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Ah, Christmastime in Chicago. The twinkling trees lighting up Michigan Avenue … the catchy Christmas songs on every radio channel ... the young people in green and red sweaters barfing in the snow after a little too much revelry at T-BOX last weekend … (Amiright, Lakeview?) Point is, it's pretty much impossible to escape the Christmas spirit around here lately. And let's be honest – why would you want to? Peppermint mochas are the BEST.
Starbucks holiday concoctions aside, as Jews, it's hard not to feel just a little extra left out this time year, especially with Chanukah as far in the rearview mirror as it's ever been. Our natural response, of course, is to cling to our customs of eating Chinese food and seeing movies on Christmas. As lovely and time-honored as that practice is, however, we think Jews can be a little less predictable.
So, Oy!Chicagoans, we've hand-curated a list of 18 ways to entertain yourself, your friends and your family this Christmas instead of crying into your fried rice over how cool Christmas is and arguing about whether to see Saving Mr. Banks or The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.
1. Get your party on
You have nowhere to go on Christmas Day – which leaves Christmas Eve open for (responsible) partying! So don't miss the Matzo Bash, as featured in our 18 Best Ways to Meet Jewish Young Adults in Chicago. Enjoy drinks and dancing with basically every other Jewish young adult in Chicago from 8 p.m. to 4 a.m. Maybe you'll even see Santa finishing up his run on your stumble home. Also, maybe Oy!Chicago is co-sponsoring it, with $5 of every ticket sold through this link going to benefit the Jewish United Fund... IT'S GONNA BE EPIC, Y'ALL. Did we mention registering through this link?
2. Go on a Christmas lights scavenger hunt
Zoo Lights cruelly shuts down Dec. 24 and 25, but the show in Chicago's neighborhoods goes on! Grab some friends and some thermoses full of cider (spiking optional), and enjoy the labors of the people crazy enough to climb ladders in the winter. You can do this by foot or by car and even make a scavenger hunt out of it! Drivers, we recommend Lincolnwood, Park Ridge or a drive up Sheridan Road. Or if you're really dedicated, check out the Aurora Festival of Lights. Walkers, just get out of Lakeview.
3. Make reservations at one of these 60 not-Chinese restaurants
Nothing against the traditional Jewish Christmas Lo-Mein, but if Chinese food's not your thing, fear not. As Chicagoans, we're lucky to live in a big, diverse city with a wide range of fellow non-Christmas celebrators. There are other options. Open Table has a list.
4. Take care of online errands
The Internet doesn't close on Christmas, people.
5. Scope out after-Christmas deals
Black Friday is kid stuff. Everyone knows the day after Christmas is when the REAL discount shopping begins.
6. Catch up with long-distance Jewish friends
Original photo credit
Always trying to schedule a Google hangout sesh with your old Hillel crew or a Skype date with your bestie in New York, but can never find the time? Ask what they're doing on, say, Dec. 25.
7. Have a gingerbread shul competition
Gingerbread's kosher – who says we can't get in on the fun? Get some blue and white frosting and you're set.
8. Break out the board games
Cards Against Humanity has a new holiday expansion pack. And it was (partly) made by Jews from Highland Park! Hey, it's better than getting into another argument over the legitimacy of Scrabble words.
9. Spend quality time with your family pet
You never have enough time in the day to give your pet some love. And come to mention it, your favorite fuzzy friend would look adorable in a reindeer costume.
10. Go sledding
Channel your inner Evel Kneidel! We bet there won't be long lines at all the best sledding spots – if you can find a hill in the Midwest, that is. Hint: There are plenty of man-made ones in the suburbs. Here's a handy list of top Chicago sled hills to get you started. (Bonus: You'll go faster with all the Thanksgivukkah pounds you've been complaining about needing to lose.)
11. Have a Christmas movie marathon
Half of them have Jewish actors or directors. That counts!
12. Sing Jewish Christmas karaoke
Annoyed that every radio station is playing Christmas music? Turn it into a parody sing-off!
13. Take a nap
You've got a day off – time to take that weekday nap you've been dying to have since you graduated college.
You know who doesn't have Christmas off? People who work in hospitals. And homeless shelters. And nursing homes. You know who doesn't have to miss Christmas dinner with their family to lend a hand? You. For holiday volunteering tips, check out this post.
15. Perform a Christmas miracle for someone not Jewish
Gemilut chasadim (acts of loving kindness) are important all year 'round, but for some, they are even more appreciated around Christmastime. Make a handmade card to send to a sick child or to troops away from home, use your time off to clean out your closet and fill a bag with old clothes to give away, or if you're adventurous, head outside and bring a lunch to someone on the street, or look for smaller opportunities for kindness.
16. Become a winter mixologist
Hot toddies, hard cider, taffy appletinis – there are lots of religiously neutral and totally delicious holiday cocktail options out there. Try one, try two … try them all! You're not going anywhere …
17. Bake up a storm
You know what Jewish version of a Christmas treat would go great with a hot toddy? Fruitcake soaked in Manischewitz. Or, get a head start on Purim and bake a trial run of hamentashen in every flavor so that you're ready in a few months. Whatever recipe you choose, nothing's more perfect than baking to fill your sad, cold apartment with warmth and cheer.
18. Screw it. You're just going to eat Chinese food and see a movie anyway
At least we tried.
As Tevye says … it's tradition!
What’s a Jew to do in December?
December is usually one of my favorite times of the year. Crisp-blustery air, twinkling lights, and everyone in a good mood. There are parties, excitement, tempting sales at the mall, and an air of anticipation.
This year is different though. With the hybrid holiday of Thanksgivukkah (Chanukah and Thanksgiving) long over in early December and with my favorite frying pan put away, my chanukkiah collection back on the shelf, dreidels spun and now idle, and the gelt now long ago eaten, what’s a Jew to do in December?
Sure, we can suck down a couple of kosher candy canes and attend some holiday parties. But our festivities have come and gone. Counting the days until Pesach seems premature—does it come early or late this year?
I am going to get started early on my favorite food season: winter! Moody broody skies, comfy slipper weather, and everyone is actually hungry. I love to hunker down in the kitchen and create long slow-cooked dishes. Soups and stews slow-cooked with huge flavors and loaded with love are what I crave. That’s right, loaded with love.
Food that is slow-cooked and made with attention to detail is loaded with love. I reserve my slow-cooked dishes for winter. I am going to make my favorite winter chicken dish. After the latkes and Sufganiyot, I am craving a richly flavored dish, but one that is light and not going to weigh me down.
Chicken with 40 Cloves of Garlic
This simple and light chicken dish will fill your home with heady garlic and aromatic herbs. I am making the dish with chicken, but if you have vegetarians, you can easily substitute vegetables for the chicken.
The original recipe for this dish does not include browning. I think that is an overlooked step. The sauce for this braise is simple and delicious but needs the extra step of browning the chicken to create the deep rich flavor dimension.
I also like to remove the chicken once cooked and continue cooking the garlic until it is very soft and can be whisked into the cooking juices creating a thick, delicious, and earthy sauce.
10 chicken thighs or combination of legs and thighs
Extra virgin olive oil for browning
Freshly cracked pepper
40 cloves of garlic (or more), peeled
Bouquet garni (herbs tied together with kitchen twine) of parsley stems, fresh thyme sprigs, 1 bay leaf, several sprigs of fresh tarragon
1 cup chicken stock (homemade preferred)
½ cup dry white wine
Preheat oven to 325°
1. Place a Dutch oven or heavy sauté pan, lightly coated with olive oil, over medium heat.
2. Pat dry the chicken pieces and season with salt and pepper.
3. Brown the chicken pieces, in batches until the skin is crispy and caramelized (about 7 minutes).
4. Add the remaining ingredients to the Dutch oven or casserole. Cover and cook in the preheated oven until the chicken is cooked through about 45 minutes.
5. Transfer the chicken pieces and place the Dutch oven over a low burner and continue cooking until the garlic is very soft and creamy.
6. Whisk the garlic until if falls apart and is incorporated into the braising liquid.
7. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. Add the chicken back to the pan and serve over garlicky croutons and
Crispy Herbed Croutons
This simple side dish soaks up all the chicken juices and delicious braising liquid.
Every professional chef will tell you stories of burning croutons. I think I have burned as many croutons as I have successfully made. Somehow it is the simple things that get you. I really don’t use timers in a kitchen, except when making croutons!
1 large loaf of whole wheat bread cut into 2-inch croutons, you will need about 1 cup of croutons per person
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons chopped flat
2 tablespoons chopped
1 tablespoon chopped
½ teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon freshly cracked pepper
1. Place all the ingredients into a large bowl. Toss to coat the bread completely with ingredients.
2. Place the bread on a parchment lined baking sheet and bake, turning occasionally, until the bread is lightly browned and crispy (about 15 minutes)
This winter veggie side is a quick go to side dish. You can add beets, celery root, turnips or any seasonal vegetable to the mix. I like to garnish with freshly chopped parsley.
2 medium carrots, peeled and cut into 2 inch pieces
2 medium parsnips, peeled and cut into 2 inch pieces
1 medium sweet potato, peeled and cut into 2 inch pieces
2 cups peeled and diced butternut squash
⅓ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon freshly cracked pepper
Preheat oven to 350°
1. Toss the vegetables with olive oil, salt and pepper.
2. Place the vegetables on a parchment lined baking sheet and roast for 35 -45 minutes, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned and tender.
To serve: toss the croutons and vegetables together and place on a platter. Arrange the chicken on top of the vegetables and croutons and spoon the sauce over the chicken. Garnish with chopped parsley.
Chocolate Pound Cake
This is our standard cake at home. I think I can make this in my sleep. The water bakes out the cake leaving a tender and delicate textured crumb. Be sure to use the best cocoa powder you can find. With so few ingredients, it is important to use the best.
1½ cups all purpose flour
½ cocoa powder (I use valrhona cocoa powder)
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon sea salt
1½ cups sugar
1¼ cups water
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 350°
Grease a loaf pan
1. Combine the dry ingredients in a mixing bowl and set aside.
2. Whisk the water, eggs, olive oil, and vanilla together.
3. By hand, mix the wet ingredients into the dry and stir until there no lumps.
4. Pour into prepared pan and bake for 40-50 minutes or until a toothpick, inserted, comes out clean.
5. Cool the cake on a rack for 30 minutes. Dust with powdered sugar.
Joel, left, with Rabbi Dovid Tiechtel
Joel Holland is passionate about finding people homes. In his work as a brokerage manager at Homescout Realty, he helps prospective renters and buyers find places to live and plan for the future, and in a great deal of his spare time, he serves organizations that provide people with less literal but equally as important homes.
In October, Holland added another accolade to go with his 2012 Double Chai in the Chi honor when he received the first ever young alumni award from the Chabad at the University of Illinois, an unusual accomplishment for someone who had only been there once as a student and doesn't identify as Orthodox. In fact, Holland said it wasn't until he began participating in a Jewish prospective class with Rabbi Ezra Belsky three years ago that he even began to get in touch with his Judaism.
"I wish I had the opportunity on campus to have more involvement and more understanding of my identity and someone to be a role model and a mentor," Holland said.
Through a roommate and fraternity brother, Holland got to know Rabbi Dovid Tiechtel of the Illinois Chabad and said he became interested in what his mission was on campus. For the last two years he has sat on the Chabad's advisory committee helping the organization with fundraising. He said he hopes he can be an example of how young professionals can get involved in organizations that really impact future leaders, the young adults who Holland says will be the Double Chai in the Chi honorees 5 to 10 years from now.
"Being honored will hopefully be a wake-up call, a call to action, or just an awareness campaign, if you will, for alumni to get involved and to support campus programs to help kids find a home away from home," he said.
Holland also tries to provide support to others in his working life. His professional Facebook page is titled "My Chicago Resource is Joel Holland," because he wants to let people know he's "a trusted resource for anyone's long-term real estate needs," whether you're a prospective client or someone who is just looking for some information.
If you do become one of Holland's Jewish clients, however, you can expect your very first housewarming gift to be a mezuzah.
"I want to make sure I'm creating Jewish households as well," he said.
Although Holland specializes in places to live, his biggest passion is traveling. He has plans to visit Thailand this month.
We've scoured the web and carved into our creative brain power at Oy!Chicago to bring you the Thanksgivukkah list to end all Thanksgivukkah lists. These ideas are not just your one-stop Thanksgivukkah shop, but ought to hold you over for 77,000 years until Thanksgivukkah rears her menorah-crested turkey head once again to terrorize your greatest of great-great-great-times-ten-to-the-umpteenth-power grandchildren.
1. Deep fry a turkey
We've all seen the now-classic Buzzfeed Thanksgivukkah menu. Sure, those recipes look delicious, but come on - one item is clearly missing. How much more Thanksgivukkah can you get than deep-fried turkey? For tips on how to win Thanksgivukkah without blowing your house up, click here. Apparently you can deep fry pecan pie, too …
For more ideas, check out Jewcy's Not Your Bubbe's Thanksgivingukkah Meal.
2. Wrap presents in Black Friday sales catalogs
You have to do all your shopping before Black Friday this year, so put that gargantuan stack of glossy invitations to frolic in consumerism to good use. If anyone gives you a hard time, explain how this year you're thankful for recycling.
3. Combine traditions to be time-efficient
For example, make latkes while watching the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.
4. Watch 'A Rugrats Thanksgiving' and 'A Rugrats Chanukah' back to back
No better way to spend quality time with the family by watching lots of TV! (Hey, at least it keeps Uncle Morty from bickering with Aunt Esther…)
5. Got kids? Get crafty
For a fun Chanukah spin on a traditional Thanksgiving craft tradition, try tracing both hands to make a menorah to go next to your turkey cut-out on the fridge. Steven Colbert offersa great tutorial.
6. Okay, even if you don't have kids…
What's not awesome about these pumpkin menorahs? Nothing, that's what. And they're totally eco-friendly.
7. Pardon a Kosher brisket
You're saved, little guy! It's a Thanksgivukkah miracle!
8. Bet gelt on Thanksgiving football games
Gambling is a key Chanukah tradition, after all. Just be careful betting on the Lions - you might get nun.
9. Open presents first, and then say which ones you're most grateful for at the start of the meal
Boom. No thank-you notes required.
10. Tell the age-old story of Judah Maccabeak
Yeah … make it up.
11. Sing the Thanksgiving version of "I Have a Little Dreidel"
Fast forward to 0:50 in the above video, and sing along!
12. Make a giving grab bag
In the spirit of both giving gifts and giving back, attach the names of different charities to the items in your grab bag, and invite guests to volunteer with or make small donation to the charity they select.
For more philanthropy-inspired ideas, check out eJewish Philanthropy's Eight Giving Rituals for Your Family: Making the Most of Thanksgivukkah.
13. Tell some Thanksgivukkah jokes
Q. What did the turkey say to the Maccabee?
A. "You think you've got problems."
(You've got to have a sense of humor about Thanksgivukkah. Thanks to our friends at Spertus for that one!)
14. Get the t-shirt
Because you will be so cool with your old school Thanksgivukkah shirt in 77,000 years.
Get all the Thanksgivukkah swag you could possibly need here.
15. Pair your meal with proper libations
We're especially into this curated list of Six Beers for Thanksgivukkah. Just pick two more at random, and have a beer for every night of Chanukah! (Seriously, whose idea was it to come up with six?)
Of course, please drink responsibly.
16. Get a manicure
For a step-by-step guide, click here.
17. Share the joy with others
We love this note from Thanksgivukkah Boston: "Hanukkah is a celebration of fortitude and survival, while Thanksgiving is an expression of our gratefulness. Use this special day to remind yourself of the amazing strength and fortitude shown by those living with disabilities, and to be grateful for the amazing gift of their endurance!"
18. Take a Thanksgivukkah family photo
Smile! You won't be getting together for Thanksgivukkah ever again.
Photo credit: Gabrielle Revere
When comedian Jim Gaffigan and his wife, Jeannie Noth Gaffigan, had their first baby, they received the usual flood of congratulations from friends and family. For their second, third, and fourth children, people still seemed relatively happy for them. By the time Jeannie gave birth to their fifth kid, "it held the ceremony of renewing an annual health club membership," Gaffigan writes in his new book.
Gaffigan—who will co-headline YLD's Big Event Fundraiser on Nov. 16 alongside fellow comic star Amy Schumer—recently published the New York Times bestseller Dad is Fat, (Crown Archetype)—a title based on the first words Gaffigan's son ever wrote down. The book shares observational humor on being the father of five kids, ranging from age 8 down to newborn. Oh, and all seven Gaffigans live in a two-bedroom New York City apartment, "roughly the size of an airplane bathroom," as he puts it.
Born in Elgin, Ill., and raised in Chesterton, Ind., Gaffigan was familiar with large family size growing up with five sisters and brothers. But as the baby of the family, what he wasn't used to was being around children younger than him—until he spawned his own. "The closest I ever came to a little kid," he writes, "was when I watched The Cosby Show and Raven-Symone came to live with the Huxtables for a few seasons."
Oy!Chicago recently caught up with Gaffigan over the phone to talk about fatherhood, comedy, Twitter, and chicken rings.
Oy!Chicago: Why did you write the book?
Jim Gaffigan: Being an observational comedian, I write about what I know. When I started standup, I didn't even have a girlfriend. I would see comedians go on stage and talk about their wife, husband, or kids. And I told myself I wasn't going to do that. Flash forward to having these kids. I started writing some of it in my act, but I didn't want my act to just turn into the "dad act" because I was the 23 year old who would hear people talk about their wife and kids. I remember thinking I can't get a date—I don't know what they're talking about…The book came out of the desire [for Jeannie and me] to capture some of the chaos of our lives. Kids are pretty amazing. I was a pretty unlikely believer in the whole kid thing. It was a pretty big revelation that this is the most important thing I'll do in my life.
Your book reads like a love note to your wife, Jeannie, who is also your business partner, the co-writer of the book, and your muse. How do you put your love for her into words?
I am very lucky in this realm…I'm married to this wonder woman. You get a lot out of a partner in life who is going to make you a better person.
Do you feel a kinship between the Catholics and the Jews?
Standup comedy is a very Jewish American art form. It sounds pandering, but when I started in New York, most of the comedians I knew were Jewish. Maybe some of it is because I'm so Aryan looking, I get nervous talking about the Jewish experience.
You performed standup in Israel a few years ago. How was your experience being in Israel?
Amazing. I love traveling internationally. I'm not thrilled about carrying the burden of how Americans are perceived, but in Israel there was none of that…There are so many Americans in Israel. English is such a common language besides Hebrew. There were all these kids that were over there for a year. I loved it.
You have a huge Twitter presence, close to 1.8 million followers. What do you like about Twitter?
It fits the attention span of a comedian. Comedians are really spoiled by coming up with an idea and trying it on stage that night. There's a parallel there that you can come up with an idea and post it. I like Twitter because sometimes I come up with an idea, and it doesn't have to be a homerun because people aren't paying $40 [to read the tweets]. The other day I was at White Castle and I took a photo of their sides [to post]. It's just absurd. You should see it. It's like these chicken rings, rings that are made of chicken.
We know about the hands-on, daily ways kids change a parent. In what ways has your worldview changed since having children?
Once you have a kid, all the tired clichés that you hear about children fall into perspective. I would say that I have a greater interest in local news. When you don't have a kid…if someone robbed a building, you're like, 'Wow, that's fascinating.' But when you have kids, it's a concern.
What are the biggest differences from your childhood as the youngest of six children versus how your kids are growing up in a big family today?
It's much rarer to find a large family now. Also, my kids are growing up in an urban setting, and I grew up in a pretty suburban [world]... I was also the youngest of six, and knew a world of joyful chaos in a large family…I love the fact that my kids are not thrown by seeing two men holding hands walking down the street. Every decade, every generation America changes so much.
What is your favorite part about being a dad?
I could talk for an hour about this. Parenting just grounds you. You don't get distracted by the drama or the silliness or the superficiality of our lives when you're around a 2-year-old or a 9-year-old or a 7-year-old. Their point of view on the world adjusts yours. It's this intentional selflessness that's thrust on you. It's a really good influence for me…I also don't want to sound like I know what I'm doing because that's not the case. I'm a comedian and comedians work at night and there's this occupational narcissism to over-analyze things, and kids shatter that.
Are you excited to return to the Midwest for Big Event?
I've lived in New York for 25 years, but in the end, I'm a Midwestern guy... I'm proud of being from Indiana. It's fun to tell people in Chicago that you're from Indiana because they're like, 'Where's that?' It's like 10 minutes away.
Chicago’s food truck scene exploded this summer and adding fuel to that fire was one Fat Shallot.
Hitting the streets of The Big Onion (one of Chicago’s nicknames, for those who aren’t up on their Windy City trivia) this past May, The Fat Shallot (a play on said nickname) slings gourmet sandwiches that combine the joys of comfort food with inspired ingredients and flavors.
When the City of Chicago finally allowed food truck owners to obtain a cook-on-board license, Sarah Weitz and her husband, Sam Barron, jumped at the chance to start their own business together and The Fat Shallot became the first of such licensed trucks in Chicago. It’s been “an amazing six months so far,” Weitz said, but their journey began quite some time before.
Sam and Sarah attended Highland Park High School together, but “re-met” while attending culinary school at Kendall College. They then traveled a good chunk of the world together. They lived in Spain while Sam cooked at a three-star Michelin restaurant and then ventured throughout Europe, Southeast Asia and India. They worked on organic farms and sampled street food everywhere they could their hands on it.
From the grilled salami to the grilled cheese (on sourdough with Muenster, spinach and sautéed onions along with a few different varieties of fries, if you haven’t scoped out the truck to this point then you’re missing out. Follow The Fat Shallot on Facebook and Twitter to keep tabs on its whereabouts; in the meantime, we think Sarah Weitz is definitely A Jew You Should Know.
Fat Shallot Fries with caramelized shallots, cheese sauce and giardiniera
1. You put so many tasty and exciting flavors into your sandwiches. What’s the culinary concept for your food and what styles from your many travels influenced it?
Our concept is taking classic sandwiches and adding our own gourmet twist. We try to create sandwiches that you can’t get anywhere else. We love to incorporate flavors from our travels in Europe like the romesco sauce we ate in Spain or the pickled vegetables we ate in sandwiches in Vietnam.
2. Why did you go the food truck route and what are the rewards and challenges of the mobile food business in Chicago?
Sam and I got married in June 2012 and Chicago changed the law two months after that food trucks could cook on board. Both of us were in the food industry and decided this would be the perfect time to start a food truck: lower overhead than a restaurant, casual setting, endless creativity and an opportunity to be on the ground floor of such an exciting time in Chicago's food truck scene. We also fell in love with the idea of setting our own schedules, working for ourselves and being together.
3. What’s the secret to running a successful business with your significant other?
The secret is that we both love food, cooking, eating and each other.
4. What’s your most significant Jewish food memory and do you have a favorite Jewish food you like to make?
My most significant Jewish food memory would have to be Shabbat dinner at my grandparents’ house. For over 50 years my grandmother cooked Friday night dinner for our family. For almost 20 years I went every Friday night. She cooked the same meal every week with various incarnations. We never got bored and I would do anything to have one of her Friday night dinners again.
As far as making my favorite Jewish food, it’s a tie between baking challah with my best friend Lisa and making gefilte fish from scratch with my mother in law who still uses her grandmother's recipe from the 20's.
5. If you could set up the truck anywhere in the world outside of Chicago, where would it be and what new sandwich would you make to intrigue the locals?
Truthfully, I think it would be Japan. It’s the next place Sam and I want to travel through together. Maybe a sashimi ramen sandwich with carrot ginger dressing.
6. What do you love most about what you do?
Part of what makes my job so incredible is being mobile. Every day is an adventure. We jump in the truck and go to a different neighborhood each day. I love feeding and meeting people from all over the city; students, professors, children, doctors, nurses, business men and women. Plus we cater an array of parties and events with the truck. It's very rewarding to help make special events memorable for our customers. We catered our first Bar Mitzvah last week and had a blast.
7. In an alternate universe where you couldn’t be in food service, what would you do?
I’d probably be a caregiver because I enjoy helping and working with people. I'm often told I have an old soul so maybe working with the elderly would suit me.
8. What’s your favorite Jewish thing to do (or how do you Jew?) in Chicago?
Hands down my favorite thing to do as a Jew in Chicago is to celebrate Shabbat with friends and family.
Pictured is the JCC Chicago PresenTense 2013 cohort: Scott Beslow, Claire Denton-Spalding, Jane Shersher, Lihy Epstein, Veronica Vyazovsky Zamir, Rachel Dreytser, Rachel Sumekh. Not pictured: Jeremy Weisbach.
For the third year in a row, JCC Chicago is providing an avenue for social justice activism interpreted through a Jewish perspective. JCC PresenTense Chicago, a largely volunteer-run, vibrant grassroots community of entrepreneurs, mentors and volunteers, invests talent and energy to foster innovation and revitalize our community.
JCC PresenTense Chicago engages young entrepreneurs and professionals within the Jewish community to develop ideas into transformational, sustainable and socially responsible ventures through an intensive, six-month Fellowship boot camp by tapping into the talents and passions of everyday professionals in our community. In turn, those mentors, coaches, and volunteers also grow their skills, knowledge, and networks as they invest their experience and energy to foster the next generation of social entrepreneurs and to revitalize our established Jewish community.
“All great innovators and creators need a fertile environment to grow their ideas,” said 2012 Fellow Karen Berk Barak. “PresenTense is an organization dedicated to doing just that.”
Each Fellow works closely with at least one mentor and coach who have volunteered their passion and expertise in guidance and support. The Fellows also attend monthly seminars learning business skills necessary to succeed as entrepreneurs.
Over the past two years, 20 Fellows have gained skills and connections while working on the development of socially responsible ideas into sustainable businesses. Fellows focus on many different social problems, but they all share an idealistic mission and an urgent desire to make our imperfect world a better place.
Past coaches and mentors are also inspired and enriched by this experience. 2013 Fellow Scott Beslow, founded Hydrophilic, a cloud-based application that connects household residents and organizations into a data-driven conversation filled with metrics, incentives, and social nudges.
“Judaism teaches a tremendous reverence toward water,” said Beslow. “But as modern-day Chicagoans, it is difficult to assign value to something which is cheap and seemingly endless in supply.”
2013 Fellow Rachel Sumekh founded Swipes for the Homeless as a student at UCLA. Students were asked to donate their remaining college dining hall meal credits to be used to purchase food for the homeless. Thanks to her Fellowship experience, Swipes continues to grow, with Sumekh now working as the first paid staff member.
“If you are inspired by our Fellows’ ideas, and the social good that this program aspires to accomplish, check out our Web site and join us to learn more at an upcoming Social Innovation Night,” said Becky Adelberg, JCC PresenTense Chicago Manager.
Professionals and business-savvy community members are also needed as mentors and coaches to guide Fellows in developing their visions into sustainable ventures. Volunteers are needed to engage, inspire, and drive PresenTense, overseeing and managing all aspects of the program with passion, vision and energy.
“It is more than just a volunteer program, it’s a community of sharp minded, socially conscious people working together to create a safe place for budding social entrepreneurs to receive support, guidance and direction,” said Jeremy Forman, a 2013 Coach, Advisory Team member, and Chair of the Launch Night. “Participating in this community gave me a feeling of deep satisfaction.”
Forman is an example of how enthusiastic volunteers drive the program’s success. “We believe that a supportive community of bold thinkers can change the status quo, improve the quality of life in Chicago and impact the world,” he said.
With the support of a vibrant grassroots community, young entrepreneurs are enabled to take their ideas, build them into pioneering expeditions, and launch them into sustainable ventures.
Applications are now available for the 2014 Fellowship, through Nov. 12 at www.gojcc.org/presenTense.
Castle Chicago, 632 N Dearborn St
Tuesday, December 24 | 8 p.m. - 4 a.m.
It's Christmas Eve, what else are you going to do? The groups that brought you the best Xmas Eve Parties in Chicago over the past 10 years have finally teamed up for one huge event: The Official Matzo Bash 2013 - The Chosen Knight.
BUY YOUR TICKETS HERE: http://matzobash-juf.eventbrite.com
Every time a ticket is purchased from this link, $5 will be donated to the JUF!
Projects run from November 17, 2013 - January 5, 2014.
Give thanks by giving back this holiday season and volunteer through TOV's Winter Mitzvah Mania. Sign up today!