OyChicago blog

Our beauty is in our diversity

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09/19/2014

Lia Lehrer photo

I’ve always been a bit of a synagogue hopper.

Right now, when asked where I go to synagogue, I say, “I go to five.” I work at Temple Jeremiah, and I love my community there – meeting all of the congregants has been one of the best parts of my job. I enjoy attending synagogue with my family where I grew up, at Beth Hillel Congregation Bnai Emunah in Wilmette. I attend two synagogues in Lakeview, the neighborhood where I live – Anshe Emet Synagogue and Anshe Sholom B'nai Israel Congregation. And I co-lead Windy City Minyan, a monthly Friday night minyan in the city.

I love Jewish communities. I love the diversity of customs, melodies, faces, teachings, architecture and emotions.

So it’s no surprise that on Yom Kippur last year, I found myself in three different synagogues in one day. I spent the morning humming the melodies of the High Holy Days while greeting congregants and meeting new faces at Temple Jeremiah; in the afternoon I sat with my mom, listening to my dad, brother, and sister-in-law sing in the choir at BHCBE; and I spent the evening Neilah service with my friends at Anshe Sholom.

That day, I experienced a cross-section of our larger Jewish community, splitting my time between the Reform, Conservative, and Orthodox synagogues. During Neilah at Anshe Sholom, I found myself not paying so much attention to the words on the page, but reflecting on Jewish peoplehood. The Jewish community – our kehillah – is made up of so many different kinds of wonderful, dedicated, intelligent, interesting, and friendly people.

Our beauty is in our diversity.

We Jews are a tiny percentage of the world’s population. I pray that we can come together as a larger Jewish community to be enriched by the uniqueness of our brothers and sisters.

On that Saturday afternoon in September 2013, driving back and forth between Northfield, Wilmette and Lakeview, I had the chance to truly feel the richness of our people; to me, it was like seeing the face of God.

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You got that backwards

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09/18/2014

You got that backwards photo

“So he has dyslexia.”

This is what I had surmised after an hour-long staffing of a bunch of big words and adjectives being thrown around in an effort to explain why our bright child was struggling so much with reading in school.

“Well, yes. But we don’t call it that anymore,” they said.

“OK. But that’s what it is, right?”

“Basically.”

Phew! I felt an enormous sense of relief and gratitude. Relief that his struggles had been noticed and pinpointed with a workable diagnosis and gratitude that qualified help was on the way. What I didn’t factor in was the ripple effect for me.

I’ve written before that I struggled in school, without any explanation as to why, until 7th grade when a math teacher told my parents I was stupid and lazy. (I guess you could do that back then without losing your job.) To be honest, the wicked lady was half right. I had become lazy – as a smokescreen. If I didn’t try, mediocrity and failure didn’t feel so humiliating and it explained quite simply why I had done poorly.

So when my own diagnosis of learning disabilities revealed itself, (outdated term again apparently, but I earned it so I’m keeping it), I felt that same sense of relief I felt for my child. I knew something was funky – for me, for him – and when I was right, I felt vindicated.

Although I could always see that my child was bright and struggling, as a learning-disabled kid myself, I felt differently about my own struggles. I believed when my parents told me I was bright, creative and intelligent, that they were blinded by their love for me. (Translation: “My parents don’t want to admit they have a dumb-ass for a kid.”) But when objective, outside forces and people (with Rorschach pictures, stats and everything!) revealed I was in fact a highly intelligent and capable child, my world changed. I could suddenly hear that. My diagnosis was truly that significant and I began to believe the good stuff.

I am hoping my child feels this way. I’m hoping that the early diagnosis for him may have been so primary, that all the self-doubt, shame and fear around school learning that I felt, didn’t have a chance to nick him.

This whole process reopened a tremendous amount of reflection for me. And like I said earlier, relief and gratitude were the emotions at the top of my list. Also, somewhere in there, I have experienced a tremendous amount of compassion for the young girl I used to be, who spent so much time feeling inadequate and incapable, trying so desperately to cover up my imperfect tracks in hopes of just getting by.

I read this post to my son in hopes he would be okay with publishing my thoughts on his journey. His response?

“I really liked it. I thought it was really good.”

And this girl is left feeling like she’s on the honor roll.           

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Beeting My Girl Scout Cookie Addiction

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09/17/2014

Beeting My Girl Scout Cookie Addiction photo

Being hungry is a funny thing. By funny, of course, I mean crazy. Is there a more apt way to describe the raging forest fire that controls your every move? There really is no better way to qualify it. Hunger is funny. Your last-minute decision to have Arby’s for lunch, the attitude you gave your mother this morning, those salads you’re force-feeding yourself – hunger did all of that. I don’t know about you, but food can make me bark like a dog and cluck like a chicken any old time she wants.

Nearly every day, hunger reminds me that I am not yet a grown up. I regularly have to talk myself out of walking down the candy aisle at the grocery store. Those negotiations sometimes fail and when they do I can be found looking like a third grader who has just returned home from trick-or-treating. The evil 8-year-old in control of my brain often has other plans.

My most recent run-in with my inner child involved an incident with Girl Scout Cookies. In addition to having little self-control, I’m a bleeding heart. I want everyone to win, so when a friend called to tell me her daughter was selling Girl Scout Cookies … I bought a whole case.

A case, like I’m Oprah. As if the way to save the world is by purchasing 24 boxes of Samoas. I am a 38-year-old, grown-ass man. Why do I need 24 boxes of cookies? Why couldn’t I just be a normal person and offer to buy three boxes? Three is a nice sane number. No, I couldn’t do that. I needed 24 boxes. That’s 360 cookies, in case you’re wondering. I bought 360 cookies at one time with no intention of sharing with anyone.

Maybe you’re one of those positive people, and you’re picturing me carefully packing away my loot in a freezer. Twenty-four boxes, that’s a lot – surely he has a plan to ration those cookies for a whole year. Well, thank you for believing in me, but you’d be incorrect. What? I’m supposed to eat a cookie a day for a year except on Yom Kippur? That’s ridiculous. Who has that kind of willpower? Not to mention: cookies can’t go in a freezer; they don’t wear coats. That’s cruel and unusual punishment.

At first I was mostly responsible. I had a cookie or two after dinner. I’d have a cookie as a random snack. Then my crazy inner 8-year-old lost his tiny little mind and declared war on that case of cookies. I couldn’t control myself. Here a box, there a box, everywhere a box. I had a box for breakfast. I ate a couple boxes of Samoas while watching TV. Three boxes for dinner. I was off the rails. I had cookies as a midmorning snack, cookies in the car, cookies in the bathtub. I was a hot cookie-addicted mess.

I’m not sure how hunger works for most people, but mine definitely has a split personality. The 8-year-old is absolutely in control more often than he should be. When he isn’t sitting in the driver’s seat ordering fried chicken and eating bags of Smarties, it’s the princess of kale, Gwyneth Paltrow, who’s in charge. The two sides duke it out on a regular basis, which I think means I have a bi-polar eating disorder.

Gwyneth had been sitting quietly in a corner waiting for the Cookie Monster to do some serious damage. It wasn’t until she noticed that my pants were fitting a little tighter that she sounded the alarm. Gwynnie went into full-blown “captain of the Titanic mode.” She was raising her eyebrow and wagging the stinky finger of judgment in the face of all of my cookie-filled thoughts. Once I finished the case of cookies, and yes, I ate an entire case of Samoas without any help thank you very much, Gwyneth began enforcing very strict rules. She apparently has no respect for goal-oriented eating.

Of course, agreeing to cut back on cookies wasn’t enough. I had to go completely wackadoodle. Our first order of business was to completely rid my life of sugar. The princess of kale is evil. I’m not sure if you’re aware, but they don’t make cookies without sugar. At least not any cookies that you would actually want to eat. This was going to be very hard. I had been subsisting almost exclusively on Samoas and Diet Coke and now I was in Girl Scout Cookie rehab.

Paltrow dragged me kicking and screaming to Whole Foods and forced me to stare at their lush produce. After gawking at piles of dead plants for what felt like an eternity, GP challenged me to prepare a vegetable that I had never cooked before as a way to get my health back on track. I reviewed the options and decided to give beets a try. I choose them because they seemed harmless and when you’ve been deprived of sugar they look like giant balls of chocolate. Challenge accepted.

I whipped out my phone and turned to the queen of the kitchen, Ina Garten. Ina taught me how to roast a Thanksgiving turkey; beets would be a piece of cake, or cookie, depending on where your politics lie. I gathered the beets, fresh thyme, raspberry vinegar and a large orange per the recipe’s instructions and rushed home.

I got right down to work the moment I walked in the door. I peeled and sliced the beets and cut them into quarters. Those little suckers should have come with a trigger warning; they bled all over my kitchen. Beet juice was everywhere. My house looked like the set of slasher film. I tossed the horror scene onto a baking sheet and into the oven for 40 minutes. I spent most of that time scrubbing my hands like a surgeon and performing Lady MacBeth’s sleepwalking scene. “Out, damned spot! Out I say!”

The beets were delicious! I felt like a magician turning those purple mud balls into something worthy of eating. I had eaten beets several times before and loved them but this was different. I guess food that doesn’t come from a can really does taste better. I missed my cookie diet, but I was proud of myself for expanding my menu.

The morning after roasting the beets I got up to go to the bathroom as usual. Apparently taste isn’t the only difference between canned and fresh produce. I had the most gorgeous fuchsia urine the world has ever seen. At first, I was certain that I was on death’s door and immediately blamed the Girl Scouts and their disgusting Samoas. It took me a few minutes to calm my panic attack and realize that the beets had given me this little present. Then later, on my way to work, I get this text message from my husband: “I have purple pee and poop, disturbing yet beautiful …”

So consider yourself warned: Beets, much like hunger, are a funny and sometimes unpredictable thing. The real lesson here is moderation. Life should be 40 percent cookie and 60 percent beets, or is it the other way around? I never can remember.

Roasted Beets

Ingredients

12 beets
3 tablespoons good olive oil
1 1/2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves, minced
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons raspberry vinegar
Juice of 1 large orange

Directions

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Remove the tops and the roots of the beets and peel each one with a vegetable peeler. Cut the beets in 1 1/2-inch chunks. (Small beets can be halved, medium ones cut in quarters, and large beets cut in eighths.)

Place the cut beets on a baking sheet and toss with the olive oil, thyme leaves, salt, and pepper. Roast for 35 to 40 minutes, turning once or twice with a spatula, until the beets are tender. Remove from the oven and immediately toss with the vinegar and orange juice. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and serve warm.

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Bears Hang On

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09/16/2014

Bears Hang On photo

If before the season started someone told me the Bears would be 1-1, I’d say that sounded about right. But I’d assume that meant a win at home against Buffalo and a loss in the new stadium against San Francisco.

But even after losing in Week 1 the way they did, I did not count the Bears out on Sunday night. Going into Sunday, it didn’t look good for us – Alshon Jeffrey and Brandon Marshall were still questionable on the injury report, the defense was coming off a pathetic performance against an underwhelming offense, and the 49ers were prepared to run all over us on the opening night of their new digs. The script sounded like it had already been written. And as the game started, it sounded pretty accurate. After a “just don’t ‘F’ it up” three-and-out drive, the Bears’ punt was blocked and the 49ers very quickly made it 7-0. Yup. I rushed home, avoided all social media and normal human interaction for this? The hazards of being a Bears fan.

The Bears were playing not to lose. Partially paranoid about making some of the bad mistakes they made last week, and partially because of their injured receivers, who, even though they played, looked slow and allowed the 49ers defense to focus on stopping the Bears’ short game. But despite the tough start, the defense was actually keeping them in the game.

The turning point came with under two minutes left in the first half, when Jay Cutler took a helmet cannon to the sternum that left me short of breath and clenching my chest. But there was something about Cutler’s face when he got up that struck me. I said out loud at that moment, “this is the turning point.” The next play was one of the most incredible catches I’ve ever seen: a one-handed grab by Brandon Marshall that looked like it could only have been made with “Stick ‘um” like Rashid “Hot Hands” Hanon from Little Giants.

From that hit to the sternum on, Cutler went 15-of-16 for 138 yards, four touchdowns and zero interceptions. But it wasn’t just that. The Bears defense grew some cahones and ultimately kept the Bears in this game. Willie Young was outstanding; Chris Conte made an interception flying through the air; rookie Kyle Fuller had two picks; Jared Allen was pressuring the quarterback. This was the defense we hoped to see. Not great, but forcing turnovers and doing enough to keep them in the game.

Now, we cannot talk about this game without at least acknowledging the fact that the 49ers accumulated about 800 yards in penalties. That didn’t hurt. They got some big breaks. But a win is a win, the Bears are now tied at 1-1 with everyone else in the division, and it’s all about what you learn. I do think they learned some things this week. But I still have concerns. The special teams are atrocious on both ends; injuries are starting to get out of hand on both sides of the ball – most recently with the report that Charles Tillman will be out for the rest of the season. And the Bears still have a really difficult schedule ahead of them where the margin for error will be non-existent.

The Bears have an extra day off this week to recover, and then are back on the road and in primetime again on Monday night. I still don’t know what to expect from this team week to week. They have yet to establish an identity. But for at least the time being, they have given us all permission to take our collective heads out of our ovens.  

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''Let It Go''

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09/12/2014

Let It Go photo

It is not a secret that holding onto something — an idea, an object, or a person — isn’t healthy, but we all seem to do it. People often tell me that they have unexplainable pain, and after we talk they start to breathe and the pain magically disappears. As so perfectly quoted from the movie Frozen, we all just need to “Let it Go.”

We are about to approach Shabbat Tshuvah, the Shabbat between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, when we ask for forgiveness. However, we also need to forgive. In the movie Frozen, Elsa, the eldest sister, can never forgive herself for hurting Anna, the younger sister. If Elsa would have forgiven herself she wouldn’t have turned everything into snow and ice.

There are many ways to work through emotional pain and stress. We can exercise, sing, dance, paint, or even get acupuncture. Acupuncture is an ancient Chinese medical treatment used to help all kinds of problems, including stress. It is based on channel theory, where each channel relates to a different organ, and each organ correlates to a different emotion. Acupuncturists ask their patients a series of questions to find out which organ seems to be the source of a problem.* Acupuncturists will then feel their patient’s radial pulses (the pulse on the wrist closest to the thumb) and look at their tongues to help clarify their diagnoses, and then they will treat their patients. Tongue and pulse diagnoses are acupuncturists’ x-ray machines. They are the primary indicators of how their patients’ bodies are working.

How does acupuncture treat stress? Everyone’s stress is different, but acupuncture can help build you up if you are weak, calm you down if you are anxious, and even relax your muscles, which will help you let it go.  

To further explain how an acupuncturist heals, I am going to compare your body to the movie Frozen. Oh, yes.

Imagine your body is Arendelle, the kingdom in Frozen. At the beginning, the town is beautiful, people are happy, and the king and queen are alive. As time goes on, the town starts to fall apart. The king and queen die, the princesses don’t know how to act, and eventually the town becomes frozen. Our bodies go through the same thing. We start out with a clean slate and as time goes by we become more rigid and life becomes harder. Eventually, Elsa decides she is going to be okay and she belts out “Let it Go,” but she isn’t better and the town is definitely not better. Throughout the movie, Anna looks for Elsa to try to save her, and just when we think Arendelle is ruined forever, the town is back and it’s blooming. The situation improved because the root of the problem was fixed. Elsa accepted her powers, and Anna realized that she didn’t need a man to be happy. That is what acupuncture does. It works on the root of an issue and fixes it.

An acupuncturist strategically places needles in acupuncture points to help nourish and strengthen the patient’s body. Each point belongs to a different channel, and each point has different benefits. Usually, this will allow an emotional release and help a person heal. People are often stuck, and something within them needs to be moved. Acupuncture points help stimulate the needed movement within the body and people start to feel better. The only way to truly understand acupuncture is to consider it as a means to allow the different parts of the body to work well as a unit.

In order for us to really feel good and be able to belt out “Let it Go” on top of a beautiful ice castle, we need to relax and find what makes us healthy. It could be, as in Frozen, accepting the fact that you have gifts, or that the man you once loved is not all he’s cracked up to be. Whatever it is, it’s about acceptance so that your whole body can be healthy.

This Shabbat Tshuvah just, “Let it go! Don’t hold it back anymore!”

*Note: When an acupuncturist talks about an organ they are referring to the qi, or energy of the organ, rather than the organ itself. Please do not worry that you have a problem with your spleen if your acupuncturist says you have spleen qi deficiency.

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Your Money Mindset

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09/11/2014

Caryn Fields photo

With the Jewish New Year creeping upon us, I thought I would provide some thoughts on how to change your money mindset for 5775.

Take a minute and think: have you ever asked yourself if you had time to brush your teeth before bed or run to the bathroom before leaving for work? Most likely not. You don’t evaluate whether you have enough time to brush, you don’t add brushing your teeth into your daily schedule. You just do it. If I asked you, “How do you manage to find time to brush your teeth every night?” you would look at me like I was crazy. You don’t have an alarm that goes off to remind you (or maybe you do … ) – you just do it.  Why should your money be any different?

My New Year’s resolution for you is to answer, “I just do it,” when someone asks you about how you handle your money.  How can you get there?  Pretty simply – change your mindset.

Start by telling yourself five simple things:

1. Financial success is possible

Many individuals start off their financial journey thinking pessimistically. Don’t! Start yourself out with a positive attitude. Don’t whine, complain or talk badly about your finances. If you want to build a positive attitude, start thinking with one!

2. Good things come to those who act

It is not thinking, but acting that creates change. No matter where you are in your financial journey, keep taking the next step, day after day, year after year. Automate your savings. Pay extra on your mortgage. Seek opportunities to increase your income. Stay active and financial success will become foreseeable.

3. There is enough to go around

The money supply is growing. Your money is yours to use in the way YOU want. Donate to a charity, save more for a vacation … use your money your way. Don’t feel bad about splurging on that shirt you always wanted, the restaurant you have been dying to try or the play you have been dreaming of seeing. Just because you have more does not mean someone else has less.

4.  Act like a millionaire

In Thomas J. Stanley’s book, The Millionaire Next Door, he describes the average American millionaire – his total income is $131,000 per year, he never received an inheritance and he didn’t go to private school. He drives a 5-year-old Toyota and wears inexpensive clothes. He’s a homeowner who has lived in the same home for over 20 years. He is a meticulous budgeter who invested nearly 20 percent of his household income over the course of his life. Act like this millionaire.

5.  Be curious about money

Educate yourself.  Make money matter to you. Stay curious and never stop learning and growing.

L’shanah tovah – may 5775 be a sweet and prosperous one for you and your family.  

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10,000 Days of Me

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09/10/2014

18 Chicago Facts (Sort of) That You (Probably) Don’t Know photo

On September 27, 2014, I turn 10,000 days old. That’s a lot of days of Adam. Lucky you, you didn’t have to spend all of them with me.

My life has been full of ups and downs, left and rights, backwards and forwards, especially while I’m in a car trying to navigate out of a parking garage. To say the least, it’s been a wild ride and my name isn’t even Mr. Toad. (Whoever gets that reference is amazing.)

My almost 10,000 days equates to 27 years, 4 months and 15 days, for those counting at home. And for those counting at home, you should probably get a calculator.

I have had quite the multitude of memorable days, but what follows doesn’t even begin to hit the tip of the iceberg. Because it’s a list – it has nothing to do with ice. Berg, perhaps, since that sounds slightly Jewish. Anyway,  now I submit to you an abbreviated account of the important days that have occurred for me over the last 10,000 of them. Enjoy!

Day -1,297: My parents were married, thus embarking on the greatest conquest of all time to have the most spectacularly breathtaking, intelligent and incredible child the world has ever seen! Instead they had me.

Day 0: I was evicted from my rent-free studio apartment. However, given I was born at 11:57 p.m., it was only three minutes later that it was …

Day 1: The only day I could use the excuse that I was born yesterday.

Day Time: Usually about 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Day 8: I don’t want to talk about it.

Day 9: My first mitzvah. Organized and executed a huge philanthropy for incoming Jewish baby boys on the truths, myths and horrors of an event I don’t want to talk about.

Day Man: Fighter of the Night Man.

Day 1,181: My brother was born, and I was no longer the favorite child.

Day 2,494: My sister was born, and I was back to being the favorite child.

Day 3,479: I tried out for Home Alone 3, but instead was put on Oprah for a brief moment doing an impression of Jim Carrey from The Mask. This is absolutely true and quite possibly the peak of my acting career.

Day ?: A night to remember.

Day 4,082: The day I ran away from camp, was caught by the police and became a hero to my fellow inmates at daytime sports camp for fighting the man. Unfortunately, the man in this case was an actual human and looking back on that the thought that I made adults not know where a 10-year-old child was must have been terrifying. I was a jerk kid, man.

Day 4,757: The day I became a man. Also the day of my Bar Mitzvah. It was one of my FAVORITE days. Heh heh. (My theme was “favorites.”) At this age my theme would be not to have a theme and appreciate the Bar Mitzvah.

Day, Doris: Popular actress from the ‘50s and ‘60s.

Day 6,670: My first alcoholic drink.

Day 7,671: My first legal alcoholic drink.

Daisy: A pretty flower.

Day 8,989: The day I discovered how to open a banana properly. From the “bottom.” My mind was never so blown. And I once stuck a hair dryer straight in my ear.

Day 9,002: The ten best consecutive days of my life began. That’s right, it’s the day I left for Birthright Israel, because it was my birth right to go on birth right ever since I was birthed, right?

Daybreak: D……….a…y.

Day 9,051: My first Oy! Blog was published. Of course I talked about my trip to Israel….and money.

Day 9,182: The day I officially moved out. Perhaps the most significant day of my life from the standpoint of never having to wear pants at home. Ever again.

Dog Day Afternoon: A great crime drama film from 1975 starring Al Pacino and directed by Sidney Lumet.

Day 9,249: The day of Adam’s Appendectomy Adventure, captured beautifully and hilariously in this incredible piece of bloggism! Found exclusively on Oy!Chicago!

Which brings us to …

Day 9,983: The day you are reading this. Well, the day this was posted at least. I don’t know. You could be reading this in 2032 or something. By the way Adam, stop reading your old posts. Stop living in the past!

But now I come to the question about what is going to happen in just over two weeks, when I hit that landmark of life that most people fail to realize even passes. So what are my plans? Well, I’ll tell you.

Day 10,000: A celebration the likes of which have never been …eh, who am I kidding? I’ll probably have a beer. 

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