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Jane Charney, past contributing blogger

Articles by this author
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Seven cities. Seven days. Fifty people. In a nutshell, that’s the recent Jewish heritage adventure in which 36 Russian-speaking Jewish young professionals from Chicago, six peers from Kyiv, Ukraine, and eight  staff members explored Spain, Gibraltar and Morocco from Aug. 17 to 25. The trip is the brainchild of Nadya Strizhevskaya, U.S. project manager for the Genesis Philanthropy Group, which sponsored the adventure. Read More

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Gilana Alpert had a way with music. She played guitar like it was an extension of her hands rather than a separate instrument. As she led Friday-night Reform services at Indiana University Hillel, she brought music into the service that made the sanctuary feel empty for me when the guitar wasn’t there. A striking redhead, Gilana made me – a newbie to the world of Jewish practice – feel welcomed and accepted. Read More

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In his 31 years, Michael Goldenberg has lived in three very different places. Born in Nizhnii Novgorod (then Gorkii), Russia, Goldenberg moved to Israel at the age of 13, and then came to Chicago in 2002 to earn his MBA from Loyola University. Now a financial planner at MB Bank, Goldenberg has also devoted time to engaging other Russian-speaking Jews in community initiatives. Read More

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Hamantash fans scoff at the latke: “It’s just potatoes,” they say. And latke aficionados can’t find much to be excited about in the hamantash. The debate about the favorite Jewish holiday food has raged for so long that it spawned an institutional response: the annual Latke-Hamantash Debate at the University of Chicago. The 62-year-old tradition has spread to campuses nationwide for a humorous academic discussion about the relative merits of the two iconic Jewish foods. Read More

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Growing up in a Yiddish-speaking community in Mexico City, Ilan Stavans experienced a variety of linguistic conundrums. As a child, each language was assigned a role – Spanish for public life, Yiddish for private, Hebrew for religious – those distinctions left an indelible mark on the author, linguist and lexicographer Stavans would become. Read More

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Aaron Freeman recently added another line to his already lengthy resume: Torah maven, the traditional storyteller who translated the Hebrew Torah into local language. The comedian, radio personality and author says his latest professional incarnation is a natural progression of his love for all things Jewish. He wants to tell great stories, and there isn’t a better story than Torah, he says. Read More

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What makes us Jews? Whether it’s blood, belief or cultural bonds, it can be hard to define exactly what makes us “Members of the Tribe.” The identity question is especially challenging to one subset of the American Jewish Tribe: the Russian-speaking Jews. Officially, more than 30,000 Jews from the former Soviet Union have resettled in Chicago in the past 15 years alone. Many more probably immigrated under the radar. In total, almost one million Russian-speaking Jews live throughout North America. Read More

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Let’s face it—Jewish mothers can sometimes be a royal pain in the ass. But despite their neurotic, overprotective, passive aggressive tendencies, they are also the most loving, supportive and accomplished women around. So, in honor of Mother’s Day, some of us here at Oy! wanted to share our thoughts, experiences and memories about our real life Jewish moms. Read More

Pope In Israel
Pope Benedict XVI is visiting Israel this week, after spending three days in Jordan. On the agenda: a visit to Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust Memorial; touring the Temple Mount and the Western Wall; leading masses in Bethlehem and Nazareth;  and talking shop – i.e. peace-achieving strategies – with Israeli and Palestinian politicians. As commentators throughout the world have noted, the Pope’s also on a mission of improving his image among Jews and Muslims.In the past six months, Vatican has made several bad PR moves when it comes to relations with Jews, including almost welcoming a Holocaust-denying bishop back into the fold. This trip goes a long way to mend relations, even if the Pope’s plan for peace is diametrically opposed to the new Israeli government’s stance on giving land for peace. Read More

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Friday -- Light up! Candles, that is, and join friends and family for a delicious dinner to mark the end of the week. Whether you celebrate Shabbat or just like candles for the mood, candle-lighting time is 7:45 p.m. Saturday -- Make a food pilgrimage: Go for the staid bagel-and-lox combo or try kishke, chicken liver or homemade corn beef as you check out the abundance of Jewish delis all over the city. Read More

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Have you guys seen the new Star Trek movie yet? Ever notice that the Vulcan salute is a bit familiar? That’s because Leonard Nimoy, the original Mr. Spock, borrowed from Jewish tradition when the screenwriters of the original “Star Trek” series needed a special greeting to incorporate into the action. Read More

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Ever wonder what it’s like to be in the Israeli army? Israel Defense Forces are renowned throughout the world for being one of the most organized and most efficient military structures. The Israeli newspaper Haaretz has been following five Golani Brigade soldiers through basic training and the trials of getting used to life in the army during their three-year mandatory service. Read More

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I admit it. I’m a snob. A literary snob, that is. Read More

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Want to know more about Chicago’s Jews before Oy? Here’s a history lesson of the past 150 years: Irving Cutler, a professor emeritus at Chicago State University has published an updated edition of his "The Jews of Chicago: From Shtetl to Suburb.” Read More

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We tried. We really tried to get away. But even at the southernmost tip of the Dominican Republic we ran into people who know someone who knows someone who probably knows us. Read More

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As I walked from the Wilson Red Line stop to the JUF Uptown Cafe one sunny Sunday morning, four people called to me asking to spare some change. Two of those people were later guests at the JUF Uptown Cafe, Chicago’s first kosher anti-hunger program, where I was volunteering as a server for two hours of Sunday brunch. Read More

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We live in a consumer culture, no question about it. I’ve got friends and relatives who never met a sale they didn’t like (hi, mom!). But how we make decisions about what to buy – and we want to buy-buy-buy – can tell a lot about us. Read More

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We are born with secrets. And our bodies are very effective at hiding them from us for generations. Until April, my body had secrets, too. But thanks to four blood samples, I now know much more about my genes than I ever dreamed about. Ashkenazi Jews like me might carry genetic mutations that cause everything from Tay-Sachs to cystic fibrosis to the funny-sounding maple syrup urine disease. The fact that no one in my family has manifested any symptoms doesn’t mean that they aren’t carriers. Read More

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English freely mixed with Hebrew as nearly 250 people gathered to celebrate the Tel Aviv 100 on North Avenue Beach Wednesday. Read More

Real World...Moishe House photo_th
They all have full-time jobs, but for the past 2 years, the five people who founded Chicago’s first Moishe House have been turning a shared passion for all things Jewish into about seven – and sometimes more – events a month. Read More

Celebrating Rosh Hashanah in the woods photo_th
In preparation for Rosh Hashanah this year, I baked two plain round challahs and an apple one, set out the Shabbat candles and checked to make sure we have enough wine to sanctify the holiday, just as people across the Jewish world were doing. But rather than go to services, my husband and I packed all the supplies into a backpack, gathered our sleeping bags and tent, and set out to Sky High Camp near Portage, Wis., for the Rosh Hashanah weekend. Read More

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When we first moved to America, my dad threw his equal-opportunity-bigot weight around. Mostly it involved not letting my then 12-year-old sister’s first American friend come over because she was, God forbid, Indian-American. If you didn’t look like him, think like him, act like him, you didn’t have a place at his table. (Imagine the brain aneurism my dad almost had when, at 16, my sister came out as a lesbian and began dating a classmate, a relationship that lasted more than 2 years.) Read More

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Whenever my husband wears a kippah – an admittedly rare occasion – he dons a colorful crocheted circle swirling in blues, yellows and browns. Kippot like his are the work of a handful of Mayan women in Guatemala, who have partnered with MayaWorks, a Chicago-based organization to produce beautiful fair-trade ritual objects, purses and clothing. The colors on my husband’s kippah were chosen by the women of San Marcos la Laguna, a small village on the shores of Lake Atitlan. Read More

Student art exhibit opens at Spertus photo_th
Becca Willens respects her roots. Growing up in a small Jewish community in Petoskey, Mich. – where hers was one of five Jewish families in town – Willens learned to cherish community from an early age. Now a senior studying costume design at Columbia College, Willens translated her understanding of community into an installation displayed at Spertus Museum. The piece is a response to Spertus’ “What Does It Say to You?” exhibit. Read More

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David Sax is on a quest. His mission? Save the deli. Growing up in Montreal and Toronto, Sax was first introduced to matzo ball soup, kishke, corned beef and coleslaw on a weekly jaunt to the deli his family would make after Friday night services. Sax translated his love for all things Eastern European food into visits to the “great deli cities” – New York, Chicago, L.A. and Montreal come to mind foremost. Read More

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I’m a mentor in the Write On For Israel program, which means that one Sunday a month I hear things like “I’m a lifelong Zionist” from juniors in high school. I want to respond with, “You’re 16!!!” Read More

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Among our friends, my husband and I are known as “the least clingy couple in the history of the universe.” That’s because we realized early that we have to let each other have interests outside the other person. Read More

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Less than two weeks after the devastating Jan. 12 earthquake in Haiti, the Jewish Federation’s Haitian Earthquake Relief Fund has reached nearly $600,000, with donations from more than 3,300 contributors. A large portion of these funds have been funneled the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), which has supported an Israeli field hospital and food and water distribution to survivors, and is planning future rebuilding efforts, and IsraAID, a coalition of Israeli and Jewish organizations that coordinates emergency response and relieve efforts worldwide. Read More

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Remy Kaskel wasn’t nervous about the content of her talk about the Sh’ma, the prayer considered central to Judaism. She had presented a similar session two years ago. Mostly, she was anxious about people’s reactions when they saw the slight 14-year-old in front of the classroom. Read More

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Over the last couple of weekends, I’ve been working on overcoming a fear. As I launched myself down a steep hill, with two pieces of plastic strapped to my feet and two poles in my hands for balance, I remembered that I really hate this kind of thing. Read More

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As you enter, you are greeted by an obsequious type wearing a bowtie or a garish – possibly sequined – tie and vest combo. You are led to a room full of gilded baubles. Tables are piled high with colorful food whose names you know only if you grew up in a Russian household. Read More

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As a high school senior, I wanted to be president. But I knew I couldn’t become president because I’m not a natural-born U.S. citizen, so I decided I could settle for at least some sort of elected official – maybe a representative or a senator. Read More

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Every May 9, my grandfather would put on his parade uniform from his WWII army days, pin his many medals onto the front of his jacket and take my sister and me to a gathering of his regiment. Every year, there would be fewer and fewer of the men and women with whom he risked his life in the fight against the Nazis. Read More

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Chicagoans might remember Wall Street Journal columnist Jeffrey Zaslow from his 14 years in the Windy City. As a successor to Ann Landers, Zaslow doled out advice on all sorts of life questions through his column in the Sun-Times. Read More

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Alex Epstein writes really-really short stories. Most don’t even take up half a page of his newly published quarter-page format book, Blue Has No South. This collection of his latest work was masterfully translated from Hebrew by Becka Mara McKay. Read More

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While her friends are going to college orientations and packing up for a year, Jacquie Zaluda is packing for the rest of her life. Her life—18 years so far—has to fit into two suitcases. In about three weeks Zaluda, a 2010 graduate of the Chicagoland Jewish High School, will board a flight to cross the Atlantic Ocean and start a new life in Israel. Read More

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Even almost two weeks later, I'm in information overload mode. You see, I just returned from accompanying the sixth Write On For Israel cohort on their summer learning experience—in Israel. The two-week trip was a mix of touring and learning, and I'm still reeling from all the excitement. Read More

Farming the urban landscape photo_th
Jill Zenoff, Suzanne Nathan and Anne LaForti have big plans for a quarter-acre patch of land in West Rogers Park. The land, on the grounds of the Bernard Horwich JCC, will bloom and produce food. Read More

Questions for a hero photo_th
In the past couple of weeks, I’ve been thinking about questions to ask Natan Sharansky. In fact, I’ve got a list in my head as I prepare to possibly interview the man who has inspired countless Russian-speaking Jews to fight for their right to practice Jewishly. Read More

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Joseph G. was just a couple of years old when his family was forced to march to a ravine close to his home in Kyiv, Ukraine. There, Nazi soldiers shot almost the entire Jewish community of Kyiv. Few were able to hide under the piles of bodies and make it to tell the story. Read More

Why there is a kernel of Russianness in me photo_th
This year marks the 20th anniversary of Operation Exodus, a massive effort by the North American Jewish community to rescue and resettle more than 1 million Soviet Jews. Chicago welcomed more than 30,000 Russian-speakers. Read More

In defense of learning photo_th
The night before the first day of school, I’d get butterflies in my stomach and wouldn’t sleep a wink. Ever since I could remember, the idea of learning fascinated me. I was the kid who spent hours curled up on my favorite armchair with a book. Read More

A day in the life photo_th
As I look back at my recent sojourn in Israel, one day stands out. As an experienced traveler to Israel and a madricha (group leader) on a Taglit-Birthright Israel trip, I hoped for a new perspective, and that’s exactly what I go that day as it perfectly summed up the past, present and future of Israel and clarified my personal connection to the Jewish State. Read More

Changing the world photo_th
Israeli artist Netally Schlosser never set out to change the world or anyone’s life. She’s not a humanitarian or a selfless do-gooder. But her work in a small patch of green in one of the seediest neighborhoods in Tel Aviv is challenging her in ways that other artistic projects never have. Read More

New Hadassah cookbook photo_th
Take loads of fresh vegetables, small portions of lean meats, a healthy handful of quinoa and other whole grains, add a sprinkling of cumin and paprika, mix with world flavors, and the result is the essence of Leah Koenig’s new cookbook, “The Hadassah Everyday Cookbook: Daily Meals for the Contemporary Jewish Kitchen” (Universe, $34.95).  Read More

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With the exception of a brief fellowship at an Indianapolis newspaper, my entire—albeit not too long—career has been as a professional Jew. That’s altogether different from being a Jewish person who is also a professional. Read More

You know you just got back from Israel if photo_th
I’m used to the jetlag by now. After all, I’ve traveled to Israel four times over the past 18 months, each trip about a couple of weeks. Read More

Writing fiction – and surviving to tell the tale photo_th
Unlike Alex Epstein, the Russian-born Israeli author whose first book I reviewed for Oy! and whose prodigious imagination gives birth to a seemingly unending supply of fantastical characters and settings, fiction is not my strong suit. Read More

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Schmoozing is part of my job description. I go to breakfasts, lunches, dinners and events in between to meet people. I build coalitions. I form new relationships and maintain existing ones. Read More

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I've been thinking about the Wall. No, not the Pink Floyd album. And not the security barrier that prevents terrorists from infiltrating Israel. Read More

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My father-in-law died last week. He was 76 and had been suffering from the effects of cancer since August. His doctors had told him he had more than a year, and he was hoping to stick around until after my husband and I had kids. Read More

Making up my bucket list photo_th
I'm inching toward 30. Not just yet, still have a bit more than a year to go, but I've been in an introspective mood lately. That's why I've been thinking about what I want to accomplish in life. Read More

Strategy at its finest photo_th
This week, I attended unprecedented negotiations between Israel and Saudi Arabia. What can I say? My job's pretty exciting! Read More

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Before my son was born, I swore I wouldn’t add to the legion of mommy bloggers. And I’m still hoping to focus on issues only tangentially related to babyhood. Still, while I’m on maternity leave, my universe has shrunk to just a couple hundred square feet (with occasional walks in the neighborhood and a trip to the doctor’s office thrown in the mix). Read More


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