OyChicago blog

The Friend-or-Facebook-Friend Litmus Test

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Rachel Bertsche photo 2 

I was chatting with a couple during last weekend’s wedding happy hour, when the male half referenced a budding actor that he was “friends with.”

Right on cue, his wife looked at him and said, “Are you friends? Or are you Facebook friends?”

Turns out this guy and the actor in question went to high school together. I’m not sure if they have spoken since. But on Facebook, they have extended and accepted connection requests.

My friend told me that he and his wife have this conversation all the time. He liberally throws around the “friend” label, she’s a bit more selective. Because of this, they’ve come up with some friendship criteria. Namely, if his wife–who he has been with for ten years–hasn’t met this person, or hasn’t at least heard of him, then he’s not a friend.

She’d never heard of the actor friend.

You can imagine how excited this conversation made me. It was pretty weird, actually.

If you’re in a long-term couple, I think this rule is right-on. If you’ve never had occasion to introduce someone to your partner–if you’ve never even seen fit to mention someone–then he probably isn’t really your friend. He’s your Facebook friend. Or, as the wife explained to her husband, “that’s not your friend, that’s someone you know.”

It’s amazing how often we confuse those two things.

Since the does-your-spouse-know-him criteria doesn’t work for everyone, I proposed this rule as well. If you haven’t spoken to someone, at least via email, in two years, then she’s not a friend. She’s a Facebook friend. She’s someone you know.

I keep trying to think of “friends” of mine who would break this rule. People I haven’t spoken to in two years  but I still consider my friends. I can’t.

What do you think of these friend-or-facebook-friend measures? Are they appropriate litmus tests? Is there a better one?


Close encounters

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Talking about tough subjects and relationships 

Jane Charney photo 

Schmoozing is part of my job description. I go to breakfasts, lunches, dinners and events in between to meet people. I build coalitions. I form new relationships and maintain existing ones.

My job stems from the American Jewish Committee’s longstanding belief that as a small minority in America, we Jews can only ensure our full participation in society, with all the rights and privileges that go along with that, if other minority groups enjoy the same rights and privileges. That’s the impetus for a lot of our diplomatic outreach, too: In addition to working with Chicago’s ethnic and religious communities, I’ve been getting to know Consuls General from Latin American countries (those years of Spanish are paying off!).

I meet people on their ground. Sometimes, I’m the first Jewish person they meet. Sometimes, I’m the next representative of an organization they know and respect. Mostly, the setting is cordial. We discuss political issues, but rarely do we get into outright arguments.

Which leads me to the question I’ve been mulling for the past couple of months: If we have a relationship but choose to avoid some subjects (the hard-hitting topics, for example), is it truly an equal relationship?

A couple of months ago, I listened to Eboo Patel, the founder and president of the Interfaith Youth Core, talk about the state of Muslim-Jewish relations in America. He spoke movingly about the most recent collaboration between Muslims and Jews – last year’s Cordoba Center debate and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s impassioned defense of the “Ground Zero Mosque” (largely going against his party and his closest advisers). Cordoba, of course, calls to mind another era of Muslim-Jewish collaboration: the Center chose the name of the capital of the Al-Andalus Caliphate, whose rule marked the “Golden Age” of Muslim-Jewish relations in Spain between the eighth and tenth centuries when the two communities lived side by side in relative peace and made great contributions to the advancement of science, philosophy, medicine and culture.

Patel also pointed out that Jews and Muslims share many qualities: a deep connection to their history; an enduring set of values; a historical connection to the Middle East; a focus on family. The gist of Patel’s talk centered on finding safe ground, talking about successful collaborative efforts beyond the high-profile Cordoba case – such as an Iftar in the Synagogue, an increasingly popular event in which Muslims and Jews engage in their respective prayer and join for a festive meal celebrating the end of the Ramadan fast for the day.

And yet, the 800-pound gorilla remained all but invisible. Of course, Muslims and Jews have much more to talk about beyond the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Recognizing the myriad of existing opinions on the subject, it’s easy to choose to ignore it completely, to skirt the issue. But it’s engaging in debate on the difficult questions that tests the relationship and takes it to the next level.

The situation in the Middle East, with all its nuances, is not a topic for the first meeting. It might not even be a topic for the fifth or tenth encounter. But there has to be an understanding that eventually we will reach a level of cool-headedness and mutual respect – if not complete understanding – that would permit us to actually talk about the tiny speck of land in the Middle East that so many of us are so passionate about without getting into stereotypes and hateful speech and devolving into complete chaos.

As Jews, we are taught to welcome the stranger because “we were once strangers in a strange land.” As I schmooze my way through life, I keep this maxim close to my heart. Yes, we might disagree on pretty much everything. But we can do it respectfully. And we can still engage with each other regardless of the disagreement.


My name is Manuel Antonio and I live in Costa Rica

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I still have vacation brain, so instead of a full length post today, I thought I’d share some photos from my trip last week to Costa Rica…and pretend I’m still there for a few more minutes of hiking, swimming and animal watching. Enjoy the pics!

My name is Manuel Antonio photo 1 

My boyfriend Jason and I after taking a dip in La Fortuna Waterfall in Arenal on our first day in Costa Rica. We had to climb 500 steps to get back to the top. For those of you who’ve gone on the Birthright Israel Jilabon Hike, this was a lot like that.

My name is Manuel Antonio photo 2 

The sign when you enter Arenal National Park, home to one of the many volcanoes in Costa Rica. This volcano is considered the second most active volcano in the world, second only to a volcano in Hawaii.

My name is Manuel Antonio photo 3 

Us standing on top of volcanic craters leftover from the eruption that took place in 2001. Our tour guide said from this point, we’d have seven minutes to get out of the park if the volcano erupted. Great.

My name is Manuel Antonio photo 4 

The wildlife in Costa Rica is amazing. This was one of the first of many lizards we saw while hiking.

My name is Manuel Antonio photo 5 

The most colorful bird in Costa Rica, otherwise known as Toucan Sam. Did you know that Toucans mate for life, (my kind of bird) but they’re also mean?

My name is Manuel Antonio photo 6 

Another cool looking lizard.

My name is Manuel Antonio photo 7 

Crossing one of the hanging bridges in the rainforest in Arenal. This was my favorite hike in Costa Rica— if you plan a trip here, make sure to include the hanging bridges tour in Arenal in your itinerary.

My name is Manuel Antonio photo 8 

This little guy is known as the blue jean frog and is extremely poisonous. He was sitting on a leaf about a foot from us on the trail in Arenal.

My name is Manuel Antonio photo 9 

You can see monkeys everywhere you go in Costa Rica. This one is a Howler Monkey, he can be heard “howling” up to a mile away. After this picture was taken, one of his monkey friends decided to pee on the tourists next to us on the trail in Arenal. Glad we got out of his way!

My name is Manuel Antonio photo 10 

This guy is called the Jesus Christ lizard because he can run on water. Unfortunately, he was being lazy and refused to “perform” for us. I think he resembles a miniature dinosaur.

My name is Manuel Antonio photo 11 

We took a blow-up boat (so safe) down one of the many rivers in Costa Rica and ran into a bunch of these guys. They’re territorial (and mean) so you only see one at a time. We saw about a dozen on this river, which was about 11 too many for me.

My favorite moment of the trip was visiting a hermit family that lives on the river. The father is 99 years old and lives with two of his daughters on a farm. The house had dirt floors, no running water or electricity and only a roof. They fed us delicious homemade cheese, coffee and tortillas and I got to practice my rusty Spanish for a few hours. It was the highlight of the trip— even though I had to get past these guys to get there.

My name is Manuel Antonio photo 12 

Jason took this photo right outside of our hotel room in Guancaste. There were more than a dozen parrots in the tree at the time. They started to take off when we came out of our room to go to dinner and that’s how he got this awesome shot.

My name is Manuel Antonio photo 13 

This is one of the beaches in Manuel Antonio— my favorite area of Costa Rica. We barely got to spend an hour in the water before it started to downpour for ten hours straight. You can see it getting very ominous in the clouds.

My name is Manuel Antonio photo 14 

The entrance to Manuel Antonio National Park. Another “must see” spot for anyone visiting Costa Rica. There are tons of trails and you can get lost (literally) for hours following the wildlife.

 My name is Manuel Antonio photo 16 

We saw this Spider Monkey in a tree as we were leaving the Manuel Antonio National Park. So adorable! Bye little guy, bye, bye Costa Rica!


Not as grown up as I thought I was

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Several weeks ago, I had a quarter-life crisis. (And I’m not technically old enough to be considered quarter-aged.)

I was sitting at my desk, doing some work, when an anxiety-provoking thought exploded in my brain: “You’re a grownup.”

“No, no, no,” I thought. I hadn’t even reached my first high school reunion. In my head, I started checking off qualities that I associated with being a grownup: paying your own bills? Check. Wearing professional attire more days of the week than not? Check. Feeling grumpy on Monday mornings and exuberant on Friday afternoons? Check.

It was official—I was a grownup.

I freaked out.

It’s funny. In my younger years, I was consciously aware of how much older I felt than my numeric age and how eager I was to be an adult. Unlike many of my peers, I couldn’t wait for high school to be over. I knew for a fact that those were not the best years of my life and counted down the days until graduation. I even boycotted the supposedly most important night of high school—prom.

I was passionate and hard-working in school because I longed for a career and to be taken seriously by the people I respected. My junior year of high school, I even skipped out on lunch in order to take an extra honors class. (It was totally dumb and unhealthy, but as I say, “It builds character.”)

So you would think that I’d be happy about high school and college being behind me. And for the most part, I am (although college truly was extraordinary). But realizing that I was finally at an age that I had always dreamt about, that I was never going to get my adolescence back and that I probably should have had more fun as a kid, shook me up.

There was only one thing to do and I had to do it right away. Instead of heading home after work, I took the train to a place that would have exactly what I needed: Uprise Skate Shop.


I bought a skateboard.

Not as grown up as I thought I was photo 

It might sound crazy. Well, no, I’m pretty sure it does. I’m not the most nimble, athletic or coordinated person. I’m also not a teenage boy. But for me, a skateboard has a lot of meaning.

When I was a child, my parents (like many overbearing, well-meaning immigrant parents) were always afraid that I would get hurt, so they didn’t allow me to get certain things, mainly things with wheels that weren’t attached to me. I wasn’t allowed a scooter, and skateboards were completely out of the question (but rollerblades were acceptable.)

So when I was 14, I had my male, skateboarding best friend purchase a board for me online. It was the first significant time I actively did something my parents wouldn’t allow me to do. I had to do it. When I finally got on that board and rode down the streets, I felt like a rebel. I felt free.

Sure, I never learned how to do tricks and I never attempted to make anyone believe that I really knew what I was doing. But I loved how I felt on that board: young, reckless and independent.

Now, years later, I couldn’t wait to feel that again. I went outside my apartment, ready to ride the streets of Chicago, ready to release my inner child.

Ten minutes later, I was on the ground, chin and knuckles scraped up and bleeding. The board slid out from under me, leaving me to topple on the concrete. My face stung. Someone on the street stopped and asked if I was okay. And then all I could do was laugh.

I laughed because I had just spent money I should have saved, on a skateboard I would probably rarely ride, because I wanted to feel cool again.

But I’m grateful for the experience. I figured out that if you think you’re all grown up, you probably have a long way to go. Having a full-time job might make me more of an adult than I’ve ever been before, but it doesn’t mean that I have to lose my personality and my passion, or that life just goes downhill from here. It just means that when I’m not working, I should find things I love to do and have as much fun as possible (probably not on wheels though).

I haven’t stood on that skateboard since. It just lies around my apartment. The cats like to nap on it. But whenever I look at it, I laugh at my naiveté and foolishness.

I guess I’m not as grown up as I thought I was.


10 tips for working moms

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10 tips for working moms photo 

Whether a mother stays at home with a child or works, motherhood is a tough job. As a full-time working mamma, I often feel very torn between my two jobs. And I know that I’m not alone—virtually every friend and working mom I’ve had this conversation shares this feeling. And I couldn’t get through my crazy life without the support and honesty of they many working women—my friends, coworkers, pre-school moms—who have shared their feelings, experiences and great advice with me. I’m passing on some tips—some mine, some from much smarter women—in the hope that it helps a fellow mom, working at or in the home.

1. Embrace your inner half-ass. The best advice I have ever received was to embrace my inner half-ass. In other words, stop with the self-imposed stress of trying to be some sort of supermom able to work a 40+ hour work week, meet every want and need of my two-and-a-half-year-old, and still have time to bring about world peace. No one is going to ever write on my tombstone that I didn’t make gourmet dinners, only cleaned my house once a week (and I use the word clean loosely here), or didn’t serve as a school mom. And it doesn’t matter. My child is happy and loved—and that in of itself makes me one kick-ass mamma.

2. Have dinner (almost) every night with the family. It doesn’t matter if dinner (or breakfast) is take out or a three and a half minute microwave mac and cheese, carve out time to put work aside every day for the family.

3. Get the best childcare that you can afford. Yes, my nanny some months takes home more than half my paycheck. But I can’t tell you how much inner-peace it gives me to know that my daughter is with someone I completely trust, and that she adores. And selfishly, having someone in my home saves me valuable time picking up and dropping my daughter off at daycare, not having to worry when she is sick what to do, or sweating that 6 p.m. pick up deadline.

And, while this advice doesn’t apply to me (both of our families live far away), one of my friends strongly recommends that whatever child care arrangement you have, that you pay for it—don’t rely on the free sitting services of a family member or friend who might not be reliable, or follow your care instructions. In her case, she had relied on her mother who not only had a different parenting style, but had to abruptly stop when her father (my friend’s dad) became ill.

4. Form or join a working moms group. I know a couple of women who either joined or started a group for working moms, one of which was a group of working moms with kids at the same school. Having this working mom school group enables the women to feel part of the school community (not always easy when you aren’t picking up/dropping off your kids, or around to volunteer during the day), and has been a real source of moral support.

5. Press for a more flexible work schedule—and if the company says no, consider finding a new job. Companies are becoming more open to employees working from home, and flexible schedules. If your company is not one of these, ask—you just may be happily surprised at the response, and pave the way for your fellow employees. If this isn’t possible, consider finding a work situation that will better suit your situation.

6. Set up play dates on the weekends. Just because you can’t set up a play date during the week doesn’t mean you can’t aim for the weekends. Most stay-at-home moms get your schedule and would be happy to be flexible.

7. Remember to thank other moms for all they do to help the school and your kid. Just because a mom doesn’t work outside of the house doesn’t mean she is obligated to volunteer—or has all that much time either. A simple thank you goes a long way.

8. Set your priorities, and say no when you need to protect them. This can be really, really hard—especially when it’s saying no to your boss, or a loved one. But doing what is right for you and best for your family isn’t always easy—and your first job is to take care of you and your family. Set your boundaries and protect them—because if you don’t, no one else will.

9. Reach out to other parents for help when you need it. Don’t be afraid to ask other parents for help on days that schools are closed/close early. Many women have shared with me that other parents have really helped out when needed—help that is reciprocated on the weekend or at other times.

10. Tell your work-addicted, childless coworkers to get a life…nicely. I admit: I was the eager 20-something that would spend countless hours in the office past 5 p.m., trying to impress my boss and climb up the ladder. And yes, I may have rolled my eyes once or twice when my older coworkers left early to pick up their kids. But here’s the thing: no one ever explained to me that they were probably logging on from 10 to midnight, or in the office at the crack of dawn. Now I wish I had listened to my older colleagues who told me to spend more of my nights enjoying myself instead of working—because downtime truly is a luxury.


Best (theoretical) NBA stories for the Holy Land

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Best (theoretical) NBA stories for the Holy Land photo 

With the NBA lockout looking more likely, The Great Rabbino decided to look at who we would want to see in Israel (besides Jordan Farmar). Which NBA players would be the most intriguing stories and where should they go play.

Roger Mason Jr.
Mason Jr. played two years for Hapoel Jerusalem and that was really the last time they were relevant. Maybe Mason Jr.'s return would bring them back.

Joakim Noah
Noah's athleticism and laid back nature would fit well in Israel. Can't you just envision Noah playing for Hapoel Eilat kicking back on the beach?

Lawrence Frank
Frank's not a player but as coach he still needs to work. Bring him to Israel and watch him work his magic (I'm sure he is hoping to pull some rabbits out of his hat in Detroit anyway).

Will Bynum
Bynum had success for Maccabi Tel Aviv. Let's put him back in Tel Aviv for Hapoel Tel Aviv and see how he does.

Blake Griffin
Griffin is maybe the most exciting player in the NBA. His frame and athleticism would be attractive. Put them on Maccabi Tel Aviv and see how great he performs.

Deron Williams
Yes, we know DWill is in Turkey, but if we are looking at all NBA players, DWill fits in nicely. He wants to play and Israel likes passionate players. Also, many former Illini players have been bolting to Israel (Dee Brown, Brian Randle, Warren Carter, etc). Since will DWill is willing to take risks let’s put him on Maccabi Rishon LeZion who played against Maccabi Tel Aviv in the semi-finals. Maybe he puts them over.

Omri Casspi
The favorite son returns. Where else? To his original team Maccabi Tel Aviv.

Anthony Parker
You can't begin to talk about Israeli basketball without mentioning Anthony Parker. He is a legend in Israel and I am sure they would welcome him back. Again, bring him back to Maccabi Tel Aviv where he belongs.

Amare Stoudamire
Stoudamire talked a lot about Israel and his passion for Judaism. He spent a lot of time touring Jerusalem. Let’s bring him in for a year and have him play for Hapoel Jerusalem.

Lebron James
The games brightest star, James would bring credibility to Israeli ball. Maccabi Haifa is where I would like to see him. They have been trying new things (coming to the states for tryouts, TV shows, Jeremy Tyler, etc). James would be big news. Also, I would love to see him in his natural habitat, aka not surrounded by other stars.

And Let Us Say...Amen.
-Jeremy Fine


Baby Pump

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Baby Pump photo 

Henry, my son, is almost three months old. He has beautiful chubby cheeks and fat thighs. No, he does not need a personal trainer, but I’m there if he needs me. We do make him exercise— don’t call DCFS, it’s just tummy time and moving his arms and legs around. His favorite thing to do is kick, so I’m thinking, future swimmer, martial arts expert, or maybe cyclist.

Now that my extra time is focused on watching Henry kick and trying to get him to smile, I understand the number one excuse to not work out: NO TIME! I hear this from everyone, especially new moms and dads. I have lost countless clients to newborns. I’m lucky— I hit the gym at lunch and if you can do that, it’s the way to go. I don’t have to wake up super early (unless Henry wakes me like he did today at 4 a.m.) or run to a packed gym at 5 p.m.

Since not everyone can workout at lunch, I have a few suggestions. My first idea, which might sound outrageous and look even sillier, is to exercise with your baby— it’s a great way to burn calories, build muscle and bond with your bundle of joy. (You can do these same exercises without a child using this medicine ball to workout while watching some TV.)

Babies love to move around. Obviously, you have to be extremely careful, hold them tight, and support their head/neck. Most pregnant mothers notice their baby does not move when they exercise, because it usually puts them to sleep. I’m not suggesting you go crazy, but dance with your baby, lift them over your head, do push-ups with them staring up at you, lunge with them. Check out this short video I made with Henry.

If you work long hours, get home tired and hungry, exercising is unfortunately kicked to the curb. My suggestion is short bursts of exercise throughout the day. This might sound weirder then working out with your baby, but it works. There are several studies that have demonstrated the benefits of exercising sporadically, such as 10 push-ups when you get to the office, 20 squats when you go to the bathroom, plank for 30 seconds before you run out to lunch… If you do not have an office with a door that closes, it might be hard to do a lot of exercises, but shoot me a note and I can help you figure it out.

My last suggestion is family/friend fitness. Turn off the TV, grab a friend, spouse, or child, and get moving. It doesn’t matter if it’s a walk, bike ride, soccer at the park, a fun fitness video (in that case, turn the TV back on) or mall walking. Make physical activity part of your daily routine. And don’t forget to eat your vegetables.


18, Chai, Life.

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Jenna Benn photo 


Over the last 18 months I hoped for your arrival.
I conceptualized you when Cancer was privately dancing from cell to cell.
I dreamed of you when I was tied up, hooked up, strapped down.
I believed in you when I was checked out, recovering, rebuilding.
On Sept. 18, the hope, the dream, the belief that I would be able to lead a group of 18 young professionals to Austria was realized.
I wasn’t sure this day would come.
I wasn’t sure I would be able to be with you.
And yet there I was, and here I am.
As I explored Austria’s jaded past and wrestled with her current complexities, my relationship with Cancer changed.
She was no longer front and center.
She was no longer at the forefront of my mind.
She was no longer screaming.
As I allowed myself be present, I started to unlock the parts of myself that had been forgotten, the parts of myself that had been on hold, and the parts of myself that had been quieted.
Cancer’s cries were muffled.
Cancer’s song was but a murmur.
Cancer had become a shadow of her former self.
I had arrived!
The person I was before Cancer was reawakened.
The person I am now in spite of Cancer was celebrated.
The person I hope to be because of Cancer was contemplated.
As I walked through the streets of Vienna, and I discovered the lives lost, the stories untold, the moments taken,
I started to write a new chapter.
I started to tell a new story.
I started to create new moments that did not involve Cancer.
As I lost myself in the Jewish narratives of hardship, trauma, survival, and resilience, I found my story reflected in their stories—and their stories reflected in mine.
I was reminded of where I have been.
I was reminded of where I am at.
And I was reminded of how much further I have yet to go.
18, Chai, Life—I see you everywhere, you are beautiful, and I am forever grateful for you.
Cancer—while you may have quieted, you continue to show me that there is meaning in every moment, every experience, every victory, and every obstacle. There is meaning in overwhelming happiness, and there is meaning in intolerable suffering.
May this year you all choose to find meaning in your sea of moments.
I assure you, meaning is there, simply waiting for your discovery.
Here’s to 18.
Here’s to Chai.
Here’s to Life—with meaning.


What’s for dinner?

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Laura Frankel photo 

Just when you thought you had run out of ideas about what to make for dinner, when you thought you had tried every chicken dish on the planet and you could not possibly face another stir fry, along comes not one, but two, kosher cooking magazines.

Is it a dream? Could this be real? Imagine not having to substitute ingredients in an effort to try to make a Martha Stewart recipe pareve, or taking out the treif and hoping that a dish comes out at least similar to what the magazine pictures show. Well, kosher eaters, it is true. There are two high quality kosher magazines available to us.

I know a lot of people use websites to find recipes. And I know that the old problem of dragging your computer over to your stove top in an effort to make your dish picture perfect is no longer a problem with iPads and other gadgets. But, with a magazine at your fingertips, the whole thing, pictures and all, can go with you everywhere.

I am sure you are thinking that pictures of gray gedempte meat and brown cholent are not appealing and who would want that anyway? Well, as a food writer for both magazines, I can assure you that these are both high quality publications. Think GOURMET or BON APPETIT goes kosher. The articles are modern, the pictures are gorgeous and the recipes are luscious (of course!), and these magazines are written just for us. Why, even the advertisements are kosher, it is awesome!

Here is the scary part for me. I am worried that people will tire of the magazines, or worse yet, not even bother to subscribe and then we will lose both of them. I wrote about this phenomenon when Whole Foods began carrying the Kosher Valley poultry products. I was practically jubilant when I saw a huge amount of fresh refrigerator space (a precious thing in a grocery store) in many local Whole Foods stores devoted to kosher chickens and turkeys. I was concerned then as well though that there would not be enough customers for the products and that the stores would devote less space or simply stop carrying the high quality poultry products. I was right. The kosher poultry section at Whole Foods is scanty at best with sporadic merchandise that is sometimes frozen, by the store in an effort not to have the products spoil.

Well, this is different and I am hoping that everyone even remotely interested in kosher food will check out these magazines.

You can subscribe online at: JOY OF KOSHER and BITAYAVON 

And while you are waiting for the mailman to bring your magazines, you can enjoy these recipes.

Caramelized Vegetable Tagine  

This satisfying and riotously colored dish will please all of your sukkot and Shabbat guests. I like to hollow out a pumpkin and roast it for 15 minutes, so that it is not raw, and then present the finished tagine in the beautiful, toasty-orange gourd for a big WOW presentation. I serve the tagine with my Pomegranate Glazed Chicken or braised pot roast.

Serves 10

Extra virgin Olive oil
1 large red onion, diced
6 garlic gloves, minced
1 cup diced fennel
2 cups diced butternut squash, cut into 1-inch dice
1 cup diced sweet potatoes, cut into 1-inch dice
1 cup diced russet potatoes, cut into 1-inch dice
1 cup sliced carrots
½ cup thinly sliced parsnips
½ cup sliced dried apricots
½ cup sliced dried figs
½ cup sliced pitted dates
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
3 teaspoons ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon ground cardamom
Pinch of crushed chili flakes 
⅓ cup tomato paste
1 cup barley
10 cups water
Salt and pepper
Suggested garnishes: toasted pumpkin seeds, pomegranate arils (seeds), cilantro and parsley leaves,

1. Preheat oven 350 fahrenheit.

2. Sauté the vegetables in batches until they are golden brown and crispy. Be sure to season each batch with salt and pepper.

3. Place all of the remaining ingredients and the vegetables in a large Dutch oven. Cover the tagine and cook for 1 ½ hours until the vegetables are cooked through and the barley is tender.

Pomegranate Lacquered Chicken  

Every chef and home cook has their favorite ingredient that they reach for over and over again. For me, it is pomegranate molasses. Pomegranate molasses or paste is the reduced juice of many pomegranates. It is thick and syrupy with a tart sweetness. I find that it makes a great marinade, vinaigrette, BBQ sauce, sorbet flavor and really just about anything! Find a brand that you like. Flavors can vary with each brand. Pomegranate molasses or paste can be found in Middle-eastern grocery stores or on-line. Most pomegranate molasses brands are kosher.

Serves 8+

For the chicken

2 whole chickens-cut up, on the bone
½ cup pomegranate molasses
3 tablespoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon tomato paste
¼ cup rich chicken stock
2 cloves garlic-minced finely
1 shallot-minced finely
Salt and pepper
Olive oil for sautéing
½ cup pomegranate arils for garnish
¼ cup flat leaf parsley, chopped

1. Preheat oven to 350 fahrenheit.

2. Place a large sauté pan over medium high heat. Add a small amount of olive oil to coat. Season the chicken with salt and pepper. Brown the chicken pieces, being careful not to overload the pan. Place the chicken in oven proof pans separating the white and dark meat.

3. Place a small saucepan over medium high heat and lightly coat with olive oil. Sauté the garlic and shallot until browned. Add the pomegranate molasses, sugar, tomato paste and chicken stock. Lower the heat to medium and stir ingredients together until combined and thickened (about 10 minutes).

4. Brush chicken pieces with pomegranate glaze. Roast chicken until cooked through, about 45 minutes for dark meat and 30-35 minutes for white meat. Re-glaze the chicken during cooking and when it is removed from the oven.


Finally free, Gilad Shalit returns to Israel

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Finally free Gilad Shalit photo 1x 

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu greets Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit at the Tel Nof Air Force base in Israel shortly after his release from captivity, Oct. 18, 2011.

Gilad Shalit was reunited with his family shortly after crossing into Israel from Egypt after his release earlier in the day by his captors in Gaza, ending five years and four months in captivity.

The Israel Defense Forces spokesman announced Shalit's return at 11 a.m. Israel time on Tuesday. Shalit arrived in Egypt approximately three hours earlier.

Images of Shalit walking were broadcast by Egyptian TV, and in an interview Shalit said he was treated well by his captors but that he missed family, friends and freedom. The IDF reported that Shalit is in good health.

After meeting with IDF officials and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Shalit was met by family members, and images of him embracing his father, Noam, were broadcast throughout Israel.

Finally free Gilad Shalit photo 2 

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu looks on as freed Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit is embraced by his father, Noam, at Israel's Tel Nef Air Force base shortly after Shalit's release from more than five years of captivity, Oct. 18, 2011. 

Shalit's release came as Israel began transferring 477 Palestinian prisoners to the Red Cross as part of a swap deal between Israel and Hamas that will see the release of more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails. Eyewitnesses confirmed that some of the prisoners had begun entering Gaza.

Shalit's family was waiting for him at the Tel Nof Air Force base, where he was to be taken after crossing into Israel.

Jerry Silverman, President and CEO of The Jewish Federations of North America, made the following statement about Shalit's release:

"The North American Jewish community shares in the joy of Gilad Shalit’s release. For years, we have hoped and prayed for his freedom and return to his family and to the People of Israel. From my own personal meetings with the Shalit family in the tent where they anxiously awaited this day, I am elated that they will be reunited with their son and mourn for the other Israeli families that have paid a painful price in this conflict.” 

Shalit had been held in Gaza since being captured by Hamas in a cross-border raid in June 2006. JUF leadership released a statement last week sharing Israelis' joy at Shalit's imminent release last week. Read more about Shalit at www.juf.org/giladshalit.


How to kvell in Yiddish

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First off, the word is “kvell”—one syllable, like “swell.” Second, there is one expression, “to kvell,” and another, “to schep nachas”; one does not “kvell nachas.” Good, good… Now we are ready to learn how to tell people that, as the Torah puts it, they have found favor in our eyes:

Aidel—refined: “The princess is so aidel; how could anyone have called her a ‘commoner’?”

Chidush—innovation: “This odometer app is a real chidush; it totally changed my workout!”

Farbrent—intense: “I’ve never seen a bar mitzvah so farbrent over a tikkun olam project.”

Ferpitzed—dressed up: “Hoo-hah! Look at my little girl… all ferpitzed for the prom!”

Note: not to be confused with “fertootsed”:  over-dressed, overdone 

Freylach—festive: “A reggae band for a wedding? Well, it’ll keep things freilach!”

Ganef—clever one: My eight-year-old hacked the Wii to play my old Atari games, the ganef.”

Note: The original meaning is “thief,”so be clear you do not intend an insult. 

Gebenshed—blessed: “I heard your family is gebenshed with a new addition— Mazel tov!”

Gefelt—pleasing: “That white-noise generator is so gefelt— I love the ‘ocean’ setting.”

Geshmack—lip-smacking: “The guacamole there is geshsmack, and the burritos are great, too.”

Gezunt—robust: “That linebacker can eat a whole pizza and not show it, he’s so gezunt.”

Hano’oh—pleasure: “I get such hano’oh from my Mother’s Day bath beads, thanks so much.”

Heymish—homey: “I love how heymish these throw pillows make your studio apartment feel.”

Khap—insight: “What a khap, letting the kids dunk their veggies in ketchup.”

Kitsel—tickle: “That comic strip always gives me a good kitsel.”

Leibedikeh—lively: “Bubbie’s been feeling much more leibedikeh with her new hip.”

Lechen-di-finger—finger-licking: “This sauce! I just want to drink it, it’s so lechen-di-finger.”

Mamash—indeed: “Not too hot, no breeze, no clouds… this is mamash a day for golf.”

Mechayeh—a joy: “Your puppy is so friendly and bright— what a mechayah!”

Noch-amol—Encore!:  “Come on, noch-amol— one more strike and he’s outta there!”

Oht azoy—You got it, baby!: “Now that’s what a guitar is for! Oht azoy… play that thing!”

Richtiker cheifetz—the real deal: “My Dad had the richitker cheifetz... a cherry red, ’57 Caddy.”

Yasher-ko’ach—Nice job!: “Yasher-koach on winning that sales contest!”

Zies (rhymes with “peace”)—sweet: “A candlelight dinner for my birthday? You are so zies!”

Next: Ess, ess! How to Eat in Yiddish 

Correction to the “How to Kvetch” article. “Farblonget” means “lost, aimless,” not “blugeoned” as I had written. 


The good guy

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Cindy Sher photo 2 

Recently, I was walking down the streets of downtown Chicago, reveling in one of those perfect balmy afternoons when, out of nowhere, a strange man grabbed me from behind.

Thank God he didn’t hurt me, and he didn’t steal anything either—except my peace of mind. He would have grabbed some of my faith in humanity too, if it weren’t for another stranger on the street, an innocent bystander, who since the moment this episode went down I’ve referred to as the “good guy.” In contrast, I’ll forever dub the perpetrator the “bad guy.”

A split second after the man grabbed me, my heart beating fast, I bellowed a salty expletive at him. Next, the good guy stepped in and pushed the offender away from me, and then the two men scuffled with each other. Dumbfounded, but at this point assuming I wasn’t endangered, I watched the fight, the testosterone whisking back and forth like a ping pong ball.

But then, before I knew it, the bad guy got away.

“Sorry I couldn’t get him,” the brave man told me, “but I ripped his shirt for you.”

My heart still pounding, I thanked him and said, “I guess there’s at least one good guy for every bad one.” Then I thanked him about 123 more times before we parted ways.

Through my glass-half-full worldview, I actually believe the number of good people far outweigh the bad. Yet still, we hear reports in the news about bystanders not taking action in emergencies.

There’s even a name for it. The bystander effect is a psychosocial phenomenon where strangers don’t come to the rescue of victims in emergencies, particularly when many other bystanders are near. They figure someone else is handling it or they don’t want to get involved.

Much of the time, I doubt we bystanders even notice hairy situations unfolding in front of us because we have our heads buried in our phones, and aren’t paying attention to the people around us. Our obliviousness to our surroundings leads us to becoming crime victims too.

The numbers speak for themselves. Criminologist Timothy Hart and sociologist Ternace Miethe—using data from the National Crime Victimization Survey—found that bystanders were judged by victims as “neither helping nor hurting” in nearly half (48%) of emergency situations.

That statistic makes the good guy from my story that much more extraordinary. And it brings to mind another exceptional act, captured on video, committed by a group of bystanders in Logan, Utah, this past September.

The bystanders, who included construction workers and students, transformed themselves into a group of adrenaline-charged first responders by miraculously lifting a burning car up and pulling out a motorcyclist, Brandon Wright, trapped beneath the car. Because of their heroism, Wright, age 21, is expected to recover.

The Utah “angels,” as they’ve been called, and the good guy from my story are acting according to Jewish law. Judaism obligates a bystander to aid a victim in an emergency. The famous Leviticus passage, one of the most important commandments in Judaism, instructs, “Do not stand idly by while your neighbor’s blood is spilled.”

I certainly don’t know if the good guy from my story is Jewish. In fact, I don’t even know his name—and I probably never will. And I don’t know the names of the Utah responders either.

But I know who they are. They are courageous people who did mitzvahs on the streets of Chicago and Utah. They are people who chose not to mind their own business and to jeopardize their own safety to stick their necks out for strangers.

In short, they are heroes. They are heroes for us all to aspire to emulate as we begin a new year.


Traveling with toddler

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Traveling with toddler photo 

We sat quietly, Ben finally sleeping on my lap after nine hours of traveling by car and plane. I shifted a bit to ease the cramping in my back, but the squeak of the rubbery seat nearly woke him up, and I resigned myself to the discomfort. Having arrived in San Francisco mostly unscathed, Ben’s dad and uncles went off to collect luggage, rental car and snacks, leaving us to a few minutes of midnight snuggling at Baggage Claim.

Our adventure had started earlier that afternoon with a harried ride to Midway. Amidst the debate about the best way to get to the airport in rush hour traffic, I realized that Ben’s stroller was leaning against our garage door, where I had the foresight to leave it so that it would not be forgotten. The debate over directions turned into arguing over whether or not we had time to turn around, and I couldn’t help but wonder if the stroller represented a bad travel omen. I had been stressing for weeks about traveling with a two-year-old, and the trip couldn’t have started more hectically.

We pushed on, stroller-less. At the cheapo parking lot we unloaded an obscene amount of luggage and rode the shuttle to the airport, at which point I realized we had left Ben’s car seat strapped into the car. Unlike the stroller, the car seat was a mandatory component of our trip, so we stayed on the shuttle, rode back to the lot, unloaded the car seat, and rode back to the airport. Bad omen number two.

I waited for the next ominous warning as we made our way through baggage check and security. Ben enjoyed his first McDonalds dinner, and I did not enjoy our first airport diaper change. Car seat in tow, we boarded the plane omen-free.

Thankfully we did not forget the iPad, whose Angry Birds, Thomas the Tank apps, and Sesame Street episodes kept our kid quiet (though awake and eager to kick the seat in front of him) for the majority of the flight. The trip was free of whining and crying, much to the relief of every passenger (except for the kicked guy in front of us, who dealt with the situation by drinking excessively). I started to relax, and wasn’t sure whether to laugh or cry when Ben finally fell asleep just before we landed.

By the time we got to Baggage Claim, Ben was sound asleep in my arms, and I was eagerly anticipating a peaceful ride across the Golden Gate Bridge, and a cozy bed waiting for me in Santa Rosa.

Then I felt something warm and wet spreading over my lap. I closed my eyes, told myself I was imagining it, looked down, and promptly started to panic.

I looked around for my husband and my brothers, who had left me alone with the luggage and Ben, but saw no sign of them. The rubbery chair, now defiled by my child’s pee, squawked as I twisted and turned to keep my soaked clothes from touching my skin, all while holding a drenched toddler who I did not want to wake up.

My brother finally returned and helped me get a clean diaper and change of clothes from the suitcase. I changed Ben on the airport floor, desperate to get him clean as quickly as possible so that I could get clean as quickly as possible. I grabbed a fresh outfit from my luggage and made a break for the bathroom, avoiding eye contact with strangers while trying to follow the directional signage. A security guard snickered as I tried in vain to hide the enormous wet spot on my pants.

Alone in the bathroom stall, I started to laugh. Bad omen numbers one and two did not hold a candle to this, the epitome of a Traveling with Toddler Horror Story. Confident that the remainder of our journey could only get better, I tossed the soaked clothes in the trash and finished getting dressed. Applauding myself for my great attitude, I opened the bathroom door, heard Ben screaming “I WANT MY MOMMY” from across the airport, and promptly started crying.


More Than Pink and Teal

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More Than Pink and Teal photo 

In the United States, we’re often presented with two different views of cancer. Last month, the Chicago skyline was lit up teal, for ovarian cancer awareness; this month, it’s impossible to avoid the color pink. The other public face is that of the celebrity who recently passed away: yesterday, we lost Steve Jobs, founder of Apple and creator of nearly every gadget you hold dear, to pancreatic cancer.

Certainly these are engines for cancer awareness within our society, but all too often we tweet or we buy a snack with a pink ribbon on the label and that’s where our involvement ends. My fellow Jews, there’s more you need to know, and more that you can do to make cancer awareness work for you.

Ashkenazi Jews are at greatly increased risk for mutations in their BRCA genes. BRCA stands for BReast CAncer; these genes are responsible for keeping the cells in your breasts healthy. When these genes start to malfunction, sometimes in women as young as their early 20s, that individual’s lifetime risk of developing breast cancer, ovarian cancer or both is greatly increased when compared to the rest of the population. Women who discover, through genetic testing, that they are BRCA-positive often call themselves “previvors” – pre-survivors. They have a number of options for managing their situation, ranging from surveillance to surgery to remove their breasts and ovaries, reducing their lifetime risk of developing cancer from as high as 87% to the low single digits.

The truth is that these cancers are scary. They’re scary and they’re hard and they can be overwhelming, but we’re not helpless against them. One of the easiest and most important things you can do to fight hereditary cancer is to see if you recognize a pattern in your family health history. Draw up a pedigree using any of a number of free resources online. Pay attention to the age of onset, if you have a relative who had cancer or passed away because of it. If you’re concerned about a recurring pattern of cancer – or any other health issue – bring the pedigree to your doctor.

Unfortunately, many doctors may be skeptical or dismissive that someone in their 20s or 30s could be worried about cancer. Be firm, and insist that you want to pursue this. The Chicago Center for Jewish Genetic Disorders has a number of resources and educational programs to back you up. With hereditary cancer syndromes or with testing for “Jewish” genetic disorders such as Tay-Sachs disease, we have to be our own advocates. In both cases, prevention is the best medicine.

I wrote about cancer last October too, when I confessed that I couldn’t finish Gilda Radner’s autobiography. A year later, I stand by my message. Cancer is personal to me, and no amount of pink merchandise or trending topics will supplant the fact that knowledge is far more powerful than awareness alone. Educate yourself and your loved ones about breast self-exams and the symptoms of ovarian cancer. Stay on top of developing news about mammogram guidelines and other scientific advancements. And if you know someone who’s going through cancer treatment, ask them what they need, and help them, consistently, in whatever concrete way you can, no matter how small.

If you have questions, please get in touch with the Chicago Center for Jewish Genetic Disorders, which you can call during normal business hours at (312) 357-4718, or write to jewishgeneticsctr@juf.org. We take your calls and read all your emails, and will put you through to the professionals who can help you.


New puppyhood and parenthood—the same or different?

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For those who follow my posts on Oy!Chicago, or if you’re forced to see my Facebook newsfeed photo-fest (sorry friends), you know that we recently made a life-altering purchase. No, we’re not new homeowners. We got a dog.

Not just any dog—a black labradoodle puppy. The world’s greatest and most adorable puppy (if I do say so myself). Miss Kenzie Puppy-face Underfoot Little Monster Friedman.

New puppyhood and parenthood photo 

(Insert strange look here—yes, I am 100% certifiably nuts.)

Six weeks of puppy motherhood has taught me a lot already. In talking with friends who have a different kind of new baby—you know, the human kind—I’ve realized that raising a new puppy is not all that different from the changes that come with having a baby:

1) Sleepless nights. In Kenzie’s first couple weeks home, she did not sleep through the night. While it seemed like she was sleeping and napping constantly, up to 18-20 hours a day (just like a new baby), it never seemed that she could make it through the night. We would go out at 11 p.m. before bed and by 3 a.m. she’d need to get up and go out again. It’s crazy but I felt like I had mommy-style super hearing, and would notice immediately when she was whimpering and needed us.

2) Frequent visits to the doctor. Within only a few days of having a new baby, parents are already rushing to the pediatrician for well-baby visits and regular trips to the doctor for shots and check-ups. Same goes for our new pup. We’ve already had several vet visits—the first, a general check-up to get to know the veterinarian, and then several more for shots, and of course one visit due to an overreaction regarding fairly minor symptoms that were, in fact, nothing to be concerned about.

3) Always with the growing. New babies grow like weeds. You blink an eye, and it seems like they have outgrown all of their clothes (and goodness, next thing you know they are asking for the car keys and breaking curfew, I’m sure). Thank goodness, we don’t have to buy Kenzie clothes every time she grows because, holy cow, she just keeps growing (never mind the fact that David has outlawed dog clothes for the Kenz). In just six weeks she has more than doubled her weight and is hardly recognizable from the little nine pound pup we brought home from the breeder. Tipping the scale this morning at over 20 pounds, she is essentially gargantuan and is practically too big for me to lift.

4) Expensive! Babies need lots of things. Hugs and kisses. Diapers and formula. Car seats and cribs. Puppies come with a whole set of costs, both expected and unexpected, and parents of all kinds are more than happy to shell out the cash to make sure their babies have everything they need. Kibble, medicine, toys, a nice crate to hang out in, a doggy bed, a dog walker on days that we aren’t home for hours at a time—you catch my drift.

5) Love attention from Mom and Dad. Babies love cuddling with Mom and Dad—being held and soothed and showered with attention. Puppies are no different. Just as a baby will cry when they want to be held, a puppy will act out if they’re not feeling that they’re getting enough attention. But on the plus side, loving a new baby and loving a new puppy are both very easy things to do—since they’re so lovable of course.

I’m assuming that the greatest difference between getting a puppy and having a baby is that once you have a baby, your parents and grandparents stop nagging you about their dire need of grandchildren/great-grandchildren. The puppy did nothing in that regard—in fact, it just gave my grandparents an opportunity to tell us point blank that a puppy is not the kind of baby they had in mind.

While I’m certainly not a puppy or baby expert, I’m learning a lot about parenthood (at least the puppy version) as Kenzie grows. As everyone seems to say, it will hopefully be excellent training for the day down the road when my husband and I decide to bless Kenzie with a little sister or brother.


Jewish Community Heroes 2011

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The Jewish Community Heroes campaign promotes the people in our community who make tikkun olam a guiding element of their everyday lives.

This year's Oy!Chicago (and JUF) nominee is local networker Shalom Klein, who has helped find jobs for nearly 100 Chicagoans this year.

Learn more about all the good work Shalom Klein does for the community (below) and vote for him and the other Chicago nominees here up to once a day.

Get connected: Meet Shalom Klein, chairman of Jewish B2B Networking 

Jewish Community Heroes 2011 photo 

You might say Shalom Klein was born to schmooze.

In fact, within hours of our interview, I already had several emails from Klein connecting me to people I should know.

It’s this passion for networking and entrepreneurial spirit that makes Klein so successful at what he does. As the chairman of Jewish B2B Networking, Klein spends his days (and most likely his nights) making connections for small businesses in the Chicago Jewish community.

About a year and a half ago, Klein left his PR job in New York to come home to Skokie and work for the family business—Moshe Klein & Associates, Ltd., which handles bookkeeping and accounting for small businesses. Klein said it’s his nature to stay in touch, and so he naturally began connecting people.

In June of 2010, Klein decided he wanted to introduce his clients, family and friends and held his first event at Slice of Life in Skokie. While he expected a small turnout of maybe 20 people, 75 people showed up.

“The outcome was great,” Klein said. “People were already doing business with people they met that day.”

And just like that, Jewish B2B Networking was born. In just nine months, Jewish B2B Networking has a mailing list of 12,000 people and over 3,000 people have come to events—plus, at least two or three dozen people have found jobs thanks to connections made during these events. Each month, hundreds of people show up for monthly networking meetings—175 people showed up to a speednetworking event at 7:30a.m.—and monthly networking open houses held at different businesses. Events are also being organized in Detroit and St. Louis.

“I believe we’ve tapped into the small business community,” Klein said. His events attract a diverse crowd, with about 80 percent looking to connect business to business, and about 20 percent looking for jobs.

A few months ago, Klein launched the website JewishB2Bnetworking.com where members can register for events, create profiles, search for jobs and post to a blog.

“The goal is stimulating the Jewish and Jewish-friendly small business community and people doing business with each other…[to] create that network and create business opportunities around Chicago,” he said.

Jewish B2B Networking and Jewish Vocational Service (JVS), a JUF agency, have been collaborating on programming, presentations and reaching out to the community—and according to Gail Gruen, executive director of JVS; they are planning more collaboration in the future.

Klein is also the publisher of Jewish Business News, a monthly publication with a circulation of 15,000 that he launched this January available at local businesses synagogues, kosher and kosher-style restaurants. Thousands of people have attended and benefited from his regular programming, including most recently “The Business Event,” a free business and employment expo which drew over 3,000 attendees. 


Would You Be Your Best Friend?

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Rachel Bertsche photo 2 

If you met yourself, would you want to be your BFF?

I think about this a lot. I heard somewhere that the usual answer is no--that we often don't like people who are too much like us. Which I can imagine might be true. If we want to be the expert on something, maybe it's annoying when someone else comes along with her know-it-all knowledge. Or maybe all the things we find frustrating about ourselves are uber-turn offs when it comes to someone else.

The other night I was at the library with my little brother reading a book from the kids series Judy Moody. In the book, Judy meets a girl who's a bizarro version of her. Amy Namey's name rhymes, so does Judy Moody's. Amy idolizes Nelly Bly, "woman reporter," while Judy's hero is Elizabeth Blackwell, the first female doctor. They both have funny speech ticks.

You get the point.

At first Judy can't stand Amy. She finds her little quirks obnoxious, until her friends point out that Amy and Judy might as well be twins. Judy's horrified by the fact that there's another her walking around, when she thought she was special. Soon, though, she talks to Amy--who invites her into the My-Name-Is-A-Poem club--and Judy decides they should be BFFs.

Then Chapter 2 ends.

At this point, my little bro got bored so I don't know what happened next. But the set up got me thinking.

That same night I was watching the season premiere of Glee, and a similar theme popped up. Rachel and Kurt show up to a mixer for a New York dramatic arts school, and meet a room full of people who might as well be them. They're not thrilled.

I'd like to think that if I met the bizarro me I'd want to be friends with her. After all, I like myself, right? I think I'm a pretty decent friend. And when I meet women with whom I share similarities, I go ahead and claim them as my BFF like it's nothing. (Well, claim is a strong word. They're not baggage.) But I can totally see how it might not go that way. We like being individuals, right? We want friends who complement us, not who are us.

I'm not entirely sure why I think about this as often as I do. But I think it matters when it comes to looking for pals. Do you look for a BFF who seems to share your brain? Or for someone totally different than you? Or both?

Free Book Alert! Want to read MWF Seeking BFF early? Goodreads is hosting a giveaway. Enter by October 10 to win one of 15 advance copies. 

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