A few weeks ago, my wonderful, hilarious, sassy grandma
reached the incredible milestone of 90. Nonee Ethel has always been an integral
part in all of our lives, “our” referring to my sprawling extended family. Like
most grandmas, she is infinitely special to us. As spring turned to summer and
August 13 rapidly approached, the family got to planning a surprise birthday
party no one would soon forget.
It started a few weeks after my sister returned from Birthright Israel.
Regaling my grandmother with her experience of being bat mitzvah-ed on Masada,
Nonee waxed poetic: she would have loved to both visit the Jewish homeland and
to formally become a bat mitzvah, but didn’t have the chance in her nearly 90
years. One thing led to another and before we knew it, we had a birthday theme.
Shortly, a family email chain of epic proportions began, and what started off
as a funny idea tossed out as a possible party theme took on a life of its own.
A myriad of ideas were discussed, responsibilities delegated
and pictures for a very special bat mitzvah montage were shared. Not only would
there be a montage, but there would be a “trip to Israel,” complete with “The
Wailing Wall” (a display of the great-grandchildren’s building blocks),
“Masada” (a poster of the Birthright highlight placed fittingly atop a flight
of stairs) and other little touches. We crafted the perfect candle-lighting
ceremony, complete with speeches, and set up a little bimah to make it all “official.” Everyone took to the project with
so much creativity and love.
The day of, all of my aunts and cousins feverishly decorated the party house,
making sure all of the creations and little touches were just so. We had some
pretty fun birthday ideas to live up to from the past, after all. For example,
we celebrated Nonee’s 85th by renting a party van and transporting the crew to
Superdawg, one of our favorite places. Anyway, as the clock struck a quarter to
six, we all found a place to hide and prepared to surprise our most favorite
90-year-old lady in the world.
Needless to say, Nonee was incredibly touched by the Israel trip and subsequent
bat mitzvah. We gathered together and said the shehecheyanu to really commemorate her special day. I especially
enjoyed writing a candle-lighting speech just for her. How often is it that you
get to share your feelings in such a way? How do you even begin to say how grateful
you are for someone who has been such a big part of your life, a cheerleader
present at every concert, play, you-name-it from the time I was born?
Thank you, Nonee. For leading the way, for sharing your
love, advice, delicious baked goods and more. I hope you had fun at your 90th
birthday and I hope you know just much you are loved and appreciated. Mazel
Years ago, I tacked a blank piece of paper onto the wall above my
computer at home. Since then, I’ve covered its every inch with names of cities
from around the world, cities I chanced upon during mindless hours of Google
Mykonos, Rio, Madrid.
Zanzibar, Varanasi, Granada.
All I’ve ever wanted to do was travel.
Currently, I’m not traveling. In fact, I work downtown, in the Aon
building. For those of you familiar with Chicago, you’d recognize it as that
tremendously tall, glaringly white structure looming over Millennium Park like
a pillar in the sky. During lunchtime, people pour out of the front doors in
waves. There are at least fifty elevators. It’s enormous.
Every once in a while, from my cubicle facing a wall on the 36th floor,
I sneak a glance back to Google. Sometimes it hits me unexpectedly. I’ll be
innocently writing up an industry update when — before I know it — I’m Googling
South American hostels on the Pacific coastline with vacancies for unpaid North
But, putting aside dreams of glittering beaches or windswept desert
sands for a moment, what is it exactly about travel that is just so
addictive? Sure, it’s a break in the monotonous cycle of waking and working.
It’s a way to learn a new language, or try an exotic food directly from its
source. It provides a new perspective, the ability to switch out the customary
lens that filters and fogs our experiences, in exchange for a new — and
potentially higher — vantage point.
But I think that underneath it all, the real reason we travel is to meet
other people. Even the most stalwart introvert would be pretty disappointed if
she crossed the globe and never spoke to anybody but her flight attendant.
Talking to people from around the world, with experiences entirely different
than our own, is what makes travel great. You gain a better sense of the world
through empathy, and return home with a newer understanding of everything
that’s always been around you.
Before this article begins to sound like the prelude to a travel blog,
I’d like to point out — you don’t always need to hop on the plane to have the
same experiences. Becoming more empathetic can be as easy as taking a closer
look at the people around you.
Anyone who has seen Spike Jonze’s futuristic, computer/human romance Her, might recall a few quotes about
empathy. In one scene, the mopey Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix with an
impressive mustache) meanders through a crowded carnival recounting the people
who pass by to Samantha, his personal operating system. A young boy vigorously munches on popcorn
next to his brooding grandpa. A quiet, elderly gentleman sits alone on a bench.
A nervous-looking man is introduced to his lovely girlfriend’s children.
“Sometimes,” Theodore admits quietly, “I look at people and try to make
myself try to feel them as more than just a random person walking by. I imagine
how deeply they’ve fallen in love. How much heartbreak they’ve all been
Theodore is a little fixated on love, but he still has a pretty good
point — what if during our busy days of shuffling through our commute, we
paused to actually take a look at the people around us?
Each day that I walk downtown muddled in a swarm of urbanites, I rarely
take a moment to consider who’s beside me. The woman who’s chattering away on
her phone to my left? She’s likely experienced heartbreak, loss, moments of
enlightenment. An epic story line.
There’s an old Yiddish proverb that claims, “We live in a world full of
small worlds.” We each have our own stories, red herrings, and central
characters in the plots that fill up a lifetime. Of course, traveling is an
excellent way to learn about other people. But exploring other “small worlds”
could be as close as the person you sit next to on the train.
At this particular moment, the person sitting next to me on the train is
a bulky, middle-aged man, with short-trimmed brown hair, pink skin and a
plastic cup of wine in his hand, which he’s sipping at through a narrow black
coffee straw. It’s 6 p.m. on a Wednesday, so I suppose that’s understandable.
Are any of these houses that blur past us on our commute his? Does he have
children, maybe a pair of kids toddling by the front door, eagerly awaiting
their dad’s arrival? A frail, elderly aunt whom he works overtime for in order
I’ll never know. Maybe one day our small worlds will gently tap each
other again, or I’ll meet someone else whose small world will merge into my
own. Either way, glimpsing another person’s reality is the beauty of travel,
whether or not a physical distance is crossed. In the meantime though, I’ll
keep sneaking peeks back at Google Maps.
Friday a few weeks ago, hubs called me with a long, breathy sigh … it had been
a bad day. A very bad, horrible, day. And on those days I know my hubby needs
that is anything crispy and savory. So off to the fridge I went to grab some
freshly butchered chicken cutlets and some lemons. And as my little toddler
whipped circles around me chasing the tortured cat, I went on a scavenger hunt
in my pantry trying to find the perfect crust for my cutlets. But my
pantry had failed me. I had no breadcrumbs. And it hurts me to say it, but I
only had a few tablespoons of flour. It was a sad, sad day in this girl’s
house. And then I saw a container that looked somewhat promising to me. It was
from the last time I made matzo balls.
Manischewitz matzo meal! And right there on the box was golden fried beautiful
chicken cutlets! How have I been so clueless all this time! OF COURSE this
would work! To hell with breadcrumbs! I’m using matzo meal! So I chopped up
some parsley, scraped off some lemon zest and went to work. About 25 minutes
and several beautifully crisp chicken cutlets later, I was pleased.
walked in right when I had placed my finishing touches on the platter of
beauties. And I plated him one with a simple side dish of our favorite Avocado and Feta salad.
and chewed the crunchy chicken and let out a sigh of relief. The munchkin sat
right next to him in her high chair happily gobbling up every last crumb. Licking
her fingers and making a satisfying “mmmmmmm” sound with each bite. I
swear no one enjoys food more than this munchkin. Look at those food smears on
the side of her mouth! Such a ham! She is smiling that big because she
just ate an entire chicken cutlet.
first time in the past hour, hubs let out a loud laugh as the little munchkin
burped unexpectedly and then pointed to the cat in blame. This one will be
called very bad day … not so bad anymore. With a few pieces of his favorite
chicken and some much needed comic relief from the munchkin, hubs was once
again my happy love bunny. And my Friday was complete.
Crispy Matzo Lemon Chicken
3 tbsp of
chopped parsley plus more for garnish
pepper to taste
out about 2 cups of matzo meal. Add in salt, pepper, garlic powder,
paprika and lemon zest.
whip up 4 egg whites and add the Italian parsley.
up an assembly line. Egg white plate, matzo meal plate and an empty plate.
the chicken cutlets into the egg white mixture first. Making sure to cover
both sides. Do this with your LEFT hand.
with your RIGHT hand dip into the matzo meal mixture. You want to do this
with different hands or else you will have what I call mummy hands.
about 2 tbsp of butter in a large pan over medium high heat and let it
come to a sizzle.
it on one side for 3-4 minutes until nice and golden brown. Then flip it
and cook it for another 3 minutes until crispy and golden brown.
them on paper towels so they drain any access butter that may be on them.
Also, feel free to change the oil/butter out with each batch if you have
too many burnt bits in the pan.
with a few lemon slices and some parsley. Dive in!
are using this for the Jewish holidays, you can use coconut oil or olive oil to
make it truly Kosher.
Almighty benevolent God
in heaven, if there is such a god, and if there is such a place, I have one
small request. One simple favor for which I pray. On behalf of all humanity, to
you I reach out today.
Please, God, let maxi
dresses stay in style for at least one more year.
I’m not normally one who
is current on the latest fashion trends. I remember distinctly in middle school
thinking that capri pants were ugly and I’d never wear them — but sure enough,
a few years later, there I was, sporting the three-quarter-length pants. I was
all about the glitter on my eyes and the butterfly clips in my hair, but not
until the popular girls did it first. And I wore my jean jacket long enough
past middle school that it almost stretched to its comeback last year.
The fads come and go —
which is unfortunate for my wallet — but usually I quickly get over their loss
and move on to the next fashion trend. But if maxi dresses are out of style
next year — one short year after I purchased five long, beautiful, flowy maxi
dresses and skirts — then I’m not sure why it’s worth even attempting to
believe in You.
These dresses look great
on everyone — they make the tall look taller and the short look slightly less
short. Maxi dress wearers need not worry about shaving their legs, or, in my
case, showing the world their ghostly white legs. They pair well with the
aforementioned jean jacket, a sweater, or even just a beaded necklace. They are
casual and comfortable, both for walking and for sitting cross-legged on the
My beloved maxi
dresses have this uncanny way of filling a social ambiguity, when you’re
wondering if you should dress up, dress down, wear nice pants, wear jeans and
heels, or just skip the event altogether because you’re completely clueless
on what to wear. What do you wear? You wear a maxi dress.
Ruler of the Universe, I
just started appreciating these maxi dresses recently. If this becomes one
of those fashions —
the fad that just fades — I won’t know what to do with myself. Now that I’ve
lived in a world where I can go from a street festival to an engagement party
to a religious service without changing clothes, I just don’t think I could
bear to go back to how it was before.
I need more time. It
doesn’t have to be forever. Of course, that would be great, but I don’t want to
be a greedy devotee. All I ask is for at least one more year of maxi
trendiness, and then maybe two to three subsequent years of everyone
understanding that the trend is on its way out but is still tolerated.
Because right now I have
a yellow maxi skirt and a blue one, two teal dresses, and a gray one — and I
think that I might want to buy a black one. And possibly a purple one.
Thank you for hearing my
prayer, O Lord of Fashion. And let us say: Amen.
How to “like” the things people say when you are not on Facebook
The High Holidays are around the corner, and
with them comes an opportunity to share many meals with friends and family.
Holidays in general remind me of the importance of taking the relationships
that we keep online through social media, offline. We come together face to
face and break bread with those that are important in our lives.
The people are a big piece of what makes
holiday times special. There is no doubt about it that the food plays a major
role in making memories too. I think another more subtle force at play is that,
by and large, holiday celebrations take place at someone’s home. When I think
of holiday celebrations of the past, I recall the smells, sounds and sights of
my Bubbie’s home just as much as I do the taste of her brisket and the faces of
those seated at the table.
Judaism considers welcoming guests to be one
of the most important mitzvot that we
can perform. The custom is said to date back to the time of Abraham,
who stood at the entrance of his tent on hot days in the hopes that he might
see someone passing by to invite into his home. In today’s world of big city
living, I don’t know of many people who would stand on their balconies looking
for hungry people to call up to their apartments for lunch, though I have been
a part of many communities where organizing meals and potlucks in the homes of
friends is the norm.
Many of us regularly meet friends and loved
ones for coffee, drinks, or dinner in public places, but the dynamic changes
when we meet in someone’s own personal space. Instead of meeting on neutral
ground, we are allowing someone to see us in a more vulnerable and intimate
space. This creates a more intimate experience, a deeper conversation and a
more authentic sharing of what our lives are really like.
For young adult Jews, organizations such as Moishe House and programs such as Birthright
NEXT Shabbat have been helping young Jews
come together to share in meals. Local synagogues, JCCs and chavurah communities also provide
opportunities to bring people together in this way. In my experience, the magic
of inviting others into our personal space to share conversation, ideas,
thoughts and feelings is the root of the magic formula that makes these
ventures so successful.
This year, I invite you to consider being a
host to or allow yourself to be hosted by someone new in your life. It is a
practice as old as Abraham for making your relationships deeper than any
Facebook post would ever allow. May you have a Happy and Sweet New Year!
thing I love most about summer is how it’s the opposite of winter. Maybe that’s too basic, but after last winter,
can you blame me? I’ve been doing a
little happy dance every time I walk outside and see the sun shining and
realize that we’re not in a polar vortex.
are other things I love about this time of year: longer days filled with extra
sunshine, beach visits, bare feet and Chicago’s many street fests. Those are
all fine and dandy, but I think it’s time we recognize the one true king of
summer—the summer tomato.
tomatoes aren’t all that hard to find any time of the year, but that’s because
we’re spoiled brats. We can have any old thing we want to eat any time we want
it. We’re lucky to be alive when out-of-season produce can be shipped all over
the place. You can have a peach in January or asparagus in November. The old
days of only eating foods that are in season are gone.
that is amazing, we shouldn’t forget that there’s a difference. A tomato is a
tomato is a tomato, right? Well, no, not exactly. Nothing can compare to the
taste of in-season tomatoes or other produce that didn’t need a passport to get
to your grocery store. So, friends, prepare your taste buds, summer tomatoes
will you do with this season’s tomato bounty? I’m looking forward to tomato
sandwiches, sliced tomato with a sprinkle or two of salt, and caprese
salads. While large tomatoes are
delicious, we shouldn’t forget grape tomatoes. Those little guys are like
nature’s candy. I recently discovered a new way to eat these little mini treats
of summer. It’s quickly becoming my most favorite way to enjoy them. You really
must give this recipe a try – it’s sure to knock your socks off.
can of biscuits (I use a Southern-style)
small container of soft herbed spreadable cheese
1 tablespoon olive oil (I use garlic infused oil to add a little zip)
1 1/2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1/8 teaspoon salt
pinch of sugar
freshly ground black pepper
1/2 pound grape tomatoes (mixed colors, if you can find them)
Prepare the biscuits according to
the directions on the package.
For the tomato salad, whisk
together the olive oil, red wine vinegar, salt, sugar, and freshly ground black
pepper in the bottom of a bowl. Quarter the tomatoes lengthwise and add them to
the bowl with the dressing, tossing them together gently.
To assemble the shortcakes, split
each warm biscuit in half. Smear a bit of the cheese on to the biscuit halves. Generously
spoon each half with the tomato salad and its dressing. Eat!!
Annice and her kids in Seattle (after being “rescued” by her husband).
I’ve had a lot of help in my life. I have a very dependable husband who
fills in my various deficiencies quite nicely. I have a wonderful family and
friends that pinch hit for me when I’m late, lost and overwhelmed. I have kids
who intuit my (in)capacities and forgive my imperfections. When you’re
surrounded by a net, it’s hard to remember what it feels like to stand alone.
Every summer we take a family trip with my parents. They rent a house;
we beach it every day, head out to a county fair or two, cook, play board games
and watch movies. It’s an easy week of four kids to four adults where we just show
up and enjoy. And every winter, my mother-in-law takes us somewhere warm and
exotic that leaves no time for complaining and insists my husband and I take a
few nights to ourselves while she manages four kids with room service and a
smile. I have been very, very lucky.
I have also been very, very clueless. This is the only way I can explain
my decision to fly to Oregon and vacation with my four kids for five days with
no additional help. It seemed manageable; my hubby would be waiting for us
afterward in Seattle, where we would stay for a week as one incredibly well-adjusted
(ahem) dual-parented family.
The day my solo journey began, I somehow forgot some things. Like, my
hairbrush, my shampoo and conditioner and oh, anything whatsoever to entertain/feed
my kids on the plane. Part of that I will blame on a 6:00 a.m. flight that
required a 5:00 a.m. arrival and a 4:00 a.m. wake up. The second we sat down it
was a cacophony of:
“Is there a movie?”
“She’s/he’s touching me!”
“Are we there yet?”
I will admit my family is given a lot of leeway from strangers. They
dig/are horrified by the mohawks and are curious as to Fray’s origin and are amused
by her moxie with her three brothers. I cash in on that a lot. This plane ride
was no exception. I got away with “feeding” them gum and renting portable movie
players (for an outlandish fee) while passengers smiled sympathetically at the
frazzled, clueless mother travelling with her mini gang of thugs and a
princess. This graciousness allowed me to pass out for a few hours and dream
that I was Martha Stewart (and her only child is grown, right?)
The first serious hitch in our trip beyond the immediate Maslow hierarchy
of needs came when our rental car pick-up turned out to be downtown and not at
the airport as I had thought. Having to negotiate four kids, two suitcases and two
backpacks onto a train in a strange city made me tear up a little – not gonna
lie – but the tears of terror turned to joyful ones when we successfully hit
that Hertz counter and nothing and no one got left on the train.
I don’t want to mislead you. This baby bird didn’t jump out of the nest
and fearlessly freefall. I have family in Oregon (plus “Shark Week” babysat a
few hours every night) and I had help with city navigation from my cousin until
she left and Google maps took over. But I did successfully pick activities, outings
and food that were well-received. The hardest part for me was serving as
24-hour negotiator of disagreements/driving/navigation and as WWF referee
without having the company of another adult for sanity check-in. (“The kid’s being
an asshole, right? It’s not just me, right?”)
So? Would I do it again? Yup – in a heartbeat. Next summer? New Mexico!
(Locals, consider this ample warning!) As my kids get older it’s easier all
around to do things (and they actually remember all the stuff you drag them to.)
I like that I had the opportunity to show them a part of the country that was
new to them. I tell my kids all the time the world is a big place and I’m happy
to be their (albeit neurotic) escort as they realize – at least on occasion –
mom might be right.
Sites We Like
Registration for new applicants opens at www.israelwithisraelis.com on September 9 at 10 am EST for winter trips. Pre-registration for returning applicants opens September 8 at 12 pm EST.
Taglit-Birthright Israel: Shorashim-JUF’s Chicago community trip provider for Chicago area young adults, ages 18-26.
Questions? Contact Shorashim at firstname.lastname@example.org or 312-267-0677.
Learn more about our free trips to Israel at the Taglit-Birthright Israel: Shorashim Information Session on Thursday, September 18 at 7 pm at Congregation Beth Shalom, 3433 Walters Avenue in Northbrook.
RSVP to Winter2014trips@juf.org
Various locations throughout Chicago
Sunday, September 21
Over 2.1 million individuals receive food assistance in Illinois. Join the fight against hunger. 1 day. 13 projects. 130 volunteers. Join the Young Leadership Division (YLD) & Tikkun Olam Volunteer Network (TOV) and make a difference!
Sign up to volunteer. This event is for young adults between the ages of 22-40ish.