OyChicago blog

Right Next to the McDonald’s

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You’re now looking at the newest member of the Global Entry program, offered by U.S. Customs and Border Protection. After a thorough investigation of my background and determining that I’m a relatively nice person, I now have access to quickly cut through security lines and customs lines when coming into the U.S. from abroad. So, here I come, world! Or, more accurately, after exploring other countries, I’ll get to enter back into “Sweet Home Chicago” a little faster.  

But this isn’t the funny part.  

The funny part is that when I received my letter in the mail with my new Global Entry card, here was the return address:

Right Next to the McDonald’s photo

Was it absolutely necessary for the return address to indicate that the Global Entry office is next to McDonald’s?  

First, are letter carriers not as smart as they used to be? Suppose the Global Entry office sent me a letter, the address turned out to be incorrect, and the postman had to return the letter to its sender. Would he really get so lost that he’d need a physical landmark to direct him?  

Second, when I think of the people who protect our country from the bad guys from abroad, I like to think of neat, clean offices with people wearing badges sitting at organized desks with white walls. I don’t like to think of greasy cheeseburgers and M&M McFlurries. Though, then again, McDonald’s might be the most American thing in our country, so maybe it is appropriate to pay homage to the symbol of our country’s obesity on my Global Entry letter.  

Third, if you’re going to mention McDonald’s, please note the proper spelling of your beloved neighbor: M-c-D-O-N-A-L-D-apostrophe-S.  

Maybe I should start addressing my own letters with landmarks.  

You can write to me at:  

Lia Lehrer
One of the highrises on Lake Shore Drive, across from the dog beach
Slightly south of the Clock Tower
Near the intersection that becomes a swimming pool in rainstorms
Two apartments to the right of the apartment that always smells like Indian food  

You’d have no trouble finding me, right?  


Israel Is like a Pomegranate

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Israel Is like a Pomegranate photo

It’s been said that within each pomegranate there are 613 seeds, just like there are 613 commandments. This is why the pomegranate is one of the seven species of Israel. I haven’t actually counted the seeds (it’s on my bucket list!), so I don’t know if it’s true. However, I do believe that the pomegranate is a perfect symbol for Israel. A pomegranate isn’t large, but it’s filled with powerful seeds, which is fitting for Israel – small but strong.

A pomegranate has an outside peel to protect the inside of the fruit, plump seeds to eat, delicious juice to drink, and oil to help us glow. Each part works in unison to give people substantial amounts of vitamins and nutrients. We need the whole pomegranate to keep our bodies healthy in the same way that we need every part of Israel to keep the country strong.

In addition to protecting the seeds of the fruit, the peel of the pomegranate, which is edible if cleaned properly, has antioxidant properties. Antioxidants prevent free radical damage, which is harmful to our health. The peel represents the land of Israel. Jewish people feel safe in Israel in the same way that the seeds are safe inside a pomegranate.

Pomegranate seeds are small, but packed with nutrients such as B vitamins, potassium, fiber, and iron. Pomegranate seeds also have Vitamin C and antioxidants that keep us from getting sick. The seeds are thought to protect against breast and prostate cancers, help lower cholesterol and reduce one’s risk for heart disease. I find the seeds symbolically comparable to the people of Israel. The population may be small, but each citizen fights to protect the heart of the Jewish people, Israel.

From the seeds, pomegranate juice can be extracted. The most nutrient dense and potent properties of the seed make the juice, which is similar to the Israeli army. In Israel, men and women are required to join the army at the age of 18, the time at which most people are at their physical best.

Pomegranate juice has been compared to other antioxidant juices such as blueberry and grape, as well as red wine, and outperformed all of them in heart health. Pomegranate juice helps fight atherosclerosis and inflammation, and lowers LDL cholesterol. It also supports the synthesis of nitric oxide, which is needed to prevent fatty deposits from sticking to the walls of our blood vessels, and promotes the vasodilation, or expansion, of our blood vessels to allow blood to flow freely throughout our bodies. This is similar to the Israeli army that assists the people and the government of Israel to run a free and democratic society.

The oils of pomegranates are used in beauty products. They help keep our hair, nails, and cuticles strong and beautiful and give them a certain glow. The oils represent the children of Israel. Each unique child is part of Israel, but these children have not made an impact yet. They will grow and one day be recognized, but when they are young they are the bright shiny lights that represent Israel’s future.

The pomegranate could represent the 613 commandments, or the fruit, juice, seeds, and oil might signify Israel and the Jewish people. Throughout history, the pomegranate has also signified fertility, with each seed representing a life that has the potential to blossom. We can only hope that the pomegranate continues to symbolize fertility of the people of Israel, and within the nation itself.


Bubbe Wanted, Apply Within

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I have secret delusions of grandeur. I fantasize about a lot of things. If I look up from my computer screen I can see my daydreams strewn about my apartment. There’s my treadmill, my enormous and endless mountain of a reading list on my desk and my dining room table whose top I can’t seem to get clean. I have others; most of them are far too embarrassing to share. My latest? I want to be your grandmother.  

Don’t be alarmed; I know that sounds completely ridiculous. I don’t want to actually be a Bubbe. What I want is to be the sort of person who can whip up treats without breaking a sweat.  

My granny-daydream mostly involves baking pies that pop magically from the oven 3.4 minutes after you arrive at my apartment. The buzzer on the oven will go off and you’ll give me a questioning look. I’ll laugh to myself and then say, “Oh, this old thing? I threw it together from some stuff I had in the fridge.” You know, like grandmas often do.  

I had a couple of friends over this weekend and I decided to put my inner granny to the test. I bought cherries from the grocery store and a few other ingredients including a pre-made piecrust. Yes, pre-made crust because Bubbes don’t waste time. I was beyond excited. I was planning to make a day of it. I’d take my time and create the most magical and tasty cherry pie my friends had ever seen. I imagined my friends arriving to the thick and delicious aroma of cherry pie. It would smell like, well, your grandmother’s house.  

I cannot lie. It was a disaster at the start. Daydreams are dreams, after all. The pre-made crust was frozen. There was no time for it to thaw. I held it to try to warm it up. I put it in a zip-lock bag and ran hot water over it. I glared at the crust hoping the death rays from my eyes would help bring it to room temperature. Finally, I gave up and removed the dough from the packaging. I warmed it by kneading it with my hands and forming it into a ball. So much for saving time!  

But wait! There’s more!  

News flash! Cherries have pits. I suppose I knew this somewhere in the very deep, dark corners of my mind. The pits have to be removed. How do you remove cherry pits when you don’t have a cherry pitter? At first, I sliced the cherries in half and pulled at the pits. I guess that’s a fine way to get the job done, but it’s very tedious. Thanks to Google, I learned that all you need is a set of chopsticks. You push the stick through each cherry and the pit pops right out.  Crisis number two averted!  

For all of my stress, worry and panic, my pie came out perfectly. I’m not sure I’ve ever been more proud of a dessert and the house did smell incredible. So everything worked out. Maybe this is how it starts for all grannies? Maybe the measured calm that your Bubbe seems to ooze is something that she’s had time to practice. Or … maybe we just don’t get the see the part where she’s standing in the kitchen Googling how to pit cherries and shaking her fists at the sky. I guess we’ll never know.  

Bubbe Wanted, Apply Within photo

Sweet Cherry Streusel Pie
(adapted from The Four & Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book by Emily and Melissa Elsen)  

Cherry Filling

1 small baking apple
5 cups sweet cherries, pitted
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
¾ cup packed light brown sugar
3 tablespoons potato (or corn) starch
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground cardamom
2 dashes Angostura bitters  

Preheat the oven to 425.  

Peel the apple, and then shred it on the large holes of a box grater. Combine the shredded apple with the cherries, lemon juice, brown sugar, potato (or corn) starch, cinnamon, cardamom, and bitters in a large bowl and toss until well mixed. Pour the filling into the refrigerated pie shell and evenly distribute the streusel on top.  

Bake for 20 to 25 minutes. Lower the temperature to 375 and continue to bake for 30 to 35 minutes longer.  

Streusel Topping

1 cup all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons packed light brown sugar
4 teaspoons granulated sugar
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into ½ inch cubes, at room temperature  

Stir together the flour, brown and granulated sugars, and salt in a large bowl. Sprinkle in the butter pieces and toss to coat. Rub the butter into the dry ingredients with your fingertips until the butter is incorporated and the mixture is chunky but not homogenous.  

Pie Crust

Seriously. Unless you’re an actual granny who has a pie crust recipe memorized and can make a pie crust in your sleep…buy a pre-made crust! Get a pie crust from your favorite grocery store and follow the directions on the box. Make sure to give yourself enough time to manage this piece of the project! The dough needs to thaw before you bake it!


Camp from a Counselor’s Perspective

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Camp from a Counselor’s Perspective photo

Ask anyone why a Jewish camp is important and you’ll get a bunch of answers involving words such as identity, continuity, community, friends, and informal education. For many, the word “camp” is a trigger that magically transports people back to their glorious days attending summer camp. I am not one of those people.  

Growing up in Wichita, Kansas, there were a few kids that went to Jewish sleep-away camps. I was never into going away because of two things: air-conditioning and cable TV.  

I did spend two or three years during my elementary school life attending a local Jewish day camp run by the Mid-Kansas Jewish Federation called CAMP SHALOM. I don’t remember much, except the camp brought the kids from my Traditional congregation together with the kids from the Reform Congregation. Oh, and we had rocking sailor hats we were allowed to decorate and had to wear on trips. That stunk.  

Now, like I wrote, I wasn’t so into camp. However, I totally loved being a camp counselor. I think, in the summers before 9th grade and before 11th grade, I was a counselor at CAMP SHALOM. I don’t remember much about working at the camp, except that my “bunk” listened to the Beastie Boys’ first album, “License to Ill,” and The Clash’s “London Calling” (a double album) most that summer. The rest of my summer days and night during high school were spent doing camp-esque things like hanging with friends, staying up late, drinking bottomless cups of coffee, diving out of the windows of various homes and apartments when law enforcement types would break up parties due to crazy loud music blasting. You know, normal stuff.  

During my summers in college I also was a counselor at a camp in Baltimore. It was a sports camp marketed to Jewish boys between the ages of 13-18. In the morning there were laid back clusters of campers studying Jewish texts with counselors and in the afternoon there were sports leagues, with trips at night. From a counselor’s view, most of those kids had a good time.  

I was also a camp counselor last summer. I ran a camp for my 13-year-old son and two of his friends. They were already out of school, but their real camps hadn’t started yet. I was in between jobs so it made sense to keep the boys occupied as much as possible for as little money was possible. Now that was a great camp. We spent the days checking out cool places around Chicago that were off the beaten path (maybe our destinations will be my blog topic next month).  

Now, as a parent whose kids attend Jewish camps I see why it’s so important, even if your kids attend a Jewish day school. All the buzzwords above are true. My kids get to reinforce the Judaism they have at home and that they learn in school. It gives them opportunities to be involved in art, drama, gymnastics, and ga-ga. They get to do cool things like take trips to water parks, make shelters in trees and learn to work as a team.  

Just this past Monday, 600 children from the Chicago Jewish community did something that I doubt any of them had done before. Kids from local day camps in the West Rogers Park area gathered together at a congregation and said a few chapters from the book of Psalms (in Hebrew, Tehillim). They did so to show unity and support for the safety of those living in Israel. Not exactly an activity that any of us thought our kids would be doing this summer, but a powerful experience. I wish I had been one of those counselors.


Bulls lose on stars, but could win with depth

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Bulls lose on stars, but could win with depth photo

Fresh off the Spurs’ NBA Championship, I wrote about how their win over the Big 3 of Miami signified that teams can still win with teamwork over grouping stars.

We were on the cusp of the off-season and the Bulls were tight on the trail of Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Love. And I’ll be honest, while my expectations were low, I was obsessed with this free agency period. Checking Twitter every few minutes, keeping SportsCenter on while I worked at all times, checking every NBA rumor site. I was hooked. I couldn’t take my eyes off it. The thought of having our current roster along with Carmelo Anthony was making my basketball brain explode.

But alas, this free agent period ended like all free agent periods in Chicago. We came up short.

Carmelo stayed in New York, Love stayed in Minnesota (for now), LeBron went to Cleveland, Bosh and Wade stayed in Miami and Stephenson went to Charlotte. The Bulls made some moves, which I’ll focus on a bit later, but I think the best moves for the Bulls were those made by other teams. Carmelo stayed in New York on a team that is rebuilding instead of teaming up with LeBron somewhere, and LeBron James went back to a young but talented Cleveland team, officially ending the Big 3 era. The East has become spread out for the first time since 2009 and as a result, is wide open.

The moves the Bulls made focused on depth, something they haven’t truly had since the 2010 season where they went to the Eastern Conference Finals. They added, Pau Gasol, Nikola Mirotic, Aaron Brooks, Doug McDermott, and re-signed Kirk Hinrich. The Bulls are 11 deep if you count Tony Snell, who is having a very good Summer League, into the equation.

Obviously the biggest factor in their success this season is Derrick Rose—will he play for an entire season and will he return to form. But assuming he does, because for our own mental health we have to, the Bulls have given Thibs reliable options off the bench so he doesn’t run the same six players into the ground the way he did the last two years. Hopefully he’ll be able to follow the Spurs’ model and take advantage of his depth to allow his top players to be fresh come playoff time. Here is my take on the new Bulls.

Pau Gasol: Veteran, great passer, scorer and rebounder. Takes Boozer’s spot, should have numbers about as good as Boozer at his best, with fewer bonehead plays and screams for Jo to “get that.” I’m interested to see how much he has left in the tank, but Pau strikes me as the kind of guy with a skill set that can last him well into his later years if his minutes are managed (which is no guarantee with this coach). He creates a really exciting 3 man big rotation with Jo and Taj, and should be lethal running the pick-and-roll with DRose. He has championship experience and is obviously highly respected by the Bulls.

Nikola Mirotic: Honestly, a big fat question mark, and the best bet is probably not to set expectations too high for him for a while. However, a stretch 4 as your 8th or 9th man with the potential to be a solid shooter and a matchup nightmare is great to have. As long as he isn’t depended on to heavily early on, and my guess knowing Thibs is he won’t be, he could be a really interesting piece. And after waiting on him for three years, I’m just excited to see him out there. 

Doug McDermott: I watched a little of him in Summer League, and while I agree with the qualifier “its summer league,” this guy could be really, really good. He is an incredible shooter – the comparisons to Kyle Korver are dead on. Moves well without the ball and has a very quick release. But he is big and can get to the hoop as well, which is something Korver never did. Thibs tends to “red shirt” his rookies, but I can see this guy very quickly eating up Dunleavy’s minutes.

Aaron Brooks: I think this is a great signing. Not only as the Nate Robinson, DJ Augustin, etc. DRose insurance plan, but as a legit 1 who can come off the bench and score. He can give Rose some rest and also allow Hinrich to move over to the 2 in some lineups. Also gives the Bulls a very interesting option to go small and fast with he and Rose together. A trusted veteran who Thibs can trust now allows this team to go a legit 11 deep.


Wet Hot Jewish American Summer

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Wet Hot Jewish American Summer photo

What exactly makes a movie Jewish? Does it have to revolve around Jewish characters doing Jewish things? Does it champion Jewish values? Does it need Jewish actors or writers/directors? And what does it even mean to be a “Jewish movie?” Should we even try to label movies as Jewish in the first place?  

Whoa. Overload. And it just gets more complicated with comedies. Do a few Jewish jokes count? Where’s the line between reinforcing our stereotypes and spoofing them?  

You Don’t Mess with the Zohan, for example, features a Jewish actor (Adam Sandler) playing an Israeli character, yet is it any more Jewish than the family movie Holes, which on the outside appears to have nothing Jewish about it, but has a cast full of Jews, was directed by a Jew (Andrew Davis) and was written by a Jewish author (Louis Sachar)? You have to do a little digging (no pun intended) to find out Holes is a Jewish movie, but does that make it any less Jewish?  

I think the true litmus test for whether a movie can be considered “Jewish” has less to do with meeting the aforementioned criteria and more to do with the audience consuming it. And for this reason, Wet Hot American Summer might be the most Jewish movie ever.  

I’m sure people who aren’t Jewish have seen Wet Hot American Summer, but I’m willing to bet a Jewish friend was the first person to recommend it to them. I first saw it in high school at the urging of Jewish friends and I’ve only ever talked about it with other Jewish friends. To me, it stands out as Jewish, but not in the same way that similarly labeled Jewish comedies do.  

Director David Wain’s debut film (he’d later go on to make Role Models and Wanderlust) never reached public consciousness, getting a tiny release and grossing below $300,000 at the box office in the summer of 2001. It has emerged as a cult classic since, because anyone who has ever been to overnight camp that watches it loves it, especially if they went to Jewish summer camp. I can’t stand quotes that begin with “there are two kinds of people in this world,” but the truest version I ever heard was, “people who went to overnight camp, and people who didn’t.”  

“Wet Hot” recounts the last 24 hours of the summer of ‘81 at Camp Firewood, a fictional Jewish overnight camp (sleep-away camp, if you prefer) in Maine. Everyone is looking for that last hookup or shot at romance, campers and counselors alike, and the story focuses particularly on Gerald “Coop” Cooperberg (Michael Showalter), who has a crush on Katie (Marguerite Moreau), but she has been hooking up with the obnoxious hot guy, Andy (Paul Rudd), all summer.  

The cast list of “before they were famous” actors in and of itself should tip you off that “Wet Hot” is a hidden gem. Rudd, Elizabeth Banks, Amy Poehler, Bradley Cooper, Michael Ian Black, Joe Lo Truglio, Christopher Meloni and Ken Marino are just a handful. So it’s no surprise that Netflix has a deal with Wain to make a new series based on the characters. But I digress.  

Very little about Wet Hot American Summer is explicitly Jewish. You can count the obviously Jewish references on one hand. Yet everything about this movie feels Jewish to me, from the oft-irresponsible counselors down to the singing of “Day by Day” from the Christian-themed musical Godspell at the all-camp talent show toward the end of the movie (ask your Jewish mother who came of age in the ‘70s if you’re confused).  

Jewish overnight camp is an experience that many of us share, and the way we, as Jews, connect to others Jewish people, is through an understanding of our shared experience, such as Jewish holidays, Jewish foods, etc. This is true of all religions and cultures. So when a movie can tap into that shared experience, that’s what really makes it – in this case – Jewish.  

Wet Hot American Summer is without question a gross exaggeration of overnight camps, but all great comedy comes from truth, and David Wain clearly had an authentic Jewish summer camp experience, or else the movie would’ve fallen flat on its face.  

But we don’t tend to claim movies like “Wet Hot” as Jewish, at least in the comedy world. We seem more inclined to claim films that are indiscreetly Jewish, that play off stereotypes (we’re a people who enjoy laughing at ourselves) and wear them proudly. There’s a place for that humor and those comedies, but we too often overlook the more implicitly Jewish ones. It’s not that Jews don’t see or like these movies, it’s just that we don’t celebrate them; maybe because it’s not obvious, maybe because we want them to be “our little secret” or maybe because we feel more comfortable hiding behind stereotypes of who we are in the public sphere because it’s comfortable.  

Find the movies out there that speak to your Jewish identity and experiences and claim them as Jewish. What makes a comedy Jewish should not always be how much it pokes fun at what makes us unique and different from others, but what makes us similar to each other.                                  


Don’t we all speak the same language?

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Don’t we all speak the same language? photo

You would think that fundraisers and finance professionals would get along. I mean, they both speak in terms of numbers, they both focus on amounts raised and they both obsess over what is done with it. However, when the two collide it is as if a translator is needed in order to communicate. I just don’t get it! Don’t we all speak the same language?

Both fundraisers and finance professionals may speak in numbers, but those numbers are extremely different. Throughout my career in the fundraising world, I was focused on the number of people who would come to events, how much each person would donate, the total we would raise and of course the impact we were having on the cause. In my career in the finance world, those numbers changed to how much someone has, how much their money is growing and what the impact is that they can make with it. We all have the same end goal, so why can’t we understand one another?

I believe that it all comes down to what is behind the process. In my last article, I talked about how we all need a process in order to succeed. The steps of the process may be the same in finance and fundraising, but how we view those steps are drastically different. Let me show you what I mean.

Step 1Research: For finance this means statistics, past results, crunching numbers, but for fundraising this means collecting information, talking to donors.

Step 2 – Romance: Okay, romance may always mean love, passion and desire, but are you romancing the person the way they want or the way you want them to be romanced? In fundraising you find what makes the person tick, what do they want to see and then you show it to them. In finance you find out what they should see, what has been successful and then show the person why they should want it.

Step 3 – Request: This is a bit tricky as this is when, in a sense, the tables turn. In finance we are requesting trust (which will then lead to money) while in fundraising it is often times money (which will lead to trust). In both cases, we are requesting that the person think about the future and what they can do to improve it, for themselves or others.

Step 4 – Recognize: Do we recognize with stellar returns? Thank you notes? Success stories? Yes and yes. In this case, we ALL speak the same language. What is good is good, not matter what field it is in. Recognition is great, no matter what language we speak!


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