OyChicago blog

The Dreidel of Life

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Dreidel image

Just like the notion that there are two sides to every story, there are four sides to every dreidel. Over the years I have found myself associating the sides of that little dreidel (made out of recycled plastics) with memories of the past and the present along with thoughts about identity and perseverance 

Let's face it – playing dreidel is probably the closest thing to ancient kosher gambling. It takes skill and savvy, and that little kiss that you blow onto the dreidel cupped in your hands can make all the difference between a gimmel (getting all the pot) and a nun (getting nothing). I was enamored with the official game and would play it all the time in my Hebrew School days. My friends and I would have contests to see whose dreidel would spin the longest (I think my record was 45 seconds). Around fifth or sixth grade the game became pretty lame, but I was back to the dreidel circuit during my college years, though that's a whole other story.

My kids (ages 14, 11, 7) are big fans of this seasonal game of chance. Although they have mastered the art of the upside-down spin, it’s the access to parent-sanctioned candy that keeps them playing the game year after year. In fact, they will keep playing it through the winter and into the spring. I'm guessing it’s the chocolate coins that keeps them playing and not the feeling of being historically connected to our ancestors who played the game when Greek soldiers would pass by.

I think the dreidel is one of the best Jewish symbols ever. Its size and function impart valuable lessons. I identify and navigate through many different social (and social media) circles during the day. A dreidel is small enough that if I were to put it in my pocket for a day, I think it would remind me that there’s another circle that I’m intrinsically part of.

No matter how many times we spin the dreidel it will always fall down on one of four sides. The outcomes are often this way in life. Sometimes we gain everything we want and sometimes we gain nothing. Sometimes we have to compromise and give up our half of what we want and sometimes we all have to pitch in a little of what we have for the greater good. Regardless of what side out dreidel lands on, we can always pick up the dreidel – and ourselves – so that we can continue trying to win the game.


Writing Material

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Writing Material photo

Thanksgiving is tomorrow. Phew, we got that out of the way.

I'm thankful for so much. It's been a year full of so, so much change. You know that old cliché/John Lennon lyric, "life is what happens to you while you are busy making other plans?" For the first time in a while, I thought my ducks were in a row. But breakups happen, unforeseen challenges arise, so on and so on. So let's let life happen. For better, for worse, for the sake of feigning a positive attitude until things settle down a bit in my little world – I'm thankful for it all.

But that's not what I want to write about. I want to write about writing. Feel free to read a previous Oy entry about my coy, difficult, ultimately wonderful love affair with writing. An article about writing again, you say? Well, this is different. I promise you.

In the spirit of letting go of the old and creating something new, I had lofty goals for November. November is NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month. Some people want to run marathons. I wanted to write a novel. Sigh, just the structure of that last sentence gives off the stench of defeat. Yeah, I didn't write a novel. But I wrote nearly 20,000 words. That's something, aye?

The concept of NaNoWriMo is perfect for the most fledgling of writers (aka, me): spill out 50,000 words from the recesses of your mind. That's it. Commit pen to paper, tablet, laptop, your recorder of choice. Editing is for later. Discerning judgment is for later.

I came to into November with a few loosely connected ideas that I wanted to shine up into a real-live story. I signed up on the site (NaNoWriMo.org), I received encouraging emails. In a word, I was pumped.

My favorite part of the process? Discussing possible plots and story ideas with my family. I hadn't laughed that hard in a long time. I uncovered my father's secret ambitions to write a spy novel...who knew? My mother's ideas for a Disney-ish fairy tale were more imaginative than anything I conjured up. I soaked it all in and as November reared its head, I sat down to write.

These emails I spoke of? Many of them consist of pep talks. Based on past and current professional experience, I'm used to writing every day, and if not every day, on a pretty consistent basis. However, committing to 1,500-plus words a day, after getting home from my communications-based 9-to-5? Call me lazy, call me whatever you want; I lasted about a week until I decided that writing a novel in a month might not be in the cards, at least not this November.

Maybe I'll train better next year. At a recent get-together, a friend brought up that her boyfriend was taking on the NaNoWriMo beast this year. I implored further: Does he have a story? What got him into it? She relayed enthusiastically that this was the first year he really decided to get serious about it. He bought a special notebook to plot out his novel ahead of time. All bases were covered. I squirmed when she told me after the first week that he inexplicably lost about 2500 words. Technology! Strangely enough, I felt a part of this community, even though I was taking a more languorous approach to novel writing. I may never get there. But the idea of it, of continually turning to my ongoing story and adding a little something new, keeps the fires of one my greatest passions alive.

My childhood friend Steph always refers to less-than-ideal, kooky life events as "writing material." Reflecting on this past year and everything that makes me grateful (and everything that makes me cringe), I've tried my best to fill it with "writing material" moments with people I love, adore and enjoy.

Happy Thanksgivukkah, everyone!


Not again…

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Not again… photo

I cannot believe I am writing about this right now. I cannot believe it. As I went to bed Friday night the diehard fan in me was trying to stay positive, but I knew better than to put myself through that again after the drama of last season. And a year and a half later, we’re right back where we started with Derrick Rose. And now all we have are questions. Where do we go from here? Will Derrick Rose ever be the same again? And I’m at a loss. I’m trying to see the bigger picture here, but it’s really hard to see an alternative to taking this opportunity to blow the team up and start over.

Look at it this way – Deng and Noah are good pieces, good role players and good teammates. But they cannot be the best players on a great team. Both are injury prone as well, and with both guys likely looking at an increase in minutes with Rose out, the injury bug is bound to hit them at points this year as well. I love both players and have loved watching everything they’ve done for the Bulls, but with Rose’s future up in the air, their value for the Bulls drops significantly the longer they hang onto them. And as we’ve seen over the years, the Bulls tend to over love their role players and hang on to them far too long until their trade value has plummeted. Time to do what Bulls management has never been able to do – take the risk and have a fire sale. Now is the time.

Last year we got strung along with the hope and flat out expectation that Rose would return during the season. And that kept me watching because the Bulls overcame the adversity and played well enough that, in the event Rose did come back, they could make a real run in the playoffs. And let’s remember – last year’s team was built with weapons to win for as long as they needed without Rose.

Not the case with this year’s team. So the Bulls came right out yesterday morning and said he is lost for the year. And after two knee surgeries, will he ever be the same again? I can’t help but get glimpses of Grant Hill – a big star with a high ceiling coming out of college, co-rookie of the year, all-star – but after so many injuries and surgeries he never lived up. He had a solid career, but imagine what could have been. I fear this is the case for Rose.

You can’t help but feel bad for the guy. He does not deserve this. And after the Bulls built their whole team and long-term future around Rose, it may be time to think about moving on. So where does that start? It starts with trading their valuable assets while they still have value. That means Noah and Deng. Get value for both of them, try to trade Boozer’s contract if they can but the more likely case is they wait and amnesty him after the season is over. I’d love to keep Butler and Gibson through all of this, but if they can get good value for them, I say go for it. But what they CANNOT do is stand pat and say they will wait for Rose to return and make another run with this team next year. That will not happen and it will be a waste of another year and they will likely lose Deng for nothing in the meantime. Derrick Rose may never be the same again, as sad as this is to say. And if he is even close, he’ll need better players being developed around him anyway.

We thought this could be it – the Bulls finally a title contender for the first time since the Jordan era. But hope for that is gone. Who knows what could have been. Many picked the Bulls to win it all this year with Rose back. But would they ever have been good enough to beat Miami during the Big 3 era even with a healthy Rose? We’ll never find out now and we’ll be therefore robbed of a lot of great basketball between the two teams. But the Bulls need to be honest about who they are now. They are not contenders anymore. Their chance with this core is done. It’s time to move on. They can make some really smart moves now with the value they can get for some of their assets – and along with the Bobcats 2016 unprotected pick, the potential of Mirotic coming over, and Rose returning at all, they have a good shot at rebuilding sooner rather than later. But in the meantime, the Bulls are going to be very, very tough to watch.


School Trouble

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Annice Moses photo 2

The terrible, horrible, no good, very bad question came over a dinner of noodles, salad and miso soup. The question I’d dreaded ever since I’d become a parent.

“Did you hate school?”

Oof. For others, the dreaded talk is the Sex 101 chat. Been there done that. No sweat. But the school question, that’s my Achilles heel.

“I didn’t hate school. Not exactly. I had trouble.”

“What kind of trouble?”

And here’s where my true dilemma begins. What to say? How much? Do they really want to know? And if I tell them the truth, will they become who I was back then? Kein ahora…

I’d say I was the average student until about fifth grade. Then math became impossible. I cheated off of friends to get by. Eventually, at the most awkward developmental stage ever, (boobs and boys), I was diagnosed with a learning disability. For some reason, (while also giving me a massive sense of relief that I wasn’t a total idiot), this realization seemed to give me license to act out. Like I had been dealt an unfair deck and to right the injustice, I was going to be an asshole.

When high school came along, I was looking for and open to all kinds of trouble. It wasn’t too hard to find. It translated into detentions, in-school suspensions and spending more than a few Saturday mornings surrounded by thugs, druggies and kids on the verge of being kicked out of school. (But not The Breakfast Club types – there were no Emilio Estevezes or Judd Nelsons, unfortunately.) I didn’t fall into any of those particular groups, but I was ditching classes, not completing my work, opening up a mouth with teachers, and hanging out with “bad boys.” I was doing just enough to be considered “on the fringe.”

My parents were paying attention. Their attentiveness resulted in my leaving high school when I was 16. They found a tiny, tiny college (50 students. No joke) with an adjunct program for high school students. I was a fit for the school because I had pretty decent reading and writing skills. It was a fit for me because it gave me a small and personalized learning environment. This was a tremendous confidence boost to be accepted into a college when I was barely meeting the requirements to pass high school. So I bit. I left my friends, my family and my boyfriend behind, fingers and toes crossed that I wouldn’t be a total and utter failure.

So I ended up having a very non-traditional scholastic experience. The quick catch-up is I went to college at the age of 16. After two years of earning college credits, I took my GED, which was untimed thanks to my LD. At 18, I transferred to another small liberal arts college out east. (May it rest in peace – it was a victim of both the economy and my not sending in my alumni donation check.) I decided to stay an extra semester to take a job as a resident advisor and actually, (finally) attended a true graduation for myself. Psychology degree in my proud hand, I went to Israel for a year, got all Jewish and stuff, and then came back for my Master’s degree in Counseling.

On paper that all looks pretty good, impressive even. On paper, I can gloss over all the ugly parts. It leaves out that middle school and high school were hard and embarrassing and not fun at all. No adult in school took an interest or notice in me with the exception of my freshman dean who had a “Come to Moses” talk with me. I deeply appreciated that. I still do. But he couldn’t save me. I had to get out. And so, thankfully, I did.

But back to now. Present day. All eyes on me, excited for mom to elaborate on her “trouble.” Truly, I could tell them anything. They would never know the difference. Harvard grad! Model student! Housed the homeless! But that’s not honest. And with all my self-doubt and second guessing of myself as a mom, I do believe strongly in being truthful with my kids. So, I’m telling them. Because even though they are a product of me and being raised by me, they aren’t me. And my telling them stories about me and how I struggled won’t suddenly “poof !” them into my past life. It won’t unduly influence them into making the same choices I did or burden them with my same struggles.

And it’s also a bonus in the burbs to have a mom with a little street cred.


Chanukah Confessions of an Interfaith Kid

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I’m pretty sure my family coined the term Christmukkah. We were interfaith hipsters, once we realized that the alternative, Festivus, wasn’t really for the restofus. My family began blending two faiths at a time when rumor had it that my bubbie had to pay off the cantor at her shul to marry her son to a Catholic; a time when my parents could only find one congregation in a 30-mile radius that welcomed interfaith families in practice, not just in theory.

As a result I grew up in a predominantly Christian suburb as an ambassador for the Jewish people. The experience was a sliding scale of pride and discomfort: teaching dreidel to my class when I was in second grade and the resulting underground candy gambling ring; nursing a non-Jewish high school boyfriend who got sick off gefilte fish at a family function; telling off a sixth grader who teased me for being Jewish by informing him that I got eight nights of presents when he only got one; explaining to my friends from youth group why I had a Christmas tree when they came to my house for the first time for a Chanukah party.

Chanukah Confessions of an Interfaith Kid photo

There were moments when I desperately wanted to fit in. Like many interfaith children, I felt like the balance my family struck that felt so right to us made me a part of no community instead of two. I was too Jewish for the gentiles – I once had the mother of a new high school boyfriend ask, “Just how Jewish IS she?” Like on a scale of one to Jewish? Probably too Jewish for you, if not your son. But I also wasn’t Jewish enough for the Jews. Even growing up in a liberal Reform Jewish community, I still had elderly women inform me that I would “really be Jewish” if I just went to the mikveh already. I found myself defensive to the point of exhaustion the entire holiday season.

At the same time, for a WASP-y town, there were plenty of people who were willing to infuse a little Judaism into an otherwise white Christmas season. My parents had a “door is always open” policy for our home that resulted in a lot of gentile friends learning about Judaism through kishke, Tam-Tam crackers, and latkes. My Girl Scout troop, which was pretty alternative to begin with seeing as it had slowly been taken over by dads by the end of elementary school, was the only one I ever heard singing Chanukah carols around town. My music teacher growing up, who maybe had a glass eye and loved wearing a “No L” pin year-round, made sure my class lit an electric menorah during the holiday sing.

It wasn’t perfect integration. Instead it was a lesson in inclusion. My Judaism and I weren’t swept under the rug or quietly tolerated. Instead I learned that what I had to offer elevated the status quo, exposed my peers to new ideas, and made our world richer as a result of my sharing it.

Now that I work professionally with Jewish teen leaders, I have the opportunity to think about what inclusion means in my programs, and also in the larger Jewish community. Signs point toward growing rates of interfaith marriage, and I have to ask myself how we are going to make blended families feel like they are enriching Jewish communal life, the same way I was invited to elevate my community by sharing my Judaism.

Rather than putting fences around the Torah and our congregations, we should be throwing open the doors to better share the richness of Jewish tradition, the warmth of the Jewish community, and the values that can shape lives. We should be giving interfaith kids the best we have to offer, and embracing them in return, so they can also feel included and empowered to choose Judaism.

For me, Chanukah isn’t about military victory or miraculous oil or latkes that are perfectly crisp on the outside. It’s about a faith so deeply rooted that there was no choice but to take on a foe that seemed ready to crush us, for the chance to rededicate the temple, and ourselves, to our people and our values. What will you dedicate yourself to during this Festival of Lights? What change will you kindle? Who will feel included and valued because of you?

This year I’m looking forward to sharing Chanukah with Thanksgiving, to reading Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins with my littlest (gentile) cousins and making them stick their hands in pickle jars, to lighting the menorah in the glow of a (heritage, free-range) turkey rather than a Christmas tree, and most importantly, telling the family that will gather how thankful I am that we can celebrate our holidays together.

Logan Zinman works as the Regional Director of Youth Engagement for NFTY’s Chicago Area Region, developing teen leaders and strengthening congregations in the Chicagoland area. She is hoping her fame as one of this year’s Double Chai in the Chi 36 Under 36 recipients will finally get her her own reality TV show: a blend of Anthony Bourdain’s ‘No Reservations’, and that episode of ‘Oprah’ when Oprah and Gail go camping.


A Story of Old for Our Kids of Today

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With each Jewish holiday, we revisit familiar stories, many of which we grew up with since our youth: Queen Esther on Purim, Moses on Passover, Judah and the Maccabees on Chanukah. And every year, we are challenged to find new meaning within the stories, in order to keep them fresh and alive for the next generation. So how can we, as parents, aunts, uncles, and friends bring to life these stories of old to our kids of today?

The story of Chanukah is filled with action and adventure, suspense, hope, sadness, and joy – all the makings of a powerful and engaging story of strength, courage, and dedication. It readily lends itself to keep any kid on the edge of his or her seat!

A Story of Old for Our Kids of Today photo

Credit: Erica Weisz, mrsweiszbooks.com

Here are some tricks on how you can get them there, and keep them there, wanting more:

1. Make Connections!
Help your kids make connections with the story by asking open-ended questions like: When do you feel determined like the Maccabees? How is our chanukiyah similar to the menorah the Maccabees used? How is it different?

2. Create!
Rewrite and illustrate the story from the perspective of the menorah. How did the menorah feel when it was first lit with the small amount of oil? What did it think would happen? How did it feel as each day progressed? Looking at the story from a new angle will help your kids discover a piece of the story they never noticed before.

3. Act it Out!
Start by taking a room and making a mess of it, then use your imagination. As a family, act out what it would be like, in modern times, coming home to a disaster! How would you feel seeing your favorite toy crushed, all of your clothing in mud, or broken pictures everywhere? Imagine a glimmer of hope, a small miracle. What would your miracle look like? How would you feel closer to G-d through your small miracle?

Make your Chanukah this year unique and memorable for the kids in your life by retelling and reliving the story of Chanukah together. 


M-M-M-My Menorahs

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My parents collect menorahs – I amass them. The difference is that they actively seek theirs, while I passively receive mine. For some reason, I seem to receive a lot of them. I suppose once you have a critical mass of any item, people assume you collect it – and suddenly, you do.

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The first menorah that I could really claim as mine was a traditional bronze one. It was given to me for my bar mitzvah by my mom’s old boss at an interior design firm. When I was cleaning it one year, I thought I broke it, until I realized that it unscrews. The base, stem, and branches all detach. This makes it easy to pack when I move, I suppose, though it’s not all that huge to begin with.

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I also have one of the “Tree of Life” menorahs. Well, we do, since it was a wedding present for my wife and me. In cleaning the wax off, some of the silver plating came off, which is a shame.

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My older son, Noah, received a Noah’s Ark-shaped menorah as a gift from my co-workers when he was born. The giraffe is the shamash, which is clever, but the toucan is larger than the other animals, even the elephant, which is confusing. I mean, they are not to scale altogether, but if they are made to be all the same size, then what’s so special about the toucan? I have displayed the menorah but never used it. I am afraid to scrape wax off of ceramic, or put something so fragile in the sink to run hot water over it.

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My grandmother gave me one when she moved. She, too, has amassed many menorahs over the years. When she moved from her house of 30-some years into a one-bedroom apartment, the grandkids each got to pick something, so I took this menorah. It has a line from the “HaNeirot HaLalu” prayer in it. The line simply means, “these candles are holy.” I had a friend over for Chanukah once, and let him light it. He said he was honored to light my grandmother’s menorah. I had never thought of it that way, but I guess he’s right.

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Then there is this huge glass deal my parents gave me. It’s made of several layers of thick glass, stacked up — very arty. It’s not as hard to clean as I had feared when I first saw it. Hot water makes the wax come right off, and the candleholders are smooth on the inside. The glass itself is also pretty strong; I have yet to nick it. (It may seem odd to dwell on which menorahs are easy or hard to clean, unless you have ever had to repeatedly clean multiple menorahs over a week just so the candles stayed in.)

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My wife’s favorite, however, is a painted metal one that I think looks like it’s for kids. It’s hollow, so it can hold a whole box of candles. The top comes off like a lid. I have to say I have no idea where it comes from or who gave it to us. But it’s very colorful and fun, and I can see why she likes it. After all, Chanukah is a fun holiday. This menorah makes a nice contrast with all the more formal ones, too.

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There are two others that my wife has amassed— again, they came to her. I guess my menorah magnetism has rubbed off on her too. One is very traditional; if someone asked you to “draw a menorah,” you’d draw this one. The other is an Art Deco take on the usual shape.

We do end up using most of these menorahs on Chanukah. My wife and I each light one, each of the three kids lights his or her own, and my in-laws also light one when they are over. So we need at least six, and I usually go through two whole boxes of candles every year. After all, six menorahs times nine candles each (don’t forget the shamash!) can mean 36 candles on the eighth night alone, and a standard box holds “only” 44.

When I look at the veritable fireplace my dining room table has become at Chanukah in recent years, I think back to when I was single a decade ago — lighting just my own menorah. Since then, I have amassed much more than a shelf-full of menorahs. 


The Potato Pancake Redone

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Somewhere along the line we got the idea that only those women can make true latkes. Who are those women? They are our mothers, mothers-in-law, grandmothers, and aunts ... all women of a certain—age. They had been making them for years with a knowing hand, all the while determined to have the best recipe around.

For many, potato pancakes have been stamped with the "Do Not Attempt" trademark and I am here to say we must stop with the madness! Potato pancakes are simple—they do not have to be the heavy and oily latkes that our ancestors used to make.

And to be quite honest, I never liked them that way. At my house we never ate latkes; they were not part of my mother's repertoire. It was my childhood best friend's grandmother who used to make potato pancakes for us all the time. My best friend dipped hers in ketchup, leaving only a nice pool of oil behind and I ate them plain with a bit of salt and pepper. I usually picked at the dry crispy potato crumbs left—a relative of the potato chip, or so I like to think.

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Latkes were good, but in my eyes never great. As I got older, it was hard for me to eat these potato pancakes in restaurants and even people's homes. I could not figure out what I did not love about them. "What's not to like?" I thought. Potatoes: good; onions: good; crispy bits: good. Why was the combination of these ingredients not adding up to be the crave-tastic food I willed it to be? It was because none of them were quite done my way. I wanted light, crispy and well-seasoned bites of potato, not dense, mushy pancakes that dribbled oil down my chin when I bit into them.

It was not until a few years ago that suddenly I realized what needed to be done: I needed to create my own potato pancake, one that had a following of its own that would leave not oily smudges, but gleeful smiles. After numerous test runs and a garbage can full of potato peelings, I figured it out. It was so simple that it made me wonder why it took me so long to come up with the recipe.

The beauty of this recipe is that it is done in the food processor, not with a grater like those women used to do. Just grate all your potatoes in the handy dandy food processor and combine with the rest of the ingredients. Then throw into a pan and finish off in the oven. The pancakes basically make themselves! No flipping or greasy mess necessary. An easy and uber-crispy potato pancake that can be served as a breakfast item with delicious fried eggs for breakfast, an Hors D'oeuvres with some Nova Scotia lox on it and a sprig of dill or my personal fav—a simple bite with a refreshing Greek yogurt dip.

Get excited! Pull out your food processors! Hide the tears! Burn the apron! And be ready to smugly say to your mother/mothers-in-law/grandmas, "I did it. I made these! And they are fantastic!"

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Crispy Potato and Shallot Pancakes with Greek Yogurt Dip

These super-duper easy potato pancakes require very little fuss and even less oil (your figure will thank you later). There are two key components to doing these potato pancakes correctly:

1. Make sure you squeeze out as much liquid as possible. The easiest way to do so is to wrap them in cheesecloth. I personally find the dish towel much more tedious and labor intensive.

2. When placing the potato mixture in the pan, make sure to squeeze it down as much as possible so the bottom gets really beautiful and crusty.

Crispy Potato and Shallot Pancakes

2 pounds russet potatoes, peeled and grated 3 shallots, grated (I find the shallots give a milder flavor than onions)
3 garlic cloves, minced (or grated on a microplaner)
1/4 cup seasoned bread crumbs
1/4 cup grated parmesan, plus 1 tablespoon (you can use any other cheese you please as well...it's quite versatile)
2 tablespoons freshly chopped rosemary
2 tablespoons freshly chopped dill
2 eggs, lightly beaten 2 teaspoons kosher salt 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper 3 tablespoons olive oil

***the magic ingredient: a sprinkle of parmesan cheese on the top***

Preheat oven to 450 degrees

1. Insert the fine shredder attachment to your food processor and shred the potatoes and shallots.

2. Place mixture into a cheese cloth and ring out all the moisture. Make sure every last bit gets out. Dry potatoes = crispy pancakes.

3. Place the mixture in a bowl, add in 2 eggs, and sprinkle in enough bread crumbs to soak up the remaining moisture.

4. Preheat a large pan (12 inches) with the olive oil in it at medium high.

5. Place the potato mixture into the pan. Make sure you pat it down firmly and squish it down so that all the potato's surface area is covered. After about 5-10 minutes the edges started getting beautiful and brown.

6. Turn off the heat and sprinkle some Parmesan cheese right on top before putting it in the oven. The cheese gives it an even more beautiful crust and adds a little bit of saltiness. Again use what you like, cheddar and Swiss make a great pairing too, but they create a gooier pancake.

7. Place the pan the oven for 20 minutes.

8. Carefully invert the pancake onto a cutting board and cut into squares with serrated knife. You can also cut it like a pizza and present it in slices.

Herbed Greek Yogurt Dip

1/2 cup non-fat Greek yogurt
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 teaspoon lemon juice
2 teaspoons chopped chives
1 teaspoon chopped rosemary

1. Combine all ingredients in a small bowl and enjoy. If you want to get all fancy, place a dollop on each pancake piece and garnish with chive.

For the step by step tutorial please go to www.girlandthekitchen.com

Mila Furman is a chef, blogger, writer, recipe developer, food coach, new mom, wife and all around busy bee. Born in the former USSR, she grew up in Chicago and quickly developed an affinity for the culinary arts. Her Ashkenazi roots frequently influence her kitchen creations. She graduated from one of the top culinary schools with a degree in culinary arts and a BA in Hospitality and Restaurant management. Having worked all over Chicago in a multitude of kitchens, she boasts a well-rounded recipe repertoire. Read more of her story and keep up with her many shenanigans atwww.girlandthekitchen.com.


The Significance of the Chanukah Nickel

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I want to tell you a story. One of the best gifts I ever received I never actually got.

I was moving out of my parents’ house into the city and my birthday was about six weeks prior. My brother decided he wanted to get me a shower radio for my new apartment. We have always shared one because we shared a bathroom. He told me he was going to get this for me, but he never did. And I didn’t care. The thought that he wanted to get a new one for me is what truly mattered. The fact that he wanted to get me my own shower radio was the gift.

I’ve told this story countless times. Okay maybe like six or seven, but his desire to get me the gift was the best gift he could ever give me. That or beer. I really like beer.

The Significance of the Chanukah Nickel photo 2

Now I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “Adam,” (because that’s my name) “What does that have to do with a significant Chanukah nickel?” And perhaps you are also thinking, “Why not a Chanukah dime? A Chanukah quarter? A Chanukah two-dollar bill!?” Well, don’t worry about those. That’d be if we considered inflation, which we won’t. Besides, I detest inflation. It’s why I’m always popping balloons. But what that story has to do with a significant Chanukah nickel is pretty much everything I value when it comes to gifts these days.

As my life has progressed, I’ve become content with not receiving gifts to the point that I prefer it. Giving gifts on the other hand, well, I’d technically be content without that too. Both sides of figuring out the right gift are stressful. Stressful to a point that stresses me out just thinking about how much it stresses me out. Not to mention, the most difficult expression to fake is the reaction to a present. Good, bad, ugly – it’s impossible to falsify.

But, despite my slight disdain towards gifts, I still value them, and what I’ve come to value comes directly from my experience, every single year at Chanukah, with my Zaydie: the most wise and knowledgeable man to have ever existed. He also has a full head of hair and the hair gene is supposedly with your mother’s father so I’m set and oh, so thankful for that. Did you see the picture at the top of the blog? That was us over 20 years ago. Same hair today. Both of us.

Now, what I give my Zaydie for Chanukah every year instead of what some might consider an actual gift is one thing and one thing only:

A nickel. Just a nickel.

But it’s not just a nickel. It’s the most wonderful and heartfelt moment of Chanukah for me. I’ve said before that Chanukah isn't as important to me as other holidays, but every year when I get to this moment, the true meaning of my Chanukah is realized.

See, when my Zaydie was young, all he ever got for the holiday was – you guessed it – a nickel. You read the title of the blog, didn’t you? You’re such a sleuth. And you keep scrolling back up to the top of this piece. Stop it. For my Zaydie, getting a nickel back then was a huge deal. I mean, with a nickel you could buy a car and a cherry phosphate down at the local soda shop. So today, that’s all he asks for (a nickel, not a cherry phosphate). All of his grandchildren give him one and I know that makes him feel like a millionaire, and it has nothing to do with his abundance of nickels.

I have equated this into my own philosophy with gifts. I love when there is thought behind them. I know that the sentiment of “it’s the thought that counts” isn’t new by any means, but I hold this very close to my own beliefs; hence my love for the shower radio I never received. What I like is to give gifts when I want to and not because I’m expected to. It’s not fun for me giving gifts for the sake of giving gifts. I enjoy when I have the organic thought of, “this would be perfect for that special someone” and then get to give that perfection to that special someone. Also, I enjoy that it’s completely unexpected. Part of my apathy for required gift-giving is I don’t like keeping secrets. When I want to give a gift for no special reason other than the recipient is special, I don’t have to keep it a secret. Holding on to a present without saying anything for weeks is excruciating. Pretty much the same feeling I get when I wake up two minutes before my alarm goes off in the morning.

Looking back before that life progression thing, when I was a child, gifts were great. I loved them. I yearned for them. But I was a selfish, selfish child. Remember that Bar Mitzvah I had? I didn’t put a single dime into that, let alone a significant Chanukah nickel. Once I got to college, my aunts and uncles kept it simple and would give me 20 bucks as a gift for Chanukah. That was great. Perfect gift. But I have hindsight now, and it has nothing to do with butts.

I don’t need gifts anymore. Again, that’s not to say I don’t like getting or giving gifts, but I don’t need them. I’m 26-and-a-half years old. I’m almost a full-grown man. So when there is something in this world that I want, I simply get it. That kind of makes it difficult to answer what I want for my birthday or Chanukah, so the answer is inevitably nothing. If there’s something I want, I am in a fortunate position with my life to get it. Lucky for me, most of the things I want fall under the category of a McDonald’s double cheeseburger or a nap. So when I say I don’t need anything for my birthday or Chanukah, I mean it. Now that it’s in writing, maybe some people (Mom) will know I’m not kidding.

I actually made her cry once. Okay, maybe just a strong sniffle. Didn’t do it on purpose but I kept saying I didn’t want anything for my birthday and she didn’t like that. Sorry mom. But as I’ve told you time and time again, aren’t you a gift enough?

I’ll accept my ‘Child of the Year’ award now.


Tall, Jewish, Female: A Modern Day Struggle

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Tall, Jewish, Female: A Modern Day Struggle photo 1

After sitting at a registration table for the entire duration of my work event last night, I finally stood up to say goodbye to our guests. As I walked into the rotunda where we were hosting a reception, an older gentleman approached me. I assumed he wanted to share kind words about the event. However, instead of expressing thanks, he simply told me that I was way taller than he expected. “Are you Jewish?” he asked me skeptically, with a hint of judgment in his voice. I wish I could say that I have never heard that one before.

Yes, I’m a Jewish girl. Yes, I’m 5 feet 11 inches tall. (Fun fact: My birthday is also 5/11.) Yes, these things don’t often go together and combined sound like the title of a “True Life” episode.

Ever since I was young, people have approached me about my height. I always wonder what people hope to gain when they tell someone that they are “so tall,” as if a tall person would have no idea that this was the case. Although people would rarely tell someone that their nose is huge or that they are a bit on the chubby side, for some reason, when it comes to height, the majority of people seem to have no filter. It’s as if they just discovered something extraordinary and they just have to announce it right then and there.

When I was in middle school, I was close to the height of an average-sized Jewish 20-something, which was rare amongst my peers. Still, was it really necessary for people to act as though I would fit right in to the lineup of the Chicago Bulls? Not even a little bit, yet people did.

A large portion of people I have come into contact with also love to poke fun at my height. My campers, friends, and even my mother have told me that my doppelganger is the Wacky Waving Inflatable Arm Flailing Tube Man. There is some validity in their comparison; my arms flail like crazy. Even so, I have been called a tree, a giant and Yao (as in Yao Ming, the 7-foot-6-inch Chinese basketball player).

A few years ago, when I was visiting Epcot, I was walking around minding my own business when Donald Duck dressed in a festive sombrero motioned to me that I was of above average height, as if I needed to be ridiculed by a guy in a duck suit (a great one though, no disrespect to the most magical place on Earth). Couldn’t he just take a picture with me like everyone else? (Please ignore the fact that I was 20 at the time. Thanks!)

Seeing that I vocalize that my spirit animal is a giraffe, I don’t necessarily consider these comparisons and gestures a bad thing. Sometimes, everything is in good fun. However, the line between harmless teasing and taking things too far can often be a slippery slope.

I haven’t always been okay with being tall. It is understandable, as it does have its disadvantages. Everyone asks me what sport I play, which usually yields an answer of some combination of laughter and awkward hesitation. Although I’ve attempted to play almost every sport imaginable, my asthma and awkwardly long limbs have proven to be a not-so-athletic combination. With that being said, I still somehow walk faster than almost everyone I know. The struggle continues.

I’ve also hit my head in my fair share of weird places, such as American Eagle airplanes (they are just so small!), Israeli tunnels (I seriously almost gave myself a concussion in the City of David), and even chandeliers at restaurants (so, so embarrassing and still one of my favorite stories). Beyond that, I struggle to hear my friends in bars. It’s not my fault that I am higher up than the rest of the group. I could create a whole collage of pictures in which my head has been severed off yet everyone else’s remains unharmed. Anytime I am stuck in the middle seat of a cab, it looks something like this.

Tall, Jewish, Female: A Modern Day Struggle photo 2

Israel in 2008 – That time our bus was too small

Everything from dresses, shorts, and pants run a bit short. Although I really do like heels, I barely wear them because I am self-conscious of making myself even taller. Don’t even get me started on the horrors of shoe shopping and accomplishing the ever so difficult task of finding myself a suitable, future Jewish husband over six feet tall. A girl can dream.

When the Buzzfeed article 17 Struggles of Being a Tall Girl was posted a few weeks ago, at least 10 people sent it to me. I nodded and laughed because it was ridiculously accurate, except I have no idea what “Long Tall Sally” is and I am so grateful that this is the case.

This post is not simply a list of grievances. When it comes to the jokes, the little struggles, and the bigger challenges, I have learned – over a great deal of time – to laugh and embrace it. Although I probably will never rock five-inch heels, escape the quips, and fit comfortably in an airplane seat that isn’t the bulkhead or exit row, I do try my best to feel comfortable in my own skin.

Being tall, and coming from a religion of people where this seems to be a rarity, has taught me an important lesson. Although there are many things that people can improve upon there are some things that you cannot change. Height is one of those things. Because of this, I can either choose to hate being tall and suffer or I can accept what I was I was born with. Although this might sound like the ending to a Disney Channel Original Movie (which would really be an honor, if anything I wrote was as good as any Disney movie), I have learned to at least try to be confident about my height.

It does have its advantages: I can always see at concerts, my roommates love that they never need to buy step stools because I can reach the high shelves, and although shopping has its struggles, I never have to get my pants shortened. And as for the things that aren’t the best? I’ve perfected the “sorority squat” whenever a camera is near, I have found a new appreciation for maxi dresses (and mine never get dirty from hitting the ground) and I just need to tell myself daily that if my dad was 6 feet 4 inches, I can still marry a Jewish guy that is taller than me, right? 


The Pen is Mightier than the ‘Sword’

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The Pen is Mightier than the ‘Sword’ photo 1

Some might call me a bit of a curmudgeon. I don't like change, and I'll shake my fist at you like a kvetchy Jewish grandmother and let you know what I think. I don't like self-checkout at the grocery; I won't throw out a well-worn pair of shoes until I find an absolutely perfect replacement; and I refuse to buy an electronic reading tablet.

I love new technology and praise my iPhone nearly every day for its wondrous powers and almost omniscient Siri. But, sometimes a hand-written passive aggressive note is the best medium. I come from a family of passive aggressive note-writers. When I get angry, I might shake my fist at you … or I might just write you a long letter. That'll show you!

Some people are nimble with their fists. Others make a strong show with flailing arms and a bellowing or shrill voice. I'm not good at yelling at you on the spot. I'll write you a letter after the fact and let you know what I think. I need time to collect my thoughts and wax poetic on your wrong-doings. I can never think of my counter-arguments until after the fact-hence, the passive aggressive note.

The funny thing about passive aggressive notes is that they rarely work.

When I write a passive aggressive note, bleeding my grievances via pen to paper, I expect the recipient to tear their sleeve in shame and apologize. Usually people read such notes and they just get angrier.

I saw yesterday that RedEye Chicago and several other news sources reported on the comment explosion on Reddit.com regarding a passive aggressive door note exchange between two (likely-Chicago) neighbors regarding one of the neighbor's loud and disturbing sex noises. Why a comment explosion on Reddit.com is worthy of the attention of several news sources is worthy of a whole different conversation for another day. However, I totally get why people latched on to this story.

There are about two or three instances in my entire life in which my perfectly-crafted letters solicited the response I desired. Once such instance involved a letter I wrote to my neighbor about a year ago asking him to tone down the loud sex noises from up above.

What I've learned from years of passive aggressive note-writing:

1. Kill 'em with humor and a touch of shame (will probably work).
2. Kill 'em with kindness (might just work).
3. Kill 'em with Jewish guilt (probably won't work).

After a couple weeknights of waking up to the sounds of giggles, thrashes, moans and screams, I couldn't take it anymore. My bed shook below my neighbor and his lady friend to the rhythm of their "music." I learned during those treacherous and sleepless nights that our old, three-flat building's walls are not only paper thin, our floors are too.  I tried burying my head in my pillows, raising the volume on my TV, and even (in all my curmudgeon glory) got out my broom and gave the handle a tappidy tap and then a whackidy whack at my ceiling-only to receive giggles in return. It was time for my Sharpie and a clean piece of paper.

I crafted my passive aggressive note carefully and with some grace, unlike my counterpart featured on Reddit.com. I wish I still had the masterfully-written note; my neighbor kept it (for posterity?) after finding it tacked to his apartment door with a piece of Scotch tape.

In my note, I began by commending my neighbor for his performance. "I applaud you," I remember writing. However, I continued, noting the shoddy insulation in our walls and floors, and the noise that escapes. I politely asked that I no longer be an unwilling participant in his romps. I began with a compliment, explained the particularities of the problem, and made my demands.

The folks in the Reddit.com photo handled it all wrong. They met anger with anger. Not to mention, the girl's claims of her neighbor's attacks on her sexual expression as "slut shaming" are just a little far-fetched. I'm a self-proclaimed feminist and even I can see the holes in that argument. Sex noises are sex noises-if they're disturbing my beauty sleep, I don't care who is making them. I digress.

My neighbor's response note, Scotch taped to our door was so shocking-particularly, because it was so nice (and yes, I've saved it for posterity and have presented it to you below).

The Pen is Mightier than the ‘Sword’ photo 2

"Hi girls,

I'm really sorry about the noise.
If I had any idea how thin the floor
was I never would have bothered you. It
won't happen again (so loudly [winky face])." 

Our neighbor matched our kind/humorous tone with a cheeky "wink" at the end. I was so proud that I had achieved the impossible! I had used the power of passive aggressive note persuasion to get someone to change their ways.

Later that week, my roommate ran into our neighbor and he admitted his subsequently embarrassed girlfriend wrote the response. While I found this news disappointing, I've enjoyed sleep-time radio silence ever since our door note exchange. 

A Not Passive Aggressive Note: Fellow note-writers, visitPassiveAggressiveNotes.com. 


Giving Chanukah Her Space

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Giving Chanukah Her Space photo

You would have to be hiding under a slow cooker filled with cholent to not have heard about Thanksgivukkah. If not, congratulations, you are the last to know that Chanukah and Thanksgiving are happening at the same time this year. While part of me is excited for this gratitudepalooza, I can’t help but want to send Chanukah to group therapy.

Isn’t it time she had her own identity? First it was the Chanukah bush, now it’ll be turkey beak-shaped dreidels. I know this combo is a rare occurrence that should be honored, but if I see one more menu list for the magical blending of these holidays I’m going to start throwing sweet potatoes from rooftops.

Yes, turkey menorahs are cute and there is nothing that compares to the deliciousness that is a sweet potato latke. I get that both holidays are about love and light – I just wish that Chanukah got to stand on her own.

Maybe I’m just cranky about the combo because I’m a Jew by choice. I didn’t grow up with Chanukah traditions – I’m learning how to make the holiday my own. Comparing Chanukah to Christmas makes me restless because I’m still trying to separate myself from Christmas. It’s like a really long, incredibly stressful break-up.

Just when I’m starting to get the hang of how to manage the split? We’re aligning Chanukah with Thanksgiving. It’s too much for my new Jewish heart to bear.

I need my holidays to be separate and equal. I need a Thanksgiving celebration that is full of turkey and cornbread stuffing and pumpkin pie. I also need a Chanukah Party with my mother-in-law’s latkes that she has been making forever. What I’m saying is I need a little Jewish Holiday mutual exclusivity. Surely I can’t be the only one.

As usual I am turning to my favorite kitchen friend Ina Garten to help me focus my Chanukah menu. She has a recipe for applesauce fit for whatever sort of holiday dinner you have planned this year.

2 large navel oranges, juice and zest of
1 lemon, juice and zest of
3 lbs granny smith apples (about 6-8 apples)
3lbs sweet red apples (about 6-8)…I used honey crisps
1/2 cup light brown sugar
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon allspice

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Place the zest and juice of the oranges and lemon in a large bowl. Peel, quarter and core the apples (reserving the peel of 2 of the red apples) and toss them in the juice. Pour the apples, reserved apple peel and juice into a nonreactive Dutch oven or enameled iron pot. Add the brown sugar, butter, cinnamon and allspice and cover the pot. Bake for 1 hour or until apples are soft. Remove and discard the apple peel. Mix with a whisk until it’s as smooth (or chunky) as you like. 


Giving thanks this Thanksgiving—and Chanukah

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Giving thanks this Thanksgiving—and Chanukah photo

Portion of Chagall's America Windows at the Art Institute of Chicago.

If you’ve visited any water cooler frequented by Members of the Tribe lately, the subject of the first day of Chanukah landing on Thanksgiving Day for the first time since 1888—and the last time for another 70,000 years—was bound to come up.

The fact that these two beloved holidays are coinciding on Nov. 28 this year is like, well, Christmas in July. There’s something so appropriate about holidays that center around gratitude and light colliding into each other.

In honor of giving thanks and the nine lights of Chanukah (including the shamash), I give you nine reasons I’m thankful. What’s your top nine?

1) I’m thankful for…being an American Jewish woman with so many choices and the freedom to be anything I want to be, who is encouraged, not persecuted, for who I am and what I believe.

2) I’m thankful for…my mom and dad, who raised me in a home overflowing with love, who serve as models of Jewish values and love for me to emulate in my life, and who sent me to good schools, Hebrew and secular, in safe learning environments where teachers nourished my potential.

3) I’m thankful for… getting to be a member of this committed, caring, and vibrant Chicago Jewish community. And I’m thankful for being part of an organization, the Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago, which makes it easy for all of us to live generously.

4) I’m thankful for…a circle of incredible friends who know just what any given situation calls for—an ear, a hug, a philosophical discussion, a margarita, a cupcake, or a buddy to watch The Breakfast Club with for the 50th time.

5) I’m thankful for….nephews. I get to witness their amazement in doing the things adults find mundane like riding the El, wandering the cereal aisle, or watching an ant scamper across the sidewalk. And nothing raises my serotonin level more in this world than hearing one of my nephews laugh or the symphony of listening to them laugh in unison.

6) I’m thankful for…Shana. A couple months back I’d been having a bad week, and popped into Target to buy a bunch of items. When I finally reached the front of the checkout, the clerk insisted on closing her line to the other shoppers for half an hour to help me find the best deals she could for the items in my cart using every discount possible. Ultimately, she managed to save me almost $100. But she gave me so much more than money in my wallet; she gave me the gift of her kindness. I glanced at her nametag—Shana. I told Shana, who I’m fairly certain had never heard a Yiddish word before, her name means “beautiful” in Yiddish.

7) I’m thankful for…art in any form. It can inspire you, even change you. The Chagall Windows at the Art Institute. To Kill a Mockingbird. Opening weekend in a crowded movie theater watching a great movie. Listening to a song on the radio that feels like the singer wrote the lyrics just for me because it speaks so exactly to the mood I’m in at that moment.

8) I’m thankful for…finding joy in every season—even winter. Whether we’re toddlers, teens, or—ahem—a little older, let’s jump in the leaves in the fall, make snow angels in the winter, meander through the rain without an umbrella in the spring, and jump in the lake in the summertime.

9) I’m thankful for…believing in beshert, in believing that some of our steps along this crazy, yet beautiful journey in life—who we're meant to become and who we're meant to meet—are out of our hands, preordained by God, a force bigger than all of us.


Do More Than Change Your Facebook Status

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Do More Than Change Your Facebook Status photo

According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs website, Veterans Day is a “celebration to honor America's veterans for their patriotism, love of country, and willingness to serve and sacrifice for the common good.” It was originally called Armistice Day because it marked the anniversary of armistice signed for World War I, which went into effect at the eleventh hour on the eleventh day of the eleventh month in the year 1918. This is a day we humbly offer up thanks and gratitude to this nation’s veterans.

Yes, we should post on Facebook and Twitter and all forms of social media that we salute our soldiers. Let’s use the official hashtag, #honoringvets, when we do. There is something very American about taking to the simplest and most convenient forms of technology to show our widespread support for a cause. I also don’t believe we even need to apologize for its perceived triteness.

I also happen to believe that turning to social media as the method to mark the holiday, is simply not enough. I urge us to take a moment at some point today and reflect on what it means to serve in the military. What would it mean for to leave behind family, friends and country to protect all that we hold dear? Have we ever taken the time to really think about it? Have we ever gone out of our way to thank a veteran? Have we ever marked this day in any way beyond taking a day off of work and saving 30 percent off of a great pair of shoes?

This day has been designated as an opportunity to do more than usual in order to show how much we appreciate those who have served. Many, if not all, of us have a friend or family member that has served or currently serves in the military. Let’s not miss the chance to show them we honor their commitment to keep us safe.


All You Need Is Love

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6 Kislev 5774 / Nov. 8-9, 2013

All You Need Is Love photo

In this week's portion, Vayetzeh, we find one of most intriguing love stories in the Bible. Jacob lays eyes on Rachel for the first time (yes she was his first cousin; no that wasn't weird at the time), and knows that they're meant to be together. He immediately proceeds to water her flocks for her, and lets her know who he is and his relationship to her. After a month of serving in her father Laban's house, he is asked what his desired wages are. He says that he'd be willing to work seven years for the privilege of marrying her. Laban agrees to the deal, and the Torah tells us that those seven years "seemed for him but a few days because of his love for her."

As most love stories do, this one has a bit of an interesting twist. When the time comes to marry Rachel, his uncle throws a feast and ultimately tricks Jacob by having him marry Rachel's older sister, Leah (setting Leah up for a lifetime of feeling disappointed and unloved by her husband, given his passion for her sister). Laban tells Jacob that he can also have Rachel as a wife (as soon as next week!), provided Jacob agrees to work another seven years. Jacob agrees to these news terms, and a week later, Rachel becomes his second wife (with two concubines to shortly follow - quite the family unit!).

Ultimately, Jacob has to work for 14 years in order to marry Rachel (seven before marrying her, and seven after).

Granted, Biblical years and contemporary years don't always match up (Biblical lifespans were just a bit longer than ours today…), but the amount of work that Jacob was willing to do in order to "earn" the right to marry Rachel is truly incredible.

As we all know, relationships are hard work. Most of us don't necessarily think of manual labor (or shepherding) as constituting such work, but it's a meaningful metaphor for us to learn from. Jacob models for us the fact that we should be willing to work our butts off, over an extended period of time, for those we love. For some, this means investing in their relationships and deepening self-understanding, putting personal dreams on hold for the benefit of your family, and/or simply doing what needs to get done in order to put food on the table. For others, such as our military families who are often apart from their loved ones for months at a time, hard work for love takes on a similarly powerful meaning.

This Shabbat, reflect on the lengths you would go to for love. Are you being healthily selfless when called upon to be such in your relationships? Are you willing/able to put the happiness and well-being of others ahead of your own? Where do you draw the line and why? 


Saying goodbye…to doughnuts

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Saying goodbye…to doughnuts photo 1

Dear doughnuts,

My, what a great 23 or so years it has been. We have had a great run together … and though it pains me to do this, I must send you my official farewell.

We first met when I was a young child. I liked you right away. When the other kids were spending time with brownies or cookies, you were my first love. When my friends blew out candles on a birthday cake each year, my birthday wishes were granted over one of you—one big candle stuck into a black and white swirled frosted doughnut. And my wish always came true.

Saying goodbye…to doughnuts photo 2

As the years went on, I got to know your children, the Munchkins. They traveled to school with me in a big cardboard box with handles each time I had an event to celebrate—a birthday, Chanukah, the end of the school year. Powdered, jelly-filled, glazed, or chocolate, I loved your little ones with all my heart. Any time I brought them, I was instantly the most popular kid in the class.

And so it was through my adolescence—a happy, loving relationship. But then it began to turn sour.

In high school, the choir, the dance group, the swim team, and the sophomore class seemed to all gather together to decide on the same fundraiser: Selling a dozen Krispy Kremes for $5. How could I not support those clubs trying to earn money? So I bought your friends and brought them home. And ate one. Or two. Or two and a half. And then a half, but a few hours later.

My stomach, though, didn’t love the idea. It punished me by making me feel full yet hollow, greasy and gross.

Saying goodbye…to doughnuts photo 3

Knowing myself and knowing my body, I knew that I could never eat just one of those perfectly glazed three-bite treats. So, later in my high school career, I promised myself that I would stop eating Krispy Kremes. And I have lived up to my word.

But others of your kind were different. Those were no big deal. Still delicious, still hit the spot. Especially your friend Entenmann that comes with the little crumbly toppings.

Saying goodbye…to doughnuts photo 4

I wouldn’t go out of my way to buy one of you. But working in an office where people put out food in the kitchenette five feet away from my office, it has occasionally happened that I’d sneak away with a half of one of you. Or a full one. Or two. And every time, you make me feel gross. Worthless. Like I have to purchase an elliptical and a treadmill and one of those rowing machines and use them all day long in order to feel like myself again.

So, my dear doughnuts, I have made a decision today. With all of the readers of my blog as my witness, I will never again eat one of your kind. I’ve mistaken love for lust, and it just isn’t worth the pain.

You ask if there’s someone else—well … actually … there is. Ice cream doesn’t hurt me like you do. Neither do cookies, brownies, blondies, yogurt, cheesecakes, pies, chocolate-covered cashews, gelato, milkshakes, pudding, chocolate mousse cake, or red velvet Oreo truffle brownie bars. They respect me for who I am and don’t make me feel awful.

I wish we could have done this goodbye in person; but it would have been too painful. I wish you the best of luck with other people. I will always cherish our memories and I will never ever forget you.

Yours one last time,

P.S. Can you give me chocolate mousse cake’s phone number?


Holiday Hugeness

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If you are reading this post expecting a secret recipe to drop weight fast in advance of the holidays, you are out of luck. The truth is there is no magic bullet (for weight loss) or supplement to melt a few pounds off your belly. However, you do not have to starve yourself or workout for hours on end to escape the holiday bulge.

Starting at Halloween, and continuing until Jan. 1, candy flows like ragweed (it’s a bad year for those of us with allergies). People don’t want their kids to eat 20 pounds of candy, so it’s in the office. And then the guy who lives at the end of the block, but buys candy just in case, brings in his Costco bag of M&Ms.

All this sugary goodness is too much for anyone to handle. If you are human, something will call your name and you will be powerless to avoid it. Here are some tips to eat less candy:

1. Give away, hide, or throw away leftovers.

2. Pick your favorite and have one “fun size” treat and move on.

3. Be strategic: don’t walk past the pile of chocolate when you are hungry.

4. Combat crap with cut-up fruit and veggies.

5. If you over-indulge, move on—literally. Take a quick run up the steps, burn some calories and then let it go

6. Don’t feel guilty saying “NO” to the office sugar-pusher. “I baked this from scratch, it took me eight hours,” they’ll say. Well, sugar-pusher, it’s called a bakery—open one up and sell your deliciousness there. In college there is peer pressure to drink, in the office there’s pressure to eat. And then later in life it’s pressure to take fish oil.

We all fall off the healthy wagon. Don’t worry about it; worrying only makes things worse. Yes, worrying can make you gain weight. I won’t get into the science, but if you ever watch late-night television, someone is always selling a pill to reduce your levels of cortisol. Balance your stress levels the old fashion way: exercise, meditate, read, have fun, and be better tomorrow.

Holiday Hugeness photo 1

Of course if tomorrow is a holiday party, you might be in trouble. Holiday parties usually mean two things: excess food and excess booze. Both are sworn enemies of skinny. Plan for the parties and you will survive. Be the person that brings the hummus plate with veggies, bakes a chicken dish, or brings fruit for dessert. Sure, people will give you a dirty look, but everyone wants to eat more veggies and fruit. I also recommend eating before you go to parties. Don’t eat a huge meal, but combine some healthy veggies with some of these things pictured below:

Holiday Hugeness photo 2

Picture courtesy of www.strengthguild.com

Drinking alcohol, a.k.a. liquid calories, kills a diet faster than Halloween candy. Beer is probably the worst, but wine and vodka are not far behind. Have a drink or two.

Check here for a list of a few common drinks and their caloric damage.

I promise you can still have fun and enjoy great food while following these easy suggestions. If you have any great holiday health strategies, please comment below. Have a great holiday season!


Popping the Jewish Bubble

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Gabi Bronstein photo

I grew up in a town that was 85 percent Jewish. Every summer I attended a camp that was 95 percent Jewish. Then I went to a college where I lived in a dorm that virtually emptied during the High Holidays. Despite these being rough estimates, I think it’s safe to say I live in the Jewish Bubble.

That is until I moved to D.C. Now, I’m sure there are plenty of Jews here, I just happen not to know any of them. The people I’ve met/befriended are from very different walks of life and, for some, I’m the first Jew they’ve ever met. Talk about a 180. I would be lying if I said living outside the bubble wasn’t weird.

A few days ago I was out with some of these new friends when one made a comment that struck me. She said her parents didn’t want her attending a certain college because they didn’t want her marrying a Jew. She immediately knew what she had said was offensive.

I think I should have been more offended, but for some reason I wasn’t. Maybe it was because for the first time I was shocked to realize how very far out of my comfort zone I was, or maybe it was because on some level I wasn’t sure I disagreed with her. Do Jewish parents want their children marrying out of the religion either? I immediately changed the topic.

But the statement lingered with me. The more I thought about it the more confused I became on how I felt about it. Maybe Jewish parents don’t want their children marrying out of the religion, but is their reasoning the same as my friend’s parents?

The Jewish Bubble doesn’t really prepare you for life outside of it. It gives you no indication about how different people are or how different their views are. I would be lying if I said living outside the bubble wasn’t weird. But, I would also be lying if I said it didn’t open my eyes.


Late to the Animorphs Party

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Late to the Animorphs Party photo 1

I missed the Animorphs series the first time around. Man, in the ‘90s, you saw those book covers everywhere you went: one kid transitioning into a fly or a bear or a dolphin or some other creature. And there were always two tons of them, right? They were just a little young for me when they started coming out (or I might have been too invested in showing off that I was reading Watership Down instead), but, uh…

I’m reading them now.

I’m kind of hooked.

There are some stories that, no matter how dodgy the premise, I will always inhale. Animal transformation is one of them. When I was six, my fondest wish was to be a were-rat, thanks to a healthy diet of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Mrs. Frisby & The Rats of NIMH. My hometown used to have the best video store imaginable (RIP, Magic Video), and in addition to helping me discover obscure foreign costume dramas, I also became obsessed with the The Shaggy Dog and The Shaggy D.A., old Disney movies about a boy (and later a district attorney) who’s cursed by an ancient Egyptian ring to become a sheepdog at inconvenient times. A good werewolf story? I’m always in.

Animorphs should have been right up my alley, but nobody ever told me what they were actually about, and I was quite content at the time with the Redwall books, another talking animal series of my heart.

Late to the Animorphs Party photo 2

But let me talk for a minute about Animorphs, if I’m not repeating something you already know. The basic premise carries more than a whiff of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Five friends find a UFO crash with a dying alien inside, who gives them the power to morph into any animal they touch, in order to fight an imperialist race of parasitic aliens called Yeerks. So, kids saving the world plus paranoia about grownups plus awesome superpowers—why wouldn’t kids eat this up?

We know, however, that if that were it, no one would really care. But our heroes have problems, one of which is that you can’t stay in your morph for more than two hours. Otherwise you get stuck, and there’s no going back. (Three guesses as to whether this becomes a plot point!) Beyond the prospect of Earth being colonized by a vicious race of slug creatures, the Animorphs have human problems too. One kid lost his mother two years ago. Another deals with bullies. Another can’t figure out why her best friend won’t talk to her anymore.

The author (or many authors; it should come as no surprise that a franchise this successful and prolific has ghostwriters) does some neat characterization things too. The “girliest” character, the one who loves shopping and looking pretty, is also the battle-ready bruiser of the group; her favorite morph is an elephant. This girl could have been pigeonholed so easily as dainty, or scared, or vain. So many of my friends describe these books as “formative;” I’d much prefer that a kid’s formative experience tells her that she can be any combination of likes and qualities that she wants than that she be pigeonholed into lazy, poisonous “types” that we shouldn’t question.

Not only that, but the whole horror of the Yeerks stems from the way they replace and repress identity. If you’ve got a Yeerk slug in your brain, you’re still trapped alongside it, a bystander to what this evil being does with your body, your voice and your face. Pick your metaphor: kids (and the adults they become) understand what Yeerks are, and they remember the hardship—and the heroism—of standing up to them.

I also really like what these books do about depicting animals. It’s not Disney: animals aren’t just humans with four legs. This summer, at one of the farmer’s markets at Daley Plaza, a representative from the forest preserve brought in a rescued hawk to help educate passersby about Illinois wildlife.

“What’s his name?” I asked, then hesitated. “Her name?”

“We don’t name our animals, because wild animals aren’t people and they aren’t pets,” the ranger said. “We want kids especially to understand that animals exist independently of us and inhabit an entirely different world apart from us.”

Animorphs tackles that well, I think. Yeah, the kids are still themselves when they change, but they also have to cope with different instincts in different bodies. Other animals don’t talk to them or give them advice or form relationships with them. It’s a remarkably unsentimental and powerful statement, really. These animals are themselves, not something you try to impose on them.

I’m not that far into the series, though I’ve been warned that “the last 15 or 20 books decline significantly.” (I love that we have to disclose on a scale of dozens of books. That’s awesome.) But you see why I’m hooked—and the danger’s even greater with my midterm work piling up. Because, let’s face it: in addition to all the stuff I’ve just said, these books are fun. The stakes are high, the group dynamics are great, the kids are real—it’s just fun reading, and you don’t really need more justification than that.

That said, these big questions aren’t new, and it’s not weird to address them through a conceit like transformation. Ovid did it pretty well, and we’re still reading his Metamorphoses two thousand years later. So, reflecting on another Halloween gone by, a day that’s dedicated to letting your freak flag fly, here’s a reminder to read what you like, get what you want from it, and be who you’re supposed to be.


The Movie vs. The Book

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The Movie vs. The Book photo1The Movie vs. The Book photo2

“The movie is never as good as the book.”


I’ve been hearing this for years, and as a huge fan of movies, it’s frustrating. To me, that phrase is about as cliché as “never judge a book by its cover.” Some books can be judged accurately by their covers, just as some movies honor the book on which they’re based.

With the long-awaited film adaptation of Orson Scott Card’s contemporary sci-fi classic Ender’s Game in theaters this weekend, I’m bracing to hear those words a lot. Published in the ‘80s, the book was long-considered un-filmable. It combines gravity-defying action with a coming-of-age story with elements of a political thriller – and a lot happens on a computer screen. Even though the reviews have leaned positive so far, for some, filmmaker Gavin Hood’s interpretation will never measure up to their expectations.

My friend and fellow Oy!Chicago blogger Lia perfectly sums up people's unrealistic expectations of movies adaptations of books in a blog post she wrote when fans of The Hunger Games were voicing their disappointment with certain aspects of the film. If a book were committed to film exactly as it is on the page (or even close to that way), you would be bored out of your freaking mind and hate it. I promise. And no movie is going to turn out exactly as you imagined the book to be – you didn’t direct it.

Back when I was first able to read and could enjoy a book that actually had a movie version, I held the movie accountable for most everything in the book – and I was frequently disappointed.

In third grade, for example, we read Roald Dahl’s James and the Giant Peach in class. When we discovered that the movie version would be coming out just months later, we begged for a field trip to see it and our teachers gave in. We were ecstatic! We couldn’t wait to see our favorite parts come to life. Many of us especially loved the chapter when the giant peach flies through the sky and crosses paths with the Cloud-Men, creatures who control the weather, and James and his insect friends instigate a little fight.

Nothing could temper the excitement of being in a movie theater with dozens of our classmates – except that as we watched the movie, we waited and waited only to never see any Cloud-Men. This treachery was utterly devastating to our 9-year-old imaginations, which longed to see the Cloud-Men brought to life. Why would they leave out the best part?

Nearly 20 years and hundreds of movies later, I can actually tell you why. I don’t think it would’ve been practical for Henry Selick, director of The Nightmare Before Christmas, who made this film by slowly moving solid clay figurines a millimeter at a time, to film a sequence in which a peach flies through the air and gets attacked by ghost-like Cloud-Men. Today, it definitely would have been easier to do with the help of some digital effects shots, but not in the early ‘90s.

We are lucky to live in an age when digital effects can help bridge the gap between what’s on the page and what turns up on screen. Movies are no longer as limited by what is or isn’t possible when adapting a book into a movie. This explains – visually at least – why movie versions have done books justice more often than they did before the 21st Century.

Consequently, movies and television continue to increase books’ popularity and vice-versa. The Hunger Games, Twilight, Game of Thrones – people are happy to consume their favorite story in every form possible. And everyone has their own best practices: they refuse to watch the movie if they’ve read the book or they have to read the book before seeing the movie or they never want to read a book before they see a movie – the iterations are endless.

I prefer to read books before I see movies, though time rarely affords it. As someone who has seen and read a lot, I feel like I know what qualities make up a good book versus a good movie, and I can manage my expectations. I never assume the quality of one will simply transfer to the other.

In our multimedia world, many people forget the obvious: books and movies are different forms of storytelling. Books bring us perspectives that movies can’t, while movies show us things no words can truly describe. If you can’t embrace the differences, it’s going to be hard to like anything as much as whichever you consume first.

As someone fascinated by storytelling, I love to consume the original source (usually the book) before the interpretation. What was taken out or what was added into a film version is an artistic choice, not a decision of whether to be loyal to the source or not. By taking out this part of the book, has the filmmaker made the film more concise and easy to watch or removed something essential? By adding a new scene, how does this add greater meaning to the story or does it simply distract from it? I love to decipher the artistic motivation and choices behind the discrepancies between books and films and make a determination of whether, in my opinion, the interpretation works or doesn’t.

Forgive me, I’m a story nerd. Whichever way you prefer to consume books and their movie counterparts, it doesn’t matter. But you’ll be happier the more you learn to appreciate the differences.

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