This post originally appeared on the Schusterman Foundation blog.
Now that I work in the Jewish community, people always assume that I’ve been a “super Jew” my whole life. In reality, it took a special trip to pique my interest—and experiences thereafter—to land me where I’m standing now.
When I was a kid, my family moved around a lot until settling in exotic Buffalo, New York. That first summer in Buffalo, I spent my days with the other soon-to-be fourth graders at a JCC-partnered Jewish camp in central New York. As fun as shaving cream fights were, I was the new kid in town. Two summers were enough for me.
I attended Sunday school and became a bat mitzvah. After throwing a candy-themed party to celebrate the occasion, attending a few classmates’ b’nai mitzvot and trying Hebrew High school for a few weeks, I checked out of my Jewish involvement. I recall going to a youth group meeting, which I hated, and never returned.
My family and I continued to celebrate holidays with amazing meals, stories and traditions. While I loved this aspect of being Jewish, I didn’t consider myself to be religious or active. When I attended Arizona State University, I continued to join my AZ-based family for holiday meals, but I never even knew that Hillel existed.
It wasn’t until my later years as a college student that my mother mentioned a “free trip” to Israel. Israel? Why would I go there? Isn’t it scary, war torn, third-world? Obviously I lacked education about Israel and it was definitely not at the top of my list of places to visit.
After college, I moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career in the world of entertainment. I turned 25, and my mom continued to suggest that I go on this free Israel trip called “Birthright Israel.” I was still unsure—I worried I was not religious enough for a Jewish trip. I didn’t even have a passport and now I was going to take a 14 hour flight across the world? Then, when I realized that I would soon be ineligible because of my age, I applied.
Needless to say I had a fabulous time on the trip, falling in love with the country and having a little Israeli romance as well. I never imagined that the country could be so beautiful, with such diverse people, and that spending time with other Jews doing Jewish things could be enjoyable. I returned to LA in tears, wishing that I had never left.
Now that I was back, I told everyone I knew about my experience. I went to a Shabbat dinner with the LA Federation (which I knew of from the trip orientation). I started hosting Jewish parties–Chrismukkah (with my Catholic roommate) and Passover seders; both open to friends of all faiths. I learned to cook brisket, noodle kugel and matzo ball soup.
After a year, I quit my coveted job to participate in a Masa Israel program called Career Israel. I loved living in Israel with Jews from around the world, touring the country and getting to visit Turkey and Jordan too.
I soon found that I didn’t want to live in Israel forever, so I moved to Chicago with a few of my fellow participants from the program. After struggling to find work in the world of event planning, I took on a variety of random jobs. I wanted to meet new people in my new city, so I attended a few events put on by Birthright Israel NEXT (now called NEXT: A Division of Birthright Israel Foundation) and a year later started a fellowship with NEXT, reaching out to Birthright Israel trip returnees and planning programs for them in Chicago. The programs I ran included a challah-baking/platter-painting event, cooking classes and an outing to a Chicago Blackhawks game.
This Birthright Israel alumni network became my own personal community in Chicago. As a NEXT fellow, I had the privilege to staff a Birthright Israel trip with a Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation (JUF) employee with whom I’m now very close. One year later, I applied for a job working in young adult engagement for JUF, and all of a sudden, engaging with 20-something Jews became my life.
Five years ago, I never would have imagined that I would be a “professional Jew.” But today I am lucky to be in that position, meeting Jews of all backgrounds and helping them connect to the community.
There are so many ways to be Jewish in Chicago. For someone like me, who often didn’t feel like I wanted to be part of anything Jewish, I realize that it’s all about finding the right fit for each individual. I can be a Jewish leader without having to fit stereotypes; I can be myself, and in return, I appreciate that everyone has their own way of living Jewishly.
When meeting with people who are not engaged in Jewish life, I try to connect them to opportunities that are meaningful based on their interests. I stay motivated because I know the work I do helps so many people in Chicago feel welcome and find a deeper connection to our Jewish community for those whose paths are as winding as mine.
Elizabeth Wyner is the Young Adult Engagement Associate at Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago (JUF).
Loving this fitness gear!
Tablets, flat screen TVs, and blenders are all great gifts. Who doesn't want a shiny cool new gadget? But the greatest gift you can get is more basic than that – it's health. I know, boring and cliché, but true. If you don't have your health, nothing else matters.
The next time the stomach bug hits, there is one thing you will wish/pray for, and it's not a tablet. Working out will not prevent the stomach flu, of course, but we all know the benefits of exercise. So instead of a gadget that promotes laziness, get yourself a fitness present this holiday season! It's much easier to justify a new gadget purchase when it's making you healthy.
This is a billion dollar industry with a lot to choose from, so here are some gadget and equipment recommendations.
There are several ways to track your fitness; everyone from Nike to Polar is in on the action. These various wrist devices track your movement and how many calories you burn and some even have sleep trackers. If you are trying to lose or gain weight you can also log your food, do the math, and figure out if you are burning more calories than you take in, or eating more calories than you burn.
I like to think I was ahead of the curve when I wore a tracker and wrote an article about the Go Wear Fit. It was interesting to learn that I burn more calories training others than working out myself, and that I need to sleep better. Since then, these tools have exploded in the wellness scene. Several companies by trackers for their employees and then have competitions to see who is the most active employee. I think they are great if you are not an active person. It guilts you into moving when you realize how you are more sedentary than any of the Golden Girls.
Here are the top three gadgets on the market in no particular order:
-Jaw Bone Up
I am sucker for fitness equipment; it fills a void in my heart that I never knew existed until I became a personal trainer in 2001. I have everything from bands to medicine balls at my house and I desperately want a Hex Squat bar and a sled. Granted I would only use the Hex bar for deadlifts, but it would be so worth it. Look at how it evenly distributes the weight, and the ergonomics … am I the only one salivating over this bar?
For your home, however, I would recommend simple equipment that is easy to store and can be used for many different exercises. It's great to have some equipment around the house for days you cannot make it to the gym, or walk outside. And if you don't belong to a gym, you can outfit a home cheap without breaking the bank. If you have children, working out at home is a great way to be a fitness role model. My son is only two and he already tosses around a medicine ball and attempts to do pushups.
My top five favorite items for your home:
1. Resistance bands – Great for weight training, stretching, or cardio. You can place the bands around doors and do almost any exercise you could do with a machine plus more. I use my bands all the time for a full-body workout. I even take a band with me when I travel. If you want to know which types of bands to buy, email me.
2. Soft Medicine Balls – These are soft so you do not have to worry about making too much noise slamming them on the ground, playing catch with a workout partner, or having a child run into it (they think it's fun). I use mine with all my clients. These are actually cheaper than the ones I have, and more durable.
3. Kettle bells – This is basically a weighted ball with a handle. I hide these from my son because they are solid. You can do a ton of exercises with this, like deadlifts, shoulder press, bicep curls, and many others. For women, I would buy a 15- to 20-pound one and for men, I would buy a larger one closer to 20 or 30 ponds. I own a 20- and 30-pounder and want another 30-pound one.
4. Stability Ball – These are the large balls some people sit on in their office or home. You can do core exercises on the ball, like pushups with your hands on the ball or even pushups with your feet on the ball and your hands on the ground. This is a great piece of equipment for pregnant women to open up their hips by simply bouncing while sitting on top of it (don't fall off). The site tells you based on your height what size ball to purchase.
5. Valaslide – This tool is like putting plastic wrap on your hands and feet. The Valaside comes with two separate little sliders that you use with your hands or feet, and are great for working the core. You can do a lot of exercises with them on the ground, standing up or on your knees. My favorite exercise with them is in a pushup position with your feet on them and you pull one leg at a time into your body and feel the burn in your abs.
With New Year's resolutions only a few weeks away, get started now on living a healthier lifestyle. Keep in mind you do not need any of these tools to get fit, but they can help make your routine a little easier. If you have a favorite gadget, send it my way at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I’m not particularly proud of it, but this is what I did for Chanukah. Strike that. This was my attempt to make Chanukah as cool as Christmas.
I happened upon a Facebook post about a couple who told their kids each year that, once a year, their toys woke up for the night to have a party. The kids eagerly anticipated seeing the party aftermath in the morning. Cue the lesson on wonderment and imagination.
"Bee would go crazy for this," I thought to myself, and the light bulb went on.
This year, despite being more than a month ahead of Christmas, Chanukah already has taken a backseat to Christmas movies, Christmas books, Christmas clothes, and Christmas events. My rational side says, “What’s the big deal? Chanukah is a minor holiday, and really, you can’t compete with Christmas (or at least, you really shouldn’t want to, you Scrooge). It’s part of American culture. Find a way to enjoy Chanukah for what it is, and let it go.”
The other side of my brain said, “Tell Bee that Chanukah is the dinosaurs’ favorite holiday, and that they wake up on each of the eight nights to have a party!”
Genius? Petty and pathetic? Perhaps both.
Reasons my idea was genius:
1. Bee was SO EXCITED for Chanukah.
2. Bee was SO EXCITED for Chanukah.
3. Bee was SO EXCITED for Chanukah.
Reasons my idea was petty and pathetic:
1. Dinosaurs have nothing to do with Chanukah, which means Bee was SO EXCITED for dinosaurs, not Chanukah, if I’m being honest with myself.
2. I get on my high horse about not feeling the need to compete with Christmas, yet the first time my child tells me he likes Christmas best of all and that it’s his favorite “season,” I’m the first one scrambling to make Chanukah cooler.
3. I dislike most things that attempt to make Chanukah more Christmas-y (like this and this). They feel inauthentic, like we’re saying to our kids, “Oh, sorry you’re Jewish and you can’t have a Christmas tree … decorate this bush instead.” The dinosaurs on Chanukah? Did nothing to enrich my son’s actual Chanukah experience.
I genuinely like Christmas, and I’m getting more and more comfortable with my son liking it, too. It’s part of his heritage and history, and frankly, it’s a ridiculous bonanza of happiness. Really, what’s not to like? I guess I’m just frustrated that the Jewish holidays, while full of meaning and rich history and tradition, don’t deliver quite the punch that their Christian counterparts deliver.
I love being Jewish, and I want my sons to feel the same way. Perhaps the way to go about this isn’t forcing T-Rex and triceratops into our Chanukah celebration, but rather modeling a happy Jewish life for them, a Jewish life that’s filled with delicious food that we cook together, pizza Shabbats with our beloved friends, giving back to our community together and holidays celebrated with precious family – including Christmas.
For the record, though, Bee’s reaction to the dinos was priceless, and we will definitely be repeating the exercise at some point next year (though maybe not for eight nights - how many places can we possibly come up with to set up 45 dinosaurs?).
I am writing this with glue on my fingers.
I know what you’re thinking – is this a complex, deep, meaningful metaphor for the meaning of life? Also, WTF?
To answer your first question, no, it is not. Sorry if that disappoints. If you want to turn it into a complex, deep, meaningful metaphor for the meaning of life, by all means, go ahead, and please let me know what you come up with. It is actually very literal, and it is also a very sticky situation. (I know, I know … but I couldn’t not say that.) And actually, it has dried a little bit so it’s slightly less gross than it sounds.
In response to your second question, the reason I have glue on my fingers is because a very smart friend told me to put glue on my fingers. Not because I’m doing an art project or anything like that. (But you know what’s fun? Mixing glue and shaving cream and painting with it. Trust me on this.) While I generally disapprove of peer pressure, I think this is a good idea my friend came up with, though she might need to buy me a new keyboard pretty soon because this can’t be good for it.
When I feel anxious, a lot of things happen. I talk too fast. My face gets red. And, I noticed recently – I scratch my head. Just a quick, innocent little scratch, only there isn’t really anything there that’s itchy. Although this might not seem like a huge deal, you ladies (and long-haired gentlemen) out there are well aware that when you touch your head too much, your hair becomes greasy and gross. And frankly, it’s not cute. I miss having cute hair and I think it misses me too. We used to have such good times together.
As anyone who’s ever tried to kick a habit knows, breaking one is a lot easier said than done. Intellectually, I know that I have a bad habit. I know that I would no longer like to have said bad habit. I know that said bad habit is really awkward and makes people think I have lice when I don’t. However, in that anxiety-ridden moment, such as when I have everything I need to make chocolate cake except the chocolate (and the cake) or even right now, at this coffee shop, when I’m trying to write this incredibly amazing blog post – it’s almost like there’s this robot dude in my arm who reaches up to my head and scratches the crap out of it without me realizing until it’s too late. And dude needs to stop, hence the glue. Even a sneaky nonexistent robot dude is not going to run sticky fingers through my hair. Even nonexistent robot dudes have their limits, you know?
Breaking a habit is hard. It’s unnerving. It causes anxiety, which really sucks if you’re like me trying to stop doing the thing you do when you get anxious. I think it’s important to focus on the end goal, though, and how glorious it will be when you don’t do whatever it is any more. After all, life is too short to have hair that is anything less than adorable.
Mazel Tov to Brad Ausmus!
Former Jewish Major League Baseball player Brad Ausmus was tagged to replace Jim Leyland as the new manager of the Detroit Tigers. Ausmus inherits a mega lineup featuring Miguel Cabrera, Torii Hunter and ace pitchers in Justin Verlander and 2013 American League Cy Young winner Max Scherzer. The Tigers even recently acquired Jewish second baseman Ian Kinsler (talk about beshert!) Now if only Lawrence Frank could get back into a head coaching spot we'd have a Jewish coach/manager in all three major sports (Chicago Bears coach Marc Trestman is Jewish).
Mazel Tov to Craig Breslow, Ryan Lavarnway, Ryan Kalish!
Mazel tov to the Boston Red Sox for winning the World Series! Only Breslow was on the World Series roster, but I believe Lavarnway will receive a ring for his playing time during the season. Kalish did not appear this season for the BoSox due to injury. Breslow was the 24th Jewish ballplayer to play in the World Series.
Mazel Tov to Craig Breslow and Ian Kinsler!
Breslow was also this year’s recipient of the Sandy Koufax Award given to MLB’s best Jewish pitcher by TheGreatRabbino.com. Breslow was 5-2 with a 1.94 ERA. He struck out 32 batters in 52 innings. This is Breslow's third time winning the award (second in a row). Honorable mentions: Scott Feldman and Jason Marquis. Ian Kinsler won the Hank Greenberg Award for best Jewish MLB hitter; Kinsler hit .277 with 13 HRs and 31 doubles. He also compiled 15 stolen bases for a Rangers team in the thick of the playoff hunt throughout the season. Ryan Braun has won the award the last three seasons and Kevin Youkilis was the inaugural winner. Honorable mentions: Josh Satin, Nate Freiman, and Ryan Braun.
Other Mazel Tovs
On Nov. 1 the NBA saw its first matchup between two Israeli born players. Omri Casspi of the Houston Rockets took on cross state rival the Dallas Mavericks and rookie Gal Mekel. This was an amazing moment for Jewish basketball and the country of Israel.
Meanwhile, in the NFL, brothers Geoff Schwartz (Kansas City Chiefs) and Mitchell Schwartz (Cleveland Browns) met for the first time on Oct. 27. Geoff and the Chiefs were victorious.
Just like the notion
that there are two sides to every story, there are four sides to every dreidel.
Over the years I have found myself associating the sides of that little dreidel
(made out of recycled plastics) with memories of the past and the present along
with thoughts about identity and perseverance
Let's face it – playing
dreidel is probably the closest thing to ancient kosher gambling. It takes
skill and savvy, and that little kiss that you blow onto the dreidel cupped in
your hands can make all the difference between a gimmel (getting all the pot) and
a nun (getting nothing). I was enamored with the official game and would play
it all the time in my Hebrew School days. My friends and I would have contests
to see whose dreidel would spin the longest (I think my record was 45 seconds).
Around fifth or sixth grade the game became pretty lame, but I was back to
the dreidel circuit during my college years, though that's a whole other story.
My kids (ages 14, 11,
7) are big fans of this seasonal game of chance. Although they have mastered
the art of the upside-down spin, it’s the access to parent-sanctioned candy
that keeps them playing the game year after year. In fact, they will keep
playing it through the winter and into the spring. I'm guessing it’s the chocolate
coins that keeps them playing and not the feeling of being historically
connected to our ancestors who played the game when Greek soldiers would pass by.
I think the dreidel is
one of the best Jewish symbols ever. Its size and function impart valuable lessons. I
identify and navigate through many different social (and social media) circles during
the day. A dreidel is small enough that if I were to put it in my pocket for a
day, I think it would remind me that there’s another circle that I’m
intrinsically part of.
No matter how many
times we spin the dreidel it will always fall down on one of four sides. The
outcomes are often this way in life. Sometimes we gain everything we want and
sometimes we gain nothing. Sometimes we have to compromise and give up our half
of what we want and sometimes we all have to pitch in a little of what we have
for the greater good. Regardless of what side out dreidel lands on, we can
always pick up the dreidel – and ourselves – so that we can continue trying to
win the game.
Thanksgiving is tomorrow. Phew, we got that out of the way.
I'm thankful for so much. It's been a year full of so, so much change. You know that old cliché/John Lennon lyric, "life is what happens to you while you are busy making other plans?" For the first time in a while, I thought my ducks were in a row. But breakups happen, unforeseen challenges arise, so on and so on. So let's let life happen. For better, for worse, for the sake of feigning a positive attitude until things settle down a bit in my little world – I'm thankful for it all.
But that's not what I want to write about. I want to write about writing. Feel free to read a previous Oy entry about my coy, difficult, ultimately wonderful love affair with writing. An article about writing again, you say? Well, this is different. I promise you.
In the spirit of letting go of the old and creating something new, I had lofty goals for November. November is NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month. Some people want to run marathons. I wanted to write a novel. Sigh, just the structure of that last sentence gives off the stench of defeat. Yeah, I didn't write a novel. But I wrote nearly 20,000 words. That's something, aye?
The concept of NaNoWriMo is perfect for the most fledgling of writers (aka, me): spill out 50,000 words from the recesses of your mind. That's it. Commit pen to paper, tablet, laptop, your recorder of choice. Editing is for later. Discerning judgment is for later.
I came to into November with a few loosely connected ideas that I wanted to shine up into a real-live story. I signed up on the site (NaNoWriMo.org), I received encouraging emails. In a word, I was pumped.
My favorite part of the process? Discussing possible plots and story ideas with my family. I hadn't laughed that hard in a long time. I uncovered my father's secret ambitions to write a spy novel...who knew? My mother's ideas for a Disney-ish fairy tale were more imaginative than anything I conjured up. I soaked it all in and as November reared its head, I sat down to write.
These emails I spoke of? Many of them consist of pep talks. Based on past and current professional experience, I'm used to writing every day, and if not every day, on a pretty consistent basis. However, committing to 1,500-plus words a day, after getting home from my communications-based 9-to-5? Call me lazy, call me whatever you want; I lasted about a week until I decided that writing a novel in a month might not be in the cards, at least not this November.
Maybe I'll train better next year. At a recent get-together, a friend brought up that her boyfriend was taking on the NaNoWriMo beast this year. I implored further: Does he have a story? What got him into it? She relayed enthusiastically that this was the first year he really decided to get serious about it. He bought a special notebook to plot out his novel ahead of time. All bases were covered. I squirmed when she told me after the first week that he inexplicably lost about 2500 words. Technology! Strangely enough, I felt a part of this community, even though I was taking a more languorous approach to novel writing. I may never get there. But the idea of it, of continually turning to my ongoing story and adding a little something new, keeps the fires of one my greatest passions alive.
My childhood friend Steph always refers to less-than-ideal, kooky life events as "writing material." Reflecting on this past year and everything that makes me grateful (and everything that makes me cringe), I've tried my best to fill it with "writing material" moments with people I love, adore and enjoy.
Happy Thanksgivukkah, everyone!
Sites We Like
Castle Chicago, 632 N Dearborn St
Tuesday, December 24 | 8 p.m. - 4 a.m.
It's Christmas Eve, what else are you going to do? The groups that brought you the best Xmas Eve Parties in Chicago over the past 10 years have finally teamed up for one huge event: The Official Matzo Bash 2013 - The Chosen Knight.
BUY YOUR TICKETS HERE: http://matzobash-juf.eventbrite.com
Every time a ticket is purchased from this link, $5 will be donated to the JUF!
Projects run from November 17, 2013 - January 5, 2014.
Give thanks by giving back this holiday season and volunteer through TOV's Winter Mitzvah Mania. Sign up today!