OyChicago articles

It's in the water

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E.leaven owner serves up family recipes and New York-style bagels—voted the "best bagel" in Chicago



They say the key to a top-notch bagel is in the water. And Eben Dorros agrees with them.

When Dorros opened his downtown Chicago eatery E.leaven a year ago, he installed a special water filtration process for boiling the bagels so they would taste as delicious as the famed New York bagels. "No one knew how to make a bagel outside of New York," says Dorros. "If they can make them there, why can't we make them anywhere else? A lot of people just bake them, but we boil them."

It seems Dorros's hard work has paid off. In June, E.leaven was named as having "hands down, the best bagel" in Chicago by DailyCandy Chicago.


Open for breakfast and lunch, E.leaven makes the majority of their menu items in-house, from scratch, including multigrain, sourdough, challah and rye breads, bagels, pastries, cookies and cakes, soups, corned beef, and roast beef. The restaurant's name combines the first initial in owner Eben's name and the word "leaven," indicating the restaurant's fresh breads. As opposed to a fast food concept, where people are often rushed out the door, Dorros likes to think of his restaurant as an inviting and warm environment where customers can break bread with each other and stay for a while.

Gourmet food has always been in Dorros's blood. In fact, his mom is a chef and his brother went to culinary school. "We grew up cooking family meals. When we'd come home, my mom was always testing something new on the stove. If we didn't like it, that was fine, but we couldn't tell her we didn't like it unless we tried it," Dorros says. As a kid, the future chef would cook pastas and meat sauce, pot roast, meatloaf, French toast, and more. Then, as a student at Colby College in Maine, he would cook for his friends there too, throwing big dinner parties.

The restaurant employs some of his mother's and grandmother's traditional Jewish family recipes, including matzoh ball soup with huge New York-style matzoh balls and potato pancakes too.


Now living in Bucktown with his wife and two small children, Dorros grew up in a Conservative Jewish Milwaukee home, where his family would make a big deal out of holidays and Shabbat dinners. "Being Jewish is an integral part of who I am," he says. "It teaches the morals and beliefs that I want to pass down to my children. One of the reasons my family is so close is because of Shabbat family dinners and because we went to services together."

In addition to his passion for food, Dorros is also a filmmaker and orchestral pianist. He pursued filmmaking in Manhattan and Los Angeles, including partnering with the United Nations to create a film series as a teaching tool about world conflicts. After time on the coasts, he relocated to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, where he launched a film festival. It was during his time in Wyoming that Dorros gave the restaurant biz a try, opening E.leaven in Jackson Hole. He hopes to open 8-10 restaurants around the country, including others in Chicago.

Dorros is also passionate about creating both inside the kitchen and out. "There's a creative aspect to everything I do, whether it's writing, music, or cooking. There's a therapeutic part to [the creative process], a solitude, whether I'm in the kitchen or playing the piano. For me, that's what drives my soul."

Judith Joseph—artist, teacher, and “lounge lizard”

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Judith Joseph photo 1

Prismatic Ketubah by Judith Joseph, New York 2010

Art sometimes has a mind of its own. And in artist Judith Joseph’s case, her art decided to take on a life of its own, as it has evolved and emerged as a 3D, interactive exhibit called The Owing Project.

This exhibit invites art viewers to “become participants in a dialogue about the personal, spiritual and societal issues around debt and owing,” according to Joseph.

“I envisioned the gallery space to be a three-dimensional illuminated manuscript: complete with figures, text and border design,” Joseph says. “The exhibit includes life-sized human figures, a ‘debt confession booth,’ a live mural including portraits of people with their words about owing and debt, paintings, and photos I took at a Tea Party rally anti-tax protest,” she says.

The interactive element also extends beyond the gallery.

“I collected electronic responses from Facebook and hand-written surveys from participants at a synagogue retreat,” Joseph explains. “I painted the Push Back mural at the Chicago Fringe Artists’ Networking Night at Red Tape Theatre in February, 2010, and inscribed it with the words of my portrait subjects as they spoke about what debt means to them.”

Judith Joseph photo 2

Push Back, mural of portraits of CFANN 2010 participants, including quotes from conversations about debt and owing

Joseph began her long and successful career as an artist in her early childhood.

“I've been making art since I was a small child, and I was always pretty serious about it,” Joseph says. This seriousness led her to pursue a degree in art from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and since graduating from art school in 1978 she has been working as a professional artist.

“I mostly do commissioned work,” Joseph says. “I specialize in ketubot. The urgency I feel to interview people and record their thoughts and narratives [translates to their] ketubah. Most of my work has a narrative element, and involves human relationships.”

Along with ketubot, Joseph also creates other types of commissioned work such as paintings and calligraphy, and she teaches painting and calligraphy classes at the Chicago Botanic Garden, the Art Center, Highland Park, and artists' residencies/workshops in Illinois and Wisconsin.

Joseph also works as an art career consultant helping emerging artists with their portfolios, web presence, promotional materials and career strategies, she conducts art gallery tours and provides lectures about Jewish art (e.g., Jewish artists in the collection of the Art Institute of Chicago.)

“I pretty much do anything related to art that I can to earn a living,” Joseph says. “I call myself the ‘lounge lizard’ of artists!”

When asked to describe her artistic style, Joseph explained how it originated with “illuminated manuscripts (especially ketubot), which have been [her] first love for many years.”

Judith Joseph photo 3

The Owing Project at ARC Gallery in Chicago, which opened on July 21, with a reception July 23, from 6-9 p.m.

“Combining text with detailed, exquisitely rendered miniature border designs, patterns and illustrations has given rise to my painting style,” Joseph says. “My paintings are often laid out like an illustrated page of a book, with a central image surrounded by a narrative border.  Over time, the borders have invaded the ‘main’ image, and pattern and narrative have become intertwined and inextricable.”

You can catch Judith Joseph’s solo exhibit, The Owing Project, at ARC Gallery in Chicago, which opened on July 21, with a reception July 23, from 6-9 p.m.

Farming the urban landscape

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Farming the urban landscape photo 1

Gan Project founder Jill Zenoff prepares supplies for a pickling workshop. Photo credit: Suzanne Nathan

Jill Zenoff, Suzanne Nathan and Anne LaForti have big plans for a quarter-acre patch of land in West Rogers Park. The land, on the grounds of the Bernard Horwich JCC, will bloom and produce food.

It will be an urban agricultural oasis, with people from the neighborhood working the mini-farm―dirt and all―weeding and harvesting produce. It will teach children and teens about where their food comes from. It will be a space where pre-bar and bat-mitzvah youths can perform mitzvah projects and raise funds.

This idyll is far from realization just yet. Still, as the brains and hands behind the Gan Project (gan means garden in Hebrew), the dynamic trio is undaunted by the numerous tasks to be tackled before their dream space is created.

The garden space at Horwich is just one piece of a puzzle that they hope will foster an environmentally conscious, sustainable Jewish food system and increase access to clean, safe foods.

More than that, urban gardening and food growing will create “a sense of connectedness to the land and to the community,” hopes Zenoff, who spent a summer interning at a downstate Illinois farm last year and picked up other agricultural skills through a stint with the ADAMAH Jewish farming program at the Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center in Connecticut.

In addition to the JCC, the Gan Project hopes to team up with local families, community organizations and congregations to spread the message to the masses: take back control over your food—in a Jewish way.

They kicked everything off with a series of summer workshops that had participants picking strawberries and making jam; learning pickling techniques; and making Kombuch (a fermented tea often drunk for medicinal purposes). August will bring more learning opportunities, including picking blueberries and making jam; touring an existing Jewish communal garden; making healing salves from left-over summer herbs; and cooking up a batch of sauerkraut. Several of the programs are presented in partnership with Birthright Israel NEXT Chicago, which works with Birthright trip alums throughout the city and suburbs.

Farming the urban landscape photo 2

A pickling workshop participant finishes loading mason jars of dilly beans. Photo credit: Suzanne Nathan

“There is so much strength in developing new skills whether it’s farming or food preservation. There’s a sense of empowerment and a sense of autonomy,” said Nathan, who holds a master’s in social work from the University of Chicago.

Zenoff and LaForti have been friends since childhood and together presented the idea for the Gan Project to Nathan, also an Isabella Freedman alum, on the way to a Birthright NEXT-sponsored Eco-Shabbaton in Wisconsin in April. They are funding the project themselves and working to get grants from Birthright NEXT, Hazon and other organizations.

Farming the urban landscape photo 3

Eleven people made 21 jars of strawberry and raspberry jam during a recent Gan Project workshop. Photo credit: Suzanne Nathan

The Horwich JCC gave them office and planting space. Meanwhile, the three founders also are working to develop curricula for elementary, middle and high school students as well as programs for families and older adults.

The idea is to create a network of eco-conscious Jews from generation to generation. But for now, it’s baby steps.

Pandalous.com: A virtual living room

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The one place you can talk bacon ice cream, Shakespeare v. Lil Wayne, and Star Trek all at the same time 

Pandalous.com photo

There are so many social media sites these days you can’t even count them all—Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Flickr, Digg—not to mention the never-ending amount of blogs ranging from personal to business to completely random. With all that out there on the internet, it’s pretty easy to get confused and lose sight of why many go online in the first place: to publish opinions, and to make voices heard.

The solution to this modern-day dilemma? Pandalous.com.

According to the website, “Pandalous is a site where people who like to think share their views and deepen their understanding of everything that matters. We're a new, vibrant internet community with a growing membership; we've set out to gather a diverse, thoughtful and articulate crowd to share in the experience of living.” Think of it as a digital gathering place, like a living room of a house, to converse intelligently about any idea or topic you can think of.

According to Assaf Peretz, CEO of Pandalous, the audience started small in early 2009 and has been growing steadily ever since.

 “The original group was comprised of Berkeley and Harvard grads but it quickly attracted people from all different places and walks of life, ranging from college students to Tibetan monks,” Peretz says.

Some of these community members include some well-known Israeli artists. Of note is the author Etgar Keret,   who has posted a story of his in The Library called “Snot”. Also in The Library, Nir Ratzkovsky, one of the most important translators to Hebrew from French, has posted excerpts from a future book of a translator journal of The Kindly Ones. And in many different rooms, concert pianist Edna Stern, writes about topics ranging from music to literature to even vampires.

But why a living room of all places? To explain, there is conveniently a section on the welcome page labeled “Why Pandalous?

“We found as we grew up that it was going to be more or less impossible to get all the people we missed talking to in the same room (or even the same country) on a regular basis; Pandalous is the living room we wished we had,” the site says. “Our goal is to create a new kind of internet experience, what we call a ‘Social Wiki,’ somewhere between publishing, blog posts and chat. A place where each member is a unique voice in a novel community, and a building block in a growing encyclopedia for everyday life.”

And as for the name? Well, that’s up for debate…which is exactly what the creators of Pandalous wanted.

In this virtual Living Room, you can discuss all sorts of things. Topics range from the deeply philosophical, like “What if the devil could be killed?” to the completely random, like “Dear CNN, I hate you” . But don’t assume you are limited to only one room. Surrounding the Living Room, in the shape of a house, are 28 different rooms, like the Computer Room, the Garage, the Testimonial Room, etc. Any topic you can think of is there under these 29 different themes, and if you can’t find what you’re looking for? Easy. Just make a new topic, and ignite a brand new debate.

Sound like just a regular old blog? That’s where you’re wrong. Pandalous boasts superior features that beat out normal blogs, the sites creators say. Features like an already existing community allow you to post whatever and whenever you feel like it, without becoming a slave to you own personal blogs. Another benefit of posting to Pandalous is that your posts are read and engaged with for years as topics are constantly and randomly hosted on the homepage, instead of the couple-of-days life expectancy of most other content sites. One of the biggest draws of the site, however, is the ability to have “Conversations” which allows for a deepening of your understanding of the subject matter you are reading or posting about, with just about anyone in the world—provided they have internet access.

So whether you’re in the mood to rant, wondering how to find the right gym for you, or you’re craving to learn the “ethics” of being vegan, pull up a chair and join the Conversation. As the Pandalous motto goes, “the internet doesn’t have to be a waste of time.”

8 Questions for Aleza Alpert, YouTube-watcher, world-traveler, and Anne Hathaway look-alike

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You just got back from going on a Birthright trip to Israel. You're excited, exhausted, and feeling major love for Israel. But now comes the sad part: you can't do it again. You can go back to Israel, but not on that same trip. So what do you do now?

That's where Aleza Alpert comes in. As the Birthright Israel NEXT Chicago Campus Coordinator, she works to set up events to help Birthright alumni in the Chicago area keep in touch with not only their own bus mates, but also to meet other alumni in the area. She is the one working to keep that Birthright spirit alive, post-trip.

And if anyone knows how to keep Israeli spirit alive, it's Aleza. She has been to Israel 10 times so far, and five of those times have been to staff a Birthright trip. She also loves hearing stories from other peoples' trips to Israel, so if you're looking to exchange travel stories, search for some funny YouTube clips, or spend a day in the sunshine, Aleza Alpert is a Jew You Should Know:

1. What is your favorite blog or website?
Definitely YouTube! I love watching just random clips, they're always so funny. The animal ones, they're always so cute, or the bloopers. Those are hilarious. This is one of my current favorites. If you ever need suggestions for funny clips let me know. I've got tons!

2. If time and money were limitless, where would you travel?
Clearly, I love to travel. My goal is to live on six continents: visit Antarctica and live on the others. I think that you can't really get to know a place without actually living there—going to the grocery store, taking the bus, hanging out at the local bar. So I definitely need to go to South America, live there for a few months, Asia...yeah, there are a lot of places I would go if time and money were limitless. Can you let me know when that happens?

3. If a movie was made about your life, who would play you?
Well I want to say Anne Hathaway because people tell me I look like her all the time. But I don't want to be that girl that says, "Oh, I look like Anne Hathaway!" So maybe Tina Fey. Her comedy is so quick and clever.

4. If you could have a meal with any two people, living or dead, famous or not, who would they be?
Well my sister passed away two years ago, so I would definitely eat with her. I mean, who wouldn't want to see their sister for a meal? And the second person would have to be Zach Galifinakis. Do you know who he is? Yeah. He's so funny in the movie The Hangover, he's just hilarious. And ever since that movie came outâ€"what was it, a year ago, I've been saying that if anyone asked me this question I'd say him. So I'm saying him. I think the three of us would have the greatest time together, me, my sister, and Zach.

5. What's your idea of the perfect day?
It would involve being outside in the sun, a lot of ice cream, and sleeping in (but not too much because then you're not productive). But yeah, that first day of spring in Chicago is always the greatest because everyone's walking around in skirts, everyone's happier. I just love being outside in the sun. So that would be a perfect day for me.

6. What do you love about what you do?
My favorite part is definitely the fact that I'm helping college-age kids find their own Jewish community, their own little niche. Like for example, I'll never forget when one guy on one of my Birthright trips came up to me and told me that this was the first real Jewish community he had ever really had. And that's why I'm here doing what I do, for that experience.

7. What job would you have had if not the one you have now?
Well when I was younger I wanted to be a dancer in a Disney parade. But I don't think I'd be able to still do that. The other, obvious answer is that I would be teaching.

8. What's your favorite Jewish thing to do in Chicago?
Oh, that's a hard question. I don't really need a structured Jewish night to feel Jewish. I don't know, I love when Shabbat dinner turns into a game night or something. I just love being around other Jewish people.

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