OyChicago articles

Presenting the 2015 Chicago Jewish 36 under 36 list!

 Permanent link

2015 Jewish 36 under 36 grid

From entrepreneurs, to educators, to Jewish professionals paving the way for the future, this city is full of talented, giving, forward-thinking young adults striving to make the world a better place. Take a look at the list!

A new documentary film asks 'What makes a mensch?'

 Permanent link

A new documentary film asks 'What makes a mensch?' photo 1

Most of us  go through life trying to act like a mensch -- but what does that really mean? Jewish filmmaker Tiffany Shlain wants to know.

This summer, she's putting a call out to people all over the world to grab their phones and upload a short video answering "What's your definition of a mensch?" She plans to weave some of the responses as footage in her upcoming short film documentary called The Making of a Mensch, which Shlain is currently producing with her film studio Let It Ripple.

The film will premiere on Sept. 18 -- "Character Day 2015," -- which lands in the middle of the High Holiday season, a natural time of reflection. Rabbis and Jewish educators will incorporate the film as part of their High Holiday curriculum. Shlain, based in San Francisco, hopes to spark a conversation, and to engage 3,000 schools, synagogues, JCCs, camps, and others institutions through the project. So far, the US State Department, Foundation for Jewish Camp, the JCC Association, BBYO, RAVSAK, The Covenant Foundation, National Association of Independent Schools, the San Francisco Unified School District, the Center on Media and Child Health, have partnered on the project.

In a hyperactive, hyper-tech world, Shlain says, people are hungrier than ever to find meaning in their lives. "Everyone is searching for guides to give them tools to live a meaningful, successful, and purposeful life in a 24/7 world," she said. "Things are happening so much more quickly with all this technology, and we're making so many more choices at every turn so having a strong inner fortitude is important."

A new documentary film asks 'What makes a mensch?' photo 2

Tiffany Shain

One of the goals Shlain has for the film is to reclaim the word "mensch" for women. "I want the word to apply to women too because a lot of people use the word only for a man," she said. "In Yiddish, the word is for men and women."

The idea for the latest movie emerged after the success of Shlain's previous film short, last year, called The Science of Character, examining the neuroscience and social science that proves that we can shape who we are and who we want to be.

Jewish educators, like Rabbi Avi Orlow, loved the movie so much that they approached Shlain to make a second film about character development, this time told through the lens of Mussar. A collection of ancient Jewish ethical teachings, Mussar guides Jews to live a more meaningful and purposeful life through certain practices and meditations, and is currently experiencing a revival in the modern world.

Orlow, the founder of the Mussar Institute and Foundation for Jewish Camp's director of Jewish education, teamed up with Shlain on the film after hearing her speak at a conference. "I couldn't help but notice that her film The Science of Character unknowingly mirrored much of the teachings of the Mussar movement," he said. "One of the strengths of an…environment like camp is the opportunity to engage in meaningful character development. Making mensches is what we do. How wonderful…to take a project that has already struck a chord with Jewish camp professionals and put it in the context of ancient Jewish teachings that are still incredibly relevant to us today."

Shlain has created more than two dozen films -- mostly short films blending animation, images, and video input from the public to explore topics in a hip, relevant way. She tends to take on subjects from a neuroscience and social science angle.

The filmmaker dates her interest in the brain back to the fourth grade. It was then that her dad, a brain surgeon, brought a human brain in formaldehyde to her class for show and tell. That same year, her mom went back to school to study psychology -- and would use her daughter as a guinea pig for her homework. Ever since then, Shlain has wanted to make films about matters of the brain.

Named by Newsweek as "one of the women shaping the 21st century," and the founder of the Webby Awards, Shlain created the 2005 documentary short film called The Tribe chronicling the history of the Jewish people -- through the Barbie doll. The film exploded on the Jewish circuit.

With her new film, she's tackling the crux of who we are and who we want to become. "We are all trying to figure out how to be a better person -- a better mother, wife, contributor to the world and our community," she said. "The film [gives] haimisch tools to do that."

To learn more about the The Making of a Mensch and Character Day 2015, to sign up your organization to host a screening of the film, or to submit your own video message about what makes a mensch -- you might make it into the film! -- visit here.

Double Chai Check-In: Benjamin Lachman helps expand opportunities for those with disabilities

 Permanent link

Now is the best time to be deaf -- at least according to Benjamin Lachman, a driving force behind the "Cued Speech" movement and a 2014 honoree of Oy!Chicago and YLD's Double Chai in the Chi, 36 Under 36 list.

"An individual with a perceived disability has every ability to achieve or exceed peer-level expectations given full and unequivocal access to the kinds of educational, vocational, or sociological opportunities that are afforded to society," Lachman said.

As a deaf individual since birth, Lachman has always sought out the best possible avenues in order to hear and understand speech more accurately. His journey toward hearing first started with American Sign Language, which was difficult for his family to learn when he was so young. Then he discovered Cued Speech, a method of lip-reading that uses eight hand shapes to represent consonants. Words are created by speaking and placing hand shapes around the mouth. The method can be applied to many languages, common and uncommon. Lachman and his family were the first family in Illinois to adopt this methodology.

In order to spread knowledge of Cued Speech and help others learn the technique, Lachman started Cue Everything, which collects and creates videos about Cued Speech and allows others to learn more about the program online. Their crowning achievement is a Cued Speech rap video featuring the rapper Twista to his song "Go."

If you look at the video's comments section, you'll notice some resistance to Cued Speech as an alternative to ASL.

"We certainly face challenges in explaining the concept of showing phonological information of conventionally spoken language in a manner that someone with no auditory feedback can still access," Lachman said.

There are elements of speech that ASL does not address. Many deaf individuals who only use basic lip-reading and ASL cannot comprehend phonemes of spoken language, the tiny units of sound in a language that are still capable of conveying a distinct meaning. Cued Speech addresses this nuance in speech comprehension by using combinations of hand shapes (or "cues") to help deaf individuals understand these phonemes despite not being able to hear them.

"I can see exactly what you say, absolutely verbatim, how you say it in the same speed that you would if you were just speaking," Lachman said. The result is that rather than having deaf individuals and their families both learn a new language, Cued Speech gives deaf individuals access to the language being spoken around them.

Helping widen the scope of Cued Speech is just one way Lachman is helping individuals with disabilities better access the world around them. Since being named 36 Under 36, Lachman has been more involved in ADA25Chicago, an initiative honoring the 25th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

This initiative will see all kinds of participating organizations creating and hosting educational, cultural, arts, sports and recreational events that will increase public awareness and improve the quality of life for people with disabilities.

JJsList.com, for which Lachman is the business and community engagement coordinator, is one of the partner organizations involved in the ADA25Chicago effort. The site is a platform for businesses and consumers to foster better communication and to understand each other's needs. Businesses use this platform to discover consumers' opinions and determine which products are successful. The site also allows businesses to become more aware of disabilities and to better communicate with individuals who have them, ultimately creating job opportunities.

"If you've had the opportunity to communicate with various demographics, you'll be far less intimidated by hiring these individuals," Lachman said.

The nature of the workplace puts those with disabilities at a disadvantage and it is difficult to connect employer's needs and the requests of prospective employees. JJsList.com caters to individuals with a range of disabilities and anyone can receive assistance.  

"A big part of what we do as a social enterprise is provide life skills and vocational coaching to assist people in communicating their needs to potential services providers or employers," Lachman said.

Double Chai Check-In: Benjamin Lachman photo

Benjamin Lachman (back right) with the JJsList.com training team at the Brookfield Zoo

In order to further the ADA25Chicago effort, JJsList has been hosting Disability Awareness Training workshops, which include role-playing activities and the sharing of personal stories.

"Through this public speaking experience, the Disability Awareness Players themselves build communications and networking skills that they need for employment and workplace success," Lachman said.

The workshops have reached over 3,000 business employees to date, and due to a grant from the Reva and David Logan Foundation, they will be able to expand their effort and dedication to the ADA. Chicago Public Schools and cultural institutions will be part of the mix, and teachers, students, and volunteers will gain a greater knowledge of disabilities and be comfortable interacting with such individuals.

Thanks to the ADA, Lachman says, accessibility and diversity are encouraged, leaving society in a better position as a whole.

"More individuals with disabilities are able to actually believe in themselves and what they are capable of accomplishing," he said.

RSS Feed
<< July 2015 >>
Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
      1 2 3 4
5 6 7 8 9 10 11
12 13 14 15 16 17 18
19 20 21 22 23 24 25
26 27 28 29 30 31  




Recent Posts

comments powered by Disqus
AdvertisementSpertus Institute MA in Jewish Professional Studies
AdvertisementJCYS Register