OyChicago blog

Building a “Village” to Raise a Child

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Rachel and Colin

As my son approaches his second birthday, the days blur together in a flurry of messes, play dates, tantrums and “eat, play, sleep” cycles.  And although each day seems to blur into another sometimes, I remember those first few months of my parenthood journey so clearly:  

  • An endorphin rush at his birth followed by a hormone crash and weeks upon weeks of sleep deprivation.
  • Navigating a whole new set of experiences and challenges, from the mysteries of infant sleep (“will he ever sleep?!”) to figuring out how to manage my time and get anything done with an infant who wants to be snuggled and/or fed 24/7.
  • Feeling overwhelmed with attention and feeling alone all at once. 
  • Trying to figure out how and where to meet other new moms while also maintaining my friendships with my “pre-Colin” friends who didn’t always understand why I couldn’t return to my late-night partying ways now that I wasn’t pregnant or why my plans revolved around a newly-developing nap schedule.  
  • Meeting another new mom only to find out that her family was house-hunting in the ‘burbs or moving back to their hometown to be closer to family, and secretly wishing we could move closer to our out-of-state family and have a built-in village, even though I knew it just wasn’t in the cards for us.  
  • Slowly building a “village” of my own, with a mix of new “mom friends”, families my husband met at the park on the swings, and babysitters who have become a paid version of extended family.  

These “mom friend” relationships slowly developed into real friendships. Superficial discussions about introducing solids, nap schedules and teething turned to solid friendships, built on trust and camaraderie and all sorts of conversation topics beyond just baby. We would meet weekly (or more) with our little ones at playgroup, which I soon understood was an event designed by parents to spend time with one another under the disguise of “socialization for the kiddos.”  

What I was surprised to realize was that the moms and families my husband and I “clicked” with most early on all had one thing in common: we were all a part of the Jewish community. I’m not sure why I was surprised, since we shared so much before we even met, from common childhood experiences to shared values.  We didn’t meet at “Jewish events” and we weren’t actively seeking a “Jewish” connection, but in the end, we’ve all expressed how glad we are to have found each other.

Building my village was (and still is) a slow and evolving process. It’s not like there was a magical place to show up and be introduced to people who are in the same stage of new parenthood as you.

But what if now, there was? Ok, well it isn’t magic per se. But it has the power to create magic, I am certain.  

JUF recently launched a brand new program called jBaby Chicago, which aims to be a resource for parents raising Jewish children from birth to 24 months old, creating a fun, social, supportive community to help navigate those critical first two years. Through classes, playgroups and special events across the north side of the city, jBaby Chicago will help parents find and build their “village” from the very beginning.

I think back to the beginning of my time as Colin’s mama, and I only wish that a program like this had been around for us. And I couldn’t be happier to be involved now.

Are you expecting or raising a Jewish baby under 24 months? Find more information at www.juf.org/jBabyChicago, or email me at rachelfriedman1@gmail.com. I would love to take you out for a cup of coffee (doesn’t every new parent need a cup of coffee?) to tell you all about how you can get involved!



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Topol Fiddler

Just before Passover, I found myself in a fury of planning, cleaning and shopping. My heart beat faster inside my chest as we raced to get everything done just right and just in time. I felt the sweat dripping down my brow as we scrubbed every last corner in my kitchen. I strained and grunted as we stuffed our appliances into closets and taped up cabinets of food not suitable for Passover. It was about getting enough done to meet the requirements of the holiday without going completely insane!

In the classic musical, Fiddler on the Roof, Tevye explains it best: 

A fiddler on the roof. Sounds crazy, no? But here, in our little village of Anatevka, you might say every one of us is a fiddler on the roof trying to scratch out a pleasant, simple tune without breaking his neck. It isn't easy. You may ask, “Why do we stay up there if it's so dangerous?” Well, we stay because Anatevka is our home. And how do we keep our balance? That I can tell you in one word: tradition!

Passover has now ended and with it some of the most widely observed traditions in Judaism. Millions of Jews from around the world, even if they did very little else “Jewish” for the rest of the year, found themselves back again at another Passover seder, eating matzos, and/or ridding themselves of chametz for the entire week. 

Tradition! We do the same thing year after year. Many of the traditions we share as a people, like joining together for seders. Others we share in our communities, such as where everyone will be meeting for pizza when the holiday ends. Still, some we have for our own families, mainly Bubbie’s brisket. Every year it is the same, and yet, it feels like, if we don’t eat every bite, read every line and sing every song just the way we always do, it just doesn’t feel like Passover.

Tradition! In the same breath, we kvetch and kvell at the redundancy of it all. Why does it always have to be so long, so hard so much the same thing every single year? How do I love this time of year, so many people, so joyful, so much food? We keep the good and the bad of every holiday close to our hearts.

Through it all, a theme rang true for me this year that helped the traditions start to make more sense and even feel worthwhile. Passover is the same every year, but we are not. We come together every year for the same meal with the same people to sing the same songs because it provides a constant against which we can measure change. The value of engaging with this tradition is that it gives us a starting place from which to return and measure how much we have indeed changed, hopefully for the better, from year to year. As a people, tradition lets us know how much we have improved from generation to generation. As much as we must remember what it was like to be slaves in Egypt, we must also measure how much we have to bettered ourselves each year as free people.



''Let My People Go...''

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...go and do what?

'Let My People Go...' photo

I somehow got sent a copy of “The 30 Minute Seder.” It has a song in it that is not traditionally a Passover seder song, but I can see why they put it in there. It's the spiritual "Let My People Go."  

This is a quote directly from the Torah, sure, but it's incomplete. The full sentence that Moses says to Pharaoh in the name of God is, "Send (forth) My people that they may serve Me."  

This is probably a big part of the reason Pharaoh refused. The Israelites were coming back in three days. It would be a capitulation (and a loss of productivity) to let them go for that long, but not necessarily a threat to his reign. Pharaoh could even spin it as proof that they were not really slaves, and that he was even benevolent—"See, I even gave them a vacation!"  

No, it was the second part, I think. Pharaoh could not allow the Israelites—or any in his empire—to think of themselves as able to serve non-Egyptian gods, himself among them.  

Today, we tend to focus on the "freedom" part, and stop at the "go" of "let my people go." But in his book Man's Search for Meaning, psychologist and Holocaust survivor Victor Frankl proposed that, opposite the Statute of Liberty, we build a Statue of Duty.  

Jewish superhero creator Stan Lee agrees, and has his creation, Spider-Man, repeat that: "With great power comes great responsibility."  

On Passover, we celebrate our liberation, and say that we're free. Now that the holiday is over, we have to ponder, "Free to do what?" After four cups of wine, it’s a sobering thought.  

And so I propose an addendum to the Four Questions: "Now that I am free to do any thing, what thing do I want to do?"


Oh Bulls, I just can’t quit you

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Oh Bulls, I just can’t quit you photo

No matter how lost the last two seasons were, I cannot quit these Bulls. No matter how many times they are counted out or how many star players to lose, the Bulls continue to be not only fun to watch, but one of the top-tier teams in the NBA who could beat anyone on any given night.  

After Derrick Rose was lost for the season for the second year in a row, I was ready to cash in all of my chips on these Bulls. It was time to trade away their assets, tank and hope for good draft position going into next year. But for the second year in a row, the Bulls refused to quit. They refused to listen to their critics and they again find themselves one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference heading into the playoffs. Last year was a fun team to watch. Nate Robinson was worth the price of admission and kept the Bulls in several games they should not have otherwise been in. But injuries plagued them all year and by the time they hit round two, they just didn’t have enough to compete with. But as much as Robinson and Marco Bellineli were fun to watch and made big plays, they also made a lot of mistakes that had me yelling at them in frustration almost as much as I did in joy.  

Yet somehow this year’s team, with no Rose and Luol Deng traded away, is a much more fundamentally sound team. DJ Augustin can score off the bench, but can also play defense and makes his teammates around him better. Mike Dunleavy can hit the perimeter shot, but also has size over almost every small forward in the league. Taj Gibson is improved his scoring, continues to be a force on defense, and now closes every game. Jimmy Butler’s game has improved, and he has settled almost seamlessly into the Deng role. And coach Tom Thibodeau just flat out knows how to get the best out of his players, and put a team capable of winning on the floor every single night.  

But the biggest difference is the emergence of Joakim Noah as a leader, a legitimate difference maker, and the heart of this team. Noah’s energy and enthusiasm makes him fun to watch, but it’s his winning attitude that makes this less of a “try-hard bunch” and more of a team who could make a legitimate playoff run in an overall weak conference. 

That is what makes them so intriguing to me this year. They are not the “Little Engine That Could” team they were last year. They play as a team, they have no selfish players, and it’s no longer a surprise when they beat a good team. So even when they lose like they did last night, they always bounce back. So as a fan, they don’t leave you down for too long. And why I just can’t quit these Bulls.


My Grandpa’s Jacket

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My Grandpa’s Jacket photo

Abby, with her afikoman-hiding grandpa.

It was the end of the fourth, and all eyes were on me.  

That's the fourth question, of course. Although the unofficial fifth question (will she find the afikoman?) was on the minds of everyone in the room.  

Most people's unofficial fifth question is “Who will find the afikoman?” But when you're the only child at the Seder year after year, no one wonders who. They only wonder when. Where. How. And in my case, if.  

I admit it, hide and seek was never really my strong suit as a child. I usually preferred to play “hide and then tell me where you are when I become annoyed that I can't find you.” Unfortunately, afikomans (dessert at the seder) can't speak up and tell you where they are. And my grandpa, who always hid the afikoman, wasn't talking either.  

“Come on Grandpa, give me a hint,” I begged. At this point, I had scoured our three-story house approximately 12,000 times. Probably more. I had flipped every cushion, looked under every bed, and triple-checked the inside of every cupboard. Nothing.  

The adults, of course, thought this was hilarious. I shared an eye roll with the dog.  

As I sat back down at the table, defeated, embarrassed, and wondering if I'd still get my $18 Barnes & Noble gift card (the one that was supposed to be guaranteed, since I didn't have any competition), it occurred to me that Grandpa's torso seemed a bit bulkier (and more . . . square . . .) than usual.  

I looked closer.  

It did not appear that Grandpa had worked out anytime during the Seder.  

Being the loving, totally non-sneaky granddaughter I was, I brilliantly decided to go in for a hug. Everyone likes a good Passover hug.  

Hmm. Grandpa felt rather—crumby. Interesting.  

Finally putting the pieces together, I dramatically pulled his suit jacket open, and watched in amazement as the afikoman fell out.  


Everyone laughed, and though I was relieved, I was not particularly amused.  

I should've been happy—the precious Barnes & Noble gift card was secured, after all—but frustration lingered long after the dessert had been eaten. I searched high and low, near and far, and in some dark, disturbing places (a kid should never have to look through his/her parent's sock drawer for any reason), and it was in his jacket, at the table, the entire time? Seemed to me like a lot of wasted time and effort.

My mom, picking up on my subtle (okay, fine, not subtle) crankiness in the way that moms do, asked what I was so upset about, and I told her.

“But you found it,” she said. “Who cares where it was or how long it took? You found it.”

She was right. The more I thought about it that night—and additional nights later on—it didn't have to matter how long it had taken me. After all, it had taken the Jews 40 years to find their way out of the desert. While I'm sure they would have liked to skip 39.999 of those years and head right into their new lives as free people, I highly doubt they were moaning and groaning too much when their journey came to an end. They were likely pretty ecstatic to finally make it out of the desert, regardless of the disheartening amount of time it had taken. Also, that lengthy amount of time—in its own mysterious way—had probably made them even more grateful and appreciative when their journey ultimately concluded.

Of course, my afikoman adventure was obviously nowhere near the plight of the Jews in the desert in terms of levels of difficulty and aggravation, but thinking about the Passover story and what they endured helped put things in perspective. Would I have liked the afikoman to be easier to find? Absolutely. Would I have liked my search to take less time? Of course. Was I proud of myself for overcoming Dad's nasty socks and finding it anyway? Heck yes I was.

Passover reminds us to persevere in times of struggle. Whether it's a big wandering-through-the-desert type of struggle, a where-the-heck-is-that-darn-matzoh struggle, or anything in between, we have to trust that we'll eventually find what we're looking for, even if it takes longer than we'd like.

But, word to the wise: Always check your grandpa's jacket first.


Self Love

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Acharei Mot
April 11-12, 2014


This week’s portion, Acharei Mot, begins by sharing the specific instructions for what the High Priest is meant to do on Yom Kippur (the holiday is introduced as well). We’re told that the High Priest is charged with making atonement for the Israelites and their sins once a year. We also find the fascinating invention of the scapegoat – literally a goat that the High Priest would place the sins of the Israelites on and then send out into the desert. We learn that the average Israelite is no longer permitted to offer up sacrifices / burnt offerings on his/her own, but must utilize the priests (it’s often good to have a monopoly when you’re in charge…). We also are reminded that consuming blood is a no-no, and are provided with a large list of prohibited sexual relationships (sleeping with family members is generally a no, in case you were wondering).

I’m particularly intrigued by the order given in the Torah as it relates to the High Priest’s atonement efforts on Yom Kippur. We learn that the High Priest is instructed to make expiation (1) for himself, (2) for his household, and then (3) for the nation as a whole.

Why this order? Aren’t the priest’s actions really about the nation as a whole? Don’t we often say that we want our leaders to be selfless, putting the needs of the nation ahead of their own? Why wouldn’t the High Priest atone on behalf of the entire nation first, and only worry about himself later?

Practically speaking, there’s an argument to be made that one needs to have atoned oneself in order to have obtained the state of heightened purity necessary to be in a position to atone for others.

But in a more meta way, I think our major takeaway point needs to be that before we can go out and take care of others, we need to make sure that we’re taking care of ourselves. Are we exercising regularly and eating healthily? Are we getting enough sleep? Are we forgiving ourselves for our own perceived shortcomings as we walk through the world?

Are we recognizing that sometimes those we hold up as leaders also need private time on their own and with their families?

By taking care of ourselves (and recognizing that we all need to do so), we truly become capable of taking care of others.


Carb-Cramming before Passover

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A guide to getting your gluten fix in Chicago before the matzo meal begins

If you’re at all like me, one of your favorite things to do in Chicago is go out to eat. With a plethora of delicious restaurants, Chicago has a great food scene. I love trying out new places and, of course, returning to all of the establishments that I adore. Living in a Midwest metropolis means that many of the best places have amazing carbohydrate-filled delicacies—foods that are huge no-nos during Passover. 

If you’re trying to plan how to fit in some great meals before your eight-day abstinence from bread, pasta, pizza, etc., you are in luck. Here are my recommendations of some of the best places to feed your carb cravings before Pesach begins.


Carb-Cramming before Passover photo 1

Pizza topped with French fries, cheddar cheese, BBQ sauce, and ranch dressing at Dimo's Pizza.

Pizza is, hands down, the greatest food ever created, right? Of course. For a casual meal in a relaxed, but fun atmosphere, I suggest going to Homeslice. It’s gotten to the point where I go to Homeslice at least once a month because it is that delicious. They offer individual pizzas, sell pitchers of great beer, and have a patio that I plan on utilizing as much as possible over the summer. I recommend ordering the breadsticks and goat cheese. You can even skip the breadsticks and just dip your crust in the sauce (thanks friends for thinking of this brilliant idea!) “The Big Teve” on whole wheat crust is also a must-have. This pizza includes spinach, roasted red peppers, red onions, mushrooms, oregano, feta, parmesan, mozzarella, provolone, garlic and olive oil. Need I say more? 

I also have a soft spot for Dimo’s Pizza. Although I didn’t go to University of Wisconsin, I spent enough time there that sometimes I feel like I could convince people that I did. One of the best places in Madison, Wisc. is Ian’s Pizza, where you can line up into the wee hours of the morning to get your slice of mac and cheese pizza (yes you read that correctly and it is heavenly). When I found out Ian’s operates as Dimo’s in Wrigleyville, and now Wicker Park, I was thrilled. Sometimes at 2 a.m. on a weekend night, you just need a slice of pizza. Also, sometimes you might want one mid-day—what? Anyhow, Dimo’s has amazing varieties of pizza offered by the slice including the infamous “The Mac” topped with macaroni noodles and cheddar cheese on a homemade crème fraiche base. My other favorite pizza there is the “High Fry” or any variation of this slice that is available that day which includes hand-cut French fries with mozzarella and BBQ sauce on a creamy bleu cheese or preferably ranch sauce base, topped with cheddar cheese and fresh parsley. 

Beyond that, the classic deep dish pizzas at Lou Malnati’s, Pequod’s, and Giordano's are worthy options, although I think they are worth saving for a celebratory feast once Passover is complete.


Keeping kosher makes going out for burgers kind of monotonous at times. I get sick of eating the same boring veggie burgers that I pretend taste as good as hamburgers, when, in fact, they usually do not come close. This is one of the many reasons that I love DMK Burger Bar. Beyond their amazing milkshakes (half peanut butter, half chocolate is my favorite) and crispy fries, which you can get for free before 7 p.m. if you check in on Foursquare, DMK has one of the best salmon burgers that I have ever tasted. The fresh salmon is seasoned with ginger, topped with scallions, and includes Asian slaw and spicy, red Thai curry sauce. 

When I am in the mood for a real burger, nothing is better than Milt’s BBQ for the Perplexed. Everything on this menu is incredible and even if you aren’t in the mood for a burger, you can always treat yourself to their smoked brisket sandwich that is out of this world.


Carb-Cramming before Passover photo 2

Bananamisu Pancakes at Bongo Room

Like most 20-somethings, I am obsessed with brunch. Not much is better than waking up on your day off and treating yourself to an extensive, delicious meal. The best brunch in Chicago is hands-down at Bongo Room. Although I have only been a few times, their sweet pancakes and French toast options are incredible. One of the options that they have available right now is Bananamisu Pancakes, a breakfast friendly spin on the classic Italian dessert topped with fresh bananas. Everything on their menu sounds like one of the best foods ever created. Although there is usually a pretty decent wait time to get in, it is completely worth it. I also love Hash House A Go Go, mainly because they have homemade flakey biscuits. Who can say no to that?


Carb-Cramming before Passover photo 3

Birch & Marshmallows, Banana French Toast, and Chocomole ice cream at Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams

As always, save (one of) the best for last. I have a huge sweet tooth and my favorite places to nurture that sweet tooth are Sweet Mandy B’s and Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams. Besides the fact that Sweet Mandy B’s is one the cutest bakeries in the world, their buttercream frosting is absolutely perfect, especially on top of their homemade sugar cookies and homemade rice krispie treats. If those don’t float your boat, they have many varieties of cakes and cupcakes, including snickerdoodle cake, which I have yet to try, but I might just need to before Pesach. 

As a Michigan Fan since before birth (probably), loving something that came out of Columbus, Ohio seem wrong. However, when it comes to Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams, it has to be right. Jeni’s has some of the best ice cream that I have ever tasted. Their flavors are creative, dynamic, and extremely tasty. Some of my favorites that are available at their scoop shop right now are Banana French Toast (bananas and honey ice cream with homemade French toast gravel and hints of pecan, cinnamon, coffee, and maple syrup), Bangkok Peanut (roasted peanuts, honey, coconut, and cayenne pepper), and Dark Chocolate, which has the richness of fudge in every bite. Depending on how strictly you keep Passover, some of their varieties may be okay to nosh on during your eight-day hiatus from bread, but even so, it would be wrong to not stop in for a little taste.

If you say you aren’t sufficiently hungry after reading this, I don’t believe you. Enjoy some treats before it’s time for matzah, macaroons and Manischewitz. Happy Passover!


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