OyChicago blog

“It was 20 years ago today…”

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Reflections on two decades at JUF

Paul Wieder photo 2013

I started working at the Jewish United Fund in 1994, on Oct. 10, a day after my birthday. In that time, I’ve had two marriages, three kids, three pets, eight places of residence … and one place of work.

I could tell you the story of how I came to work here, or how I got my internship here when I was still in college even before officially becoming an employee. But these stories — funny as parts of them are — would only be interesting if you knew the people involved.

I could tell you about all the Jewish history I have witnessed while here — American, Israeli, European, even African. I was in our old office building — just blocks away from the Sears Tower — on 9/11. I was here when the Soviet Jews were resuced to Israel and America (and elsewhere). I have been here through war in Israel, and peace … and then war again.

“It was 20 years ago today…” photo 1

Walk with Israel 2001

I could tell you about all the amazing people I have met. Some were dedicated volunteers. Some were active philanthropists. Some were entertainers or politicians, and even the ones whose politics I disagreed with were completely in line with JUF’s mission of providing help and, admittedly, very personable and nice. I could name-drop enough A-listers I have heard, interviewed and shaken hands with to warrant its own article.

“It was 20 years ago today…” photo 2

JUF's Communications department, that's me on the left

When I had just graduated college, John, the foreman in my dad’s custom furniture shop, asked me a question:

“I never went to college,” he said, “So what did you learn? I don’t mean stuff I could look up in a book. I mean what did you learn?”

This made me think for a second.

“I learned that some people don’t want your help,” I finally replied, “And that sometimes even if you ask, the answer is ‘No.’”

He smiled wryly. “It was worth it. I wish I had known those things at your age.”

So in the spirit of John’s question, here is what I have learned in 20 years at JUF:

I learned that the capacity for human beings to hope is limitless. I have seen over and over, in my years here, natural disasters devastating a town, here or abroad. But every time, JUF raises money and sends volunteers, and Israel sends a field hospital and recovery crew. We don’t know these people. We just know that they are people, and that we can help.

I learned that societal acceptance and economic prosperity create a positive feedback loop. The more open a society is, the better off it tends to be financially. Openness leads to possibility and opportunity, which lead to inventiveness and adventurousness in academics, the arts, the sciences, and commerce. Once it’s OK to be who you are, you can become who you want, and bring everyone along for the ride. The opposite environment — oppression, intolerance, and just-plain-bullying — creates the opposite, negative result.

I learned that people will always surprise you. You never know how people will react, what they will say, or if their beliefs are consistent or predictable. So it’s best to be honest and give people the chance to be kind. It’s also best to really listen — almost every time I have mentally finished someone else’s sentence, I’ve been wrong.

I learned that everyone pretty much agrees on what the problems facing society are; they just have different ways of trying to solve those problems. They are coming at the same issue from another angle, and until you trace their beliefs and methods back to their sources, you are never going to appreciate that. You can’t ever argue people out of their beliefs, even with evidence. What you can do is find out why they hold those views so strongly (hint: it’s usually fear) and then work to remove that fear.

I learned that while individuals can inspire, it is groups that accomplish, especially big things.

I learned that all the good intentions in the world cannot feed one hungry person, but even one dollar can.

I learned that any excuse is good enough to avoid helping, and any reason is good enough to start.

I learned that hate is usually the result of ignorance, and that culture — including cuisine, music, and other arts — is far from inessential and dismissible. Experiencing another’s culture, distinct as it may seem from one’s own, is the best tool for forming friendships across barriers. With every “Oh! We do that, too!” the barriers are revealed to be much smaller than we’d imagined.

I learned that when you believe in other people, and say so, it helps them believe in themselves.

I learned that Judaism works. Something about this set of rules and rituals and stories and songs and judges and jesters — all swirled together in an alchemy of uncertain proportions — led to the creation of the Jewish people, one of the most productive and resilient groups planet Earth has ever hosted. Even with every empire throwing all its laws and armies at us, we are still here, and they are in museums (that we are on the boards of). And not just here, but thriving and contributing to the world well beyond what our percentage of the population would imply.

The title of this post, of course, also opens the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper album. That album contains the question: “Will you still need me when I’m 64?” I hope the problems that JUF addresses — poverty, persecution, passivity — are all solved by then. But in case they are not, I know that JUF will still be here, just as it has been since 1900 (and I think I know what longevity is), holding up the banner of hope.


A recipe for a lazy Sunday

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A recipe for a lazy Sunday photo 1

Hubs and I are both huge fans of breakfast.  In fact, lazy Sundays are some of my favorite days.

On a rare occasion, the munchkin sleeps over at her grandparents’ house and hubs and I have our lazy Sunday mornings all to ourselves.

I relish those Sundays that we get to sneak away for breakfast together at one of our many local eateries.  I sip on my cream-loaded coffee while hubs asks the waiter about every single item on the menu and then decides he still needs a few more minutes.

It’s the kind of morning where I can relax, chat with hubby about all the latest gossip and not worry that I will have a crayon torpedoed at my head by the giggling munchkin.

When it finally comes to ordering, hubs is usually teetering between a skillet of some sort or the classic lox and bagel combination.

Typically the skillet wins and as he mops up the list bit of egg yolk with his toast he says, “You know what would be good with this?  Lox.  Lox would have been good.”

So on a Sunday that was not so lazy for me, after I spent the better part of the morning chasing after munchkin and arguing over what she is having for breakfast she had finally exhausted herself and was ready for her first nap.

Typically this is the time that I get to sit down and enjoy a cup of coffee in peace.  But then hubs woke up (he is late to rise) and he said he was hungry…and he wanted me to surprise him.

In no mood whatsoever for creativity, I glanced through my end-of-the-week almost empty fridge and sighed.  What’s a girl to do?

I stared at some leftover lox, a whole wheat English muffin, some veggies and 2 eggs.

No skillets were to be had today.  None at all.  We had better things to create.

Since hubs always wanted his eggs with his lox…I figured why not give it to him!

The smoky and salty salmon I had leftover was going to be perfect against a creamy egg.  And add it all on a whole wheat English muffin, I say we have some pretty tantalizing eats!  Not to mention clean eats!

And what better way to eat a salmon and egg sandwich then with the most delicate egg of all: the poached egg.


Smoked Salmon Eggwich


2 square foot sized pieces of saran wrap 
2 ramekins
a few drizzles of olive oil
2 whole eggs
1 whole wheat English muffin cut in half and toasted
4 oz of smoked salmon
2-4 large slices of beefsteak or heirloom tomatoes
a few rings of red onion slices
half an avocado, sliced
salt and pepper to taste
2 tbsp of vinegar


1. First you need 2 foot size square pieces of saran wrap and 2 ramekins.

2. Place the saran wrap into the ramekins and dribble a bit of olive oil into it.

3. In the meantime, add 2 tbsp of vinegar to a pot of water with about 4 inches of water in it. Bring it up to a gentle simmer over medium heat.

4. Crack one egg into each ramekin. Now you see why we use the olive oil? It is going to help the egg from sticking. Feel free to sprinkle some salt and pepper on it now, or you can do so after. Up to you.

5. Gather all four corners of the saran wrap and tie it. You are creating little egg purses :)

A recipe for a lazy Sunday photo 2 A recipe for a lazy Sunday photo 3

6. Once your water is simmering. Drop in your little purses of eggs into the water and let them cook for 3-4 minutes. I like mine a little tighter so I let them cook the whole 4 minutes.

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7. While those puppies are boiling away...toast your English muffin (I prefer the 100 calorie whole wheat ones). Slice up a nice juicy tomato. A few rings of red onion and just a few slices of avocado will do ya'. And you will need about 2 pieces of smoked salmon per piece of twist, so about 4 oz.

8. Remove the egg from the water with a slotted spoon and place it on a cutting board. Cut the saran open by snipping the top off.

9. Start making your sandwich by first placing the smoked salmon on the toasty bread, followed by your avocado slices, tomato slices and onion rings.

10. Slowly, place your poached egg on top and sprinkle with salt and pepper if you have not yet done so.

11. And let your eager hungry hubby break the yolk :) Liquid sunshine on a plate.


The Stories We Tell

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Ashley Kolpak photo

There’s something about the stories we share – from person to person, taking part in one of the world’s oldest traditions. A few weeks ago, I was reminded of the power stories have to captivate, to illuminate. What am I going on about? Let me start at the beginning.

Recently, I’ve constantly been hearing that the “live lit” scene is exploding in Chicago. I’ve been instructed more than once to, “Go to The Paper Machete at Green Mill!” My curiosity regarding the scene was piqued. Enter an invite from my trusty Oy!Chicago editors to check out a live lit/storytelling event entitled “Guts and Glory.” I didn’t know what to expect. A little inspiration, perhaps?

So on a Wednesday night I walked over to Schuba’s. As I enter it buzzes with a quiet energy. The dim, twinkly lights seem to say, “Fall is here, might as well partake in an amber-hued ambience.” I climb the stairs and take a seat. Over the next hour or so, the audience is treated to a treasure trove of stories running the gamut from humorous, every-day observations to deeply personal, wrenching tales with a little bit of everything in between.

The five or six Chicagoans (including Chicago transplants) sharing their stories light up the room with wit, live-wire energy, and a sense of thriving in the moment. Everything about it feels analog and present, a trip to a slightly different time. Though some participants read from their iPads, the gestures and intonation of each performance charm and entice the audience in the manner of  a live theater show. The event is a raw, unaffected display of heart, guts and glory (pardon the pun). I feel 16 again, sitting in playwriting class and taking in the creations of my fellow students. (And I mean that in the best way!) In the manner all possibilities can be explored, every idea can be expounded upon, every story is a jumping off point for thousands more. It’s that one-of-a-kind feeling live theater bestows on its audience.

Witnessing storytellers relay their creations in real-time, complete with wildly emotive facial expressions is something special. I quickly grew enamored of this “live lit” thing. As a spectator, my little writer/actress mind shook awake. What would I write? As the last reader takes the stage, she shares a story so funny, poignant, irreverent centered on one of the most universal topics around: a mother/daughter relationship. She commands the stage as she flips through the pages of her book and reads aloud. After the evening finished, I pondered quietly. How to create an experience, a story so multi-faceted, so real, so warm, so engaging? I’ll just have to learn by attending more live lit events.

In fact, Oy!Chicago is hosting a live lit event called “Oy! Let Me Tell You …” on Nov. 19. You should come! It’s at 7 p.m. at Matilda (3101 N. Sheffield Ave.) and I’m contemplating tossing my hat in the ring. What will be the story I tell? Will it be full of lively, well-refined pizzazz? A touch of sassy chutzpah? Will anyone learn anything from it? Who knows? I’m looking forward to putting pen to paper, and perhaps getting up in front of a live audience.


It’s Not Too Late

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It’s Not Too Late photo

I know I’m late. I’m always late. (Heck – this blog post is late.) The High Holiday blogs have long since been published and Passover matzah but a dry and pasty memory, but and still, as someone who’s always late I am OK with my writing being slightly less in the news of the moment. (And I have no interest/ability in tackling the Ebola “pandemic.”)

So indulge me for a minute, as we go back in time, (literally/figuratively) to the High Holidays …

My parents were coming over for dinner to break the fast. During the High Holidays, my parents were (as usual) absent from temple services. The kids were angling (as usual) for future exemptions because, (insert annoyingly whiney voices) “Grandma and Grandpa don’t go! We never learn anything! Wah!” (Not factoring in of course the other grandmother, past president of the temple etc. etc.)

My kids have asked me several times why my parents didn’t attend services and they were very unsatisfied by my repeated answer of:

“Papa thought about being a rabbi, but became a psychologist instead, and Grandma felt she got a lot of mixed messages about Judaism when she was as a little girl, so she does it in her own way. They just don’t go to temple.”

I have to say as unsatisfied as they were with my explanation, I was kind of unsatisfied with it myself. But so many years had gone by; it seemed kind of late for me to bring up the topic. So, in turn, I decided to empower the kids and throw the Grandparents to the wolves. I mean, the big scary Book was already written and closed for the season; if I was in trouble with G-d, it was too late anyway.

I prompted the kids after we had all noshed a little.

“So? Don’t you have a question for Grandma and Papa?” I prodded. “Ask them.”

My parents perked up and braced themselves simultaneously. My kids are rarely focused enough to ask their grandparents questions (that are not horrendously inappropriate) and/or attentively listen to the answers. My second oldest (worst offender of inappropriate everything) surprised me when he simply asked, “How come you guys never come to services? Do you believe in G-d? I’m not sure.”

He then sat quietly and patiently for an answer. The siblings followed suit. It was unusual. They seemed serious about listening. The vibe in the air changed. Things got serious.

My dad looked at the eight pairs of young eyes staring expectantly at him and he took a deep breath. He then began a story – his story - about being young and hearing, seeing, and experiencing horrible things and wondering, “where was G-d?” He remembered asking two rabbis at his mother’s Shiva why G-d had taken his mother – who was so good and so kind – away from him? The rabbis, my dad said, gave the worst answer he could have possibly imagined. They simply both answered, “We don't know.”

In the process of finding his own way of believing and understanding the world and life, he found his way back to believing in G-d. He found that G-d was just a beginning and how humans lived their lives and made decisions – to be good, to be bad, to heal, to harm – were just that – human decisions in a world that G-d had made and given. He ended by saying that although he doesn’t attend services, he is still Jewish and he still believes in G-d.

It was very quiet. Then my middle guy said, “So really, G-d is a teacher – not a king.”

My dad teared up (hell, so did I) at my kid’s profound summary of a very difficult concept.

“Yes. A teacher,” my dad responded. “G-d is a teacher. Not a king.”

This may not bode well for next High Holidays (“Papa believes in G-d but doesn’t go to services!”) but I am so glad the conversation happened. It took a long time to happen and it almost never happened because so much time had passed. But an incredible thing came to fruition: an experience was passed, a perspective was shared and something was learned. It’s never, ever too late.


What Would You Do If You Could Not Fail?

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What Would You Do If You Could Not Fail? photo

I was sitting in my career coach’s office, constantly adjusting from side to side. If I stopped shifting for even just a moment, my right foot began to furiously tap on the floor. I couldn’t make up my mind as to where I wanted my hands to go: in my lap, on the arm rest, on my chin. I kept switching positions without finding comfort in any of them.

My coach, Rita, was looking directly at me, searching for my eyes in order to make contact. My eyes were drifting up and to the left, focusing on the tiny window in the far corner of the room. We were at a pivotal point in the conversation about what my next career move might be. We had laid out all the facts, hashed out the past and speculated about the future.

“I just don’t know if this is the right decision,” I said. I was contemplating a plan to leave my job and go on to work completely on my own as a life coach.

Her response was, “What would you do if you could not fail? If you had more courage and less fear, what would be your next action?”

My foot stopped tapping. My hands rested gently on the arms of the chair. I slowly turned my head toward my coach and answered that I would quit my job in order to become an independent coach.

This was a conversation that took place over seven years ago. Today, I still find those two simple questions to be the most important questions a coach has ever asked me. In that moment, I was able to imagine there was no possibility of failure, which meant there was only the possibility of success. From there I saw a clear vision for my future. I saw the life I wanted, and if I was only courageous enough to take the first step, I believed I could achieve it.

I have probably asked this question at one point or another to every client that I have ever coached. For them, as it did for me, it always seemed to eliminate all the questions and revealed the answers. When the fear that leads to false expectations is removed, all that remains is the love that leads to truth.

To learn more about living a life with more courage and less fear, visit www.100reasonstowin.com or e-mail andy@100reasonstowin.com.  


Are You Sitting Down?

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Are You Sitting Down? photo 1

My new standing desk. By the way, do you like my re-designed bulletin board?

I’ve got some news. Are you sitting down?

Well, the news is that I’m not sitting down. I’m standing up!

For months now, I’ve been reading about the negative effects of what they call “sitting disease.” According to the experts, “sitting is the new smoking,” and the hours we spend each day are cutting our lives short. According to the Mayo Clinic, ‘If Americans would cut their sitting time in half, their life expectancy would increase by roughly two years, by reducing sitting to less than 3 hours a day.”

So a few weeks ago, I decided to buy myself a standing desk to use at work. After researching several options, including some pricey treadmill desks, I bought a Varidesk Pro. It’s an adjustable desk that sits on top of my current desk and raises and lowers my entire computer setup — both of my monitors, my keyboard, my mouse, and even my business cards, Post-It Notes, and Chapstick. When I want to stand, I pull the desk up. When it’s time to sit, I push it down. Each movement takes about two seconds.

I also bought myself an anti-fatigue mat to keep my footsies from aching too much.

The Varidesk comes with an app that pops up on my screen to tell me when to sit and when to stand. (Though, now that I think about it, it would be cool if it came with a Jewish version of the app that said “Please rise” or “You may be seated” in the voice of my childhood rabbi.) The experts say that sitting all day is not good for you, but standing all day isn’t either, so the combination of the two is the ideal. I set my app to tell me to stand for 30 minutes and sit for 30 minutes.

Are You Sitting Down? photo 2 Are You Sitting Down? photo 3

Left: My standing desk in the standing position. Pretty meta to see the picture of me composing this blog entry, right? (Excuse my mess of wires; I’m working on it.) Right: The adjustable desk in the sitting position.

How’s it working out? I love it. Here are some of my favorite things about it:

1. Stepping. While I’m standing, if I’m on the phone or responding to e-mails, I might even get a few extra steps on my Fitbit. I can talk and walk; why not type and walk? It works great.

2. Better posture. I’m not including a picture of the way I sit at my desk in this post because, honestly, it’s embarrassing. I’m a bit of a sloucher, especially when I’m sitting; so when I’m standing, my back feels much more natural and comfortable. Sorry, Notre Dame, you won’t be gaining any hunchbacks from this girl.

3. More alert. You know the post-lunch “Why-can’t-we-be-like-Europe-and-have-afternoon-siestas” feeling? I won’t say that I’ve completely lost that feeling, but it has certainly improved. If I’m feeling tired, I’ll stand up, walk a little, and get back into my groove.

4. Burning calories. My Varidesk app, in addition to telling me when to stand and sit, keeps an estimate of how many calories I’ve burned on a daily basis due to standing. I’m not sure how accurate this actually is, but the app tells me I burn around 500 calories per day from standing. I don’t know about you, but that sounds to me like an extra couple of French macarons.

5. Helping others. My job often requires other people to come and look at my computer to edit a flyer or see something on our website. When I show them the computer in the standing position, I feel like I’m doing a small good deed by giving my coworkers a brief respite from their sitting. And hey, it’s fun!

6. It’s a conversation starter. I love icebreakers, and this is certainly a big one.

Alright, you’ve made it to the end of this post — I think it’s time to reward yourself by standing up.


Cue the Tomato Soup

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Cue the Tomato Soup photo

I have an incredibly depressing confession to make: I’ve started preparing myself for winter. I can’t even believe I just typed that sentence, but it’s true.

Last winter was a doozy and the know-it-alls that put together the Farmer’s Almanac are saying that this year will be just as delightful. I don’t want to be caught by surprise this time around, so I’ve been forcing myself to prepare for the torture that is to come.

I recently made a trip down to my basement storage unit and visited my winter coat. There she was in her little plastic storage box waiting for me. I could have sworn that I saw her giggle as I pulled her out of her summer home and reluctantly put her back in my closet.

It sounds awful, doesn’t it? It gets worse. Once my coat was back I went into winter preparation overdrive. I put away my shorts, packed up my flip-flops and retired my straw hat.

All of that depression inspired me to try thinking positively about this change of seasons. I know we’re not there yet, but why not start trying to have something to look forward to this winter?

I’m food obsessed, so naturally I turned to my kitchen for sunnier thoughts. You know what I realized? I miss grilled cheese and tomato soup. But not just any old tomato soup, I miss Ina Garten’s fancy Pappa Al Pomodoro. What could be more comforting than a tomato soup recipe that has bread in it? Not much …


1/2 cup good olive oil 
2 cups chopped yellow onion (2 onions)
1 cup medium-diced carrots, unpeeled (3 carrots)
1 fennel bulb, trimmed, cored, and medium-diced (1 1/2 cups)
4 teaspoons minced garlic (4 cloves)
3 cups (1-inch) diced ciabatta cubes, crusts removed
2 (28-ounce) cans good Italian plum tomatoes
4 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade
1/2 cup dry red wine
1 cup chopped fresh basil leaves
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan


Heat the oil in a large stockpot over medium heat. Add the onions, carrots, fennel, and garlic and cook over medium-low heat for 10 minutes, until tender. Add the ciabatta cubes and cook for 5 more minutes. Place the tomatoes in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade and process just until coarsely chopped. Add the tomatoes to the pot along with the chicken stock, red wine, basil, 1 tablespoon salt, and 1 1/2 teaspoons pepper. Bring the soup to a boil, lower the heat, and allow to simmer, partially covered, for 45 minutes.


Home Sick

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Home Sick photo

Well, one thing has stayed consistent at Soldier Field – the Chicago Blackhawks have still won more games on the lakefront in 2014 than the Bears.

The Bears’ inconsistent season continued as expected (or not) on Sunday with a pitiful 27-14 loss at home to the Dolphins. The Bears are 0-3 and minus 7 in the turnover battle at home this season, and 3-4 overall.

It was an overall lackluster effort on offense. For a group full of offensive weapons and firepower, it’s amazing to watch them consistently play with no urgency. They look relaxed out there, like they can just depend on their talent and assume everything else will just work out. Hell, we knew the defense wouldn’t be great this year, but at least they play with passion out there! I’d much rather watch a less talented group play with fire under their asses than a talented group play like they don’t need it – and that is exactly what the Bears have looked like on offense on multiple occasions this season.

Maybe we are starting to see that there is a reason Marc Trestman never got a head coaching job till now – like Thibs for the Bulls, sure he’s talented, but he’s close-minded. Yeah, Trestman is smart – the “Quarterback Whisperer,” maybe, but it seems he just can’t get it done, not as a head coach anyway. His game plans seem unprepared, he fails to make in-game adjustments, and he plays it safe, often to the Bears’ detriment.

I’ve asked all year for this team to define themselves, to create and harness an identity. But the truth is, this is who this team is – a middle-of-the-road, underachieving, .500 team. They’ll continue to give us false hope in certain games they aren’t supposed to win, (I’m predicting a win next week at New England) and let us down in easy ones like they have against Buffalo, Carolina and Miami.

They aren’t who we thought they were.


Animals Don’t Lie

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Animals Don’t Lie photo

My dogs Ozzie and Zorro. I cannot lie – they are adorable.

This weekend, we will read Noach, a Torah portion that is very dear to my heart because of its emphasis on animals. The people in the world became evil and G-d wanted to start anew, so he flooded the world leaving only Noah, his family, and two animals from each species (male and female) alive. More animals were saved than people because animals, unlike humans, can’t lie.  They aren’t evil. They might be animalistic when they are hungry, but animals just want to love and be loved.

I post articles about animals on my Facebook page every Sunday. Each post is called #AnimalSundays, and every article discusses the topic of animals receiving acupuncture. I have posted articles about a lion, elephant, dog, cat, camel, penguin, and even a komodo dragon receiving acupuncture. All of these animals get acupuncture regularly and are truly benefiting from each treatment. The lion was able to walk around without foot pain, the dogs and cats are living better lives with less pain, and the camel is living a longer life – all due to acupuncture.

But what’s most important is that these animals can’t lie about the results. They don’t feel better because someone told them they were going to feel better. They feel better because acupuncture works.

There are a lot of skeptics out there when it comes to acupuncture and I understand why. It’s because acupuncture is different. It’s because all we were taught our entire lives was Western science. In high school, we take biology, chemistry, and physics, not channel theory and acupuncture point location. It is very hard to think outside the box when we are taught one way our entire life. However, it is important to understand that biology, chemistry, and physics are all part of Chinese medicine too. We use biology to map out the human body and make sure that the channels flow correctly with their associated organ. Chemistry is used to examine Chinese herbs and figure out how they can help the body. Most importantly, we use physics to understand how our bodies should act in nature. Chinese medicine is also science; it is just viewed differently.

I often hear people say that they don’t believe in Chinese medicine or Western medicine. There is nothing to believe in; there is nothing mythical or spiritual about either medicine. Both medicines help people. Chinese medicine has helped thousands of people and animals for over 4,000 years. Western medicine is newer, but it has cured diseases and saved lives. We need both types of medicines to truly understand the human and animal bodies because we can help people with both types of medicines.

I am so happy G-d decided to save all the animals. They are adorable, loving, and sweet. My dogs will always tell me when they are happy, sad, or sick. As soon as they feel better, they get up and start running around again. They don’t milk or fake pain as a way to get what they want. Thankfully, that honesty helps prove the effectiveness of Chinese medicine.          


Connecting in 5775

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Neil Harris photo

As I inch further into 5775, my thoughts focus on relationships. Specifically, how I connect to my family, friends, my Creator, and myself.

Most will agree that it's way easier to make connections with others in today’s age. It's as easy as the swiping of a finger or the click of a button to link, friend, and follow someone. It's a way to connect. It's not how our parents did it, but it counts.

This ease of connecting is probably an attractive advantage to social network relationships. If you don't reach out and make an effort, that's ok because effort isn't expected. A simple "like" or "favorite" speaks digital volumes. It's a very low-maintenance situation and we need that once in a while. However, applying that minimal effort into other relationships isn't optimal.

The strength of any connection is really based on the effort exerted. I know from experience. There are times when I don't put as much effort as necessary into those that I love and the connection ends up becoming a barrier. Then – and this is the crazy part – I end up using twice as much energy to break down the barrier just to start over again with building that connection.

As we take our first steps into a new, fresh, and happy year, I hope that we are able to strengthen the connections that mean the most to us.


Chayote Soup with Spiced Pepitas

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Chayote Soup with Spiced Pepitas photo 1

So it’s fall. And everything is wonderful. You are wearing cute fashion boots and your lips are not yet cracked and bleeding from wind. You want to eat something cozy, but not insanely heavy like all of the casseroles and potato/cheese/cream-based dishes that are waiting for you right around the corner in winter vortex land. It needs to be hearty, but it also should be bright, relatively healthy, and it should include maximum condiment opportunity.

Here it is! It’s soup, which means it’s autumnal, but it’s squash without being orange. Never heard of chayote squash before? You’ve seen them. They look like little old green men hiding out in the produce section at the market. And they are delicious. And bonus, you don’t have to skin them like you do with other (totally over-played in my opinion) winter squash. Just make sure to remove the core!

Chayote Soup with Spiced Pepitas photo 2

Chayote squash have a core that must be removed before you add them to the soup.

And the pepitas (aka, pumpkin seeds), well those are the crunch-factor that all good soups need, and they are also a playful take on using squash in two ways. Clever, right? I thought so too. Enjoy!

Chayote Soup with Spiced Pepitas
Serves 4-6
Vegetarian (but easily made vegan)  

For the soup

1 large yellow onion, chopped
2 large carrots, peeled and chopped
6 cloves of fresh garlic, chopped
4 chayotes, core removed and chopped
1 jalapeno, chopped
3 tablespoons of salt
3 tablespoons of pepper
1 tablespoon of garlic powder
1 tablespoon of onion powder
1 tablespoon of dried oregano
2 boxes of stock (I use veggie, but chicken would work well here too)
½ stick of butter
Optional: sour cream. fresh cilantro, and lime wedges to garnish

Heat enough oil to coat the bottom of a large stock pot. Throw in the onion, carrot, fresh garlic, and jalapeno and cook them until they begin to soften. Add the chayotes, all of the seasoning, enough stock to cover the ingredients by about an inch, and the butter. Cover the pot and allow to boil for 10 minutes, or until the veggies are soft.

Use an immersion blender to blend the soup in the pot until it gets totally smooth. (If you don’t have an immersion blender, allow the soup to cool and ladle it in batches into a regular blender. Please, for the love of God do not do this with hot soup. Third degree burns are not a cute look. Return the blended soup to the pot).

Bring the soup back up to high temperature, use more stock until you like the consistency, and taste it! Continue to season with salt, pepper, butter, or spices until you love the way it taste and feels. Garnish with sour cream, cilantro, and limes.

For the pepitas

2 cups of pumpkin seeds
4 tablespoons of canola oil
1 tablespoon dried chili powder
2 tablespoons of salt (ONLY if the pumpkin seeds are not pre-salted)
1 tablespoon black pepper
½ tablespoon garlic powder  

Turn your oven on to 375 degrees. Pour all of the ingredients into a bowl, mix them around until the pepitas are coated, and throw them onto a baking tray (preferably lined with parchment paper so you don’t have to worry about cleaning up later), and bake them for 5-7 minutes, or until you can smell how delicious they are and see how lovely brown and toasty they have become.      


Shalom Bayit

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Cindy Sher photo 2

With Sukkot here, and a chill settling into the air outside, we're reminded of the warmth and peace of home, and the Jewish concept of shalom bayit—peace in the home.

But as news of domestic violence captures our attention in the media, we know not all homes are peaceful.

October marks National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and ever since the second video tape surfaced of Ray Rice knocking out his future wife, Janay Palmer, in the elevator, as well as other allegations of abuse in the National Football League, our society seems to be finally focusing on intimate partner abuse. 

In a world where we glorify celebrities for how far they throw a ball on the field or how big their star power is on the stage, it's about time we take this issue seriously and call out and punish the perpetrators of abuse.

I recall my stomach turning as I watched a massive crowd of fans at a televised performance cheer and practically bow down to musician Chris Brown not long after he punched his now ex-girlfriend, singer Rihanna, in the face.

And for decades, the public has paid a hero's welcome to Mike Tyson, a convicted rapist, whose ex-wife Robin Givens has alleged spousal abuse for years. The heavyweight champion of the world slugging his wife never seemed like a fair fight.

It's easy to wag our fingers at the NFL and other celebrities, famous for the wrong reasons, and yet the Jewish community doesn't get a pass on this one. As tough as it is to admit, intimate partner abuse is an equal-opportunity offender, happening just as often in the Jewish community as elsewhere in society.

Regardless of race, religion, education, or socio-economic status, a staggering one quarter of women in this country will be in abusive relationships during their lifetime, but only a tenth of men will be abusers, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Why the discrepancy? Because the abuser does not see his or her behavior as the problem; it is the abused person's problem. Consequently, even if the relationship ends, the abusive person, often a serial abuser, continues abusive behavior with the next person he or she becomes involved with.

Jewish abuse was once hidden away, kept shrouded in darkness. Helping our community expose this secret is the mission of SHALVA—"giving voice to the unspeakable." SHALVA—which means "tranquility" in Hebrew and launched in 1986—is the oldest, independent U.S. Jewish services agency combatting domestic violence.

A beneficiary of the Federation, SHALVA aids abuse victims through advocacy, counseling, legal information, and other support services for no fee. Anyone who self-identifies with the Jewish community—even those who are not Jewish, but who have Jewish partners—may turn to SHALVA.

We're not just talking about physical abuse. Intimate partner abuse, according to Bobbie Gordon, SHALVA's director of Community Education, builds over time, but starts with controlling behavior—verbal, emotional, financial abuse, and/or isolation from family and friends. It's unlikely that the first sign of trouble between Rice and Palmer was a knockout punch in that now infamous elevator.

Why all the secrecy in our community? SHALVA says that, first, there's a positive stereotype that Jewish men make the best husbands. And in contrast, there's a negative stereotype that characterizes Jewish women as demanding and overbearing princesses. That's what makes some women hesitant to seek help, for fear of not being taken seriously. Plus, in a more tight-knit community like ours, women fear loss of privacy and confidentiality if they come forward. Some worry about creating a shonda, a scandal, if they disclose their abuse.

SHALVA not only helps victims of abuse, but it plays another key role. It empowers the Jewish community to combat intimate partner abuse through awareness, education, and prevention, teaching what healthy relationships ought to look like.

JCARES is another effort in the Federation system that educates and addresses abuse across the Jewish community. Rooted in Jewish values, the program offers a series of educational sessions for professionals and leaders to engage in conversations about abuse. JCARES also offers two other programs: Partnership for Safer Communities strives to build overall health and wellness in schools, synagogues, and camps, and Project Shield heightens awareness about child sexual abuse.

Whatever the program, we need to model healthy relationships for our kids from the time they're in diapers. Abuse is usually learned behavior-passed down through the generations-where abusers were once the abused.

If we can make our children feel empowered and loved, they will have taken the first step to peace in their own homes down the road.

Contact SHALVA at (773) 583-HOPE or email: info@shalvaonline.org. SHALVA is a partner in serving our community with-and a special grant recipient of-the Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago.

To reach JCARES Partnership for Safer Communities, call Jessica Schaeffer at (847) 745-5450. JCARES is a program of the Jewish Child & Family Services and is supported by the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago, the Jewish Women's Foundation of Metropolitan Chicago, Michael Reese Health Trust, and other generous donors.


Things I don’t want to forget

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Graduations, recitals, and sporting events are big moments parents don’t forget, but there are so many little things you want to remember too. With another child about to join the Krit clan, I wanted to share a few of my favorite Henry moments.

Henry’s Girlfriend

Henry has a girlfriend. They have been together for a year, and it’s super cute to watch them interact. Henry even openly talks about her as his “girlfriend,” so he’s clearly not in the embarrassed phase, like he will be when he reads this article. When they meet, hugs and kisses on the lips are exchanged (we’ve tried to discourage the lip lock but it’s pretty awesome to watch). This sweet little blond-haired girl bear hugs Henry, picks him up (no idea how) and then they smooch. Her father jokes that one day she will carry him over the threshold.


You want your child to speak well, you want to understand what they are saying, but when your child takes the word “truck,” like my nephew did, and turns it into a swear word, it’s hilarious. Henry never did that but he had a few cute speech mishaps. The best are not exactly appropriate for a blog, but it warms my heart when he says, “lello” for yellow and refers to superheroes as “superherlos.”

Expressions and Singing

Out of nowhere Henry sounded Canadian and I loved it. He would turn to you and say, “Here ja go.” I have no idea where he got that from but it always put a smile on my face and I of course adopted the phrase myself. At many meals, he looks at the table and his little face lights up and he says, “I love this,” even though he hasn’t taken a bite of his food. After tasting a nasty thai chili bar once, he curled up his nose and looked like he was about to puke, then said, “I love this,” and declined another bite. This happens with movies he’s never seen, toys he’s yet to play with, and exercise equipment the moment Amazon drops it off.

You have to be careful with kid expressions. It’s like a song; after a while it molds to you and all the sudden you are telling your coworker, “I not know,” which is not so cute coming from an adult.

Speaking of songs, it’s amazing how children remember lyrics. Henry comes home with a new song all the time. Hearing a little voice carry a tune, even off-key, is priceless. The other day I sang, “Steal My Kisses” by Ben Harper, and then I kissed Henry. After that, he started singing it and kissing me. We were in the grocery store, and he kept doing it – laughing, singing and smooching. I hope that lasts another few years.

Things I don’t want to forget photo 2

Naming his Brother

Henry has been really excited for a sibling. When we told him that we were going to have a boy he asked, “and then a girl?” Eventually, he decided a boy would be great, and he informed us, “I will feed him with my muscles.”

He even named his brother. My wife was explaining to Henry that she was reading a book of names, to figure out what we’ll call the baby. Without much hesitation, Henry announced, “The baby’s name is Crocodile, or Crocodile Krit.” And because Henry has been so excited for his brother to arrive, he shared the name with his friends. Fast forward a few weeks, and Erika is picking up Henry from school, and his “best buddy” starts rubbing her belly and says, “You got a baby croc in there!”

We are looking forward to Crocodile Krit, interactions between the boys, and the crazy things that pop out of Croc’s mouth. 


A sweet alternative for the holidays

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A sweet alternative for the holidays photo

Who doesn’t love that first smear of honey dripping slowly off a crisp apple slice? Well, this year I am saying, ‘Put down the Honey Bear and try the honey from Israel.’ I am not talking about honey from bees; I am referring to Silan or date-honey.

Biblical foodies and Torah scholars that have bandied about the notion that the land flowing with milk and honey refers to date honey, though beekeeping was an ancient practice.

Either way, I am in love with the rich sweetness and sophisticated, dried fruit flavor of date-honey.

While in Chicago, I can be in touch with my Israeli spirit by using some Israeli ingredients, and my favorite right now is Silan.  

Date-honey is a puree of dates and water. Easy to purchase at kosher stores and those that carry Mediterranean foods, I prefer to make my own. Sometimes the store bought products have added sugar which, in my mind defeats the point of date-honey. I am looking for the natural sweetness from the fruit and not from sugar. My son Jonah calls dates “nature’s candy.” He is right! And the puree is a perfect natural sweetener that is perfect for most recipes where sugar, maple syrup or honey is added.

Date-honey is commonly used in Israel and if I can’t be in Israel for the holidays, I can use the exclusive and delicious sweetener for my apple-dipping, cooking and baking.


Sweet and Sour Meatballs with Date-Honey

These are not your mother’s meatballs! Skip the cloying, overly sweet sauce and use subtle and stylish date-honey.

Date-honey adds a sophisticated sweetness that is rich and earthy.

This recipe is modern with no added sugar and you can easily substitute the ground chuck for turkey.

*Chef’s tip – I use a panade in my ground meat dishes. A panade is a starch and liquid mixture that adds moisture to meatballs, meatloaf and other dishes. It is not a way to “stretching” the meat. It is there because meat shrinks as it cooks, and ground meat, more so, and squeezes out moisture in the process. The panade is a moist “place holder” and keeps the meat from contracting so much as to be dry and flavorless. A panade can be made with soft bread crumbs, oats, cooked rice, barley or other cooked grains. The liquid can be wine, stock, beer, water or any flavorful liquid.

For the sweet and sour sauce

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, grated on a box grater
2 garlic cloves, grated on a box grater
1 15-ounce can tomato sauce or 2 ripe tomatoes, chopped
3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1/3 cup Silan (date honey)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

For the meatballs

1 cup soft bread crumbs (leftover challah works well for this)
1/2 cup chicken stock, white wine or water
2 pounds ground beef chuck
2 eggs
1 small onion, grated on a box grater
2 garlic cloves, grated
3 tablespoons chopped fresh flat leaf parsley
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly cracked pepper

1. Heat a medium sauce pan, with the olive oil, over medium heat. Add the grated onion and cook, stirring occasionally until the onion is very fragrant and beginning to caramelize. Add the remaining ingredients and stir to combine.

2. Decrease the heat to low and simmer the mixture for 15 minutes.

3. Place the bread crumbs in a small bowl and add the stock or other liquid. Stir to combine.

4. Squeeze an excess liquid out of the bread crumbs. Transfer the breadcrumbs to another bowl and discard the liquid.

5. Add the remaining ingredients for the meatballs and gently mix together. With light and slightly wet hands form the meatballs. You can also use an ice cream scoop for this and then all the meatballs will be the same size.

6. Heat a sauté pan, lightly coated with olive oil, over medium heat. Brown the meatballs in batches until caramelized.

7. Transfer the meatballs to the sauce and continue cooking in the sauce.

8. Serve the meatballs with rice, potatoes, or favorite vegetable. Garnish with chopped parsley and pomegranate seeds.


Homemade Date-Honey

Homemade date-honey is easy and fast to make. Sometimes I keep it neutral without spices, but I like the added OOMPH of flavor cinnamon brings to it.

20 Medjool dates, pitted
1 cup very hot water
Pinch of cinnamon (optional)

1. Combine the dates, hot water and cinnamon, if using, and steep for 1 hour.

2. Puree the mixture in a blender or food processor until very creamy and thick.

3. Store the date honey, covered in the refrigerator for 1 month.


Root Vegetable Tzimmes with Date-Honey

This stylish version of the classic side dish takes center stage with rich fall root veggies and warm toasty spices. The date-honey compliments the vegetables without being too sweet. I serve this as a side for my favorite Pomegranate Chicken Recipe (my own recipe of course!), or with a large salad as a vegetarian meal.

Extra virgin olive oil
1 large red onion, sliced thinly
1 medium sweet potato, unpeeled, cut into large dice
1 medium butternut squash, peeled and cut into large dice
2 medium carrots, peeled and cut into large dice
2 medium red beets, peeled and cut into wedges about 1/2 inch thick
1 medium gold beet, peeled and cut into wedges about 1/2 inch thick
4 garlic cloves
1/2 cup date honey
1/2 cup golden raisins
1/2 cup dried apricots, chopped
1 cup water
1 cinnamon stick, or 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 star anise
1/8  teaspoon ground cloves
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
Kosher salt and freshly cracked pepper

Preheat oven to 325

1. Place a large Dutch oven or sauté pan, lightly coated with EVOO, over medium heat.

2. Sauté the root vegetables, in batches, until they are browned on all sides. BE SURE TO SEASON EACH BATCH WITH SALT AND PEPPER!

3. Add back all the vegetables to the Dutch oven or to a pan with a tight fitting lid. Add the date-honey, raisins, water, spices and salt and pepper.

4. Cover the pan and roast the vegetables about 45 minutes or until the vegetables are tender. Uncover the pan and continue cooking until all the liquid has evaporated and the vegetables are browned, caramelized and gooey!

5. Serve with chicken, brisket, fish, or as an entrée.

6. Garnish with fresh parsley, pomegranate seeds, and chopped dates


Crustless Pumpkin Custard with Date-Honey 

Special equipment – 8 3/4 cup ramekins
1 1/2 cups canned pumpkin puree
4 large eggs
2 1/2 cups coconut milk, or whole milk for dairy recipes
3/4 cup date-honey
1/4 cup cornstarch
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon sea salt

Preheat the oven to 350

1. Heat a tea kettle with water.

2. Whisk all the ingredients together and divide the custard into 8 ramekins.

3. Place the ramekins in a pan with high sides. Pour the hot water into the pan so the water level comes up about halfway up the ramekins.

4. Bake the custard for 45-555 minutes or until it is set but still jiggly in the center.

5. Remove the whole set up from the oven and allow the custards to cool for 30 minutes in the water before refrigerating.

6. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours or overnight before serving.

7. Garnish with pumpkin seeds, chopped dates, and pomegranate seeds.      


Interview with new Auburn assistant coach Todd Golden

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Bruce Pearl has certainly made headlines by jumping back into the college basketball coaching ranks. But he is not going in alone. He has brought aboard some excellent assistants to make sure the Auburn Tigers are a team to be feared. Meet Todd Golden, a former Israeli basketball player, an up-and-coming college basketball coach and maybe the next big thing in Jewish sports.

1. Tell us about yourself.
My name is Todd Golden, born and raised in Phoenix, Arizona. Just got married May 31 to my wife Megan Golden. We met in college at Saint Mary's (California) where we were both athletes (basketball for me, volleyball for her).

2. When did you love of basketball begin?
My love of basketball began at a very early age. I am pretty sure when my parents brought me home from the hospital there was a Fisher-Price hoop already up in the family area. My father played freshman basketball at the University of Massachusetts and remembers scrimmaging Julius Erving when they would play the varsity team. My father and I really bonded because of basketball, as it gave us a great opportunity to spend a lot of time together. I was playing organized basketball by the age of five at the Jewish Community Center in Phoenix.

3. When did you realize you wanted to coach college basketball?
I realized that I wanted basketball to be a part of my life after my playing career was done during my senior year at Saint Mary's College. I simply realized all the relationships I had cultivated from the game, and the different opportunities that became available to me because of basketball. There was a time when I thought I might want to create a life outside of basketball to create the illusion that I was a more well-rounded person, but that didn't last long when I had the opportunity to go work for Kyle Smith at Columbia in 2012.

4. Was it hard to switch from player to coach?
It has been a relatively easy transition for me going from player to coach. When I finished my second year playing professionally in Israel, I was very content with my career as a player. I went from a high school senior with no Division I scholarship opportunities to a three-year starter on an NCAA tournament team who ended up playing  two years overseas. I was very content with that ending. The transition to coaching was easy as well because I always considered myself a “coach on the floor” during my playing days. I generally gained advantages over my opponents by out-thinking them, or being one step ahead. Now I have to articulate that mindset to the players I'm working with today.

Interview with new Auburn assistant coach Todd Golden photo 2

5. What is it like working with Bruce Pearl?
Coach Pearl has been really great to work for, believe it or not. He definitely expects a lot out of the members of his staff, but they are fair expectations. Also, he is really good about praising his staff for work well done. He's an incredible motivator and understands the value of “team.” He's been able to gel this staff together over the first few months’ way closer than anyone could have anticipated, and it all starts at the top with him.

6. Can this Auburn team make a run at a title? What do the new Auburn Tigers look like?
This Auburn team is not built to win the championship this year. We have some good players, but I think a more realistic goal would be to shoot for a post-season tournament (NCAA or NIT). You will see a team that will play fast, and play from baseline to baseline. We will press after makes and misses, fly the ball up in transition, and really try to put pressure on our opponents. We might not be as talented as some of our opponents, but we will not back down, and we will really compete on both ends of the floor.

7. Who is the best Jewish player you have played or coached against?
The best Jewish player that I have ever played against would probably have to be Omri Casspi. I played against Omri my first professional season in Israel. He was playing for Maccabi Tel Aviv and I was playing for Maccabi Haifa. Now Omri is enjoying a successful NBA career.

8. What does the future look like for Todd Golden?
My ultimate goal is to become a Division I head coach. At this point, I am trying to learn something new every day. I had a great experience working for Kyle Smith at Columbia whom I've known since I was 18 years old. Working for Coach Pearl will give me another valuable mentor, and will also give me another perspective to learn the game from. I am really excited for the future here at Auburn, and I'm hoping we can build this program back to where it belongs, at the top of the SEC.


The Fault in My Friendships

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As I grow a little bit older, a little bit wiser and unfortunately a little bit wider, I‘ve learned something about my friendships. I haven’t always done great with them. And more often than not, it’s my fault.

I’m one for reflection on this Highest of High Holidays, as I’m sure are most of you attractive Oy! readers, but far too often I blame my introversion as a scapegoat. This upcoming Yom Kippur, I’m realizing that I need to forgive my younger self for the friendships that have gone and focus on the friendships that have grown.

First and foremost, some friendships are meant to dissipate over time and that is okay. As we grow older, our schedules and priorities change. It took me a long time to see that the friendships I am keen on keeping, however, take work, and I need to make a conservative effort to maintain them.

A lot of my epiphany stems from my friendship with Jessie, who asked not to be mentioned by name. Long story short, we were friends from high school and throughout college we didn’t speak to each for three years due to an incident involving a large amount of immaturity and bad communication, almost entirely stemming from me. It’s one of the few regrets in my life. Another being that I tried the cottage cheese in my fridge with the expiration date smudged out.

The actual incident in question is so muddled these days that I can barely even understand what incited the three-year break, I just remember the feelings I had leading up to it and right after. In all fairness, I remember that a lot was due to me being a bit of a pushover (I fear standing near railings) and letting my friends dictate plans and sometimes me, even when I was truly uncomfortable. This all came to a head when, instead of dealing with my feelings or explaining how I felt, I basically straight up abandoned the friendship.

Man, I was a jerk.

Over the years, Jessie kept reaching out to me and I finally came around to my three-years-more-mature senses. This friendship today is now one of my strongest, important and special. We even humorously call those years “The Hiatus,” noting how our friendship is a ship that can never sink – just occasionally blow up. This experience has helped me to understand that it’s important to never burn bridges, but instead, if you have to, just put up an easily removable “Do Not Enter” sign.

The Fault in My Friendships photo

That’s just one instance of a friendship in fault, though the best faulted friendship (what great irony) is one in which neither of us really talk to each other for a while, maybe a month or possibly years, but never feel for a seocond that the friendship is over. I’m sure many of you have these as well. I forgive these friends for not trying to get in touch with me because it is usually as much my fault as it is theirs. We might actually get together and catch up if one of us would stop being a fool and pick up the phone – or to rephrase for my generation – we might actually get together and catch up if one of us would stop being a fool and pick up the Facebook.

Some faulted friendships have always been there but have just needed some time to evolve. Take my friendships with my Cousin Ted and Cousin Toni, for instance, who both also asked not to be mentioned by name. I’d always been friendly with Toni, but it wasn’t until I had worked with her for a year that we truly got to know each other. No regrets there, just wanted to mention I’m happy about that … but with my Cousin Ted, it’s a different story, because he’s a different person.

Ted and I basically grew up together, but from high school through college, we weren’t as close as we are now. I wish I had known as kids how much our future selves both liked craft beer. We became great friends once I moved to the city and even though he doesn’t live in Chicago anymore, we talk just as much if not more and revel in the times we get to spend together (drinking craft beer of course). Our friendship even got to the point where I stood up at his wedding. This made me appreciate Cousin Toni that much more because at her wedding, she at least provided me a chair.

A lot of what I have learned about forgiving myself for my imperfect way of handling friendships comes from understanding what it means to be an introvert. These days, I’m very busy, and I treasure my free time for myself; I’m absolutely horrendous at reaching out to people to make plans. Having said that, I recognize there may even be a few unfairly neglected friends nodding their heads while reading this. By the way, thank you friends I’ve unfairly neglected for reading this! But to them I say that I do apologize. It’s not you – it’s everyone. I hope you can forgive me as I have forgiven myself for a being a fool and not picking up the Facebook.

To read more posts in the “Oy! Forgive Me!” blog series, click here.




Behind the hurtful words

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Forgiveness through the lens of couples therapy

Forgive Me_blog photo

One of the most poignant moments in couples therapy work is the “Reframe.” That’s the moment when they have an epiphany – in the midst of all their anger and frustration – that they are both longing to be close to each other. Behind all the painful words on the surface is a craving to be close. All the hurtful comments are actually “reframed” as intense cries for help, love, and connection. This deeper understanding of each other and their dynamic is a very powerful moment. The Reframe is the beginning of the relationship healing.

Behind the hurtful words photo

This therapeutic platform was actually taught to the world over 3,000 years ago by the leading marital therapist of all times, a man by the name of Aaron the Cohen. It is written that two friends or a couple were in a quarrel which had reached the point that neither was willing to talk to the other anymore. Aaron sought them out. Known as the Pursuer of Peace, Aaron spoke with each of them individually. As he met with the first and counseled him, Aaron told him, “I saw your friend/spouse yesterday. She is so sad! She misses you so much! Oh how she regrets so much what she said and did to you. She wants so much to be close and connect with you again!” And he would say the same to her about him. By the time Aaron was through, they were in tears about what had happened, and they were out looking for their spouse to make amends. When they finally reached each other, they embraced and poured out their hearts sharing how much they had missed the other and how happy they were to be reunited, not ever wanting to be apart again.

In couples therapy, we also hope to tap into this underlying reality. We will even softly conjecture with them that perhaps the bantering, criticism, and even the yelling, is really a cover for a soft cry of loneliness and wanting to be loved. With the couple, we work through the mess of the conflict with the goal of hopefully revealing a purity of the heart and its untainted desires for closeness underneath it all.

But there’s one baffling piece to this insightful story. Aaron the Cohen didn’t know! How could he be so sure they were deep down in love with each other, feeling these yearnings to be close? They never told him their feelings. Aren’t we a people of truth? Doesn’t he want to confirm his conjecture before so boldly running after them to save the friendship/marriage?

There’s a beautiful answer to this quandary, and I think it sheds great light on our lives. The answer is, simply, Aaron actually knew. Without having to ask them, he could see the truth. He could see beneath all the mess of fighting, arguing, and distancing from each other. Aaron saw beyond the exterior angst. His vision penetrated their emotional worlds. He could see beyond the facade of their harsh reactions tapping into their deep longings for each other, their needs to love and be loved. He was not lying to anyone when he told them how their spouse/friend felt. He was just sharing with them what he saw. With his profound vision and insight, he rightfully earned his title, the Pursuer of Peace.

We have moments in our lives where we feel conflict. Often, it occurs with the ones we are closest to – our spouse, parents, friends, or other relatives. Do we want to be in these heavy painful moments? Of course not. Most often, deep down, we’d like to resolve the conflict and feel close again with them. But how do we get ourselves out of it? How can we forgive when we feel so much pain? How do we let go of the hurt we feel? These are moments where we must be a people with great vision, like Aaron the Cohen.

Our tradition teaches us that forgiveness is much more than letting go. The truth is, deep down, our loved ones are crying inside to be close to us, as are we to them. We do not try to get around the conflict; rather we go straight to the core of it. And at its core, conflict is most often a longing to be close.

Imagine if the husband could see that his wife’s anger for arriving home late is really a cry for him to spend more time with her, to connect, and how much she longs to be near him? What if the wife could see that her husband is distancing from her because he’s afraid she doesn’t see him as a good husband and how much he longs for her to appreciate him but is ashamed to tell her? What if the close friend who never calls actually cherishes the friendship and is really scared to be seen as a nag fearing to end up unwanted? We all desperately desire connection, to be loved and cared for, especially by those we feel closest to, and especially when we feel hurt or judged by them.

The time for forgiveness is here. With effort and vision, we can expand our perceptions and see beyond the surface level confrontations. Perhaps we can follow in the footsteps of the great Pursuer of Peace, Aaron the Cohen, and we will see the love, the longing, and the yearning for connections between us and those around us. May it be a year of peace, forgiveness, and true love for all.

To read more posts in the “Oy! Forgive Me!” blog series, click here

Joshua Marder is a rabbi and licensed marriage and family therapist. He is the Director of Chicago YJP, a division of The Lois & Wilfred Lefkovich Chicago Torah Network: Home for the Wondering Jew.

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