OyChicago articles

1 day, 14 volunteer projects, 3000 lives touched

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JUF’s Young Leadership Division and TOV Volunteer Network to host first Feed Chicago event Sept. 9

Feed Chicago photo

The economic downturn has had a devastating effect on Illinois, with more than1.5 million people struggling each day just have enough to eat. On Sunday, Sept, 9, the Young Leadership Division and the Tikkun Olam Volunteer Network of the Jewish United Fund of Metropolitan Chicago will host the first Feed Chicago, a citywide day of service providing food assistance to those in need.

"All of us know someone who has been affected by the recession," said Michelle Kallick, a YLD board member. "As the young Jewish community, we have a responsibility to help those in need. It's our turn as a generation to step up and make a positive impact in communities all across Chicago."

Around 100 young adults will join the day-long fight against hunger. With 14 projects scheduled throughout the city – starting early in the morning and ending late in the evening – more than 3,000 lives will be touched by day's end.

"From delivering Rosh Hashanah food packages to elderly Jews in need, to serving meals to impoverished pregnant teens, to sorting and restocking food pantries, Feed Chicago will help thousands of people in need in a single day," said Mara Unterberger, site leader.

Twenty- or 30-something volunteers still are needed. They can sign up for one or more projects at http://www.juf.org/tov/feed_chicago.aspx

Volunteer opportunities include:

Inspiration Café 
Where: 4715 N. Sheridan Road, Chicago - Accessible via the CTA Red Line Lawrence stop or the #136 bus
Time: 7:30 - 9:30 a.m.
Volunteers needed: 4
Details: Serve breakfast at the Inspiration Café.

Lincoln Park Community Shelter 
Where: 600 W. Fullerton Parkway, Chicago - Accessible via the CTA Red, Purple and Brown Lines Fullerton stop
Time: 7:30 - 9:30 a.m.
Volunteers needed: 5
Details: Buy, cook and serve breakfast to residents of the shelter. Volunteers must buy food. 

Maot Chitim 
Where: 5821 N. Broadway, Chicago - Accessible via the CTA Red Line Thorndale stop or the #136 bus
Time: 8 - 10 a.m.
Volunteers needed: 10
Details: Deliver Rosh Hashanah food packages to residents in the building.

Maot Chitim 
Where: 6400 N. Sheridan Road, Chicago - Accessible via the CTA Red Line Loyola stop or the #136 bus
Time: 8 - 10 a.m.
Volunteers needed: 15
Details: Deliver Rosh Hashanah food packages to residents in the building.

Maot Chitim 
Where: Starting from a north suburban warehouse location TBD
Time: 9 - 10:30 a.m.
Volunteers needed: 100
Details: Deliver Rosh Hashanah food packages in Chicago and its suburbs. Volunteers must have a vehicle to make deliveries.

JUF Uptown Café 
Where: 909 W. Wilson Ave, Chicago - Accessible via the CTA Red Line Wilson stop or the #136 bus
Time: 10:30 a.m. - 12:30 p.m.
Volunteers needed: 10
Details: Set tables, serve a restaurant-style meal, clear tables, and visit with guests.

Cornerstone Community Outreach 
Where: 4628 N. Clifton Ave, Chicago - Accessible via the CTA Red Line Wilson stop or the #136 bus
Time: 11 a.m. - 1:30 p.m.
Volunteers needed: 9
Details: Serve lunch to residents at the shelter.

Connections for the Homeless 
Where: 1458 Chicago Ave, Evanston - Accessible via the CTA Purple Line Dempster stop or the Metra UP-N Line Evanston (Davis St.) stop
Time: Noon - 2 p.m.
Volunteers needed: 12
Details: Sort food and toiletries. Volunteers are asked to bring in their own food donations to add to the food pantry.

A Just Harvest 
Where: TBD
Time: 1 - 3 p.m.
Volunteers needed: 18
Details: Pack a minimum of 150 sack lunches to be distributed to clients of A Just Harvest. Volunteers are responsible for purchasing food.

Campus Kitchen at Northwestern University 
Where: Allison Dining Hall, 1820 Chicago Ave., Evanston - Accessible via the CTA Purple Line Davis stop or the Metra UP-N Line Evanston (Davis St.) stop
Time: 1:15 - 2:45 p.m.
Volunteers needed: 5
Details: Repackage unused dining hall food into both individual meals and large, family-style meal dishes.

Interfaith House 
Where: 3456 W. Franklin Blvd., Chicago - Accessible via the CTA Green Line Clark/Lake stop or the #82 bus
Time: 3:15 - 5:30 p.m.
Volunteers needed: 15
Details: Buy, cook and serve meals to 64 residents as part of the Share-A-Meal program. Meal should include an appetizer, entrée and dessert. Volunteers are responsible for purchasing food.

A Just Harvest 
Where: 7649 N. Paulina St., Chicago - Accessible via the CTA Red Line Howard stop
Time: 4 - 6 p.m.
Volunteers needed: 6
Details: Distribute pre-prepared sack meals to clients of A Just Harvest.

Open Door Youth Shelter - Response-Ability Pregnant and Parenting Program (RAPPP) 
Where: 3262 N Clark St., Chicago - Accessible via the CTA Red Line Belmont stop
Time: 5 - 7 p.m.
Volunteers needed: 1
Details: Make and serve dinner to teens participating in RAPPP. Women volunteers only.

Lincoln Park Community Shelter 
Where: 600 W. Fullerton Parkway, Chicago - Accessible via the CTA Red, Purple and Brown Line Fullerton stop
Time: 6 - 8:30 p.m.
Volunteers needed: 11
Details: Buy, cook and serve dinner to residents of the shelter. Volunteers are responsible for purchasing food.

Putting all of herself into ‘Most of Me’

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Putting all of herself into ‘Most of Me’ photo

Sometimes, life is so absurd that all anyone can do is laugh, even through tears.

Laughter gets Robyn Michele Levy through her days and nights-and her tears. Levy, 48, was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease about seven years ago. Six months earlier, doctors determined that her father had the same illness. Eight months later, Levy found two lumps in her breast-cancer-that resulted in mastectomy and a prophylactic oophorectomy.

This was beyond a mid-life crisis, but Levy—a Jewish Canadian visual artist, radio broadcaster, and writer, took it on, sometimes with grace, sometimes with anger and frustration, often with her caliginous sense of humor. "You have to kind of laugh at it," Levy said. "What else could possibly happen to me in the course of this time?"

While recovering from her mastectomy, Levy experienced an outpouring of love and support from friends and family. She wrote darkly amusing email updates about her progress that found their way into a publisher's inbox-and a book was born. Levy tells her story in her newly-published memoir, Most of Me: Surviving My Medical Meltdown, in which she chronicles the characters that have become an integral part of her life, from the uncontrollable Cry Lady, perky Dolores the Prosthesis, and ever-dependable Big Pharma, to her caring husband, a daughter wise beyond her years, and one very loyal canine companion. An assortment of friends and an ongoing parade of medical personnel provide support, helping Levy take life day-by-day, though she readily admits that some days, she doesn't stride well at all-courtesy of Parkinson's.

"I think that my humor is definitely a self-defense mechanism, but it's also a way to connect with people and a way for me to absorb some of the shock," Levy said. She credits her parents for her dark wit. She grew up in Toronto in a culturally Jewish home under the tutelage of her father's one-liners and her late mother's high-voltage personality.

Despite her positive outlook in the worst of circumstances, Levy forced herself to be truthful straightforward throughout the book. "The first draft that I sent into my editor—she said it was funny, but she just didn't connect with me on an emotional level as a reader," Levy said.

She reworked some of the chapters, including the opening: "I wasn't always like this: so moody, so anxious, so volatile," she wrote. She blamed her symptoms as premenopausal—but as they worsened and depression set in, she was hurting her relationships.

The hardest part was consulting with her husband and daughter about her memories of that stressful time. "They were very candid. It was difficult to hear just how awful I was," she said. The process helped her family heal.

Levy appreciates people's response to her story. "People often say they can relate to it, even if they weren't sick. In some ways, there's some universality to it," she said.

Most of Me has been shortlisted for the 2012 Stephen Leacock Memorial Medal for Humor and is on the Jewish Book Council's Summer Reading List. Her radio documentary, Cruel Coincidence—about how both she and her father have Parkinson's disease—is a finalist at the New York Festival's International Radio Awards.

For information on Robyn Levy's art, blog and multi-media presentations, visit www.robynlevy.ca.

Tziporah Gelman gets the Jewish community moving

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Tziporah Gelman gets the Jewish community moving photo

Two years ago, Tziporah Gelman weighed almost 300 pounds and knew she needed to make a change, so she stepped into her first Zumba class at her local gym.

Today, Gelman is a Zumba instructor, in great shape and changing the lives of Jewish women in the community for the better. It was love at first dance move, when Gelman took her first Zumba class.

"To me it didn't feel like a workout, it really felt like a party," she said. The Zumba program, which was created in 2001, is like a fitness dance party that uses Latin-themes and international music to create a fun, dance party vibe that gets people moving and burns calories.

Over the next year-and-a-half, Gelman lost more than 130 pounds. When her class at the gym no longer worked with her schedule, Gelman, a schoolteacher and rebbetzin (rabbi's wife), hired her instructor to host private classes for Jewish women, many of whom didn't feel comfortable exercising in front of men. When the response became overwhelming, her instructor encouraged Gelman to become the teacher.

"She kept telling me, 'You have it, Tziporah, you've got the gift. You have it, your community needs it." And when her instructor moved out of town, Gelman thought seriously about becoming a Zumba instructor herself. "Maybe I really could do this for the Jewish community and get my community moving," she said. "I know for myself I was so heavy and couldn't get out of the rut, and maybe I could inspire other people to get in shape and to do it in a fashion that was actually really fun."

So she became a licensed Zumba Instructor and AFAA (Aerobics and Fitness Association of America) Certified Group Fitness Instructor and found a small space to open Frumba Chicago, LLC. Fifteen Jewish women came to her first class, 20 came to the next, and, within a month, she had 50 students. So she rented a bigger space at the Bernard Horwich JCC, and currently rents from the Lincolnwood Jewish Congregation on Touhy and Crawford. Eventually her classes got so large that she hired three of her students to get trained and become instructors as well. She now attracts some 300 students.

For people who didn't have an active social life in the Jewish community, Frumba Chicago is their connection. "They can now be in Jewel or Hungarian [Kosher Foods] and see somebody and they smile because they're part of this secret club," Gelman said.

And while many of her students are from the Orthodox community, there are other Jewish women with no affiliation and even women who are not Jewish.

"It's just so beautiful because I could have 90 women in the room and there are just so many parts of the community that are represented," Gelman said. "If we were sitting and talking Judaism, it would probably be a very heated debate, and yet here we come and we exercise and we just have an amazing and great time and it's just pretty magical."

Gelman has been described by women in the community as a crusader to improve the health and lifestyle choices of Jewish women. "I think a lot of women in the orthodox community very often have a lot of kids and they sort of get put on the back burner. Their health and their well-being very often [aren't prioritized] because life happens and it happens very quickly," she said. "My mission and my dream have always been to get the Jewish community moving."

While she says Zumba is not for everyone, she encourages women of all ages and backgrounds in the community to check out a class at least once. "You'll never know unless you come and try."

For more information and class schedules, email frumbachicago@gmail.com, or visit the Frumba Chicago page on Facebook.

‘Drop Dead Healthy’

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A how-to guide for becoming the healthiest person in the world


‘Drop Dead Healthy’ photo 2

Jewish writer A.J. Jacobs used to be a self-described “mushy, easily winded, moderately sickly blob.”

Then, at age 41, while vacationing with his family in the Caribbean, the Manhattan-based writer caught pneumonia and wound up in an island hospital. Getting sick was a wakeup call for Jacobs that he had to take his health into his own hands so that he could live a life of longevity for his wife and three young sons—ages 8 and 5-year-old twins.

Known for diving head-first into the research for his books, Jacobs has strove to conquer his mind, spirit, and body. First, he expanded his mind with the 2005 book The Know-It-All, where he wrote about everything he learned from reading the entire encyclopedia. Then, in his 2008 book The Year of Living Biblically, he made over his spirit by following every precept in the Bible for a year.

Finally, he completes his trilogy by improving his body with his current book Drop Dead Healthy: One Man’s Humble Quest for Bodily Perfection (Simon & Schuster). The Esquire editor-at-large, Jacobs set out on a two-year journey to become the healthiest man in the world by remaking every aspect of his body—his biceps, stomach, private parts, sleep, stress levels, immune system, and more.

He assembled a team of medical expert advisors, a group that included doctors, researchers, nutritionists, and trainers, and he heeded the wisdom of his 96-year-old grandfather too. In the book, Jacobs is funny, informative, and inspiring, and wrestles with the deeper issues of our own mortality.

‘Drop Dead Healthy’ photo 1x

Oy!Chicago recently reunited in a phone interview with Jacobs, a past speaker to the Chicago Jewish community.

Oy!Chicago: Why did you out set out on this ambitious project?
A.J. Jacobs: I was in terrible shape—I had ignored my body for 40 years. And I was ‘skinny fat,’ which means that I had a body like a snake that swallowed a goat. And my wife was not happy with me. She said, ‘You’ve got to get in shape. I don’t want to be a widow in my 40s’… So I turned it into a project and tried to [take in] every piece of medical advice and see what works and what doesn’t.

What were the most important lessons you learned?
One big surprise was just how bad sitting at your desk all day is for you. One doctor said, ‘sitting is the new smoking.’…I’m actually talking to you right now on my treadmill desk. I bought a desk and put my laptop on top of it and I do most of my work while walking slowly. It took me about 1,200 miles to write the book.
Another big takeaway was portion control. I ate way too much as Americans do. A great portion control advocate was Maimonides, a Jewish philosopher. He said you should only eat until you’re three-quarters full….although a friend of mine said that eating until you’re three-quarters full does not sound very Jewish.

Does living a Jewish life contribute to your health?
After the year of living biblically, my wife and I did join a synagogue. It turns out that being in a synagogue is probably good for my health because there is a lot of research that says that people who are involved in a religious community have a longer life span. Most scientists think that having a close-knit social network is so crucial to your health…So Judaism is probably overall good for your health. I don’t know if it’s any better than other religions, but [Judaism] is good for you.

‘Drop Dead Healthy’ photo 3

Have you stuck with many parts of the health regimen now that the project has ended?
I move around and that’s a big thing. I try to incorporate exercise into every little part of my life…I try to take the stairs … or when I talk to my kids, I squat down at eye level with them. I also changed my diet. And I hopefully spend more times with my friends and family, which is healthy.

Which health tips have you given up on?
I tested out a juice fast and I gave that up pretty quickly. The science is on my side about that one—there’s very little evidence that juice cleansing has any benefits. My wife hated it. I convinced her to do it with me and she literally lasted three hours rather than three days.

I was sorry to hear about the death of your grandfather, who died at age 96. What did he, one of your greatest mentors, teach you about longevity?
He taught me that you want to continue to be engaged in your community. Studies show if you have a reason to wake up in the morning and are passionate about something, you are going to live longer…even in his 90s, he was trying to start new businesses and write editorials for the newspaper.

‘Drop Dead Healthy’ photo 4

What do we do about the health crisis and obesity epidemic in this country?
It’s the lack of exercise and the standard American diet is just the worse diet ever created by human beings—all this white flour and sugar. One of my mini crusades is breakfast. Somehow breakfast in America has turned into dessert. You look at what kids eat—waffles, pancakes, pastries, and cereals. I try to reframe breakfast….I have eggs and dairies and nuts and vegetables. That would go a long way in preventing the obesity epidemic.

What was your ultimate goal with living healthy?
The whole point of being healthy is to be around for your family. It’s nice to have six-pack abs, but that’s not my goal. I just want to be around to feel good and be with them. Having a close network of friends and family is so linked to longevity. As long as you have people to confide in and support you—that’s crucial to your health.

Have you brainstormed your next project?
My kids have an idea for my next book: I should eat nothing but candy for a year—and they said they would join me.

One Jewish woman’s fight against sexual exploitation in Chicago

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One Jewish woman’s fight against sexual exploitation in Chicago photo

Pictured from left is Patricia, a survivor who works with CAASE, and Rachel Durchslag.

As a graduate of a small liberal arts college in upstate New York, it's not often I hear about other Skidmore alumni living in the city. So when I learned about Rachel Durchslag and her non-profit, Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation (CAASE)—which is currently receiving grants from the Jewish Women's Foundation of Chicago: Hear Our Voices, an independent project of the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago—I knew I had to meet her.

Durchslag has spent the past six years fighting against sexual exploitation in Chicago by raising awareness, implementing prevention curriculum in our schools, advocating for policy and legislative reform, and building community engagement and providing legal services to victims. Durchslag invited me to her office for an interview with Oy!Chicago.

Oy!Chicago: How did you become involved in this issue?
Rachel Durchslag: In 2003, I was at the International Film Festival and I saw a film about a women trafficking from Bosnia to Chicago and it struck a chord with me. I went home that night and I thought…if this were going on in Chicago, I would know about it. I discovered that Chicago is considered to be a hub for traffickers in the United States. I went…to a meeting [where] I met with survivors and heard their stories, I just said, 'this is it.'

What is CAASE?
When I started CAASE, though there was some work being done on demand, there was not a single organization dedicated to demand elimination. I decided this would be the organization that would take this little piece of the puzzle. [At the time,] there was only one research report on men who purchase sex and there were hundreds on women and the sex trade, which I think is very indicative in this country on how we look at this issue.

We raised money and interviewed 113 men who buy sex in Chicago…The vast majority of them purchased sex during their college years. We realized that if we were going to prevent this, then we needed to talk to high school age boys. But there was no curriculum that existed… so we created curriculum, "Empowering Young Men to End Sexual Exploitation." It launched in March 2010, and we've reached probably 1,500 men and are in 12 different schools.

We [also] had to get people to understand that this was even an issue. Everything in the media says that prostitution is glamorous and between consenting adults, which isn't true for the vast majority of women. We started raising awareness by producing plays, film festivals, and lecturing.

Part of [starting to] hold perpetrators accountable was utilizing the legal system. We launched the "Sex Assault Justice Project," which provides pro bono legal help to all people who have been victims of sexual harm.

Finally, what about real systemic change? We created a policy project called "End Demand Illinois," which is striving to overhaul Illinois laws to shift our focus onto pimps, johns, and sex traffickers.

The Jewish Women's Foundation recently renewed your grant for the End Demand Illinois campaign—tell us about it?
It is very exciting for me as somebody who comes from a very Jewish-identified family, but does secular work to be able to engage with the Jewish community. We have some amazing volunteers who connect us to synagogues in the city and suburbs where we go and do presentations with a survivor and then we do a call of action for "End Demand Illinois."

We also recently created an anti-trafficking Passover haggadah.

Also, working with JWF has really helped change the image of this issue. Some people think this is such a taboo issue. Because JWF is championing this, people are more open to talking about it.

What would surprise Chicagoans the most to learn about sexual exploitation in Illinois?
On any given day, 16,000-24,000 women and children are impacted by the sex trade in the Chicagoland area.

What role has Judaism played in shaping who you are today?
I grew up in a family that cared about social justice and tikun olam (repairing the world). Growing up with the world's biggest haggadah collector, Passover was the holiday. You talked about being enslaved and what that was like for our people. And then I chose my life fighting modern day slavery. I don't think that's random, that's absolutely connected.

What can our readers do to help stop sexual exploitation?
Go to "End Demand Illinois" and sign up for our list serve. We provide a whole list of tools for colleges, religious groups, parents, teachers, and every day people to give them the tools to be activists. Call your representatives—it really makes a difference.

Also, challenge the language and help establish that this is a problem. Until we understand that this is problem, people aren't going to be willing to take action.

Jewish Women's Foundation of Chicago: Hear Our Voices is an independent project of the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago.

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