OyChicago blog

Interview with Jewish boxer Cletus Seldin

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Interview with Jewish boxer Cletus Seldin photo

Meet the newest Jewish boxing sensation, Cletus Seldin. He isn't just hard-hitting, he is repping the Jewish people hard too. Take notice!

1. Tell us a little bit about yourself.

I grew up in Shirley, N.Y., which is a working-class neighborhood in Eastern Long Island. I graduated from Longwood High School and I played multiple sports through my years there. I was the starting cornerback on the 2004 Long Island championship team, I was a second-in-the state-wrestler, played lacrosse … I held the state record for a deadlift of 470 pounds at 145 pounds, and I took fifth place in the Eastern USA regionals bodybuilding competition. Don't mess with me when the Dallas Cowboys are on and I'm a food connoisseur. Outside of the ring I'm a really laid back, fun guy to be around, but when I work, I work hard and I don't let anything get in the way.

2. How did you get into boxing?

I started boxing around 2005 after my brother took me with him to the MMA gym where he attended. I was actually pretty good naturally because of my wrestling background and believe it or not, I tapped out the Sensei my first day there. I even worked my way up to a brown belt in Judo. But what I found out was that my stand-up fighting ability was pretty bad. There was a local boxing gym in Shirley that trained a couple big name guys and they had a really good amateur reputation in the Golden Gloves. When I started there I was getting knocked around pretty good by experienced amateurs until made a decision to start going every single day until I was beating those same guys, and that's what I did. I started winning exhibitions and winning amateur competitions and now the rest is history.

3. Have you ever considered going into MMA or wrestling?

MMA, yes. Before I started boxing, like I said earlier, I was doing MMA training. But once I started excelling in boxing, I haven't really looked back toward MMA. I can't say that I never will in the future, but as of now I am 100 percent committed to boxing. As for WWE, nope, never really crossed my mind.

4. How did you get the nickname The Hebrew Hammer?

The Hebrew Hammer alias started when I was still competing as an amateur. I was going to all of these tournaments and people started noticing my really hard-hitting right hand. They would say "Wow, that kid has a hammer. What is he, I don't know. Umm, I think he's Jewish. Yeah he's got a hammer, The Hebrew Hammer." And that was it, I'd go here, they said it, and I'd go there they'd say it and eventually I just stuck with it. I'm the Hebrew Hammer.

5. What was your Jewish life like growing up?

There are very few Jewish people in the town and in the schools where I grew up. So there was plenty of misinformation and Jewish banter. Nothing really offensive, it was more ignorant humor type of stuff and you learn to adapt. But I was a tough little kid back then. Small but tough, and eventually everyone realized that if you said something that I really didn't like, you were going to have to answer for it, or fight. But I did like growing up in a Jewish household. It makes you feel part of something special and you have a certain insight that can't be learned. We weren't terribly religious, but we kept the holiday traditions, I had a bar mitzvah, and everyone in my family all have Hebrew names as well.

6. What is next for Cletus Seldin?

The next step for me is to become a contender for a World Championship Title shot. I feel ready whenever they are. Ultimately, I want to fight anyone in the world at 140 pounds with a belt. I want to fight them all and I want all the belts.

7. What does life look like after boxing?

If I can get another three or four solid years out of my career as a boxer, that would be great. ;Right now I'm in top shape, I feel excellent, and I can easily fight at least 4-6 times a year. As for life after boxing, I don't know with certainty where this road is taking me now, so I couldn't tell you where it'll take me then. But I can tell you that I've always been solid on my own two feet, so wherever I do end up after boxing you can expect good things.

8. What else should we know about you?

Fans should know that I do what I do not only for myself, but I do it to represent a part of every hard-working American, and everyone with dreams, ambition, drive, and the courage to do what it takes to get where you want to be.


Let’s create an American Jewish holiday

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10 historic events worth honoring

Let's create an American Jewish holiday photo

With the Jewish holiday season fast approaching, perhaps this is a good time to ask: Why are there no Jewish holidays based on events in American Jewish history?

We have Jewish holidays for events that happened in Persia (Purim), Egypt (Passover), Europe (Yom HaShoah) … even in no-man's land (Sukkot). We have holidays about ancient-Israel events that took place under the rule of the Romans (Lag Ba'Omer), Greeks (Chanukah) and Babylonians (various fasts).

Sure, many of our holidays celebrate events in the Torah, but we create new holidays all the time. Modern Israel has three (Yom HaAtzmaut, Yom HaZikaron and Yom Yerusahalyim), and there are people alive today older than the Jewish State itself.

The Jewish community in America is one of the largest and strongest in history. We were only recently (in 2013) eclipsed by Israel as the country with the largest Jewish population in the world, a position we have held for centuries. Jews have been in North America for more than 350 years! That's longer than many other empires' entire existences.

So where are our holidays? Are American Jews not part of Jewish history? Can you even talk about "Jewish history" without taking about American Jewish history?

Jewish American Heritage Month is nice, but a bit vague. In attempting to encompass all of the Jewish American experience, it spreads itself too thin. It's also not a part of the Jewish religious calendar, like the history-based Purim or Chanukah.

It's time to rectify this situation. Here are 10 Jewish-American events significant enough to warrant a Jewish holiday celebrated by Jews everywhere:

American Jewry Day
Jews won the right to settle in New Amsterdam and establish a Jewish community in 1655, and on this day, we celebrate the relationship of American Jews with their country -- for all its faults, easily the strongest between the Jews and a Diaspora country in history.

Jewish Rights Day
Jews achieved political equality in all 50 U.S. states in 1877, and today we appreciate our rights and pledge to continue our efforts toward equal human and civil rights for all.

Zion Day
The Federation of American Zionists is established in New York City (1898), but the day honors the overall role of American Jews in helping Israel become a country.

Triangle Fire Remembrance Day
A solemn day for remembering the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire of 1911, and redoubling our efforts to ensure fair and safe working conditions everywhere.

Justice Day
Louis Brandeis was appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1916 becoming the first Jew ever nominated for the Court, let alone to serve on it -- and in his name we honor all that Jews have done to bring justice and the rule of law to America and the world.

Immigrants Day
Today, we remember the racist Immigrant Acts of 1921 and 1924, which closed America to East European Jews and others, and advocate for immigrant rights.

Civil Rights Day
In 1964, Congress and LBJ passed the Civil Rights Act. On this day, we honor all Jews who strove for civil rights in America and worldwide, and pledge to follow suit.

Jews in the Arts Week (8 days, of course):
The contribution of American Jews to the world(s) of art are incalculable. We would take a whole week to celebrate achievements in painting, sculpture, music, dance, theater, film, poetry, prose and comedy.

Rebecca Gratz Day
In honor of this pioneering Jewish woman, we recognize all the achievements of Jewish women to American history and culture, and renew our commitment to women's rights.

Soviet Jewry Day
The Exodus of a million Soviet Jews from behind the Iron Curtain is celebrated and the story of their liberation retold, including the American Jewish role. This, certainly, is an historic landmark of Biblical proportions and deserves a formal holiday.

Let the Jewish people and the rabbinic authorities work together to create, ritualize, and promote a holiday based on America's Jews and all we have achieved over the centuries.

I mean, waffles have two holidays. And American Jews don't even have one.


5 Inevitable High Holiday Moments in Your 20s

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5 Inevitable High Holiday Moments in Your 20s photo

Growing up, the High Holidays were that time of year when our parents made us wear the fanciest dress or suit in our closet and sit through long services while sitting so far back in the room, you questioned if the rabbi was even on the bimah (stage). The trade-off was you got two nights of your parents' or grandparents' finest cuisine (assuming you survived your family meals).

In our 20s, nobody is forcing us to go to services anymore (guilting us, perhaps, but not forcing …) and sometimes even a family meal isn't nearby. Suddenly, we realize how much life has changed, which coupled with how introspective Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are, leads us to ask ourselves some questions.

In hopes of preparing you for the inevitable, here are five scenarios all too common for 20-somethings during the Days of Awe.

Wondering if you're a "Good Jew"

Despite the fact that being "good" or "bad" is not really a Jewish concept at all, this seems to be the time when everyone questions their spirituality. As a result, this moment creates one of three scenarios: 1) You make a promise to yourself that you know you aren't going to keep, but do it anyway because you feel like you should; 2) You embrace your "badness" by doing something that feels taboo (such as not fasting on Yom Kippur) and using the High Holidays as a time to rebel against your childhood or 3) Jewish guilt overtakes you and you decide to change things up. This could be anything from keeping kosher to participating in YLD's LEADS like your mom always bugs you about.

Having to explain the state of your life struggles

If the High Holidays mean being reunited with family, the joy you have from getting the best home-cooked meal you've had in months suddenly becomes a line of interrogation. Nobody ever explained that graduating college required hiring a PR agency to explain why you aren't in graduate school or why you're still single. When you try to defend yourself, your "Tinder culture" argument falls on deaf ears as every relative suddenly thinks they're Patti Stanger and wants to suggest "the perfect match" for you. Where's the swipe left button when you need it?

The unfortunate run-in

The person you thought you'd never see again when you graduated is literally the first person you see in shul. Either they are also visiting home or happened to move to Lakeview (because where else to 20-something singles go for the High Holidays when they're not at home?) and spot you before you can avoid them. Maybe this is a friend you had a falling out with over a decade ago, or maybe even an ex. Whatever happened, they're the last person you want to see and you have a lump in your throat. Suddenly, the focus you originally intended for prayer drifts toward this person. Perhaps this is what the Day of Judgment is really about?

The rabbi's sermon

The rabbi will almost certainly touch on at least one of the following subjects: 1) Why you should give more money to the shul; 2) An extremely controversial political opinion or 3) New beginnings/praying for mercy before our fate is sealed. If you find yourself listening to all three, then congratulations -- you hit the sermon jackpot. These are the most uncomfortable moments of the never-ending service. To top things off, the usual "two Jews, three opinions" stereotype suddenly becomes five opinions and the last 45 minutes you really didn't want to hear to begin with becomes the subject of a two-hour conversation at your dinner table.

Inexplicable excitement about the shofar

You know the shofar is coming. You've heard it every year during High Holiday services and yet, you still have the same reaction to the shofar service that you had when you were six. Perhaps it's the one point where you feel nostalgic about spending the high holidays with your family, or maybe you just like shofars. Even if you decided to rebel and sleep through most of services, you set your alarm just to hear the same blasts you hear every year. It's like the Jewish version of fireworks.


Living Jewishly Lately

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Living Jewishly Lately photo

JCC Chicago’s Shabbat on the Lake. Photo credit: Mishkan Chicago

The last gasp of summer is upon us, so I'm making it my business to get outside and enjoy as many activities "al fresco" as I can before the blustery winter weather inevitably makes its sinister return (Sorry, not a winter fan).

In that vein, I went to a lovely outdoor gathering last week: JCC Chicago's Shabbat on the Lake. As I rounded the corner and walked along Lake Shore Drive toward Diversey Parkway, it dawned on me that it's been quite a long time since my last Shabbat celebration. I was a casual Hillel attendee in college, enjoyed some Shabbat festivities when I lived in France, but a gathering with approximately 500 Jews on a Friday night isn't anything I'd ever experienced. I felt a slight shiver of trepidation, but as I saw the event sprawling out of the welcoming crowd in a lush green park, I advanced with a spring in my step and geared myself up to shmooze.

The setting sun cast a lovely glow on the festivities. As I gathered my bearings and scoped out the scene, I noticed a drum circle to my left, a few discussion groups scattered about and some pre-Sabbath yoga to boot. I'd shown up after work -- a.k.a. blue jeans, semi-cute top, potentially disastrous hair -- while most people were dressed neatly in outdoor-ready synagogue attire.

Seeing circles of friends congregate around the park, I couldn't help but think this little gathering resembled a hive of bees. Productive, chattering, buzzing -- filling the area with warmth and activity. Fun fact: Dreaming about bees can symbolize a moment in your life when you're particularly social, when you are balancing a lot of interactions at once. Whether or not that's entirely accurate, it's hard to be sure. In any event, it's a fitting metaphor, don't you think? After prayers were said and dinner devoured, a quiet hum fell over the crowd, the evening easing into a state of blissful contentment.

What I love about going to events like this one is that you never know just whom you might run into. The friend who invited me is a sorority sister. As soon as I arrived, I was joined by my friend, her sister and a healthy smattering of fellow University of Illinois grads. We were quickly joined by her boyfriend, his friends from the local Hillel, Israelis visiting, working and enjoying Chicago, and so on. I spotted friends from college, random acquaintances from high school and I even bumped into a friend from my French conversation group.

It's gatherings like this that remind me: no matter how large a city can feel, a sense of belonging to a community can make the world seem small.

Another college chum is a recently ordained rabbi settling into her new post in Chicago. She put out a call for ideas on how to reach out to people our age, not quite just out of school, but who want to be engaged with Judaism in a way that is comfortable for them and suits their lifestyle. I'm excited to hear what my friends will have to say.

What suits me is taking a moment to engage in Judaism in a way that doesn't feel forced. Something that isn't necessarily focused on "meeting singles" (even though those events are pretty fun, too) is a breath of fresh air. As the High Holidays approach, it feels like a mighty fine time to delve into what it means to be a participant in the community for me, and how I'd like to get involved in the future.


My Tutors in Happiness

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My Tutors in Happiness photo

Before I began a tutoring program in inner-city St. Louis, all I knew was that I would be teaching reading and writing skills to third through fifth grade students who were not reaching the state-required levels. Additionally, I was to serve as a mentor just by being someone who graduated high school and attended college -- many of the adults in these kids' lives did not.

Our task was to teach commitment, determination and responsibility. I knew trying to impart these values and skills would be a difficult but rewarding process. If I was lucky, I would help these kids stay the course in their education and hopefully their lives, but I never considered how much they might teach me in the process.

On my first day as a tutor, I walked down the fluorescent-lit hallways and into the cafeteria, which was filled with approximately 30 children, all African-American. The majority of the tutors were Caucasian.

There seemed to be an invisible barrier between the two groups because of our evident differences in age and background and our lack of knowledge -- maybe even ignorance -- about each other. I could feel each group clinging to what was familiar and being resistant to hear someone else's story. But I was determined to break down the wall between us and show my students that we do in fact share values and experiences that can allow us to develop a deep connection.

I sat down at a table with three 10-year-old girls. They looked at me with curiosity and confusion, as if they were seeing an alien.

"I'm Jessica," I said to their awed stares. After a minute, their silence broke. They asked me questions about my favorite music and color, and I was transported back to fourth grade. I loved answering every question, and we bonded over our mutual love of Taylor Swift and Beyoncé.

We immediately had a connection. My playfulness fed their curiosity, and we discovered many things in common. I could feel their preconceived notions of me disintegrating as we spoke, and I felt the same way. We were together to learn, and we had lots in common to connect us.

We worked together all school year. At one point in the curriculum, the students had to read a children's newspaper aloud and discuss the topics it presented. Then, the girls were supposed to write about one of the topics.

In the beginning, the girls were hesitant to write because they had a hard time spelling or thinking of what to write. For example, one of the topics was about "giving back." The girls had a hard time relating to it. I told them that it's possible to write about something even if it hasn't happened to you personally. I suggested they write as if they could assist anyone in whatever way possible. The girls thought about the question in this way instead, and wrote down beautiful tales of donating clothing and giving food to those in need.

Every time they had an obstacle in writing, I would try to frame the question in a relevant and interesting way. After a while, they started to do this practice themselves, and by the end of the year, they needed very little prompting before they began writing. They improved their critical thinking and motivation skills immensely over the months.

The girls also taught me lessons that I will carry with me for the rest of my life. I once asked them if they had been playing outside because it was sunny that day, and one girl told me that she couldn't because her neighborhood was too dangerous. Another girl told me that all of her cousins moved into her house, and it was fun to hang out with them, though I couldn't help but imagine how cramped and challenging it must've been. The girls would tell me these things without my asking, and they would tell these stories with a nonchalance and positive attitude that was admirable and extraordinary.

I was astounded by their stories and how they conquered every day as if it was the best day of their lives. They loved being together and with family, and they didn't need much more in order to be happy.

I hope that these girls never lose their ability to see the positivity in every situation, and I know that in my own life, I can definitely follow their example. They taught me to remember and heed all the blessings in my life, and try not to dwell on the more negative aspects. They were not bogged down by their reality, and they enjoyed all victories, small and large. And whether that was receiving a new "Frozen" pen or a new backpack, they were excited at everything, and were my tutors in happiness.


Lifestyle Changes that Last

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lifestyle changes

Whenever my mom wants to diet, instead of using the "D" word, she professes that she's making a lifestyle change. I like the way this woman thinks.

To me, a diet implies incorporating a new eating trend that swears you'll lose weight and look fab in your skinny jeans, bridesmaid dress, or crop top. However, once you've achieved your goal and ended that diet, you often gain the weight you've lost. On the other hand, a lifestyle change, to me, offers lasting physical and mental health.

There are many types of lifestyle changes. Maybe you want to get eight hours of sleep each night, workout five days a week, or eat more veggies. The difficulty of a lifestyle change, however, is sticking to it.

In my free time, I love reading books and articles on ways to better myself physically, mentally and spiritually. Below are a few tricks I've learned to help maintain a lifestyle change, so it just becomes a lifestyle:

Write It Down

A lifestyle change of mine has been to work out Monday through Friday. To best achieve my goal, I plan my workout schedule each Sunday. By planning it out, I know I have enough time in my schedule to hit the gym. Naturally, some weeks I make it to the gym when I plan to, while other weeks I sweat it out less frequently, however, ever since I started writing down in my schedule when I'm working out, I've been more likely to do those squats and arm curls.

Be Your Lifestyle Coach

One of my lifestyle goals is to get eight hours of sleep each night. If you're like me, you're busy, and it's hard to keep up with everything in our lives. So, if I'm at an event that goes past my bedtime, I'm learning to feel comfortable leaving before it's over so I can get some shuteye. Don't feel guilty doing things that are going to make you a happier and healthier person.

Don't Worry

We all have good days, bad days, good weeks, and bad weeks when it comes to implementing lifestyle changes. Don't beat yourself up about not sticking to your new lifestyle 100 percent of the time. Honestly, life would be boring if we followed every healthy habit. Find a balance with your new lifestyle change and your current lifestyle. A lifestyle change is supposed to empower you and not to deprive you.

It's important to always find ways to improve ourselves, so we can live more fulfilling lives. I hope my advice helps you stay on track.


Generation Wanderlust

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Generation Wanderlust photo

As I prepare to jet off for a week-long trip to South America, a trip I have been saving for and planning for years, I can't help but wonder about the rise of Millennials making "hashtag wanderlust" not only a thing but a way of life. Traveling is emphasized more than material goods, and spanning the globe is deemed far more important than holding down a 9-to-5 job. While this sounds all well and good (I mean who wouldn't want to take exotic elephant rides through Thai jungles), to me the entire concept feels a bit unrealistic.

Quotes pervade social media emphasizing traveling while you're young. Jobs and money are deemed secondary to the knowledge and memories you acquire while traveling. The "lose yourself to find yourself" in pretty much any country but America argument makes this phenomenon appealing and glamorous to an entire generation.

While it seems like everyone and their mother is taking hashtag wanderlust to heart by eating the local food in Asia and wearing the local garb in India, I can't help but wonder, how are people really doing this?

First there is the cash. Young 20-somethings who can afford to travel the world with no means of income and no job to return to can only mean that they are supported by others, are spending a lot of their savings or have won the lottery. Whatever the case, these people seem to be the exception among college grads as opposed to the rule.

Second there is the sheer reality of the thing. I recently read an article in Cosmo that chronicled the adventure of a young woman in her move to the Caribbean to scoop ice cream. She escaped from her well-paid albeit demanding corporate job in New York, completely changed her life and has apparently never been more satisfied. As inspirational as that is, I don't know too many New Yorkers who would be so casual about waking up to find poultry in their bathroom.

Although the article encourages taking risks, trying new things, and falling off the grid, it's a bit hypocritical -- it ran in a major fashion magazine! Still, I recognize this woman drastically changed her life, lives the way she wants to AND stands on her own two feet. For those who travel the world in this way, applause.

Packing your life up to move somewhere foreign and mysterious is no easy task, irrespective of how you achieve means to live. Not everyone can do that. But not everyone has the wanderlust gene either. Maybe that's okay too? What if it's okay to just try new things on the weekends? Or travel to another city to visit a friend? Shouldn't these less drastic things be encouraged and valued too? What ever happened to just treating yourself to a vacation?

My upcoming trip has been three years in the making with a group of friends who haven't been together in the same place since they took pictures together in their caps and gowns. Would I love to extend this trip, travel the world for a year and forget about my responsibilities? Of course! But for now I'll settle for doing that one week out of the year and to be honest, I don't think that's too shabby.


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