You might say my family has been really unlucky lately. You know the notion that “bad things happen in threes,” or its less superstitious cousin, “when it rains, it pours”? For those of us who don’t believe in meaningful coincidences, these phrases help us to make sense of life when its randomness and unpredictability occasionally yield a strange, inexplicable pattern of events that suggest some kind of connection, significance – or luck.
Given everything that’s happened lately, I’ve had to revisit these phrases, and I’ve found this conventional wisdom offers little solace. Because when life throws you a string of strange coincidences, it’s hard to trust that things are going to be normal again. Sometimes, it seems, life tests just how brave you are to live it.
About four weeks ago, my aunt went for a run in the neighborhood as part of her training for the North Shore Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving Day. She ran by a dog that was out on a leash. Sensing a threat, it jumped up and bit her arm. She was taken to the hospital for stitches. She even got coverage in the local Patch (she’s the “person jogging” and later “victim”). Not long after, her husband – my uncle – also training for the race, discovered the start of a stress fracture in his heel and would not be able to run.
Not too bad so far? We’re not even halfway through.
The Tuesday before Thanksgiving, I was on the train commuting to work when I began to feel lightheaded. I got off at my stop and went to the railing on the far side of the platform to catch my breath when I passed out and hit my head on the rail. After I collected myself and got back to my feet with some help from concerned bystanders, I lost consciousness again and hit my head a second time. I wasn’t in much pain, but I had to be boarded and collared anyway and spent the whole day in the hospital getting tested for conditions I didn’t have. The doctors eventually determined it was vasovagal syncope, a common condition, likely due to a combination of dehydration and standing for a long time on a jam-packed and heated El train in a heavy winter jacket.
That was the first of three incidents in the same day.
When my parents picked me up from the hospital they told me that my grandmother’s close friend, whom I consider my fifth grandparent, suffered a stroke while visiting her children in California. She is recovering but it has been and will continue to be a long process. Then, what couldn’t have been hours later on the car ride back from the hospital, my aunt (“person jogging”) texted us that my cousin, a senior in high school, was rear-ended at a stoplight at what the police guess was 35 miles per hour. She suffered whiplash and has since started physical therapy, but was otherwise unscathed.
Well, almost needless to say, on Thanksgiving we had a lot to be thankful for. Despite these scares, every one of us was well or recovering. Were there moments of panic, concern, uncertainty and disbelief? Yes, but not tragedy. This would blow over, we knew. Just not yet.
That Sunday, the end of a relaxing holiday weekend, I was getting ready to see everyone at a family Chanukah dinner when my parents called. It was my brother, who’s in college out east. He had picked up a prescription at the pharmacy near his apartment off campus when three men stalked him on his way home, assaulted him and stole his wallet.
It was hard to believe at this point. I knew this happened – I got all the police emails when I was in school – but this was my younger brother, attacked somewhere he thought to be safe, far away from where any of us could help him. But, as traumatic as this was, even he was fine despite the bruises, and even if it might take him awhile to regain a sense of safety in his neighborhood.
My instinct through all of this was to see it as bad luck – a bunch of unfortunate incidents grouped closely together – but everyone in my family is alive or getting back to normal. There are a lot of incidents people must deal with every day in which they can’t say that so easily if at all. Dog attacks, fainting episodes, strokes, car accidents, muggings – these are awful things, but they happen. They don’t happen to you or someone you love all the time, and you don’t expect them to, but they occur with regularity in this world. Grounding myself with the knowledge that accidents have a certain inevitability to them, and knowing that the phrase “it could’ve been worse” applies to my family’s situation, I think that means we are quite lucky.
The challenge in all of this is moving on. It is living without fear and trusting that an incident is truly random and isolated, while controlling what you can. My aunt will have to run by dogs again if she wants to continue running; my cousin will need to drive; my brother will be faced with walking outside alone near his apartment. Already, I’m apprehensive about getting a seat on the train and staying hydrated. It’s crossed my mind on every commute in the last two weeks.
And there are even more plausible reasons to be afraid. My diagnosis does not rule out arrhythmia or other heart issues; whiplash can lead to future neck problems; a stroke often makes life more challenging; getting assaulted can lead to post-traumatic stress issues. All of these, however, as scary as they are, are treatable or become manageable with time.
Time, as another phrase tells us, heals all wounds, though some wounds leave bigger scars than others. What matters, I think, is how we respond when we remember that we have them. We can be brave or afraid, strong or vulnerable, sure-minded or uncertain. And even though we can’t control our misfortune, we can still choose to believe whether or not we feel lucky.
It’s been more than a Bar Mitzvahs length of time since my Bar Mitzvah, and now, finally, I am an adult. I know what you’re thinking. Nope. Not this guy. Even with the face and the beard and the Bar Mitzvah length since Bar Mitzhvah, nope – he’s no adult. No chance. But yes, faithful attractive Oy! reader, it turns out I am part of the coveted group that gets to sit at the big people table during Rosh Hashanah. It was a shock to me too, but now I have evidence to back it up. In a convenient 18 different items no less. Well, possibly less. Ok, probably less. I’m tired. So I present to you how I discovered I am an adult in 18 examples. Enjoy.
1. Instead of the question, “What do you study?” the first question I always receive upon meeting someone is now, “What do you do?” The answer is still I don’t know.
2. I have the freedom to take a day off of work for no reason other than I don’t want to go to work. I have freedom to do whatever I want, which is mostly not to accomplish anything. I’m very good at this.
3. I can spoil my supper on purpose. And besides, Double Stuf Oreos that will inevitably become Quadruple Stuf Oreos are an entirely acceptable choice for supper. Also, I’ve started saying supper.
4. I’m allowed to get distracted by literally nothing. Also by…sorry. Just noticed how white my wall is.
5. If at any time I have a hankering for chocolate milk, then by gum, I’m gonna have me some chocolate milk. Why I always want to have chocolate milk next to gum, I have no idea.
6. The freedom of being anywhere without anyone knowing. When I was younger, this usually meant I had accidentally locked myself in the bathroom.
7. I have my own health insurance. But that’s not the adult part. The adult part that I don’t use it. I’m 26 and a half. I’m invincible. Well, as long as I have my Bubbie’s cooking, that remains true.
8. I’ve learned that my apartment doesn’t just clean itself. I just have to hold out long enough until my mom visits.
9. Everyone around me takes my relationships more seriously. Mostly that my relationship with Spaghettio's is getting unhealthy, to which I say, but it has Riboflavin! (Seriously, look at the can. It’s a real thing and I love to say it out loud like the nutty professor. Glavin!!!!)
10. As long as I can afford it, I can buy anything I want at anytime, because in this day and age nothing is “hard to find”. Just “expensive on eBay.”
11. To make it through a day, I usually need some sort of wake-up juice. Be it an energy drink (Monster) or fake coffee (Frappuccino) or a more untraditional method (fish slap to the face), the excitement of life doesn’t keep me awake like it used to.
12. I now have the authority to bring any special food I want to family functions. So yes, there will now always be Zebra Cakes at Rosh Hashanah.
13. I am a lot closer to my siblings now that my siblings are farther away.
14. Naps have become the absolute greatest gift that is ever possible. Both having the time to take one and then doing so. Although sometimes I don’t always have the time for naps and then I occasionally get struck by the elusive and unwanted “nap attack.” That gets embarrassing on the bus. Every. Day.
15. My mom no longer burps me. Mostly because I moved out last year.
16. I do not have a bed time. My bed time is now defined as the moment I pass out while watching re-runs on Netflix every night.
17. I’m able to try and do any new things. Also, I don’t have to try and do any new things.
18. And last, but not least, one of my favorite examples of how I know I’m an adult. I now get asked, “Do you have kids?” To which I always reply, “Why? You looking to buy?”
Balkan Beat Box
This post originally appeared on the Masa Israel Journey blog.
It wasn't until I lived in Israel as a Masa Israel Journey participant that I first learned any Israeli music. I hadn't been exposed to it before, I'm sad to say, but this was something my friends were determined to change. They introduced me to their favorites. I listened to the radio and heard new music every day. I quickly learned that I was a Mizrahi fanatic – what can I say, it's just too much fun not to dance to!
I also discovered a band I could sing along with, as they were expanding into English songs. Thus began my love affair with Balkan Beat Box, a group made up of Israeli ex-pats mostly living in New York. My friends and I watched their videos, learned the lyrics, and requested their songs when we went to pubs. Many of my memories of Masa and living in Israel have to do with Balkan Beat Box, including the time I traveled to Jerusalem to see them perform. It was at Gan HaAtzmaut where I experienced my first BBB show, and it was an incredible one. I was there with hundreds of other Israelis who were all dancing, singing and relaxing – and I felt like I was home.
I had just returned to Chicago after another two-month visit to Israel this past summer when I saw that my favorite Israeli band would be coming to Chicago. More than anything, I wanted to see them again and experience that sense of familiarity that I had had in Israel. I reached out to my fellow members of the Masa Alumni Committee of Chicago and suggested that we get a group together. Perhaps Balkan Beat Box had been an integral part of someone else's Israeli musical journey; if not, they would surely become a fan after seeing them live. We decided to invite other area Masa alumni and put on an event. We met at the venue before the show to meet recent Masa returnees and share our Balkan tales over drinks.
It was incredible to experience a show in Jerusalem with friends, but seeing them perform in my hometown was a really neat experience as well. I loved seeing people who weren't familiar with the band simply enjoying the music and dancing with everyone else. The energy in the crowd was amazing; everyone danced the entire night, people grabbed their neighbors and pulled them into a circle to dance. It was a mixture of Americans and Israelis and I felt like I was home again.
Music has a way of doing that, I suppose, particularly when it brings you back to a specific time and place as Balkan Beat Box does for me. I got to relive some of my favorite Masa memories while hanging out with new Chicago-area Masa friends. I can only hope that they will return for another show soon and bring us all back together again.
Cara Mendelsberg, Balkan Beat Box lead singer Tomer Yosef and Rachel Gutman at the event.
Spoiler alert: I’m about to reveal the meaning of life. Great, now I have your attention—read on if you want the answer.
Every so often I think about the movie City Slickers when Jack Palance’s character, the older, leathery cowboy named Curly gives Billy Crystal’s character Mitch some profound life advice.
“Do you know what the secret of life is?” Curly asks Mitch, holding up one finger.
“Your finger?” Mitch asks.
“One thing,” Curly says. “Just one thing…”
“But what is the one thing?” Mitch wants to know.
“That’s what you have to find out,” the cowboy replies.
What Curly said stuck with me since I saw that movie way back in junior high. And I’ve been trying to find that “one thing” ever since. It’s something we each have to discover for ourselves.
A while back, I heard a moving sermon by a rabbi who had faced a near-death experience. After wrestling with his own mortality and living to tell about it, the rabbi asked us what we each think our life’s purpose is. What, he asked, were we put on this earth to do?
I’ve pondered my answers to the questions posed by the rabbi, and—no big shocker—I haven’t exactly figured out all the answers just yet.
But, if we already knew the answers, how boring would that be? Life is all about the journey—continually searching for the answers, and then revising and finding new answers to what we thought we knew but realized we totally didn’t. At least I think.
You know that game show Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader? Well, in a philosophical way, the answer to that question is “no” because the adage “the older we get, the less we know” rings true.
What if we don’t narrow it down to just “one thing” as Curly said? Maybe we’re meant to find more than one thing.
Here’s one thing I do know: We’re all meant for greatness. We’re meant to fulfill multiple roles as complicated, interesting people—in our jobs, as parents, as sons and daughters, as romantic partners, as citizens of the world, as Jews, and as all around decent human beings.
For instance, here’s what I know about myself: I’m meant to honor my parents as the Torah tells me to by being the best daughter I know how to be. I’m meant to be the world’s coolest aunt to my nephews and spoil them with toys—and lots of love. I’m meant to be a friend that my friends can count on who would take their calls at 3 a.m. and talk them through a crisis, or dance to 80s music with them; and I’m meant to write it all down in blogs and columns like this one.
And when I don’t live up to some of these things, and I know sometimes I fall short, I’m meant to do a little better the next time around.
Oprah used to preach on her talk show that the one thing everyone wants is to matter. Whoever we are, whatever our race, religion, gender, age, or job, we all want to be useful, to make a contribution. That’s one of our greatest equalizers.
So as we encounter one another, from the people we love, and even the people we don’t like so much, to strangers on the street, we ought to be gentler with each other. We should keep in mind that we’re all just trying to matter, to leave our imprint on the world, to know that the world is a better place because we’re in it.
This post originally appeared on the Schusterman Foundation blog.
Now that I work in the Jewish community, people always assume that I’ve been a “super Jew” my whole life. In reality, it took a special trip to pique my interest—and experiences thereafter—to land me where I’m standing now.
When I was a kid, my family moved around a lot until settling in exotic Buffalo, New York. That first summer in Buffalo, I spent my days with the other soon-to-be fourth graders at a JCC-partnered Jewish camp in central New York. As fun as shaving cream fights were, I was the new kid in town. Two summers were enough for me.
I attended Sunday school and became a bat mitzvah. After throwing a candy-themed party to celebrate the occasion, attending a few classmates’ b’nai mitzvot and trying Hebrew High school for a few weeks, I checked out of my Jewish involvement. I recall going to a youth group meeting, which I hated, and never returned.
My family and I continued to celebrate holidays with amazing meals, stories and traditions. While I loved this aspect of being Jewish, I didn’t consider myself to be religious or active. When I attended Arizona State University, I continued to join my AZ-based family for holiday meals, but I never even knew that Hillel existed.
It wasn’t until my later years as a college student that my mother mentioned a “free trip” to Israel. Israel? Why would I go there? Isn’t it scary, war torn, third-world? Obviously I lacked education about Israel and it was definitely not at the top of my list of places to visit.
After college, I moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career in the world of entertainment. I turned 25, and my mom continued to suggest that I go on this free Israel trip called “Birthright Israel.” I was still unsure—I worried I was not religious enough for a Jewish trip. I didn’t even have a passport and now I was going to take a 14 hour flight across the world? Then, when I realized that I would soon be ineligible because of my age, I applied.
Needless to say I had a fabulous time on the trip, falling in love with the country and having a little Israeli romance as well. I never imagined that the country could be so beautiful, with such diverse people, and that spending time with other Jews doing Jewish things could be enjoyable. I returned to LA in tears, wishing that I had never left.
Now that I was back, I told everyone I knew about my experience. I went to a Shabbat dinner with the LA Federation (which I knew of from the trip orientation). I started hosting Jewish parties–Chrismukkah (with my Catholic roommate) and Passover seders; both open to friends of all faiths. I learned to cook brisket, noodle kugel and matzo ball soup.
After a year, I quit my coveted job to participate in a Masa Israel program called Career Israel. I loved living in Israel with Jews from around the world, touring the country and getting to visit Turkey and Jordan too.
I soon found that I didn’t want to live in Israel forever, so I moved to Chicago with a few of my fellow participants from the program. After struggling to find work in the world of event planning, I took on a variety of random jobs. I wanted to meet new people in my new city, so I attended a few events put on by Birthright Israel NEXT (now called NEXT: A Division of Birthright Israel Foundation) and a year later started a fellowship with NEXT, reaching out to Birthright Israel trip returnees and planning programs for them in Chicago. The programs I ran included a challah-baking/platter-painting event, cooking classes and an outing to a Chicago Blackhawks game.
This Birthright Israel alumni network became my own personal community in Chicago. As a NEXT fellow, I had the privilege to staff a Birthright Israel trip with a Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation (JUF) employee with whom I’m now very close. One year later, I applied for a job working in young adult engagement for JUF, and all of a sudden, engaging with 20-something Jews became my life.
Five years ago, I never would have imagined that I would be a “professional Jew.” But today I am lucky to be in that position, meeting Jews of all backgrounds and helping them connect to the community.
There are so many ways to be Jewish in Chicago. For someone like me, who often didn’t feel like I wanted to be part of anything Jewish, I realize that it’s all about finding the right fit for each individual. I can be a Jewish leader without having to fit stereotypes; I can be myself, and in return, I appreciate that everyone has their own way of living Jewishly.
When meeting with people who are not engaged in Jewish life, I try to connect them to opportunities that are meaningful based on their interests. I stay motivated because I know the work I do helps so many people in Chicago feel welcome and find a deeper connection to our Jewish community for those whose paths are as winding as mine.
Elizabeth Wyner is the Young Adult Engagement Associate at Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago (JUF).
Loving this fitness gear!
Tablets, flat screen TVs, and blenders are all great gifts. Who doesn't want a shiny cool new gadget? But the greatest gift you can get is more basic than that – it's health. I know, boring and cliché, but true. If you don't have your health, nothing else matters.
The next time the stomach bug hits, there is one thing you will wish/pray for, and it's not a tablet. Working out will not prevent the stomach flu, of course, but we all know the benefits of exercise. So instead of a gadget that promotes laziness, get yourself a fitness present this holiday season! It's much easier to justify a new gadget purchase when it's making you healthy.
This is a billion dollar industry with a lot to choose from, so here are some gadget and equipment recommendations.
There are several ways to track your fitness; everyone from Nike to Polar is in on the action. These various wrist devices track your movement and how many calories you burn and some even have sleep trackers. If you are trying to lose or gain weight you can also log your food, do the math, and figure out if you are burning more calories than you take in, or eating more calories than you burn.
I like to think I was ahead of the curve when I wore a tracker and wrote an article about the Go Wear Fit. It was interesting to learn that I burn more calories training others than working out myself, and that I need to sleep better. Since then, these tools have exploded in the wellness scene. Several companies by trackers for their employees and then have competitions to see who is the most active employee. I think they are great if you are not an active person. It guilts you into moving when you realize how you are more sedentary than any of the Golden Girls.
Here are the top three gadgets on the market in no particular order:
-Jaw Bone Up
I am sucker for fitness equipment; it fills a void in my heart that I never knew existed until I became a personal trainer in 2001. I have everything from bands to medicine balls at my house and I desperately want a Hex Squat bar and a sled. Granted I would only use the Hex bar for deadlifts, but it would be so worth it. Look at how it evenly distributes the weight, and the ergonomics … am I the only one salivating over this bar?
For your home, however, I would recommend simple equipment that is easy to store and can be used for many different exercises. It's great to have some equipment around the house for days you cannot make it to the gym, or walk outside. And if you don't belong to a gym, you can outfit a home cheap without breaking the bank. If you have children, working out at home is a great way to be a fitness role model. My son is only two and he already tosses around a medicine ball and attempts to do pushups.
My top five favorite items for your home:
1. Resistance bands – Great for weight training, stretching, or cardio. You can place the bands around doors and do almost any exercise you could do with a machine plus more. I use my bands all the time for a full-body workout. I even take a band with me when I travel. If you want to know which types of bands to buy, email me.
2. Soft Medicine Balls – These are soft so you do not have to worry about making too much noise slamming them on the ground, playing catch with a workout partner, or having a child run into it (they think it's fun). I use mine with all my clients. These are actually cheaper than the ones I have, and more durable.
3. Kettle bells – This is basically a weighted ball with a handle. I hide these from my son because they are solid. You can do a ton of exercises with this, like deadlifts, shoulder press, bicep curls, and many others. For women, I would buy a 15- to 20-pound one and for men, I would buy a larger one closer to 20 or 30 ponds. I own a 20- and 30-pounder and want another 30-pound one.
4. Stability Ball – These are the large balls some people sit on in their office or home. You can do core exercises on the ball, like pushups with your hands on the ball or even pushups with your feet on the ball and your hands on the ground. This is a great piece of equipment for pregnant women to open up their hips by simply bouncing while sitting on top of it (don't fall off). The site tells you based on your height what size ball to purchase.
5. Valaslide – This tool is like putting plastic wrap on your hands and feet. The Valaside comes with two separate little sliders that you use with your hands or feet, and are great for working the core. You can do a lot of exercises with them on the ground, standing up or on your knees. My favorite exercise with them is in a pushup position with your feet on them and you pull one leg at a time into your body and feel the burn in your abs.
With New Year's resolutions only a few weeks away, get started now on living a healthier lifestyle. Keep in mind you do not need any of these tools to get fit, but they can help make your routine a little easier. If you have a favorite gadget, send it my way at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I’m not particularly proud of it, but this is what I did for Chanukah. Strike that. This was my attempt to make Chanukah as cool as Christmas.
I happened upon a Facebook post about a couple who told their kids each year that, once a year, their toys woke up for the night to have a party. The kids eagerly anticipated seeing the party aftermath in the morning. Cue the lesson on wonderment and imagination.
"Bee would go crazy for this," I thought to myself, and the light bulb went on.
This year, despite being more than a month ahead of Christmas, Chanukah already has taken a backseat to Christmas movies, Christmas books, Christmas clothes, and Christmas events. My rational side says, “What’s the big deal? Chanukah is a minor holiday, and really, you can’t compete with Christmas (or at least, you really shouldn’t want to, you Scrooge). It’s part of American culture. Find a way to enjoy Chanukah for what it is, and let it go.”
The other side of my brain said, “Tell Bee that Chanukah is the dinosaurs’ favorite holiday, and that they wake up on each of the eight nights to have a party!”
Genius? Petty and pathetic? Perhaps both.
Reasons my idea was genius:
1. Bee was SO EXCITED for Chanukah.
2. Bee was SO EXCITED for Chanukah.
3. Bee was SO EXCITED for Chanukah.
Reasons my idea was petty and pathetic:
1. Dinosaurs have nothing to do with Chanukah, which means Bee was SO EXCITED for dinosaurs, not Chanukah, if I’m being honest with myself.
2. I get on my high horse about not feeling the need to compete with Christmas, yet the first time my child tells me he likes Christmas best of all and that it’s his favorite “season,” I’m the first one scrambling to make Chanukah cooler.
3. I dislike most things that attempt to make Chanukah more Christmas-y (like this and this). They feel inauthentic, like we’re saying to our kids, “Oh, sorry you’re Jewish and you can’t have a Christmas tree … decorate this bush instead.” The dinosaurs on Chanukah? Did nothing to enrich my son’s actual Chanukah experience.
I genuinely like Christmas, and I’m getting more and more comfortable with my son liking it, too. It’s part of his heritage and history, and frankly, it’s a ridiculous bonanza of happiness. Really, what’s not to like? I guess I’m just frustrated that the Jewish holidays, while full of meaning and rich history and tradition, don’t deliver quite the punch that their Christian counterparts deliver.
I love being Jewish, and I want my sons to feel the same way. Perhaps the way to go about this isn’t forcing T-Rex and triceratops into our Chanukah celebration, but rather modeling a happy Jewish life for them, a Jewish life that’s filled with delicious food that we cook together, pizza Shabbats with our beloved friends, giving back to our community together and holidays celebrated with precious family – including Christmas.
For the record, though, Bee’s reaction to the dinos was priceless, and we will definitely be repeating the exercise at some point next year (though maybe not for eight nights - how many places can we possibly come up with to set up 45 dinosaurs?).
Sites We Like
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!