OyChicago articles

Let Them Eat Tuna

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Kosher eating in the loop


Soup's on in the loop

Maybe you keep kosher, or your coworkers do, or your best friend does. Maybe you'd like to grab a bite to eat before a show, or invite that cute guy in the adjacent cubicle out for dinner—or just eat lunch. 

Like many of you, we work in the loop, and like many of you, we often spend our lunch breaks meeting friends or schmoozing with co-workers. While neither of us keeps kosher, some of our favorite people do, and we’ve spent quite a few mornings looking for restaurants that will accommodate the frum and frei alike.

Have you ever done a quick Google search for kosher restaurants in the loop? The results are…underwhelming.

Some searches will turn up an impressive list of lunch and dinner options, but upon closer inspection, you'll find these are kosher-style, not certified kosher. While Shalom Deli gets rave reviews on Yelp, that ham and cheese bagel on the menu isn’t going to impress your Orthodox boss.

With a Jewish population of over 270,000, metropolitan Chicago boasts one of the largest in the United States. Jews comprise 9% of Chicago’s population, but the kosher restaurant industry is primarily concentrated in the Northern suburbs.

Chicago's Loop offers only three kosher options.

The Spertus Café is one option, and the location and view provide some much-needed drama to an otherwise lack-luster dining experience. Most of the food is pre-packaged, but there is beer and wine available, and with a little imagination, an omnivore might be able to piece together a satisfying lunch. Vegetarians, on the other hand, may need a second glass of merlot to wash down the muffins and bagels that comprise the bulk of the non-meat selections.

On the afternoon we visited, there were two soups offered, one a thick cinnamon-spiced tomato soup that was not for the faint of heart. Our other options were more mundane—think egg salad sandwiches and iceberg lettuce—and we were disappointed to find that both the online and posted menus listed items that were not available when we visited. Open for much of the day, six days a week, the Spertus Café provides an important service to those of us needing a quick, kosher meal, but the food did little to feed the soul.

If you're in the mood to pick up a sandwich on your way back to the office, Chicago Loop Synagogue offers boxed lunches made fresh everyday at Skokie’s Sandwich Club. Lunches cost $11 and include a sandwich or wrap (usually chicken or turkey), a pickle, a drink, dessert, and homemade potato chips said to be the best in Chicago. While a great option for many, these lunches are not vegetarian-friendly.

In contrast, MetroKlub, the bustling, seen and be-seen certified kosher hot spot in Greektown’s Crown Plaza Hotel, caters to a wide audience and is a popular place for business lunches. Chef Chris Turano’s menu offers a full menu of fresh lunch options from vegetable salads and hamburgers to strip steak and bruschetta. Though fleishig, MetroKlub has enough variety to accommodate even picky eaters like us.

Vegan cooks pay attention: Turano’s artful reimagining of traditional dairy recipes might reinvent the way people think about kosher food. One bite of his parve turtle cheesecake was enough to sway even the most skeptical of our lunch companions.

Unfortunately, if you’re working late you better plan ahead and pack a snack. Once Spertus closes its doors at 7pm, anyone hoping for a kosher meal in the loop is out of luck.

Nice Jewish Girl Seeks…

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What JDate has to offer women seeking women


Sarah, lookin' for love in all the J places

I finally broke down and joined JDate. After months of looking at the first page of people who matched my criteria—as many as you can see without joining—I decided to take the next step. I mean, the lady who’d be the horseradish to my gefilte fish could be waiting for me right at the top of page two.

So I joined. And I clicked. And there was no page two.

That’s right. All of the non-smoking women seeking women between the ages of 24 and 35 fit right there on a single page (to be fair, five months later there are now two whole people on the second page). And none of those ladies were quite what I was looking for. Or at least, I don’t think they were; it’s hard to tell when half of them don’t bother to either put up a picture or answer the profile questions.

About six weeks after joining, I discussed my JDate frustrations with a recently-engaged Irish Catholic friend. “Well, are you really surprised?” she asked. “I mean, you’re already throwing out any semblance of tradition or social norms or values by dating women. So it’s a little weird that you’d be so stuck on the more traditional, kind of passé practice of dating only Jews. I’m sure that’s why there aren’t lots of women on JDate.”

Say what?!

Perhaps she misspoke. Perhaps she didn’t mean values. Perhaps I misunderstood what she was saying altogether. Perhaps she was saying that members of the queer community are generally intelligent, open-minded individuals who will live their lives in a way that makes them happy, even if it breaks the mold of what Bubbe, Zayde, and Uncle Milt always pictured for them.

For as much as my friend’s comment upset me, it also got me thinking. Is it important to me that I find a “nice Jewish girl?” Or are “nice” and “girl” enough? Mostly I’d signed up on JDate because I had a bunch of friends who had had some success with it, and I know of a handful of “JDate weddings.” But was there something more subconscious going on there? Did I pick it over, say, match.com, because of the Jewish factor?

I decided to rethink my dream date. I come from an interfaith family, but consider myself Jewish. It is safe to say my brothers and I were the only triple B’nai Mitzvah in Hyde Park in 1995, and I even taught at my childhood synagogue for a number of years. But we also had Easter baskets and a Christmas tree growing up. I never cared about those holidays, though, beyond getting excited that I got to hear pretty music, get a few gifts and eat a big dinner that usually ended with pie.

My parents successfully raised us in one religion while exposing us to another, so why do I need to worry about whether my partner knows the story of Passover without reading the CliffsNotes version of the Hagaddah or the Rugrats’ “Let My Babies Go?” Plus, I didn’t want to offend my father by deciding that people from his faith weren’t somehow good enough for me.

That’s when I joined match.com. I was fed up with the small number of women on JDate, and I’d decided that in choosing a profile worth responding to, someone’s answer to the “what’s the last book you read?” question might be more telling than her religion. As my pool expanded from fewer than 20 to over 200 profiles—way more than one page of results!—I met some great people, and was feeling pretty good about the dating scene.

Then a nice Jewish girl emailed me through match.com, noting that my Judaism was something that drew her to me. We found that we had a lot in common, and could turn a quick call to say “hey” into a three hour conversation that kept this Oy!Chicago sleepyhead up past her 10 o’clock bedtime. One of the things we shared with each other for close to an hour on the phone and in lengthy paragraphs in emails? Passover stories. What our seders were like this year, what we did to break Passover (pizza, both of us), what our families’ holiday traditions are and so much more.

And I loved it. It was fun sharing that part of my life—my own special brand of Judaism—with someone else. I’d hang up the phone or sign out of my email still smiling, knowing that there is someone else who appreciates where I’m coming from, where I hope to go, and what the issues along the way might be for me as a young Jewish lesbian.

I think I understand now why I was drawn to JDate rather than match.com in the first place. Having shared experiences can make the whole dating thing a little easier. It gives you some common ground to start from on a first date; and anyone who says first dates don’t need to be easier is a liar. And I probably owe JDate an apology for badmouthing it to my friends. Sure, it may not have gotten me a date, but it did give me a better understanding of myself.

At this point, I have no idea when the matzah ball to my chicken broth will come rolling along. And I know a Jewish partner will likely come with a Jewish mother-in-law in tow. But if sharing a Jewish life with someone else can make me smile the way I have just by sharing some stories with someone new during the past few weeks, it’s worth the wait. And the in-laws.

8 Questions for Jon Rosenfield, bass player, number cruncher, Passover purist

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Pale Jonny can entertain you, but he's not sure he can fix your motorcycle

Jon Rosenfield, AKA "Pale Jonny,” nee "Jonny Motion,” likes to say he’s from Wheeling, the city with feeling. Today, the self-described extremely amateur motorcycle mechanic calls Logan Square home. By day, Jon does accounting and HR work (he’s is partial to the title Controller). In the evenings, you’ll find Pale Jonny playing bass for Pale Gallery—the band heads to London this month for a big show as part of the All Tomorrow’s Parties festival.

So, whether you like Pale Gallery, have strong feelings about honesty in the Haggadah or enjoy Neil Diamond, Jon Rosenfield is a Jew You Should Know!

1. What did you want to be when you grew up?
When I was in junior high and LA Law was on, I wanted to be a lawyer. What I wanted to be usually depended on my favorite show at the time, for a while it was CHiPs, then LA Law… then in college I wanted to be a rhetoric or literary studies professor. I’m pretty malleable that way.

2. What do you love about what you do today?
Well. As it relates to the band, I like having a creative outlet and it gives me something to cling to for the prolonged adolescence that I am still maintaining.

3. What are you reading?
Hell’s Angles by Hunter S. Thompson and Achewood.

4. What’s your favorite place to eat in Chicago?
I would say that I consistently enjoy Feast. For carryout, I want to make a point to pour out some beer for Manee Thai on Pulaski. We’ve always gotten take out from them and it’s always good. A fire gutted the building last week, RIP, Manee Thai.

5. If money and logistical reality played no part, what would you invent?
For the last couple of years, I have been very insistent that time travel is impossible. I mean, come on, you can’t travel in time. It’s a one-way ticket. So I guess I would invent time travel; why not prove myself wrong.

6. Would you rather have the ability to fly or the ability to be invisible?
I think that I would have to fly because I don’t think I could hold myself to using the invisibility for good. And flying would be cool.

7. If I scrolled through your iPod, what guilty pleasure song would I find?
“Practically Newborn” by Neil Diamond, that shit is sweet. It’s a cool, weird song from the album Velvet Gloves and Spit. It’s pretty awesome.

8. What’s your favorite Jewish thing to do in Chicago—in other words, how do you Jew?
I’m gonna bend the rules on this question. Even if you’re writing a Haggadah for children, you can’t not call the matzah the bread of affliction—that’s what it is and you can’t call it something else. And you can’t gloss over drowning the enemies in the sea—because that’s what happens. I was reading from a Haggadah for children this Passover, and these things weren’t in it and I was very unsatisfied. That’s what I was told as a kid and I didn’t become a violent person.

The Haggadah’s were cute and everything, but I’m sorry, it’s the bread of affliction. The Old Testament is eye for an eye: You part the Red Sea and you smite the enemies. That’s how it works; you can’t candy coat it.

Why’s a nice Jewish girl telling jokes like that?

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Jena, morbidly quirky in pink

On a typical weekend, almost-famous Chicago Jewish comedian Jena Friedman races by bike from gig to gig, performing standup all over the city.

Playing three shows in two days is typical for Friedman, a quarter-lifer, who lives in Lakeview. But recently, the comic experienced a weekend that she’ll never forget. In May, she opened three shows for Chicago native and manic comic genius Robin Williams, who made surprise appearances at comedy shows at Lakeshore Theater and Town Hall Pub, to the excitement of three unsuspecting crowds.

At the end of the weekend, Williams appeared at “Entertaining Julia: Comedy, Music, and Fun,” a variety show hosted by Friedman every Sunday night at Town Hall Pub, a hole-in-the-wall neighborhood bar in Boystwon where everybody knows your name. Her show offers comedians and musicians a chance to showcase their talents and test out new material, all the while trying to entertain Friedman’s friend/bartender Julia, who runs the pub. ”It was a magical night,” says Friedman. “I love the fact that people who have been doing this for so long—like Williams—can stop in and have a place that takes them back to where they started.”

Friedman, who works as a copywriter, just started performing standup two years ago, and it’s a path she never planned to pursue. In fact, she stumbled into comedy back in 2000 while studying anthropology at Northwestern University, writing her 50-page senior thesis—an undertaking not usually known for its laughs.

In researching her thesis on female comedians in Chicago’s improv scene which--eventually morphed into a paper on minority men and women in improv—she turned to Improv Olympics for help. The improvisational comedy theater recommended that she, herself, take classes to get a feel for the art form. So she signed up and spent a year living and breathing comedy, working behind-the-scenes, meeting people, learning improv and performing.

After graduating from her comic schooling—which included training at The Second City and Annoyance Theatre in Chicago—Friedman was hooked and has been cultivating her dark routine ever since. In addition to standup, in the summer of 2007 she wrote, directed and produced “The Refugee Girls Revue,” a parody on American Girl dolls as refugees.

A critic from ComedyNet said the following of Friedman’s act: “If an Edward Gorey line-drawing came to life, donned blue jeans and performed stand-up comedy, it might resemble the eerily dry and morbidly quirky Jena Friedman."

Though she always felt well adjusted growing up in New Jersey—“I was the captain of the tennis team”—Friedman had a dark side even then. “I was very into weird, dark cult stuff,” she recalls. She loved artist/writer Gorey’s morbid sketches and early on she’d read about vampire bats in the Encyclopedia Britannica. The first adult chapter book she read was the biography of Vernon Wayne Howell, also known as David Koresh, the leader of the Branch Davidian religious sect.

In addition to her quirky taste, she had a strong Jewish upbringing, raised in a Conservative Jewish home, celebrating her bat mitzvah and attending Hebrew school through the 10th grade. Though she still embraces a strong Jewish identity, she says she feels a little disconnected from her Judaism right now, a disconnect she feels is “age-appropriate.”

Friedman is a Jewish, female comedian, yet her material tends to skip the parts about being Jewish and female. Every so often, she’ll pepper her act with Jewish references like a joke on “Chanukkah carols,” but usually she veers away from Jewish jokes because she feels so many talented Jewish comedians who came before her have already done the material. “There’s such a cool lineage of Jewish comics,” she says, “so that character is so trodden on.”

And she doesn’t dwell on girl jokes either. Friedman is warm and dons a disarming smile. Yet her jokes don’t match her outward, feminine appearance, and she rarely discusses her dating life or other typical female staples.

A recent 7-minute set for Friedman ran the gamut of her “cringe-inducing,”—as her jokes have been called—morbid ponderings on date rapists, the Streetwise sellers, provocative photos of Disney teen pop star Miley Cyrus (“Chill-lax, Disney; I heart Annie Leibovitz” says Friedman) and the contrasts between black and white Chicago neighborhoods.

Though Friedman pushes the envelope in her comedy—which has been compared to fellow New Jersey Jewish comic Sarah Silverman—Friedman says she isn’t trying to offend people. Rather, from time to time, she uses her anthropological background to comment through her jokes on the social ills in society, such as racism. “I will do my jokes one night in a predominantly black room and people will be laughing before I even get to the punch line,” said Friedman. “You can’t pretend that we don’t have racism built into our society. If people think [my jokes] are racist, then they just don’t get it.”

Friedman plans to keep honing her routine. Who knows? Maybe some day, like Robin Williams she’ll be the surprise comedian at the end of the night and make a young comedian’s weekend.

No matter what her future in the spotlight holds, she recognizes that her material will transform through the years. “I have no idea how my stuff will evolve,” she said. “The voice I have now might not be the voice I have in five years. So anything that’s been captured on YouTube can totally be used as blackmail.”

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