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18 Ways Jewish Summer Camp Still Affects Your Life

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Chai List

There are Jewish kids who go to camp, and those who don’t. This list is for those in the former group; latter group, we don’t expect you to understand. And of course we used plenty of Wet Hot American Summer pics, because that’s the only movie that understands you.

The list should also prove that you can take the kid out of camp, but you can take the camp out of the kid.

What else do you do still do that outs you as a camp person?


1. You get nostalgic every summer, especially on the first day or Shabbat of camp

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2. At times, showering by yourself makes you sad

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3. You still interpret “dressing up” on Friday as a summer dress or khakis

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4. You use the phrase “closed-toed shoes” and prefer not to wear them

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5. “Attended Jewish camp” is one of your criteria for evaluating roommates and life partners

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6. You have thought more than once about making a nikayon/chore wheel for your home/roommates

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7. At big home-cooked meals you touch the side of your nose to exempt yourself from clean-up

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8. You can’t resist the temptation of empty cups at a picnic-style table

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9. You’re more comfortable in large group activities when everyone has a “buddy”

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10. You aren’t sure if the guy/girl you like is into you until you go on a walk together

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11. You randomly get Hebrew songs or prayer melodies stuck in your head and are nervous you’ll sing them aloud in public and get crazy-stares

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12. You hesitate before using Hebrew words or slang in conversation to consider whether anyone will understand you

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13. The only way you know how to quiet a group involves Hebrew, or saying “you’re wasting your own free time”

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14. When you meet Israelis you hint to your camp experience so they know you totally get them

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15. You stop and text a camp friend whenever you hear a song that reminds you of camp

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16. You are especially good at making friends feel special on their birthday

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17. You still send your friends mail, and get outrageously excited whenever you receive a package, even if it’s just some stuff you ordered on Amazon

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18. Some of your closest friends today are the people you met those unforgettable summers

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Pit masters bring the love to the second annual Chicago Kosher BBQ contest

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Pit masters bring the love to the second annual Chicago Kosher BBQ contest photo 1

Judges taste the BBQ beef ribs at the Chicago Kosher BBQ Festival and Competition. (Photo by Ralph Schatz)

Things got very steamy at the Second Annual Chicago Kosher BBQ Competition and Festival, held at Anshe Emet Synagogue in Lakeview on Sunday, June 14.

The preparations began the Saturday night before with a thunderstorm and several inches of rain that only the heartiest of barbecue enthusiasts could possible endure. The Chicago Jewish community is made up of tough stuff and these pit masters sloshed through a Chicago summer thunder storm all night long while preparing their kosher delicacies.

Host sponsors for the contest were Milt's Barbecue for the Perplexed, Anshe Emet Synagogue, and the Bernard Zell Anshe Emet Day School; the media sponsor was  JUF News; and the presenting sponsors were The Private Bank, Viva Vantage, and the Jeffrey F. Kahan Memorial Fund.

With 13 teams competing, trophies were awarded in the following categories: Best Brisket, Best Ribs, Best Chicken, Best Beans, Most Original Team Name, Best Booth Decoration, and Grand Champion. RaBBI-Q, under the leadership of Rabbi Mendel Segal, won almost every food category-and was named Grand Champion. "Uncle Mordy, John and the MEATzva Girls" won the award for best brisket. "Burnt Offerings" won awards for best booth décor and most original team name. The Chicago Rabbinical Council supervised the contest.

In addition to the BBQ competition, events included pickle and hot dog-eating contests, and live entertainment featuring the Chicago Boyz Acrobatic Team, a DJ, and Hi-Five Hoops Basketball, and NFL Flag Football clinics. Milt's also served food from its food truck. A $5 donation went to his year's designated charity, Maot Chitim.

As a chef, I was curious about what these meat marathoners brought to the game. A representative from the "Dukes of Chazzer" excitedly told me their secret weapon was one Liam Jankelovics. Indeed, the newly graduated 8th grader looked completely cool and calm while doling out brisket samples. In fact, the entire rain soaked team all looked fresh and eager to send their samples to the judges.

I wanted more. I asked for specifics. Another representative from the Dukes explained that it wasn't just the curry in the sauce that made their BBQ special, it was the TLC! These BBQ teams showed great passion and care in their offerings.

The "Meat is Murder" team told me that nutmeg in their beans was the ace in the hole. They extolled the virtues of less chilies and more herbs in the chicken. Debbie, a spokesperson for the team, echoed the Dukes refrain of "lots of love."

The technique of adding "love" was heard over and over again from the "Caught Smokin" to "Bris-Cut BBQ" teams. I can tell you that, as a chef, I tell my staff that one of the keys to turning a great dish into an amazing dish is putting love into it. I wasn't surprised to hear that the love extended to great sportsmanship and teams covering other teams' backs.

Pit masters bring the love to the second annual Chicago Kosher BBQ contest photo 2

Unfortunately, the team of "Uncle Mordy, John and the MEATzva Girls" had a sudden death in Uncle Mordy's family, and had to fly back to their home in New York before the contest. Other teams including "Rib Roastin' Rabbis" covered the food for Uncle Mordy. Such is the spirit of community at the Kosher BBQ Competition.

I admit I was surprised to hear that several competitors had really put their all into the competition and had been practicing their craft to the point of being on Lipitor! After some thought, I realized that putting your all into great food and loving what you are doing is what it's all about.

The large pool of judges, under the guidance of the representatives from Kansas City Barbecue Society (KCBS), eagerly dove into their boxes of BBQ.

Rabbi Mendel Segal, Executive Director at Kansas City Vaad and BBQ enthusiast, instructed the judges on their criteria. He zealously explained that the Holy Grail of kosher BBQ is brisket. Perfectly cooked brisket should have a melting texture with a drop of pull and, above all, should be moist!

There are often-always-times when we Jews don't agree on things. In the case of BBQ, we all agree on one thing-that we all love to eat. The BBQ competition, as Milt's owner Jeff Aeder explained, is about "welcoming the guest" and "inclusivity." Indeed the dining tent was overflowing with Jews of all denominations and non-Jews alike, all elbow to elbow, enjoying BBQ and the festival.

Laura Frankel is a noted Kosher Chef and owner of Pickled Tongue Catering and Foods. Her book Jewish Slow Cooker Recipes: 120 Holiday and Everyday Dishes Made Easy will be released in paperback on Aug. 11. Check out her website at www.cheflauraskosher.com.

8 Questions for Simon Feil: Actor, Sushi Chef, Empathy Hero

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8 Questions for Simon Feil photo

You may not know Simon Feil's name, but you've likely seen his face. Perhaps he was cooking in the movie Julie & Julia , or being startled by the '80s in a Delta flight safety video, or giving a young Bruce Wayne a good talking to on Gotham. Look out for him next time you turn on Netflix.  

Simon is coming in to Chicago in June to deliver an ELI talk, a Jewish TED-style talk, about empathy as the foundation of a moral world. I sat down with him to try and walk a mile in his shoes and found out he's definitely a Jew you should know.  

1. You're a real renaissance man! What's the most unusual job you've ever held?  

Well, that's not really a fair question since actors do lots of unusual things. Choking someone with a belt, having a heart attack and pulling an ear of corn out of my pants would all qualify as unusual. But if we're going to stick to regular jobs, I'd say it's a toss-up between being a beer ambassador for Guinness and playing a time-travelling '90s dude for Trivial Pursuit. Ok, wait, no those are still act-y things. How about working at a kibbutz daily? Teaching sushi in a strip club? I once got paid (and fed) to pick 10 awesome restaurants and bring a group of people to each one and talk about the cuisine while we ate. I also drove an RV around for Dunkin Donuts once giving away free Coolattas. So my sense of the unusual may be dulled by this point -- you tell me.

2. When did you know you wanted to be an actor?  

I performed in my first play in eighth grade, 1984 , a particularly chilling and odd choice for a yeshiva, and was instantly introduced both to the thrill of acting and the pain of rejection -- I got beat out for my preferred role by a friend. But I knew right then there was nothing more exhilarating and nothing else I'd rather do. The "why" has changed over the years, but never the "what."

3. How does Judaism influence your work on screen, practically and artistically?  

That's a tough one - I spent most of my career drawing a hard dividing line between my acting identities and Jewish identities. I saw their values as being divergent and was told by mentors in both worlds that the other was totally anathema and would only pull me down or hold me back. It's only in the past few years that I've realized they were all wrong and that any artist needs to be fully themselves to do anything worthwhile. That said, I'd say the themes I am drawn to are certainly informed by my Judaism -- justice, truth-telling, fervent curiosity and questioning.

Practically, and less interestingly, as someone who is shomer Shabbos (Shabbat observant), I have always had great challenges with working out the conflict. It's part of why I transitioned from theater to TV, I couldn't handle losing Shabbat for two months while I walked to the theater for a show.

4. What's your favorite character you've ever played and why?  

The character of Ern Malley. He was a hoax, a fake poet invented to send up the Modernist poets by some contemporaries. A playwright in a company I was in wrote this incredible play that imagined him as a real person who'd been turned into a hoax after he died young suddenly, and now he's back from the dead to set the record straight.  He shows up as a ghost to David Remnick (of The New Yorker ) in the Algonquin Hotel bar to convince him to publish new work and tell the world he was real. It's this toothy, intellectually rugged two-hander with huge themes and stakes and I bit into it like a big hot meal. Didn't hurt that he was working class English and I love what that accent does to me. We did it for a few readings, sadly it was never given a full production, but it's still my favorite piece of all time. It dealt with all my favorite themes above, it was brash and balls-out and fearless and physical and earthy while also being an incredibly brilliant and articulate philosophical discussion about art and success and failure and ooh, everything. Alex Lewin (the playwright) if you're reading this, I hope you're still cranking out the goods.

5. You played a chef in the movie Julie & Julia and now run a company that provides sushi lessons at events. What would you say are the elements of a great meal?  

Hah -- those two go more hand in hand than you know. I often get auditions for chef roles because of my sushi business, and Julie & Julia was just such an audition! To answer you, obviously, the quality of the food is tantamount. At heart, I'm actually a stomach and a mouth -- give me a big hearty piece of meat, cooked perfectly over a fire or slow smoked and I don't care about much else -- how it looks, how clean I am or how pretty my table is. That said, I do love a small, elegant Asian-style meal with small portions, perfectly balanced visually, with complimentary tastes and textures, all accompanied by good music, a beautiful space while I'm well dressed. But I'll still pick that backyard or beach or forest BBQ every time.

6. Your upcoming ELI talk is all about empathy for animals, especially when it comes to our decisions about eating meat. Is this a way of asking Jews to "get into character?" 

I suppose, though I try to avoid such puns like the plague. :) "Acting is doing" is the cornerstone of the Meisner technique, the one I was trained under and I think the same can be said about Judaism. Judaism is doing. We have to walk the walk. It's not about what you believe or feel as much as it is about what you do. Judaism doesn't have thought-crime or -isms, it has actions. It has been said that, rather than Orthodox, observant Jews should be called Orthoprax -- from -praxis, doing, rather than, -doxy, believing. So yes, the right character for Jews to inhabit is one that embraces empathy in an active, very non-academic way.

7. Who do you admire in the Jewish world, the food world, and the acting world?  

I have a hard time with public declarations of admiration. I'm far too much of an ivory tower idealist to not poke holes in my heroes. That said, R' David Weiss Halivni is someone I look up to and his famous quote, "Those I pray with I can't talk to, and those I talk to I can't pray with" has resonated with me for a long time, though I'm trying to make that Venn diagram overlap more every day.  

In the food world, I'd say Temple Grandin -- while technically not in the food world, in that she doesn't make food, she has revolutionized the animal treatment landscape. And celebrity chefs don't impress me. But Ari White of the Wandering 'Cue, makes some especially fine kosher BBQ.  

Acting: It used to be the great talents, Meryl Streep and Robert Duvall, who impressed me. But I find myself more moved these days by stories of great effort -- Vin Diesel buying a typewriter and cranking out an entire screenplay in a month so he could return it since he couldn't afford it. Or Matt Damon and Ben Affleck getting Good Will Hunting made. That was Herculean and very worthy of admiration. I also happen to really like their work.

8. What's next?  

I'm officiating at a wedding in Italy in June (my first!) and I'm on hold for a few projects in the acting world so we'll see what pans out. I'm working on creating a personal piece from my own material, either for stage or screen, I haven't decided yet. That's scary and will require lots of work, so face into the wind.

Find out more about Simon at his website: www.simonfeil.com. Simon will be speaking on "Eating Meat? Empathy as the Foundation of a Moral World" on June 18 at WTTW11 in Chicago as part of the latest production of ELI Talks. Get your tickets to see him and five other speakers present their TED-style "inspired Jewish ideas" on new Jewish culture here.

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