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Cindy Sher, contributing blogger

Cindy Sher is managing editor for  JUF News , the monthly magazine of the Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago.

Cindy has been on staff with JUF News for nearly 8 years. Highlights of her time at the magazine have included interviewing such luminaries as Elie Wiesel and Jon Stewart and comparing latkes to hamentaschens (seriously).

Originally from Minneapolis, Cindy graduated from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in June of 2000.

She previously worked in the editorial departments of television stations including WCCO-TV and Hubbard Broadcasting in Minneapolis and WBBM-TV in Chicago.

In the wintertime, she wonders why she didn’t settle in Maui and do the Jewish journalism thing there. In the summertime, she loves everything about her chosen home of Chicago, including getting her butt kicked in beach volleyball.

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Boy meets girl. Boy asks girl to send in video describing herself. Boy dates girl on YouTube, where he has the viewing public vote to decide whether boy and girl should continue dating.


On a typical weekend, almost-famous Chicago Jewish comedian Jena Friedman races by bike from gig to gig, performing standup all over the city. Recently, she opened three shows for Chicago native and manic comic genius Robin Williams.


Prayer helped U.S. Army Armor Company Commander Johnie Bath through tough times in the Iraqi war zone. Though limited food options made it hard for him to keep kosher and he wasn’t able to practice the Hebrew that he had been learning back home, he often chanted prayers, particularly the Shema, a Jewish prayer pledging allegiance to God.

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Even if you don’t personally know Richard Levy, you probably do know his salads. The founding president and CEO of Salad Spinners Corp—or head tomato as he’s most often referred to—invented the business Salad Spinners, a creative salad and sandwich lunch option, seven years ago.


Last year, Ted Perlstein was having drinks with friends, a couple who had recently tied the knot. While sipping beer, the newlyweds griped about the chore of writing their wedding thank-you notes. Hearing his friends’ post-nuptial grievances got Perlstein, a Jewish Chicago-based entrepreneur, thinking about the act of sending greeting cards. “This process should be something that you look forward to,” he thought. “It should be fun.”


Only once have I been asked if I killed Jesus.
The girl, a ninth-grade peer of mine at the time, with chutzpah enough to ask me this question, hailed from a small, Jew-free Minnesotan town. When I mentioned in passing to her that I was Jewish, the next words out of her mouth were, “Didn’t the Jews kill Christ?”


As a little girl, Elizabeth Gelman’s daughter would describe everyone by the color of clothes they were wearing. She would say, “That purple lady over there is talking to that green man.” Like the little girl, children often learn how to classify through this sort of exercise. But somewhere along the way in society, as children grow into adults, differentiating between people sometimes morphs into stereotyping.

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“That was the summer of 1963 when everybody called me Baby and it didn’t occur to me to mind. That was before President Kennedy was shot, before The Beatles came, when I couldn’t wait to joint the Peace Corps, and I thought I’d never find a guy as great as my dad. That was the summer we went to Kellerman’s.”
These are the opening lines of the film “Dirty Dancing,” in which Frances “Baby” Houseman—a 17-year-old Jewish idealist—vacations with her family at a resort in the Catskill Mountains, where she discovers standing up for what she believes, the healing power of dance, and love.

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In a Chicago gym locker room, a little girl, maybe three years old, climbs aboard a giant scale. To her, the newly discovered apparatus is a toy with no other purpose than fun. She jumps up and down gleefully and calls for her mother to come witness her game. Her mother exclaims, “That’s great, honey,” and lifts her daughter off the scale and steps onto it herself. Immediately, the mother’s demeanor changes, she frowns, and drops her head down. Then, she gets off the scale and her daughter climbs back on it, this time imitating her mother’s actions, dour face and all.

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The number one movie at the box office last week starred a talking dog. If you’re looking for something a little more…human…starring talking people from around the world, check out The 44th Chicago International Film Festival, playing in the Windy City from Thurs., Oct. 16- Wed., Oct. 29. This year’s festival, presented by Cinema/Chicago, features special appearances by international actors and directors along with a line up of more than 175 films total—116 feature films, 38 short films and 18 documentaries from around the globe.


Whether you’re discussing politics on line at Starbucks or surfing headlines online at your desk, you’re sure to encounter the names Barack Obama, John McCain, Joe Biden, and Sarah Palin hundreds of times between now and next Tuesday. But understanding the presidential election in a Jewish context is harder to come by and not something that you can learn about from the mainstream media.


In Allison Amend’s debut collection of short stories, Things That Pass for Love, (OV Books), released this week, no matter how far removed the character is from the author, there’s a little bit of Allison in everyone she writes about.


For the CheekyChicago.com founders, it was food at first sight. Erica Bethe Levin and Jessica Zweig had become fast friends after bonding over their shared love for food. In March, Zweig had dined at a new Chicago restaurant the night before and was gabbing to her friend and co-worker, Levin, all about it the next day on the job at the gym where they worked.


From age four, Halstuk acted as a young sous-chef to her mother, Marla Templer, helping her to prepare the mandel bread, a dessert often called the Jewish biscotti. And when Halstuk was away at Jewish summer camp, Templer would ship her daughter a bag of the goodies. “It would be 90 degrees and I would make the mandel bread last for four weeks hidden under my bed. I guess that’s kind of disgusting,” jokes Halstuk.


Have you ever gazed at a painting by Chicago Jewish 20-something artist Arielle Sandler? Before you answer that, do you watch the TV shows “Eli Stone” and/or “Brothers & Sisters?” Maybe you caught Will Smith’s and Charlize Theron’s summer blockbuster “Hancock?” Well if the answer is yes to any those questions, then you have seen Sandler’s paintings, which have been featured on both of those shows and in the Will Smith flick.


Brad Rubin grew up on Jewish delis and diners. In his lifetime, Rubin has traveled by car and motorcycle across America — all 50 states — always stopping for a bite at diners and delis along the way. Rubin, originally from Chicago’s northern suburbs and now a South Loop resident, worked at 24 restaurants in 23 years, including Chicago hotspots MK, SushiSamba Rio and Bin 36. Recently, he broke out of fine dining to return to his culinary roots.


Once upon a time in a land called Chicago, a mutual friend fixed Brooke and Sean up on a blind date. While the two did not fall in love, they became dear friends. Years later, Brooke fixed Sean up with a woman named Cynthia. They fell in love and married. Meanwhile, Brooke met another man named Mike. They, too, fell in love and got married this past summer. And, everyone lived happily ever after.


Aaron Nunez-Gross is a Jewish Mexican-American man; he’s a city boy, yet was raised in the country too. He’s a about to graduate college, still finding his way in the world, but he’s also a guardian to his 17-year-old younger brother and a role model to other young people. He dances Flamenco and listens to Sephardic music; and he’s passionate about so much—about science, theology, politics, and peace in Israel.


You don’t meet a lot of Jews named Christopher Campbell. Well, actually, Christopher Campbell is no longer Christopher. He’s now Yisrael Campbell, but he journeyed on a long and spiritual road to arrive at his new identity. Back in the 1960s, Campbell was born into a Philadelphia Catholic family, to an Italian mother and Irish father. As Campbell describes it, “I’m the first-born son of a manic-depressive Italian woman and a pathologically silent Irishman. That makes me wildly emotional…in a very quiet way.”


As the Consumer Smarts correspondent for NBC’s “Today Show” and former host of the consumer affairs show “Steals and Deals” on CNBC, Janice Lieberman had been living an exciting life with a successful career. Yet, she was missing a loving husband to share it all with, which made the rest of her life seem a little less fabulous. “I was single for way too long and I was going nowhere with my dating life,” she said. “I had the perfect job and the perfect everything, but when you come home to an empty house, the job doesn’t seem so exciting.”


 The moment President Obama clinched the election, he made that famous pledge to his two daughters—as well as to billions around the world—to get a puppy for his family’s new home.

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Chicago Jewish filmmaker Harold Ramis’s filmography reads like an encyclopedia of great comic movies of the last 30 years. He is the brains—either writer/director or both—behind some of the most often quoted and referred-to film comedies of recent decades like “Animal House,” “Meatballs,” “Caddyshack,” “Stripes,” “National Lampoon’s Vacation,” “Ghostbusters,” Groundhog Day,” and “Analyze This.” A Chicago native and a Chicago’s “Second City” alum, Ramis returned to the Windy City years ago from Hollywood to live closer to his parents, and now lives in Glencoe.

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When comedy takes center stage in Chicago from June 17-21 for TBS Presents A “Very Funny” Festival: Just for Laughs Chicago, Jewish Chicago comedian Susan Messing will be at the ready with her unique brand of uncensored improv comedy.

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A poll* finds that 78 percent of people surveyed, between ages 20 and 39, know the name of Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes’s daughter, but only 45 percent of those same people know the interest rates on all their credit cards. Young people need to learn to be more financially literate, according to Beth Kobliner, a Jewish personal financial expert living in New York City and a former staff writer for Money Magazine.

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David Telias was born in Montevideo, Uruguay, but has traveled back and forth between Israel and Uruguay his whole life. At age 10, he made aliyah with his family for one year. “In those days, I did not understand why we did this, but I never could get it out of my mind,” he said. “It was the first time I asked myself what it means to be Jewish.” From that day forward, Telias felt a deep connection to Israel. His story is a familiar one within the Jewish community of Uruguay, a person with allegiance to Uruguay, but a strong tie to the Jewish homeland as well.

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Cindy Russo, age 16, attends ORT’s Belgrano campus, one of the two ORT technical high schools in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Students choose a concentration after three years of school, with choices from mass media to electronics to music. Russo--one of more than 4,000 students who attend the schools--has selected the management track and is interested in furthering her studies in business when she graduates next year.

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Years after Joe lost his wife—Marc’s grandmother—of 54 years, Joe came to his grandson for advice on how to start dating again. Both men were living in Chicago at the time, Marc in Lincoln Park and his grandfather in a nearby retirement community. They would hang out with the ladies at Joe’s complex and Marc would offer his grandpa pointers.

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In this season of reflection, as we look back on the past and look forward to a fresh start in the Jewish New Year, Cindy Sher offers first date tips to guys. Then, Jewish Chicago single guy David Cohen responds with a few dos and don’ts of his own for the ladies.

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Years ago, in acting class, James Sherman met a fellow student actor who worked for an escort agency, where he pretended to be someone’s Jewish boyfriend for an evening with her parents. A Chicago Jewish playwright and now a screenwriter and director, Sherman never forgot about that silly ruse the actor had told him about. Years later, Sherman wrote a play called “Beau Jest,” a romantic comedy stemming from the escort service plotline coupled with some of his own issues with his parents.

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Around the time that Jewish writer Jillian Straus turned 30, she noticed a lot of her friends complaining to her about their relationship troubles for hours over the phone. Like her friends, Straus says she, too, didn’t have a clue how to find love, despite her parents’ 40-plus years of being happily married. She felt that her busy career and social life entertained her for much of the time, and yet she felt lonely. “The girls on “Sex and the City” would sneer at me if they knew,” she writes in her book. “The feminist in me did not want to let myself fall prey to the specious belief that I couldn’t be happy without a man in my life.”

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He’s cute, he’s funny, he brought us gems like “Dick in a Box” and “I’m on a boat” and… he’s Jewish! Known for creating and starring in such comic and raunchy music videos as “Motherlover,” “Dick in a Box” and “Lazy Sunday,” Andy Samberg’s videos appear as SNL digital shorts and then rocket their way to YouTube fame.

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Starting at age 8, Andy Samberg used to sneak out of his bedroom late on Saturday nights to watch WWF wrestling. But wrestling was only on once a month, so most Saturday nights he would watch “Saturday Night Live” (SNL). “I became obsessed with SNL and fell in love with it,” Samberg recalled. “From that point on, I wanted to figure out how to craft my life to lead me to [a career] at SNL.”

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Next year, I will celebrate my tenth anniversary at JUF News—the monthly magazine produced by JUF—my first and only job after college. Who says people of my generation can’t commit?! My career at the magazine started in the summer of 2000, mere weeks after tossing my graduation cap in the air and embarking on life on my own. At that time, the world was beginning to turn topsy-turvy, just before the latest intifada in Israel erupted.

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When I think of the Jewish pastry rugelach, I usually picture my late, silver-haired Russian Jewish grandma—or at least someone’s Jewish grandma—flattening dough with her rolling pin in her cozy kitchen. But Leon Greenberg, a low-key, middle-aged guy from Great Neck, Long Island, doesn’t look or act anything like my grandma. He dubs himself “The Rugelach Man,” and makes rugelach as delicious as that of any grandmother I know.

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Have you been missing that certain special someone over the last few months? No, not your soul mate. I’m talking about Patti Stanger, the bold Los Angeles Jewish matchmaker who stars in her own reality show called “The Millionaire Matchmaker.”

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Many Jewish kids have Hebrew school teachers who make Israel come alive inside their classrooms. Joel Chasnoff, originally from Evanston and now a Jewish comedian, was one such Jewish student. At Solomon Schechter Jewish Day School, back in the second grade, his Israeli teacher, Ruti, helped forge Chasnoff’s early connection to Israel.

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I wish I could recruit for a new best friend in town. My closest friend Lauren just moved out of Chicago this winter and returned to her hometown of Miami with her husband and toddling daughter to live near Lauren’s parents. She’s my best friend of 15 years so whoever you are, New Best Friend, you’d have big shoes to fill—literally. Lauren wears a size 11.

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Jewish author and dating veteran Lori Gottlieb is telling single women everywhere to “break up with the list.” You know what the list is...That running checklist of attributes in your head that your future mate must possess and don’t ask you to settle for less.

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Last year, I won a dress in a raffle. The gown happened to be designed by my favorite designer, one that I don’t typically buy from because… well…her clothing costs almost as much as my monthly rent. As I approached the auctioneer to claim my winnings, I contemplated the perfect occasion to wear the dress. But as I looked at my prize up close, I saw the dress wasn’t my size. So I tucked it away in my closet and let it gather dust.

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Oprah swears by her Spanx. Gwyneth and Tyra love `em too. Madonna wore them on her world tour. And Cynthia Nixon’s Miranda even touts them in the new movie Sex and the City 2. “I’ve tricked my body into thinking it’s thinner—Spanx,” the character proudly tells her girlfriends over brunch.

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Here’s a question to pose to people around your Shabbat dinner table this Friday night: If you could invite anyone for Shabbat dinner, living or dead, who would it be?


E.leaven owner serves up family recipes and New York style bagels—voted the "best bagel" in Chicago. They say the key to a top notch bagel is in the water.

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Now I know what “going viral” really means. My dear friend, Gabrielle Birkner, who I met in college at Northwestern, once told me in passing that Paul Rudd deejayed her bat mitzvah back in 1992 before he was a star. I didn’t think much of it (in fact I thought she was kidding) until this video landed at my computer yesterday afternoon, sent to me by a friend of mine who doesn’t even know Gabi, who is now a sophisticated web editor at “The Jewish Daily Forward” in Manhattan.

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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.

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When Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah was a child growing up in Ghana, the other kids wouldn’t play with him because he had a deformed leg. But Yeboah wouldn’t let them burst his spirit. The boy, who came from a destitute family, got a part-time job shining shoes and earned enough money to buy a soccer ball to loan out to the other kids, also too poor to afford one. Yeboah told them they could use the ball on one condition—that they let him play soccer with them.

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Okay, you’ve got to be a bit curious to hear what shocking things—and you know they’ll be shocking—will come out of comedian Sarah Silverman’s mouth at JUF’s Young Leadership Division’s (YLD) third annual Big Event Nov. 6.

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What happens at the Big Event stays at the Big Event. To invoke an overused, yet fitting phrase in this case, those words came to mind while watching comedian/writer/actress Sarah Silverman perform her funny, crass, and sometimes controversial stand-up act on Saturday night at the JUF’s Young Leadership Division’s (YLD) third annual Big Event, held at the Sheraton Chicago.

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My family rang in the Jewish new year at a friend’s home. After we chanted the blessings and before we sat down to eat our meal, the host asked each of the guests to take turns saying what we were most thankful for in the past year.

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Can you name two past Jewish Supreme Court justices with last names beginning with the letter “F”? Did you know the comic strip X-Men was created by Jews? And for the most random Jewish fact you’ll read today and probably this decade...Bet you didn’t know the Q-Tip was invented by a Jewish guy who thought the cotton apparatus would aid his wife cleaning hard to reach places?

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Back during the women’s lib movement, Marjorie Gelb was part of the first generation of professional women that were climbing the career ladder. She was a fulltime working lawyer, a wife, and a mother of two. She wanted a fulfilling career, but she still desired to put high-quality food on the table for her family. In fact, Gelb identifies herself as a gourmet, defined by the French as “someone who likes to eat good things.”

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Siblings Brad and Danielle Weisberg were checking out a dating website one day last year. When Brad left to run errands, their mother, Barbara, also in the room at the time, asked if she could sift through profiles for him in his absence. By the time he returned a couple hours later, Barbara had jotted down a list of 10 Jewish women’s screen names for him to contact.

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Growing up in Milwaukee, Michael Dorf fondly recalls Passover seders with his family. His father would lead, adding supplemental readings with writings by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and texts on black slavery, applying the lessons of freedom from Egypt to relevant current humanitarian issues.

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White Noise, the new raw rock musical, isn’t Mary Poppins—that’s for sure. Don’t expect your usual romp at the theater. An original musical, White Noise, opening in Chicago at the Royal George Theatre in April, is gritty and provocative and explores in-your-face issues of bigotry and hatred.

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 Did you know “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” ranks as the most frequently played song in America after “Happy Birthday” and the “Star Spangled Banner”? And were you aware that a Jewish writer composed the anthem? Impress your sports aficionado friends with his name, Albert Von Tilzer, at your next cocktail party.

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When Jewish author Bruce Feiler was five years old, he was struck by a car while riding his Schwinn bike, breaking his left femur. More than 30 years later, he was diagnosed with a cancerous tumor in that same femur. Whether the accident and his illness were related or mere coincidence, he will never know.

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Is he or she “the one?” If you’re, well, human, you’ve probably asked that question about a past or present mate at some point in your courtship. What if you could conduct a scientific experiment to test the answer to that universal question? In the new quirky romantic comedy film, Losing Control, (A PhD Production)—which premieres in Chicago in June—Samantha Bazarick (played by Miranda Kent of TV’s Campus Ladies) tests just that.

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I love graduation season. That might surprise you considering most people dread attending graduations—the bleachers, the sweat, the boredom, the caps. But work with me here.


It’s been two decades since my bat mitzvah. How did that happen? It feels like yesterday, well maybe not yesterday, but last week for sure, when I was up on the pulpit chanting the Torah portion in my poofy floral dress.

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When I was a freshman in high school, a fellow Jewish kid in my class—a guy with a tendency to tease tall girls like me—approached me at the start of the school year and gave me a great big hug.

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Recently, I was walking down the streets of downtown Chicago, reveling in one of those perfect balmy afternoons when, out of nowhere, a strange man grabbed me from behind.

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I recently read my 3-year-old nephew one of my favorite books from my childhood—as much a treat for me as for him. The book, appropriate to dig up in time for Jewish Book Month this month, is a cherished Yiddish folktale called It Could Always Be Worse, by author Margot Zemach, about a poor shtetl man who thinks life can’t get any harder than living in a tiny one-room hut with his wife and many children.

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Have you ever seen the YouTube clip of late night talk show host Jimmy Fallon impersonating singer Neil Young—with Bruce Springsteen as himself—singing a duet of Willow Smith’s Whip My Hair? If you haven’t, this article can wait. Go watch it and then come back…

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Back in September, when young Jewish composer and lyricist Benj Pasek was touring Seattle with his show A Christmas Story, The Musical! -which comes to Chicago in December-he attended Yom Kippur services. After all, said Pasek, he always goes to synagogue on Yom Kippur-and his mom would have been furious if he hadn't. Then, after shul, Pasek wrote Christmas jingles for the show.

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Jimmy Fallon's everywhere these days. In the last week alone, you may have seen him interviewed on a talk show; caught him on a commercial; eaten his Ben & Jerry's ice cream flavor; heard him deejay the top 40 countdown on the radio; and—oh yeah—watched him host his own late night talk show five nights a week. And next weekend, Fallon returns to his comedy alma mater Saturday Night Live to host the show's big holiday episode. But this past Saturday night, Dec. 10, Fallon hung out only with us.

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A couple of years ago I read the book 29 Gifts and I still think about the book to this day. It's the true story of Cami Walker, a 30-something newlywed, diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, who was feeling sorry for herself. Amidst Walker's depression, a medicine woman recommends that Walker give away a gift each day for a month as a way to get outside of her own headspace.

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I guess you could say standing up in weddings has become an extra-curricular activity of mine by default. I'm a bridesmaid about as often as people change their clocks for Daylight Saving and Standard Time—about twice a year.

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The rabbi, the therapist, and the matchmaker. No, this isn't the start of a bad joke. In honor of Valentine’s Day, we asked some local experts for their take on tough relationship conundrums that are on the minds of Jewish Chicagoans—married and single.

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At a recent family dinner, my 6-year-old nephew said the words that perhaps every 6-year-old kid has said at some point in their young lives. "It's not fair," he objected.

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Let's say the world was your (Jewish) oyster…where in the world would you like to travel to—Israel, the Galapagos Islands, Wilmette? We posed that question to Jewish Chicagoans with the travel bug.

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When I was in junior high, my family hosted a woman in our home who was in town for a weekend speaking engagement. She was in her 70s at the time, blonde, and wore tailored skirt suits. Warm and gentle, yet strong, she reminded me of my grandmothers.

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We all know that sometimes TV personalities are different in real life than they appear on television, but that's not the case with TV journalist Meredith Vieira. In a recent phone interview with Oy!Chicago, she acted exactly as she did when she co-anchored the Today show—personable, sharp, self-deprecating, and easy to laugh.

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Sigmund Freud and C.S. Lewis probably never met, but what if they had? With diametrically opposing views on the existence of God, the two intellectual giants would have had a lot to debate. That's the premise of the play Freud's Last Session, making its Midwest premiere at the Mercury Theater in Chicago now through Sunday, June 3.

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Jewish writer A.J. Jacobs used to be a self-described “mushy, easily winded, moderately sickly blob.” Then, at age 41, while vacationing with his family in the Caribbean, the Manhattan-based writer caught pneumonia and wound up in an island hospital. Getting sick was a wakeup call for Jacobs that he had to take his health into his own hands so that he could live a life of longevity for his wife and three young sons—ages 8 and 5-year-old twins.

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It was the summer solstice. My friend and I had just left the Western Wall when we happened upon hundreds of people lining the streets of Jerusalem at sunset holding hands, dancing, and singing "Salaam (Od Yavo Shalom Aleinu)," an Israeli song, sung in Hebrew and Arabic, that's come to symbolize a call for peace.

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You ready for a clean slate? We Jews are lucky to get a chance to start over every fall as the shofar sounds a wake up call in each of our lives. With the changing leaves, the crispness in the air, and new Justin Bieber Trapper Keepers in the back-to-school aisle comes a promise for a fresh start in 5773.

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The leaves are falling, the sukkahs have come down, and TV's fall lineup is in full swing. Today, housewives, matchmakers, and weight-loss contests dominate the airwaves, with just a few scripted shows sprinkled in between, but that's not how it used to be.

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Remember when we were kids and we looked forward to our birthdays with gusto, crossing the days off the calendar as The Big Day grew closer? When our only worry on that day was how much birthday cake frosting we could stomach? Then, somewhere along the way—after we reached birthday milestones like the ones allowing us to legally drive, vote, drink, and rent a car—birthdays took on a bum rap.

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For the fifth year in a row, Young Leadership Division's (YLD) Big Event was the place to be for young Jewish adults in Chicago this past Saturday night. A whopping 2,400 young Jews came together to support the Chicago Jewish community and the Jewish United Fund, celebrate Chanukah together, and watch entertainment by standup comedian and Parks and Recreation star Aziz Ansari as well as young local Jewish singer, Edon Pinchot. YLD's Big Event, held at the Sheraton Chicago, kicked off YLD's 2013 Annual Campaign. 

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I'm an early riser and always have been. Even as a teen, and now in my not-so-teen years, when people my age relish sleeping through breakfast, my circadian rhythms are less like my peers and more like my 89-year-old grandpa, who grabs his morning coffee and paper at dawn every day.

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My late grandma Tessie was the ultimate optimist. Growing up a poor, Jewish girl in famine-stricken Russia, around the time of the Russian Revolution, my grandma and her family could often scrounge up little food other than onions, which they'd fry up and eat meal after meal.

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In the eighth grade, Joel Chasnoff, admits he was the only kid cut from the Solomon Schechter basketball team. This was all the more shameful because “I’d been cut not just from a sports team, but from a Jewish sports team,” he writes in his book, The 188th Crybaby Brigade. But in his early 20s, despite his lack of athletic prowess, Chasnoff—a burgeoning Jewish comedian in New York City—decided to put his comedy career on hold to join the Israel Defense Forces, out of love for the Jewish State.

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The Hebrew word for love is “ahava,” from the root hey vet, which means to give. To love, put simply, you must give. How much do you think the divorce rate would plummet if all engaged couples knew the connection between these two words?

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Growing up, my friend and I—the youngest representatives from each of our families and tasked with singing Ma Nishtana ("The Four Questions") every Passover—would spend a good portion of the pre-Seder festivities each year practicing the song together. We loved the holiday and took our role in the seder seriously, striving to get the questions just right—and we would have just died of embarrassment if we messed up.

The packing list photo_th

I'm packing up, getting ready to move on out after more than a decade of living in the same building. You've been there. You're standing in your home—a dot in a sea of cardboard boxes, bubble wrap, packing peanuts, and duct tape—enveloped in a tornado of possessions strewn across every piece of furniture and floor space as far as the eye can see. You've got to decide what to take with you, what to give to tzedakah, and what to give to the garbage man—and you've got like a day to do it. Sound familiar?

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On Sunday, more than 8,000 revelers gathered at Ravinia Festival, in Highland Park, for the Jewish United Fund's 2013 Israel Solidarity Day (ISD) featuring the Walk with Israel, in honor of Israel's 65th birthday.

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Chelsea Clinton, the only child of former U.S. President Bill Clinton and former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, is a powerhouse in her own right. The world saw her grow up as "first daughter" in the White House; today Chelsea is harnessing her own power to mend a broken world.

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This is a letter to my future twin step-daughters, age 9, and my three nephews, ages 8, 5, and 2. Dear Kids, Thank you for being you. Thank you for making me happier every time you smile, sneeze, laugh, dance, tell me a joke with no punch line, and find magic in the mundane things I take for granted like a train, the produce aisle of the grocery store, or even dirt.

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Cawker CIty, Kan. claims the world’s biggest ball of twine. Kenosha, Wisc. is home to an actual cheese castle. And in Leicester, Vt., you’ll spot a statue of a giant gorilla holding a Volkswagen Beetle. Only in America.

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Ready for a fresh start? We Jews are lucky to get a chance to start over every fall as the shofar sounds a wakeup call in each of our lives.

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The last thing Peter Gethers’ father ever did on his deathbed was make a joke. Gethers and Daniel Okrent, creators of the play “Old Jews Telling Jokes,”—along with pretty much every other Jew in the world—deal with the sorrows of life by laughing at it. As the writers say, “Life sucks so you gotta laugh.”

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All this talk about Sukkot, which we just celebrated, got me thinking about dwellings and homes—especially this year. See, I’m moving into a new apartment, but the lease hasn’t started yet. Unlike our Jewish ancestors who wandered in the desert for 40 years, I figured I’d be wandering for a little less—about two months—the gap between my residency at my old place and my new place.

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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.

Giving thanks this Thanksgiving—and Chanukah photo_th

If you’ve visited any water cooler frequented by Members of the Tribe lately, the subject of the first day of Chanukah landing on Thanksgiving Day for the first time since 1888—and the last time for another 70,000 years—was bound to come up.

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Spoiler alert: I’m about to reveal the meaning of life. Great, now I have your attention—read on if you want the answer.

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There’s a lot of reasons to love being Jewish—community, Shabbat, Passover seders, really funny comedians we get to claim as our own, and mandel bread—but here’s another perk: We members of the tribe get to ring in the New Year not once, but twice a year.

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What's the key to happiness? Is it winning a million bucks? Or maybe eating large amounts of chocolate and not gaining any weight?

Becoming Dr. Ruth photo_th

She’s a straight-talking, 4’7’’ superhero. An international treasure with a joie de vivre. A household name whose mention brings a smile to people’s face. She’s the people’s sexpert before the phrase “sexpert” was coined. She put the candid discussion of sex on the map—and we haven’t shut up about it since.

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James Franco went back to school recently, a place he seems quite comfortable these days. Northwestern University's A&O Productions and NU Hillel brought Franco to speak on Saturday night, March 1, at the university's Pick-Staiger Concert Hall.

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"Brave,” a song sung by Sara Bareilles, has been getting lots of airtime on my iPod these days. The song just lifts me up.

IDF veteran speaks to Chicago Jewish community about empowering people with disabilities photo_th

Tzipi Zipper is one of the most able people you'll ever meet—despite the fact that she sits in a wheel chair. She traveled to Chicago in the late winter to speak at the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago, Jewish Child and Family Services, and the UIC Levine Hillel.

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There's this scene in National Lampoon's Vacation that gets me every time I see it. Maybe you remember it too. It's the one where the camera pans to the two kids sleeping in the back seat of the Griswold mobile, then to the mom napping on the passenger side, and finally to Clark sleeping peacefully in the driver's seat—the car still in motion.

Hey Jude... photo_th

With my mom's birthday a few days away, and Mother's Day soon after that, I was thinking about how sometimes I forget to tell my mom how much I love her and how lucky I am to be her daughter.

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I'm a bit of a dork, but I love graduation season. I tear up at montages on the news of commencement speakers serving up their most sage nuggets of advice to senior classes. I smile at stuffed animals at Hallmark dressed in caps and gowns.

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We stood together in Independence Hall on the first day of our journey together, the space where Israel first became the Jewish state.

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I have been feeling powerless lately. And I know I'm not alone. We're powerless to stop the heartbreak and turmoil in Israel. We're powerless to stop the gang violence in Chicago.

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Only once do I recall someone saying something anti-Semitic in my presence. At a high school summer program away from home, a new acquaintance was speaking casually about shopping when she mentioned someone "Jew-ing" down the price.

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With Sukkot here, and a chill settling into the air outside, we're reminded of the warmth and peace of home, and the Jewish concept of shalom bayit—peace in the home. But as news of domestic violence captures our attention in the media, we know not all homes are peaceful.

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A year ago, for the month of Thanksgiving, every night before I went to bed I jotted down one thing I was grateful for each day.

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My mom always made a big deal about Chanukah, and she instilled in our family a love for the holiday, too. I know, I know. Chanukah's considered a "minor" holiday on the Jewish calendar, just trying to keep up with the commercialism of a Christmas culture that has us hearing the Mariah Carey Christmas song in our sleep for two months straight.

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It's a new year, full of hopes and dreams-dreams like the one Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke about all those years ago. In the last two months, one thing we've learned is that we have a long way to go before we shall overcome.

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Lieutenant Emily Rosenzweig knew she wanted to be a rabbi from a young age growing up in Mount Vernon, N.Y. After her rabbinical ordination, she headed out to Columbus, Oh., where she served as an assistant rabbi and director of education at a Reform congregation for five years.

Be my (many) valentines photo_th

Any Hallmark aisle, Zales commercial, or Facebook newsfeed will tell you that Valentine’s Day is for lovers. But even for those of us still searching for our beshert — our lives overflow with love.

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I’m in love, and have been for a long time. It’s a relationship filled with laughter, tears, intrigue, and surprise. It was love at first sight, back when I was a little girl—with an extra-terrestrial that longed to go home.

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We're consumed by images and rhetoric in the media of human turmoil and strife—a world crying out for repair.

An interview with Ivanka Trump photo_th

The name 'Trump' has been a household name for decades. But lately Donald is sharing the spotlight with the younger generation of Trumps—his sons and his daughter, Ivanka.

Culture of kindness photo_th

When I was in junior high, I learned the hard way what it felt like to be bullied. Out of the blue, these three girls who'd been close friends of mine only the day before suddenly started taunting me.

Wisdom for Grads photo_th

I just love graduation season and all its hopefulness: The sweet scene on a beautiful spring day of a graduate clad in cap and gown hugging proud loved ones on the street. The "places you'll go" words of encouragement promising big things for grads on greeting cards, books, and diploma-gripping teddy bears near the cash register at the bookstore.

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Every now and then, I think about a little girl I was lucky enough to meet when I first started working at JUF News.

A new documentary film asks 'What makes a mensch?' photo_th

Most of us go through life trying to act like a mensch -- but what does that really mean? Jewish filmmaker Tiffany Shlain wants to know.

Advice to my 13-year-old self photo_th

One of the best things about getting older is growing more confident in who we are and more comfortable in our own skin.

Wakeup call photo_th

Close your eyes and imagine yourself in the synagogue listening to the blasting of the shofar, something some of us will be doing just days from now.

From Alex P. Keaton to off-screen hero photo_th

Back in the 1980s, I grew up on a steady diet of my favorite TV show, the sitcom Family Ties. I'd imagine what it would be like to be the fifth Keaton child. Don't get me wrong--I loved my own family ties. Still, I dreamed of being the long-lost sister on the show where you could solve a squabble with a sibling or a parent in the Keaton kitchen over hugs, laughs, and orange juice in 22 minutes flat. I envisioned myself knocking on the door to their Ohio home alongside sweet, awkward neighbor Skippy Handelman.

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Over the summer and now into the fall--and a brand new Jewish year--I've been waking up early in the morning a few times a week to make it to the lake to watch the sunrise. Blame insomnia for getting me out of bed, but there's a bright side to rising early.

‘Be still, my love’ photo_th

It's human nature to keep waiting for our "real" life to start once we have all our ducks in a row. We're waiting for that dream job, that dream love, that dream baby, that dream white picket fence, to reach that dream body size.

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There's a moment at the opening of Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, currently playing in Chicago, when the character portraying Jewish singer Carole King remarks that even life's hardest parts can turn out to be beautiful.

Having each other’s backs photo_th

On a recent snowy Chicago Friday night, I attended a pop-up Shabbat dinner in the Uptown neighborhood of Chicago, where the menu, prepared by a gourmet Jewish chef, featured a modern twist on traditional Jewish food -- matzah ball soup, butternut squash cholent, pastrami, and of course challah and wine.

Third annual JCC Chicago Jewish Film Festival photo_th

Jack Yonover is quite an impressive and articulate eighth grader. Two years ago, Yonover, who is allergic to pistachios and cashews, came up with the idea to make a documentary for his bar mitzvah project reflecting on the fears and frustrations of living with food allergies.

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Like so many other Jewish little girls on Purim, my big sister and I would both dress up for our annual Purim carnival as Queen Esther. The morning of the carnival, my mom would dress us in regal dresses, bright red lipstick, and a homemade crown or sparkly tiara my mom had bought for this very occasion--and only this occasion--so as to raise grounded daughters the rest of the year.

‘What’s the deal with…?’ photo_th

There's a bestselling book out about curiosity. It's written by a Hollywood producer who has spent his free time asking questions of interesting and accomplished strangers for the last 35 years.

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My Grandpa Max passed away this spring -- on his 93rd birthday. According to Jewish wisdom, dying on the same day that you're born is a blessing. In fact, Moses was said to have died on his 120th birthday. The Talmud teaches us that God calculates and completes the lifespan of a righteous person.



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