I know, I know it’s not kosher to review books before you’ve finished them, but when you’re too angry to keep going, that’s sort of a review in itself, right?
Let me back up. I always get excited when I find Jews in fiction and media. Part of me thinks this is because I grew up in a small college town with a vibrant but small Jewish community, mostly university faculty and a rotating cast of students. Even moving to Chicago didn’t take away that pleasant moment of surprise when you realize someone is Jewish too.
The next best feeling is realizing that a character in a book or a film or a show is Jewish too. When a story in your favorite genre (fantasy) features a whole culture that’s an explicit analog of medieval Spanish Jews? I did a little dance when I found out about Guy Gavriel Kay’s The Lions of Al-Rassan, I won’t lie.
Kay, who is Jewish, published Lions in 1995, just before Game of Thrones was first released, but readers may recognize some of the same nation-jostling and king-killing in Al-Rassan, which is based on Moorish Spain and populated by three major religions. The Jaddites resemble Christians, the Asharites mirror Muslims and the Kindath are clearly Jews. The Kindath are wanderers, frequently persecuted, occasionally allowed to flourish and happily slaughtered when other people get unhappy.
There’s more to the story than that, but the point at which I stopped, about three-quarters of the way through the book, depicted the beginnings of a massacre. I was exhausted by it. I was done. And even though this novel borrowed from and transformed real history, I was tired of it. I don’t want more stories about Jews as victims and only victims, no matter how learned or talented or valuable they are when tolerated by the wider culture. I don’t want that to be our
This is the fear that dogs me as soon as I realize characters in books or films or shows are Jewish. Will they be the plucky/tragic survivors whose suffering gives meaning to non-Jewish characters (nowhere more egregiously than for Spielberg’s Oskar Schindler)? Will they be neurotic man-children, a la Woody Allen? Will they be high-maintenance suburban princesses or sexy, ruthless Israeli soldiers? Will they even be from anywhere other than New York?
The stereotypes are insidious, even if you think you’re aware of them. Once upon a time, when I was taking improv classes, I made up a character with a nasal accent who tried to solve everything by pushing bagels on my scene partner. After, I felt ashamed, and I tried to figure out why I’d done it. I think it was because I believed I could get a laugh, that everyone knew that caricature and enjoyed it.
That isn’t the Jewish community that I know. I’m grateful for the Jewish characters who are as vibrant and diverse as the people I love, and for the creators who are working to do more. For my next read I have People of the Book, a Jewish sci-fi anthology, which should be interesting. Author G. Willow Wilson wrote the fascinating Alif the Unseen about a universe much like ours that operates according to Islam and Islamic mythology; I would very much like to see a Jewish book like that.
I don’t want to imply that we should smooth over or ignore our own history. Suffering is, of course, very much a part of the Jewish experience, and we should honor that. But just yesterday I learned about Qalonymos ben Qalonymos, a writer born in Arles, France, in the 13th century. “On Becoming a Woman” (in the original Hebrew, with translation) is a stunning poem written in 1322, and I find it somewhere between unlikely to impossible that it’s not speaking from the perspective of a transgender woman. In Provence, in the 1300s! We have this! How am I only hearing of it now?
We have so many tales to tell and people to be. I look forward to the new and wonderful ways in which we’ll do it.
“Brave,” a song sung by Sara Bareilles, has been getting
lots of airtime on my iPod these days. The song just lifts me up.
And it begs to be played loud. “Say what you wanna say
and let the words fall out,” she sings. “Honestly, I wanna see you be brave…maybe
one of these days you can let the light in.”
Written by Bareilles and Jack Antonoff, “Brave” was
inspired by Bareilles’ close friend coming out of the closet, and it’s also become
an anthem for patients battling life-threatening illness. (Check out the online
video of Joshua, a 4-year-old cancer patient, singing the tune alongside
But the song has a broader message for all of us, no
matter what struggle we’re facing in the moment.
There’s no quality
I admire more than courage, possessing the
chutzpah to stand up for what you believe in, no matter how much external
forces and momentum try to sway you otherwise. I think of the times I’ve tried
to muster my own courage—where I’ve made the tougher choice, or stood up for
what wasn’t necessarily popular. It’s in those instances where I’ve grown the
most, morphed into a stronger version of me.
we’ll observe Purim, one of the most joyous holidays on the Jewish calendar.
The story, told in the Book of Esther, celebrates the courage of Queen Esther
risking her life by telling the king about Haman’s plot to kill the Jews of
modern Jewish history, we’ve witnessed the courage of Jews taking big risks in
the face of peril—people like Golda Meir, Elie Wiesel, and Natan Sharansky.
too, defined courage. One of 37 Jewish paratroopers from Mandatory Palestine,
she rescued Hungarian Jews during World War II. She was later arrested at the
Hungarian border, imprisoned, tortured, and then tried and executed for
refusing to surrender details of her mission. Szenes, who wrote beautiful
poetry during her lifetime, is regarded as a national hero in Israel.
Courage is all around
us. Heroes in uniform—police officers, firefighters, and men and women serving
in the military who protect our freedoms here and in Israel—run toward danger
every day when everyone else is running away from it.
Jeff Peretz is a man of
courage, but he’d probably disagree. Shortly after 9/11, I interviewed Peretz,
a Jewish firefighter from Chicago’s West Side. After the planes hit the towers,
he and nine other Chicago firefighters used their vacation time to help the
victims. They drove caravan-style through the night from Chicago to New York.
At Ground Zero, they used heavy machinery to lift debris from the site, and they
also attended funerals—five a day—for fallen police officers and soldiers. I
asked Peretz at the time if he considered himself a hero. “No,” he said, brushing
off the question. “It’s my job. They would do it for us if it were the other
Sometimes courage wears no uniform. Malala
Yousafzai, a Pakistani girl, was 15 when she was shot in the head by the
Taliban for refusing to be silenced about her right—and all girls’ right—to an
education. Malala, as she’s known around the world, has become a symbol of
peaceful protest, the youngest nominee ever for the Nobel Peace Prize.
Little kids can show big courage. Take 11-year-old Tommy
Cooney, of Massachusetts. He discovered his 6-year-old friend, Danny Keefe, who
suffers from a speech impediment due to a brain hemorrhage, was getting picked
on by other kids because Keefe prefers to wear a suit and tie to school. To
make his younger friend feel less alone, Cooney decided to dress in a suit and
tie too, and encouraged other kids to wear fancy threads to school.
Be brave. In small ways. In big ways. Never let fear stop
you from standing up for the things you believe in, the things you want to do,
the things you know to be right. They won’t seem as scary after you do them.
Let the light in.
Everything is in fives these days: 5 top ways to burn calories, 5 best exercises, 5 healthy desserts … I’m not sure if it’s because of our short attention spans, or writers are getting lazy. Maybe the same marketer that said Power Point slides should only have three bullet points said fitness information is best in groups of five. I will play along with that new rule, and give five of my favorite health tips.
1. Pushup Holds
Some trainers refer to planks as holding yourself up in the pushup position; I think of planks as something you do on your forearms. Anyway, I love this simple exercise. If you have trouble doing pushups this is a great way to get stronger. This exercise helps your shoulders, chest, back, hips and core. With no equipment, you can hold this position for 30 seconds to a minute and really feel it. If you have any wrist pain, you may want to skip this exercise and do it on your forearms instead. The perfect form is head straight, hands underneath your shoulders (many people go to wide) and feet straight back. Don’t let your hips drop.
2. Cottage Cheese
I know some people think it’s gross, but I am a huge fan of cottage cheese. I buy the 4-percent fat, which tastes the best and usually has the lowest amount of sodium and sugar. This is a great post-workout food to eat because of the high protein content and the fat also keeps you full longer.
3. Goblet squats
I love this exercise! This is a great way to hit quads, butt, and stomach without a lot of pressure on your spine. Of course if you have any pain with this or any other exercise I’ve listed, do not do it. I recommend doing three sets of this during your leg workouts, 10-15 reps with a weight that’s challenging but still allows you to complete 10 reps. Check out this video for a simple demonstration.
I hear this all the time, “I do cardio, don’t have to exercise my legs.” Yes, you do. I’m not suggesting squatting heavy weights or joining a bar class where you squat a million times, but you need to work on your legs. Weight training with your legs releases the greatest amount of growth hormone compared to any other part of your body. Often times, a stronger butt can help with back, knee, or hip pain. It’s important to have great form when exercising any muscle group but especially the legs. Email me or work with a trainer to make sure your form is right.
If you follow me on twitter @fitwithkrit or other social media outlets, you see that I cook a lot. I do this for two reasons: I love to cook and it allows me to control what goes in my food. I can go easy on the salt, sugar, pick leaner cuts of meat, add extra veggies, and season with my favorite flavors. Additionally, it saves some money.
What are your health favorite tricks and tips? Send them my way at email@example.com or post below for others to see.
This year, I failed at the Oscars. I failed at the Oscars because I didn’t watch them. I didn’t even write about them, something I’ve done extensively for the last four ceremonies on my blog, moviemusereviews.com. This year, however, I did nothing. The Oscars were the red carpet/stairs and I was Jennifer Lawrence, only no one saw me fall.
Even that bad joke is really a 2013 Oscars recap joke, that’s how bad it is, and as much as I want to shake my blunder off like it’s nothing, I just can’t seem to let it go.
Ok, that was a 2014 Oscars joke. (I said I didn’t watch them – I didn’t say I had no idea what was going on.) But even though I knew who and what films were nominated and could swear to you that almost 100 percent of my mental Oscar predictions came true (saw the Gravity sweep with a loss in Best Picture to 12 Years a Slave coming for miles), I felt out of touch, like someone should try revoking my cinephile license.
I was in Houston Sunday night, staying with some wonderful friends who moved there from Chicago a couple summers ago. I intended to be home for the Oscars, but flights are cheaper on Monday mornings. Although my friends don’t have TV, our plan was to stream the ceremony, which ABC offered for the first time this year, but when the time came, it wasn’t working. We tried again and again, but eventually we gave up. So we spent more quality time together instead, which I treasured, but the movie nerd part of me was crushed; I essentially ignored his annual birthday party.
I also acted like I didn’t so much as care his birthday was coming up. For the years prior to this one, I would start preparing for the Oscars Dec. 1 by following the awards season buzz like a hawk, studying up to make Oscar nomination predictions. After the nominees were announced in January, I’d spend the weeks leading up to the ceremony analyzing every single category (even best documentary, short subject, despite not seeing any of the nominees) on my blog and predicting the winners. By Oscar Sunday, the suspense would boil over, and I would be glued to the screen. After analyzing the show the next day, I would sigh in relief that it was over and do the whole thing again 9 months later.
And I did it all for fun. I did it for free. I did it because I loved it. Just as I did with everything else on my blog, and another website (or two) that I wrote and edited content for over the course of three years.
Then, last March, I got a full-time job with JUF and Oy!Chicago, a job that has nothing to do with movies (except when I write these blog posts). (In a cruel poetic twist of course, I received the call with the job offer while at a movie theater.)
It all went downhill from there for the movie nerd part of me. I struggled to see movies in theaters or at home, especially in a timely fashion, and some reviews took weeks to complete. I wrote no feature stories or fun movie content to supplement the reviews I did write. My movie mojo had disappeared.
Everyone has their Super Bowl. Everyone has something that not’s a value or a priority but a pure love: a sport, a hobby, an event, a holiday or even a second professional passion, which every so often comes to a boiling point. It’s a time when the world stops and we must stop anything from tampering with our little love affair; we want to completely lose ourselves to it. For some people, that’s the Oscars. For me, it’s the Oscars, the actual Super Bowl, my fantasy football draft, and a few other things. At times, however, for one reason or another, our lives interfere with and impede our Super Bowls, and that disappointment stings a little.
The real challenge, however, isn’t dealing with the pain of a missed Super Bowl. It’s not about forcing yourself to understand that this passion isn’t all that important in the grand scheme of things and that you should get over it. Rather, it’s being able to recognize that where you are, what you’re doing, or who you’re with, is totally worth missing a Super Bowl for.
As my congregants know I have a wall full of Jewish MLB rookie cards hanging in my office. A congregant walks into my office, looks at the hanging cards and says "hey, that's Justin." Of course, I immediately asked for his contact information and Justin was gracious enough to answer some questions. We spoke on the phone for a while and he has some great stories. Although his career in the majors was short, Justin had a lot of amazing baseball moments including meeting Sandy Koufax. Below is a little more about Stanford great and Jewish MLBer, Justin Wayne.
Justin Wayne and Jewish baseball legend Sandy Koufax.
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
Born and raised in Honolulu, Hawaii. Both parents from New York, who moved out to the Islands before my brothers and I were born. We played every sport growing up, not focused specifically on baseball until late into high school. Along with going to the beach as often as possible when we were younger, our priority was academics and family. I have visited South Korea, Japan, Canada, Mexico, Nicaragua, many countries in the Caribbean, and all the states except Montana. My interests in school were always geography, math and sciences. I have been living in Florida since I finished college, and now that my brothers live in South Florida with me, it seems to be the place that I will stay. I will be getting married this fall and look forward to having little Jewish athletic scholars of my own.
What was it like growing up playing baseball in Hawaii? Was it harder to get noticed?
Baseball was very competitive in Hawaii. Many times we participated on travel teams during the summer and competed in the continental United States. These travel teams have showcased Hawaii’s talent since before I was around. In high school, we had scouts come to the islands to evaluate us just about every week of the baseball season. Some professional teams even had local scouts, including scouts that worked for the Major League Scouting Bureau, that were able to watch us develop even before high school.
What was your experience at Stanford like? When did you know it would lead to the MLB?
I was so lucky to be able to attend Stanford. Everything from the academics to the athletics is top notch, as well as the ability to meet and become friends with kids from all over the country. I probably realize it more now than while attending, but the campus might be the most beautiful in the whole country. Once I became familiar with the Stanford baseball team, I saw many of my teammates using the program as a stepping stool to a career in professional baseball. I would say sometime during my sophomore year I began to believe that I might also have the chance to follow that path that so many before me took: an opportunity to live out all of our childhood dreams and play in the Major Leagues.
You were drafted 5th overall by the Montreal Expos. What was that moment like?
Because we knew there was a good chance a team would be calling us that day, my roommates and I,
including my older brother who was in town, were all waiting in our apartment. When the phone rang, it was as if I had forgotten about all the hard work that had been put in up to that point. It seemed just too good to be true. I wanted to call everyone I knew and let them know that I had just been given the key to the candy store. Not a lot of time was given to celebrating, as we were in the middle of getting ready for school finals, and preparing to go the College World Series. It will surely be a day that I will never forget.
Eventually you were a key component in a blockbuster trade involving Carl Pavano and Cliff Floyd. What is it like to be traded at that level?
I was just getting back from the Double-A All Star game in 2002, and was caught completely by surprise. Mixed feelings quickly spread through my mind. Did I let my team down? Did they not think I was capable? Were they trying to get rid of me? But from the positive end, another team was so interested in me, that they must have seen me as a valuable asset and a player that would make a positive impact on their club. This was an exciting feeling. A new situation gave me new opportunities. Within two months of the trade, I made my first appearance with the Florida Marlins.
What was the moment like when you were finally called up to the Majors?
I was sitting in our Calgary locker room, which is where the Triple-A team was for the Florida Marlins, when I was given the news that I would be called up at the beginning of September. As soon as I was told that I would make my first start with the Big League club, I tried to contact every person I knew that would be able to make it to New York to watch me pitch against the Mets. With family in town as far away as Hawaii, I was a nervous wreck. But what I had learned was that you could channel the anxiety, nervousness, and unknown to your advantage. Except for not covering first base on a double play opportunity, that moment will be like none other in my life. It seemed like every second flew by with anticipation, but I have such a clear memory of everything that happened that day as if it was yesterday.
Looking back on your experience, did you learn any specific life lessons?
Life lessons happen every day of our lives, sometimes without us recognizing it until we are much older. With all competitive athletes in any competition, whether in the Major Leagues or not, you will always find some that will, and some that won’t. I am not talking about winning and losing, but of putting yourself out there and not knowing what the result will be, just that you did everything you could to succeed. There will always be someone bigger, someone stronger, someone more capable. But if nobody works harder than you, nobody studies more than you and prepares to do the best that you can do, then you will never have to live with regret. You will never have to worry about the unknown, because you maximize what you are capable of, and that is success. In the classroom, on the field, with relationships, with life.
What was your Jewish upbringing like? Was it fun having brothers who also were very talented baseball players?
Our Temple (Emanuel) in Hawaii was a lot of fun. We had about 9-10 students in each grade. Most of the kids we grew up with were not Jewish. From my high school, I think there were five Jewish students in my grade, out of 450. While my brothers each had their bar mitzvah in Hawaii, I had mine in Oceanside, N.Y. (with a cousin who was very close in age). This was a significant change, as they had about 50 kids per class at their Hebrew school. This, along with the fact my brothers and I were close in age, created a very close relationship between the three of us. The three musketeers if you will. And the yes, the competition between us was always high. Sometimes to the point we got in trouble for it.
What do you do these days?
I separated myself from baseball to give myself a chance to pursue other ideas. I am now working as a financial professional, dealing with protecting and creating wealth for my clients through a quantitative and holistic approach. This has a lot to do with what I have always been passionate about, which is numbers and economic trends. I also am a great uncle to my niece and nephew.
Anything else you want to tell the TGR fans?
There are not many things in life more exhilarating than to assimilate one’s self with a sport, team or
player. Being a fan of the game is something that you can never outgrow. I will never lose my passion and love for the game of baseball, even though my playing days are in the past. We just carry that with us and pass it down to the people we show it to.
As the last of the Valentine’s Day chocolates are slowly being eaten, a question is on my mind: Is it possible to fall in love with a website?
If it is, well, then I have it bad for Pinterest. Bad.
In case you’ve been living in a cave for the past few years, Pinterest is a website that mimics a bulletin board. I see something cool that I like somewhere on the Internet, so I can take it and “pin” it to my bulletin board. You can see my bulletin board and if you like what I’ve “pinned,” you can copy it to your bulletin board. Virtual bulletin boards with an unlimited supply of pushpins — count me in!
I’m not as active a Pinterest user as I am a Facebook user, but Pinterest has its moments for me. Here are my top favorite times to use this beloved site.
1. Searching for something specific. My favorite way to find new recipes is to pick a main ingredient and then search by that ingredient. If I’m looking for a recipe that includes butterscotch or red velvet or apple cinnamon, I’ll head to Pinterest first and search for those main components, and I’ll find dozens of butterscotch blondies, red velvet whoopie pies, or apple cinnamon banana bread chocolate chip pumpkin bread bundt cake lava cake. It’s a haven for an avid dessert maker like me.
2. Daydreaming. I love looking at pictures of wedding dresses with bows, dream homes with grand staircases, functional treehouses with electricity, and cute ways to keep pictures of future children as they grow. I’m not really in the market for any of these things, but it’s nice to daydream as I scroll through pictures. Wouldn’t it be great if my bedroom had a sheer white canopy, periwinkle curtains, and 15 sequined pillows on my bed? What would my life be like if I had a mudroom with DIY antique hooks to hang raincoats? Could I be a person who has a wedding cake made of ice cream cones?
3. Finding new “life hacks” I didn’t know I needed. I didn’t know that there was a problem with the way I was organizing my paperclips — but now that I’ve seen a cute, creative, easy way to use magnets to keep them away from other office supplies, I must do it. Now. How did I live for 27 years without using a CD case as a bagel holder? What about a sneaky way to make my ponytail look longer? Yes please!
4. Killing time. This is really the main reason why I love Pinterest. It’s a great way to kill a few minutes — waiting in line, friend is running a few minutes late for lunch, etc. — without getting too invested in something too deep. You can scroll through people’s pins for 30 seconds or 20 minutes, and suddenly your wait time doesn’t seem so bad. Or it’s a great way to relax when you’re trying to fall asleep. So thank you, Pinterest, for keeping me entertained until the wee hours of the morning.
See you on Pinterest!
The above quote is profound, practical, instructive, and chock full o’ brilliance. There is a fairly popularized proverb that I first saw in a collection of inspiring stories by Rabbi Paysach Krohn that states the idea that if everyone’s bags of troubles, challenges, heartaches, difficulties, etc. were put in a clear bag and hung out on a line for all to view and choose from, we would look at everyone else’s bags and realize that our own bag isn’t so bad.
So, the person you are sitting next to during your morning commute might look like they have their act together and are “living the dream, baby,” but they also might be dealing with a personal problem that we would never be able to deal with. The person in front of you at Trader Joe’s might look relaxed without a care in the world, but they might be stuck in an emotionally abusive relationship. The boy in your child’s class who always seems to get extra attention from the teacher might be subjugated to the most horrific family situation that you could ever imagine. The department head in your office, with the leased company car, the never ending suit collection, and the perfect golf game might have a seriously ill child that is costing him thousands of dollars in medical bills. That dude sitting next to you in Starbucks with his MacBook Air might have a serious learning disability and can’t read above a fifth grade level. Your friend in the Zumba class who has three part-time jobs and the perfect boyfriend might be struggling with an eating disorder.
There are times when I think that others have it much better than I do. There are times when I see the problems others have and think that I could handle their tzuris (troubles). Understanding that my own problems (despite having a family that loves me, a job I like, and really cool kids) are tailored exactly for me isn’t easy, for sure. It’s much easier to think that we know everyone’s story and it’s natural to want to walk in someone else’s shoes.The truth is, we don’t know the problems that many people have. Sometimes all we can do is be kind, patient, and sympathetic to others. Sometimes just doing that can lighten the load someone carries and help them fight their battle.
Sites We Like
TribeFest is an entertaining, interactive and educational celebration that will draw over 1,500 Jewish young adults (ages 22-45) from across North America. TribeFest will reflect the vibrant setting of its host city, New Orleans, offering meaningful, fun, and top-quality content. Through presentations by dynamic leaders in politics, entertainment, music, art, food, religion and other aspects of Jewish life, TribeFest will offer attendees many ways to connect to their own Judaism and how they see themselves as part of the community.
Learn more about TribeFest and traveling to New Orleans at www.tribefest.org.
"What’s in Your Toolbox?"
Being successful in your job search isn’t luck or magic. Whether you are an administrative assistant or a senior level manager, the skills needed to land a job are the same. In today’s economic climate the competition is fierce, and having the tools necessary for a modern and relevant search takes work and knowledge. Topics range from resume and cover letter writing to finding a career identity.
To register for of Career Moves events and workshops, please visit jvschicago.org/workshops-and-events. For more information call 847-745-5482.