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Meet Barbie Adler, Chicago’s own upscale matchmaker
As someone who is constantly (and mostly unsuccessfully) trying to set up her single friends, I was excited to meet Barbie Adler, a real, live matchmaker. As I toured her office, where words like LOVE, AMOR, and KISS ME are literally written on the walls in big wooden letters, it became clear that Barbie is not your traditional yenta.
Known as one of the industry’s most respected matchmakers, sought-after lifestyle management coaches and personal relationship experts, Barbie founded Selective Search Inc. in 2000, and it quickly grew to become the nation’s leading upscale, boutique personal matchmaking firm with an 88 percent success rate, the highest in the industry.
Continuing on my tour, I saw a wall of what appeared to be an endless collage of wedding and baby photos from her success stories (1,167 marriages resulting in 409 babies and counting to date) confirming that her approach—using the same methodologies of executive recruiters and headhunters to apply to personal matchmaking—truly work.
More than just cute shoes
Chicago born and bred, Barbie grew up in a traditional Jewish home, where her mom, a psychologist, often led communication, parenting and couple classes.
With her background in psychology and PR, Adler first found her professional niche in executive recruiting.
“It was so rewarding helping people find the right home for their work life,” she says. “Once I learned that formal methodology of screening and meeting candidates and clients and making a match professionally, I realized this is so needed in the personal space.”
So she applied those same principles she learned from executive recruiting and coupled them with her years of dating experience.
“I [took] everything that I knew didn’t work for me and everything I wished was there when I was single and created a company that would be a resource for people,” she says. “I really just thought I would make a difference in people’s lives and buy cute shoes and call it a day. I really didn’t have the foresight to make it the scaled company it is today.”
Once she found her true home, Barbie knew that she and matchmaking were beshert. “I love what I do and this is truly why I’m put on this planet. Being Jewish, marrying someone Jewish and now helping other singles meet someone Jewish is really important to me.”
‘That’s how easy love can be’
So how does it all work?
When clients come to Selective Search, Inc., they are ready to settle down.
“They’ve already put their ego aside and they are asking for help,” Barbie says. “They realize meeting this person is more important than how they meet this person.”
They come in to Barbie’s office, complete with comfy chairs and private hallways so no two clients should ever meet, and sit down with Barbie or one of her matchmakers. Over a couple of hours, she really gets to know the client, inside and out, and then begins the intense and thorough search.
Barbie, who calls herself a “walking rolodex” first does an internal search of her database (women can join for free), followed by phone screenings and in-person interviews.
“When we’re that excited about her and she is looking for him just as much as he is looking for her, then we’ll tell both people about each other.”
And for some, that’s all it takes. According to their website, 30 percent of Selective Search Inc. clients couple up in the first introduction and 45 percent need only three introductions before forming exclusive relationships.
“There’s nothing better than [when] my phone rings and it’s the couple closing down the restaurant and they’re leaving me a voicemail,” she says. “That will never get old. I’ve been doing this for 10 years and I’m still the same excited person to hear the feedback after the date.”
Advice from the expert
I asked Barbie what advice she had for Jewish singles out there.
“I think the biggest thing is to really put the time—almost the amount of time you put into getting ahead professionally—into coming up with your own strategic game plan for yourself. That involves silencing your life and putting ‘you time’ on the calendar.”
When trying to meet someone, Barbie’s advice is to put yourself in new situations.
“Don’t just hang out with the same group of people. Mix it up. Make sure that you seem approachable, don’t stand in a pack of girls, or have a look on your face [that makes you seem unapproachable].”
When you do go out on that date, make sure you’re the best version of yourself. Both emotionally and physically, she said. And watch your alcohol.
Once in a relationship, the first step is to make sure you are dating the kind of people you want to marry, that you can see yourself spending your life with. For people in their 20s, she said one of the big mistakes people make is not thinking long-term.
“If you know in your heart that you’re with someone that you can never see yourself marrying, for whatever reason, don’t stay in the relationship just because it’s hard to break up and you don’t want to hurt the person’s feelings or you feel sorry for yourself that you have to go back out there,” she says. “The older you get it’s going to be harder to meet people. So, while you still have time on your side, even though it will hurt like heck, break up.”
For singles in their 30s, she said, the biggest challenge is to make sure you are carving out time to date. It can get challenging to find time for yourself, as your career starts to grow and you find yourself celebrating everyone else’s milestones.
Once you determine the type of person you are looking for, make sure that you are that type of person in return.
“If you’re looking for a guy who takes care of himself and is in great shape and athletic and you’re not doing the same for yourself, [you should] make sure that you are the person that your partner is going to want,” Barbie says. “I know that sounds cruel, but that’s life, right?”
Being the wannabe matchmaker that I am, I asked Barbie what advice she had for us amateur yentas out there.
Good matchmakers need to understand that it’s an emotional process, she says. They need to be good listeners and have love for both genders. People who get jealous when they see someone taller, thinner or more successful than them, have no business in this business.
“It’s not just like a product,” she says. “Because it’s such an important value in someone’s life, we take it so seriously.”
If you’re trying to set someone up, try asking the person what they’re really looking for. Ask them what’s worked for them in the past—what qualities made them fall in love and ultimately the things that didn’t work out.
And, she says, help your friends get out of their own way.
“‘What do you mean he has to have green eyes? Are you kidding? I’ll buy you a green plant.’ [Help them] get out of their own way with some of the stereotypes.”
Barbie, a former “heightist,” before she met her husband, is a living example by only dating people of a certain height, age or hair color, you’re only limiting yourself.
For two single friends, she suggests making a fun game out of it.
“Say you’re going find the next date for your friend and she’s going to find one for you and by Friday you have to make that happen,” she says. “It’s easier to pick someone else up if it’s not for you.”
Somewhere out there
“If you’re not making yourself or your love life your priority, only you can do that. You really need to be the change agent to make that happen,” Barbie says. “I always share the philosophy of you should be excited that you haven’t met this person yet because it just means that while you’re preparing to be the best version of yourself, just know that somewhere out there he’s doing the same for you.”
NEW YORK (Forward)—Every reality competition with judges has a “mean one": Simon Cowell’s scathing remarks made plenty of “American Idol” contestants cry.
For the first couple of seasons of “Top Chef,” the Emmy Award-winning Bravo TV series now in its seventh season, that judge was Gail Simmons.
But behind the scenes, the personality of the vivacious and fast-talking Simmons, who tap dances for the producers and refers to herself as the little sister of the show, stands in sharp contrast to her earlier television persona.
And now she has a new role: host and consulting producer of “Just Desserts,” a Bravo show that premiered Sept. 15 that challenges pastry chefs.
While Simmons, 34, a special projects manager at Food and Wine magazine, is perhaps one of the best-known food critics in the country now, at first she had no interest in pursuing a path in the culinary world, let alone one on television.
“I kind of joke that I’m not a food critic but that I play one on TV. It has become a self-fulfilling prophecy,” said Simmons, whose sharp tongue has noticeably mellowed over the past couple of seasons of "Top Chef," which pits young, talented, fame-hungry chefs against one another in grueling culinary challenges. “I always loved food, but in truth it never entered my mind as an occupation until college.”
Few were raised in as epicurean a household as Simmons.
Her mother, Renee Simmons, wrote a food column for the Globe and Mail, Canada’s largest newspaper, in the 1970s and ’80s, and she later opened a cooking school in the Simmons home in Toronto.
“My mom built our kitchen as a teaching kitchen where people can sit around and watch you cook,” Simmons said.
Her childhood home was a fairly traditional Jewish household, complete with hearty servings of Eastern European Jewish food, especially for the holidays.
“We had Shabbat dinner every Friday night, without fail,” Simmons said. “There was always challah and my mother’s outstanding chicken soup.”
Ask Simmons about her favorite Jewish food memories and she points to two foods: brisket and latkes.
“My mom’s brisket is killer; so are her latkes,” she said. “They’re the standard by which I will forever hold all other briskets and latkes.”
In college, Simmons shied away from comparisons to her mom, despite cooking often and reviewing restaurants for her college newspaper.
“When you’re 20 years old, the last thing you want to hear is that you’re just like your mom,” she said.
So she pursued degrees in anthropology and Spanish at McGill University in Montreal and planned to work for a nongovernmental organization in the developing world. After graduation, feeling a bit lost, Simmons took an internship at Toronto Life, a lifestyle magazine.
“I loved it; I found myself drawn to the food editor,” she said. “And that’s when I realized, wow, there could be a job here for me.”
Following stints at a couple of publications, Simmons moved to New York to attend the Institute of Culinary Education. After graduation, she cooked at some of the city’s most exclusive restaurants, served as an assistant to prominent food critic Jeffrey Steingarten and worked as events manager for chef Daniel Boulud’s dining group before joining the staff of Food and Wine in 2004.
In 2006, when Bravo approached Food and Wine about a partnership for a new show called “Top Chef,” Simmons was chosen to represent the magazine as a judge. Her incisive remarks about the dishes of “chef-testants,” as they are called on the show, earned her the title of the “mean judge” by viewers.
Although she often followed her critiques with positive feedback, the show’s producers edited out the latter in their effort to make each judge into a distinctive character, Simmons said.
“It was an experiment for all of us,” she said. “As much as it’s about the drama and the characters, it’s more about the chefs, and we’re the eyes, ears and taste buds of the viewers.”
With the show well established, and with its first spinoff, “Top Chef Masters”—Simmons is a judge on a show that features famous chefs competing against one another in the kitchen—having wrapped up its second season, Simmons is finding herself on a set filming for much of the year.
She's not complaining.
It’s a “great family of people,” Simmons said, referring to the "Top Chef" crew and such co-stars as fellow judge and celebrity chef Tom Colicchio and cookbook author and actress/model Padma Lakshmi, the show’s host.
“For five years it’s been like a traveling band of gypsies and roommates. We get into silly arguments and when there’s a lull, I’ll tap dance for the producers,” she said. “I’m like the little sister of the crew ... a bit of the clown.”
Simmons recalls falling asleep at the judge’s table.
"It was the finale and we were shooting all night, and at about 4 in the morning we took a 20-minute break," she said. "All of the producers took pictures, which they aired on a reunion episode.”
On “Just Desserts,” Simmons will be spending more time in front of and behind the camera. She is a consulting producer for the first time on a show in which pastry chefs will be tested in the art of sugar work, bread and cake baking, chocolate, candy, maple syrup and more.
Despite her “Top Chef” experience, Simmons was surprised at just how tough her hosting role proved to be. Hosting, she says, is "a harder job than judging—you have to lead the plot.”
Making the job even more difficult is the fact that as host, Simmons has to taste each dish, sampling as many as a dozen sugary desserts in a single show.
“I was bouncing off walls at the end of most days,” she said.
The sugar highs may come in handy: Simmons has other projects in the works. In addition to her position at Food and Wine, she is partnering with AOL for an online cooking series, and she is hoping to write a food book soon.
But “the most gratifying thing,” Simmons said, “is when people come up to me and tell me that their 5-year-old knows what a chiffonade is”—a slicing technique for herbs and greens—“or that they hate to cook but they’ve started to try at home and they are trying new things on menus."
"That’s why I’m doing all of this in the first place—to spread the gospel.”
Devra Ferst is editor of the
The Jew and the Carrot food blog
, a new Forward and Hazon partnership.
This article originally appeared in the Forward and then appeared on JTA.
People often compare Newark Mayor Cory Booker to President Barack Obama.
Like the president, Booker, who is also African-American, inspires people wherever he goes. The mayor, a Rhodes Scholar who studied law at Yale, has a vision to help the citizens of Newark, New Jersey—a city that has been plagued by poverty, crime, and drugs—live their best lives.
The son of two of IBM’s first African-American executives, trailblazers in their own right, Booker was raised in an affluent, predominantly white suburb of New Jersey.
As a Newark Municipal Council member, from 1998 to 2006, Booker moved out of his comfortable apartment and into Brick Towers, a troubled housing complex in Newark, in order to live amongst the citizens he was fighting for.
He was elected mayor of Newark in 2006 and then reelected earlier this year. He reduced his own salary by 8% in his first year as mayor. Under his leadership, Newark’s crime rate dropped significantly, with March of this year marking the city’s first murder-free month in more than 44 years. He has also doubled the amount of affordable housing under development.
Mayor Booker will be in town next week to speak at a JUF event. In advance of his appearance in Chicago, Booker sat down for a phone interview with Oy!Chicago:
Oy!Chicago: What were the most important lessons your parents taught you growing up?
Mayor Cory Booker: So much of who I am is because of them and my value system extended from my parents. They instilled in me a sense of believing in yourself and knowing that you are created in the image of God. That really comes with a two-fold understanding—one is recognizing your own strength and majesty, but also recognizing that everyone you meet, no matter what their station in life, has that same divinity within them.
Does that quest for social justice also come from them?
It does come from my parents. Once you have that fundamental understanding, it creates a sense of urgency about life. You must fulfill your own potential and that potential really has to be about what your contributions are to others. Therefore if you see injustice, if you see God’s children experiencing any injustice, you don’t just have the ability to do something about it, but you have the obligation to do something about it.
You seem to go the extra mile, living in the Brick Towers housing project, going on a 10-day hunger strike, shoveling snow from your constituent’s walk yourself, reducing your own salary. What makes you care so much and why did you want to serve in public office?
…I will never be asked to answer the call of courage that my ancestors did. I’m never going to be asked to go register people to vote when that very act could have you end up dead in a swamp like [James] Chaney and [Michael] Schwerner…And even in a deeper sense, most of my generation—not all obviously with the foreign conflicts that we are in—and I will never be called to storm beaches in Normandy or Midway or give that level of sacrifice so I don’t believe that what I’m doing rises to the level of many of our heroes of the United States. I love what I do and it gives me a deeper sense of meaning and purpose to my life. I consider myself very fortunate to do work that is so deeply gratifying.
In the 2002 mayoral race, your opponent Sharpe Jones called you a carpetbagger and “not black enough to understand the city.” How do you respond to such attacks?
You can use those kinds of attacks in two ways—either to burn you and you can combust or they can fuel you and energize you to do more. I know every day that I’m doing the best I can and I’m living my best self and operating in the most righteous way possible…As long as I can go to bed knowing I gave my best, then attacks like that don’t undermine me. They fuel me and inspire me to overcome. So many of our great leaders, from Mandela to Gandhi to King, were people who endured even more savage attacks on their character and it’s a small price to pay to do what you feel you’re called to do.
It feels like you believe in a lot of Jewish principles—social justice, education, family, and support of Israel, and you’ve partnered with the famed Rabbi Shmuley Boteach on speaking tours. Do you feel a sense of connection with the Jewish people?
In studying Torah and great Jewish leaders, like Maimonides and Hillel, I found a deep resonance in my soul with what I learned is the essence of the Jewish calling, which is not about converting people to their faith. It’s really a religion that commands you to go into the world and pursue justice and to combat injustice even if it means, frankly, arguing with God as Abraham did. It’s a religion that, at its very core, is about the other, it’s about the stranger…
We have a history of partnership between African-Americans and Jews when we marched together during the Civil Rights Movement. Lately, it seems there is a rift between us. How can we bridge the two communities?
King said much more eloquently than me, ‘The challenge today is not the vitriolic words and evil actions of the bad people, but the appalling silence and inaction of the good people.’ There always are going to be people who spew hate for their own agenda, people who appeal to fear and negativity. I’m not sure what I can do to solve that, but if we can [bolster] ourselves, our family members, our community to confront injustice, it’s going to have a multiplier effect. Those kinds of acts of justice go viral. Too often we curse the darkness but don’t ignite our own light. I’d like to challenge blacks and Jews to do so.
You’ve been compared often to President Obama. How do you feel about that comparison and what went through your mind on election night?
The biggest challenge in life is not to be like somebody else, but to be yourself. It’s always nice when you’re compared to people that you respect, but I’m having a tough enough time being the best Cory Booker I can be [let alone] Barack Obama.
When he was elected, I felt a deep sense of pride for my country, whether you’re Republican or Democrat, black or white. It was a moment that America made a statement that strives for an ideal that can be dramatic and wonderful…It was a moment that we turned to our history and said, while we still have a long ways to go, we have come a long way to go.
What are you most proud of that you’ve accomplished as mayor?
It would be easy to point to building parks and reducing crime, but perhaps the thing I’m most proud of is helping our city itself believe in Newark again. It’s an expansion of moral imagination of who we are and what we can become. You can interchange Newark for a lot of cities in America. In our country, there has been too much of a sense of resignation within the cities and without that there will always be high crime, there will always be poverty, there will always be schools that don’t work, and so forth. The beauty of my experiences in Newark is that in joining my spirit with others, we begin to challenge that sense of resignation and expand people’s moral imagination about what is possible in the United States of America and in this world and good people working under God.
Speaking of cities, are you a fan of Chicago?
I’m definitely a fan of cities—urban spaces are sacred spaces. Chicago, even though it is having some challenges right now with crime, is a sacred city and we are all invested in its success.
(Last fall, comedian Conan O’Brien made the following joke: “The mayor of Newark wants to set up a city-wide program to improve residents’ health. The health care ticket would consist of a bus ticket out of Newark.” The punch line ignited a light-hearted feud between the mayor and the comedian.)
I’m a huge fan of Conan O’Brien. Have you and Conan resolved your dispute?
I’m thrilled he’s coming back on the air. It was a teaching moment between the two of us and the country witnessed a splash of wit and a good competition and healthy fight with a wonderful resolution.
I gotta feeling—tonight’s going to be a good night
Rosh Hashanah celebrates the creation of the world and is a time for reflection and self evaluation. It is also a time for families and friends to gather and enjoy elaborate meals.
One of my favorite parts of the meal is the Rosh Hashanah seder. Now, before everyone who doesn’t know about this freaks out and figures that they have been doing it wrong all this time, the Rosh Hashanah seder consists of a series of short hopeful prayers for the new year and eating symbolic foods. The foods allude to the symbolism of the prayer, for example we eat leeks in the hopes that our enemies will be destroyed. The Hebrew word for leeks is "karsi," which sounds like “kares,” to be destroyed. This is where the hope for a sweet year and then dipping apples, challah or fruit in honey as well as the round challah symbolizing the cycle of the year comes from. There are numerous foods and prayers and really the sky is the limit in preparation of the foods as this is supposed to be joyful. I know people who eat raisins and celery in hopes of a raise in salary!
Well, I thought I knew just about everything about Jewish food and had seen, heard, or tasted it all—then I recently saw a reference for eating black eyed peas or rubiya or lubiya. I had not heard of this symbolic food before. We eat black-eyed peas in the hopes that our merits increase and we are purified. This custom to eat black-eyed peas is Baghdadi. Peas are eaten as a symbol of abundance and fruitfulness.
I know many families who pull out the same recipes from year to year and the menu is written in stone from gefilte fish to honey cake. I know that food and its aromas conjure up memories and nostalgia and can set the mood for a holiday, but I also know that there are many foods, flavors, and minhagim (customs) all over the world. Jews from around the world have brought their ingredients and traditions to the United States and those new foods are quickly being adopted not only by the Jewish community but by the general population as well. The first Sephardic Jews settled in Georgia in the 1730’s. The Jewish practice of eating black eyed peas on the New Year probably spread to the non-Jewish community during the civil war and the famous New Year’s dish of Hoppin’ John was created.
Foods and ingredients that were considered exotic and hard to find are now more commonplace. When I wrote my first book “Jewish Cooking for All Seasons” almost 5 years ago, I wrote a recipe for Pomegranate Chicken. People went nuts over this recipe. Pomegranate molasses was hard to find and the flavors seemed so striking. Now pomegranates have found their way into everything from juices, wines, and sauces to sorbets and candy. As many Jews from Morocco have settled in the United States, the rich floral and spice laced Moroccan flavors are now fashionable and tagines are becoming increasingly popular; tamarind is the new “it” flavor of the exotic ingredient world while artichokes, mint and quinces are breaking traditions in many kitchens.
Adding new dishes, new ingredients, and new customs to your Rosh Hashanah menu is symbolic and shows understanding of the diversity of Jewish culture and tradition. While Rosh Hashanah is one of the most traditional holidays in the Jewish calendar, it can also be one of the most dynamic holidays by bring new culture to your holiday table. L’Shana Tovah Umetuka.
Black-eyed peas with Thyme-Honey Vinaigrette
Serves 8-10 as a side dish
16 oz. package dried black-eyed peas
1/3 cup best quality honey
10 sprigs of fresh thyme
¼ cup fresh lemon juice
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper
1. Sort and clean black-eyed peas well. Soak in cold water over night. Drain the peas and place in a medium stock pot and cover with two inches of water.
2. Bring to a gentle boil reduce heat to allow the peas to simmer for about 1 ½ hours until the peas are soft and creamy but still holding their shape. Drain any excess water and cool the peas.
3. Heat the honey and thyme in a small sauce pan over medium heat until the honey simmers. Turn off the heat and allow the thyme to steep for one hour. Pass the honey through a sieve. Whisk the honey with the lemon juice and olive oil. Salt and pepper to taste. The black eyed peas can be served hot or cold and will keep covered and refrigerated for up to 3 days.
2 chickens cut into 6 pieces each
2 shallots, minced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/3 cup tamarind concentrate
¼ cup honey
½ cup chicken stock
¼ cup dry white wine
6 fresh plums cut in quarters and pit removed
2 fresh peaches or nectarines cut in quarters and pit removed
1. Pat dry the chicken pieces and season with salt and pepper. Brown the chicken, in batches, in a large sauté pan, that has been lightly coated with olive oil, over medium heat. Set aside the browned chicken.
2. Add the shallots and the garlic to the pan and reduce the heat to medium low. Sweat the shallots and garlic until they are very soft and translucent. Add the White wine and scrape up the brown bits with a wooden spoon or spatula.
3. Add the remaining ingredients and stir to combine. Add the chicken back to the pan and cover. Cook the chicken in the preheated oven for 45 minutes until the chicken is cooked through.
4. Uncover the chicken and brush with the pan sauce. Return to the oven for another 10 minutes.
Serve the chicken with Black-Eyed Peas.
Laura Klibanow and her mom have been baking her cousin Libby's mandel bread recipe for as long as she can remember. For years, everyone who tasted it told them—"you have to sell this!" Finally, they decided it was time to share this delicious cookie with the world and named the company Libby & Laura, as a tribute to Libby, who passed away. Their mandel bread is unique—it is baked only once, not twice—making it softer than most mandel bread and biscotti.
When she is not baking mandel bread, Laura is studying for her MBA at the University of Illinois at Chicago where she is a Liautaud Scholar. She earned her undergraduate degree in Hispanic Studies at McGill University in Montreal. After graduating from McGill she lived in Israel for two years. Now she’s back home in Highland Park, sharing her sweet family recipe with the masses.
So if you like a delicious treat, wish you could be your own boss or want to travel the world, Laura Klibanow is a Jew You Should Know!
1. What is your favorite blog or website?
Google. I love all the Google apps and now that you can make free phone calls to anywhere in North America it's even better.
2. If time and money were limitless, where would you travel?
I want to go to Asia. My two brothers backpacked through India and Thailand while I was studying for the GMAT exam in preparation for business school. When I graduate I hope to have the opportunity to go there.
3. If a movie was made about your life, who would play you?
Probably Jennifer Aniston although she doesn't have curly hair. Natalie Portman would also be a good fit.
4. If you could have a meal with any two people, living or dead, famous or not, who would they be?
My grandmothers. I miss them.
5. What's your idea of the perfect day?
A totally stress free day with at least eight hours of sleep the night before. In the morning, great coffee followed by yoga. I like being productive, so a day where I get everything accomplished that I set out to do is a good day for me. Another perfect day for me would include sitting on a gorgeous serene beach and swimming in the ocean.
6. What do you love about what you do?
I love that right now I am my own boss. I love to see my ideas come to fruition. I think the Libby & Laura brand image is very cool, and I love anything that involves design, like working on the website or new packaging.
7. What job would you have had if not the one you have now?
I'd go study in Israel.
8. What's your favorite Jewish thing to do in Chicago?
I love to celebrate Shabbat—spending time with friends and family and eating great food. I'm usually expected to provide mandel bread. Best thing about Shabbat is, it happens every week!
What better to symbolize a wish for a sweet new year than double chocolate almond pecan Mandelbrot? Or try the white chocolate cranberry pistachio. Order yours now in time for the Jewish New Year,
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Start here. Go further.
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With Shorashim you experience the adventure of Israel through the eyes of Israeli peers. Shorashim is the Taglit-Birthright Israel program where all groups travel for 10-days with Israelis your age. Visit http://israelwithisraelis.com for info.