OyChicago blog

Happy Halloween, Oy!sters!

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10/31/2013

In honor of Halloween this year, I bring you animals in costume. Enjoy!

 

Happy Halloween, Oy!sters! photo 13

Aargh, I hate being a pirate!

 

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Dying is so boring source via Reddit

 

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Duuun dun duuun dun dun dun dun dun source via mental floss

 

The Great Pumpkin

Happy Halloween, Oy!sters! photo 10
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It’s a pumpkin showdown! Who wore it best?

 

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Would you like a pint of beer or some cuteness?

 

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Super doggies source via Boo's Facebook page

 

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Scary source via browse.deviantart

 

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Bat cat source via 52favoritethings

 

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Slobbery kisses $1 source via cuteoverload

 

Happy Halloween, Oy!sters! photo 1

Because even Halloween is a good day to wear a Bears jersey!

 

Happy Halloween, Oy!sters! photo 14

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Taking the “–el”

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Finding God in your name.
10/30/2013

Taking the “–el” photo

One of the many (many, many — some say even 72) names of God in Jewish thought is “El.” This Divine name ends up in almost as many human names. Here are some of the most popular, and some of the most interesting, followed by their meanings and their original Hebrew pronunciations (with “ch” as in “challah”):

Ariel: “God is my lion.” (AH-ree-el)
Daniel: “God is my judge.” (DAH-nee-el)
Elijah: “God is my Lord” (el-ee-YAH-hu)
Elisha: “God is my salvation” (el-ee-SHAH)
Elizabeth: “God is my oath” (el-ee-SHEV-a)
Emmauel: “God is with us” (ee-MAH-noo-el)
Ezikiel: “God will strengthen” (yih-CHEZ-kel)
Gabriel: “God is my might.” (GAHV-ree-el)
Joel: “The Lord is God” (YO-el)
Michael: “Who is like God?” (mee-CHAH-el)
Mitchell: (variant of Michael)
Nathaniel: “God gave to me.” (nah-TAH-nee-el)
Rapahel: “God is my healing” (reh-FAH-el)
Samuel: “God hears” (SHMOO-el)
Yael: “The Lord is God” (yah-EL)

And, of course:
Israel: “He who wrestles/strives with God.” (yis-RAH-el)

But even:
Ishmael: “God hears me” (yee-SHMAH-el)
Jezebel: “Not exalted.” (ee-ZEH-vel)

Some rarer ones:
Amiel: “God of my people” (ah-MEE-el)
Azrael: “God is my hope” (AHZ-rah-el)
Chaniel: “God favors me” (cha-NEE-el)
Gamaliel: “Compensation of God” (gahn-LEE-el)
Kal-El: “The voice of God”
Lemuel: “Belonging to God” (Lemuel Gulliver, in Gulliver’s Travels)
Othniel “God is my sign” (OHT-nee-el)
Petuel: “Vision of God” (peh-TOO-el)
Raziel: “God is my secret” (RAH-zee-el) [Aramaic]
Reuel: “Friend of God” (reh-OO-el)
Uriel: “God is my light” (OO-ree-el)
Uziel: “God is my strength” (OO-zee-el)

(Various angelologists list various combinations of the above-mentioned archangels, such as Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael, and also these: Anael/Aniel, Ananiel, Barachiel, Cecitiel, Chamuel, Jegudiel, Jophiel, Marmoniel, Oriel, Oriphiel, Raguel, Remiel, Saraqael, Selaphiel, Simiel, Suriel, and Zadakiel.)

Not every name that ends in “-el” follows this pattern, however:
Hershel: “Deer” (HERSH-’l) [Yiddish]
Hillel: “Praised.” (HILL-el)
Rachel: “Ewe, lamb” (rah-CHA-el)

And some aren’t even Hebrew, but just happen to have an “-el” in there:
Denzel: A town in Cornwall, England
Ellen/Eleanor: variant of Helen, “sunbeam” [Greek]
Elvira: “Foreign” [German]
Gadiel: “God is my fortune” [Arabic]
Lionel: “Lion” [Latin]
Muriel: “Sparkling sea” [Irish]
Rigel: “Foot” [Arabic] [Like the Hebrew “regel.” Rigel is a star in Orion’s foot.]

Lastly, the least Jewish name with an “el” has got to be:
Noel: “Christmas” [French]

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Bulls 2013-14 Season Preview

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The Bulls are back, but more importantly – so is Derrick Rose.
10/29/2013

It’s my favorite time of year – the start of the NBA season. And it could not come at a better time. With the Bears stumbling into their bye week, Chicago is receiving the ultimate gift in the return of Derrick Rose, who comes back from the torn ACL he suffered in the 2012 playoffs that kept him out all of last season. I had no interest in joining the debates about whether or not Rose should have returned last season, and I just enjoyed the ride watching the undermanned Bulls surprise everyone and make an incredibly gutsy run into the playoffs.

But now Rose is back and I have been eager to watch every minute of every pre-season action to see what kind of shape he is in. Bulls fans: get ready for more player-by-player previews and predictions about the Bulls than you can handle.

First – some observations on the pre-season. Derrick Rose was bringing 110 percent in games that are normally reserved for players to just get their legs under them. But Rose came in with a huge chip on his shoulder and a lot to prove – and he more than did that. He looked incredible, and as much as people were saying he was playing all out in those meaningless games, I disagree. I still think we have yet to see the full extent of the improvement in Rose’s game.

Injuries on the rest of the roster have me troubled a bit going into the season, specifically regarding Joakim Noah and Kirk Hinrich. Both played major roles in the Bulls’ success last season and both will be keys to their success this year. Noah was shut down after only playing one pre-season game with a sore groin and Hinrich has been dealing with the aftermath of a concussion that has turned into shoulder pain.

The Bulls’ depth has taken a bit of a hit this year in my opinion, and without those two players, chances of getting past Miami and Indiana decrease significantly. Carlos Boozer looks worse than ever – and I’m not even a Boozer hater – but he hasn’t looked like an NBA starter so far this pre-season. And if they can stay healthy, I think the Bulls have the most dangerous defensive 2-3 in the league in Deng and Butler; they are going to take the bulk of the responsibility handling the opposing team’s best players.

There are a lot of new faces on the bench and a superstar returning to form – let’s go player by player and see what we hope to see from each going into the season, which tips off tonight against – you guessed it – the Miami Heat.

 

THE BENCH

Mike Dunleavy

Bulls 2013-14 Season Preview photo 1

The Bulls’ big off-season acquisition. Not exactly front page news but I think this was a solid pick-up. Since losing Kyle Korver two years ago, the Bulls have not had that go-to spot-up three point shooter, and now they should have that in Dunleavy. He’s 6-9, he can handle the ball and with his size he can shoot over about anyone else at his position. In the pre-season he has looked like he fits really well on this team and with Derrick back, the Bulls need to have reliable perimeter scorers for him to pass out to when he drives the lane and collapses the D. He can play a few different positions and allow the Bulls flexibility in their rotation. Rose will continue to attract attention and draw double teams and if Dunleavy can be accurate, this will be one of the Bulls’ most dangerous weapons.

 

Taj Gibson

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The most improved player for the Bulls this pre-season. Taj took a step back last year after being one of the Bulls’ most reliable players off the bench, but he looked good in the pre-season. He put on some muscle and should provide the Bulls some nice flexibility if he can play the 5 in some rotations. He’s a great defender and shot-blocker and appears to have found his outside shot again. I still want to see him develop a better offensive post game, especially because the Bulls don’t have a player who can demand much attention in the paint on the offensive end, but if he can do that it will open things up for the perimeter players around him.

 

Kirk Hinrich

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The big question facing Hinrich is can he stay on the court? Because if he can, this is a great back-up who can play both guard positions. He can handle the ball and run the offense and score when called upon, but pairing him with Rose at times will allow Derrick to move off the ball, something he has not been able to do as this is the first time the Bulls have really had a true point guard to back him up. But Hinrich has not proven he can play a full season. They are going to need to find a balance between limiting his minutes, keeping him healthy and being a guy who can let Rose and Butler rest during stretches.

Mike James - Good vet to have on the bench, but if we see much of him on the court, chances are we’re in big, big trouble.

Nazr Mohammed - For all of the bench players the Bulls let go in the offseason, this was actually the player I was most excited they retained. Last year Nazr didn’t play nearly enough in the early part of the season before Joakim started dealing with foot problems. And I think part of what led to Noah getting hurt was that he was playing too many minutes that Nazr could have been taking. Nazr is a solid veteran backup and can give the Bulls some solid minutes off the bench in order to help keep Jo fresh and healthy. He knows the team well, the system well, can play defense and is reliable on offense. If Coach Thibs is smart, we’ll see plenty of Big Naz early this year.

Erik Murphy - The rookie likely saw more minutes this pre-season than he will all year assuming Noah, Boozer and Gibson stay healthy. He is definitely green, and will likely spend most of the year on the bench outside of a possible appearance during a blow-out. He looks like an overweight Fred Hoiberg, and the Bulls are hoping he shoots like one too. But he is not someone the Bulls expect to get much from in the short term – he actually strikes me as a Troy Murphy-type: 6 feet 10 inches but more of a threat from behind the three-point line than he is in the paint. The Bulls see him as a guy who could spread the floor at the 4 spot, but, likely won’t have many opportunities to do so this season. Still seems soft for the NBA game.

Tony Snell - The Bulls’ other rookie may have a slightly better chance of cracking the rotation, but this is another long term project. Snell is extremely athletic and projects to be a good outside shooter, but the Bulls are stacked at the 2 and 3 positions and this appears to be a development year for him. But this pick along with Murphy shows the Bulls’ commitment to surrounding their core with great outside shooters to help support Rose’s drive and kick game – but he could also be the second coming of Eddie Robinson … yikes.

Marquis Teague - The standout of the Bulls’ summer league, Teague showed improvement in his overall maturity and ability to handle the ball and run an offense. He appears to have worked on his outside shot, but that is still far from a reliable weapon. But he is extremely fast and clearly a good student of coach Tom Thibodeau’s system. With Hinrich’s inability to stay healthy for an entire season, Teague could get some quality minutes as the backup point guard.

 

THE STARTERS

Carlos Boozer

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The worst thing I saw this pre-season was the play of Carlos Boozer. More than ever before, he is so mentally absent on defense. And for him that is saying a lot. Boozer has the big contract, but he is the weak link in an otherwise defensively strong starting lineup. I think the Bulls will have trouble sending Boozer to the bench given his paycheck, but, I think this has to be the year that Taj Gibson becomes a starter. Now that Taj is a more reliable scorer, he solidifies what could be the most formidable starting defense in the NBA. The Bulls will be really, really difficult to score on without that big hole down low. That, and the microphones don’t pick up Boozer as clearly when he’s yelling “go get it, Jo” from the bench.

 

Jimmy Butler

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Jimmy Buckets is primed for a break-out year. He has spent the offseason working on his offensive game, which already took a step forward last season. He is one of the best wing defenders in the game and he could get better. And now with Derrick Rose running alongside him, opportunities to score should be much easier to come by for Butler. He showed in the preseason that he has worked on his outside shot, and if he can continue to develop his ability to create his own shot, he could finally be the long sought after Pippen to Rose’s Jordan. And if the Bulls want to take the next step toward a championship, they will need Butler to be the answer at shooting guard they have long struggled to find.

 

Luol Deng

Bulls 2013-14 Season Preview photo 6

An important season for Deng for many reasons. Coming to the last year of his contract, Deng has been the glue of this Bulls team. He has played through numerous injuries, he has been the leader of the team on and off the court, and he has been the lock-down defender to always take on the opposing team’s best player. He has continued to develop his skills on offense, adding a reliable three point shot to his cut and slash game. But is Deng the long term answer? And will the Bulls be willing to pay what Deng will be asking for in the offseason? He will also be the subject of many trade rumors as we get closer to the deadline, and probably the most likely Bull to be shipped out given his contract situation and value as a defender. I will be sad to see Deng go, but he is their best chance to get a true low post scorer to replace Boozer.

 

Joakim Noah

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The personification of the Bulls heart-on-their-sleeves grit. And after suffering last year from a nasty bout with plantar fasciitis, Noah came to camp in amazing shape only to injure his groin and appear in just one pre-season game. Noah was shut down and is doubtful to play in the season opener. It goes practically without saying that the Bulls will not win the East without a healthy Noah, and already dealing with an injury before the season starts raises a lot of warning flags for me as a Bulls fan. Maybe he’ll come back and everything will be fine, but, after last season’s ongoing injury issues the Bulls need to be a lot more cautious with Noah this year.

 

Derrick Rose

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Finally. He’s back. And like I mentioned before, he looks better than ever, which is scary. He looks stronger, he still attacks the rim without abandon, and he has clearly worked on his outside shot. If Rose can add a consistent three-point shot to his already dominant game, this will be another MVP season for the Chicago native. I don’t want to get into his conditioning, should they rest him or not this season, etc. etc., but the biggest test will be late in the playoffs when Rose is double-teamed: will his supporting cast prove threatening enough to make opposing teams regret leaving them open to double Rose?

In terms of what else to watch for this season: do the Bulls make a trade before the deadline or do they stand pat? Will the starting lineup stay healthy all year? Can Rose actually return to MVP status? Will Thibs learn how to take his starters out of the game with four minutes left when the Bulls are up by 20?

My Prediction: If Noah, Butler, Deng and Rose stay healthy, this will be the year the Bulls was beat Miami and return to the NBA Finals.

Eric Burgher is the founder of the blog Sweet Home Sports.

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Fall Soup

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10/28/2013

Fall Soup photo

Upon meeting someone new, when they find out I am a chef, four out of five times I am asked what I like to call the “question trifecta.”

“Where do you work?” 
“What do you like to cook?”
“What is your favorite food?”

My answer to the last one gets them every time. People expect me to give some grand answer such as roasted bone marrow and foie gras truffle terrine with sous vide rabbit. And don’t forget the Osetra Caviar with vodka crème fraiche! FALSE, sorry to disappoint, but the answer is soup. Yes, soup! Soup of almost any kind.

Think about it. Soup is the perfect meal. It is the ultimate comfort food and can be made in big batches with anything you have around. Hearty soups — hot and full of deep flavors and textures — are what I crave. Eat it alone and it’s a great lunch or pair it with a delicious salad and there you have dinner. Soup should be extremely healthy both in fat content but also clean and not full of additives. We all have to fight the urge to pick up a can of soup from the supermarket shelf. They are full of sodium and preservatives. Homemade soups taste better, are cheaper, and are better for you. About 30 min of prep time is well worth it. One large pot of soup can be made in a very short period of time and then frozen into individual portions waiting for you at a moment’s notice — an insta-meal.

Most recently, I made a soup inspired by a dinner with my sister and brother in-law. It was the first really cold day of the fall season and we wanted a hearty but healthy dinner. I made a kale and wheat berry soup with a roasted carrot and apple salad. While in Israel this past February, I picked up a bottle of silan honey (date honey), which went great with the salad. As a substitute, regular honey may be used, but I have spotted silan at grocery stores that specialize in Middle Eastern products.

Soup

1 bunch leeks (chopped)
1 bunch kale (chopped)
3 celery stalks (chopped)
2 cloves garlic (minced)
1 small yellow onion (chopped)
1 T dried basil
12 oz tomato paste
1/2 cup dried wheat berries
2 32-oz boxes Swanson Free-Range Certified Organic Chicken Broth, 99 Percent Fat Free
1 T olive oil
1 12-oz can organic low sodium cannellini beans
Kosher salt to taste

In 5-quart stock pot heat oil. Sweat leeks, garlic, and onion until translucent. Add in tomato paste stirring constantly so that sugars caramelize but do not burn about 3 minutes. Add to pot all other ingredients reserving the beans. Bring soup to a boil and let simmer for 2 hours. During the last 15 minutes of cooking add beans to pot.

Salad

2 large carrots (roasted on 375 for 20 min with 1 T olive oil, 1t silan honey, salt and pepper to taste)
1 honey crisp apple skin on (chopped)
1 small fennel bulb

Roasted Shallot Vinaigrette

8 oz roasted shallots
2 oz dijon mustard
3 oz honey
24 oz grape seed oil
2 oz red wine vinegar
Kosher salt to taste

Place all dressing ingredients in a blender and slowly drizzle in oil until completely emulsified.

Assemble salad and toss with desired amount of dressing right before serving. Should have extra dressing for use later. 

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The Axis of Remembrance

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10/25/2013

The Axis of Remembrance photo 1

The neighborhood where my grandpa was born

Next month will mark the 75th anniversary of Kristallnacht. I learned about the vicious November Pogrom as a child growing up in Skokie, but my grandma and grandpa experienced first-hand the anxiety, humiliation and persecution inflicted upon the Jews of Germany and Austria during those horrific times. The sorrow and significance of their stories has been sealed in my conscience.

In hope of gaining a deeper understanding of their experiences, last month I decided to take a trip with my wife, Stefanie, to Berlin and Vienna, the respective homes of my grandpa and grandma. For years I had wanted to travel there and see for myself – as best I could – what these places were like for them. So we set aside some cash and booked the trip, planning to visit as many family landmarks as possible. Once we got there, we managed to visit the very buildings where my grandma and grandpa were born and lived. The journey connected us to their stories of survival.

“A Slow Boat to China”

My grandpa, Fred, was born in the borough of Tegel in Berlin. As the war began, he worked as a tailor in one of Berlin’s thriving department stores. Before Kristallnacht, a non-Jewish childhood friend in the Berlin police department tipped him off that he was on a list of Jews to be arrested and deported. Grandpa knew he had to leave quickly, but where would he go? He desperately wanted to obtain a visa to Australia – a cousin had secured safe passage there, and perhaps he would have a better chance of surviving and reassembling his life with family around. But it was not to be. Countries all over the world were closing their borders. His only available escape route led to Shanghai, China, where luckily no passport or visa was required.

He managed to get a ticket, but the slow boat to China would not embark for weeks. On Kristallnacht, he watched from an alley as Nazis searched for him in his apartment. He spent the ensuing nights sleeping alone outdoors, hiding wherever he could – even in the Berlin Zoo. Finally, at the age of 31, almost the exact same age that I am today, my grandpa left the only home he ever knew for the very foreign – and dangerous – Jewish Ghetto of Shanghai. Some 30,000 German and Austrian Jews, who were not as lucky, were arrested during Kristallnacht and imprisoned in concentration camps.

It was in Shanghai where my grandparents would meet and eventually marry.

The Axis of Remembrance photo 2

My grandma and grandpa on their wedding day in Shanghai, China, Nov. 30, 1947

My grandma, Adele, grew up in a well-to-do Viennese family. Her father, Salomon, was a highly decorated veteran of the First World War, having fought as a cavalry officer on the Eastern front.

When I was a kid, my grandma beamed with pride when she talked about her father. He built his own business crafting specialty liqueurs. The family owned an apartment building, which still stands to this day. Salomon was a strict parent – true to his military background. But he was also a strong, spirited man and loving father who encouraged his children to study music and chaperoned my grandma’s school field trips.

Life changed after the Anschluss. On Kristallnacht, Salomon was arrested and severely beaten by Nazi-collaborating authorities. Fortunately, he always kept his veteran’s papers in his wallet, and his captors released him only out of “respect” for his gallant service to his country. As my grandma remembered, her father had not come home that night, and she anxiously waited outside their apartment building for him. When she finally saw him walking down the street toward their home, the spirited spring in his step was noticeably absent. He walked with his head down. As he came closer, she could see the matted blood on his face from the beating he suffered only hours before. Her father was forever broken and would never be the same. The very next day he obtained the family’s tickets to Shanghai, and they left with the few belongings they could carry. Members of my grandma’s extended family who stayed behind were deported to Theresienstadt and, like so many others, were never heard from again.

Axis of Remembrance

Despite these struggles, for the rest of their lives Berlin and Vienna would always be “home” to my grandparents. Ironically, for my grandpa, anything made in Germany was of the highest and best quality, of course. For my grandma, Vienna was a joyful town, filled with beautiful music, good food, and opportunity. And when I finally took in these cities for myself, I understood what all the fuss was about – even though so much has changed.

One of the most poignant experiences of the trip was the time we spent at the Jewish Museum in Berlin. The tour starts with underground hallways which lead to the main museum building. The floors of the hallways are uneven and present the visitor with three pathways called "Axes". First is the “Axis of Continuity” which is intended to be a connection of Germany’s tortured past with its present.

Continuing on, the visitor is presented with a proverbial fork in the road. If you turn one way, you are led to the “Axis of Exile,” which tells the harrowing stories of escape and survival of German-Jewish families and individuals just like my grandpa. This path leads to the “Garden of Exile.” The Garden is not a garden in the typical sense but instead is a sort of courtyard with uneven ground and concrete pillars of varying height, intended by the architect to “completely disorient the visitor” and represent “a shipwreck of history.” For me, this part of the museum harkened stories of the treacherous living conditions and trying times – disorienting no doubt – that awaited my grandparents in the Shanghai Ghetto.

When you turn the other way, you pass through the “Axis of the Holocaust.” As the museum’s website explains, “[t]he ‘Axis of the Holocaust’ is a dead end. It becomes ever narrower and darker and ends at the Holocaust Tower.” The Holocaust Tower is a single, unfurnished room with an opening in the ceiling to the outside and no heat or air-conditioning. It is a void.

Like so many Jewish children and grandchildren of Holocaust survivors, I am the product of a twist of fate, turn of luck, Providence, Divine intervention – whatever you want to call it. What if my grandpa’s childhood friend had grown up to be a Nazi? What if Salomon was not carrying his veteran’s papers that day? What if the Shanghai port was closed to Jews? Exploring the labyrinth of the museum, reading the stories of survival on one hand and murder on the other, I got chills. For my grandparents, a turn to the left, or a turn to the right, could have easily led to the Axis of the Holocaust – a dead end.

But their survival was not just about luck. I am awestruck by their emotional and physical toughness during those years.

After scraping by in the Shanghai Ghetto for just shy of ten years, my grandparents were finally allowed to emigrate to the United States – another different and strange place – where they managed to start over and raise a family of their own in Chicago.

As I made my way through the Jewish Museum in Berlin with Stefanie, I asked myself, would I have the strength to survive the way my grandparents did? The courage to uproot myself and my family? Finding myself isolated, in such strange and dangerous places, would I have the grit to start over? Would I have the determination to rebuild from scratch – at this very stage of my life?

Fortunately, for me and my generation, there is no Axis of the Holocaust or Axis of Exile. Instead, I choose to create for myself an Axis of Remembrance, to commit myself to never forget the loss and the pain and suffering that my grandma and grandpa – and so many others like them – endured only because they were Jews.

It has been years since my grandma and grandpa passed away, but walking the streets they walked, listening to the music they loved, and eating the food they enjoyed helped me understand their experiences just a little bit better. Their lives will always be an inspiration and source of strength for me – as long as I tread the path of the Axis of Remembrance.

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Tips for Volunteering this Holiday Season

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10/24/2013

Tips for Volunteering this Holiday Season photo 1

Feed Chicago at The Gan Project. Photo credit: Bob Kusel

I love the holiday season: Halloween, Thanksgiving, Chanukah; the music, the food, the presents, the traditions. One family tradition that I hope to maintain in our home is that of giving back.

The holiday season is a time to count your blessings, and with each festive meal, each present we give and receive, each party we attend, I find that my thoughts are drawn to the people – individuals, families and kids – who are not as fortunate as we are.  There are so many people who can't afford gifts, who don't have the money for a turkey, or who have no one to celebrate with. Taking a bit of time out of the hectic holiday month to share our blessings with others makes me feel good, and I know that by doing this year after year, it will instill the importance of giving in our children for life.

In my previous life as a volunteer coordinator, I spent the weeks of Thanksgiving, Chanukah and Christmas fielding countless calls from families seeking out volunteer opportunities, only to find out that every single spot everywhere they called was full. This is a real phenomenon, because while of course there seems to be an infinite number of people in need, nonprofit organizations have limited capacity for creating meaningful opportunities. They don't want too many cooks in the kitchen if you know what I mean. So even though it's only October, I thought I would share some ideas and strategies for finding holiday season volunteer opportunities in advance, so you don't find yourself in the same pickle on Thanksgivukkah eve.

Tips for Volunteering this Holiday Season photo 2

Feed Chicago at the Campus Kitchen at Northwestern University. Photo credit: Bob Kusel

The greatest challenge when it comes to volunteering is getting your foot in the door, since most of us aren't sure where to find these opportunities.  

TOV!
JUF's TOV Volunteer Network assembles a large collection of holiday-based projects in their seasonal Mitzvah Mania calendar. You can sign up directly through TOV, and there are so many options available, across Chicago and the suburbs, in a large variety of agencies.

Online Resources
Chicago Cares, All for GoodVolunteer MatchIdealist – these online resources are clearing houses for one-time and ongoing volunteer opportunities. Your mileage may vary when navigating these sites, but if you can't find a project through TOV that fits your schedule, these are other outstanding resources that may help you find a good fit. United Way and the agencies they support partner with All for Good to list volunteer opportunities, and Salvation Army uses Volunteer Match.

Google
A friendly Google search of "your neighborhood" and "volunteer" and "Thanksgiving" sounds obvious and silly, but often there are niche agencies and programs that run programs that are too small to warrant a listing for volunteers on a large-scale volunteer online database. Also, seasonal opportunities of some agencies often fill so quickly that it doesn't pay for agencies to "over-advertise" a project, since they tend to fill quickly.  

When it comes to what you should look for, really the choices are abundant, whether within the Jewish community or beyond. Options include friendly visiting with the elderly, serving a meal at a soup kitchen, offering a hand at a local shelter, working with kids with disabilities, buying holiday gifts for those who could not otherwise afford it, and so much more. 

Once you've identified agencies that are of interest, give them a call and send an email. Ask to speak with the volunteer coordinator, and don't be afraid to leave a message or two. 'Tis the season to be swamped, and those who are proactive get the volunteer spots.

Happy helping and happy holidays!!

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Art for a Cause

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10/23/2013

Art for a Cause photo2

This past weekend, I attended a Chicago Ideas Week talk entitled “Instigators: The Good Fight,” featuring speakers who see the evil and hurt in the world and take a personal stand to make it better. This included Chicago native (and fellow University of Illinois alum!) Dan Savage, the incredibly courageous and poised Elizabeth Smart, and a few other speakers who addressed the audience with eloquence and inspired the crowd with their fierce passion.

Mid-way through the event, Ronny Edry took the stage. Equipped with a sarcastic, endearing, utterly Israeli sense of humor, graphic designer Edry unfurled his story. In the face of Israel’s conflicts in the Middle East, he used his art to spark change. He started a powerful movement on the most ubiquitous of platforms – Facebook.

Edry’s message first took form on his page, “Israel Loves Iran.” What started as a single poster he shared on his Facebook wall spurred a movement of dialogue between not just Israelis and Iranians, but countless people across the Middle East. Talking about Israel Loves Iran and Edry’s latest venture, The Peace Factory, doesn’t do them justice. You’ll just have to visit to take a closer look at citizens from all over the Middle East taking to social media to spread messages of love, peace and hope of cooperation.

Edry’s message is as simple as can be: make peace viral.

Make peace viral.

As someone who’s spent the better part of the last three years managing social media accounts, I was taken incredibly aback, in the best way. Anyone remotely involved in social media strategy talks about virality. Everyone talks circles around that buzzword to end all buzzwords – engagement.

I could not have been more engaged. As the images of Iran Loves Israel, The Peace Factory and the global Peace Factory community flashed on the auditorium projector, I was mesmerized. There’s this great verb in French, bouleverser. It roughly translates, “to turn upside down.” It’s a monumental word, it encompasses a gamut of actions; it can signify being deeply moved, agitation, disruption, instigation, or a fight.

In that instant, in viewing this sort of message recast in a brand new way, that was the first word I thought of. In the best way. Seeing a message so close to my heart being portrayed in such a fresh, creative, artful way moved me in a manner that I hadn’t been in a while.

Do yourself a favor. Check out Edry’s Ted Talk. Check out the Facebook page. If I took anything away from Ronny Edry’s talk it was this: let love be a powerful, powerful weapon.

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Top 10 Jewish NBA Storylines this Season

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10/22/2013

Last year, honestly, we struggled to find Jewish stories in the NBA as Omri Casspi declined and Jordan Farmar left for Turkey. Not this year! With both players back, one literally and the other mentally, it’s time to look at the top 10 stories going into this (Jewish) NBA season:

10. Raptor Drake
The rapper Drake has become the newest ambassador of the Toronto Raptors. Will this bring Mo' Money or Mo' Problems?

9. Two Former Israel League Players with a Shot
Two former Israel league players have new homes and could be crucial to championships. Roger Mason Jr. finds himself in Miami, where he hopes to solidify a confusing bench for the Heat. Meanwhile, Alan Anderson is in Brooklyn where he gives the Nets a solid threat off the bench at both guard slots. Either one could be wearing a ring at the end of the season.

8. Which Owner Gets the Ring?
This year there are several Jewish owners in the mix for a NBA Championship. Jerry Reinsdorf (Bulls) Micky Arison (Heat), Bruce Ratner (Nets), Leslie Alexander (Rockets), and Donald Sterling (Clippers). Will one of these men be getting a new ring soon?

7. Bye-Bye Stern 
Commissioner David Stern is on the way out. Besides turning the NBA into a cash cow, he developed both the NDBL and WNBA during his tenure and brought the NBA to Canada. His basketball legacy will forever to be great. What is next for Stern?

6. Shtark Tank
Mark Cuban ...what will he do next? He has had trouble finding the star to replace Dirk, but is trying. We can all expect something from Cuban this year, the question is what?

5. Frank Back with Nets
Lawrence Frank is back on the Nets' bench, although with head coach Jason Kidd ahead of him. Kidd will look to Frank for guidance, but it's a perfect opportunity for Frank if Kidd falters (and yes we assume Kidd knows that). Frank was very successful at the beginning of his head coaching career in New Jersey. He will be the mastermind behind their defensive schemes.

4. Hello Silver
On February 1, 2014 Adam Silver will take over as NBA commissioner, a job that has been held by David Stern since 1984. Silver has his work cut out for him, as Stern took a lot of negative heat even though the NBA grew tremendously during his tenure. What does Silver's regime have in store? We will soon find out.

3. Farmar Where He Belongs 
Jordan Farmar is back and back where he belongs: in a Los Angeles Lakers jersey (I am really happy I bought that jersey two years ago). He was solid in Turkey, but now, in a familiar place and healthy, Farmar finds himself ready to contribute. The Lakers will be without Kobe Bryant for a while and Dwight Howard is gone, but Farmar's main role is to relieve Steve Nash and help keep the Lakers in the thick of things.

2. Casspi Fully Back 
Omri Casspi has been at the bottom of the barrel over the last few seasons, both in a Kings and Cavs jersey. This year he joins the Houston Rockets and if preseason is any indication, Casspi fits right in. He has thus far had an outpour of scoring and his length, defense, and outside shooting will play perfectly with the drive and dish of James Harden and post-attention-double-teams of Dwight Howard. Casspi could cash in big time.

Top 10 Jewish NBA Storylines this Season photo 1

Omri Casspi

1. Welcome Gal Mekel
Gal Mekel is this year's number one story. Last year's Israeli standout for Maccabi Haifa is now in the NBA and trying to make the transition smoothly. He is the new Jew on the block and fans everywhere are just waiting to see how he develops. He is not a foreigner of the USA, however, as he played his college ball at Wichita State. Will Mekel make the Mavs? Will he play an important role? Will he develop into a star? We will be watching. 

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Waiting for Supermom

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10/21/2013

Waiting for Supermom photo

I am pretty sure I am having some kind of a breakdown. It’s not a midlife crisis because I definitely plan on living way past 82, but it’s a crisis nonetheless. Basically, I’m losing my doo-doo.

Don’t get me wrong. I haven’t always been begging my husband to send me away to a special kind of spa resort for stay-at-home moms who are all muttering, “What was I thinking?” in various corners of a padded room, over and over again. I had a great summer with my kids. I was even able to get them to routinely do chores. The carrot was the new puppy for sure, but I credit the kids for staying with the feeding, the walking and the clearing and rinsing of the dishes well after the puppy was no longer new.

I entered fall feeling very calm, very in control – superior even. I was Super Mom! My billowing pink and white polka dot cape with an SM monogram flowed as my obedient, well-adjusted children walked behind me with gigantic “I LOVE MOM!” signs chanting “Our mom’s the best! Our mom’s the BEST!!!” But oh, how the worm has turned.

I’m not sure what happened. In my objective opinion, I had a really long run as an awesome mom. I will say that the beginning of school did not help. The first morning the kids had to go to school, no one got up. No one got up even though they were getting up happily, easily and on their very own all summer long. So, suffice to say, the first day of school began with a battle. “Good morning!” “What would you like for breakfast?” and “Take your time” turned quickly into, “Get up!” “Eat!” and “You’re going to miss the bus!”

As I shooed my kids against their will out the door and off to school, my awesome mom standing plummeted exponentially. I could feel the chill in the air. My once warm and loving children now saw me as the enemy. They forgot all about the good times: how I served them homemade chocolate chip pancakes every morning without fail, sweet-talked their daddy into a third dog after he had said “absolutely NOT!” and even let them name the teeny-tiny rat terrier “Nelly” after the rapper. And they completely forgot what an excellent Shrinky Dink tracer I was. In the good ol’ days, they used to fight over who would get my steady hand first. Now I was simply a cross to bear – up there with homework and shots.

Being a stay-at-home mom is complicated. You put on hold (or forever sometimes) your “other” life. The life you had before you surrounded yourself 24-7 with spit up, diapers, homework, boys, girls, acne, prom … the life where you got a paycheck and adult co-workers. The life where the majority of your day was spent outside of the home and when you came back, it was your sanctuary. I love my kids, but sometimes I feel terribly off balance. I berate myself for having a tornado of a house and yet others compliment my willingness to “turn over” almost every room to the kids and their cars, puzzles, Legos and art projects. When you walk into our house, it is clear that it is a home. No room goes unused. There is no untouchable item, no white carpeting.

When we decided to have a family, we wanted to minimize the redirecting around living life. I think we have done a solid job in terms of that. However, sometimes I’d like something new and perfect to stay new and perfect for longer than 30 seconds. Sometimes I yearn for a life outside of and in addition to my kids. Sometimes I think it would make me better at being a parent. My husband gets a four-star rating from the kids regularly and he seems able to embrace every learning/bonding/developmental moment that has ever existed between parent and child. I think some of that come from the balance he is able to create between work and home. (That, and he has the patience and discipline style of Gandhi.)

So I feel like I am at somewhat of a crossroads. And this is not new news. I believe most stay-at-home parents – and most working parents – come to a place of questioning at some point. “What am I doing?” and “Where do I go from here?” So, I am going to let these questions ferment for now. I am grateful for having the time and the choice to do just that. Right now I have four of the toughest bosses I have ever had: I need to remind them to thank me for a job well done and they never, ever offer me a raise. At the same time, there is no other job where I would take so much to heart. To see my kids off from the beginning of the day to the end of their night is a gift that I cherish. So maybe the cape is a little tattered. And maybe that’s OK. Because let’s face it – who’s getting a raise these days anyway? …

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Cheers! My Jewish Wedding

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10/18/2013

Cheers! My Jewish Wedding photo

I’m a married man! Boy that feels good to say.

I am so happy, I cannot begin to describe how in words. Jewish weddings are indeed a wondrous occasion, filled with lots of joy, happiness, and really good food like everyone says. And for a fact, I would not have attended my own wedding if the food did not meet our collective standards; both my wife Ashley and I are well-known Chicago foodies.

Last time I wrote it was before my bachelor party and all the anticipation leading up to the big day was building. Thanks to my wife, I was counting down the days like a walking timer. Then, it came all at once, and like a blur, it was over. It was breathtaking and I couldn’t have asked for a better setting for the happiest day of my life.

Now that I have been through my own Jewish wedding, I thought I’d share just a few select words of wisdom and guidance to anyone that has not experienced a Jewish wedding, or is about to experience one of their own for the first time. As one of Ashley’s friends said of her husband in their note to us: “At one point [in the ceremony], [he] turned to me and said, ‘This is by far the most awesome wedding I’ve ever seen or been to. Way more exciting than the Christian ones.’”

What’s all the excitement about? Read on!

Tip: When invited to a Jewish wedding, get excited!

Next to a World Championship, a Jewish wedding is one of the most hyped-up events of a Jewish person’s life, and rightfully so. Did you know that tradition dictates the bride and groom trump the Bar or Bat Mitzvah on the day of their auf ruf? This holy union is so important and so holy, it literally steals the limelight from anything else going on at that time. It’s not meant to be for selfish reasons, only to recognize and validate G-d and the spiritual union of two souls into one. As you will see in the beautiful wedding ceremony, the couple establishes a house of their own and join their souls together, linking themselves to thousands of years of tradition. Pretty big deal for anyone that’s witnessing or part of it. As an observer, you need not worry about doing anything except smile, say “Mazel Tov,” and celebrate!

Tip: Thoughtfulness goes a long way.

Yes, the couple will probably get a chance to hear you thank them in person for being invited to the wedding – if they ever get a moment from the hullabaloo. Even so, a thoughtful written note in your wedding card will mean a lot, and will be cherished long after the wedding has come and gone. Also, be sure to find your way to the couple at some point during the event. They may make their rounds, but keep in mind that they are overwhelmed with joy and happiness. Dance with them during the Horah, toast them when they walk by, and sign the guestbook.

Tip: Compliment and thank parents from both sides.

You may or may not know that Jewish weddings are typically hosted by the parents of the bride, while traditionally the parents of the groom host the brunch the morning after. Lately, Jewish weddings have been accompanied by a rehearsal dinner, hosted by the parents of the groom, where they are able to welcome family and out-of-town guests and share in the wedding celebration. They choose the place, food, entertainment, and speeches. It’s now a very important part of the wedding experience, even though not everyone invited gets to attend. But whether or not you are invited to the rehearsal dinner, make sure to pay homage to the groom’s family. They will appreciate it greatly and will add to their already overflowing nachas (pride and joy).

Tip: Celebrate and Par-tay!

This is the most important tip I can give you. For the wedding couple and family, it’s tough to deal with all the pressure that comes with planning and organizing the wedding, but once the ceremony is done, it’s time to let off that steam! For the wedding attendees, it is a mitzvah (good deed) to partake in the celebration of a Jewish wedding. If you’re not a drinker, don’t worry – you can get buzzed on all the sugar from the sweet table or dance until you’re dizzy. Make sure to fast beforehand, enjoy the ceremony, give the bride lots of attention and complements during the reception, and have a good time. It’s mandatory!

And grooms - don’t forget to kiss the bride, and don’t lose the ring!

To married life! L’Chaim! 

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Making the Years Count

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10/17/2013

Making the Years Count photo

A few days ago, I attended a beautiful baby shower for my cousin. Out of 10 grandchildren on my dad’s side, she was the first one to have a baby. The rest of us have truly enjoyed getting to reap the benefits of having a new, most adorable child to play with, spoil, and get to know.

The party was absolutely gorgeous. Everything – from the intricately designed cake to the homemade rosemary sea-salt party favors – was perfect. The party planners – my cousin’s childhood best friend and her mother – went above and beyond creating an unbelievable environment for my cousin’s special celebration.

As my cousin stood teary-eyed in front of her friends and family, she thanked her closest girlfriends who had been some of her best friends since childhood, touching on how many experiences they had shared together and how it is amazing to still be friends after all these years. As the crowd released a collective “awwww,” my mom and I exchanged glances, both thinking the same thing.

I rarely speak to my friends from elementary school and middle school who were subsequently my same friends in junior high and high school. There was never really a scandal, fight, or dramatic incident that caused a falling out and terminated our friendship; for one reason or another, toward the end of high school we began to drift apart. The “we really needed to get together” texts were sent less and less. I stopped making calls to check in and no longer posted on their Facebook walls with any regularity. As my freshmen year in college ended, it seemed clear that my childhood friendships sort of ended as well … and I was okay with that.

No pity necessary, please. Sure, on the surface it seems a bit unfortunate that the girls that saw me score my first (and only) goal in park district soccer aren’t the girls saved on my iPhone favorites list (that sadly doesn’t have the same ring as “speed dial”). And sure, if I were to #TBT a freshman year homecoming picture, it would seem out of the blue, since I only really speak to these girls if I awkwardly run into them or if it is to wish them a happy birthday on Facebook. However, as long as you have a close support system, does it really matter when your friendships began? I certainly don’t think so.

I am endlessly thankful for the people who are my closest friends. These are the people whom I can call with a problem or send a text strung together with a jumbled spaz of words to at any point in time without worrying that they’ll judge me. These are the people that I am confident will laugh at my (sometimes, but rarely) bad jokes and these are the people who are there for me (and I for them) through the triumphs and disappointments that life throws my way. These friendships developed over the course of my different life experiences. Although they began long after our preschool days, they are no less monumental.

The friends that I made at camp taught me to be comfortable in my own skin. Whether I’ve known them since we were 13 or met them while we were on camp staff, these are some of the people who know me better than anyone. From nights as campers talking until two in the morning to nights on staff where we were hopped-up on caffeine and working until, well, two in the morning, I’ve created some of my best memories at one of my favorite places with them. These are the people who I have fun doing absolutely nothing with and understand how one chord of “Iris” can make me nearly cry. Let me tell you: I truly never would have (barely) made it through my first summer not at camp without them.

Friendship reaches a deeper level when you travel with someone. I’ll never forget who I cried with when we saw the Kotel for the first time. I’ll never forget who enjoyed some of the best pizza in the world with me in Italy, who stayed in some of the funniest (and creepiest) of hostels with me so that we wouldn’t have to waste our money on hotels, and who sat at four hour dinners with me in Barcelona sipping on wine and talking about truly everything. There is something special about those who you can create memories with across the globe. It is even more exceptional that after these experiences end, the bonds that you have built make it possible for it to feel like time hasn’t passed whenever those exciting reunions happen.

I am also grateful that a good portion of the first people I met freshmen year are still my close friends; they have been there for me through everything since then. Not only are these the girls that I went to my first college party as GW student with, but they are the people who stayed with me overnight in the hospital when I had pneumonia, rushed me to the airport when my Papa was sick, and brought me medicine so many times that it would be impossible to return the favor. No matter how you slice it, college is a whirlwind of a transition and having people by your side, as you go through this transition, is something that I believe is extremely important. It is fortunate that most of the people who were by my side during that first week of that new stage of life never left it.

People sometimes joke that participating in Greek Life means that you are “paying for your friends.” However, as cheesy as it sounds, I could never put on a price on my best friends from SDT. These are the people who I have been through truthfully everything with and I am sure almost anyone who is a part of a Greek organization would agree that these networks facilitate some of the most meaningful friendships out there. Even though my best friends from this organization are across the country, life’s unexpected curveballs showed me how much we are really there for each other – no matter what. We would truly do anything for each other and it doesn’t matter that I’ve known them for five or six years, rather than 15 or 16.

It really doesn’t matter where your closest friends come from. What’s important is the realization that throughout your life, friendships can develop at any point and be meaningful. It matters that you have the people who you are there for and who are there for you. It matters that you have the people that you can laugh about nothing with for hours. It matters that you have some of your best memories with them and that you can’t help but smile when you reminisce about these times.

The author and poet Ernest Meyers once said, “Don’t just count your years, make your years count.” This quote can relate to a number of things, including friendship. As cliché as this sounds, even though my best friends are not my lifelong friends, I know that they are the friendships that will last for a lifetime.

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Give Peas a Chance

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10/16/2013

Give Peas a Chance photo 1

This piece was previously posted on JewHungry.

It was the black-eyed peas. Isn’t that where all great Southern Romances start? They should. I guess that isn’t really where it started. But that is definitely when I knew my life was about to change. Those black-eyed peas made me open up my eyes a little wider; they made me take notice.

I mean come on, y’all: A man who will hand you a bowl of black-eyed peas and a slice of cornbread when the rest of the world looks at you like you’ve lost your mind? That’s a man you need to pay attention to; that is a man you should keep. If I were Scarlett O’Hara I would have required a fainting couch. Instead, I grabbed my bowl of peas, gave a wry smile and went on my lunch break.

I started working in a restaurant during graduate school because that’s what graduate acting students are supposed to do. Actors work in restaurants. I guess actors are really supposed to be waiters, but I am far too clumsy to jump in the deep end like that. Honestly, I’m as likely to fall down as I am to take another breath. Volunteering to carry a tray full of drinks would be disastrous for everyone involved. I needed to work up to something like that, so I started out in the shallow end as a host.

Being a host at a busy downtown Chicago restaurant is not as glamorous as it may sound. Aside from looking up and having Maya Angelou or some hot baseball player in my face, there wasn’t a lot to brag about. Why do people act like fools when they go out to eat? Working at that welcome desk was like working in a pressure cooker; there was always a new drama, someone was always upset and everyone was hungry. It was pretty miserable.

When I look back on that time in my life it’s pretty clear to me that I had “dropped my basket.” Why did I stand at that desk night after night organizing a dining room for $12 an hour? Oh, right, it was so I could avoid thinking about how my life was in the toilet.

I had moved to Chicago to study theatre. Exciting! I had arrived with a boyfriend and a plan. By the time I got out of school I had no boyfriend and my only plan was to not end up back in Arkansas with my parents. Everything had changed and it was not necessarily for the better. I should probably have been doing something more productive with my time than handing out menus and putting asses in chairs, but I couldn’t. I was stuck.

By the time Andy arrived I had almost given up. This was it. I would just be a host for the rest of my life. There are worse things and far worse jobs. I noticed Andy on his first day of training because I had never seen a restaurant manager smile so much. He was like a little miniature sun. He was glowing. When you’re training to be a manager in a restaurant they make you work in all of the different departments. It’s supposed to help you become acquainted with how everything works. It’s mostly just low-level torture.

His first week of training was in the kitchen. There he was behind the line in his little chef’s outfit smiling like a dang crazy person. No one has ever looked so happy standing in front of 1400 degree charcoal grills. No. One.

I was on my lunch break and was super excited because we had a new special. It was pork medallions over a bed of greens and black-eyed peas. The only trouble was I didn’t want the pork. I just wanted a huge bowl of those black-eyed peas and a slice of cornbread. It reminded me of home. I was willing to pay whatever I had to for those peas. I placed my order and waited. Then the chef came over to me.

“You want the pork special without the meat?”

“Yep, I just want the black-eyed peas.”

“Just black-eyed peas? That doesn’t make any sense.”

“I’m from the South. That’s how we do. Is it a problem?”

“No.”

“Thank you.”

I waited. My order did not come up. Finally, I took matters into my own hands. I walked over to the only friendly face in the kitchen. I explained my order to Andy and the situation. I had paid for the peas, I just needed somebody to make them happen.

“You just want a bowl of black-eyed peas?”

“Yes, please.”

“Ummm, okay.”

I watched as he walked over to where the peas were kept. He took a bowl, filled it and handed it to me. I smiled and walked away.

I smiled because in that moment I knew that I had just met my husband. I know it sounds goofy, but it’s true. I knew when he handed me those black-eyed peas that it was done. There were years between this moment and our first date. Years. I was not ready to be dating someone and he was in a relationship. That was almost 10 years ago.

I am always on a quest to add meaning to what is happening in my life. How did this happen? What does that mean? I really believe that G-d is sending us messages all the time. I’m constantly trying to figure out what they are. What is G-d trying to tell me? I ended up working in that restaurant for a lot of reasons. I met wonderful people, I had amazing experiences. I learned so much about myself and about how the world works. That restaurant helped me to become a grown up. When I really think about that place, what I know for sure is that it brought me my husband. Yeah. G-d works in mysterious ways.

Give Peas a Chance photo 2

Our wedding anniversary is tomorrow, Oct. 17. When I think of us I always think of black-eyed peas. I know this is super Southern and might sound a little weird for to your Northern ears, but you really should try this. It’s easy and delicious. It’s my version of a Hoppin’ John.

Hoppin’ John

Ingredients

1 large yellow onion chopped (whatever kind of onion you love can be used)
3 carrots chopped
3 celery sticks chopped
2 15 oz cans of black eyed peas
1 15 oz can of whole kernel corn
2 10 oz cans of Rotel (I’m from the South, ya’ll)
10 oz frozen Lima beans thawed (you can used canned if you like)
2 cups rice (I use brown rice because Dr. Oz says so…2 bags of Uncle Ben’s 90 second rice will do the trick)
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
Salt & pepper to taste

Directions

Whisk olive oil and vinegar together in a small bowl and set aside.

Everything good starts with a fried onion, y’all. Fry the onion, celery and carrots in olive oil until tender. You don’t want these veggies to crunch and you don’t want them mushy. It’s a delicate balance. Do what’s right for you. I don’t think this takes more than five-ish minutes.

I use a lot of canned veggies because I’m always in a hurry. You can use frozen veggies if that’s your thing. The measurements aren’t hard-and-fast rules. Don’t be scared to experiment with the amounts for the stuff you’ve got. Mix your fried onion/carrot/celery goodness with the black-eyed peas and other veggies. Combine everything until you’ve got a real good distribution of all of the ingredients. Toss in the oil & vinegar mixture. Stir that around until everything is coated. Add salt and black pepper to your liking. This makes a really great vegetarian dinner or side dish. Enjoy! 

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The Woes of Being an Introvert Part 2

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10/15/2013

Abby Cooper photo

Ughhh, Adam stole my idea.

Before I read his whole introversion revelation, I was going to do an introversion revelation. So now I’ve got nothing. Goodbye.

Just kidding, I’m back – I thought of something to write about. Nobody worry. It’s under control.

When I started writing about anxiety way back when, I wasn’t exactly sure where I wanted to go with it. It’s hard to explain something to others that you’re still learning about yourself, but I wanted to try. As we know, anxiety takes many different forms and has many different causes. After reading Adam's post (you know, the one he stole from me), it occurred to me that a lot of my anxiety comes from being an introvert. Also, from people stealing my article ideas, but I digress.

Like Adam, I enjoy talking to myself and not talking to you. (And no, there will be no Oy!mance here. I am not the elusive “Adamantha.” Although maybe if he and I had known that we both hate small talk, we could’ve skipped to the huge talk and that one super awkward date we had would’ve only been slightly awkward.)

I usually pretend I’m on the phone to avoid you, and after a few “oops” moments I’ve learned to turn the ringer off before I do this so you don’t know I’m getting (and ignoring) an actual phone call during my fake phone call. It’s not that I’m anti-social – I have a lot of friends and I’m not even including my mom in that – it’s just that I really like being alone, and sometimes I’d rather talk to no one rather than to my best friend. While extroverts happily unwind after work with some friends at a bar, I’d much rather sit outside by myself with a book. To an extrovert, this may sound like self-inflicted torture, but that’s what their happy hours sound like to me.

The problem is I often feel like I’m in the minority. This might have to do with how I really am in the minority; introverts make up only about one third of the U.S. population. (It’s different in different places, interestingly enough. I’d fit right in in China, except for the whole not-knowing-Chinese thing.) And while I do have some introverted friends, I also have a whole bunch of extroverted friends who get frustrated when I don’t want to go out on Friday night because I’m too tired. “But I work more hours than you!” they’ll insist, as though their 8.5 hours of work are far more tiresome than my 8. It doesn’t matter. I’d still be tired if I worked two hours a day if those two hours were spent chitchatting with people, running around and generally being “on.” That kind of thing exhilarates extroverts, but exhausts introverts. This is why a lot of introverts have jobs in the arts. Freedom from set hours and small talk? Oh baby.

According to the amazing New York Times Bestseller Quiet by Susan Cain (highly recommended), our culture has been gradually developing an “Extrovert Ideal.” We’re increasingly expected to be vocal, outgoing, and a “people person" – and people who aren't like that should be. Children are being encouraged to play with others instead of by themselves more than ever before, as though there’s something bad or wrong with wanting to play alone. The mass opinion seems to be that there is something wrong with it – but as we’ve seen throughout history, sometimes the mass opinion isn’t the right one. What if Albert Einstein, Abraham Lincoln, J.K. Rowling or Rosa Parks – all introverts – had been told by a teacher, parent or friend to quit hanging out alone so much?

Anyway, back to my introvert anxiety. Because of culture, friends, and my own expectations of myself, I tend to feel bad whenever I engage in more introverted activities, like doing nothing. I am so great at doing nothing. And I love it very, very much. And I need it if you want me to be the upbeat, perky person you often see when I’m out in public. But after a little while of doing nothing, I start questioning everything, which is not what you’re supposed to do when you’re busy doing nothing. I wonder, what am I missing out on by doing nothing? What if something super awesome is happening out in the world and I’m missing it? It’s kind of like FOMO to the extreme. Instead of just enjoying my nothing, I get anxious because I feel like I should be doing something. In reality, the only things I should be doing are things that feel right to me, but for some reason I also want to do the things that feel right to everyone else, even though I don’t really want to do them – if that makes any sense at all. It’s like peer pressure, only it’s mostly coming from me … to me.

What it comes down to is I probably just need to tell myself to shut the eff up. You can help, if you want, by telling me to shut up if you ever see me on the street. It doesn’t matter if I’m not talking to you; my inner monologue is probably going a mile a minute and it’s probably being annoying.

In all seriousness, I think introversion needs to be redefined in our culture. Just as sensitive doesn’t describe a lowly person crying in a corner, an introvert is not a super shy person hovering under a rock at all times. We’re powerful and important, just in different ways than extroverts. Recognize it, world. And read Susan Cain’s book in the meantime.

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Going the Distance in Chicago

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10/14/2013

Going the Distance in Chicago photo 1

The fact that I just ran the Chicago Marathon for charity is a lie. Don’t get me wrong – I believe in the cause and I still have every intention of hitting my goal of raising $2500 to benefit PresenTenseIt’s just that the whole charity piece is really an excuse to do what I really want, which is run – run really far.

I started running almost eight years ago when I was 100 pounds overweight. Back then, I was good for about 30 seconds of slow jogging before getting winded. It wasn’t a pretty sight and I was embarrassed to be bumbling down the street all red-faced, sweaty, huffing, and puffing. I consoled myself saying that I probably looked more ridiculous sitting around all fat and doing nothing about it than I did when I was running. I would run as far as I could, walk to catch my breath and then try and run again.

Seconds turned into minutes. Minutes turned into city blocks. City blocks turned into miles. Miles turned into my first 10K race. From there I just kept running, each time trying to get a little farther and little faster. I have never won and I have never taken any awards or prize money. Each time I put on that bib, I am only competing with myself. I am only trying to beat my own personal best time or distance.

I am far from declaring myself an athlete, and I still feel the raw pain that comes with marathon training. Over 300 miles of training has physically beaten me down these last six months. I have fewer toe nails and more blisters. I have chaffed, bled, and ached everywhere. My body has rejected the abuse of my training all over itself in all sorts of uncomfortable and unimaginable ways. I assure you that it has not been glamorous. This has been no “fun run.”

Why do it then? I run because I can. I run because there was a time when I couldn’t do it or even imagine myself doing it. Now I can. Running is my Everest; it is there, and I must conquer it. Running 26.2 miles means that I can go from my home in Maryland, through DC, across the bridge into Virginia and back home again.

On Sunday, I attempted to run that distance in four hours or less. I came in just a couple minutes short at 4:02:53. Eight years ago, however, I couldn’t spend four hours on much of anything. Now I inspire myself and others to go the distance. 

Going the Distance in Chicago photo 2

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Filling the (Age) Gap

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Lech Lecha
8 Cheshvan 5774 / October 11-12, 2013
10/11/2013

Dan Horwitz photo

In this week's portion, we begin to learn a bit about Abraham (at the time, still called Abram). When introduced, Abram is already 75 years old; granted the years might have been a calculated a bit differently back then, given that biblical characters were often cited as living very long lives. (Noah, for example, is said to have lived to the ripe old of age of 950!) This little bit of information alone leaves me with so many questions, such as:

What were Abram's first 75 years like?

Why did God wait so long to give him instructions?

After 75 years, wouldn't Abram have been such a creature of habit that he would've protested somehow when asked to leave his home?

Fortunately, we have a vast rabbinic tradition of trying to answer such questions.

For example, the Midrash helps shed some light on what Abram might have been like as a younger man, and why God might have chosen him:

Terach, Abram's father, worshipped and sold carved idols. Once when he was away, he left Abram in charge. An old man came to make a purchase. Abram asked him his age, and the man said he was between fifty and sixty years old. Abram mocked him, questioning how he could view the carvings of another man's hands, produced perhaps only a few hours ago, as his god. The man was convinced and gave up idol worship. Later that day, a woman came with a handful of choice flour as an offering to the idols. Abram took a stick and broke all the idols except the largest one, andplaced the stick in its hand. When his father returned and saw the damage, he demanded an explanation. Abram explained that when the flour offering was brought, the idols fought with one another as to which should be the recipient; and that in the end, the biggest of them took up a stick and destroyed the others. Terach was not convinced…

[Paraphrased from Genesis Rabbah 38]

For millennia, Jews have tried to fill in the gaps in our sacred texts, and to answer the questions that don't seem to have readily apparent answers. While predictably frustrating at first, this has created an incredible opportunity for creativity.  There is now a genre being referred to as "contemporary midrash" (this link shares quite a bit about BibleRaps.com, which is awesome), allowing for us today to fill in those gaps we perceive in the text.

This Shabbat, reflect on the questions you have about the Torah that are unanswered. Seek out those potential answers offered by our ancestors. If you don't find them satisfying (or even if you do), get creative and compose your own Midrash. And then share it with me! In this way, we can all engage with the Torah's narratives (even the tricky ones), and continue the millennia-old Jewish tradition of exegesis.

Wishing you a Shabbat shalom,

Rabbi Dan

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What's My Age Again?

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10/11/2013

What's My Age Again? photo

The first of what is sure to be many, many engagements was brought to my attention via Facebook this week. The happy couple whom I have known for some time suddenly looked different to me: older, more mature, and quite frankly brimming with a kind of happiness that I am having a hard time standing.

At 23 years old people are getting engaged? As in engaged to be married? As in married for the rest of their lives? Apparently so. I had an inkling this day was coming and I thought when it did I would be ready (and slightly older) for it. I'm not.

And that's when it really hit me. That I have six very good friends, and of those six, six have serious boyfriends. Is marriage really around the corner, on the horizon, being "discussed" within these relationships?

It's like you're in grade school when you write his last name with your first and wonder what your kids might look like, except it's now and we’re 23. The 23rd year of life just rolled around and a switch got flipped. My friends without boyfriends got them and got serious, and those who had ex-boyfriends got back together with them, and got even more serious.

Sometimes I don't feel old enough to have a degree or even to drive a car and on the complete other extreme people feel old enough to get married and commit their life to someone. I can't even commit to what I'm eating for dinner, let alone another individual. If we commit to a relationship does that mean we've already committed to everything else?

Maybe you hit 23 and it's time to move away from nights out with your girlfriends and toward nights in with your boyfriend. Or, maybe you realize that the prospect of an engagement isn't what's holding you back from a relationship but the idea that you're growing up is. Or maybe you hit 23 and realize you're just 23. 

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The Woes of Being an Introvert and Other Shenanigans

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10/10/2013

The Woes of Being an Introvert and Other Shenanigans photo

I used to think I was shy. Turns out I’m not. Hi, my name is Adam and I’m an introvert. Now, could you please go away? It’s not that I don’t like being around people; it’s more that I don’t like people.

Okay, that’s not true. You’re alright. You came here to read this, which makes you fantastic so you should stay. See, what I crave is introversion and when I consume it, I digest the world at my best. And in my rapidly aging age, I could do well with an increased metabolism.

I used to mistake my introversion as me being shy, but this is hardly the case. Okay, maybe it’s partly the case but more accurately, it’s not my lack of desire to be social; it’s my full non-lack of undesire to always be experiencing every moment to the fullest. If that sentence is confusing just understand it’s a double negative which tends to prove positive.

What I yearn for is interactions with others that are always meaningful and not just trying to pass the time. Seriously, the idea of small talk scares the crap out of me. It’s why I wear adult diapers when I mingle. When I have exchanges with others, I find nothing more stimulating than deep, thought-provoking conversation. Being challenged mentally and exchanging true ideas and views while respecting others differing opinions is an experience that is too few and far between for most of us. Yes, I love talking about movies. Yes, I love griping about the love/hate relationship I have with the CTA. And yes, I love talking about other mindless shenanigans (title tie-in here – I’m clever), but when push comes to shove, I shove to push the conversation to places we rarely tread but often desire.

Being an introvert, sometimes I simply need time to myself. I having nothing against anyone – well, except that one person. You know who you are. But you, my attractive reader, again, you’re alright. Anyway, time with myself, when it’s by choice, are some of the greatest times of my life. I recently had the extremely rare pleasure of having a full 48 hours entirely to myself. It was incredible. I didn’t leave the apartment. I didn’t see anyone. And most importantly, I didn’t wear pants for two days straight. So what did I do in these two days you ask? Go ahead. Ask.

Well, since you asked….nothing. I did nothing. And it was glorious – marvelous even. Odd how marvelous it even was. And it was helped immensely by my fridge being chock full of Rosh Hashanah leftovers, but that was just a tiny, gargantuan perk.

When I’m a man about town (though I’m usually a man about SpaghettiOs, I like to wear headphones to deter people from interacting with me. I like my privacy while in public, so if you must know, I don’t necessarily have my headphones plugged into anything. I just want the illusion that I’m socially unavailable while out in public. Although sometimes I will plug them into an apple, just so I can show off my new Apple product. It’s called the “idont,” as in “idont want to talk to you.”

Wow. That was terrible. That was like a horrendous tweet with an even more horrendous hashtag serving as the punch line. Please excuse me while I go make a horrendous tweet with an even more horrendous hashtag serving as the punch line.

I have no good segue here.

I love mirrors. If you know me, or are around me from anywhere between now and 30 seconds from now, you will know this to be oh so true. I will always, always, stop in front of a mirror. Sometimes to give myself a hello, a compliment or a short chat. But mostly just to make silly faces and funny voices, though sometimes I like to get a little flirty with myself because those blue eyes – my God, those blue eyes.

I also enjoy talking to myself. Not in the crazy “yelling out loud on the bus” kind of way, which sometimes just happens, but more in the honest self-reflection kind of way. It all goes back to my Birthright trip and my experience at the Western Wall. I openly and truly talked to myself that day in a way in which I’ve never been able to properly replicate. Being by myself and having my alone time allows for as similar experience as possible. Sure, I also do funny voices and make silly faces, but that’s only because I find myself highly entertaining. I’m very funny – and popular. And attractive. And narcissistic.

But although I enjoy talking to myself, when I’m around people I’m not terribly acquainted with, I am terrible at initiating small talk, which usually turns out to be terrible. Hence, I prefer huge talk. With small talk, it feels very phony to me. More so that I feel like I’m forcing conversation that isn’t exhilarating for either of us. I’m not interesting to begin with, so if you make me participate in small talk, you’re liable to be pummeled with a nap attack.

Because I travel a bunch for work and I am often by myself (not by choice), this happens a lot in restaurants. I get what I like to call “All By Myself Restaurant Anxiety.” I really like talking to the waiters, waitresses, bartenders, bartendresses, bus boys and bus girltresses, but I suck at initiating conversations and conversationesses. If the server wanted to chat a moment, I’d be more than happy to strike up conversation. But when it comes down to it, I’d rather sit there naked than be the one that initiates it. I’ve been kicked out of a lot of restaurants.

What all this comes down to is I love being by myself. I do actually enjoy being social and outgoing but sometimes that introversion kicks in and then I very much enjoy hanging out with just me. If I could find a female version of me, I’d be set. I’d call her … Adamantha. Kind of just flops off the tongue there. See, it’s not that I’m socially awkward. It’s that I’m awkward socially. Fine. I’m just awkward.

Oh, and could you please not tell anyone about this blog post? I don’t want to draw attention to myself. I apprecia—just caught myself in a mirror. Excuse me.

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Gym-Free

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10/09/2013

I love working out at lunch time. I am incredibly lucky to have a gym that I can walk to and if it’s raining outside, I won’t even get wet. When I get back to the office I am pumped up and ready to take on the rest of the day – before passing out for 30 minutes on the Metra ride home. I forgo lunch with friends, coworkers, and bosses to get in a quick workout.

When my gym membership expired at the beginning of September, I had a crazy thought: What if I take a month off the gym? I can have lunch with friends, run errands, and take some time to study for my newest personal training class from the Postural Restoration Institute. I have a ridiculous amount of equipment at home, why not workout in the evening?

If you work out before or after work you have to be really dedicated. Life gets in the way real fast, especially if you have a child. I often bring my 2-year-old son to the basement to workout with me. I love it, but it can be ridiculous:

• Cones are used as hats
• Whatever equipment I’m using is quickly stolen and usually used as a neck tie
• Whenever I’m pressing a kettle bell over my head, a 30-pound ball of energy jumps on top of me (which always scares me).

Gym-Free photo

The many uses of bands and cones.

Often times I wait until my son is asleep before I exercise. It’s about 8-8:30 p.m. after I pull myself away from watching some show I just can’t quit with my wife that I work out. At that hour, it’s really, really hard to stay motivated and focused. When the trainer self-talk (usually, come on Ron, you can’t be the fat trainer) gets me motivated, I finish the workout, but I’m screwed. It’s only 9:30 p.m. but my heart rate will not drop and I’ll lie in bed, jealous of my wife who’s sleeping better than our baby. Long story short, my workouts have not been the best this month.

I know some of you will not like this statement, but I lost a few pounds. It was muscle, however, which is not a good thing. A combination of not lifting as much weight and eating less is the culprit. Switching it up with more stretching and yoga-type exercises have been a nice break for my joints, but it’s not the same for me. There’s something therapeutic to running around a weight room like a deranged person.

The biggest change I’ve noticed during my hiatus is anxiety level. I don’t consider myself an anxious person, but I’ve felt really stressed. Workload, family – nothing has really changed. Am I going crazy? Why am I so anxious? And then it hit me as my wife politely asked, “Did you rejoin the gym yet?” My anti-anxiety medication is the gym! I really miss the routine.

For those of you that do not have the option to pump some iron at lunch, how do you do it?

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#learntowritesentences

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10/08/2013

Lia Lehrer photo

#hashtagsaredumb

#whydontyouknowhowtowritearealsentence

#GRAMMAR

#isyourspacebarbroken

#areallofyourpunctuationmarkkeysbroken

#ifyestotheabovetwoquestionsthenithinkitistimetobuyanewkeyboard

#youremployersthinkyouarestupid

#english

#ifyouwriteasentencelikethisitwontbesearchablesowhatsthepoint

#hashtagsarefineforeventslike #abcconference2013 #butotherthanthat #theyaresilly

#andicouldnthaveexplainedmyfeelingsbetterthan #jimmyfallon #and #justintimberlake

#soenjoythisvideothatiloved

#sincerelylia

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A place for my stuff

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10/07/2013

Cindy Sher photo 2

All this talk about Sukkot, which we just celebrated, got me thinking about dwellings and homes—especially this year.

See, I’m moving into a new apartment, but the lease hasn’t started yet. Unlike our Jewish ancestors who wandered in the desert for 40 years, I figured I’d be wandering for a little less—about two months—the gap between my residency at my old place and my new place.

I either had to track down a sukkah—stat—or figure something else out. Lucky for me, a generous friend asked me to stay with her until my new lease starts up. Just as it’s a mitzvah to invite someone into his or her sukkah, it’s a huge mitzvah to invite someone into her one-bedroom apartment for two months to camp out on her sleeper sofa.

To save space in the interim, I packed up two suitcases full of necessities, and put all my other possessions in storage with friends across the Chicago area. During my nomadic journey these last couple months, I’ve learned three valuable lessons about people:

1) People adapt.

Anyone who knows me knows I like things tidy, which you may choose to interpret as a euphemism for “compulsive.” I just like everything, literally and figuratively—I’m sure Freud would have a field day with this—neat, stable, and in its place.

Keys not in the “key spot?” Seems like a good way to lose your keys if you ask me.

Pair of shoes haphazardly strewn outside the closet? Well that’s just silly.

Bed unmade? Not on my watch. Okay, work with me on this one—I’ve read studies that making your bed is one of the easiest ways to boost happiness levels, according to Happier at Home author Gretchen Rubin.

But I quickly learned, despite my neat-freakiness tendencies, it’s impossible to have things in their place when one’s possessions are packed away in storage containers scattered across the Chicago metropolitan area. So I just stayed cool and went with it.

We humans adapt to whatever is thrown our way—and believe me, in ways a heck of a lot more dire than mine. Jews, in particular, have been forced to adapt to new situations, surroundings, and homes throughout our history.

In extreme times—such as being expelled from Spain in 1492—we adapted. And in less extreme situations—such as having a two-month gap in home rental—we adapt to that too.

2) People don’t need a lot of stuff.

I laugh every time I think of the late comedian George Carlin’s classic routine “A Place for My Stuff.” In his stream of consciousness-style act, Carlin determines that everyone’s just looking for a place to put their stuff. “…That’s all you need in life, a place for your stuff,” he says. “That’s all your house is—a place to keep your stuff. If you didn’t have so much stuff, you wouldn’t need a house. You could just walk around all the time. A house is just a pile of stuff with a cover on it…And when you leave your house, you gotta lock it up. Wouldn’t want somebody to come by and take some of your stuff. They always take the good stuff.”

As hilarious as Carlin is, I discovered we don’t need as much stuff as Carlin purported. With my stuff in storage, I’ve been living with a fraction of my possessions. And, guess what? It’s sort of liberating. After all, with less stuff, there’s less stuff to find places to put it all in. And, referring back to my earlier compulsive confession, there’s less stuff to make neat and tidy.

We live in a hyper-consumer culture, where we’re constantly bombarded with messages telling us to go out and spend money on the latest, newest, shiniest 2.0 version of everything.

But I’ll let you in on a little secret: We don’t really need all that stuff.

It turns out that fourth pair of denim “jeggings” I just had to buy is not the necessity I originally predicted. And the sun continues to rise every day even though my high school yearbook—the one with a couple very awkward pictures of me and inscriptions from similarly awkward former classmates—is packed away in a box somewhere. Finally, don’t tell John Travolta, but I indeed will survive a few weeks without my Grease DVD (please don’t judge me; I’m a woman without a home).

We need food, clothing, and shelter—and sadly many people don’t have that. We also need great family and friends. But do we need fluorescent magenta wine glasses (also in one of my storage bins somewhere)? Probably not.

3) People are really nice.

At least the people I know are. Through the Jewish grapevine, friends, family, and even mere acquaintances discovered I needed a place to stay and stepped it up immediately. We all know space is at a premium here in Chicago, and yet at least a dozen people reached out to offer me a place to hang my hat. When we read about all the bad in the world, it’s heartwarming to keep in mind that most people out there are decent, generous souls.

Around the first of the month, my time as a nomad will thankfully come to an end. I’ll hopefully be unpacking a box as you read this very column. Now, if only I could find a place for these jeggings. 

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You've Got to Be Joking

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10/04/2013

Old Jews 5

An older Jewish man is waiting for some test results at the doctor’s office. The doctor comes in and says, “I’m afraid I have some bad news and some really bad news.”

Alarmed, the old man says, “ok, tell me the really bad news first.”

“You have cancer,” says the doctor.

“Oy, that’s terrible,” says the old man. “What’s the bad news?”

“You also have Alzheimer’s.”

“Well,” the old man says, “at least I don’t have cancer!”

Yesterday, I saw the play "Old Jews Telling Jokes," which just made its Chicago premiere at the Royal George Theatre and runs through Feb. 16. In addition to a barrage of jokes (including the one above), there are a handful of monologues, and in one, a young man tells of a conversation with his father in which his father tells him that he has terminal cancer. The young man’s response is to tell a hospital joke, and the father jokes back, and two go back and forth telling jokes until they’re hysterical. The laughter follows them to a family dinner where the young man’s girlfriend chastises him, saying “some things you just don’t joke about.”

Whether it’s race, religion, gender, or tragedy – there are some things we’re told are off limits to humor. I understand the sentiment, but I’m not sure I agree. To make a joke at the expense of one of these touchy subject matters, you still have to follow the main rules of comedy – know your audience and know the context.

As I began typing an earlier portion of this blog post, a colleague – also Jewish – came into my office and asked about plans for sharing an image on social media commemorating the 75th Anniversary of Kristallnacht, or “night of the broken glass,”the biggest warning sign the Nazis would give of the impending Holocaust. He went on to tell me how earlier today he had to ask someone over the phone if they knew what Kristallnacht was. “The drug?” the person responded. I then assured him the image we should share about Kristallnacht would not be the logo from the show “Breaking Bad” (in which the main character cooks crystal meth) featuring the words “Breaking Glass.”

Perhaps to someone who watched in horror as Nazis destroyed Jewish shops and synagogues, making light of that horrible moment in Jewish history wouldn’t be acceptable. Maybe even to some without that connection. And though I was able to sweep aside the seriousness of the subject matter in favor of the perfect storm of clever wordplay, pop culture and the opportune moment, I also understood that seriousness. I knew my audience, I knew the context. Might someone have been offended? Probably.

Safe to say most Jews regard the Holocaust as off limits for humor. You won’t even find any Holocaust humor in “Old Jews Telling Jokes,” even though the show’s one artistic idea – the one thing it wants its audience to take away – is there’s always time for a joke. There’s no caveat in the little ditty they sing at the start and close of the show that includes lines about not listening to anyone who tells you otherwise. Do we, the Jews, known for our humor, have a double standard?

I learned about the Holocaust in every stage of public school and religious school. I’ve seen the movies and the plays and read the books. I’ve been to local, national and international museums; I’ve visited work camps and death camps. The only thing I don’t have is a personal connection to the tragedy. I’ve never once endured the hardship that year after year we celebrate having overcome, from Egyptian bondage to Auschwitz.

But if our ancestors, the ones who wandered in the desert for 40 years, could hear the millions of today’s kids who year after year sing “Pharaoh, Pharaoh, whoa baby, let my people go!” would they be outraged? Would the Jews of Shushan be okay with dozens of kids dressing up as Haman? Like those stories of tyranny and horror from long ago, will the Holocaust one day be treated with a sense of … humor?

I’ve always wondered why Jews are particularly adept with humor, from the Borscht Belt days and the Marx Brothers to Seinfeld, Sandler and Sandberg. How could we have endured this long if we couldn’t laugh about it? Our entire history is a story of overcoming adversity time and time again. You’ve got to have a sense of humor to endure that kind of repetitive persecution. We know too well how life can be too cruel, too unfair and too stressful, to take too seriously.

In the same monologue I mentioned earlier, the young man whose father has cancer explains that a year later, his father is dying and the son (with a new girlfriend) sits beside his death bed. “Are you comfortable?” he asks his father. “I make a decent living,” the father says.

The opposite of grief is not joy, but laughter. When we laugh, we let go. We are detached. We are present. The same is true when we make a joke, no matter the circumstances, no matter how hard it may seem to find the humor.

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29 and Braces-Free at Last

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10/02/2013

29 and Braces-Free at Last photo 1

My quarter as a graduate student at Northwestern University just started, but I may as well have just come back to high school from summer vacation. Yesterday morning my braces came off. When I smile at you—as I’m doing a lot right now—it’s non-metallic and without a grill. You guys remember that feeling? I’m here to tell you now: it’s exactly as awesome as you remember.

The story of why I needed braces is boring, but the story of how I came to need braces is pretty good, though the squeamish may want to skip the next paragraph.

Back in my first year of college, there was this boy in our dorm that everybody loved. (He had a girlfriend, but we still all liked him.) One day I was wandering down our smooth-as-marble concrete hallways, wearing socks, when I happened to see him in another friend’s room. I thought I would execute a smooth about-face and hang out in the doorway. Instead I fell flat on my face and—well, I need a crown now, so: braces at 29.

I bet you can relate to this. I had braces from fourth grade through my junior year of high school. My orthodontist actually lived across the street from me (and yes, he always gave out sugar-free chewing gum and toothbrushes on Halloween). When it came to wacky rubber band colors and combinations, I did it all, including (natch) glow-in-the-dark. I had rubber bands, I had retainers I didn’t wear—I had my first kiss with braces. He didn’t have them, nor did any of my other high school boyfriends, but I always wondered if the getting-stuck-together thing could actually happen.

Hilariously enough, this spring, as soon as I announced that I would be getting braces again, everyone cheered me on.

“You’ll look super cute with them!”

“A lot of people our age seem to be getting braces right now.”

“You never know, I know some guys who are really into girls with braces.”

29 and Braces-Free at Last photo 2

It was totally not the reaction I was expecting, but it was absolutely the reality of having them. (Well, except for finding the braces-liking dudes to date, but if anyone’s looking, I’ve still got ‘em on my bottom teeth.) That support—or really, the not-caring about this trip back to teenage-hood—made things easier when my whole mouth ached, or when I couldn’t floss without extensive maneuvering, or (to my shame) when everyone knew what I’d had for lunch.

The timing on this is great. If you’re going to reach for a neat plot point in all this, I’m in my last quarter of graduate school. Now begins the job hunt, the next steps, the trajectory out of school and back into the “real world.” I was worried about potential employers taking me seriously with braces. But now I have better problems.

Yesterday afternoon I sat in a waiting room with about 10 middle-schoolers, all of us half-watching the end of A Bug’s Life. Finally my turn came, and I sat down to try on my brand new retainer. I have to wear it whenever I’m not eating, drinking or brushing my teeth; otherwise my teeth will move. It’s clear plastic—I remember chewing through a couple of them in high school. But the best part is keeping them clean.

I clean this lovely new retainer—my next step to getting my crown—with denture cleaner. They’re quarter-sized green tablets that fizz when you drop them in water. You remember every cartoon of an old person ever, reaching for their fake teeth in a glass on their bed stand.

That’s my future until I can get my crown. I’ve gone from rubber bands to denture cleaner, all in the space of a day.

No sweat on my part, though. I’m going to look super cute doing it.

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The Champs are Back!

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10/01/2013

The Champs are Back! photo

After last year’s strike-shortened season, it’s hard to believe the Blackhawks will open their 2013-2014 season tonight at the United Center. But nobody in Chicago is complaining; the Blackhawks will raise their Stanley Cup Championship banner into the UC rafters, and the quest to repeat will officially begin.

Coming off their championship season, Blackhawks management took the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” approach into the offseason, using most of their moves to retain the cup-winning team from last season. And why not? After starting the year with a record-setting 24 games without a regulation loss streak and finishing it as Stanley Cup champions, it’s clear they did something right. But let’s not forget, much of the Blackhawks’ success came from their depth. And with the losses of Michael Frolik, Viktor Stalberg, and Dave Bolland, that depth took a hit. But the organization has proven that they can find guys to surround their core – the question will be, is this the right group of guys?

Repeating is more difficult in the NHL than any other league – the last team to do it being the ’97-’98 Red Wings. So it’s hard to go into this season with those expectations. They are not going to go 24 games without a regulation loss. They may not win their division, even with Detroit moving to the East. But this team still has a shot, because they have the most talented, dangerous duo in hockey.

To me, the ‘Hawks need to build on the forward steps they made last year, particularly from goalie Corey Crawford. Craw earned his payday after last season, but it is important to note he got a lot of help during the regular season from backup Ray Emery, who left for Philadelphia. Nikolai Khabibulin, making his return to the Blackhawks, is a bit old and will not be able to split starts in the regular season with Crawford. We are going to need to see Crawford become the consistent everyday starter that we saw many great flashes of in last year’s playoffs.

You also need to see steps forward from Bryan Bickell and Brandon Saad. Both played major roles in propelling the Blackhawks to the championship last season, and we need to see them become regular contributors this season.

Even though it is really, really tough to repeat, I think the Blackhawks have a legitimate shot. If anything, they need to worry about the hungry, improved teams around them. The Pittsburgh Penguins got a raw deal last year with the Crosby injury, the Bruins are still a major threat, the Red Wings pushed the ‘Hawks to the brink last year and, with their move to the East, could now be a potential Stanley Cup opponent, and the Blues could be their toughest division rival. The Blackhawks will need to stay healthy, particularly Kane, Toews and Crawford. I think this team will be able to score (so a healthy dose of “Chelsea Dagger”), and if they can stay on the ice, protect the goal and kill the penalty with consistency, they have a real shot.

And the way I see it, they’ll need to figure out how to share Grant Park this summer with the Bulls …

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