OyChicago blog

The Gift of Israel

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The Gift of Israel photo 1

So majestic and powerful to the point where I am almost blinded by the beauty. A humble graciousness arises. I just landed in Israel and the feeling has no words.

As I touched the ground, the soil, the Holy Land, I felt empowered. There were so few reasons as to why I shouldn’t have done this sooner. My grandmother pushed, and pushed, and I always found a way to get by and say, “Maybe next year, Nonny!”

Why? Why did I wait for such an amazing opportunity? Such a precious gift was upon me, and I was now ready to face it.

Traveling on two planes, being away from home, packing for 10 days, all included in one slightly anxious bound. “I have never done this before” kept running through my mind. Meeting new people is one of my favorite things, but how was I going to meet over 50 people, and not feel overwhelmed?

As I was going around, telling everyone about myself, I noticed similarities, not the stereotypes I had pictured in my head. “Hi, my name is Veronica, and I like to paint, bake, and swim.” I kept it basic; I didn’t know everyone, but I was excited. Never in my life did I think for one moment that I would make such a difference in lives, in Israel, in people that I did not know. Everyone was so welcoming, free-spirited and very understanding.

The Gift of Israel photo 2

Staying at the kibbutz, for three nights was beautiful. It was like living amongst your people, your heritage – and contributing to each other. Everything was communal including where we ate. This is where I got to know everyone. Who knew food would bring us all closer?

The Israeli scenery appeared more gorgeous every single time I looked at it, even in a different perspective. Palm trees, water, even rocks – all stunning. As I looked at the sky over the Western Wall, or even looking at the Dead Sea, I felt surreal; I felt at home.

Every part of Israel had a special story. As hard as it may be to describe the power and empathy I had at Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust memorial and museum, I felt sad yet curious. How could this happen? Never again. There was no sign of what would or could happen next in those times. Questions arose, people cried – I cried – and I felt like it was okay to cry. It was okay to understand each other, to experience our emotions together as a group and as a family.

I don’t have a favorite part of my trip, I loved every single moment. There are no words to describe how close I felt to Israel and the people. Did I mention the Israelis on our trip? If it weren’t for them, I would not know how to say, “Lama-makara!” also known as, “But why?” Even though they may have taught us some funny phrases, they made the trip. I appreciate every moment I spent with every Israeli because of their enthusiasm and love for Israel.

The Gift of Israel photo 3

As our tour guide, Yossi took us everywhere: upside-down, sideways and anywhere else he could think of to open our minds through Israel. He knew how to create a social atmosphere that connected all of us and our differences. I will never, ever forget him and how he made my trip, just like the Israelis and the group did.

My trip on bus 217 was the most amazing decision I have made in my life. I miss everyone, and even though most of the group surrounds me in Chicago, I really miss being together, especially singing our morning song every day. In the song, when we got to, “the dew falls away,” that’s how we all knew we were awake and having fun.

This trip – this gift – changed my life as a Jewish woman in America. All of the news in the U.S., all of the things people say may be true, but once you are in Israel, and once you see it for yourself, you understand the feeling that everyone has been talking about, and you tend to gather your own opinion.

Israel changed my life, and my heart. I have a new passion and love for a country, history, people, heritage and more. I fell in love and never want to break that bond. With that said, Israel, you may have challenged me, but I will always love you.

Veronica Korengold recently returned from her Taglit-Birthright Israel: Shorashim-JUF Chicago Community trip in December, a life-changing trip for Jewish 18-26 year olds that also provides participants with an incredible network and connection to the Jewish community in Chicago upon returning home. This summer, all Chicago community trip flights will be departing from Chicago, making it easier, cheaper, and more convenient than ever to get to Israel for free from Chicago. Shorashim is the only Taglit-Birthright Israel trip provider with flights leaving from Chicago, so make sure to tell your friends and family to register for a community trip!

Registration opens for new applicants on Tuesday, Feb. 3 at 9 a.m. CST and for returning applicants on Monday, Feb. 2 at 11 a.m. CST at israelwithisraelis.com. With many trip dates and trip options, it's easy to find the trip that is the best fit for you! Questions? Contact Shorashim at info@shorashim.org or (312) 267-0677.


The coffee-shop-first-meeting dance

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The coffee-shop-first-meeting dance photo

There are few things more awkward in this wide world of ours than having a meeting with a new person in a coffee shop.

Yes, it’s great to meet in neutral territory — otherwise, one of you would have to be behind your desk, with your silver name plate and family photos establishing that you are the king of this meeting — but logistically, it’s challenging.

As my fiance and I jump into the wedding planning process, we’ve had some wonderful meetings with photographers, videographers, and coordinators in coffee shops — but the few minutes before the meetings begin, I feel uneasy and stressed. Why? Because I don’t really know what this unknown person looks like. Here’s the process.

Pre-meeting stalking. If possible, I try to look up my meeting-mate in advance on Facebook, Google, or their website. Often, this is helpful, giving me a general idea of whether it’s a man or a woman and generally the shape of his or her head. However, these pictures are often five-year-old pictures that were professionally taken, and this person has recently cut her hair or is wearing a different outfit — how dare she! Plus, in these winter months, no one looks like their beautiful picture on Facebook or their website — everyone in Chicago looks like an Eskimo. I rely on the fact that thanks to this blog, my open-to-all Facebook profile, and various websites I own, my picture is all over the internet, so hopefully they’ve stalked me, too.

Reserving a table. I’ve been trying to arrive at these meetings early, often killing time by working on my grad school thesis paper — or, let’s be honest, looking at wedding bouquets on Pinterest. When I get there early, I try to save a table that can fit three of us, but then I become that horrible person who’s hogging the community table all by her lonesome. I spread out backpacks and scarves and paperwork to make it look like something very serious is about to happen, but inside, I feel like a one-woman army trying to protect my table from siege — and my only weapon is my adorable, apologetic smile.

Saying hi to everyone who walks in the door. I’m early, but chances are that our would-be vendor will want to impress us by being early, too. So for the half hour leading up to our meeting, there I am, flashing that smile at everyone who walks in the door. I pretend to be busy on my laptop, but not too busy. As people walk in, I try to catch their eye — if they just go straight to the counter, they’re probably not my person. But if they look around the room, I wonder, could it be her? Is this our wedding photographer? Do I feel a magical vibe from inside my soul, whispering that she’s “the one”? Nope, it’s just a college student doing homework, sorry.

Describing myself. Once or twice, I’ve said, “I’ll be near a red laptop and wearing a purple coat, and my fiancé has curly red hair.” I feel like I’m writing a “Missed Connections” ad: “I was holding my grande drink. You wore white earmuffs. You said to the barista, ‘Only three pumps of peppermint, please.’ Are you my [wedding videography] soul mate?” Often I wonder if I should put out a sign with their name, like at the airport. Dorky? Or brilliant?

Who’s buying? Okay, we’ve finally identified each other through one of these means, we’ve pulled two tables together, and our Eskimo coats are off. It’s time for the coffee dance. “I’m going to get a coffee — would you like anything?” Does that mean you’re buying? Or should I pay you back? Can’t we each just go up to the line separately? But then does that mean we have to chit chat about how much we do or do not like seasonal pumpkin-flavored drinks? In this department, I usually buy my chai tea latte well in advance of their arrival, or just say I’m not thirsty. Not worth starting out our meeting with the dance.

You know what? I think the next time I meet with a vendor, I’m going to ask if I can just meet at their office. Sorry, Starbucks.


Foodspiration for the New Year

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Foodspiration for the New Year photo

Jewish people love two things above all else: guilt and food. I tend to pay homage to both of these cultural pillars simultaneously—particularly around the new year.

My day job revolves entirely around food, food writing and the sampling of food-related products. In my free time, I’m always thinking about food, whether I’m looking for my next restaurant adventure, surfing/posting food photos on Instagram, or browsing my Facebook feed for recipe ideas. It is thus with great hubris that I declared in December that I would give up both refined sugar and Diet Coke simultaneously in the new year. Last year, I cut sugar out of my diet for a solid six months, before I dipped my toe into the culinary infidelity pond. This year, I’ve been struggling with a one-day-at-a-time tug of war between the great forces of my sugar and Diet Coke dependencies and my will power since New Year’s Day.

I have a caffeine problem, and I’m the first to admit it. I need a couple of cups of steaming coffee in the morning to jumpstart my day, and I normally rely on a refreshing, cold can of Diet Coke in the afternoon to pick me back up. This regime is mostly one I follow at work, as I tend to actually sleep enough on the weekends to cut my caffeine intake. I’ve now been living in a Diet-Coke-less world, in which the feint echoes of a crisp, cold can opening ring through my head, as I drowsily fight that “2 o’clock feeling” each weekday afternoon. With great determination, I’ve replaced that afternoon Coke with more water, and sometimes caffeinated tea or an extra cup of coffee. I’m not reducing my caffeine intake, per se, but I am trying to cut out Diet Coke, which is reportedly toxic for many reasons.

I’ve been less strict with my sugar intake since January 1, namely because I’ve justified a chocolate nosh here and there as part of my self-care regime during a flu-ridden month. In between battling my sugar/caffeine demons, I’ve had the respiratory flu bug that everyone seems to have and can’t shake. Knocked down twice by this sucker and still coughing a month later, I’ve spent a considerable amount of time locked in my apartment, slurping down chicken soup—a.k.a. Jewish penicillin. For a majority of the month, I’ve been living on chicken soup, chocolate, and orange juice—otherwise known as my “Jewish diet.”

My first bout of the flu hit me around Hannukah/Christmas time, when like most Jews, I was thinking of nothing but Chinese food. At the time, I happened upon what is now one of my favorite Jewish food blogs, WhatJewWannaEat.com. Blogger Amy Kritzer is my Jewish food hero. I love her blog so much, I’m actually angry I didn’t think of it first. Not only is the blog name genius, but her playful and creative content makes Jewish food exciting and fresh for younger audiences, including both holiday and everyday fare. With a nod to Jewish food’s longtime tie to “the old world,” her blog tagline is “This ain’t yo bubbe’s blog,” which is painted across a unicorn logo. One of the first recipes I noted on her blog at the time, was a reimagined chicken soup recipe for Egg Drop Matzo Ball Soup. With this single recipe, Kritzer stole my heart, combining my great loves: Chinese food and Jewish comfort food. Little did I know at the time, her blog was filled with these hybrid treasures, including Chai Tea Challah Bread, Mexican Chocolate Latkes with Cinnamon Whipped Cream, Beer Battered Deep Fried Brisket Fritters with Horseradish Ailoi and so many more… Kritzer’s blog is truly a Jewish foodie’s paradise.

Kritzer is not the first to conjure up new visions of Jewish cuisine. In fact, in a May 2014 New York Times article titled “Everything New Is Old Again,” writer Julia Moskin claims that Jewish food is seeing a reinvention revival.

“Artisanal gefilte fish. Slow-fermented bagels. Organic chopped liver. Sustainable schmaltz. These aren’t punch lines to a fresh crop of Jewish jokes,” Moskin said. “They are real foods that recently arrived on New York City’s food scene. And they are proof of a sudden and strong movement among young cooks, mostly Jewish-Americans, to embrace and redeem the foods of their forebears.”

Similarly, there are a crop of young food bloggers who are reinventing/reviving the Jewish palette.

While the new year might be a time when many of us are trying to temper our over-indulgent tendencies, it’s also a fabulous time to explore new foods and experiences. In the spirit of culinary exploration, I wanted to share some of my favorite Jewish food blogs to sample in the new year.

12 Jewish-Themed Food Blogs to Sample This Year:

1. WhatJewWannatEat

2. JewHungry

3. SmittenKitchen (not officially a Jewish blog, but blogger Deb Perelman includes many Jewish recipes)

4. The Shiksa in the Kitchen (A Jewish convert and blogger, Tori Avery explores Jewish food with a fresh perspective)

5. The Jew & The Carrot

6. Kosher Camembert

7. Sephardic Food

8. Kosher in the Kitch

9. Itsy Bitsy Balebusta

10. Joy of Kosher

11. Not Derby Pie

12. This American Bite  

Ess gesunt! - Eat in good health!


Breakfast is hard

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Breakfast is hard photo

Breakfast is apparently the most important meal of the day. Everyone loves to say that. I’m not sure who decided breakfast was the most important, and I don’t know if it’s a true statement. I do hear about it a lot, though. “You can’t skip breakfast; it’s the most important meal of your day.” “You’re eating THAT for breakfast? …you know breakfast is the most important meal of the day.” Everyone has an opinion on breakfast, and I sometimes have to remind the breakfast police that being Jewish means that each and every meal I get to have is the most important meal of the day.

I am not a morning person. I set my alarm early enough so that I can grab a giant bucket of coffee and sit quietly on my couch and stare at the walls. After a few minutes I slowly start to become human and move on to reading the newspaper (i.e. Facebook). Most mornings my Internet time goes on far too long and then I’m running around getting ready and rushing out the door as fast as I can. What this means is that breakfast usually takes a backseat.

Some mornings I can get myself together enough for yogurt and granola, but usually a Kind Bar is as about as exciting as breakfast gets for me. Breakfast is hard! During the week, breakfast might be the only time of day where eating is not my first priority. I’ve never understood how someone can wake up, prepare an actual meal and also arrive at work on time with matching shoes. I’m not fully functional until about 10 am, and only if I’ve had copious amounts of coffee.

I am excited to report that I may have found an answer to my morning breakfast troubles. Over winter-break I visited a friend in South Carolina. It’s a little known fact that Southerners are food experts. To my delight, my friend made slow-cooker oatmeal one morning. I felt like I was witnessing food magic. You just throw a bunch of healthy food into a crockpot before you go to bed and wake up to a morning miracle. Who knew breakfast could be this easy? We’ll see if I can remember to actually put this together before bed. 

Slow-Cooker Oatmeal


Unsalted butter
8 ½ cups water
2 cups steel-cut oats
1 (14 oz) can unsweetened coconut milk or 1 ¾ cups whole milk
¼ cup packaged light brown sugar
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract


Coat the insert of the slow cooker with a thin layer of butter. Add the water, oats, coconut or whole milk, brown sugar, and salt and stir to combine. Cover and cook on low until the oats are cooked through and creamy, about 7 to 8 hours. Stir in the vanilla and serve immediately.


Listen up, Bulls fans

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Listen up, Bulls fans photo

This is a public service announcement to Bulls fans everywhere. In the words of Aaron Rogers: “R-E-L-A-X”

Okay, maybe quoting the Green Bay Packers’ quarterback to address the Bulls’ current struggles seems a bit unconventional. Sinful, perhaps. But it worked for them so why not us, right? For one simple reason – this Bulls team is very good, and it is normal for good teams to struggle in the regular season. To help support my point, let’s look back on the last couple seasons at times when the fan bases of other teams prematurely panicked.

Last season’s NBA champs, the San Antonio Spurs. The team we should have learned to never count out and yet we continue to when they don’t just roll through the regular season. But last year, on their way to an NBA championship and an amazing 62-20 record, the Spurs went through a stretch in January that was quite unkind. They lost to two other Western Conference contenders, the Trail Blazers and the Thunder and went on a three game losing streak (their longest of the season). In February, they lost to bad/middle-of-the-road teams Detroit, Brooklyn and Phoenix during a streak where they lost five of seven games. How did they respond? With a 19-game winning streak in March on their way to the title.

In the year before, the Miami Heat started January by losing four of six games, with losses to contenders like the Bulls and Pacers, but also losses to the Jazz, Bucks and Pistons at the end of December and beginning of January. How did they respond? With a 27-game win streak in February-March, which was very memorably broken by the Bulls.

Great teams know that championships are not won during the regular season. And the veteran teams and players know that in order to be ready to peak in May and June, you need to pace yourself in January and February. They know that losing to a bad team every now and then or losing a series to a conference rival means nothing when the playoffs begin. Look at the Miami Heat. During their championship seasons, the Bulls had their regular season number. And with every regular season win, Bulls fans went nuts, excited that we were better than Miami. But what happened with the playoffs came around? The better team won.

So should we worry about losing to teams like the Jazz, Celtics and Magic? Should we worry about losing two straight to a conference rival like the Wizards? Maybe, but not right now. The ONLY thing we need to worry about is staying healthy. The Bulls need their complete team ready and healthy when the playoffs begin. The loss of just one of any of the Bulls’ core players could be enough to remove them from contention. This is a team built to win as a team. They do not have any one player who can carry them on their backs. The success of each player depends on the success of the others, and the biggest issue so far to me has been that they have just not gelled as a complete unit yet. Jimmy will play a great game, but Rose will be out. Pau will play well, but Noah will struggle. There is no LeBron, no Durant, no Melo on this team. They need to succeed as a group. So far, they have struggled to do that consistently.

Yes, I’m tired of watching the Bulls lose at home, I’m tired of them losing to teams they should beat and I’m tired of the musical chairs they have had to play with their starting lineup. I’m worried some about their struggles on defense so far. But – the Bulls have the best defensive coach and two of the best defensive players in the NBA. This is no longer the young, up-and-coming try-hard bunch we’ve seen over the last few years. The adjustments they need to make to turn some of these losses into wins are minor. This is a legit NBA championship contender. So, as long as they can all stay healthy, I still believe the Bulls could be the best team in the NBA.


All About the Bugs

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About Bugs

When insects are discussed in the Torah, they are usually portrayed negatively. In Parshat Bo, we learn that locusts were one of the ten plagues brought upon Egypt. During the eighth plague, locusts descended on Egypt, devouring all the crops, destroying all the vegetation and literally casting a shadow over the land as they swarmed the sky. Later on in Parshat Shemini, we learn that almost all bugs are not kosher, as they are viewed to be dirty and unclean.

I am one of those weird people who has always loved bugs. Not only can bugs be pretty cute, but they’re also really important. Bees, for example, pollinate flowers and give us honey, while other insects have powerful venoms that have been known to cure different ailments. We also have microorganisms, or tiny insects, living on or in us every day. So why do most people think bugs are gross when in reality they could actually be our secret wonder drug?

Albert Einstein once said, “If the bee disappeared off the face of the earth, man would only have four years left to live.” And he wasn’t really exaggerating: we depend on the flowers and plants that bees pollinate to survive, and bee honey is said to have the ability to heal wounds, kill bacteria, and cure colds. Recently Washington University in St. Louis did a study on bee venom and HIV patients. The bee venom was able to kill the HIV virus without harming the surrounding cells. Bees and other insects might be the cures for many of the common diseases that scientists have been overlooking.

Chinese medicine uses all types of insects just as it uses herbs. Centipedes, earthworms, and scorpions are just a few types of insects used as Chinese medicinals. They are used for problems following a stroke, help to treat bell’s palsy, kidney stones, and reduce the numbness and tingling from diabetes. However, almost all of the bugs being used in Chinese medicinals are for serious conditions, so if you tell your practitioner that you keep kosher, they will make sure not to put them in your formula. Insects and their venoms have helped people in China with life-threatening conditions for years, and more research might need to be done to see what else they can cure.

Microorganisms are also vital to our health. We will never see them or feel them, but we need them. A lot of the microorganisms are destroyed by the food we eat and others are flushed out by antibiotics. This destroys our gut flora (the collection of these microorganisms in our digestive tracts) and leaves us with ailments such as stomachaches, colds and candida.

To ensure that we stay healthy, we need to take probiotics. Probiotics are bacteria and fungi that help repopulate your gut flora, which makes you happy and strengthens your immune system. I recommend probiotics to all of my patients, no matter what their condition is. We have all eaten something in our lives that we wish we hadn’t and probiotics will protect our stomachs from our mistakes.

So, while the Torah may not have too many positive things to say about bugs, we know they are essential to our health, environment and the advancement of science. Consider taking a probiotic every day, and the next time you see you a creepy crawler or a bumblebee buzzing by, contemplate the health benefits this insect can and is providing us.


Just Chill Out

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In With the New photo 400

As I think about how I started anew this year by applying the lesson I learned, I’m trying to figure out the words to say. I wonder if I should write about my trip to Israel, getting a job, or even dating. What angle should I write from? Will I tell a story? My mind becomes consumed with the possibilities. Turns out the lesson I am going to write about is the exact same lesson I need reminding of at this exact indecisive moment:

“Shaily, just chill out.” Everything will be alright.

After having a relationship where all I did was overthink, I realized I needed to switch the way I thought about dating and life, really. That’s where “just chill out” came in.

When I stressed about finding the husband that my dad has been demanding for me for years, all I really needed to hear was “chill out.” When I did not have a job right out of college, I could have panicked, but I chilled out. When I arrived in Israel last year without a program to attend or a real plan, I did not scramble – I chilled out.

This year, I started dating differently. I used to date with the “end game” in mind because of constant pressure from my family. Mind you, I am 23, but this started when I was 17. At every wedding my family went to, the little old ladies with their thick Persian accents would come up and say, “I vish da next vuhn vill be you.”

For my dad and his community, marriage is everything, so I internalized all of this and it showed. I was extremely anxious whenever I dated someone. Even a random dance partner at the Matzo Bash a little over a year ago lead me to overthink where it was going when all I should have done – in the words of Lady Gaga – was “Just Dance.”

When I decided to chill out, dating changed drastically. The guys I was meeting were looking for a partner. I ended up seeing these dates as a fun way to relax with someone new. When I looked at these people, I didn’t see someone whom I needed to determine if I could spend my life with; I saw someone sitting with me in a Julius Meinl having a laid back conversation, nothing more. I enjoyed every moment of every date this past year by trying to never think of a date as more than what it was on the surface.

After graduation, I finished my program by student teaching in Melbourne, Australia. It was quite the summer. But then the fear came in as I neared my first year in “The Real World,” something my friends had warned me about. Would I get the job in New York or D.C. or would I have to use my connections and work in Chicago? I put so much effort (and stress) into cover letters and resumes for only two jobs that I didn’t end up getting. I was devastated. What would I do when I got back to Chicago? August 2013 was the first time I did not have to go to school since I was born. That thought was daunting.

But in the end, everything turned okay. I could finally let my breath out when two – later three – of the most incredible Jewish schools hired me to teach Hebrew. Now, when I look for work, I take it easy. I keep my eyes peeled for the work that most inspires me.

Getting to Israel this past summer was a fight against fear itself. I quit all the amazing institutions I was working for with the hope that Israel would nourish my soul. Before the first leg of my trip in June, I applied to infinite programs and scholarships that would get me to Israel for a minimal cost. After rejection upon rejection, a small miracle happened. When I was not even trying, I won a flight from Nefesh B’Nefesh.

Just Chill Out photo 3

Shaily with medical trainee soldiers volunteering for Sar-El to make and take apart packages of medical supplies.

But that was just getting there. On the second leg of my trip starting this past October, I knew I wanted to do Sar-El - Volunteers for Israel. The plan was to start volunteering soon after the holidays in hopes that would also work for the organization. When the timeline did not work, I did not panic, I adventured around Jerusalem. In the end, I realized everything happens for a reason and it was going to be alright. I don’t regret anything from this trip; being chill and open was half the reason I got to explore the unexpected.

Although I still need reminders from the people I’m closest with to “chill out,” I have been growing to internalize this notion for over a year now. I just returned from Israel after the most chill of conclusions. Last weekend I went to Tzfat, the epicenter of Kabbalah and religious “highs,” to unwind and enjoy the special air of the city. In addition to the stunning views, my Shabbaton rabbi told a story that reinforced everything I learned this year.

Just Chill Out photo 2 Just Chill Out photo 1

Shaily in Tzfat this past weekend and in 2013

He was traveling in India and had taken buses to get around. He had planned to spend Shabbat in a Jewish area and planned the trip there so he would have just enough time to make it before Shabbat began. Friday morning he goes and waits for the 8 a.m. bus for the upcoming 10-hour drive, but a man there says it doesn't exist; he would need to wait two more hours. He worried that he wouldn't get there before Shabbat. But then, an unexpected bus showed up and managed to take him there. Everything was okay. No need to stress.


I took from it that I need to put in my good for the world, not worry about every detail. I know will work out one way or another, and I can proudly say I am enjoying my journey one chilled out step at a time.

To read more posts in the "In With the New" blog series, click here.


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