OyChicago articles

18 Ways You Can Be Less Awful in 5775

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Chai List photo

Every year on the High Holidays, we think about what we can do to be better people in the year ahead. Well, change is like, hard, especially the self-improvement kind.

So, we thought maybe it’s a bit more realistic to ask ourselves “how can I be less of a terrible person?”

With that change in thinking, here are some tips for being less awful in the Jewish New Year. We’re confident by doing just one of these 18 things, your existence will be that much more beneficial to humanity – and who knows, you might feel like a slightly better person on the inside.


1. Keep your hands off your damn phone

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We’re all guilty. If you can’t walk from your apartment to the train without finishing up that text – especially in sub-zero temps – or just sit on said train and think about, you know, stuff for 10 uninterrupted minutes … you should probably re-evaluate your priorities.


2. Don’t wear leggings as pants

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Yeahhh … no one wants to see that, mkay?


3. Don’t bring the cheapest bottle of wine to Shabbat dinner

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You can cough it up for like, FIVE-buck chuck, at least …


4. Avoid social media on the weekends

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At least just for Shabbat. Your followers also deserve a day of rest from your totally awesome Tweets and brunch pics.


5. Zip it on the gossip

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Lashon hara is so 5774.


6. Have a baby … okay, maybe just a pet

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One of the quickest ways to being a better person is to become totally responsible for another living creature (except for fish – they don’t count). However, if you mess up, you become a worse person, so procreate/adopt at your own risk.


7. Call your mother more

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She just wants to hear your voice! Set a weekly reminder on your phone. It’ll be awhile before she catches on that it’s indeed not spontaneous.


8. Floss

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No one wants to floss. So, if you can summit this Mt. Everest of daily hygiene this year, then the sky is the limit for you, good friend.


9. Read a book, or anything not on a screen

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Remember back in the day when 100 percent of everything you read was on paper? Now it’s not even 50 percent. Try to restore the balance. More literature, less social media click-bait. More non-fiction, less BuzzFeed …


10. Read Oy!Chicago more

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… But … if you have to read something on a screen …


11. Get in touch with your inner Jew

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Rather than compartmentalize your Jewish identity, feed that piece of you that connects to your Judaism this year. That “piece” is what biologists call a soul.


12. Stop complaining about the weather

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Remember how unpleasant you were to be around when you moaned to everyone last winter about how it was too cold and complained this summer that it wasn’t hot enough? Stop worrying about what you can’t control. Or move. Just stop complaining.


13. Volunteer for an organization someone else cares about

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Get out of your comfort zone, even in the ways you give back. It’s basically like doing a Super Mitzvah. You can even call you mother (you read #7, right?) and tell her all about it!


14. Give people flowers or cards just because

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There’s a much greater likelihood of getting this reaction when it’s entirely unexpected.


15. Stop comparing yourself to others

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Although if you are looking in a mirror, that person is also, also awesome.


16. Do a few more horas

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Really celebrate the moments worth celebrating and don’t hold back. Doing the hora should become a staple at every birthday party, anniversary, bris, etc., even if it means installing a dance floor in your living room.


17. Partake in a religious or cultural experience different from your own

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Not only will this round you out as a person, but it’ll also make you appreciate your own religious and cultural experiences that much more.


18. Don’t be afraid to say “No” once in a while. Or “Yes."

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By going against your own grain (especially on Passover, when everyone goes against grain), you’ll get to experience things differently than you are accustomed to. It might be more time with yourself or more time out exploring with friends, but either way, it’s about doing what’s best for you. Serenity now!!


8 Questions for Sara Grossman: Urination entrepreneur and Queen Pee of the Stand Up

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8 Questions for Sara Grossman photo 1

Photo credit: Avis Mandel Pictures

Sara Grossman is taking a stand – against sitting. On nasty toilet seats that is.

Earlier this year, the Lincoln Park native launched a new product that looks to literally change the way women pee. Called the Stand Up, this “biodegradable, disposable peeing accessory” allows for a guilt-free, hygienic bathroom experience for women tired of holding it in, squatting or resorting to any other gross or undignified way of going number one.

After many years of hearing women decry the uncleanliness of public restrooms and vocally wishing they could pee standing up, Grossman, who had those same thoughts and feelings herself, had an epiphany. Rather than wishing she could stand, she wished she had something that would enable her to stand. Another horrible airplane bathroom experience later and it struck her that “maybe I should just make this.”

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Photo credit: Jonathan Grossman/Avis Mandel Pictures

Although Grossman isn’t the first to invent a way for women to stand up when going to the bathroom, she’s the first to come up with a way that’s mainstream and fashion-forward. “That’s where I think my niche is,” she said.

Grossman graduated from Stanford University with an English degree, and despite coming back to Chicago to work in the First Lady’s department on the Obama campaign in 2012, she hasn’t been able to shake the West Coast and currently lives in San Francisco.

But we’ll give her a pass, because Sara Grossman definitely sounds like a Jew You Should Know.

1. What motivated you to take the leap from writing and creative pursuits to becoming an entrepreneur?
I actually don't think of it as a leap from my old interests as much as a leap from a path that would have been more comfortable and secure. Starting the Stand Up was an extension of my previous hobbies and passions that would enable me to do all the things I loved at once. After I came up with the idea, I would kick myself every time I walked into a dirty bathroom because I knew I could help myself if I just started designing. So I'd say it was more an obsession that motivated me to start working on it, and once I was working on it, it became immediately clear that this would be my most creative pursuit yet, as all the creative decisions were up to me.

2. What’s your scariest toilet horror story?
I once got locked in a port-a-potty when I was six years old. Somebody heard crying over the music and came to save me. I've been terrified of port-a-potties ever since.  

3. What are the most notable successes and challenges you have encountered in empowering women to “take a stand” with you?
You know, a little less than a year ago, when I told people I was working on a pee funnel, most weren't interested in continuing the conversation much past that. I knew that bathroom experiences were bad enough that many women would opt for this solution, but the idea of a pee funnel has a stigma, and I could only hope that the Stand Up would overcome it. I think today, the biggest success to date has been watching totally fun, hip, great women pull their Stand Ups out of their purses for pictures, because they're not embarrassed to advertise that they're using them. They think it really is cool, not to mention fun, to use a Stand Up.

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Photo credit: Avis Mandel Pictures

4. So many women at one point or another have wanted to pee standing up. Why do you think the existing pee accessories have struggled to take hold with the masses?
Well — for one — no other product regards itself as an accessory. The other pee products out there consider themselves devices or tools. And that's part of why I don't think they've been successful with a mainstream audience. Most of these devices are reusable, which doesn't work if you're out at a bar or in an environment where you don't want to have to deal with it after you use it. But otherwise, I don't think these devices were made with a fashion-conscious crowd in mind. I think we all make choices as to how we're presenting ourselves and we shouldn't have to make an exception for our pee funnels. We shouldn't be embarrassed to pull one of these out of our purses.  

5. What would be your top three Chicago places to make the Stand Up available?

The Boathouse at North Avenue Beach - Gross bathrooms with pee all over the seats all the time

Lincoln Park Zoo - Gross bathrooms with pee all over the seats all the time

Lollapalooza - Gross port-a-potties with pee all over the seats all the time

Any Public Bathroom - Gross bathrooms with pee all over the seats all the time

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Photo credit: Andrew Meade Photography 

6. What have you loved most about being Queen Pee since you launched?
I think what I love most is that this brand attracts funny and fun people who really appreciate the sort of humor that would encourage its founder to name herself Queen Pee. And that I can now say, “the toilet is my throne and I refuse to sit on it.”

7. If you could have any celebrity endorse the Stand Up, who would it be and how would you use them?
I think Miley Cyrus has a great attitude about not sticking to the status quo just because it's expected of her, and Lena Dunham is all about being unabashedly real and human. Of course, we're all human – we just sometimes forget that that's okay. These ideas are totally in line with the Stand Up. I'd probably just have Miley and Lena (can I be on first name basis for the rest of this hypothetical?) be their hilarious selves by Instagramming all the gross places they're Standing Up to pee. 

8. How do you Jew when you’re back home in Chicago?
Max and Benny's! And recently with the chopped liver and matzoh ball soup from Au Cheval. Mmmmm… chopped liver.

Stars, we’re just like them?

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Stars, we’re just like them? photo 1

Rachel Bertsche

"If only I could be more like…" 

We've all probably uttered this phrase. If only I could cook like, look like, dress like so-and-so-then I'd be happy. Chicago Jewish writer Rachel Bertsche, journalist, editor and bestselling author of MWF Seeking BFF, set out to see if living like the stars really does bring true happiness in her new book, Jennifer, Gwyneth & Me: The Pursuit of Happiness, One Celebrity at a Time (Ballantine Trade Paperback Original).

With the goal of bettering herself, Bertsche takes on a new celebrity trait each month: Jennifer Aniston's diet and fitness routine, Gwyneth Paltrow's expertise in the kitchen, Sarah Jessica Parker's fashion sense, Tina Fey's work ethic, Jennifer Garner and Ben Affleck's perfect marriage, Julia Roberts' serenity and ultimately tries to have it all just like Beyoncé. 

As she tackles these celebrity lifestyles one at a time, Rachel faces real life restrictions-like, you know-time and money, and also opens up about her own personal journey and struggle with infertility. In the end, it's more about small steps toward self-improvement than it is about looking like you belong on the cover of a glossy magazine, and Bertsche takes us along for the ride on her sometimes funny, sometimes challenging journey. 

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Oy!Chicago talked to Bertsche about her Jewish identity, why she took on this challenge, and whether or not living like a celeb really can make you a happier, better person: 

Oy!Chicago: What inspired you to take on this challenge and write this book?

Rachel Bertsche: I'd recently been laid off and was feeling just... blah. Definitely in a rut. I was working from home, often in my pajamas all day, and would meanwhile see pictures of people like Jennifer Aniston online and in tabloids, and she looked totally fabulous and together even when she was just out grocery shopping or pumping gas. All the celebrities had this glow and poise about them that I felt I was seriously lacking. I started wondering if I did what they did, would I feel together, too? And if so, would I be happier?

Thank you for sharing your personal journey to have a baby with your readers. Do you have any advice for others who are struggling with infertility issues?

Be willing to talk about it! Find support. I was so hesitant to talk with my friends about my struggles to get pregnant because I felt like a failure in some way, but this is something is largely out of our control, and so many women are going through similar issues. It really does feel better to remember that you're not alone. 

What role does your Judaism play in your life today and how does your Judaism influence your writing?

My favorite time of year is Passover, when my entire family gathers in Chicago for seder. The Jewish traditions bring us all together, and so for me Judaism is associated with togetherness and community. Being with the people I love is so important to me, so it's probably not a huge surprise that that's reflected in my writing. I write a lot about relationships and social connections and that stems from the Jewish traditions I was raised with. 

In the end, it seemed your journey wasn't so much about living like a celebrity, but rather it was about using them as inspiration to become the best version of yourself. 

That's an accurate description. I hope other young women will be inspired to stop beating themselves up for not being as thin/impeccably dressed/glamorous as the celebrities we see everywhere, and instead try to make celebrity culture work for them by using whatever fabulous celebrity qualities they covet to inspire them to become their best selves.    

Learn more: www.rachelbertsche.com

It’s never too late to apologize. Now’s your chance.

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Oy! Forgive me! photo

Oy!Chicago is looking for guest writers to contribute to our latest special blog series “Oy! Forgive Me!” Whether you have a story about making amends with someone you wronged or someone who wronged you, reflections about that kid you never forgave in middle school or thoughts about forgiveness in today’s world, we want to give you a platform to share it!

We will publish these five stories/essays about forgiveness during the days of repentance between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur on Sept. 29-Oct.3. Persons of all levels of writing experience are welcome to pitch their ideas!

Here’s how: write a paragraph describing what your piece would be about and send it to info@oychicago.com by Friday, Sept. 12. The only requirement is that the post should in some way relate to the theme, and that you are 21 or older. We will review your submission and let you know if we are interested in running your piece in full on Oy!Chicago the week of the blog series.

Please note that Oy!Chicago is a volunteer-run website, so we are unable to pay for published submissions at this time. If you have any questions, email them to info@oychicago.com.

Stef & Steven

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