Esther Bergdahl, past contributing blogger
Esther grew up in the wilds of Appalachia, where the next closest Jewish community was in Parkersburg, West Virginia. She came to the big city and graduated from the University of Chicago in 2006 with a degree in “dead literary boyfriends.” She worked at the Chicago Center for Jewish Genetic Disorders and then went back for a master's in journalism from Northwestern University, which she obtained in 2013.
Outside of work, Esther loves creative writing (several wildly different genre fiction novels are perpetually in the works), dogs (her basset hound Gus is the light of her life), Band of Brothers (ask her sometime about her secret plans for grad school) and improv comedy (ask her about the Harold team and the meaning of life). Her current goal is to figure out how on earth someone with hair as unruly as hers can make all those amazing ‘40s styles work on a daily basis.
ARTICLES BY THIS AUTHOR
So here’s a question for you. Cancer: good or bad? You’re a little perplexed that I’ve framed the debate this way, aren’t you? The answer couldn’t be more obvious if it was written in big lights up and down the skyline. Cancer is horrible, and you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who hasn’t been affected by it somehow.
The week that ended in Christmas was going to be productive, if not entirely jolly. My parents no longer live year round in the house I grew up in, which is an old American four-square in Athens, Ohio. They had been bugging me for the better part of a year to clean out all the boxes piled high with my childhood, so I could haul what I liked to their new place in Columbus, with its many unused walk-in closets.
For some reason I am convinced that the whole world needs constant updates on my sleep schedule. No matter what time you run into me, I am likely to report on how much I did or didn’t sleep the night before. Sleep or lack thereof can make me groggy, cheerful, snappy or just plain off-the-wall. Six hours is about my floor for minimum functionality: anything less and you’re really gambling with which Esther shows up in the morning.
Let’s say someone offers you a test that will tell you if you’re likely to develop a certain kind of aggressive cancer at a young age. The cancer runs in your family, and there are preventive measures available so you can reduce your risk of developing the disease.
I am a homebody who loves to travel. By the time you read this, I will have switched modes from nester to nomad, hopping a plane with a dear childhood friend and spending a significant portion of July in Spain, Italy and Israel.
In July, Esther was just setting off for her great Mediterranean adventure. She has yet to sort through her 1,000+ photos (no joke!), but she definitely has plenty to say about the trip. While her previous visits to Europe have been full of jaw-dropping cathedrals and art museums, she and her friend decided to see another, more familiar side of the Old World.
I’m going to say it up front: I’ve been wrestling with my Oy! articles lately. My intentions were good. I wanted to highlight two very important health awareness months, both of which have particular resonance in the Jewish community.
I sincerely believe that every day on public transit is an adventure. It’s the ultimate people-watcher’s paradise: there’s always something going on. We all get treated to drama and comedy of epic scope, for the price of admission onto a train or a bus.
My favorite hashtag on Twitter is #firstworldproblems. On a fundamental level, I am grateful that my most pressing needs don’t include keeping myself warm or being responsible for feeding other mouths in my household.
I did a dangerous thing this week. I had an hour to kill before meeting up with a friend, so I wandered into the Blick art supply store on State. Trust me, guys: it’s a miracle that I made it out at all.
I realized yesterday that I turn 27 in two months. Twenty-seven seems like an incredibly big number. That’s definitely out of the mid-twenties, and it’s definitely closer to 30 than I’m used to contemplating.
Do dreams come true? Do great epics have great sequels? All these questions may be coming to a head. Dan Sinker, the Columbia College journalism professor behind the foul, hilarious, gripping Twitter epic, isn’t saying a word one way or another.
The ones we love never truly leave us: this may be the most fundamental message of the Harry Potter books. Right about now, hundreds of thousands of people – millions, I’m not even kidding – are gearing up and bracing themselves for one final round of hoopla and goodbyes as the last film of the last book stampedes into theaters.
My hometown has an admirable, almost perverse dedication to shopping local. During my high school years, “Support your local economy” bumper stickers were as ubiquitous as college logos and Dave Matthews Band sprites. It’s a lifestyle that I cling to in Chicago: indies over chains, always always always. If I have the option to support an independent business over a corporation, I will.
My parents have been telling me I should visit the National U.S. Air Force Museum at the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base for ages. It’s understandable: I spent about two and a half years living and breathing WWII paratroopers, thanks to Band of Brothers.
In the United States, we’re often presented with two different views of cancer. Last month, the Chicago skyline was lit up teal, for ovarian cancer awareness; this month, it’s impossible to avoid the color pink. The other public face is that of the celebrity who recently passed away: yesterday, we lost Steve Jobs, founder of Apple and creator of nearly every gadget you hold dear, to pancreatic cancer.
Listening to stories about my family is a surefire way to keep me enthralled. It has been since I was little. My parents had me quite late, and I missed out on knowing a huge segment of my relatives, including both my maternal grandparents. Stories are how I connect with that part of myself.
When I was choosing colleges, my mom made her qualifications very clear. First, of course, I had to go somewhere that was right for me, intellectually, personality-wise, cost-wise, etc. But vying for top consideration was this: My mom wanted to visit me somewhere she could go shopping.
Yesterday, for whatever reason, my order at Argo Tea was taking longer than expected. "No worries," I said to the girl behind the counter. "I was a coffee shop wench for four years. I understand."
Do you remember Swimmy, the picture book by Leo Leonni about a little fish alone in the sea? It's been on my mind this month. Not to spoil the ending, but Swimmy becomes a hero by helping a school of fish band together to chase off predators. They couldn't have done it by themselves, but together they're stronger and bigger than the other fish who would eat them.
Two straight days with no shower, no bed and no familiar faces. Don’t dismiss it as a vacation option just yet, though: it’s also one of the best ways to see the United States from the ground. Two weeks before Passover, I did something I’d been dreaming of for nearly a year— I bought tickets for the Southwest Chief, an Amtrak train that runs daily between Chicago and Los Angeles.
I almost said no when my friend asked if I wanted to come, but in the end, how many opportunities do you have to celebrate a great man's 100th birthday? Last night at the Newberry Library, a packed house honored Studs Terkel on the centennial anniversary of his birth.
I'm not usually the one who posts the stories about inspirational athletic moments. That's not really my thing. But records were made to be broken, so here's my own personal '80s training montage. It goes like this: I biked to and from work yesterday.
I have two Patti Smith songs in my iTunes library: one is a live performance of "About a Boy" from the 1997 Tibetan Freedom Concert, and the other is a cover of "Don't Smoke in Bed" from the eternally awesomely named Ain't Nuthin' But a She Thing. For most of my life, these and her status as "the Godmother of Punk" were all I knew about her.
The other day I was at Argo Tea and discovered, to my horror, that they're now offering pumpkin-flavored muffins. Target is in the full swing of back-to-school shopping, and even CVS is starting to sell Halloween-themed candy. Most of my friends love autumn; I would mind it less if it didn't mean sixteen months of winter were close on its heels.
Today I want to talk about something less abstract: how you can help people with cancer and their loved ones. Around the High Holidays in 2007, my mom began having headaches and needing frequent naps. I was a year out of college, and had just moved back to Chicago in the spring. In March 2008 she had a seizure, and we found out that she had brain tumors—glioblastomas, a particularly aggressive kind of cancer that Ted Kennedy also had.
How we spend October 31 can say a lot about us as people. Some of us hand out candy from the front porch. Some of us go wild and hit the town in costume. Some of us go about our day business as usual. And some of us stay up until midnight, furiously outlining the 50,000-word novel we'll start writing when the clock strikes.
I don’t want to depress too many people, but I think holiday travel might be a metaphor for existence—or, at the very least, our 20s. My first flight, the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, was scheduled to leave Midway around 1:30. I’m terrible about packing. I always tell people I have packer’s block, and can only do it the morning I leave.
I may have figured out the shortest route between Fisk Hall and the Evanston Davis Metra station—a dire necessity in Winter Quarter, when your first class starts at 9 a.m. sharp. I’m learning a lot about Evanston now that I’m spending more time there. The coffee shop in the Metra station serves hot chocolate with Nutella if you ask for it.
There’s no better setting for an existential crisis than IKEA. This one starts and ends with a TIDAFORS EDSKEN dark gray sofa. I’ve been wanting a new couch for a long while now. Mine owes me no more favors: it’s comfortable and long enough for a tall person to stretch out on, but it was a Craigslist find in 2007 and now it eats people, so it’s time to upgrade.
My quarter as a graduate student at Northwestern University just started, but I may as well have just come back to high school from summer vacation. Yesterday morning my braces came off. When I smile at you—as I’m doing a lot right now—it’s non-metallic and without a grill.
I missed the Animorphs series the first time around. Man, in the ‘90s, you saw those book covers everywhere you went: one kid transitioning into a fly or a bear or a dolphin or some other creature. And there were always two tons of them, right?
“Well,” my father said that Friday night in August, “it’s all over.” He was calling to tell me my mother had just died. Ignatz, as she’d named her brain tumor, had finally taken her from us. We’d known this day was coming all year, but I’d always imagined it going differently—less blunt and simple, maybe.
I know, I know it’s not kosher to review books before you’ve finished them, but when you’re too angry to keep going, that’s sort of a review in itself, right?
Gleacher Center, University of Chicago Booth School of Business, 450 N. Cityfront Plaza Drive
Thursday, February 18, 2016 | 5:00 - 7:00 p.m.
The Center for Jewish Genetics in collaboration with Hillels of Illinois presents The Business of Genetics, an interactive discussion on the globalization of research and development for rare diseases. Take advantage of this rare opportunity to interact with corporate leaders from Pfizer, who will touch on the scientific, business and medical aspects of the development and marketing of Elelyso (a new treatment for Gaucher disease) in collaboration with their Israeli biotechnology partner, Protalix. The event includes a networking reception with refreshments following the program.
For more information, contact
KarenLitwack@juf.org. There is no cost to attend this event, but space is limited. Register at
Pre-register for your free Birthright Israel adventure this summer or next winter with Shorashim to fly from Chicago, travel with others from the community, and spend all 10 days with Israelis your own age! Learn more @ israelwithisraelis.com.