OyChicago blog

Fourteen years later

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Fourteen years later photo1

Memorial day for former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. Throughout
the evening, in people stood next to the memorial placed over the
spot where he was slain. 2007 

I had a conversation with my coworkers, Gabe Axler and Shahar Gal, the other day who were preparing for Shorashim’s High School Excursion Day. They asked me to provide an American perspective in addition to an Israeli one at a session talking about “Where I was” the day Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated, November 4, 1995.

I looked at them and asked, how do you end a session like that? Why is Rabin’s assassination relevant to teenagers who were infants or toddlers when he was murdered?

One answer was that “It could happen again” and that they as students should be encouraged to protest against hate speech. We discussed current political controversies that feature President Barack Obama portrayed as a Nazi at town hall meetings.

So I asked again, “Well, what could they really do if someone was standing outside their school holding up ‘Obama is a Nazi’ sign?”

They suggested I facilitate a discussion about the dangers of hate rhetoric in a democratic society and what can be done to counter it.

One answer is that you hold a counter protest, which is the exact place where Rabin was killed. That clearly didn’t work. So what could have done before Rabin’s assassination to prevent it?

The “peace” camp couldn’t have stopped Rabin’s assassination. The only ones who could have stopped it were the people who were against the Oslo Accords or indifferent (all five of them) to it.

It is easy to speak out against hate speech when you are opposed to the haters. What’s harder is to stand up to those who you agree with or indifferent to who are escalating their rhetoric to where it devolves from critical to hateful.

Anyone at any of the rallies displaying effigies of Rabin as a Nazi or as a sniper target, who thought such images were vile, but still remained to protest, are just as guilty as the extremists who penned the posters.

Because part of being a responsible member of a democracy is knowing when to protest inappropriate protest within your own country, within your own religion, and within your own political framework.

Although Rabin is an example of rightist extremists running and ruining a protest, the same is true for the left. Uber leftists are just as guilty of hate speech and centrists are guilty as well of laughing it off instead of standing up to it. Why? It’s a lot easier to criticize and confront people we disagree with than those who share some of our values.

As we commemorate the Hebrew anniversary of his assassination today, 14 years later, what have we learned from Rabin’s assassination? Could it have been prevented? Could it happen again in Israel?

Answers to such questions are hyperbole. Truth is derived from the places we stand, the people with whom we associate, and our ability to stand up to our friends who are committing misdeeds with the same strength that we oppose our enemies.


Celebrating ‘Toga style

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It’s a typical Saturday night at Peabody’s.  Most of us are outback in the heated tent where Alex is DJ-ing.  Everyone is trying to dance to Gnarls Barkley “Crazy” within the confines of this tightly compact space.  Beer is splashing, guys and girls are flirting, and the mood is relaxed and fun.  It’s no different from any other Saturday night at Skidmore, eventually we’ll all meander over to T&L or maybe Gaffney’s and I’ll end the night with my veggie burrito in hand from Esperantos.

Except, it’s not the same night.  It’s still a Saturday, but someone else, actually three someone else’s appear to be DJ-ing in Alex’s spot.  They look as if they’ve been there forever, that this is perfectly natural, that they originated this whole operation—even though we know we did not so long ago.

The crowd is still there, tightly confined to the tent outback and the night is still relaxed and fun, only now everyone is dancing to Miley Cyrus “Party in the USA.”  I don’t recognize most of these people though they all look oddly familiar.  I can still pinpoint the lax girls (for you Midwesterners, lacrosse is an east coast thing)  from the business majors and it’s not hard to spot the hockey boys mercilessly hitting on every fake ID carrying freshman “fresh meat” girl in the bar.

It seems not much has changed in three years.  Same Peabody’s Saturday night scene.  Same bartender (who dated my friend Kristin the summer of junior year) working the bar at Gaffney’s.   Same crowded, narrow Caroline Street full of happy college students bouncing in and out of bars and socializing with friends.  Same Eseprantos (only bigger) still serving late night food to long lines of kids.  Ahhh, college on a Saturday night— just how I remember it.

There were many factors that led to my decision to attend Skidmore in upstate New York: a small liberal arts school, far from the Midwest, with a great community of students that I knew I’d fit right in to, first rate academic programs in my areas of interest, professors you could also call friends and a town, Saratoga Springs, that enhanced the college rather than a “college town,” that exists solely to support the students during the school year.

An idyllic, picture perfect Victorian city, Saratoga is situated at the foot of the Adirondacks and is equally known for its springs, horse racing, first class restaurants and shops and performing arts centers (it’s the summer home of the NYC ballet) as it is for Skidmore College.

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Traver’s reunion

It’s hard to say when Saratoga is more popular, during the summer when more than 50,000 people flock to Saratoga to watch the horse races or in the fall months when the leaves have turned and the town is shades of yellow-gold, copper and red.  It just the kind of place you want to visit over and over again, which is why it’s not surprising that over the years two somewhat official alumni weekends mark the calendar when students return to their alma mater to enjoy all that ‘toga has to offer.

This year, my friends and I decided to miss out on the track crowds and check out the leaves, which meant for the first time since graduating we’d be going back while school was in session. I was a little nervous.  I turned 26 three days before we left and had been feeling a little old.  How was I going to handle hanging with the 22 year olds?  I loved my four years at Skidmore.  I was the annoying, perky girl in your classes who just enjoyed being in college. I didn’t want to feel like I didn’t belong somewhere I’d always belonged.  But I sucked it up and went anyway…

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Breakfast at Beverly’s just like old times

We did the usual: breakfast at our favorite spots (home to many of our morning after gossip sessions), shopping on Broadway/main street (yes, we have one of those), touring campus (totally jealous of the new buildings), eating at all our favorite night and late night spots, and cheering our friends on in their alumni games and races.

I’ve already mentioned that we DID party with the new skiddies both Friday and Saturday night!   And, I stayed out later then I’ve stayed out in years.  We had an all around awesome weekend reminiscing and seeing old friends.  Now don’t get me wrong, it took the entire week and following weekend to recover.  I just can’t behave like that anymore (nor do I want to), but it’s a good feeling knowing I can still pretend for a weekend that I’m still in college.

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Senior Year

It’s also nice to know that even though I’m getting older and definitely don’t live the college lifestyle anymore, Skidmore and Saratoga are still basically the same as I left them over three years ago.  I can still go back and feel like I belong.

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Three years later at alumni weekend


A Serious Man delivers a Serious Punch in your Jewish Face. (Don’t you think?)

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A Serious Man photo

In a scene from “A Serious Man,” Larry takes an urgent call in his lawyer's office. Photo Credit: Wilson Webb courtesy of Focus Features.

Have you seen the new Coen brother’s movie A Serious Man yet?  (If yes, PLEASE comment below and let me know what you think!)

For me, watching A Serious Man was like reading Portnoy’s Complaint for the first time.  I found it wickedly funny at times and just plain wicked at others.  Though I mostly liked it, I kept thinking how mortified I would be if anyone besides me were to learn of this story, given that it is so bleak and so unfavorable to the Jewish community and Judaism in general.  And at the risk of sounding hypersensitive here (which I admittedly am), I think the movie was a big old punch in our Jewish faces.

While the Coen brothers have in interviews tried to reassure the Jewish community that they are not “making fun of the Jews” and that their latest movie “is a very affectionate look at the Jewish community” and while they have noted (perhaps rightly) that “some Jews will take anything that isn’t flattering as an indication to think the whole community or ethnicity is flawed,” (myself included), it seems that the Coen brother’s view of what constitutes affection and mockery is different than my own.

Let me explain…

If there is one clear message to this movie, it is that if you are Jewish and you are experiencing tzuris, or troubles of any kind in your life, and if you hope to find help and answers within a Jewish context, then….FORGET ABOUT IT!   You will get no help whatsoever.  Nada, nill, zippo.  The Judaism of A Serious Man is devoid of serious answers to our questions and it suggests that looking for comfort in a Jewish context is absolutely futile.
Of course, the movie writers could have placed and plagued their protagonist, Larry Gopnik, within the context of any religious community and then set him up to fail, but as luck would have it, the Coen brothers, out of nostalgia and a claimed “affection” for the Jewish community of their hometown, placed the Job-like character in Midwestern 1967 Bagel-land.

And because the Coen brothers grew up Jewish, they happened to know the things to which we Jews might look toward to help us try to comprehend, avert, escape or cope with disasters and uncertainty.  They know our weaknesses and they seem to delight in poking holes in the infrastructure.

When Larry looks for help to his problems and seeks answers to his questions within a Jewish framework, everything that might have been Larry’s godsend only serves to further torment him.    In the movie, the Jewish family, our longtime stronghold of values and stability, is dysfunctional.  Jewish learning, our hope for answers, is boring as hell and irrelevant—as portrayed in Danny’s Hebrew class.  The Jewish heroes of the community, people like Sy Ableman, turn out to be shams whom the community nevertheless values for all the wrong reasons.  Larry’s Jewish friends who are accomplished professionals in their respective fields are not helpful.  The modern Jewish hope in science to solve our problems solves nothing, which is emphasized by the fact that Larry, who is a Physics professor, who teaches entire classrooms about scientific investigations of uncertainty, also provides no answers or relief.  Also in the Coen’s world, God is absent, unaware, unconcerned and most likely malicious.  The list of Jewish failures in this film is endless.  Even the notion of being a good person and that good will follow comes back to haunt Larry  as his kindness to his brother,  and his attempt to stand up to a student who is bribing him, only serve to further his troubles.  Well, at least Larry has his health, right?  Well…don’t ask…

As a rabbi, I think the biggest tragedy of the entire movie is the treatment the Coen brothers give to the rabbis.  Finding himself utterly alone, bewildered, and on the verge of a nervous breakdown, Larry recognizes that he needs help and he wants to know why all this is happening to him.  In his sheer desperation and at the urging of various members of the Jewish community, Larry decides to visit a rabbi to get some help.  The trailer pretty much sums up what happens next...


(I guess I should have expected that a movie which opens with a kind and elderly rabbi getting stabbed in the chest after being called a “dybuk” and is then left to die in the cold, wasn’t going to be “rabbi friendly.”)

Larry ends up going to three rabbis.  The first rabbi Larry sees is a young assistant rabbi who tells Larry to radically change his perspective of things.  While this rabbi is right in one sense, he comes off looking more like a deranged Seinfeld character than a rabbi and Larry is neither impressed nor helped.  The second rabbi, “the Senior Rabbi” tells Larry a tale of “The Goy’s Teeth” which is meant to say that there are some things for which we can never find the answer, and we can drive ourselves crazy trying to know that which is ultimately unknowable.  While he is also right in a sense, Larry leaves his office feeling even more bewildered and alone.  Finally the third rabbi, the one who is supposed to possess the greatest wisdom of all, refuses to see Larry because he is too busy “thinking.”

What a shame that these rabbis are portrayed as oblivious, aloof, and unconcerned!  This is such a different picture from the experience I have had with rabbis.  Most of us rabbis go into this work with a sincere desire to help people in their darkest times—to be an extended hand when the floor falls from under people’s feet-not to be a door slammed in people’s faces.  Personally I can’t even begin to offer thanks for the countless times when my life seemed to fall apart, and I was lifted up and rescued by rabbis and the Jewish community as a whole.  Of course I am not the only one who has experienced the healing difference rabbis, other Jewish professionals and members of the Jewish community can make troubled times.  And I can't even begin to say how much prayer, an ongoing connection with God, study and acts of loving kindness can help as well.  It is a shame that this reality of who we are (and can be) as a community is not even hinted at in A Serious Man.

Actually, when people in crisis come to a rabbi with the question “Why is this happening to me—why do the innocent suffer?” an intelligent rabbi knows not to try to answer the question at that time, not because Judaism doesn’t have thoughts on the matter, but because in the midst of a personal crisis to start an academic discussion on the topic is the last thing the person often needs.  What a person often needs in the midst of trauma, is what Larry asks for:  “help.”

Help is not to try to solve the mysteries of God and universe in a moment of crisis, but rather, more often than not, to simply “be present.”  As God instructs the prophet Ezekiel, sometimes the best comfort we can offer a person in great distress is to “sigh in silence.”

Darby Slick, of Jefferson’s Airplane was in fact on to something when he wrote the lyrics to “Don’t You Want Somebody to Love.”

“When the truth is found to be lies…And all the joy within you dies…Don't you want somebody to love?”

What most people need in the midst of a crisis is to know that they are loved and cared for.  People need to know that they are being heard and taken seriously.  They are looking for a compassion, comfort, consolation and hope.  I really don’t think most people in crisis are really looking for the unknowable answers to the universe.  Yes, an experienced counselor may be able to gently introduce a measure of guidance and might be able to teach important skills needed to cope and to manage the crisis, but a seasoned counselor knows at the same time, that sometimes all one needs to know is that someone else cares, and we are not alone and that our lives truly matter.  There is hope.  There is always hope.

While I acknowledge that not everyone has had the same good experiences in the Jewish community and from rabbis that I have; (and I, among others, am trying to change that) I wish that this unfortunately reality wasn’t broadcast to the world as it was in A Serious Man.  There is another side of the picture; one where people in crisis are offered kindness and support, rather than punches and slammed doors.

Again, PLEASE comment below, it would be great to get other opinions on the subject.  What did you like?  What did you dislike?  Would you recommend it to others?  Any interesting theories you want to share?


25 going on 75

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I’m not sure when or how or why, but at some point in the past few years, I got old—and so did my friends. Now before you start rolling your eyes or getting ready to smack me (because most of you are older than me), hear me out. I don’t mean old in a literal, over-the-hill, clock is ticking, eggs are drying up kind of way. I just mean, at some point along the way, most of the people I know started acting less like children and more like grumpy old adults.

The evidence:

• Two years ago, my boyfriend Mike and I could easily drink and dance the night away at Victory Liquors, Duffy’s, or some equally loud and sticky-floored Lincoln Park establishment, wake up the next day, go to brunch, and do it all again. Today, we prefer quiet nights at home on our awesome couch watching Planet Earth on our awesome TV. When we do end up going out to bars for birthdays or other celebrations, we spend most of the time complaining about the loud music and the crowd, and looking at our watches wondering when it’s appropriate to go home. Also, Mike does that annoying thing grandpas do as he cups his ear straining to hear what I’m saying:

Me: I think I want another Bacardi and Diet.
Mike: What? You think there’s going to be a riot?

UGH! Drives me crazy!

 “Going out” now often means having dinner with a few friends, drinking a single glass of wine, and coming home by 10, so we can wake up early enough the next day to go to the grocery store, run errands, and still have time for brunch.

• In college at UW-Madison, I used to be able to eat Mac and Cheese pizza from Ian’s on a nightly basis at 3 a.m. Now, eating anything after 9 pm gives me heartburn. And, my sensitive stomach can’t ever handle anything with a hint of fried, spicy, grease or cream.

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Badgers love their Ian’s!

• During college football season in Madison, I used to don my thrift-store bought vintage Badgers jersey and football beads, pregame with a beer in hand and stand at the game (okay maybe only until halftime and maybe it was a vodka lemonade) cheering and singing at the top of my lungs. Now, I prefer to watch my Badger games with friends in a quiet bar, with nice comfy booths and a great brunch menu or in the comfort of my apartment, on the chaise of my awesome couch wearing my awesome Wisconsin Badgers Snuggie (gift credit to my awesome boyfriend).

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It’s a blanket...with sleeves!

• No matter how cold it got in Madison, it was completely appropriate to go out in a tank top and uncomfortable high heels. Now, I’m always properly bundled, tsk tsking at the young 22-year-olds freezing their butts off, turning to Mike to tell him that those girls look ridiculous and they’re likely to catch a cold. Also, unless I’m at a wedding or a serious work meeting, my shoes are flat.

• Halloween: It used to be about finding the tiniest, sexiest costume possible. Now, I find myself gravitating toward giant penguin costumes or Cookie Monster. The warmer and fuzzier, the better.

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Last Halloween as bacon (with unidentified mustache) and eggs.
Stay tuned—this year we tackle poultry.

• Vacations: Mike and I would rather rock the desert like JUF snowbirds, stay at a B&B in Door County or lay on a quiet beach in the Caribbean than deal with crazy 20-something destinations like Cancun or Acapulco (plus, my stomach cannot handle Mexico). But don’t get me wrong, we’re still up for a weekend in Vegas every once in a while…

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“We’re on a boat!” in St. Martin

• Last but not least, people are getting married like crazy! Everybody’s doing it. And now they’re even starting to have babies…

I think you get the point. Now before you go saying that this is just a couples’ phenomenon, I know plenty of singles out there who feel exactly the same way. And before you start thinking to yourself, ‘man, this girl is super lame’ take a minute to think about your life. You know you just can’t eat crap or drink like you used to.

Plus, I’m not lame, I’m fun. Though I admit that most nights I prefer the snuggliness of my boyfriend, my Snuggie and a movie On Demand, I still love to go out every once and a while and have a few too many Bacardi and diets, dance with my friends at their bachelorette parties and dress up like an idiot with my boyfriend on Halloween. Plus, growing up isn’t all bad. I eat better food, get more done in my hangover-free days, save money and calories on drinks and greasy food and actually (sometimes) feel like I’ve got my shit together like an actual person.

I am fully aware that this phenomenon does not apply to everyone. Eternal frat guys and sorority girls do exist. So to those of you still out there partying and eating greasy late night food post-25 years old, I raise a tequila-filled shot glass to you. As for the rest of you, grab your Snuggie and scoot over. Planet Earth is about to start.

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Farewell Skinny Jeans

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Farewell Skinny Jeans photo

My daughter, in her baby sized jeans

The scariest thing in a woman’s closet?

Her skinny jeans.  Boooooooo.

I bought my last pair of skinny jeans after I had a week-long bout of the stomach flu.  I was so excited to fit into them that I didn’t care about the ridiculous price tag, or that they belonged on a tween.  I was thin!  I was hot!  Wait- I was really hot… and... queasy…

Flash forward one week later, these same jeans went from making me fab-u-lous to flab-u-lous.  The last time I tried fitting into them, I had to do deep knee bends to loosen them, lie down on the bed, suck in my stomach, and pull with all my strength until the button closed—grunting out loud at the effort.

Once closed, thinking I had achieved success, I looked in the mirror and saw a muffin top large enough to feed 25 supermodels spilling over.  Only after my husband walked into the room and he busted out laughing did I—mortified—concede defeat.

Sure, I’ve got plenty of reasons why they don’t fit.  I had a kid 8 months ago.  I don’t have any time to go to the gym.  I moved to suburbia.  The dryer shrunk them.  Aliens came in the middle of the night and zapped them and made them smaller.  But the simple truth is that, while I’d like to fit into my size-6 jeans, I’ve got a size-10 lifestyle.  And I can play with the numbers on the scale, but the jeans don’t lie.

And I’m at peace with the size that I am, even if the fashion industry isn’t.  And I’m tired of obsessing about my weight, it’s been a lifelong endeavor.  I was a zaftig kid and, at my heaviest, I weighed 200 pounds.  Although I lost 70 pounds by high school and managed to maintain my weight, I have always hated my body.  Even at my thinnest—a size 4—I still could only focus on losing those last 5 pounds, not the accomplishment I had made.

And then I had a daughter, and my perspective changed.

For starters, I now appreciate my body for the extraordinary things that it is capable of.  It can create a human being and nourish a child.  That seems more important than wearing a brand of jeans made by people who think women shouldn’t have hips.  (And please, someone tar and feather the designers that think even pregnant women should be thin.)

 I look back at the things that I did that risked my health to be thin and I am grateful to be healthy, that I didn’t do any damage (that I know of) to my body.  I can’t imagine doing any of that now.  It took a while, but I’m old enough and wise enough that my self-esteem is no longer linked to a number on a scale, or a size on a tag.

That’s not to say it’s easy to keep this attitude going.  I have my fat days.  We all know that societal pressures to be super-thin are ridiculous, illustrated by the recent story of Ralph Lauren allegedly firing a model, 5’10”, 125 lb., for being too fat.  Studies have shown that good-looking, thin people enjoy more success and opportunities than those who aren’t.  Simply put, we are as a whole, a superficial and judgmental society.  It’s enough to drive you to… eat!

But the reality is that 5, 10, 15 pounds up or down on a scale really don’t matter.  We are beautiful, no matter the size we might be.  We just need to hear it and remember it on the days when our skinny jeans don’t fit.

Speaking of, I still have those skinny jeans tucked away in a box somewhere.  A part of me hopes maybe I’ll fit back in them some day.  But I think chances are the next time they see daylight they’ll probably be on my daughter as part of a Halloween outfit (sooooo millennium…) She just better share the candy.


Sundays at The Bagel

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Alex Baum (not at the Bagel)

It’s a few minutes after 7 p.m. as we gather inside the waiting area of the popular Lakeview restaurant, greeting each other with hugs and friendly handshakes.  Our ritual marks the end to another weekend and the start to another week in our busy lives.  Restaurant patrons push their way around us to get a table as we gather into a tightly packed circle making sure we have a full headcount to give the host a more accurate number.  One never knows who will show up late or bring a friend along.  We meet at the Bagel in Lakeview frequently, but tonight everybody is in a little brighter mood than normal as we have something special to celebrate.

Every year on the second weekend of October, Chicago is host to 40,000 runners from around the world who take over the city in an effort to achieve dreams, raise awareness, and accomplish a goal they have been working toward the entire summer.  On marathon day the streets close and traffic stops as spectators line the streets hoping to get a glimpse of their friends and family as they run through the different Chicago neighborhoods seeking to finish the 26.2 mile route.  This year the cold temperatures added additional challenges to the already rigorous course.  I was up at 4:45 a.m. to volunteer with my friend Rachel at the Lincoln Park aide station to support and participate in the event.  As my fingers and toes became numb, I was already daydreaming about how nice it would be to warm up with friends at the Bagel later that night.

Diego, our favorite host, led the 10 of us back to our favorite table already set up with pickles, challah, and bagel chips.  We all make room for our honoree of the night, Brian Berman, who will sit in the middle so everyone can hear his stories of running the Chicago marathon in just over four hours.  This is the third year in a row we have celebrated Brian’s triumph at the Chicago marathon with a tasty meal at the Bagel.  Every time we meet here it seems we are celebrating new milestones in our lives: weddings, condo closings, new jobs, and completed graduate degrees.  Our group of friends has grown through meeting at various Lakeview events such as Makor dinners, Sushi Shabbat and Anshe Emet services.  We are Jewish, young, and mostly single.

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Sundays at the Bagel started in the cold winter of 2007, picked because of its parking lot, Jewish-style food, and accommodating wait staff.  Sam Leopold and couple of his friends started the Jewish dinner club.  He envisioned a casual, weekly gathering where everybody was encouraged to invite friends.  Every week we would meet new faces from the neighborhood who would join us for matzo ball soup, brisket, lox, bagels, chopped salad, and hot sandwiches.  Every week Diego would have to add another table to accommodate the growing Bagel crowd, which topped out at 32 people on one summer evening.

Seeing a bunch of Jewish urbanities order at the Bagel is always an adventure.  Before our order is taken stiff negotiations are performed to trade side items for soup, pickled herring and a sip of Sam’s chocolate milkshake.  Some rave about the matzo ball soup while others stand firmly behind the mushroom barley soup.  Sam always requests an extra thick milkshake; Brian offers up his sides in exchange for a few bites of somebody’s entree, and someone always insists the dressing be put on the side.  My personal favorite is the challah French toast, but I also really like the potato pancakes on the coldest of winter evenings.

Conversation is always lively and in addition to hearing marathon stories we touched on a plethora of topics on this particular Sunday night.  We discussed how DVR has changed our lives, the effectiveness of the iRobot Roomba vacuum cleaner, “Jon and Kate plus Eight,” and the healthcare debate.  It was interesting to know that our parents fell into two distinct categories, those who could text and those who could not.  Julie showed off her new Blackberry, Brian his new medal and we all joked about who will be brave enough to join Brian in completing next year’s Chicago marathon.  An older gentleman approaches our table and congratulates Brian on his marathon, and he proudly shows off the 2009 medal hanging around his neck.  The man’s friendly gesture truly reflects the community atmosphere of the Bagel.

Eventually the night comes to an end and the check is passed around, often turning into an accounting circus with a mix of cash and credit cards flying in all directions to settle the bill.  We stall, knowing that the weekend is almost over and it’s time to get home and finish everything we have been putting off ‘til Sunday night.  During the week, we will all be connected online, but next Sunday night we’ll have face time once again at the Bagel.


The Real World

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Deborah Shub photo

You know the MTV show The Real World?  Yeah, believe it or not it’s still on TV!  I never really got into reality TV.  I couldn’t figure out why people wanted to videotape their lives for the whole world to see.  However, I do remember a bit from The Real World season in Chicago.  Mostly because one of the cast members had gone to Stevenson High School, and all the girls kept talking about how dreamy he was.  Anyways, the show kind of reminds me of both college and the next step afterwards…joining the real world in finding a job.

Having lived in a house last year with six other friends, I am well aware of the drama that can occur when seven people live in close quarters.  The fights, the forming and breaking up of relationships, the house parties, the late night talks, the arguments over shared bathrooms and doing the dishes, not to mention the small, everyday moments that make up a school year and shared experience with roommates.  Although at times I hated it, it’s an environment I now miss.

Now living back home in the suburbs, I can no longer spend hours at all the coffee shops people-watching and writing papers (or pretending to work, while constantly checking my email).  I can no longer eat dinner with all my friends and then hang out afterwards for a homework party.  There are no more Friday nights at Hillel where I can pray and eat dinner with Jews of all ages and backgrounds.  People and places are no longer within walking distance.  Although campus can be a bubble, and we were all so eagerly looking forward to graduation, I wish undergrad had lasted longer.  I can understand why the majority of my friends went straight on to graduate school.  It’s a great way to prolong the instant family feel of campus while delaying the crushing reality of job searching.

When you graduate from college, the first exciting and scary thought that comes to mind is, “hey, I’m going to be a real person now.”  Becoming a real person wasn’t quite what I expected it to be, but the reality of a bad economy quickly set in.  Not only am I competing with all my fellow graduates for a job, but I am competing with people my parents’ age who were unfortunately subjected to company downsizing.

I have to admit, it feels like I’ve gone full circle, and am no closer to figuring out what I want to do.  I went to college, picked a major I liked, and took classes that interested me.  I met a ton of people, who are now great friends, and I learned a lot about myself.  Four years and countless travels later, including many places I temporarily called home, I am not back home to the place I grew up.  Back in Chicago, and no closer to knowing what to do with the rest of my life.

Being a part of the real world is not all it’s cracked up to be.


Growing up: if the shoe fits…

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I’ve been thinking about Halloween a lot lately, and this year I have been a bit stumped about what to wear.

When I was little, my idea of the perfect costume was simple. I usually went as some variation on a witch. One year I even went as a baby witch: I wore a witch’s dress and hat and carried around an absurdly large plastic baby bottle that I must have found at Party City or the like.
Growing up, I also had grandiose visions of dressing like the Little Mermaid. I idolized Ariel, believing her to be the prettiest girl in the world—before I realized cartoons weren’t real. My mother shot down the costume idea a few years in a row because it was too cold outside for me to walk around in an elementary school Halloween parade in seashells and fake fins—even if I was wearing a big coat over the ensemble.

My mother somehow convinced me to dress as a pumpkin one year instead. The big orange felt costume over a turtleneck and leggings were warm, but not quite the same—not to mention, I had a felt stem on my head. And yes, this was back in the 1990s when leggings were an acceptable staple in a young girl’s closet. They are coming back though…

I also tried to think back to my days of innocence—around preschool—when my concept of dress-up wouldn’t have been influenced by television’s marketing of Halloween or by Walt Disney. But, I realized, perhaps, I was always influenced by pop culture in some way. When I was little, I had teenage sisters who took pleasure in dressing me like Madonna with red lipstick, a lace glove and strands and strands of beads.

However, around preschool age, I also recalled the thrill of dressing up for Purim—the only “Halloween” truly sanctioned for Jews.

Every Purim my family would attend services to hear the Megillah reading and the younger children and the adults in the congregation would get decked out in elaborate costumes. I made an annual appearance in my mother’s version of an Esther costume, which altogether made me look like a gypsy. I wore a long skirt and a scarf around my hair that was adorned with sequins and beads. I loved that costume because it was so colorful and because I got to wear my mother’s clothes and lipstick.

I found myself in a moral conundrum when I stopped and thought about the Purim story. Here, I had been looking back upon my Esther days fondly. But in reality, Esther was very much a slave to her own good looks. Ultimately, however, she used it to her advantage to help save the Jewish people from annihilation.

The common thread of these costumes was that I loved any opportunity to dress up and look older, more mature.

Growing up photo 2

My desire to look older got warped when I went to college, however, and I think it’s happening for young women earlier these days. Any Lifetime made-for-TV-movie will tell you that.

I got sucked into a Halloween culture at UW-Madison that deemed any sexy version of an everyday person, such as a cop or teacher, as top notch. It’s hard not to get sucked into this cultural norm while attending college—particularly at Madison, where the celebration is likened to Mardis Gras.

But, while living my post-collegiate life in Chicago, that pressure lives on.

I’m a few years out of college now and I’m not only starting to feel older, but also a bit wiser. I was joking with a friend recently that even my everyday wardrobe is a bit tamer than it was in college. I think that my desire to “grow up” has finally taken hold in a real way.

Perhaps, I’ve even come full circle from my youth. Now in my mid-20s, I’m already worrying about getting old.

As Halloween approaches, I am no longer contemplating what over-priced sexy garb I could find at one of those temporary Halloween warehouses. Instead, I’ve been thinking about what might actually feel comfortable and attractive.

This year, I’ve decided to dress up as an old-time journalist. The decade may be off, but I’ve decided, essentially, to be myself.


Bye, Bye Bus Crush

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Bye Bye Bus Crush photo

Bus crushes. Everybody has them. He’s that guy you see every morning on the bus. Or the girl you see every day at Starbucks. He’s that mysterious guy that you know nothing about, or that girl you make eye contact with on a daily basis. For me, my bus crush was also, my gym crush… and my neighbor crush. The great thing about bus crushes is not talking to them. It’s the mysteriousness and endless possibilities that make the guy so appealing. As soon as he strikes up conversation, or as soon as you stalk him enough to find out about his life, the crush fades. Fast. The other nice thing about bus crushes is that anyone can have one. My single, married, and somewhere in between friends all have them. After all, it’s ok “just to look.”

Bus crushes make the mundane more exciting. My bus crush actually started out as my gym crush. Every night, I’d wonder if I’d see him working on his abs. I’d get excited to see this skinnier version of Vince Vaughn walk into the gym, and I would try not to get caught staring (although it didn’t always work). Then, I realized that my gym crush was on my bus every morning on the way to work. Hellllo bus crush! Then, I realized that we live in the same building. This was getting really exciting… in a crazy, stalker-ish sort of way.

This morning, as I walked into the elevator to go down to the bus, I was surprised to see Bus Crush, already in the elevator. Then came the butterflies. We’d never been in the elevator together before! He looked at me, I looked at him, and then I quickly pretended I had a very important email on my Blackberry. I didn’t want to stare. The elevator door opened, and I saw that he was about to say something to me. First I was excited, and then I hoped he wouldn’t say anything to ruin the mystery. Here’s how the conversation went:

Bus Crush: Hey, I recognize you from the gym.
Me: Yeah, I think I’ve seen you there before… (totally playing it cool- in reality, I know his whole gym routine, which weights he lifts, etc.)
BC: Yeah, I struggle there every night.
Me: Ha-ha, you don’t look like you’re struggling. (in my head: you’re not struggling at all, you look damn good!)

So far, so good. Then the conversation turned to where we work. I told him that I work at the Jewish United Fund, and he told me that he had a friend who works there. He mentioned her name and I remarked that she is a good friend of mine and that we grew up together in Minnesota. Uh oh, Bus Crush and I have friends in common, that makes this a bit too real, thus making him less appealing. I prayed that he would stop talking, so a sliver of the crush could remain. He kept talking. Shit.

BC: Oh you’re from Minnesota? I know a lot of people from Minnesota because I went to school at Wisconsin…

Oh no. We have a mutual friend. Strike one. I then remembered a text I had received from our mutual friend, “just woke up in your building- went home with a guy last night”. This was definitely him. Strike two. He went to Wisconsin and played on the same baseball team as a good friend of mine. Strike three. He’s Jewish, from Highland Park, and we run in similar social circles. Strike four, five, and six.

Then came the bus. Thank God. Bus Crush had become a “real person” and my crush had quickly faded. I went and sat down in a seat, far away from Bus Crush, and thought about how quickly my morning (and my crush) had been ruined. First I was excited to see Bus Crush, and then I was “crushed.”

Since we do have friends in common, there is a good chance that Bus Crush will see this. And it will be awkward. Possibly mortifying. It will make my evenings at the gym and my mornings on the bus long and uncomfortable. But this had to be done. I had to write this to warn all the bus crushes and bus crushers out there not to talk to your bus crush. Bus crushes are just so much more fun when you don’t know anything about your crush, and they can be whoever you want them to be, in your head. And Bus Crush, if you’re reading this, please don’t tell me. I’d prefer to go on thinking about you and your cute Vince Vaughn like appearance, rather than have the awkward confrontation that could ensue from this. Thanks a billion, Bus Crush.


Purple Ribbon Campaign, Part I

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Another October 

Purple Ribbon Campaign, Part I photo

Our world is a little pinker this month, much to my daughters’ delight. Pink ribbons, pink soup cans, pink M&Ms, pink skyscrapers all aglow. I can take a moment to tell my girls that October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, why that’s important, and what we can do to help. I’m happy to have the pink prompts.

We’ve come a long way since bubbe's day when the word cancer was spoken in a whisper. Now our doctors will tell us, our mothers will tell us, the media will tell us about monthly self exams, diet and exercise, mammograms starting at 40 (shit, that’s me).

We’ve come a long way, bubbe, but the breast cancer awareness movement is not done saving lives. Through the efforts of organizations like the Chicago Center for Jewish Genetic Disorders and FORCE, through the vision of people like filmmaker Joanna Rudnick and physician Deborah Lindner, I have faith our daughters will grow up with new household words that will save even more lives. BRCA mutations, previvor, hereditary cancers/ Ashkenazi Jews, family history, genetic screening.

One in eight women will develop breast cancer in her lifetime.

One in four women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime.

Hey you. October is also Domestic Violence Awareness month. As I sit here and wonder – Does that have a color? A face? A voice? – I could use a little pink help.

I learned just now, thanks to Google, that domestic violence awareness does have a color. Purple, to represent the bruises of those who have been hurt at the hands of their partners. Judging from the lack of lavender in the October air, I conclude, the purple ribbon campaign hasn’t hit mainstream.

All the more reason it needs to. To save lives, we can’t whisper.

I want to shout when I hear people say abuse does not happen in the Jewish community. I want to shout as the Jewish faces I know begin flashing through my mind. The girl from my synagogue who disappeared for half of ninth grade after being severely beaten by her boyfriend. My friend who lost her virginity to date rape our first year on campus. The sea of t-shirts displayed at the Response annual meeting, each representing a young person who has survived abuse.

If page one of my mental photo album isn’t enough, the data speaks for itself. The Jewish Community Health Survey of West Rogers Park (2004) found that one in four adults had witnessed domestic violence and nearly one-third of households included a victim of physical, verbal, or sexual violence. A Jewish Women International study on domestic abuse in the Chicago Jewish community confirmed that abuse occurred across the lifespan, across denominations, across income levels, between heterosexual and same-sex partners.

Across the community, in homes, in schools and through our agencies, we see the consequences of sexual abuse, child abuse, physical abuse, teen dating violence, bullying, and elder abuse. The cost of abuse is enormous on a personal, community, and national level, whether we are counting medical expenses, psychological impact, emergency room visits, the demise of families, lost childhoods, or lost lives.

Like all communities, the Chicago Jewish community is deeply affected by domestic abuse.  Of the 270,500 Jews in the Chicago area (Metropolitan Chicago Jewish Population Study, 2001), this translates to tens of thousands of faces, of voices, of individuals who have been impacted by abuse.

And in many ways, the Chicago Jewish community is paving the way in its fight against domestic abuse. Our efforts are serving as a model for other faith-based communities locally and other Jewish communities across the country.

As MENSCH gets men talking . . . as SHALVA opens its door to the next woman who needs help . . . as Project SHIELD prompts another rabbi to scratch his beard and slowly nod his head . . . as JCARES brings another partner to the table and inspires another person (like me) to open her eyes, make needed changes or advocate in her own way . . . as Response hangs t-shirts of teen survivors out on the clothesline . . . one by one, another light bulb goes off.

And whether that light is purple or pink or white, my hope grows that much brighter that when our daughters grow up, the community will be that much safer.

To save lives, we can’t whisper.

Purple Ribbon Campaign, Part I photo 2

My daughter Emma – stay strong. Amen.


Purple Ribbon Campaign, Part II

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A Chicago Mensch 

Purple Ribbon Campaign, Part II photo

When you think of a mensch, what comes to mind? Maybe it’s your grandma telling you to be a mensch or maybe it’s the rabbi at your Bar Mitzvah telling you to grow up and be a mensch. What probably does not come to mind is the grassroots effort started a few years ago in Chicago known as MENSCH, Men for Shalom in the Community and Home.

Picture a group of Jewish guys sitting around a table – guys who work in business, technology, recreation, law, mental health – getting together not to talk about Monday night football or cars or how much money we make. We get together to talk about violence against women and girls – and what we can do to eliminate it.

I first came to the MENSCH table because my friend and MENSCH founder Randy Parks asked me to. I stayed for many reasons.

MENSCH is a community of Jewish men with different perspectives who share a common goal.  We all have daughters, sisters, mothers, and friends and we want them to be safer. At monthly meetings, we have spent many hours learning, sharing, exploring, and discussing ways to make a difference.

You never know who is affected by domestic abuse, be it verbal, physical, financial, or sexual. It could be someone who lives in the apartment upstairs, someone who works with you, someone you meet at bar, or a friend of a friend. Through my job, I encounter many young Jewish people. Do I know how to listen? Would I know how to help?

I brought my youth group to a MENSCH community education event, exposing these high school kids to the issue of abuse and engaging them in dialogue. The Clothesline Project, organized locally by Response, is a powerful visual display of t-shirts, each created by a survivor of abuse. Behind every shirt is a person with a story. I watched these kids begin to “get it”. Through MENSCH events at synagogues, JCCs and elsewhere, and through individual conversations, we can help our friends, our brothers, our sons start to “get it”.

“Get” that we have not only the opportunity, but the responsibility, to prevent attitudes and behaviors that lead to relationship violence. “Get” that building a healthy community, free of violence, starts when we can recognize the harmful effects of our own attitudes and behaviors on our partners, our community and ourselves.

It’s not that guys are schmucks and we should feel guilty. Most men are not violent, but most acts of violence are perpetrated by men. I have the ability, and the responsibility, to do something about it.

To help further our goals, MENSCH recently joined forced with JCARES (Jewish Community Abuse Resources, Education and Solutions), a dynamic coalition working to create a community that prioritizes safe, healthy relationships. With the support of JCARES, MENSCH is launching an attitudes and beliefs study. When we are done, we will be able to say, this is what Jewish men think about domestic violence. And the results will help shape future directions for MENSCH.

In the meantime, here are ten things you can do to make a difference:

• Encourage your HR department to sponsor workshops on positive relationships in the workplace, then sign up and bring your co-workers with you.

• Be a good listener.

• Read the SHALVA fact sheet on what to do when someone needs help.

• Speak with the boys in your synagogue youth group about ways to be cool that don't come at the expense of others.

• Embrace the driving/sex metaphor. Encourage your friends not do either when they or their passengers are drunk.

• Attend a rally, speaker, or seminar – just as you would for Israel, a favored politician or football team. You can “own” men's role in violence without being personally guilty.

• Talk to your friends about attitudes you likely share.

• Participate in the upcoming MENSCH Attitudes and Beliefs Survey.

• Know that there are resources out there – check out the MENSCH website to learn more.

• Take a moment to think about the way you’re talking and what you’re doing – in the words of your grandma and rabbi, be a mensch.


Cheers! Chicago: Jews and booze

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If there is one aspect to Judaism that I find to be truly unique and special, it’s our history. Our shared struggles and triumphs, our traditions and values, our way of life that has remained intact over centuries and endured several civilizations. But what’s more interesting is that not only do we spend time building a rich history, we also dedicate ourselves to study it and to learn from it. It was this idea that led me to explore for myself just what it was like for Jews when they first arrived here in our beloved city of Chicago, and what roles they played. Of course, there were some things to expect: synagogues were built, Jewish communities settled into various neighborhoods around Chicago, and began to influence the culture within the city as early as the 1850s. But it was what I discovered about what some Jews were doing in the 1920s and early 1930s that caught me by surprise.

Recently, I happened to be glancing through the first volume of the Encyclopedia of American Jewish History, under the chapter titled “American Jewish Gangsters,” I came across an interesting fact that I am willing to bet most American Jews are not aware of, “Although Jews made up less than 4% of the nation’s population, during Prohibition, 50% of the nation’s leading bootleggers were Jews, and Jews and Jewish gangs bossed the rackets in some of America’s largest cities.”

Jews, in one form or another, had contributed to the existence, continuance, and eventual lift of the Prohibition Era of the United States of America! This led me to wonder: What was the Jewish attitude toward Prohibition while it was being argued before the nation? What has been the Jewish attitude toward Prohibition since it has been adopted? There were some interesting arguments made at that time, and anyone interested in learning more about this should read this short article from the December 31, 1921 Dearborn Independent newspaper.

Reading the various commentaries and experiences of several different Jews at this moment in history gave me even more insight into the never-ending struggle within all of us Jews, the moral voice that seems to reside within every one of us. In fact, each of you readers should open this page up and glance through it after reading this. Perhaps a discussion could begin…

Anyway, imagine my surprise to find that, in an effort to learn how Jews defined leading a good life in the eyes of God during a time where an important facet to the religion was banned, Jews actually played pivotal roles on both sides of the Prohibition debate. For every Rabbi Leo M. Franklin, president of the Central Conference of American Rabbis in 1921, there was an Arnold Rothstein, Jewish mobster smuggling liquor into the US; for every Orthodox Jew lamenting over the lack of wine for his Passover Seder, there was a Jewish politician or lobbyist looking to continue punishing those that sought to lift the ban. In any event, it seems that when it came to alcohol, the Jewish Americans were as outspoken and passionate as ever. For someone who views the Prohibition Era in the US as the Dark Ages, it was fascinating to learn that, as the Dearborn Independent writes, “first and last, the illicit liquor business in all its phases, both before and after Prohibition, has always been Jewish. Before Prohibition it was morally illicit, after Prohibition it became both morally and legally illicit.”

This issue’s spotlight cocktail recipe comes from my own mentor and master mixologist Bridget Albert, author of Market Fresh Mixology, a book everyone should own and use in their homes to create fabulous drinks with great and fresh ingredients. It’s a perfect fall cocktail that anyone can make at home or at a party. Oprah thought so!

Cinnamon Apple Cocktail, By Bridget Albert

2 ounces fresh sour mix
1/2 bar spoon cinnamon applesauce
1/2 ounce pear liqueur
1 1/2 ounce apple-flavored vodka
Apple slice
Add all ingredients except apple slice to your mixing glass. Fill the mixing tin with ice. Shake well. Strain into a martini glass (double-straining is optional).



One of the boys

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One of the boys photo

Jacey watching with her family— the only other time
she gets to watch with a girl.  Notice, no father.

Hello, my name is Jacey Bader and I have an unhealthy obsession with pink, hearts, frills and football.  Yup, you read that correctly.  I am more girly than Barbie herself, and I’m willing to bet that my bedroom has more pink than her entire dreamhouse.  I can also tell you the difference between off sides and a false start, why an onside kick could be beneficial, and I can define words such as “horse collar”, “safety” and “hang time.”

Being a girly football fan is not an easy task.  It’s not my fault!  I was raised in a home where my father would rather take a spin class than come near a sporting arena (the man fell asleep during the 1991 Twins World Series while he was AT THE GAME!), and my mother dragged me to the Vikings games while I was still in utero.  I bleed purple, and I love it.  However, I am at a constant struggle to hold back my girly tendencies.  My only saving grace is that purple is such a great color...can you imagine if I was a Bears fan?  Navy and orange?  Gross!

I watch the games in Chicago with a group of guys I went to high school and college with.  From here on out, I will refer to them as the “squad”.  What a great word—makes me laugh every time I say it.

A typical Sunday would go as follows:

- Wake up at 11ish and text the squad to see where everyone is going.  Lately, the consensus has been State Bar.  I like it there with the giant TV right in the booth.  Last year it was Victory Liquors.  I think I like State better.

- Definitely skip the shower because let’s face it, not one of these boys is getting up to shower on a Sunday morning.  They are like my brothers—what’s the point?

- Put on my super cute, vintage-looking, Vikings t-shirt (new from Junkfoodclothing.com), Vikings earrings and Badger hat.  Gotta represent!

-  Hop on the bus and head to State.

- Squeeze into the edge of the booth that the squad has been saving for a good hour (I’m clearly the last one there as usual) grab a beer and brace myself for kick-off.

- Just when I’m so proud of myself for being one of the boys, they go and order wings.  Don’t get me wrong, if you haven’t tried the bbq wings at State yet, it’s a must.  But seriously, have these boys never heard of a napkin?  This is when the struggle is at its peak.  I so desperately want to get everyone a bucket of soap and a nice warm rag, but I know if I say anything it will draw the attention to the fact that I am not a boy.  The squad has a very strict “no girls allowed” policy that I have worked very hard to penetrate.  I am proud to be the one exception to this rule.  The key is not to ask questions.  If you don’t know what happened, you better Google it.

- Half time: toss a football in the street, listen to the squad talk about last night’s encounters, order another beer.

- Watch the Vikings dominate (so far so good!), split the bill and go on my merry way.

I love being one of the boys.  I love when they completely forget that I’m there and they say the raunchiest stuff!  It’s so gross, and I get such a kick out of it.  Boys really are a rare breed.  This is where I get the best information.  It’s more like a field study, an experiment if you will.  I disguise myself as one of them to get the inside scoop about how guys really think.  What have I learned?  That I’m happy I’m a girl.

The squad is a staple in my chaotic life.  I love knowing that despite my gender and girlishness, I always have a place to watch the game.  It would be really great to have female ally though.  I need someone to gawk at the way Adrian Peterson’s gorgeous pecks move up and down in the new NFL.com Fantasy commercial!  He’s so sexy.  I really love football.


Fat loss for Free

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Fat loss for free photo

“I’m eating right and doing cardio, why aren’t I losing weight?” I hear that all the time. Usually there are two things going on:

1)      Your eating habits are solid—but your drinking habits (i.e. booze) are not
2)      Where’s the weight training?

I will quickly address number one and then focus on number two. I’m not saying you can’t have a drink, just be aware of the calories.

•        Light Beer = 110 calories (4 beers, 440 calories)
•        4 ounces Red Wine = 80 calories (that’s like a shot of wine)
•        4 ounces White Wine = 75 calories
•        1 ounce Vodka = 65 calories (that’s one shot-not including the Sprite)

Find your favorite drink here.

And let’s not forget, what happens after a night of drinking— the burritos, hot dogs, greasy fries… To find out what’s really sabotaging your diet, write it down! Track three days and look for trends like the post lunch chocolate, the 4 p.m. cookie, the 9 p.m. ice cream…

Since I’m not a nutritionist, I’m going to focus on burning fat! Let me be honest here, it’s not easy to get ripped. The magazine cover abs are usually airbrushed, so first things first, have realistic expectations. Second, what’s your routine? And most importantly, how long have you been doing it for?

Your body is smart— it adapts to how you train. If you’ve been doing the same workout for months, your body will get use to it and that same routine that kicked your butt is now easy and slowing down your fat loss. A client recently told me, “I’ve been doing the same video for two years. What am I doing wrong?” I told her it’s time to buy some new videos. Mixing up your routine forces you to use different muscles, fatigue yourself in a new way and if you keep reading, you’ll learn the secret to super fat loss.

Another big fitness problem is the cardio-aholic. Yes, I’m talking to you Ms. I’m Too Afraid To Weight Train. If your workout consists of only cardio, you need to add weight training! On the other hand, if you’re not doing any cardio, slowly incorporate it into your workout. I say slowly because if you start out too fast, shin splints, knee pain, and other injuries can pop up. Talk to me or a trainer at your gym to lower your risk of injury.

One huge benefit to weight training is you will gain muscle. Most people, especially women, will not turn into Arnold from lifting weights. Sure, a few genetic studs gain muscle easy but the majority of us will gain a few pounds of muscle. And muscles are great because they burn more calories than fat. Another benefit to hitting the weights is you will burn calories. Pumping iron burns lots of calories, especially if you do exercises that work multiple muscle groups at once like, pushups, chin ups, and squatting.

Now, to get the biggest bang for your buck combine cardio and weights (circuit training). Circuit training is popular because it works and it’s efficient. I mean, who has time for 90 minutes of cardio that will eventually lead to joint pain? Take 30-60 minutes and make it count. The combination of getting your heart rate elevated and pumping your muscles will help you lean up fast. I recommend picking eight or so exercises and running from one to the other with little rest between each set.

Circuit Example:
Push up
Hold Plank
Jump rope for 2 minutes
Dumbbell Bicep curl and shoulder press

Questions/comments? Let me know. You can find most of these exercises on YouTube.

Make sure you check with your doctor before starting an exercise routine.


The return of a north shore staple

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The return of a north shore staple photo 1

There was a time when the “Wild, Wild West” was much more than a thoroughly annoying Will Smith song. (Quick: name one Will Smith song that doesn’t stick in your head, for the wrong reasons. Can’t do it, can you?) But the Wild West, for most non rapping sit-com/cheesy action movie stars meant frontier living, sleeping with whomever you wanted to, and not showering for days. You know, kind of like the parking lot at a Phish concert.

For others, the Wild West is best summed up by an obscure yet ridiculously great 1969 movie musical called, “Paint Your Wagon”. Haven’t seen it yet? Well, my friend, go ahead and add it to your Netflix list without haste, buy a cheap and perhaps lethal bottle of whiskey (Kessler, anyone?), and get ready for the surreal experience of hearing Clint Eastwood sing a song about talking to the trees, and those very same trees not listening to him. (One can easily trace Clint going nuts in “Grand Torino” to being blown off by trees.) You’ll also witness the surreal sight of Lee Marvin stomping around drunk singing a song entitled, “Whoop Ti Ay”. You must see this genuinely odd film to believe it, and I promise you, songs like “There’s A Coach Coming In” – which, sadly, has nothing to do with the long forgotten Craig T. Nelson show – will soon be on your iPod.

Then there’s Mel Brooks’ classic “Blazing Saddles” which many consider the ultimate Western comedy. Only Mel Brooks (with a brilliant assist from co-writer Richard Pryor) could make a classic western out of fart jokes, racism, and Dom Delouise as a gay choreographer. Forget “Young Frankenstein”, its way past time that Mel adapts this movie for the stage.

I certainly learned some of what I know about the Wild West – as well as an inordinate number of show-tunes – from both movies. But for most of my younger years, the vast majority of my western education came in the form of a traditional, gold-rush era cheeseburger called “the Motherload," mozzarella sticks wrapped in authentic, frontier-style won-tons, and an awe-inspiring salad bar which no doubt the miners ate from as they were staking their claim in 1800’s California. Who needs beans when you’ve got a light balsamic, right?

Many Jews (and a few goyum, but they’re not reading this so let’s ignore them) raised in Chicago or the north shore in the 1980’s & 1990’s know exactly what I’m talking about: the legendary Claim Company restaurant, a dining staple for Chicagoland restaurant-goers for about 25 years. First located on Clark Street near Belden, and later in both Northbrook court and the 900 N. Michigan Avenue building, I frequented the Claim Company seemingly hundreds of times with family and friends. And I wasn’t alone. Heading to Claim Company was a staple of all kinds of get-togethers: dinners with mom & dad, high school dates, and mini summer camp-reunions to name a few. With a large menu – originally displayed on gold-miner pans – Claim Company was the ideal restaurant for a kid, teenager, and young adult. The burgers were huge, the appetizers were old-school (just try finding potato skins at your local favorite restaurant these days), and the environment was unpretentious without veering into the cheesy “hey, let’s put as much vintage crap on the walls as we can find” décor which mars other similar restaurants.

As has been well documented in this blog, I tend to be a sucker for nostalgia. So when Claim Company closed its’ doors back in the late 1990’s, I was genuinely saddened. Sure, I lost about 40 pounds from no longer eating weekly “Motherloads” – Claim’s signature cheeseburger, which is usually served with a huge slice of cheese, fried onions, sautéed mushrooms, a tangy and delicious concoction called “claim sauce”, and other condiments which could give even the most healthy individual an instant stroke. But I was also heartbroken. After all, I’ve long insisted to anyone who’d listen that the fajita was actually invented by the Claim Company, despite having zero proof of this. (A lack of actual facts has never stopped me from making outrageous and unverified statements, which is a major reason I could someday host a show on FOX “News.” Hello, “Hannity & Shanoff!”)

Sure, I’ve found other, comparable restaurants in the years since Claim Company was closed, but none could hold a candle to that once-great dining experience. So imagine my surprise when one of my oldest friends – and a frequent Claim Company Companion (which is also my least favorite Marc Cohn song) – called to tell me that Claim Company would re-open at Northbrook Court after a 12 year absence. I was rightfully thrilled, and celebrated by purchasing pants two sizes larger. No, I’m not kidding.

Let me state right now that I have no vested stake in the Claim Company, lest this seem like some paid advertisement. But having been there twice since it reopened, I can safely say that anyone in their 20’s or older with fond memories of the restaurant won’t be disappointed. Two of its’ original managers are apparently in control of this new Claim Company, and they have faithfully replicated the original menu, with only a few concessions to a more healthy society. To that end, let me state that I am both equally thrilled and appalled by the addition of veggie and turkey variations of the “Motherload.”  I expected this would be like replacing Five Alive with prune juice, but a taste of the turkey “Motherload” proved nearly as flavorful as the traditional beef variation. On a completely unrelated note, I’d like to promise you that I’ll never again use the phrase “traditional beef variation” for myriad reasons, but primarily because I’m not entirely sure what it means.

The return of a north shore staple photo 2

Semantics aside, my return trips to the Claim Company – both within its’ first week – did not disappoint. The bar area is a great place to catch a game & have a burger, the milkshake was just as thick and delicious as it was back when Pearl Jam was relevant, and from what I was told by my dining companion, the salad bar as top notch as a salad bar can possibly be. So next time you find yourself trapped at Northbrook Court, clamoring for not only a great meal, but also a need to relive a restaurant from your formative years, you’ll know where to go. Friends of mine in our (ahem, mid) 30’s from the Latin/Parker/north shore set who grew up with the Claim Company will no doubt be thrilled, and hopefully an entire new generation of Motherload eaters (also a phrase I ought not to use again) will soon make the Claim Company part of their adolescence; not to mention their authentic introduction to the wild, wild west.


Dear Bug and Sprout…

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Now that the nausea has mostly subsided and the shock of having twins has been replaced by pure excitement, Mandi and I have been getting things ready for the arrival of The Winks. I’ve been thinking a lot about setting up the nursery and other logistical details. We have so many ultrasound appointments now that I’m making a scrapbook of all the ultrasound pictures. But most importantly, I’ve been thinking about what kind of life I want to create for the girls, as I imagine many new parents must do around this time. As part of my mental preparation for being a mom, I made a list of some of the hopes and dreams I have for Bug and Sprout.

Dear Bug and Sprout photo

Bug and Sprout, already putting their heads together

Dear Bug and Sprout,

Today you have been in my womb for 23 weeks and six days. I already love you. You can open and close your eyes and are practicing your breathing. I hope you are not kicking each other or knocking heads too often. I know there is only so much room in there.

I am waiting patiently to meet you when you’re ready to be born. Thank you for kicking me so often so that I know you are alive and well. Even without these reminders I would think about you all the time. There are many things I wish for you in your lifetime here on earth and I want to write them down so that someday you can read this for yourselves.

I hope you will have love in your life and be generous with your love.

I hope you will have a deep friendship with each other. I know you will fight sometimes. Your personalities may be complete opposites. But the two of you will have something incredibly special: someone who has been by your side since before you were born.

I hope you will love learning for your entire life. Reading is fun!

I hope you will respect other people even if they disagree with you. And I hope you stand up for yourselves and what you believe in. I hope you believe in the power of your own voice.

I hope you will become confident individuals and know that you are beautiful. This may be challenging at times, like if someone in your gymnastics class says you have a bubble butt, or if your breasts stop growing before you even realized they were there. Regardless of what your challenges are, you will be beautiful people and I hope you can overcome all the pop culture propaganda about what beauty is and truly love your bodies.

I hope you will sleep at the same times.

I hope you will know that you have two parents who love you and will do anything for you. When you are upset about not having your biological father in your life, I hope you will be patient for the day when you turn 18 and can reach out to your bio dad if you want to.

I hope you will become friends with all of your cousins who have been born in the past four months – Emmett, Tevin and Nathan. I hope you will have fun together and learn from each other, especially since you will have different religions and live in different cities.

I hope you will be proud of your Jewish heritage and at the same time learn about and respect other religions and spiritual paths.

I hope you won’t take yourselves too seriously and will enjoy making fun of yourselves. I wish you happiness and humor.

Above all, I hope you will love waking up every single day and enjoy living in this world. I can’t wait to meet you.

Mama C


I’m getting married

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I’m getting married.

The wedding will probably be mid-January; my fiancé and I are figuring that out this week. You’re all invited for the dancing. Really. It’s going to be a wild time.

At Jewish religious weddings, anyone can come and dance. You certainly don’t have to wait for an invitation. We’ll have a private meal for close friends and family, but then the dance floor will open up around 8, and as Jewish beatboxer Y-Love puts it in his song Shake it For Your Maker, “if you’ve never seen this, you’ve never seen joy in your life”. He was talking about the holiday of Sukkos, but I think it applies here as well.

We got engaged about two weeks ago, after eight weeks of dating, after knowing each other for thirteen years.

It’s a beautiful story, a good one to tell.

I was thinking about all the stories we would tell our children one day, about what life was like when we were growing up. About all the fads. Like pogs. Who could explain that? Flipping over cheap cardboard circles, for hours of high class fifth grade entertainment. Or tamagotchis. Or not owning a cell phone until I was 18. Or being perpetually lost, before the GPS was even a Hanukkah gift possibility.

I also imagine the more serious conversations we would have on lessons I learned from my mistakes.

I’d attempt to explain to my children about the world I was raised in, that was incongruously both a gluttonously “disposable culture” and yet conversely also a society obsessed with “being green”.

I would tell them that in my youth “I bought designer bottled water,” and they would look at me in utter confusion and ask- “didn’t you have clean, free, tap water?” “Yes, yes, I would answer, but we were young and foolish.” “You paid how much?,” they would laugh.

 I would tell them how my conscience at that time, desperate for rationalization, felt assured by the writing on the bottle altruistically explaining to me that by buying their product, I was somehow helping save the rainforest.

My children would look at me in the eye, my liberal, socially conscious children, and beg me to tell them that their mother didn’t really know how much of the rainforest was being cut down every day, that her “Google generation” didn’t have that information at their fingertips, that the government caught up in politically selfish motives concealed the truth from the ignorant masses.

 I’d look away, and in that silence, their question would be answered.

I was young, I would repeat . We didn’t realize.

I am young.

 I’m 25.
I’m getting married.

I’ve got things to do. I must read “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus” as soon as possible. I must internalize the importance of hangers and the benefits of keeping clothes off the floor.  I must change my texting plan to unlimited. I must meditate on the steps to actualize the environment I want for my future home; a warm, grounded, thinking, and compassionate oasis.

I’m moving on in my life. Everything is dramatically changing, and I love it. I love the person my fiancé helps me become, I love working together with him on life.

I’m looking towards the future, and focusing on the practical next steps. Yet the understanding of the responsibility I will be taking on, with unlimited potential, is felt just as much as the responsibility I have to find a low-cost yet stunning antique wedding dress.

I don’t want my wedding to be the best day of my life. I want the day after the wedding to be better. And I want the day after that to be even better. And I want to look at my husband and my grown children forty years later and feel that, that day is the happiest day of my entire life.

I’m preparing for the next generation. What wisdom will I pass on? What lessons will I derive from my experiences? Will they laugh when I tell them that in my day, people paid forty thousand dollars a year to get a college certificate? Will they still drink Coca Cola? Will they be able to safely visit Jerusalem and cry at the Western Wall?

If I’ve learned anything after eight weeks of dating my fiancé it’s this: to love is to invest time- in caring, thinking, and subduing the ego. I feel even more sensitive to the preciousness and joy of existence. I feel even more acutely the impact my existence and the decisions, collectively and individually, that I must make as I move on to the next phase of my life, at last.


Boogidy boogidy boo

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Halloween is quickly approaching. Do you have a costume idea yet? I don’t take Halloween very seriously. That’s why I’ve known I was going to be Liza Minnelli for the last 2 ½ months. That’s also why I’ve practiced my song and dance routine to ‘Ring Them Bells’ an hour each day. But regardless of whether you obsess over your costume or not, Halloween is a wickedly good time. Below is a collection of some of our favorite Halloween stories. Boogidy boogidy boo.

On Halloween, Anyone Can Be A Star

By Mary Gerlach

For four years I spent more time than I’m willing to admit obsessing about Halloween costumes and drinking debauchery. There are five types of Halloween costumes for girls and I’ve worn them all:

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1. Movie character. Freshman year I was Holly Golightly.
2. Pop culture reference. Sophomore year I was Kelly Kapowski.
3. Cute animal. Junior year I was a polar bear (here I am with Oy’s own Lindsey Bissett, my BFF).
4. Celebrity you love to hate. Senior year I was a pregnant Katie Holmes.
5. Anything sexy. I am always sexy.

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All solid costumes (although the Audrey homage is a little overplayed), by far the crowning jewel is Katie Holmes. Friends will always tell you your ideas are good once you’ve already put your costume on (the same goes for boyfriends on Friday night) and the standard-issue frat guy has the lowest of all quality standards. The true test of a Halloween costume is the ability to draw a crowd and come up in conversation later, and I had one ace up my scientology sleeve as Katie Holmes: my very own Tom Cruise.

Portrayed by my friend Erin Hogan, my costume was complete, and frankly without her it would have sucked. The magnetism of our combo deal wasn’t clear until she arrived at a party a half an hour after me. As I stood on the balcony, heckling Halloween party goers with a man dressed as Pooh. I heard “Katie. Katie. Katie. Tom’s here!” I turned around and there she was, the apple of my drunken, hazy eye. Erin’s wig looked amazing, her laugh was perfect and the sunglasses sealed the deal.

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I imagine, much like Tom and Katie in real life, separately Erin and I would have been unimpressive that night, but together we were Halloween’s celebrity power couple. Hand-in-hand we made our way down Court Street as my Tommy protectively guided me through the crowd and warned passersby not to push me; I was his pregnant bride to be. Later, we proudly were kicked out of a bar after Erin jumped on the booth seats proclaiming her love. We slowly made our exit only stopping to flirt with two guys she knew dressed as gnomes that year.

Bob the vegan bum, not a costume BTW, told me the following Monday that a professor of his asked the class about any cool costumes they’d seen that weekend. One girl raised her hand and said “I saw two girls dressed as Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes. They did a really good job.” And that’s when I knew I was a Halloween celebrity. Strangers don’t know me, but they know the celebrities I love to hate. Dreams really do come true.

Lessons I’ve Learned On Halloween

By Lindsey Bissett

1. Never let two Marines who are locked out of their friend’s house help you dye your hair with KoolAid.

2. It is possible to black out twice in one day.

3. No need to buy cups for the keg when you’ve got an abundance of mini pots and measuring cups.

4. Ex-boyfriends do not make good guests over Halloween weekend.

5. If someone meets you while you’re dressed as Patty Mayonnaise, that person will call you Patty Mayonnaise for the next five years.

6. Your night will be slightly unpleasant if you ask an annoying, but nonetheless fun, friend to dress as Warren Jeffs so you can be one of his many wives. He’ll take the role too far.

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7. Roller skating with beer in hand down a brick road is more fun than you’d imagine.

8. If your mom makes your dad an M&M costume when you’re five, he’ll wear it for the next 20 years.

9. Fake blood is easy to remove from a wall months after it splattered there. Be sure to wait until moving day before cleaning up that mess.

10. Sexy grandma trumps sexy nurse any day.

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Casper the Cowardly Ghost
By Morgan McNaught

My friend’s brother, Clayton, went as Casper the friendly ghost because his last name was Casper, but he was too afraid of the mask to wear it. Needless to say, no one had any idea who he was supposed to be dressed as. When we went to one door, and they didn’t know who he was and then gave him money instead of candy, he shouted, “I hate you, you look like a gerbil!” The woman was hard of hearing, and couldn’t understand what he said. We explained that he wanted to buy a gerbil with the money. She really liked the idea, but said we should ask his mom first.


Modern couple draws from old text

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Modern couple draws from old text photo

For a recent article I wrote for Triblocal, I interviewed a Jewish couple living in Highland Park that is about as nontraditional as it gets.

The two met later in life after previous marriages, already had their own children and are now enjoying their marriage of only about five years.

The husband is an African American male who converted to Judaism in his 30s; the wife was born Jewish and scarcely identified with her roots.

Together, they’ve found Judaism in perhaps an unusual place—a comic book.

Chicago native Aaron Freeman is an author, blogger, public radio personality and stand-up comedian. Some of his routines have taken on Jewish significance, such as his involvement with a traveling show called The Israeli/Palestinian Comedy Tour.

His wife and Glencoe native Sharon Rosenzweig is a painter and printmaker who has recently taken to being a cartoonist.

For those of you loyal Oy! readers who are scratching your heads and wondering why something sounds familiar, Oy! blogger Jane Charney actually wrote about Freeman once before. In her article, “Torah Tales,” Charney discussed Freeman’s performance work as a Torah maven, or storyteller/translator of Biblical Hebrew into vernacular. I am going to focus on another of Freeman’s Jewish endeavors.

Freeman discovered the program called Comic Life on his computer and in three years, he and Rosenzweig have joined forces and decided to make a graphic novel of the Torah called “The Comic Torah, Re-imagining the Very Good Book.”

Each week they went through translations of the weekly Torah portion and together developed a two-page comic based on their discussions of the portion. They would post it to their Web site and sent it out to a list serve comprised of friends and interested parties.

Rosenzweig said the project even evolved into thematic Shabbat dinners with friends based on the portion they had completed.

Rosenzweig said being with Freeman has given her second chance at being a Jew.

She explained that growing up, she didn’t identify with the religion. She married a non-Jewish man and “shelved it.”  It was only after her divorce that she realized she and her daughter might have been missing out, she added.

“I had been doing Jewish studies in college and it really seemed intriguing and wonderful, but not without a community,” Rosenzweig said. “I didn’t know how to do it. So, I just really put it away.”

When she got divorced, she said her daughter complained about her own lack of exposure to the religion.

“My daughter said the worst thing I had done to her was to not give her a Jewish education and that the other kids complained about how boring Hebrew school was, but they didn’t know what it was like not to be in class.”

Rosenzweig said she took her seriously and enrolled her in a program.

“I went with her and I re-kindled my interest, which was really just dormant,” she said.

She synagogue hopped and found a community of her own, and her interest grew even more after meeting Aaron.

Once they began their comic book, their lives began to revolve around Torah, Rosenzweig said.

Rosenzweig and Freeman said they spent their weekends mulling over text and translations. They took their job very seriously. But, they also had fun with it.

In earlier versions of their comics, for instance, Pharaoh was George Bush and the Egyptian magicians were Rumsfield and Cheney. Even Obama made it in there.

Rosenzweig said some of the timely insertions were removed when they got more serious about making a book of the work.

However, they left in other elements, such as personifying the holy land as a woman, whom some may recognize as Bollywood actress Shilpa Shetty.

The God character, called Yhwh—a phonetic translation of the Hebrew word—looks a lot like Rosenzweig, she admitted. And Moses has a strong resemblance to Freeman. Some of their friends also have small appearances in their version of the Bible.

Marc Slutsky is the president of Aitz Hayim Center for Jewish Living of the North Shore, the congregation to which the couple belongs and where Freeman performs his maven work.

Slutsky said Torah has to be modern for it to have value.

For Jews in the generation after the Holocaust, when centers of Jewish culture were wiped out and populations were reduced, they felt the need to hold on to what was lost, he said.

But, for a culture to survive, it has got to use the tools of the culture to speak to the problems faced today, Slutsky said. The Torah, for instance, could be used to discuss modern issues such as medical ethics or dealing with children.

“Jews have always been interpretive with regard to the Bible,” Slutsky said. “Torah has a way of saying, ‘Let’s put this in a broader perspective.’”

When I asked Freeman what response he hoped others would have to his work, his answer reflected a desire for continued dialogue.

“The best thing that would happen is they would see this and they’d go, ‘What? This is nonsense. I can write a better Torah than that,’” Freeman said. “And they’ll do it. And then we’ll get to look at theirs.”

Freeman and Rosenzweig haven’t published their comic book yet. They’re working with a small publishing company in New Jersey called Ben Yehudah Press. The company can’t afford color printing. The couple is soliciting donations on a site called Kickstarter.com. The couple has the goal to raise $12,000 in 90 days by Nov. 18. If they don’t meet the goal by that date, none of the pledges made will be charged through the site. For more information, go to  www.thecomictorah.com .


Some Marriage Advice for Khloe Kardashian

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Some Marriage Advice for Khloe Kardashian photo

It’s been a busy few months for me.  And for Khloe Kardashian.  It seems like we have a lot in common.  Khloe moved to Miami and started taping a new reality show.  I moved to Evanston and entered the business school world of theme parties.  I have nearly half a dozen friends and colleagues who are pregnant, and of course, Khloe’s sister Kourtney is knocked up with her dead beat boyfriend’s love child.

David and I knew each other for almost five years when we got married, dating for three and a half of them.  Khloe and Lamar Odom got married after dating for thirty days.  We registered at Bed Bath and Beyond.  For a shocker, check out the newlywed’s registry.  E! footed the bill for the Kardashian/Odom wedding and OK magazine paid the newlyweds $300,000 for the photo exclusive.  Mom and Dad Friedson had exclusive rights to the bills from our not-quite-as-lavish affair.

Today is my two year wedding anniversary, and it’s Khloe’s…ten day anniversary?  Proportionally, we are at the same stage of our relationship.  OK – so maybe we don’t really don’t have much in common.  I’ve never had a DUI and my husband is not an Olympian, an NBA big shot, or a multi-millionaire.

But from one not-so-newlywed to another, I have a few words of advice for you, Khloe:

Marriage is hard.  Don’t get me wrong – it’s also wonderful.  But it’s not something to be taken lightly.  And it’s hard enough when you live under the same roof, much less commuting between L.A. and Miami.  Maybe next season should be called Khloe Returns to L.A.

Holy matrimony needs to be less focused on the glamorous details of wedding cakes and bridesmaids dresses and more on shared goals.   It’s important to be sure you’re on the same wavelength about things like money, children, and…in the world of celebrity relationships especially, fidelity.  Make sure to keep communication lines open and talk about everything, even the hard things.

Amy Adams said it right in the most amazing chick flick of all time ( Enchanted , obviously): “How does she know that you love her?  How do you show her you love her?”  Love and marriage isn’t about saying “I love you” when you leave the house or when you’re ending a phone conversation.   For a lasting union, you have to find ways to show your spouse how much you love him through your actions as much as your words.  Khloe, this means cheering for the Lakers and being supportive when Lamar has a bad game, taking care of him if he’s hurt, and finding unique ways to surprise him with things you know will make him happy.  (And definitely share this paragraph with Lamar.)

One of the hardest things to get used to about married life is that relationships aren’t always 50/50.  Your paychecks won’t always cover equal halves of the expenses (especially since Mr. Odom is pulling $33 million over the next 4 years – I highly doubt reality TV paychecks are quite that big!), your husband may not be so great at doing the dishes, and you may not love doing most of the laundry – that is, if celebrities like you two even have to deal with household chores.  Sometimes one person will be doing more of the traveling to see the other or picking up the phone more often – while planes and phones work both ways, they don’t have to work evenly.

Finally, when times get rough, as I’m sure they will – especially for the two of you, remember why you love him and what made you want to get married in the first place (besides all the exposure to the media, of course).


Family Guy finds Judaism

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As originally posted on JTA:

An episode of the dark Fox comedy Family Guy took a Jewish turn this week when Lois discovers she is Jewish.

The L.A. Jewish Journal reports:

This second episode of the season, written by Mark Hentemann, begins with a geektastic “Super Friends” parody opener and then meanders through some flat gags about Peter falling in love with a Kathy Ireland cutout before moving on to a mostly sharp-witted Jewish plot. As can happen in “Family Guy,” the script’s humor takes a few mean-spirited, dark turns, including one gag that only a white supremacist could love –- shooting at Jews.The Jewish plotline begins when a breast cancer scare leads Lois (voiced by Jewish actress Alex Borstein) to discover that her mother, Barbara Pewterschmidt, is a Holocaust survivor who gave up her Judaism to help her husband get into country clubs (“It was the right thing to do, dear,” Mrs. Pewterschmidt says).

“So Grandma Hebrewberg is actually Jewish?!” Lois asks.

“Yes, when she moved to America, her family changed their name. It was originally Hebrewbergmoneygrabber,” her mother says.

“Family Goy” includes the brief return of Jewish accountant Max Weinstein, the titular character from the episode “When You Wish Upon a Weinstein,” who reassures Lois she doesn’t need to change her life. (Another returning “Weinstein” character: the congregational rabbi voiced by Ben Stein.)

Peter embraces his wife’s Jewish heritage—donning a tallit, kippah and Star of David necklace (chest hair included), and changing his name to “Chhhhhhhh.” When Lois objects, Peter complains, “Leave it to a Jew to take all the fun out of being a Jew.” His enrolling the kids in day school is good for a few laughs, along with his pushing Lois to dress frum in the bedroom to turn him on and, wanting to be humiliated, says, “Tell me I don’t earn as much as your friend’s husband.”


Rethinking Sukkot

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A modern spin on a traditional holiday

While celebrating Sukkot this week, I found myself rethinking what the symbols and rituals of the Fall harvest holiday have to teach us throughout the rest of our year. If you pause to think about these rituals for a bit, they may seem a little odd:  We are commanded to build a hut-like structure, dwell in it, and invite guests to join us. We are then told to shake together a citron and a bunch of dead branches in different directions. When you put it that way, these rituals sound more than just a little bit strange. And, yet many of us take much joy in celebrating this holiday, so it must be important and worthwhile, right?

Following Yom Kippur, a period of introspection and repentance, we are now ready for a period of renewal and redefinition. The sukkah itself is a symbol of  extending our home and of creating a safe space outside of where we normally reside. If we think about this in its symbolic form, we can begin to evaluate how safe we feel, and how safe we make others feel, in the spaces we inhabit throughout our lives--like the places we go to work, worship, study, relax, and entertain ourselves. Of course, for all of us, what defines these places and who we share them with are all very different. Today, we should stop and evaluate whether or not we are following the commandment of creating a sukkat sh'lomecha, a shelter of peace, in these places where everyone should feel comforted—not only by the strength of the walls surrounding us (clearly lacking in a sukkah), but by the good nature we establish in the human bonds we create.

The shaking of the etrog and the lulav traditionally serves as a remembrance that God is everywhere, since we shake these symbols in all directions.  However, I propose we think about this as a symbol of the way we position ourselves and direct our own interactions at those who surround us.  In Hebrew, this is known as kavannah, literally meaning "direction," and the intentions we have and the way we develop them.  The idea of kavannah is rooted in choice, and how we choose to direct ourselves at others who surround us is a key element we can extract from this symbol.  When we take the lulav and etrog into our sukkah and look around as we are surrounded by our guests, maybe we are really commanded to put aside our differences and the things which segment our communities.  We then look up through our temporary roof and see the great sky stretched out above us and recognize that we are all here and in this together, huddled within our temporary confines, living out our holy, yet also ever-temporary lives. 

When we leave the sukkah to return to our regular everyday existence—back to our normal patterns, now once again surrounded by much stronger, familiar walls—all we are left with is the experience we had during the holiday season.  If we have truly harvested this experience, we can walk away from the sukkah and allow it to continue to nourish us for the year to come.  We can continue to challenge ourselves to move beyond the ordinary and to build a constant sanctuary of peace forever. 

Chagim u'zmanim l'sasson.  May this festival season be one of great joy for all of you


Plays well with others

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When we first moved to America, my dad threw his equal-opportunity-bigot weight around. Mostly it involved not letting my then 12-year-old sister’s first American friend come over because she was, God forbid, Indian-American. If you didn’t look like him, think like him, act like him, you didn’t have a place at his table. (Imagine the brain aneurism my dad almost had when, at 16, my sister came out as a lesbian and began dating a classmate, a relationship that lasted more than 2 years.)

I rebelled against his bigoted attitude. I became friends with all the “wrong people” – the black kids and the Muslim kids and the Asian kids and the Quakers and the Protestants. In fact, only one close friend in my circle was actually Russian and Jewish, like me. Admittedly, Russian Jews were pretty scarce in my suburban Cincinnati high school. And though I did go to Jewish Sunday school and, surprisingly, loved it, I was never more than friendly acquaintances with my friends there.

I guess dad is having the last laugh now, though. While I keep in touch with some of my very diverse group from high school, hardly anyone among my close friends now was born in the States. Most of the people who regularly come to my house, the people whose birthdays I celebrate, speak Russian and are mostly Jewish. My one really close American friend is a self-proclaimed lapsed Catholic, and she’s an honorary Jew anyway because of her incredible patience and curiosity toward all the weird Jew traditions I can wax poetic about. And because I work for a Jewish organization, at work I’m surrounded by Jews, too! Nothing wrong with that picture of course: I carefully picked both my friends and my workplace.

Still, lately I have noticed that I rarely venture beyond the “safe zone.” I feel quite at home with the Russian, the singing to guitar till all hours of the night, the random get-togethers that turn into hours-long discussions about life, the old movies and modern improv comedy shows from Russia.

For the past several years, I’ve been very involved in the whole Russian Jew thing. I’ve gone to programs and led programs about Russian Jewish identity and even helped start an organization for Russian-speaking Jews in Chicago. I enjoy being part of this community and exploring all the ways Russian-speaking Jews fit into the puzzle of American society.

But I refuse to turn into my dad. He’s the kind of person who says he’s not allowed to go to Israel because of his burning hatred toward Arabs and of what he might do once he gets there. I refuse to turn into someone who doesn’t want to hear new, different perspectives or into someone who judges people’s intellectual abilities based on their country of origin or the color of their skin.

In some distant future I’d like to be able to talk honestly to my children about race and religion and diversity. I want to show them diversity in all its glory through the people around them rather than invoking that eternal principle of parenting, “do as I say not as I do.” And in my current bubble, I don’t think I can. So it’s time for the bubble to burst.

In the spirit of the New Year, I’ve decided this is going to be my quest for 5770. While I love my friends and my job, I want to add to my circle and hear new things, meet new people. I feel a little bit as a newly singly woman who is unsure of how to pursue the next love interest – a feeling I haven’t experienced in more than eight years. The question today is where do I find these engaging people? Is there a JDate for friends? Actually, in my case make that a match.com or E-harmony for friends, right?


Reflections of a retired serial mover and so-called public transportation expert

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This past weekend, in between going to shul and fasting, I managed to move apartments.  Yet again.  This time it was different—I know I’ve said this before, but I am really done moving.  I have to be.  It’s permanent, because I bought a condo with my boyfriend.  I needed a way to put an end to the madness of moving every year for the past EIGHT years and buying just seemed the way to go.  Plus, the Obama first- time homebuyer tax incentive didn’t hurt either.  I’m officially a retired serial mover.  But this story isn’t really about becoming a home owner.

Even though I’m all moved in, I stayed at my boyfriend’s old place last night since the cable hasn’t been hooked up yet and The Hills was premiering.  I hate staying at Jason’s house during the week because my commute to work on the brown line is double the length.  Plus this particular morning I’d forgotten my book and was definitely not getting a seat.  This left me with plenty of time to think on the long train ride into the city.  I began counting up all the different public transportation routes I’ve taken over the years to get to work—and they are as plentiful as my apartments.

So I’m deep in thought, balancing my body on the now jam-packed train when I keep getting interrupted by the sound of coughing from the girl sitting in the row in front of me.  Now I don’t mean a cough here or there cause “my allergies are bad” or “I’m getting a cold,” I mean “I’m about to die or at least hack up a mucus-filled lung” kind of coughing.  And it didn’t stop the whole way from Southport to Washington/Wells.  Ugh, I’m grossed out all over again just writing this.

Does it really need to be pointed out, that if you’re so sick you can barely stop hacking for 40 minutes straight you probably shouldn’t be on the L?!  For the sake of those around you, stay home in bed so we don’t catch your illness and die too.  And if you have to go into work, can’t you at least take a cab?!  I mean, really.  Sick girl, you didn’t look like a member of the tribe, but if per chance you happen to read this, then please heed my advice and stay off the L when you’re sick.  It’s just not cool.  If I get sick tomorrow because of you, I can guarantee I won’t be riding the L and putting others through my misery.

Sick girl got me thinking about all the nasty, rude, unfortunate experiences I’ve had on the CTA in the past four years—from the Lake Shore Drive buses to the Blue Line, I’ve pretty much ridden them all.  I’m just amazed by the lack of civility people show one another these days.  (I know we’ve got Congressmen yelling at presidents during national addresses in Congress, so I guess I don’t know why I expect anything better, but it still makes me very sad.)

I’ve put together a list of what I consider to be the top 10 pet peeves about riding public transportation.  I borrowed some of these from others’ experiences; feel free to add any of your own to the mix.  My hope is we can all practice following these rules so that when the Chicago Olympics rolls around in 2016 (fingers crossed) and we have a new fangled CTA system (fingers double crossed) we will all know how to behave with proper decorum reflective of our first class city.

1. Don’t get up while the bus or L is in motion and expect someone to let go of the pole because you are in such a rush.  The train or bus will stop and you will have plenty of time to exit.  You don’t need to make someone else fall because you can’t wait.

2. Most people know to give up their seats for a pregnant person (just make sure they are really pregnant) but do people really need to be told not to push pregnant people out of the way so they can board the train faster?  I know someone who was 8½ months pregnant when she was pushed into a snow bank by a man in a hurry to board the train.  Not cool.

3. Walk all the way to the back of the bus!  Don’t just stop at the stairs.

4. Please stop with the inappropriate and loud conversations about how drunk you got on Saturday night or who you went home with, no one wants to hear them especially Monday morning on the way to work.

5. Likewise, try to maintain your personal space with cell phone conversations.  We’re all guilty of it, but just try to not broadcast the results of your latest pap smear to everyone around you.

6. Sometimes shorter people can’t reach the tall handles, switch places with them so they can grab a pole.

7. This one is targeted towards the drivers who won’t wait for you to run to catch the bus even in the dead of winter or even better completely ignore you at the stop and drive right past.

8. Be patient when the back door doesn’t open.  Continually pushing on it won’t make it open any faster it’ll just set the siren off.

9. Be aware of how you smell.  Enough said.

10. Finally, if you’re sick, just stay off the bus!

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