OyChicago blog

Some ‘Take Out’ Takeaways

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01/27/2016

Some 'Take Out' Takeaways photo

A Jewish ethicist, Rabbi Elya Lopian, once commented that the true measurement of a person's middot, or character traits, is how he or she treats those in his or her own home. He observed that often people are much nicer to strangers than to loved ones in their own family. I so relate, because I am generally viewed as a nice person to strangers.

For me, a casual interaction with someone in a store isn't a big deal. It's a once or twice relationship. It's not directly ongoing, nor is there much to be gained from investing time or effort into the person at the cash register. In your family, being nice is a constant challenge. That's why it's more difficult to keep your cool, speak pleasantly, be appreciative and display a level of respect at home.

This is something -- especially in dealing with my kids -- that I am constantly working on. It's a job in the real sense, because effort is involved. There are times that I win and there are times that I slip and lose it. It's less frequent than it was, say, two years ago, but it happens.

Last night, I placed an order for some take out. I went, picked up my order, and came home. When I started unloading the purchased items, I realized that I was missing something. I quickly called the establishment and asked if the item I was "missing" was meant to be included with my order. It was. So I asked if I could come back and pick up the item and, of course, they said yes.

I showed up, explained the situation and they apologized profusely. I told them that it really wasn't a big deal and that I was sure they were just busy when they put the order together.

Then, on my way back, I wondered why I didn't adapt this easygoing attitude at home. Here I was telling them "no big deal," when I had paid for an item and didn't receive it. Yet, I find myself frustrated and impatient when I ask one of my kids to pick up their dirty clothes and they choose not to. It's not like I paid them to actually clean up their clothes; there was no implied exchange for services rendered. There is, however, a relationship built on trust, love, respect and appreciation. That's really the kicker.

When working with any "volunteers" it's imperative to appreciate what they do. I realized that my strategy of working on patience and keeping my cool only really affects how I perceive things, or the input -- not the output.

So, when I came home, I went straight into my son's room and told him that I really appreciate all the effort he puts into studying, and that I understand that after a full day of school he might be too tired to care about the state of his room. I also told him that if he wants help picking up clothes, I'd be happy to assist him.

If I can be nice and understanding to the person behind the counter, then I should be even more so to my own family. Well, at least, that's the plan.

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Top Jewish Sports Jerseys for 2016

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01/26/2016

Top Jewish Sports Jerseys for 2016 photo

As a child I was a big fan of sports jerseys. I would buy the jerseys of all sorts of athletes. The problem was once that player got traded, it took years before some of them became retro and "acceptable" to wear. (I am still waiting on my Rex Grossman jersey to be cool again.)

Below is a list of what I thought were the top 10 Jewish jerseys to wear in 2016.

Jordan Farmar -- Los Angeles Lakers (Yellow)
It seems that Jordan Farmar's NBA days are behind him. He is back to playing in Israel for Maccabi Tel Aviv. His MTA days will be limited and he will probably retire within a year or two (maybe with one last effort to play in the NBA, but Farmar's two stints with the Lakers make his jersey retro and his playing for MTA makes it a legit Jewish jersey.

Jason Zucker -- Minnesota Wild(Red and Green)
I live in Minnesota. Zucker jerseys are popping up everywhere. Hockey jerseys aren't cheap, so Wild fans must really love this MOT. Zucker is hip because he isn't the best player on the team, but he is young and a fan favorite.

Jay Fielder -- Miami Dolphins
I'm color blind on the Jay Fiedler jersey. Both Dolphins home and away are sweet jerseys. Fiedler is a classic retro jersey for Dolphins fans but Jewish fans as well. There are usually a few being sold on eBay at a time.

Josh Rosen -- UCLA Bruins
We don't care if your UCLA jersey is white, gold or blue. We just want you to support Josh Rosen. He is truly the next big thing in Jewish sports. The true freshman quarterback showed incredible poise in his opening campaign. We cannot wait to see what he does next … in a UCLA or NFL jersey.

Joc Pederson -- Los Angeles Dodgers (White)
Pederson jerseys are flying off the shelves. Of course, it's a nod to his phenomenal start in 2015 and his sweet rookie stroke. Collectors and fans love the newest sensation, but a Joc Pederson Israel WBC jersey would also be acceptable (actually preferred).

Nancy Lieberman (Cline) -- Phoenix Mercury or Team USA
Now she goes by Nancy Lieberman, but in her playing days there was a Cline at the end. There is only one jersey of hers available on eBay or Amazon and it is autographed. But if you can find one, grab it. Great jersey for your collection and rare in the sense that WNBA merchandise isn't as common as NBA. Her newfound success with the Sacramento Kings and her Hall of Fame playing career make her jersey awesome.

Kevin Youkilis -- Boston Red Sox (White)
There is something iconic about white Red Sox jerseys. And there is something iconic about Kevin Youkilis. Not only was he a fan favorite, Youkilis is now retired so his jersey is back to being cool. You know when it wasn't cool? When he was playing for the Yankees.

Julian Edelman -- New England Patriots (Old School Red)
You can find Julian Edelman jerseys everywhere. He is a part of the Tom Brady/New England Patriots offensive machine. His jersey is cool because, frankly, he is cool. But what you should really check out is his clothing site. I recently bought his JE11 hat. I do not regret it.

Omri Casspi -- Kings (Purple) or Maccabi Tel Aviv (Yellow)
Casspi is still the king of the Jewish sports world and his jersey should be no different. The only question is do you want to rep him in Kings purple or Maccabi yellow? You cannot go wrong either way. His Kings jersey is easy to find online; his Maccabi jersey is more difficult. Both will forever be great Jewish jerseys.

Sandy Koufax -- Los Angeles Dodgers (White)
There probably will never be a jersey that can top the Koufax white Dodgers jersey. It is legendary to baseball, to the Dodgers and to Jews. Buy it. Rep it. Respect it.

Honorable mentions: Ryan Braun striped Milwaukee Brewers; Mike Cammalleri red New Jersey Devils; Geoff Schwartz blue New York Giants; and Hank Greenberg Detroit Tigers.

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Warm Tuscan Kale Salad

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with Garlic Chips, Oranges and Pecans
01/25/2016

Warm Tuscan Kale Salad photo 1

Have you ever gone to a restaurant and thought, "Hmmm why can't I make stuff like this at home?"

That was precisely my thought process when I tasted this salad at one of my favorite swanky Italian restaurants in Chicago. It was pure joyful bliss in my mouth. Healthy, citrusy, nutty and all sorts of savory.

When I ordered it from the menu for the table (I do all the ordering when we go out because I am a food snob and I know what everyone needs to eat. That's just how I roll …) everyone stared at me and said, "Ehhh kale …yuck, Mila, it's soooo played out."

What they did not understand was that this was Tuscan kale -- the best kind of kale. The green, meatier and more delicious cousin of classic kale. Did you know that just one cup of kale has over two times the amount of Vitamin A you need in a single day? Yup, it is awesomely good for you and delicious.

"Trust me on this one … this stuff is fabulous and if you do not like it, I will happily eat all of it." They seemed to be satisfied with that answer and allowed me to finish ordering the 15 other items from the menu.

The salad arrived delicately sliced, slightly warm and adorned with garlic chips and orange segments. It was delicious -- tangy, crunchy and just plain good. They all ate their words and ended up ordering another one. Never doubt the food snob -- I know how to order.

The following week I decided to make this salad for my lunches to take to work. Finding Tuscan kale, it turns out, is not as easy as you might think. You could certainly use regular kale for this, but I just love the deep green color in contrast with the bright oranges. It's just gorgeous on a plate. So of course I continued searching and after stopping by at the third grocery store, Whole Foods, I ended up with a gorgeous bouquet of Tuscan kale.

Generally, Tuscan kale is just a bit more fibrous than classic kale, so it is imperative to slice it into thin ribbons after washing and massaging it. Yes, massage it just a bit while washing -- it helps it become a bit less fibrous.

My personal favorite of this recipe is the garlic chips. They are absurdly easy to make, healthy and change the entire flavor profile of the dish.

Little slivers of golden deliciousness are upon us friends, and they are fantastic.

Turns out those fancy restaurant salads aren't nearly as complicated as everyone thinks they are. Trust me, give this salad a try; it is great served fresh as well as the next day. What an awesome way to freshen up those boring salads we are all sick of.

If you need that extra protein bump, add some grilled shrimp or some poached eggs on top.

Warm Tuscan Kale Salad photo 2

Warm Tuscan Kale Salad with Garlic Chips, Oranges and Pecans
from Girl and the Kitchen

Ingredients

1 large bunch of Tuscan kale (feel free to sub out regular Kale if you cannot find Tuscan.)
1 large orange
½ cup of pecans, toasted*
5 cloves of garlic sliced super thinly
3-4 tablespoons of freshly shredded Parmesan (the good stuff)
3 tablespoons of olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Instructions

1. Slice the kale into thin ribbons, only until the stems, and place them into a colander and rinse well. While rinsing them, massage them a bit to get some of the fibrous texture out.

2. Zest half the orange and set zest aside. Cut one of the halves of the orange into segments.*

3. Squeeze out the juice of the other orange and set aside.

4. Add olive oil to a large pan and bring to medium heat.

5. Add garlic slivers into the oil. Cook for about 2-3 minutes or until lightly browned and crispy. Set aside on a plate covered in a paper towel to drain the access oil.

6. Add kale to the same oil that the garlic cooked in. Toss with the oil ensuring it is well covered with the oil and slightly wilted.

7. Add in orange zest, orange juice, salt and pepper. Toss everything together for 1 minute.

8. Place everything into a large bowl toss with pecans.

9. Sprinkle shredded Parmesan on top and extra zest if desired.

Notes

- Here is a great step-by-step tutorial on how to segment an orange. It is ridiculously simple and super impressive.

- I toasted my pecans over low heat in a regular pan on the stove. You have to toss them around pretty frequently and only toast them for 4-5 minutes until they develop a nice nutty, toasted aroma. Be careful, they burn fast!

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15 Years

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01/18/2016

15 Years photo

I'm getting a little nostalgic. This is my 15th year of being a certified fitness trainer. I never imagined I would be in the fitness world this long. Training has moved from hobby and part-time job, to full-time passion. When I received my updated training card I couldn't help but reflect back on all the people and places that have influenced me and my training style.

I remember my first success story was in college. A guy from my dorm, Nick, wanted to lose 60 pounds. He had no idea where to start on the fitness end and he knew I went to the gym every day. I couldn't wait to give him a muscle-burning, heart-pounding and sweat-soaked workout.

Having been underweight for the first 20 years of my life, I had no idea how hard it was for someone overweight to workout. Watching him struggle with each exercise forced me to change things up. Instead of a blistering fast-weight workout, we slowed things down. I also swapped our post-workout jog for basketball, and Nick actually started to enjoy himself. As the weight gradually dropped off, he started going to the gym without me. I was a little sad, even though he paid me with compliments and free hugs. The good news was way before the year was over, he dropped the weight and kept it off for the next four years.

Another important lesson I learned from Nick was that calorie restriction works. I was walking into the cafeteria one time and saw Nick eating chicken fingers and fries. I was pissed. "How are you going to work your butt off in the gym and then eat that?" I asked.

He responded with numbers. "500 calories. I'm still well under my goal for the day."

Before cellphone apps, Nick tracked his calories, estimated how much he burned and it worked. Granted, eating fried chicken is not the best way to lose weight, but it illustrates you can still eat some crap as long as you burn more calories than you take in.

Although I had a few more clients before 2001, Fit with Krit officially started that year because the consulting company I was working for closed shop. Since my lucrative career as a consultant didn't pan out, I started working part time as a trainer at Bally's on Webster and Clybourn.

The gym manager at the time was a character primed for WrestleMania. Steve was about the size of a linebacker, and loved working out. I used to make these oatmeal and apple sauce cookies that my family refused to eat, so I brought them to the gym. Steve tried one and flashed his larger-than-life smile, then asked me to bring him one batch a week and handed me some cash. He loved them because they were high in protein, so I started baking, and my experimentation with cooking took off.

Bally's was packed, but most of the members were recent college grads with little disposable income for personal training sessions. I did pick up a few clients, however, including a couple I'm still friends with today.

I started training Melissa as she prepared for her wedding to Bob. At the time, Bob was more into working out then Melissa, so I started training him. Bob really pushed me to be creative -- he loved to play. If I could make something a game, he was way more into it. Soon I started training Bob's sister, Holly. At the time, kickboxing was all the rage, and Holly asked if we could try it. Suddenly I was wearing a chest guard and pads while Holly literally hit me so hard it gave me indigestion. I had to schedule her sessions before meals so I wouldn't burp up chicken for an hour.

This family also brought me my first assistant. Their sister, Christy, wanted to become a personal trainer, so she started shadowing me. After a few months she got certified and helped me lead bootcamps.

I was only at Bally's a few years before moving on to Hifi Fitness, but I had somehow outlasted all but one person who started before me.

Hifi Fitness was a great move for me; I could charge clients less money and still make more than I did at Bally's. Additionally, the owners of the gym were welcoming and open to my crazy equipment requests. I still remember when I brought in a 30-foot rope and one of the owners immediately fell in love: "Kritter, I'll buy this off you for the gym." I even have a few videos of clients using the ropes.

One of the stars of these videos was Rodney. I started training him about a decade ago, and his athleticism forced me to learn more about training athletes. Rodney was a college football player, but could've easily played baseball too. He's run marathons, climbed mountains and dealt with a handful of injuries. Although I'm probably too cautious for him at times, it's been fun coming up with programs that build power, endurance and balance. Out of all the programs we did, my favorite was an exercise for the back, legs and chest followed with an agility exercise, like whipping a medicine ball at me so hard I almost fell over.

Another benefit to Hifi was the vast array of amazing trainers. I was able to take courses on functional movement, improving shoulder and hip movement, and core stability. Between the classes and talking to other trainers, my philosophy adapted once again. I was now being more conscious of joint structure, gait patterns (how people walk), and building up the core.

My nights and weekends at Hifi started diminishing once my wife and I had Henry. I loved my gym family and my clients, but spending time away from Henry was hard. I felt bad missing almost a whole day of the weekend with my guy. And when my wife was pregnant with baby number two, I told my clients I wasn't sure if I could still come downtown. I couldn't make the sacrifice -- it was too hard to miss that much family time.

I now train people at my home and started to work with high school athletes. I'm excited to see how this phase of Fit with Krit develops and to watch my two sons play (safely) with all the equipment.

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The Hard Question(s)

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01/14/2016

The Hard Question(s) photo

"Haters gonna hate …shake it off! I shake it off!

Thanks for the reminder Tay.

Everyone makes fun of each other for New Year's resolutions. Why? I say root for each other. Those that set resolutions, their hearts are in the right place. And if a new year is what it takes to light a fire, to motivate people to make (or attempt) serious changes in their lives, I call that dedication, discipline, and effort.

That's more than I can say for myself.

For me, Jan. 1 is not a magical day. Unfortunately, the date itself is not enough to motivate me or flip a metaphorical switch to make some life moves. It does not change my goals directly. It is a reminder. It taps me on the shoulder and says "hey, just letting you know, lights come on at midnight."

Well kind of. It's the reminder that another year bids farewell. And I'm all like "psst, intuition, suit up!" And then I unleash some awakening Qs:

- Am I surrounded by people I love, both literally (NYE parties can be amazing), and figuratively?
- Am I happy?
- What is working for me? What is not?
- What is my vision?
- What is my next step?

And a million other questions.

So as the clock struck 12 … just kidding, more like the following afternoon, I had a heart-to-heart with myself. If you know me, you know that it's normal for our conversation to feel like a game of 20 Questions. Asking a lot of questions is kind of my thing. All sorts of 'em. It comes from a place of genuine curiosity. But now I know how exhausting that can be (sorry friends). Because boy did I interrogate myself.

It was exhausting, terrifying, exhilarating, and eye-opening. It's tough, you know? Asking the hard questions, hearing your own disappointing responses (don't act like you don't talk to yourself). It's not fun to hit your head against the wall over and over again, but it does force you to think. And that's what I did. I started problem-solving. My first decision/plan/step felt like the first raindrop of a brewing storm, and then it poured.

One idea after the next, small thoughts turned into big ones. I got excited just thinking about the possibilities, my end goal, my abilities, and about all of you reading my posts. When you get an influx of pure energy like that, you hold on to it for as long as you can.

THANK YOU for everything, but mostly for continuing to remind me to question. I'm excited for the future of my writing and my personal blog, 20swealth. Feel free to connect and comment anytime; all feedback is welcome!

P.S. I also made a bold decision and made a video, something I would never have done before this point. Baby steps, right?

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One Billion Dollars

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01/13/2016

One Billion Dollars photo

I have a confession to make. It's practically treasonous, so prepare yourself: I do not want a billion dollars.

Please don't have me carted away. I know that's the most un-American thing that you've read today, and that I sound like a brat. It's the truth, though. I don't want that much money.

Well, maybe that's not entirely true. Like everyone else, I desperately want to win the Powerball Jackpot. The $950 million or whatever $1.5 billion eventually whittles down to after taxes sounds incredible, but I cannot be trusted with that much money.

Think about it. One billion is a completely ridiculous number. I can't even comprehend what one billion actually is. It makes no sense. Google tells me that if I need help wrapping my little head around the number, I should use the term "one thousand million." I guess that helps a bit, I can almost visualize what that means, but I still find it difficult and now my eye is twitching.

One billion is a lot. It might be too much. Did you know that it's estimated that it takes approximately 95 years to count from one to one billion in a single sitting? One billion seconds is nearly 32 years. One billion minutes ago the Roman Empire was alive and well. There are 15,783 miles in one billion inches, that's a little more than half way around the Earth. This game could go on forever, since Google apparently knows everything. Let's be honest, nobody cares what one billion of anything means unless you're talking about money.

What would you do with one billion dollars? Like you, I've spent a lot of time fantasizing about what I would do with all of that money. I suppose one of the first things I would have to do is pay off my student loans. If I had anything left I'd go to Hawaii until June, or maybe forever. I also want a house with a backyard, a new car, my own masseuse and a chef. All of those things are doable and mostly responsible. The trouble is that I know myself and it wouldn't take long for me to get out of control.

I am not someone who would be responsible and coy about the money after I got those first necessary items out of the way. I'd probably end up with a Girl Scout Cookie factory in my back yard, the cast of Hamilton performing on my front porch every morning, and an apartment made entirely of cheese. Guys, I really like cheese. Like, a lot.

After I bought all of the cheese in France I'm guessing my book and magazine addiction would get woefully out of control. What else would I do with my time? I am also not the sort of person who would humbly return to his job. The money would be my job. I'd spend it, count it, stack it, and roll around in it. When I'm tired of this, the only thing left for me to do would be to rescue all of the dogs from all of the shelters. I'd be the crazy old dog man. And listen, when I say "all" I really do mean all. I am a billionaire now, after all, so I can do things like ask for all of a thing and have it happen.

Surely you weren't expecting me to solve any problems. Oh, I guess I'd give a ton of money to causes and organizations I care about. I'm not sure what I'd do beyond that. Maybe buy some new politicians? It certainly wouldn't be the first time that has happened. I mean, that is a thing I could do, right?

See, being a billionaire is hard. I'm tired from the stress, and I'm just pretending from my couch in Rogers Park. I definitely do not want that money. I do have $20 in my pocket, though. That will buy me 10 tickets, right? I can walk to the convenience store on the corner and buy the tickets right now. They do sell cheese -- fine, I'm buying tickets. Those dogs need me.

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The Long Journey to Grandma’s House

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01/11/2016

The Long Journey to Grandma's House photo 1

Making cookies with Grandma

Sometimes the journey makes you appreciate the destination that much more. I know many of us have received this advice, and it applies to so many situations: Becoming a bar/bat mitzvah, graduating college, navigating your first "real job" and things like what I experienced just last month -- traveling from Washington, D.C. to central Illinois with an 18-month-old.

The car was fully loaded with the luggage, the cooler stocked with snacks, the child resting in his car seat. The clock read 8:33 a.m. Wow! Most weekdays it's a fight to get out the door before 8:00 a.m. Considering we were leaving for a week-long vacation and it was only 30 minutes after the usual departure time, this was a Nobel Prize-level accomplishment.

At our first stop, the clock read just before 11:00 a.m. We were making excellent time. I wondered aloud to my wife about the possibility of getting to her parents late that night instead of having to stop at a hotel along the way. At the time, we were on pace to arrive before midnight. As we pulled out of the truck stop in Breezewood, Pennsylvania, it sure seemed plausible, but it would only take about 30 minutes for our exciting and optimistic plans to completely unravel.

My son, Johnny, gets carsick sometimes. The doctor says it's a normal thing for infants and they usually grow out of it. Well, Johnny proved to us three times on the way to my in-laws that he refuses to grow out of it.

After each incident, I would look at the clock as we pulled away from another gas station, truck stop or highway shoulder and do the math in my head. We were laughably behind, yet neither of us wanted to stop at a hotel only to wake up and deal with this all over again the next day. By about 9 p.m., we finally got him to sleep and resigned to push through, taking turns sleeping ourselves so we could just get there.

It was shortly after that decision that the annoying rattle our car had been making for a while -- the one our mechanic assured us was nothing to really worry about -- started gaining some, umph. Before long, it was more of a roar, and then there were funny car smells. It was after midnight, somewhere in Indiana. We pulled into a truck stop in Mclean, Illinois for some snacks to keep us going, and then the car wouldn't start up again. We were just over 90 minutes from our destination, it was after 1:00 a.m. and we were stuck.

Here is actually, where the story starts to change for the better. We dragged a very confused 18-month-old into a truck stop to try and figure out what to do. The people there were really lovely. They offered us free juice and cookies for the baby. When my wife ordered a sandwich they refused to let us pay. One of the employees actually locked her keys into her car while trying to give ours a jump and refused to take any money for the kit she had to buy in order to break into her own car. They basically let our family loiter for over three hours while we got ahold of my mother-in-law, who picked us up around 4:30 a.m.

We finally made it to bed just before 7 a.m., so almost 24 hours (accounting for the time change) after we had left home. As my head hit the pillow, I took a deep breath before nodding off to sleep and took in the familiar smell of the wood-burning stove used to heat the home in the winter. The fire had burned down hours ago, but the faint, smoky smell was still in the air, surrounding the home with its tender warmth. Just before nodding off, I heard sounds from the kitchen of Johnny babbling to his grandpa, who took over childcare for a few hours so we could sleep. We left the two of them eating cereal together.

The Long Journey to Grandma's House photo 2

Cousins

I can't say I learned some grand lesson from all of this. Maybe we learned it's time to start flying home or just give up long trips for a few years. In all seriousness, however, there were two moments during the whole ordeal that stuck with me, and they weren't low points -- they were times when I caught myself smiling.

At one point we were coming upon a traffic jam on the highway, and at that very moment Johnny got sick again. With no exit in sight, I just pulled over to the side of the highway. I imagined what the drivers slowly passing by were thinking as we frantically pulled our kid out of the car like there was a fire. We ripped off Johnny's clothes and as we went through the luggage for clean ones, he stood there in his diaper, smiling and waving at the cars and trucks rolling by. Everyone, including the people in those cars, was laughing.

The next moment was when our car broke down, and it became clear that we were stuck. In my weary head, I turned to gratitude. I was grateful that we were at a brightly lit, clean and familiar truck stop. I appreciated that there was a repair shop next door that confirmed they would be open the next day, Christmas Eve. We would have a way to repair our car in time for our trip home. Lastly, we had somehow made it far enough that my mother-in-law could actually retrieve us.

I think Johnny was especially glad about that last part. He smiled like an angel when his grandma finally arrived. After a long and perilous journey, over rivers and through woods, it truly was a wonderful visit to her house.

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Where’s Our Parade?

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01/05/2016

Where's Our Parade photo

Paul with his family at Israel Solidarity Day in 2015

I love Israel Solidarity Day and the Walk with Israel, but while a participatory walkathon is important, I want a parade -- floats and bands and a grandstand, the whole schmear.

A Jewish Parade, with a capital P.

Every year in Chicago, we see the St. Patrick's Day and Gay Pride and Columbus Day parades, among others, and they are great fun. But there are 300,000 Jews in Chicago, too. So where's our parade?

Yes, we have the Jewish Festival every other June, when we head out to a forest preserve and stuff our faces and groove to live music. I love it, I have attended almost every festival, and I think I have certainly at least written about it every time.

But I want a parade. Down Michigan Avenue or State Street. Haven't we earned it?

We can tie it into a holiday, like St. Pat's or Cinco de Mayo. Now, no one wants to schlep around outside in Chicago during Chanukah; we already bought our High Holiday tickets; and we promised Bubbie we'd be home for Passover.

So I nominate Purim. The Purimshpiel was the original Mardi Gras anyway. Think about it -- a free-for-all costume parade in early spring? Shushan is a much older city than New Orleans, people.

OK, so for next Purim, I want a huge, brash, proper parade. I want to tie up traffic for miles while people throw confettti at us.

I want klezmer bands and Sephardi oud ensembles and Israeli dancers promenading down the street. There could be an All-Shofar Ensemble and the Cantor's Assembly float, which would not need microphones. There would be floats with Jewish a cappella groups, both college and pro.

I want one band made up of all the Jewish students in all Chicago's high school marching bands, all wearing their own school's uniforms, but playing the same songs. They would be led by a similar array of cheerleaders, all from different schools, but leaping and tumbling together.

I want baton-twirling, and juggling -- and the One-Hundred-Gragger Brigade, made up entirely of kids, graggering the entire way (like we could stop them).

I want guys with kibbutz hats in teeny tractors zooming around; you can call them the Geshrai-ners.

And not just performers; local celebrities -- activists, scholars, athletes, broadcasters, officials -- leaders from all fields in convertibles, simply waving and being there. Showing up because they are us, or just because they stand by us.

The Shomrim Society of Jewish police officers would march. And the Jewish War Veterans. Even great Jews from history could attend, in the guise of actors in costumes.

Synagogues would have floats, and so would organizations, and unions … and restaurants and hospitals and retailers, everyone. I want corporations and public officials sponsoring floats. Religious, political, social groups -- anyone who has benefitted from the work and wisdom of Chicago's Jews.

There could be floats representing Jewish holidays; Jewish history; Jewish inventions; Jewish movies; Jewish achievements in every field.

Overhead, I want gigantic balloons of Jewish cartoon characters like Feivel Mousekewitz and Krusty the Clown.

Last, I want Mel Brooks and Natalie Portman commenting from the grandstand, spicing their remarks with Yiddishisms and Israeli slang.

Imagine it: Ten miles of floats, all poised and glittering. Tens of thousands gathered on the sidewalks, with graggers and toy shofars.

Then a drum majorette brandishes her baton -- with a Magen David at the tip. She starts to march, followed by Haman leading regally dressed Mordechai on a huge white horse. "Thus shall be done to the one the king wishes to honor!" he calls on his megaphone. At this, the first band bursts into a raucous "Hava Nagila!"

After them, hundreds of people -- Jews and others -- follow behind, winding their way through the heart of one of the most important cities in the world.

Purim in 2016 is on Thursday, March 24. We have mere months to make this happen, people.

Oh, and I get dibs on inviting Mel.

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Beautiful

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01/04/2016

Beautiful photo

Abby Mueller playing Carole King in the Chicago engagement of Beautiful: The Carole King Musical. Photo credit: Joan Marcus

There's a moment at the opening of Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, currently playing in Chicago, when the character portraying Jewish singer Carole King remarks that even life's hardest parts can turn out to be beautiful.

Indeed, she was on to something. Most of us have lives that overflow with blessings and we should thank God for them every single day. But it's just as much the struggles that shape us into the people we are. When I think about the challenges I've been through in my life -- family illness, the loss of loved ones, and relationships that ended -- those are the times, with a little distance and hindsight, that have morphed into unexpected blessings. For it's not the just the smooth sailing, but the tough stuff that makes us stronger, kinder, fuller, more empathetic human beings.

My sister used to joke that she wanted to wrap her three young sons in "bubble wrap," to shield them from the dark parts of the world. She's given up on that motherly mission, and considering the state of the world these days, there isn't enough bubble wrap on the globe for that anyway. No, we not only can't hide our children from the pain of life, but it's often their struggles that help form them into the mensches we hope they become. 

We've all heard the old adage from Jewish folklore that "This too shall pass," indicating that current conditions in life are always fleeting. When bad things happen, I think about those words that my grandparents and parents would often tell me, and it reminds me that most people are resilient and the bad times are only temporary.

At the same time, we can't live our lives in constant joy either. The joy, too, shall pass. But in times of pain, we should try really hard to hold onto the faith in knowing that happiness will return.

As author and success coach Jen Sincero says, "Faith is having the audacity to believe in the not-yet-seen."

How lucky we are as Jews to ring in two new years -- the secular new year that we just celebrated and the Jewish new year in the fall, two chances for a clean slate, two chances to start the next chapter in our stories.

When some Jewish girlfriends and I met for dinner recently, we took turns going around the table and sharing the biggest lessons we learned over the course of the past 12 months.

We'd collectively charted all kinds of new paths in 2015 -- exploring our spiritual lives as Jews, forging new friendships and deepening older ones, starting new romantic pursuits and closing the chapter on others, raising little children, and taking on new professional challenges.

For many, our past year played out differently than we'd envisioned, filled with simcha, but also sadness.

As we watched some doors close these last 12 months, we'll see new ones open with unexpected blessings in 2016. Each of us will take a journey in the year ahead, and there's something hopeful and exciting about the unknown, the beckoning prospect of many varied paths and possibilities that will unfold for each of us this year, with new people waiting just around the corner to enter our lives.

Yet while we embrace the sweetness of our hopeful futures, we know all about the bitterness too, in our own personal lives and in the world at large, a world that seems to be shattering in chaos before our eyes. We know all too well the world confronts us with human turmoil, strife, and disaster, a world crying out for repair -- for tikkun olam (repairing the world).

Here's wishing all of us faith and resilience to triumph over our personal and collective struggles, with whatever growth and insights they may be bring in the year ahead -- and wishing to all a new year overflowing with blessings.

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