OyChicago articles

Emily Briskman is my hero

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Emily Briskman sits down the hall from me at work.  Like me, she has Cheerios every day for breakfast and unlike me, she is always cheerful, stylish and put together.  For these reasons alone, Emily is my hero…and others agree.

Emily was recently nominated as a Jewish community hero in the Jewish Federations of North America’s (JFNA) Second Annual Jewish Community Hero’s event.

At just 28, Emily has shaped two landmark initiatives to effectively advocate for Israel on college campuses with few Jews and no Hillels.  She’s launched a pilot program, Reach Across Illinois Campuses for Israel (RAIC) — the first of its kind in North America— from the ground up.  Reaching out to 10 campuses throughout Illinois, Emily works to build strong inroads and relationships with non-Jewish administrators, professors and students who otherwise wouldn't have the resources or exposure to Israel, beyond what they see in the media or hear from their peers.

Recently, Emily agreed to sit down with me to chat about the nomination and why she’s uniquely qualified to be the Program Director for RAIC.  We wanted to go out for drinks somewhere trendy, but limited by our non-profit salaries we opted to just meet in her office over coffee.  Even without the fabulous location, Emily looked impeccable—which she credits to her mother.

Emily Briskman is my hero photo

Super stylish Emily

“My mom has always said if you look good then you will feel good,” says Emily.  “I try to look good every day because it makes me feel better, it makes me feel professional and like I’m going somewhere important.  I also just really love clothes, especially accessories.”

A Florida native, Emily’s interest in working with and learning about people from different religious backgrounds started at a young age.

“I started attending Catholic school in the second grade,” explains Emily.  “It was the best school in the neighborhood and just over the bridge from my house.  My parents explained to me that I wasn’t Catholic, but Jewish, and that like taking history classes, it was important to learn about Catholicism and other religions.”

Accustomed to being the minority, it wasn’t until the summer after her freshman year in college that Emily became interested in the Jewish community.

“I was going home and my mom didn’t want me to hang out all summer” says Emily.  “My sister had been involved with her Jewish youth group and they sent her a postcard for an internship and so my mom said, ‘Why don’t you apply for it?’ I said, ‘Sure Mom, ok.’  So I applied for it and I got it!  My first internship ever was at the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) in Palm Beach County.  I spent the summer learning about how JCRC works and writing a handbook for Latino-Jewish cooperation and working with the JCRC staff.  The director there was a huge influence on me continuing to work with both the Jewish and the non-Jewish population.”

Flash forward two years, Emily, armed with two more Jewish-oriented internships and a college degree, sent her resume to a head hunter for young Jewish professionals at what is now JFNA.

“The head hunter offered to send my resume across the country,” explains Emily.  “It ended up in the hands of Amy Dorevitch in Chicago.  She called me and I had a phone interview.  The next week she called again and said, ‘We really liked you but you have to come here for an interview.  Can you come here tomorrow?’  I got on a plane the next day and had an interview.  Within a week, I was moving to Chicago to work as the program director for Hillels around Chicago.”

Today, Emily spends her time looking at programs she can offer to her diverse RAIC campuses— from finding speakers, to closely interacting with school administrators, professors and students to researching and keeping tabs on any anti-Semitism and anti-Israel sentiments on campus— she’s always on-the-go.  She says it’s crucial that she serves both the Jewish and non-Jewish populations on every campus to make sure that she’s always their first line of communication so her relationships stay healthy and prosper.

“In terms of Israel, it is going to be [a tough year] combating any anti-Israel sentiment on campus because it is prevalent and it is spreading,” explains Emily.  “Students for Justice in Palestine is growing as an organization, so we need to be ready and not only responsive, but proactive.  I don’t want to stay on the defense.  It’s not an argument, it’s not a war.  It’s to be proactive by educating students about Israel and giving them every resource available to make sure that they are aware that we are here for them and that there are hundreds of ways for them to advocate for Israel on their campuses.”

Emily’s greatest career accomplishment to date involved altering a student’s anti-Israel views.

“One of the girls was a volunteer with the ministry [at DePaul]; I knew [she] was becoming the paper editor for the next academic year,” says Emily.  “I’d known her from volunteering in the office.  I didn’t know that much about her political beliefs.  One day I was walking through the student center and I saw her at a Students for Justice in Palestine table handing out flyers.  I went up to chat with her just as friends and not as a Hillel professional to find out if she actually knew what she was doing or if she was just there for friends.  It turned out to be little bit of both.  She wanted to cheer for the underdog— as she saw it.  I really wanted her to understand what she was talking about and what she was promoting.  I asked her out to lunch and we met a few days later and I told her about Israel, Hillel and what we do to advocate for Israel.”

The girl wanted to know more, so Emily decided to help send her to Israel, where she could experience the country for herself.

“I connected her with the American Jewish Committee— they do a trip [for non-Jews].  I spoke with the director of the program and I said I know this girl who is going to be the editor of DePaul’s paper,” explains Emily.  “She applied, got in and went to Israel that summer.  She came back more excited than I’d ever seen anyone come back from Israel.  It was exciting to see that I changed someone’s life.”

Emily’s making a real difference in the Jewish community, but she remains very humble.  Although proud of her nomination, she doesn’t see herself as a hero.  Instead, she names her grandfather and her sister as her heroes.

“My grandfather on my mother’s side, Grandpa Lou, was a philanthropist in Troy, NY,” says Emily.  “He saw a need in the community and built a dialysis center.  He really felt that he wanted to take care of his community and I think that is such a core Jewish value…My other hero is my sister.  She has always and will always be my biggest hero.  She is two years older than me and she is bold.  That’s how I always describe her— eclectic and bold.  She’s willing to go after what she wants.  She’s the person I look to for advice and to bounce ideas off of.  She is the voice in my head who says, ‘do better.’

Clearly, Emily is doing great.

As of today, Emily has 266 votes, she truly deserves all the support she can get so vote for her— early and often!   Click here  to learn more about Emily and to cast your vote!

A conversation with Etgar Keret

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A conversation with Etgar Keret photo

Author Etgar Keret, well-known throughout Israel and the world for his short stories, graphic novels and scriptwriting for film and television, has been called the voice of young Israel. He is in Chicago as part of a visiting writers' program at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, supported in part through the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago's Israel Studies Project. 

This Thursday, Keret will deliver a lecture at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, which is free and open to the public, at 6pm in the SAIC Auditorium. 

Anticipating his visit, JUF News’s Arts and Entertainment columnist Jan Lisa Huttner called Keret at home for some personal thoughts and shared her interview with Oy!Chicago:

Jan Lisa Huttner: In past interviews, you’ve named Sholem Aleichem as a major influence. What’s the connection?
Etgar Keret: I'm a Jewish writer in the skin of an Israeli writer. I'm seen as the ultimate Israeli writer because I use the Hebrew language in a very contemporary way—colloquial speech that is very dynamic. But the personality of the soul behind it is a very Jewish soul, not the classic Israeli soul.
Israel has amazing writers, but none of them is known for his sense of humor. So the most intuitive argument that I have for being “a Jewish writer” is that my stories are funny in that reflexive sense that really defines Jewish humor.

I think people usually write about the things that they don't have, and what we don't have in Israel is that sense of continuity, because of being a new country with an undefined and insecure future. So we write mostly epics that will give us the sensation that life is more than a segmented moment.

If you read A Tale of Love & Darkness (Amoz Oz) or A Trip to the Edge of the Millennium (A.B. Yehoshua) or whatever, this is basically the classic Israeli way of writing—stories that go through centuries. We don't have an Israeli Sholem Aleichem because we are a country of novelists, not a country of short story writers. There is no Israeli Raymond Carver or other people who are known for their short fiction.

So when I look for people that I feel are close to me, it’s much more common for me to find them among young Jewish-American writers than among contemporary Israeli ones. I really feel closer to Jonathan Safran Foer and Nathan Englander than to Israeli writers of my generation.

And yet, in another interview, you described yourself as a member of Israel’s “second generation” (referencing the Holocaust)?
In Israel and in most of the most of the word, I'm not seen as a second generation writer. I’m seen as this kind of young, hip, crazy guy. Some of my readers are not even excited I'm Israeli, and in Israel, many people think I’m Sephardi because of my family name. (My parents changed it to Keret, but it used to be something else before my father came to Israel.)

It's not that I'm, let's say, a writer like Savyon Liebrecht in which the presence of the Holocaust is very central in most of her work. But I do feel that there is some sort of generation change. Younger writers, like Amir Gutfreund, seem to be less immersed by some sort of petrifying awe than you will encounter maybe in earlier writing when it was closer to the Holocaust itself. The guy could be Primo Levi’s son or his grandson that tries to find his connection to that history at an earnest personal level.

But Savyon Liebrecht was born in a DP camp, so she’s a generation older than you, right?
Exactly. I'm somewhere in between the second generation and third generation because my parents were children during the war.

And how do you respond to people who say: "Get over it. The Holocaust is ancient history. Why are you still dwelling on it?”
I think the time of the war was a time that people were closest to saints and closest to devils. So when you read a story about the Holocaust experience, you don't read about some isolated chapter in history. You read a story about the human creature, the personal history. Some of those stories are tales of hope and some of them are tales of despair, so to say “When will you get over it?” will be like “When will you stop writing stories about human beings?”

And to people who say that as an Israeli writer, you should be talking less about the Holocaust and more about the Palestinians?
Well, first of all, the nice thing about art is that there are no obligations when it comes to art. If you want to change the world, you know, do something or write an essay. But the idea about art is really it's this place where your psyche decides and not your agenda.

I think that many stories can reveal hidden agendas and tell you things about the life you are living, but basically I really don't think that when a writer comes to write, he should do his homework and write about what people want him to write. It's one thing that you can’t impose, to say to somebody “Write a book about Palestinians." would be just like saying "Fall in love with a dark haired woman."

Basically I did quite a few things that I think are indirectly connected to the Holocaust because the Germans killed my entire family. If I would have grandparents, I would write a story about how it is to have grandparents. I write what I can write.

Sometimes people ask me questions about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. I actually think that it's legitimate. The same way I can trace the Holocaust to my writing, I can easily trace the Israeli/Palestinian conflict to my writing. So if I ever meet a Finnish director, I might ask him: “Is it really as cold there as we think it is?” But anybody who wants to impose topics on artists, then they really don't understand what art is.

OK, so circling back, are you the Israeli Sholem Aleichem?
Well [laughing], out of the lack of any other candidate, I guess I got the job. There's nobody else who's trying!

It's not that I think life is snippets and not epics, it's just that the way I sort out reality in my mind, I guess it stops at the level of snippets. I think that there is something very chaotic and overwhelming in both my emotional and mental experience, and the best I can do is find narratives that will keep it together for a few pages. I really don't have this narrative that could keep it for 600 pages.

Well, if I walk into a bookstore in ten years and find a collection of stories about “Etgar's Tevye,” I’ll remember you said that!

Don't miss this rare opportunity to spend an evening with acclaimed Israeli writer Etgar Keret. Keret will read a selection of his short stories followed by an informal conversation about his work with Rachel S. Harris, Assistant Professor of Hebrew Literature and Israeli Cultural Studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

College Knowledge

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College Knowledge for the Jewish Student: 101 Tips by David Schoem not just for incoming college freshmen 

Are you going to college for the first time this fall? Are you a parent of an incoming college freshman? If so, it’s a pretty safe assumption that you have questions…a LOT of them! So where can you turn to get some much needed answers?

Well, there’s no better place to gain knowledge than a book. One problem though: There are so many college self-help guides and books that it can be more than a little confusing to pick one and hope that it is the best representation of college life.

After reading more than a few of these books myself the summer before my freshman year at college, I was still filled with questions—specifically questions about Jewish life on campus. I had yet to find a college “guide” book tailored specifically to Jewish needs: Where should I go for High Holidays? Where can I find a good Jewish community, outside of the structured Hillel events? Etc.

Well, here’s some good news for the incoming class of 2014: David Schoem has answered your prayers. College Knowledge for the Jewish Student: 101 Tips (University of Michigan Press) was published last month.

College Knowledge photo 1

College Knowledge for the Jewish Student is a must-have guide for the new student on campus, covering everything from communicating with faculty members to where to go for help to the role of tikun olam (repairing the world) on the college campus,” said Heather Newman, trade marketing manager for the University of Michigan Press.

However, don’t expect to read all about generic college questions, like what to pack and how to decorate your dorm room. Instead you can find topics like, “Learn to Enjoy Yourself, Learning, and the College Experience” (Tip 68). Schoem addresses many of these deeper issues. He stresses that it is critical for the individual Jewish student who enters college to come intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually prepared for the academic and social experience that awaits. College is a qualitatively different experience than high school, according to Schoem, and students' expectations need to be set appropriately. The transition from high school to college is so significant that it can be difficult for most students without some preparation.

College Knowledge for the Jewish Student is the perfect guide for students heading off to college with high expectations for learning, academic success, personal growth, and independence. Through lively tips and compelling student stories about college life, it offers thoughtful, practical information for every Jewish student who wants to make a successful transition.

College Knowledge photo 2

David Schoem

“It’s highly rewarding reading for anyone with a student in the family,” Newman said.

So whether you’re a parent, grandparent, or sibling of the incoming college freshman, or if you’re the student yourself, there are definitely some golden nuggets of tips in this book.

One of my favorites has to be Tip 81: “Call Home: Ask for Care Packages, and Don’t Forget Your Bubbe and Zayde.” Schoem is giving all new college freshmen permission to ask for care packages from their families! Hear that, Mom and Dad? I may be a college junior this year, but these tips apply to all four years!

Schoem, director of the Michigan Community Scholars Program and a faculty member in Sociology and Judaic Studies at the University of Michigan, is also a teacher on undergraduate education, intergroup relations, and the American Jewish Community. College Knowledge for the Jewish Student: 101 Tips is his eighth book.

Jewish 20 and 30somethings—Your stories wanted!

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Are you a Jewish 20 or 30something with a story to tell? Do you want to be part of a collection of voices that together tell the unique story of our generation?

Living Jewishly: A snapshot of a generation, is a collection of personal essays and memoirs from Jewish 20 and 30somethings from across the country—think Chicken Soup for the Jewish Soul meets Jewcy.

But in order to share our generation’s story, I need your help!

My name is Stefanie Pervos and I am the founding editor of Oy!Chicago and the associate editor of JUF News in Chicago. I am also a student in the Spertus Institute’s Master of Arts in Jewish Professional Studies program and Living Jewishly: A snapshot of a generation is my final project. My hope is that each piece will be a window into how we express our Judaism and our voices together will tell a complete story. The essays will be framed with an introduction encompassing some of the research I’ve done about what it means to be a Jewish 20 or 30something in America today. As a collection, the essays will appear online, and ultimately, my goal is a published anthology.

If you have something you’ve already written for a publication or blog that you think fits the bill, or you want to write an original piece (700 words minimum) please submit it to me at Stefaniepervos@JUF.org by Oct. 4th. Know someone who would be a great contributor? Feel free to put them in contact with me as well.

All submissions should be sent to   StefaniePervos@JUF.org no later than October 4th!

8 Questions for Brooke Lawrence, Alec Baldwin-enthusiast, ex-Playboy staff, and the Duchess of Declutter™

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8 Questions for Brooke Lawrence photo 1

Brooke Lawrence is a 30-year-old self-proclaimed anal-retentive perfectionist with a penchant for revamping and decluttering basements, garages, closets, pantries, offices and junk drawers.

She started reorganizing and decluttering not only her room, but also her parents’ room at a young age, and that need for clean only intensified as she got older. She finally turned that cleaning bug into a full-blown business, and started The Duchess of Declutter™ at the end of November in 2007. She works with clients to declutter and clean their offices and homes, help with moving, wedding registries, selling items on eBay and Craigslist, and much more. According to her website, www.DuchessofDeclutter.com, she recognizes that “from Oak Brook to Buffalo Grove and Gurnee to Highland Park, there are people all over the Chicagoland area that need a little push. I provide that one-on-one attention to get the job done, one drawer at a time.”

Born and raised in Highland Park, she graduated with a bachelor’s degree from University of Illinois (Urbana-Champaign) and two weeks later enrolled in Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism for her master’s degree. She then went on to work at Playboy Magazine and Chicago Magazine, before she ended up in marketing at Lawrence Foods, Inc. Starting her own organizing business was always a goal of hers, and so the Duchess of Declutter™ was born!

8 Questions for Brooke Lawrence photo 2

So whether you need some help organizing your home, want to gossip about celebrities, or learn how to start your own business, the Duchess of Declutter™ is a Jew You Should Know:

1. What is your favorite blog or website?
I have a small obsession with celebrity gossip, so I scour People.com almost every day. I am not a gawker or a stalker though. I promise.

2. If time and money were limitless, where would you travel?
I would love to island hop around Greece or travel to different cities in Italy. But I’ve never been to Israel either. Since money and time are limitless, I would essentially be an unemployed multi-millionaire, so I could definitely hit up all three.

3. If a movie were to be made about your life, who would play you?
Me, of course. Plus, I’m too controlling, so the chances of an Oscar-winning actress being able to mimic me are rather slim.

4. If you could have a meal with any two people, living or dead, famous or not, who would they be?
My living dinner date would be Alec Baldwin. I’m secretly in love with him. He’s a comedic genius, and I know any meal with him would be unforgettable. My non-living dinner date would definitely be my Grandpa Sydney. I think about him every day and only wish he could see me now. He’d get such a kick out of me being pregnant. I think he’ll be the most debonair person I’ll ever know.

5. What's your idea of the perfect day?
A good workout and a good meal.

6. What do you love about what you do?
I really believe that an organized home translates into an organized life. It’s hard to breathe with so much clutter around you, let alone focus. When I’m done decluttering an office, kitchen or closet, I’ve immediately made someone’s life easier to manage. That’s what I love the most. The gratification is instant. And, I love seeing the look on my clients’ faces after I’ve completely revamped what they deemed to be utterly unmanageable. 

7. What job would you have had if not the one you have now?
A very senior editorial position at People magazine.

8. What's your favorite Jewish thing to do in Chicago? 
Spend the holidays with my family.

8 Questions for Amy Ravit Korin, JDate Guru, Twitter savior, and social media expert

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Amy Ravit Korin has always been a step ahead in the social media world. After working in a mix of media buying and advertising sales for R.H. Donnelley (the leading Yellow Page publisher), Univision online, Alloy Media + Marketing, and a video distribution company, she started Interactive Amy a year and a half ago. Interactive Amy is an advertising and marketing agency with a focus in social media.

“I’m essentially an outsourced marketing and promotions manager for my clients in addition to doing social media strategy and taking on the voice for companies online and helping them tie together their online and offline marketing promotions,” Korin says. In addition, she also has been hired by many people to help rebrand JDate profiles, which she is especially qualified for.

“I married the first boy I ever kissed,” Korin says happily. “I met my husband Josh at Jewish summer camp, and later went on to reconnect on JDate.”

So if you’re looking to meet your beshert through JDate, go see live music—especially Phish—or completely rebrand your online presence, Amy Ravit Korin is a Jew You Should Know!


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