OyChicago articles

Call for nominations for Chicago’s first ever Jewish 36 under 36 list!

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We want YOU, the young leaders, humanitarians, educators, social activists, and movers and shakers of Chicago to be part of Double Chai in the Chi: Chicago's first ever Jewish 36 under 36 list.

Presented by YLD and Oy!Chicago, this venture will shed light on the faces of Chicago's Jewish future and recognize the amazing contributions of our generation.

What we're looking for: People who are making a difference through their work, who give back in their free time, are entrepreneurs, innovators, leaders within the Jewish community, or just Jews we should know.

Nominate yourself or your friends to be a part of Chicago's first ever Jewish 36 under 36 list. Winners will be announced and profiled July 17 on Oy!Chicago and highlighted at YLD's WYLD party on Aug. 2.

How to apply:

To nominate yourself or a friend (or two), please email the following information to info@oychicago.com by noon on Monday, June 18.

Your name:
Nominee's name:
Nominee's date of birth:
Nominee's email and phone:
Nominee's occupation:
Relationship to nominee:
Why should this person be on Chicago's first ever Jewish 36 under 36 list? (200 words or less):
Why is this person a Jew we should know? (200 words or less):
What else do we need to know? (200 words or less):

Got questions? We got answers. Email Stefanie@Oychicago.com.

The heirs of intermarriage

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The heirs of intermarriage photo 1 

Panelists from left: Rabbi Miriam Jerris, Jared Jackson, Erica Sosa, Nica Jacobson, and Sarah Buxbaum

How will the heirs of intermarriage change Judaism?

Can you be "Jewish and" rather than "Jewish or"?

Can the Jewish world handle "half-Jewish?"

Is being "half-Jewish no big deal anymore?

These questions and others were posited by Rabbi Adam Chalom, dean for North America of the International Institute for Secular Humanistic Judaism, during his kick-off presentation at a three-day colloquium titled, "Half-Jewish?—the Heirs of Intermarriage."

The conference—which took place at Northwestern University in April—gathered some 150 participants from around the country to hear presentations, panels, and discussions about the effects of intermarriage on Judaism with the goal of stimulating new approaches for outreach and acceptance of interfaith families and their heirs.

Host organization The International Institute for Secular Humanistic Judaism in collaboration with the Newberger Hillel at the University of Chicago Center and Fiedler Hillel at Northwestern University, brought in a range of speakers including Latina-Jewish artist Maya Escobar, University of Kansas Professor of Sociology, Lynn Davidman, and Rabbi Ari Moffic, director of Interfaith Family/Chicago.

Sessions covered everything from identity formation for children of intermarriage to "half-Jewish" and Israel to the power of "half-Jewish." But the centerpiece of the conference focused on Jewish 20- and 30-somethings and how intermarriage has affected and will affect the next generation.

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Paul Golin of the Jewish Outreach Institute

Paul Golin, associate executive director of Jewish Outreach Institute, shared results from a 2011 study of young adults who are the product of intermarriage. He found that 70% of the participants who responded to the survey said that "being Jewish" is "somewhat" or "very" important to them, while 65% of them said that they want to pass on "Jewish ethnic identity to their kids."

Golin's research found a strong correlation between having bar mitzvahs or bat mitzvahs and identifying Jewish. Of the participants in the survey who had bar and bat mitzvahs in some capacity, 90% of them considered themselves to be solely Jewish.  

Yoni Sarason, Midwest Regional Director of Birthright Israel NEXT, works with the 300,000 kids who have returned from birthright trips planning outreach events and opportunities to keep them involved in the Jewish community. He's found that, "trying to do outreach or engagement with [someone with] one Jewish parent is not different than a kid with two," he said. "If there are opportunities built on things people like, they will be attracted to it, no matter if they have one or two Jewish parents."

University of Kansas Professor Lynn Davidman has researched and interviewed countless adults of intermarriage and noted similar results in her presentation. She believes that Judaism is going through a period of popularity where people want to be part of the tribe. "Today Jewish people are seen as successful," she noted. "Jewish for them means being a part of a population that is Nobel Prize winners."

At the end of the colloquium, Chalom surmised that it is clear that there is not only growing acceptance towards intermarrying couples over the last 40 years, but more importantly these intermarried Jews are still holding on to and passing down their Jewish identities.

As a pulpit rabbi he has found, "that many of these [intermarried] couples want us to officiate at intermarriages in order to keep a positive connection…many heirs of intermarriage maintain positive attitudes towards their Jewish identities."

In fact, Chalom sees some positive effects of intermarriage. "Being intermarried can inspire the Jewish partner to consider what it means to them to be Jewish," he said, "[whereas] two Jewish partners might be equally indifferent."

It's imperative the Jewish community understand the power of the personal story, according to Chalom. "There is no one template of interfaith family experience or pattern that is THE future," he said. "There will be conversion, and people raised both, and people raised one culturally, and all kids of varieties."

The Jewish tent, he concluded, needs to be made large enough to embrace everyone.

Other speakers at the colloquium included: Rabbi Sivan Malkin Maas, the first Israeli rabbi ordained by the International Institute for Secular Humanistic Judaism, Sarah Buxbaum, a statistical geneticist and Assistant Research Professor at Jackson State University, Jared Jackson, founder of Jews in ALL Hues, Nica Jacobson, a graduate of the Chicago Interfaith Family School, and Rabbi Miriam Jerris, associate professor of Professional Development at the International Institute for Secular Humanistic Judaism.

For more information on the International Institute for Secular Humanistic Judaism, visit www.iishj.org.

‘Freud’s Last Session’

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‘Freud’s Last Session’ photo

Sigmund Freud and C.S. Lewis probably never met, but what if they had?  With diametrically opposing views on the existence of God, the two intellectual giants would have had a lot to debate. That's the premise of the play Freud's Last Session, making its Midwest premiere at the Mercury Theater in Chicago now through Sunday, June 3.

Written by playwright Mark St. Germain and directed by Tyler Merchant, the play was inspired by the book The Question of God, by Dr. Armand M. Nicholi Jr., a psychology professor at Harvard University, who places the arguments of the two great thinkers side by side. At the end of the book, Nicholi mentions that an unknown Oxford intellectual visited Freud shortly before his death and wonders what if that person would have been Lewis. 

St. Germain picks up where the book left off and poses an imagined meeting between the legendary psychoanalyst Dr. Freud (played by Martin Rayner) and the novelist, poet, and rising academic star Lewis (played by Mark H. Dold) pre-Chronicles of Narnia fame. "To me, that was a play," St. Germain said. "Putting two people with such different opinions who were both convinced they were right just seemed like it would be interesting."

In the 80-minute play—which premiered in the Berkshires and has been playing off Broadway for two years—Freud invites Lewis to his London home on the day that England enters World War II, just a couple weeks before Freud's death. Freud, age 83 at the time of their meeting, is gravely ill with oral cancer and takes his own life before the cancer does. 

Lewis expects the psychiatrist to attack him for satirizing him in his new book, but Freud has a more pressing agenda in mind. During their conversation, the two men debate life's biggest questions, topics like love, family, sex, philosophy, music, war, but mostly they clash over God. Lewis, a Christian who transformed from an atheist into a believer, argues for the existence of God, while Freud, a man of science, is an ardent Jewish atheist. Taught as a boy about religion by his Roman Catholic nanny and his Orthodox Jewish father, he asks Lewis why did he "abandon truth and embrace a hideous lie?"

The show explores life's heaviest topics in a poignant, yet humorous way. While the men disagree on almost everything, they convey a respect and affection for one another. "What's amazing about this script is you encounter someone in life who is completely different than you, you spend time with that person, and you discover how similar you are as opposed to how dissimilar you are," Dold said. "You think these two men will not get along, but the door shuts and 80 minutes later, you see a friendship, a connection…They're never going to agree but you see a compassion for each other."

No one knows who's right when it comes to questioning the existence of God, but as Freud tells Lewis in a light-hearted moment in the play, "One of us is a fool." 

'Freud's Last Session' plays at the Mercury Theater now through June 3. For information and tickets, visit www.FreudsLastSession.com  or call the Mercury Theater at (773) 325-1700 or visit www.mercurytheaterchicago.com.

Taking Out The Trash

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The experience of a Jewish Chicagoan at ‘Masa Israel’s Building Future Leadership’ seminar


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What do you get when you place 500 young Jewish leaders together for a five day intensive seminar at a hotel tucked away in the historic hills of Jerusalem?

While my mother would have loved the answer to this question be me leaving with a pretty Jewish girlfriend, in actuality I departed Masa Israel's 2012 Building Future Leadership (BFL) seminar with a vision, plan, and the tools essential for transforming a seemingly unreachable objective of positively altering Israel's ecological landscape into a tangible reality. MASA, which means "journey" in Hebrew, offers participants scholarships that enable thousands of Jewish youth to spend a semester or year in Israel in any of the more than 150 programs.

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This story begins long before and far away from my participation in the 2012 Building Future Leadership (BFL) seminar. In May of 2011 I graduated from the University of Illinois; by August, my bags were packed for I was leaving behind my family and friends in Vernon Hills in order to embark on a 10-month journey as an Israel Government Fellow. I have been a resident of Jerusalem and a Fellow positioned in the Israeli Ministry of Finance for the last seven months. From stashing my ties in the far back corner of my closet, to calling tomato, cucumber, and cheese on toast breakfast, I have very much assimilated into life as an Israeli and Jerusalemite.

Over our time in Israel, my friends and fellow Israel Government Fellows Dan, Joel, and Sam have joined me in experiencing all that Israel has to offer. We have spent countless hours running the streets of Jerusalem in preparation for the Tel Aviv Marathon; we have hiked from the Negev to the Galil; we have spent a dozen Shabbats practicing our matkot (paddle ball) skills on the beaches of the Mediterranean Sea.

In each of these experiences, one consistent component of the land stood out to us-trash. It truly shocks us the way in which the land of Israel is being treated. In each of our communities from around the world, every Jew sits down with their family and on Passover reads from their Haggadah, "Next year in Jerusalem!" This simple wish expresses the deep tie between Eretz Yisrael and the Jewish people that has remained a consistent binding force for over two millennia. As four young Jews who have long envisioned Israel as the oasis of natural beauty in the Middle East-the place where the desert blooms-we kept asking ourselves how we, as a people, can sacrifice, and struggle so much for the land of milk and honey just so we can distort and scar its beauty?

With that question in the back of our minds, Dan, Joel, Sam and I boarded a bus for the BFL seminar. The aim of BFL is to equip the Jewish leaders of tomorrow with the tools to cultivate positive change in their communities as well as coach them on how to be a strong advocate for Israel once they return to their respective countries. The BFL's educational components were broken down into tracks focusing on entrepreneurship, coaching, and networking. The workshops were given an injection of energy and know-how with many of the sections being led by the social entrepreneurship experts at PresenTense. To put it simply, the intensive five-day seminar is an incubator for ideas and visions. It is here, surrounded by insightful instructors and energetic future leaders that social initiatives relating to the Jewish experience gain the ability to emerge from a fictitious existence, take root, and become tangible vehicles for change.

Led by Ariel Beery, co-director of PresenTense, the "meat and potatoes" of the BFL seminar began with an idea slam. Reflecting renowned philosopher George Berkley famous query, "If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?" does an idea exist if it isn't written down on paper, out there for everyone to see?

During the idea slam, Joel was able to capture what all of us had been feeling for so many months when he wrote down on a sticky note his "problem" that he would like to see tackled: the excessive garbage scattered throughout Israel. Flowing from that simple but profound thought, Dan, a Sidney, Australia resident, spoke of Australia's national cleanup day. More than just picking up trash, Dan articulated a national, unifying day where Australians from all walks of life hit the streets, trails, and beaches to beautify their country. It took only a few minutes for the concept of marrying Joel's problem and Dan's solution to marinate in our minds and hearts. Then and there, the four of us decided to use our remaining time at the BFL seminar and in Israel to bring an Israeli national clean-up day into existence.

Realizing the instruction, tools, and platform the BFL seminar offered was the perfect place to construct and launch our initiative, we wasted no time and immediately began developing our concept. Immersed within the networking track-a program focused on concept development and harnessing social media to raise awareness and encourage community involvement-we used our PresenTense instructor's insight and experience on how to take an idea, establish a clear vision, and develop a "future history" or plan for success in order to breathe life into an eco-initiative to benefit Israel. Fueled by a "conquer the world" attitude inspired by the speakers and fellow participants at BFL, we turned a concept espoused at the idea slam into a full blown eco-initiative in just 36 short hours.

By the end of the fourth day of the BFL seminar, we had established a clear vision and goals, developed a plan for leveraging the power and influence of the 10,000 strong Masa participants positioned across Israel, and created a digital campaign that includes a website (www.cleantheland.org) and Facebook page dedicated to the cause. Upon receiving strong support from Masa's top staff at the seminar, we were given approval to formally launch our initiative by addressing all 500 participants of the BFL seminar. Standing up on stage, we illustrated our vision and made it clear that, as a united group of young Jewish leaders, we have the power to take the first step towards instilling a "leave no trace" attitude in the Land of Israel.

The author of the description webpage for the Building Future Leadership seminar misleadingly states that the BFL is only a five-day seminar. My friends and I, along with the hundreds of young Jewish leaders who joined us, are using the creative and insightful means we developed at the seminar to institute change each and every day. In many ways, as each of the 500 BFL seminar participants continue to by the catalyst for positive change in their communities, the seminar will continue to function and never actually end. On May 18, we will be facilitating the inaugural Clean the Land Day where Masa's eager and motivated participants will promote a "lead by example" attitude and take a significant step in creating long lasting change for Israel, one unsightly piece of trash at a time. Every park, sidewalk, and beach restored, as well as every visitor and Israeli who develops a more eco-conscious mindset, will owe their newfound reality to the thousands of passionate Masa participants and the kick in the butt the Building Future Leadership seminar gave to its many thankful attendees.

Masa Israel Journey gives 18-to-30-year-old Jews life-changing experiences in Israel, connecting them to programs that meet their interests, offering scholarships, providing expertise, and supporting them throughout the entire process.Masa Israel is a joint project of the Government of Israel and the Jewish Agency for Israel and is made possible by the generous contributions of the Jewish Federations of North America and Keren Hayesod-UIA. Visit MasaIsrael.org for more information.

Max Friedenberg is currently an Israel Government Fellow working in the Global Debt Capital Markets and Foreign Currency Transactions department of the Israeli Ministry of Finance. Friedenberg, originally from Vernon Hills, is an alumnus of the University of Illinois where he earned a dual degree in economics and political science.

Susie Essman talks “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and the influence of her Jewish background

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Susie Essman

Comedian Susie Essman has been in the stand-up world for over two decades, first appearing on Comedy Central back in 1992. But Essman's greatest success has come from acting on HBO's hit show, Curb Your Enthusiasm. As Susie Greene, Essman entertains with witty, outrageous lines, most of which include expletives and none of which can be printed.

In addition to performing stand-up and acting on television, Essman has authored a book, entitled What Would Susie Say?: Bull**** Wisdom About Love, Life and Comedy.

Susie Essman will be the featured speaker at the JUF Suburban Professionals, Foods & Hospitality, High Tech and Wholesalers, Retailers & Manufacturers Divisions Dinner Wednesday, May 9 at the Westin Chicago North Shore in Wheeling. In advance of her speaking engagement, Essman sat down for a phone interview with Oy!Chicago.

Oy!Chicago: Your character on Curb Your Enthusiasm probably says more curse words than the average teenager. What's it like to play such an in-your-face, outspoken woman as Susie Greene? 
Susie Essman: It's very cathartic. It's very, very therapeutic. It's some primal scream therapy…  I don't really behave like that in real life, unless I'm pushed. It's really fun to play such an angry, over-the-top character… On a day that I have done a screaming or yelling scene, I always go back to the hotel [in L.A., where the show is filmed] and I'm so relaxed. My muscles are relaxed, because I vented. And no one gets hurt—that's the beauty of it. And I get paid.

I never thought that this is what my life would end up being, but so be it.

What's interesting about the show is that it's not quite scripted like most television shows. What's it like being on a show that is mostly improvised? 
I love it. I love not having to memorize lines. It's not free-for-all improvisation—there's a very detailed outline. We know what each scene is about, what has happen to in each scene and where it's going. The only thing that's not written is the dialogue.

It's incredibly creative, fun and different. It's more like what my stand up is. I love it. We just really have as a blast. Larry [David] gets the giggles every time I scream at him, so he always ruins all my best takes.

How and when did you realize you would be well-suited for comedy? 
I always wanted to be an actress, when I was a kid. I wanted to be a comedic actress. I wanted to be like Carol Burnett.

I never thought of doing stand-up. I never knew anything about it. It wasn't a world that I was familiar with. When I was in my mid-20s, my friends forced me to get on stage. I had never been in a comedy club… After a few times on stage, I realized it was what I was born to do.

So I came upon it accidentally. You can't make plans. My grandmother used to say, I think it was a Yiddish proverb, "You make plans, and God laughs."

Your grandparents were Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe. How did that background affect your life, and has that also played out in any way in your comedy? 
My paternal grandmother, Millie Essman, was the funniest person I knew. She had a typical immigrant story… she had a very hard life… But she was always funny. She saw everything through the prism of humor. 

In her final years, she was at a nursing home and had severe dementia, and she didn't know who I was… But I would go visit her, and the nurses would tell me that she kept them laughing all day long.

It was very poignant to me, because I felt like she had really lost everything—her memory, her dignity, everything was gone—except for her sense of humor. That was the one thing she held on to, until the day she died. That had a big influence on me.

What kind of a role does Judaism play in your life, both personally and professionally? 
I wasn't raised religiously at all. But there is an incredible legacy of Jewish comedians in this country. The history of stand-up comedy, in particular, is very heavily Jewish. Those are the people that influenced me when I was starting. Growing up, what I heard in my house was Mel Brooks, Woody Allen, Alan King, so many great comedians that my parents loved…

I think there's something about Judaism itself that lends itself to comedy. The nature of it, to be a religious person, is to study and question… Comedians always look at everything and question it—they don't accept the status quo. So in Judaism, the way you become a learned religious person lends itself to a comedic brain.

A meaningful contribution to the 2012 Annual Campaign is required to attend. Registration for the event can be completed online at www.juf.org/professionals/tip_dinner.aspx. For more information regarding JUF's Trades, Industries and Professions Divisions, email tip@juf.org.

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