Chicago's "Breakfast Queen," who decided to close her iconic West Loop restaurant after more than 30 years of feeding Chicagoans.

Some of the festival films drawing buzz include the quirky documentary Very Semi-Serious, which examines the humor, art, and genius of The New Yorker cartoons; the British dramedy, Dough, chronicling an old Jewish baker whose floundering business is saved by a young Muslim apprentice; and Felix and Meira, a cross-cultural love story, set in Montreal, between a Hasidic woman and a secular man. Also, Every Face Has a Name captures the first free steps of Holocaust survivors docking in Malmo, Sweden, while It Happened in Saint-Tropez is the French romantic comedy filled with mix-ups and betrayals involving a family of opposites.

The films, targeting ages from kids to adults, will screen at eight venues around the city and suburbs, including additional screenings in private homes upon request.

"What we're looking for with the festival," Goodman said, "is the opportunity for our community to connect, dialogue, think, and really be inspired by film."

For more details on the JCC Chicago Jewish Film Festival, visit www.jccfilmfest.org. JCC is a partner with the Jewish United Fund in serving our community.

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