OyChicago blog

This post may or may not have been written in the shower

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This post may or may not have been written in the shower photo 1

Though I’m sitting here at my computer, I very well could have written this blog post from the shower.

For my birthday this year, I received a unique and amazing gift: a waterproof notepad and pencil, designed for the shower.

I had requested this gift from Michael and Rachel, my brother and sister-in-law. “I’d like a dry erase board for my shower,” I told them. “I don’t know if it exists, but I figured if anyone in the world could find it, the two of you could.”

So, they presented me with these packs of waterproof notepad paper and pencils.

I stuck the notepad and the pencil to the wall of my shower using the attached suction cups, and I was ready to write.

This post may or may not have been written in the shower photo 2

Why do I want this unusual product? I thought you’d never ask.

My best ideas come while in the shower. With the warm temperature and the sound of calming water, my mind is clear, allowing me to let the creative juices flow without distraction. Many of the ideas for posts on my blog originated in the shower.

To-do list items. When I’m not thinking of exciting, creative, fresh ideas, my mind wanders to my stress level and things I need to accomplish. My brain is filled with “Oh no, I forgot to email my advertising rep at the newspaper about an ad we’re running,” or “I need to buy stamps,” or “It’s been a while since I’ve had dinner with Kayla.” I’m a much happier Lia when my thoughts are on paper (or on pixels), and this will allow me to never be more than an instant away from a pen. To my journalism, English, and writing teachers, who taught me to keep a journal and a reporter’s notebook nearby: you’ve again ruined me.

Memory issues. Upon seeing this gift, my dad said, “Lia, either your showers are too long or your short-term memory is not functional. Can’t you just remember these ideas and items until you get out of the shower?” Both may be true, but … what was I saying? Oh yeah, memory issues. I find myself making up a song so as not to lose my new thoughts — see how long you could survive singing “Contact solution, e-mail Rachel, blog about the vegetable aisle in the grocery store” to the tune of Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance.”

So, I’d like to thank Michael and Rachel for this great gift — and actually, maybe I’ll even write their thank you note while shampooing my hair.


Shabbat in Layers

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Shabbat in Layers photo

In the heart of downtown Chicago, a large party room was filled with young Jewish professionals. Candles were radiating, wine was poured, homemade challah was savored, and the communal companionship was felt by all. My wife and I were relieved that Shabbat had begun and the hours of preparation in the kitchen (and on social media) had come to a close. It was now time to disconnect, to stop and savor the moment. It was a beautiful occasion, and it was time to take the occasion to the next level.

I found myself thinking about a story regarding three construction workers who were interviewed at the same construction site. The first interviewee was a boy about 19 years old. When asked why he was there, he responded that he doesn’t have the money for a membership to a gym; construction work is a great work out, he gets paid to get ripped, and the chicks dig it. The second worker interviewed was in his mid-20s. When asked why he was there, he responded that he doesn’t have the money to get through college. He works as a construction worker by day to pay for his college courses that he’s taking at night. This way, he’ll be able to eventually make a living to support the family he dreams of having. The third worker was in his late 50s. When asked why he was there, he responded that he saw an article in the newspaper that they were building a children’s hospital in this location. He wanted to be a part of that.

We can’t help but feel there’s a difference between their experiences, each one taking us another layer deeper into the significance of the work. Although Shabbat is the opposite of work, this particular Shabbat was unique in that 1 million Jews throughout the world, with 1 million different stories and reasons for participating in Shabbat, were celebrating together as part of a new initiative called The Shabbat Project. And I wanted our piece in Chicago, the Downtown Shabbat Experience, to reach that deeper level.

At the meal, everyone had their share of challah and matzo balls. That was level one: sustenance and delicious food. And then as they ate, everyone was enjoying the company around them, and we were already getting to level two. The third level took a little more effort. Each table was given a different insight about our heritage and was asked to discuss their topic and then to choose a representative to present the table’s insights to the entire group. Amazingly, everyone in the room gave each table their full attention, listening to all the insights and wisdom. One hundred young professional Jews sitting around the Shabbat tables sharing words of Torah and our heritage: we were taking our Shabbat to a deeper level.

But we didn’t stop there. Around dessert time, each table was given a list of typical items found in a Jewish home including candle sticks, a Kiddush cup, a book about the Holocaust, matzoh balls and challah, a Bible and prayer book, and more. They were tasked with ordering each item from most to least important in making a Jewish home. Each shared their three most important items – you can imagine how the room filled with debate! There was laughter, zero agreement (we’re Jews, right?), and lots of thought-provoked faces. We were tapping into the deeper meaning of our lives as Jews.

The festivities continued throughout the entirety of Shabbat. We were blessed with the last sunny day of the year to have our Prayer in the Park workshop on Shabbat morning, with chocolate cake and all. (What’s a Prayer workshop without chocolate cake?) That was followed by a luncheon replete with good food, good company, and meaningful conversations. Many people stayed to play games, chill out, and relax for the rest of Shabbat. As Shabbat concluded with guitar and song, we said goodbye to each other and Shabbat with a hope to reconnect with both again soon.

The Downtown Shabbat Experience was a project of Chicago YJP in partnership with JCC 20s & 30s, Masa Israel Journey, The Center for Jewish Genetics and Jewish Singles Social. A special thanks goes out to Becky Adelberg, Tovah Goodman, Leah Steinberg, Elisha & Jordana Fried, and Tehilla Fried for all their help in putting this event together, and to a number of YJPers who helped finance the event, especially Louie Whitesman for hosting. To find out about the next Downtown Shabbat Experience and other upcoming events with Chicago YJP, you can like Chicago YJP on Facebook.


Being ‘Paciente’

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Being ‘Paciente’ photo

My grandpa has no patience for impatience. He’s usually a pretty excitable person, but he positively boils over when it comes to the subject of how my mother and I need to control our tempers.

“I have never raised my voice in my LIFE!” he declares, his voice gradually rising to a shout with each word. As he’s speaking, he cracks his cane against the floor and stamps his foot. In fact, I’ve hardly ever heard him speak without raising his voice. But in his eyes, he has a perfectly patient and calm personality.

To tell the truth, I’ve never been much of a patient person either. I’m hardly even able to pop a Lifesaver into my mouth without immediately sinking my teeth into it like a stick of gum. And although he suffers from the same problem I do, my grandfather is completely right. Being impatient and losing my temper has only made me, and the people around me, miserable.

There’s an old anecdote about patience, regarding Hillel and one particularly pesky student. This student agrees to a bet to put Hillel’s renowned composure to the test. He shows up to his house and begins firing off round after round of useless questions. He leaves, only to return with a new batch of dumbfounding queries. Hillel calmly answers each one, until the student erupts and blames Hillel for making him lose the bet. Hillel responds, as tranquil as ever, that it’s better that the student lose his money than Hillel lose his temper.

Recently, I’ve been teaching English at a Jewish primary school in Buenos Aires. After two months on the job, it’s pretty clear that I’m no Hillel. I always imagined that while I might not have patience for people in general, I’d scrounge up some sort of tolerance for a group of kids who are just trying to learn. But to my utter dismay, it’s been harder than I imagined.

The other day in fifth grade, 9-year-old Dara strolled up to me with a question. ¨Que significa ‘size’?” she inquired, pointing to the word in her workbook.

Tamaño,” I translated. She nodded and walked off.

A few moments later, she appeared at my side again. “Size?” she asked, her brow furrowed in consternation. “Que significa?”

Tamaño,” I repeated, a little baffled that she was asking again, and went back to helping another student.

Several minutes went by. I felt a tap at my shoulder. It was Dara. She was pointing at a word in her workbook, completely lost on its meaning. The word was “size.”

``Tamaño,” I replied, unblinking, resisting the urge to flip a table. Tamaño. Tamaño. TAMAÑO! Why couldn’t she understand?!

Of course, my skewed, heavily accented version of the word “tamaño” probably meant as little to Dara as the word “size” itself. But I couldn’t help it. My impatience, which is usually simmering beneath the surface, was dangerously close to bubbling over.

In truth, I know that my temper is always much more my fault than whatever is bothering me. After all, why am I getting worked up about someone walking slowly on the street in front of me? Maybe they sprained their foot earlier this week and every step is a strained and concerted effort. Why do I get irritated when my mom drives over the curb? I do that sometimes, too. As for Dara, she wasn’t even trying to irritate me. She was just asking a question.

My mom and I almost always get annoyed when my grandpa accuses us of being impatient. The fact is, patience is something all three of us need to work on. Maybe next time Dara asks me for the definition of “size,” I’ll just calmly respond instead of developing an eye twitch. If nothing else, my grandpa will most certainly be proud. 


Is Derrick Rose the next Penny Hardaway?

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Is Derrick Rose the next Penny Hardaway? photo

This feels all too familiar. Coming off of his second major knee surgery in as many seasons, Derrick Rose is having trouble staying on the court yet again. Two ankle sprains and now a hamstring have kept Rose out of half of the Bulls’ first 10 games this season. The buildup of minor injuries such as these is exactly what led up to Rose eventually tearing his ACL during the 2012 playoffs.

When Rose has been on the court he has been good, showing flashes of his former MVP self. He’s put up averages of 18 points and 5.5 assists per game, and displayed the same speed we always remembered. While the Bulls are taking a much more conservative, cautionary approach to his injuries this year, I cannot help but wonder if we are watching the beginning of the end for what was once a very promising NBA career.

An all-star caliber player with a unique skill set, an NBA lottery pick out of Memphis with potential to be one of the greatest point guards ever. Sound familiar? That’s because we’ve seen this before.

Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway was selected third out of Memphis in 1993 by the Golden State Warriors and later traded to Orlando for the top pick, Chris Webber. During the 1994–95 NBA season, the Magic won a franchise record 57 games while Hardaway averaged 20.9 points, 7.2 assists, 4.4 rebounds, and 1.7 steals per game. He started in his first All-Star game and was named All-NBA First Team. The next season, Hardaway and Shaquille O’Neal led the Magic to the Eastern Conference Finals, only to lose to Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls. O’Neal left Orlando for the Lakers the next season; Hardaway was finally the lone star and leader of the team but failed to lead the Magic to another playoff win.

The very next year, Hardaway suffered a devastating knee injury and was never the same. His unique size and ability helped him still achieve some success, but his numbers dropped drastically. Hardaway couldn’t stay healthy for a full year after that, battling foot and ankle injuries causing him to miss time until two micro fracture surgeries put him out for the season. He battled back and returned again, but he was a shell of the player he used to be in stints with the Suns, Knicks and Heat. Yeah, it’s starting to sound like the Derrick Rose story.

But could Rose’s story have a different ending, perhaps a more positive one involving the NBA title Hardaway never received?

The similarities of a year-by-year stat comparison of the two players in their first four years are mind-blowing. The fourth year for both players was strike-shortened and they both missed most of the following year with a career-changing knee injury.

Year 1  Games Played  PPG  AST  Season Result 
Rose 81  16.8  6.3  Round 1 Loss 
Hardaway 82  16.0  6.6  Round 1 Loss 
Year 2        
Rose  78  20.8  6.0  Round 1 Loss 
Hardaway  77  20.9  7.2  NBA Finals Loss 
Year 3         
Rose  81  25.8  7.7  East Finals Loss 
Hardaway  82  21.7  7.1  East Finals Loss 
Year 4         
Rose  39  21.8  7.9  Round 1 Loss 
Hardaway  59  20.5  5.6  Round 1 Loss 

Are we seeing another story of a potential NBA star’s career cut short? The similarities are eerie and hard to ignore. For Bulls fans, you just have to hope this is not the case. The Bulls this season could be special and make a real run at an NBA title – but I don’t believe that’ll happen unless Rose is on the court, something we’re starting to see as more of a challenge than I think he, or anyone, expected.

It’s hard to imagine Rose ever returning to MVP form, and while Hardaway did develop into a quality role player, his career arc was riddled with injury. Maybe these little early season nicks are nothing, dealing with the rust of sitting out two years in a row. But it’s hard to ignore that Rose’s style of play is not built for a career of longevity. Players who move like he does and hit the lane with that amount of power and quickness don’t play very long without making significant adjustments to their games.

Then there is the mental aspect, which is clearly starting to take a toll on Rose. A constant hot topic in the media, and understandably so, Rose is becoming more defensive all the time. On top of the fact that he has to continue playing knowing that any wrong turn on the court, any awkward landing, could spell the end for him.


Give It Up for Lentils

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Give It Up for Lentils photo

In this week’s parsha, Toldot, we learn that Esau sold his birthright to Jacob for red lentil soup. He was famished from working all day and he needed food so Jacob tricked Esau into selling his birthright for a hot meal. We also learn that Esau was a hunter and Jacob a learned young man. Another way of looking at this is that Esau was yang and Jacob was yin. Yang represents physical strength and yin mental strength. Esau was easily tricked because he needed his physical strength to survive, while Jacob could be patient in order to achieve dominance through his wits. Jacob probably knew that lentil soup can make a person feel fuller in a shorter amount of time and used that to his advantage. I am assuming that Esau also knew that lentils made him feel stronger. So what is in lentils that makes them so good for us?

Lentils are legumes and they are packed with folate. Folate is an important nutrient because it may help prevent Alzheimer’s disease, depression, and osteoporosis. It also helps promote healthy red blood cells to prevent anemia. Most commonly, folate is put in women’s prenatal vitamins to prevent neural tube defects in developing babies. One cup of lentils contains 89.5 percent of the recommended daily intake of folate.

Legumes get some negative attention because they make people gassy. Lentils are no exception because they contain soluble fiber, which slows down digestion, keeping a person fuller longer but also causing gas. Lentils also contain insoluble fiber, which allow a person to be more regular. In general, fiber helps us clean out our colons the natural way. A cup of lentils contains 62.5 percent of our recommended daily intake of fiber. The trick to avoid passing gas from lentils it is important to soak the lentils in warm water at room temperature for at least 48 hours before cooking and eating them. This process will allow the lentil to sprout, which will make it more digestible. Sprouting also increases the vitamin and mineral content of a lentil.

Lentils also contain iron, protein, zinc, and vitamin B6. A cup of lentils is basically a little multivitamin that doesn’t taste like a fake fruit and isn’t hard to swallow. The iron in lentils can help replenish energy especially after a long day, so it is understandable that Esau craved the lentil soup after a long day of hunting. Also, because they contain protein, Esau was able to stay fuller longer and build muscle. From lentil soup, Esau was able to get everything he needed to stay strong.

Esau and Jacob were a yin and yang symbol during delivery. Jacob held onto Esau’s leg perfectly intertwining yin and yang. Their differences led them to needing different things to survive. Esau needed strength and Jacob needed to lead the Jewish people. Lentils were a way for both of them to get what they needed. I understand; I would give up my birthright (as the younger and cuter sibling) for some of my cousin’s tomato-lentil soup.


Giving thanks when thanks doesn’t seem enough

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Giving thanks when thanks doesn’t seem enough photo

This year, as the festively familial holiday known as Thanksgiving comes closer, I know I’ll have a Turkey Day unlike any other I’ve known. I know this because I will be spending it with my baby daughter, Emma.

Now, while she does manage to spit up all over the place and make weird noises – I mean, alien-type weird – I can’t help but think about how unbelievably blessed I am. The nice thing about being Jewish is that I’m used to thinking about all the things I am thankful for nearly all the time. It’s mostly because of all the prayer hours I’ve logged, but it’s also because my parents chose to raise me to show gratitude, that there’s always something to share with those that are less fortunate than us.

When I look at my baby daughter’s beautiful blue eyes, I can’t help but think about the staggering multitude of events and experiences that led to her miraculous deliverance into this world. Suddenly, being thankful for a plasma HDTV or a brand new car doesn’t cut it, nor does it even seem right to hold these things in such esteem. People are right about the world changing around you once you have a child, or is it your view of the world that changes? Or both, simultaneously? Everything is put into perspective once you become a parent, not because you’re getting older (which is true), but because it’s tough to see the world with just you at the center.

Now bear with me while I get a little philosophical and existential: A little while ago, I was teaching a group of students about Maimonides’ Eight Levels of Charitable Giving. I know, I know, I am not a rabbi and I’m not about to give a d’var, but hear me out. One of the lessons the students learned was that the highest level of charitable giving was, “... to support a fellow Jew by endowing him with a gift or loan, or entering into a partnership with him, or finding employment for him, in order to strengthen his hand until he need no longer be dependent upon others ...” One of the students thought for a bit, then asked me, “if this were to happen to me, how could I ever reciprocate this thankful act? And if I wanted to give charitably like we are commanded, how could I ever repay this person for what they’ve done for me? It’s almost impossible to measure.”

I thought to myself, Wow, he’s got a point. That’s when even I began to understand how the impact of giving and of gratitude can profoundly affect us and the lives of those around us – strangers, brothers, sisters and more. In that moment, I truly learned that we are all connected to each other in such a special way, that when we do good deeds for others without expecting a “reciprocal act” we begin to realize the beauty that we’ve just delivered into the world.

This is what I truly believe G-d did for me when Emma was born. My wife and I were given this precious, beautiful, sacred miracle that we could never fathom to repay or reciprocate. How could we ever repay our very lives to our parents? I know I’ve tried to show them how much I have appreciated everything they’ve ever done for me, how much they’ve sacrificed of themselves. For me, it’s amazing to think that we have the power within us to not only be thankful in a meaningful way, but to profoundly affect others in such a way, they feel the gratitude that we ourselves have acquired. I cannot begin to put into words how grateful I am for Emma; I only hope to pass this very idea along to her someday.

So, wherever you may be carving the big turkey, shoveling stuffing, sweet potatoes and pies past those pearly whites, and getting those cheeks pinched, remember what brought you there in the first place. Look around the table and I’ll bet you can feel the thankfulness in the air. Now, I dare you to take that good feeling with you when the inevitable food coma has past, and pay it forward to someone else. Who knows what might happen?

L’Chaim and Happy Thanksgiving!


Zero Motivation

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Israel’s hit movie of 2014 is an American must-see

Zero Motivation photo 1

Nelly Tagar as Daffi in Zero Motivation

It took me five years to finally get to another screening at the annual Chicago Festival of Israeli Cinema. Talk about Zero Motivation.

In 2009, I made the mistake of going too heavy for my first CFIC experience when I saw Ronit and Shlomi Alkabetz’s Shiva. Zero Motivation proved infinitely more accessible, especially as a young adult. When it stops playing festivals and gets wider distribution (I hope) in the U.S., it’s can’t-miss stuff, especially for young adults who have connected with Israel or Israelis at some point in their lives.

The film focuses primarily on two young women in the IDF who work in the administrative office at a military base in Southern Israel. They are essentially pencil-pushers and coffee-runners put in charge of oddly specific mundane tasks, such as paper-shredding or snail mail. Daffi (Nelly Tagar) dreams of being reassigned to Tel-Aviv, whereas her best friend, Zohar (Dana Ivgy), aspires to set Minesweeper records on all the office PCs and lose her virginity to the next willing soldier. As they try and maneuver around the annoying girls in the office and their rigid commander, Rama (Shani Klein), a few brushes with reality test their friendship to the extreme.

Zero Motivation photo 2

Dana Ivgy (left) and Nelly Tagar play best friends at odds in Zero Motivation.

The best way to describe Talya Lavie’s film to American audiences is to imagine if Juno writer Diablo Cody wrote a movie about the Israeli army starring Girls star Lena Dunham and Ellen Page. Lavie’s script is razor sharp and hilarious, but also a little dark and unsettling. It touches on a couple mature and heavy issues within the context of wit and satire, which though uncomfortable, is the good kind of uncomfortable, and it lends a certain gravity to the movie, which otherwise would be a noteworthy comedy but little more.

Neither Daffi nor Zohar are particularly loveable, but they are easy to identify with. Today’s American 20-year-olds might not have to go through the army, but they know plenty about doing dead-end work, pondering their direction in life and fighting their inclination to merely entertain themselves. That’s a universal sentiment, and what ultimately makes Zero Motivation worthy of its 12 Israeli Film Academy nominations, half of which resulted in wins, including Best Actress for Ivgy.

Balancing out the movie’s delicate fusion of satire and important issues is the friendship dynamic between Daffi and Zohar. It is this grounding, human component that helps the film resonate across cultures and languages. Even though the film is really about them reconciling their own personal desires with their friendship rather than the friendship itself, social dynamics really provide the emotional fuel of the story.

Could Zero Motivation hypothetically be remade in another country such as America, taking place at an office with interns instead of a military base? Perhaps, but the army is a rite of passage that most other countries don’t have, and it’s so formative of the identities of Israeli young adults. Anyone who has spent time with Israelis and met a few whose job in the army was not all that glorious can at least grasp the importance of this setting in Lavie’s film. There’s also clearly a much deeper layer of satire that will only play effectively to Israeli viewers, but you can sense the richness of the dialogue that could be had about the issues presented.

Although not approached head on, there’s an undercurrent that addresses women perceiving their self-worth based on their relationships with men. Anyone can enjoy this movie, of course, but the talking points for women are important ones that again, transcend cultural boundaries, even though there are sure to be nuances.

Films that are genuinely funny, relatable and thought-provoking are rare as it is, let alone when it conveys those things despite being in a foreign language. It’s unfortunate that Zero Motivation won’t be Israel’s submission for the Academy Awards because it would really play well here and probably spark dialogue with regards to the perception of Israel and its military in the West.

Zero Motivation is also a reminder that as the market for independent film grows in the United States, so does our ability to appreciate foreign films. The two go hand in hand. Young adults in Chicago should be aware of the quality of Israeli filmmaking and beret’s off to the Chicago Festival of Israeli Cinema for securing this newer movie for this year’s slate.                                      


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