OyChicago blog

Golden Potatoes with Garlic Chive Butter

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Golden Potatoes with Garlic Chive Butter photo 1

You know how sometimes there are dishes that conjure up memories buried somewhere deep inside you? These potatoes do that for me.

These little perfect golden beauties are not new to my blog. They have been posted on my blog since I started blogging oh so very long ago…when my blog was here, complete with horrible pictures and all. I have come a long way since 2008.

That was also my very first year living in the house with the hubs. And that was the year I decided to undertake Thanksgiving for 20 people at our brand new house …

I started planning my menu a month in advance. Trying to figure out the best turkey (mine is still the best, by the way), the ultimate sides and the most unique potatoes. Hubs thought that no table is complete without a potato dish. How Russian of him.

Truth be told, I had to agree. But it could not just be any potato, it had to be gloriously delicious and unique, and these were most definitely them …

It was my mother-in-law that introduced me to these golden beauties. We happened to be at her house for one of the High Holidays when I noticed her removing the most gorgeous golden puffs out of the oven. They were resting right on the racks. “Strange,” I thought, and made a mental note to buy the woman some baking sheets, poor thing.

And then she brought over little ramekins of fragrant and warm garlic butter. My brother-in-law immediately grabbed two of them for himself and started dipping his bread into it, chomping down loudly and smacking his lips out of pure enjoyment after each bite. No he is not a toddler, he’s in his 30s.

His mom came by toting a platter of those beautiful little puffs and smacked my brother-in-law on the back of his head. “That’s not what the butter is for!” And she immediately placed three of these golden puffs on his plate. “Here, dip these into the butter.”

To say that he was happy was an understatement. He continued chomping away on the golden puffs and raised a few toasts to his mom’s golden hands, exclaiming that this is the only thing he needs to eat that night. I begged to differ. And we began one of our many arguments of the night. We both loved to argue …sometimes over food, sometimes over movies, always ending in a good laugh or me smacking him upside the head.

As we argued I proceeded to take one of these puffs and dipped them into the warm garlic butter. And I stopped dead in my tracks.

These weren’t puffs! They were potatoes! OMG … these round little golden nuggets were potatoes! And combined with that garlic butter … they were magic.

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“Ella, there are potatoes?” I asked my mother-in-law.

“Da,” she said simply, with a proud smile on her face. “Amazing aren’t they?”

I am rarely speechless, but I was. How does this happen without deep frying them? What could possibly happen to make these tiny balls of tater sunshine? I stared at it in my head, rotating it around to inspect for any secrets. And as if reading my mind, my mother in law goes, “Salt, the secret is salt.”

Funny, I didn’t see any salt on them … well, with the exception of the salt that I had just doused them in.

She then explained that you simply parboil the potatoes in very salted water. Once they are fork tender, you pour them right over your baking rack from the oven and stick them into the oven until they are golden and deliciously crispy, about 20 minutes.

Naturally, I went and created these for Thanksgiving and they were so perfect, so elegant, so gone. Seriously, I think I made at least 40 for 20 people and there was not 1 left. Not one. I served them as an app and my family just devoured them, dipping them into my glorious chive and garlic butter, begging for more.

The coolest thing about this recipe is that you can make it ahead of time. I boiled these babies up a few hours before service, drained them, and left them in a pot covered with a towel so they stayed warm and moist. Then, once I was almost ready for the course, I placed them onto the oven rack and baked them off at 450 degrees.  

They really were perfection, and no one you serve will know how very easy they are.

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Golden Potatoes with Garlic Chive Butter
From Girl and the Kitchen

For the Potatoes

1.5 pounds small-medium white potatoes or Yukon Golds, NOT red potatoes (just make sure that they do not fall through your racks) 
1 tbsp kosher salt 
1 gallon of water

For the Garlic and Chive Butter Dip

1 stick of butter 
4 cloves of garlic, minced 
3 chives, finely sliced 
1 pinch of red pepper flakes 
Salt and pepper


1. Take out two of your racks from the oven and THEN preheat it to 450 degrees.

2. Peel the potatoes and make sure they are no smaller than a golf ball and no bigger than a small tennis ball.

3. Place the potatoes in a pot full of water and for every gallon of water use 1 tablespoon of Kosher Salt. The salt is why the potatoes brown so beautifully in the oven , so make sure you put it in

4. As soon as the potatoes reach a boil, dump them into a colander and then line them up on the racks. (This was the reason not to peel them too small, we don’t want them falling through the racks.)

5. Place racks CAREFULLY back into the oven into the oven for about 15-20 minutes.

6. While the potatoes are roasting, place butter, garlic, chives and seasonings into a small pot.

7. Over low heat, allow the butter to melt slowly and let all the flavors infuse into the butter. This should take about 5 minutes.

8. Once the potatoes are golden brown, remove and serve immediately with the garlic butter dip.

9. Please note, if you are making these ahead of time, just take them out of the oven once they are ready and let them stay on the racks. Right before service, stick them back in the oven and allow them to crisp up again and they will be ready for you!  


The Value of 140 Characters

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The Value of 140 Characters photo

I tend to believe that there are lessons to be learned in the world, and that most of them eventually connect within Jewish life. This is even the case in the social media world.

Twitter, for example, is great for getting the word out when you have some earth-shattering news to spread or pearls of wisdom to share. The only challenge is getting that message to fit into 140 little characters. The result, as most of us know, is that we either end up not saying everything we want to say or we throw grammar out the window. But what I totally like about Twitter is that it really forces me to think about exactly what I want to say.

There was a Jewish leader who lived in Poland named Rabbi Israel Meir Kagan (1838-1933). He was famously known as the ”Chofetz Chaim,” which means “seeker of life.” This is because one of the many books he authored was a called Chofetz Chaim. It's a digest of laws of speech and gossip or, in Hebrew, lashon hara.

During his lifetime, the Chofetz Chaim was all about teaching people why Judaism is against using words to harm others. He even had some pretty impressing sayings like, “Once you speak lashon hara about someone it is as difficult to take those words back as it to collect the feathers from a pillow that have blown in the wind.” When the telegraph was invented and he learned people were charged by the letter, he observed that the machine will help people understand the cost of what they say (no pun intended).

This brings me back to the value of words. Back when cell phone plans only charged per text message (thank God for unlimited texting) I understood the “cost” of a message in literal terms. Having to conform to Twitter's rule of 140 characters helps me be mindful of what I say, how I say it, and even the responsibility (or consequences) of spreading it.


Knowledge, Gratitude and the Philtrum

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The groove in the middle of a human’s upper lip is called the infranasal depression, or a philtrum. There is a Jewish myth, stemming from the Talmud (Niddah 30B) that explains the infranasal depression’s origin as follows:

When a baby is in the womb, he/she learns the entire Torah from start to finish. Upon seeing light for the first time at the moment of birth, an angel comes down, taps the baby on the mouth, causing the baby to forget everything that was learned. The tap is the cause of the infranasal depression. According to the legend, Jews are urged to spend the rest of their lives trying to learn all the Torah that was forgotten at birth.

This past summer, my wife and I were blessed to welcome our son into the world. Like any baby, he was born, seemingly helpless, without any knowledge of anything, Torah or otherwise. In an effort to be the best parents we can be, we naturally tried to care and protect him. We certainly comfort him when he is in distress and love him for the special person he is. We also have already begun teaching him everything we have learned, know and love about life, including Jewish life.

Granted, as a child that is not even six months old, he is not spouting Torah texts and Talmud tractates just yet. At the same time, he has been hearing the songs and prayers at home and in synagogue, chewing on holiday-themed board books, and accepting our blessing for children every Friday night since he was born. We are doing our best to lay the foundation for him to pursue a lifetime of Jewish learning.

Over the course of my lifetime, my parents have probably taught me more than anyone else I know. They were each instrumental in laying the foundation for me to take in a world of Torah knowledge. I owe a lot of what I know about what it means to be Jewish to them. As I celebrate Thanksgiving this week, I wanted to take a moment and thank my parents. Thanksgiving is not a Jewish holiday, per say, but I think we can all agree that gratitude is an important Jewish value. I have the deepest gratitude for what I have learned from them and hope to be as good a teacher for my children.


This post may or may not have been written in the shower

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This post may or may not have been written in the shower photo 1

Though I’m sitting here at my computer, I very well could have written this blog post from the shower.

For my birthday this year, I received a unique and amazing gift: a waterproof notepad and pencil, designed for the shower.

I had requested this gift from Michael and Rachel, my brother and sister-in-law. “I’d like a dry erase board for my shower,” I told them. “I don’t know if it exists, but I figured if anyone in the world could find it, the two of you could.”

So, they presented me with these packs of waterproof notepad paper and pencils.

I stuck the notepad and the pencil to the wall of my shower using the attached suction cups, and I was ready to write.

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Why do I want this unusual product? I thought you’d never ask.

My best ideas come while in the shower. With the warm temperature and the sound of calming water, my mind is clear, allowing me to let the creative juices flow without distraction. Many of the ideas for posts on my blog originated in the shower.

To-do list items. When I’m not thinking of exciting, creative, fresh ideas, my mind wanders to my stress level and things I need to accomplish. My brain is filled with “Oh no, I forgot to email my advertising rep at the newspaper about an ad we’re running,” or “I need to buy stamps,” or “It’s been a while since I’ve had dinner with Kayla.” I’m a much happier Lia when my thoughts are on paper (or on pixels), and this will allow me to never be more than an instant away from a pen. To my journalism, English, and writing teachers, who taught me to keep a journal and a reporter’s notebook nearby: you’ve again ruined me.

Memory issues. Upon seeing this gift, my dad said, “Lia, either your showers are too long or your short-term memory is not functional. Can’t you just remember these ideas and items until you get out of the shower?” Both may be true, but … what was I saying? Oh yeah, memory issues. I find myself making up a song so as not to lose my new thoughts — see how long you could survive singing “Contact solution, e-mail Rachel, blog about the vegetable aisle in the grocery store” to the tune of Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance.”

So, I’d like to thank Michael and Rachel for this great gift — and actually, maybe I’ll even write their thank you note while shampooing my hair.


Shabbat in Layers

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Shabbat in Layers photo

In the heart of downtown Chicago, a large party room was filled with young Jewish professionals. Candles were radiating, wine was poured, homemade challah was savored, and the communal companionship was felt by all. My wife and I were relieved that Shabbat had begun and the hours of preparation in the kitchen (and on social media) had come to a close. It was now time to disconnect, to stop and savor the moment. It was a beautiful occasion, and it was time to take the occasion to the next level.

I found myself thinking about a story regarding three construction workers who were interviewed at the same construction site. The first interviewee was a boy about 19 years old. When asked why he was there, he responded that he doesn’t have the money for a membership to a gym; construction work is a great work out, he gets paid to get ripped, and the chicks dig it. The second worker interviewed was in his mid-20s. When asked why he was there, he responded that he doesn’t have the money to get through college. He works as a construction worker by day to pay for his college courses that he’s taking at night. This way, he’ll be able to eventually make a living to support the family he dreams of having. The third worker was in his late 50s. When asked why he was there, he responded that he saw an article in the newspaper that they were building a children’s hospital in this location. He wanted to be a part of that.

We can’t help but feel there’s a difference between their experiences, each one taking us another layer deeper into the significance of the work. Although Shabbat is the opposite of work, this particular Shabbat was unique in that 1 million Jews throughout the world, with 1 million different stories and reasons for participating in Shabbat, were celebrating together as part of a new initiative called The Shabbat Project. And I wanted our piece in Chicago, the Downtown Shabbat Experience, to reach that deeper level.

At the meal, everyone had their share of challah and matzo balls. That was level one: sustenance and delicious food. And then as they ate, everyone was enjoying the company around them, and we were already getting to level two. The third level took a little more effort. Each table was given a different insight about our heritage and was asked to discuss their topic and then to choose a representative to present the table’s insights to the entire group. Amazingly, everyone in the room gave each table their full attention, listening to all the insights and wisdom. One hundred young professional Jews sitting around the Shabbat tables sharing words of Torah and our heritage: we were taking our Shabbat to a deeper level.

But we didn’t stop there. Around dessert time, each table was given a list of typical items found in a Jewish home including candle sticks, a Kiddush cup, a book about the Holocaust, matzoh balls and challah, a Bible and prayer book, and more. They were tasked with ordering each item from most to least important in making a Jewish home. Each shared their three most important items – you can imagine how the room filled with debate! There was laughter, zero agreement (we’re Jews, right?), and lots of thought-provoked faces. We were tapping into the deeper meaning of our lives as Jews.

The festivities continued throughout the entirety of Shabbat. We were blessed with the last sunny day of the year to have our Prayer in the Park workshop on Shabbat morning, with chocolate cake and all. (What’s a Prayer workshop without chocolate cake?) That was followed by a luncheon replete with good food, good company, and meaningful conversations. Many people stayed to play games, chill out, and relax for the rest of Shabbat. As Shabbat concluded with guitar and song, we said goodbye to each other and Shabbat with a hope to reconnect with both again soon.

The Downtown Shabbat Experience was a project of Chicago YJP in partnership with JCC 20s & 30s, Masa Israel Journey, The Center for Jewish Genetics and Jewish Singles Social. A special thanks goes out to Becky Adelberg, Tovah Goodman, Leah Steinberg, Elisha & Jordana Fried, and Tehilla Fried for all their help in putting this event together, and to a number of YJPers who helped finance the event, especially Louie Whitesman for hosting. To find out about the next Downtown Shabbat Experience and other upcoming events with Chicago YJP, you can like Chicago YJP on Facebook.


Being ‘Paciente’

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Being ‘Paciente’ photo

My grandpa has no patience for impatience. He’s usually a pretty excitable person, but he positively boils over when it comes to the subject of how my mother and I need to control our tempers.

“I have never raised my voice in my LIFE!” he declares, his voice gradually rising to a shout with each word. As he’s speaking, he cracks his cane against the floor and stamps his foot. In fact, I’ve hardly ever heard him speak without raising his voice. But in his eyes, he has a perfectly patient and calm personality.

To tell the truth, I’ve never been much of a patient person either. I’m hardly even able to pop a Lifesaver into my mouth without immediately sinking my teeth into it like a stick of gum. And although he suffers from the same problem I do, my grandfather is completely right. Being impatient and losing my temper has only made me, and the people around me, miserable.

There’s an old anecdote about patience, regarding Hillel and one particularly pesky student. This student agrees to a bet to put Hillel’s renowned composure to the test. He shows up to his house and begins firing off round after round of useless questions. He leaves, only to return with a new batch of dumbfounding queries. Hillel calmly answers each one, until the student erupts and blames Hillel for making him lose the bet. Hillel responds, as tranquil as ever, that it’s better that the student lose his money than Hillel lose his temper.

Recently, I’ve been teaching English at a Jewish primary school in Buenos Aires. After two months on the job, it’s pretty clear that I’m no Hillel. I always imagined that while I might not have patience for people in general, I’d scrounge up some sort of tolerance for a group of kids who are just trying to learn. But to my utter dismay, it’s been harder than I imagined.

The other day in fifth grade, 9-year-old Dara strolled up to me with a question. ¨Que significa ‘size’?” she inquired, pointing to the word in her workbook.

Tamaño,” I translated. She nodded and walked off.

A few moments later, she appeared at my side again. “Size?” she asked, her brow furrowed in consternation. “Que significa?”

Tamaño,” I repeated, a little baffled that she was asking again, and went back to helping another student.

Several minutes went by. I felt a tap at my shoulder. It was Dara. She was pointing at a word in her workbook, completely lost on its meaning. The word was “size.”

``Tamaño,” I replied, unblinking, resisting the urge to flip a table. Tamaño. Tamaño. TAMAÑO! Why couldn’t she understand?!

Of course, my skewed, heavily accented version of the word “tamaño” probably meant as little to Dara as the word “size” itself. But I couldn’t help it. My impatience, which is usually simmering beneath the surface, was dangerously close to bubbling over.

In truth, I know that my temper is always much more my fault than whatever is bothering me. After all, why am I getting worked up about someone walking slowly on the street in front of me? Maybe they sprained their foot earlier this week and every step is a strained and concerted effort. Why do I get irritated when my mom drives over the curb? I do that sometimes, too. As for Dara, she wasn’t even trying to irritate me. She was just asking a question.

My mom and I almost always get annoyed when my grandpa accuses us of being impatient. The fact is, patience is something all three of us need to work on. Maybe next time Dara asks me for the definition of “size,” I’ll just calmly respond instead of developing an eye twitch. If nothing else, my grandpa will most certainly be proud. 


Is Derrick Rose the next Penny Hardaway?

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Is Derrick Rose the next Penny Hardaway? photo

This feels all too familiar. Coming off of his second major knee surgery in as many seasons, Derrick Rose is having trouble staying on the court yet again. Two ankle sprains and now a hamstring have kept Rose out of half of the Bulls’ first 10 games this season. The buildup of minor injuries such as these is exactly what led up to Rose eventually tearing his ACL during the 2012 playoffs.

When Rose has been on the court he has been good, showing flashes of his former MVP self. He’s put up averages of 18 points and 5.5 assists per game, and displayed the same speed we always remembered. While the Bulls are taking a much more conservative, cautionary approach to his injuries this year, I cannot help but wonder if we are watching the beginning of the end for what was once a very promising NBA career.

An all-star caliber player with a unique skill set, an NBA lottery pick out of Memphis with potential to be one of the greatest point guards ever. Sound familiar? That’s because we’ve seen this before.

Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway was selected third out of Memphis in 1993 by the Golden State Warriors and later traded to Orlando for the top pick, Chris Webber. During the 1994–95 NBA season, the Magic won a franchise record 57 games while Hardaway averaged 20.9 points, 7.2 assists, 4.4 rebounds, and 1.7 steals per game. He started in his first All-Star game and was named All-NBA First Team. The next season, Hardaway and Shaquille O’Neal led the Magic to the Eastern Conference Finals, only to lose to Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls. O’Neal left Orlando for the Lakers the next season; Hardaway was finally the lone star and leader of the team but failed to lead the Magic to another playoff win.

The very next year, Hardaway suffered a devastating knee injury and was never the same. His unique size and ability helped him still achieve some success, but his numbers dropped drastically. Hardaway couldn’t stay healthy for a full year after that, battling foot and ankle injuries causing him to miss time until two micro fracture surgeries put him out for the season. He battled back and returned again, but he was a shell of the player he used to be in stints with the Suns, Knicks and Heat. Yeah, it’s starting to sound like the Derrick Rose story.

But could Rose’s story have a different ending, perhaps a more positive one involving the NBA title Hardaway never received?

The similarities of a year-by-year stat comparison of the two players in their first four years are mind-blowing. The fourth year for both players was strike-shortened and they both missed most of the following year with a career-changing knee injury.

Year 1  Games Played  PPG  AST  Season Result 
Rose 81  16.8  6.3  Round 1 Loss 
Hardaway 82  16.0  6.6  Round 1 Loss 
Year 2        
Rose  78  20.8  6.0  Round 1 Loss 
Hardaway  77  20.9  7.2  NBA Finals Loss 
Year 3         
Rose  81  25.8  7.7  East Finals Loss 
Hardaway  82  21.7  7.1  East Finals Loss 
Year 4         
Rose  39  21.8  7.9  Round 1 Loss 
Hardaway  59  20.5  5.6  Round 1 Loss 

Are we seeing another story of a potential NBA star’s career cut short? The similarities are eerie and hard to ignore. For Bulls fans, you just have to hope this is not the case. The Bulls this season could be special and make a real run at an NBA title – but I don’t believe that’ll happen unless Rose is on the court, something we’re starting to see as more of a challenge than I think he, or anyone, expected.

It’s hard to imagine Rose ever returning to MVP form, and while Hardaway did develop into a quality role player, his career arc was riddled with injury. Maybe these little early season nicks are nothing, dealing with the rust of sitting out two years in a row. But it’s hard to ignore that Rose’s style of play is not built for a career of longevity. Players who move like he does and hit the lane with that amount of power and quickness don’t play very long without making significant adjustments to their games.

Then there is the mental aspect, which is clearly starting to take a toll on Rose. A constant hot topic in the media, and understandably so, Rose is becoming more defensive all the time. On top of the fact that he has to continue playing knowing that any wrong turn on the court, any awkward landing, could spell the end for him.


Give It Up for Lentils

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Give It Up for Lentils photo

In this week’s parsha, Toldot, we learn that Esau sold his birthright to Jacob for red lentil soup. He was famished from working all day and he needed food so Jacob tricked Esau into selling his birthright for a hot meal. We also learn that Esau was a hunter and Jacob a learned young man. Another way of looking at this is that Esau was yang and Jacob was yin. Yang represents physical strength and yin mental strength. Esau was easily tricked because he needed his physical strength to survive, while Jacob could be patient in order to achieve dominance through his wits. Jacob probably knew that lentil soup can make a person feel fuller in a shorter amount of time and used that to his advantage. I am assuming that Esau also knew that lentils made him feel stronger. So what is in lentils that makes them so good for us?

Lentils are legumes and they are packed with folate. Folate is an important nutrient because it may help prevent Alzheimer’s disease, depression, and osteoporosis. It also helps promote healthy red blood cells to prevent anemia. Most commonly, folate is put in women’s prenatal vitamins to prevent neural tube defects in developing babies. One cup of lentils contains 89.5 percent of the recommended daily intake of folate.

Legumes get some negative attention because they make people gassy. Lentils are no exception because they contain soluble fiber, which slows down digestion, keeping a person fuller longer but also causing gas. Lentils also contain insoluble fiber, which allow a person to be more regular. In general, fiber helps us clean out our colons the natural way. A cup of lentils contains 62.5 percent of our recommended daily intake of fiber. The trick to avoid passing gas from lentils it is important to soak the lentils in warm water at room temperature for at least 48 hours before cooking and eating them. This process will allow the lentil to sprout, which will make it more digestible. Sprouting also increases the vitamin and mineral content of a lentil.

Lentils also contain iron, protein, zinc, and vitamin B6. A cup of lentils is basically a little multivitamin that doesn’t taste like a fake fruit and isn’t hard to swallow. The iron in lentils can help replenish energy especially after a long day, so it is understandable that Esau craved the lentil soup after a long day of hunting. Also, because they contain protein, Esau was able to stay fuller longer and build muscle. From lentil soup, Esau was able to get everything he needed to stay strong.

Esau and Jacob were a yin and yang symbol during delivery. Jacob held onto Esau’s leg perfectly intertwining yin and yang. Their differences led them to needing different things to survive. Esau needed strength and Jacob needed to lead the Jewish people. Lentils were a way for both of them to get what they needed. I understand; I would give up my birthright (as the younger and cuter sibling) for some of my cousin’s tomato-lentil soup.


Giving thanks when thanks doesn’t seem enough

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Giving thanks when thanks doesn’t seem enough photo

This year, as the festively familial holiday known as Thanksgiving comes closer, I know I’ll have a Turkey Day unlike any other I’ve known. I know this because I will be spending it with my baby daughter, Emma.

Now, while she does manage to spit up all over the place and make weird noises – I mean, alien-type weird – I can’t help but think about how unbelievably blessed I am. The nice thing about being Jewish is that I’m used to thinking about all the things I am thankful for nearly all the time. It’s mostly because of all the prayer hours I’ve logged, but it’s also because my parents chose to raise me to show gratitude, that there’s always something to share with those that are less fortunate than us.

When I look at my baby daughter’s beautiful blue eyes, I can’t help but think about the staggering multitude of events and experiences that led to her miraculous deliverance into this world. Suddenly, being thankful for a plasma HDTV or a brand new car doesn’t cut it, nor does it even seem right to hold these things in such esteem. People are right about the world changing around you once you have a child, or is it your view of the world that changes? Or both, simultaneously? Everything is put into perspective once you become a parent, not because you’re getting older (which is true), but because it’s tough to see the world with just you at the center.

Now bear with me while I get a little philosophical and existential: A little while ago, I was teaching a group of students about Maimonides’ Eight Levels of Charitable Giving. I know, I know, I am not a rabbi and I’m not about to give a d’var, but hear me out. One of the lessons the students learned was that the highest level of charitable giving was, “... to support a fellow Jew by endowing him with a gift or loan, or entering into a partnership with him, or finding employment for him, in order to strengthen his hand until he need no longer be dependent upon others ...” One of the students thought for a bit, then asked me, “if this were to happen to me, how could I ever reciprocate this thankful act? And if I wanted to give charitably like we are commanded, how could I ever repay this person for what they’ve done for me? It’s almost impossible to measure.”

I thought to myself, Wow, he’s got a point. That’s when even I began to understand how the impact of giving and of gratitude can profoundly affect us and the lives of those around us – strangers, brothers, sisters and more. In that moment, I truly learned that we are all connected to each other in such a special way, that when we do good deeds for others without expecting a “reciprocal act” we begin to realize the beauty that we’ve just delivered into the world.

This is what I truly believe G-d did for me when Emma was born. My wife and I were given this precious, beautiful, sacred miracle that we could never fathom to repay or reciprocate. How could we ever repay our very lives to our parents? I know I’ve tried to show them how much I have appreciated everything they’ve ever done for me, how much they’ve sacrificed of themselves. For me, it’s amazing to think that we have the power within us to not only be thankful in a meaningful way, but to profoundly affect others in such a way, they feel the gratitude that we ourselves have acquired. I cannot begin to put into words how grateful I am for Emma; I only hope to pass this very idea along to her someday.

So, wherever you may be carving the big turkey, shoveling stuffing, sweet potatoes and pies past those pearly whites, and getting those cheeks pinched, remember what brought you there in the first place. Look around the table and I’ll bet you can feel the thankfulness in the air. Now, I dare you to take that good feeling with you when the inevitable food coma has past, and pay it forward to someone else. Who knows what might happen?

L’Chaim and Happy Thanksgiving!


Zero Motivation

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Israel’s hit movie of 2014 is an American must-see

Zero Motivation photo 1

Nelly Tagar as Daffi in Zero Motivation

It took me five years to finally get to another screening at the annual Chicago Festival of Israeli Cinema. Talk about Zero Motivation.

In 2009, I made the mistake of going too heavy for my first CFIC experience when I saw Ronit and Shlomi Alkabetz’s Shiva. Zero Motivation proved infinitely more accessible, especially as a young adult. When it stops playing festivals and gets wider distribution (I hope) in the U.S., it’s can’t-miss stuff, especially for young adults who have connected with Israel or Israelis at some point in their lives.

The film focuses primarily on two young women in the IDF who work in the administrative office at a military base in Southern Israel. They are essentially pencil-pushers and coffee-runners put in charge of oddly specific mundane tasks, such as paper-shredding or snail mail. Daffi (Nelly Tagar) dreams of being reassigned to Tel-Aviv, whereas her best friend, Zohar (Dana Ivgy), aspires to set Minesweeper records on all the office PCs and lose her virginity to the next willing soldier. As they try and maneuver around the annoying girls in the office and their rigid commander, Rama (Shani Klein), a few brushes with reality test their friendship to the extreme.

Zero Motivation photo 2

Dana Ivgy (left) and Nelly Tagar play best friends at odds in Zero Motivation.

The best way to describe Talya Lavie’s film to American audiences is to imagine if Juno writer Diablo Cody wrote a movie about the Israeli army starring Girls star Lena Dunham and Ellen Page. Lavie’s script is razor sharp and hilarious, but also a little dark and unsettling. It touches on a couple mature and heavy issues within the context of wit and satire, which though uncomfortable, is the good kind of uncomfortable, and it lends a certain gravity to the movie, which otherwise would be a noteworthy comedy but little more.

Neither Daffi nor Zohar are particularly loveable, but they are easy to identify with. Today’s American 20-year-olds might not have to go through the army, but they know plenty about doing dead-end work, pondering their direction in life and fighting their inclination to merely entertain themselves. That’s a universal sentiment, and what ultimately makes Zero Motivation worthy of its 12 Israeli Film Academy nominations, half of which resulted in wins, including Best Actress for Ivgy.

Balancing out the movie’s delicate fusion of satire and important issues is the friendship dynamic between Daffi and Zohar. It is this grounding, human component that helps the film resonate across cultures and languages. Even though the film is really about them reconciling their own personal desires with their friendship rather than the friendship itself, social dynamics really provide the emotional fuel of the story.

Could Zero Motivation hypothetically be remade in another country such as America, taking place at an office with interns instead of a military base? Perhaps, but the army is a rite of passage that most other countries don’t have, and it’s so formative of the identities of Israeli young adults. Anyone who has spent time with Israelis and met a few whose job in the army was not all that glorious can at least grasp the importance of this setting in Lavie’s film. There’s also clearly a much deeper layer of satire that will only play effectively to Israeli viewers, but you can sense the richness of the dialogue that could be had about the issues presented.

Although not approached head on, there’s an undercurrent that addresses women perceiving their self-worth based on their relationships with men. Anyone can enjoy this movie, of course, but the talking points for women are important ones that again, transcend cultural boundaries, even though there are sure to be nuances.

Films that are genuinely funny, relatable and thought-provoking are rare as it is, let alone when it conveys those things despite being in a foreign language. It’s unfortunate that Zero Motivation won’t be Israel’s submission for the Academy Awards because it would really play well here and probably spark dialogue with regards to the perception of Israel and its military in the West.

Zero Motivation is also a reminder that as the market for independent film grows in the United States, so does our ability to appreciate foreign films. The two go hand in hand. Young adults in Chicago should be aware of the quality of Israeli filmmaking and beret’s off to the Chicago Festival of Israeli Cinema for securing this newer movie for this year’s slate.                                      


The Bozo Theory

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The Bozo Theory photo

Let’s talk about Bozo.

Just to clarify, I’m referring to the clown. So what is The Bozo Theory you ask? A very good question since the title really gives no good context clues other than Bozo is involved in some way.

Well, as we all know, Bozo was one of – if not the – most famous clowns. (Stay away from my blog post Ronald McDonald.) And a theory is a proposed explanation whose status is still conjectural, in contrast to well-established propositions that are regarded as reporting matters of actual fact. Putting those two ideas together, the Bozo Theory simply states this:

If you wait until the end, you will produce better results.

I can see you don’t entirely follow. So, let’s give you some back story.

I inherited this theory from my father, a lover of all things Bozo. When I was young, happy and full of no responsibilities (can you really be full of nothing?) my father would take me and the family to a recording of “The Bozo Show.” It used to be broadcast live back in the day, but alas, it became pre-recorded and worse – educational – by the time I was old enough to attend. However, after each taping was complete and all hope of competing in the Grand Prize Game (the infamous Bozo Buckets) was washed away (the kid next to me got picked and was too scared to play and they picked someone else and I’ll never let my frustration of that go!!!!), they provided everyone with a chance to meet and/or greet Bozo afterwards. All the kids would line up with their parents. My dad would line up with his kids. Everyone would have a brief moment to say hi, get a quick picture and then be promptly shuffled out of the studio to let the next kid get their chance. But not us. Ohhhhhhh no.

My dad, you see, was a clever one. We’d purposefully be the last ones to get in line, waiting patiently to get our picture taken. But instead of being shuffled out with the masses, we had all the time we wanted with Bozo given no one was waiting behind us. My dad, with his grand love of Bozo; me, with my grand love of my dad; and Bozo with his grand love of prize games, were able to stick around and talk, along with the rest of the cast without anyone shooing us out. We could take extra pictures, muse about past shows and in general, have some extra fun clowning around (see what I did there?) because the world was our circus. (See what I did there again?)

No one else got this chance. No one but us. And this, my always attractive and now increasingly educated Oy! readers, is the cleverness that is The Bozo Theory. We waited until the end – we got better results.

Now not only does this theory work when it comes to meeting Bozo, as that specific opportunity is sadly no longer available to us, but waiting until the end also has its benefits in other situations. In fact, it’s worked for me on a number of occasions – that number of occasions being 12. The theory in action, for example, may include but is not limited too when I wait for candy to go on clearance after a holiday is over. Or perhaps when I am at one my many Jewish family get-togethers where there is a cavalcade of food and by not leaving too soon I get a cavalcade of leftovers. Or a truly epitomous example is waiting until the end of the credits during a movie to find a delightful extra scene at the end. Marvel Studios has made this a more mainstream practice in recent years with their movies (Mom and Dad, those are the big superhero movies that keep being released like Iron Man, Captain America and The Avengers … yup I’m patronizing you), but the art of the post credits scene originally stuck with me because of the movie Airplane! A film I inherited a love for, again, because of my Dad. And while this is one contributing factor as to why I stay through movie credits, the rest of that idea may need to be explored in another blog. Oh yes, another blog is where this full explanation shall be.

Now I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “Adam, can I use The Bozo Theory too!?” To which I answer, yes. Yes you can. Who knows? Maybe if you stay all the way through the end of this article, you’ll be rewarded.

Okay, here’s the end of the article. Enjoy being rewarded. It’s a tease for my next Oy!Chicago post.

See! Next time, on Adam Daniel Miller’s Oy!Chicago blog: Why I Stay Through Movie Credits Or: Alone At Last!


Socca for the Holidays

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Socca for the Holidays photo 1

If you are anything like me, you experience an uncontrollable urge to feed people as soon as the weather turns blustery. Well, maybe the urge to feed isn’t entirely weather-dependent for us nurturing, over-bearing Jewish mother-in-training types, but there is definitely something special about feeding friends and family something warm from the oven this time of year.

But ugh! The calories! And oy! The food allergies! And enough already with the butternut squash! We need something a little spicy, crunchy, and begging for accoutrement. We need something that can be prepared for the crowds, inexpensively and easily. And we need our nut-free, gluten-free, vegetarian friends to be astonished by it. Enter the socca.

Socca is an Italian/Provençal flatbread that can be served with cocktails or even made into a meal of its own. It uses chickpea flour instead of white flour which makes it light, chewy, and earthy. Socca is also pretty healthy, especially considering the cheese/stuffing/potato/sugar-laden foods we typically see this time of year. And most importantly, it’s extremely easy to prepare and customize with toppings that thrill you. Serve socca for breakfast with a fried egg on it, as an hors d’oeuvre before dinner, or even as a light lunch with arugula salad piled on top. Socca is especially good for those of us who celebrate Chanukah because it’s baked in a glorious pool of oil. How charming! Consider socca to be your back-pocket, holiday-entertaining best friend.

Socca for the Holidays photo 2

Socca Flatbread
Makes about 4 10-inch flatbreads

2 cups chickpea flour
2¼ cups water
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 tablespoon sea salt
½ tablespoon cracked black pepper
¼ cup olive oil, divided
Topping suggestions (cherry tomatoes, parmesan cheese, fresh herbs, fresh arugula, garlic scapes, sliced red onion, scallions, capers, sliced chilies, pesto, fried egg, roasted garlic)

Socca for the Holidays photo 3

1. Mix together the flour, water, cumin, salt, pepper, and 3 tablespoons of the olive oil. Let batter rest at least 1 hour at room temperature.

2. To cook, heat the broiler in your oven (or turn your oven on as high as it will go). Liberally coat the bottom of an oven-proof non-stick skillet or a cast iron skillet with olive oil, and put the pan on the top shelf of the oven for 5 minutes. (*If you don’t have non-stick pans or cast iron, you can also use a non-stick baking sheet or tart pan).

3. Once the oil in the pan is hot, CAREFULLY take it out of the oven with an oven mitt or dry kitchen towel. Using a ladle, pour enough batter into the pan to cover the bottom. Make sure you are only using enough batter to coat the bottom of the pan, sort of like making a crepe. Swirl the batter around, add the toppings of your choice, then pop it back in the oven.

4. Bake until the socca is firm and beginning to blister and burn. The exact time will depend on your broiler, but it should take about 5-8 minutes. It’s important that you see the edges turning dark and crispy.

5. Take the socca out of the oven and slide the whole thing out onto a cutting board using a wide, flat spatula.  Sprinkle it with coarse salt, pepper, another drizzle of olive oil, and any other toppings of your choice. Slice it up like a pizza and enjoy! Cook the remaining socca batter the same way, adding a touch more oil to the pan between each one.


The extra-ordinary

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Cindy Sher photo 2

A year ago, for the month of Thanksgiving, every night before I went to bed I jotted down one thing I was grateful for each day. 

Here are some of the 30 blessings I recorded: 

- A warm bed.
- Airplanes that fly me to visit my family for Thanksgiving.
- A beautiful fall Sunday that included a walk on the lake, the Sunday paper, pancakes with friends, and a good movie.
- Going for the first time to a black Baptist church for a funeral where I experienced the love, music, and community of a place I'd never been before.
- Giving a small Chanukah gift to a friend's daughter, something I knew she would love.
- A tree ablaze in the palette of fall colors.
- Men and women who serve to protect our country. (On Veteran's Day).
- Family. 
- A sunset.
- A baby bundled in a puffy coat and a hat with teddy bear ears, toddling down the street with his parents. 
- After a bad day, remembering from past experience that "this too shall pass."
- Shabbat.
- Employing my three little nephews as sous chefs/marshmallow tasters as we made sweet potato casserole together on Thanksgiving.
- An old couple holding hands.
- Refuge from a snowstorm.
- A cheap dinner out with even cheaper wine shared with priceless friends.
- Cyndi Lauper (after I went to her concert).
- Laughter.
- The strength of my convictions. 

I loved the exercise, helping me to be mindful every day that month-and beyond-for how much I am grateful for. Even on the hard days, and even amidst a backdrop of a lot of pain in the world, remembering our blessings makes us appreciate the beauty, the wonder, the magic—the extraordinariness—of life.

It's funny—I didn't record any big, expensive stuff on the list. In fact, very few of the items cost even a penny. It's so often the small, fleeting moments that are the biggest, the most beautiful, and the ones we'll always remember.

Gratitude lies at the heart of who we are as Jews. We express thanks to God for waking up every day, for the souls we embody, for the bread we eat, for the wine we drink, for the illness or danger we survive, and for so much more.

And just as gratitude lies at the heart of who we are as Jews, mindfulness lies at the heart of gratitude. The great Jewish sage Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel talks about mindfulness in his famous quote: "Our goal should be to live life in radical amazement," he said. "…Get up every morning and look at the world in a way that takes nothing for granted. Everything is phenomenal; everything is incredible; never treat life casually. To be spiritual is to be amazed."

Over the High Holidays, I read a slim and poignant book that matched my reflective Jewish headspace of the season. In the book The Extraordinary Nature of Ordinary Things, written by Rabbi Steven Z. Leder, he writes about appreciating all that's extraordinary in our ordinary, daily lives through a Jewish lens. As we get older, Leder said, we lose our sense of awe and wonder.

"When we look back at the calendar of our lives how many pages are worth saving?" Leder writes. "We schedule our business appointments—mastering the lessons of time management and efficiency. But do we really manage our time well? Have we celebrated with our children? Have we visited our aging parents and grandparents or made that phone call to the friend whose loved one is sick? Have we hugged each other enough? Do our children, our parents, our brothers and sisters, our partners in love and life, know what they mean to us?"

Leder references a Hassidic story, in which a rebbe asks his followers where God exists. "Everywhere," his disciples respond. "No," the rabbi replies. "God exists only where we let God in."

In the broader culture, various forms of meditation are hotter than ever, where we let go of our stresses and noise of the day-to-day, at least for a moment, and be more mindful and intentional in our lives.

In my favorite movie of last year, a sweet British love story called About Time, the protagonist possesses the power of time travel and is able to relive the same moment more than once. By the end of the film, he realizes that it's better not to relive moments, but to appreciate every moment the first time around.

Soon, we'll all sit down for Thanksgiving once again, a national holiday that seems like an extension of the High Holidays because it focuses on themes of gratitude so prominent in Jewish values. Let's all give thanks for the moments&—the extraordinary, ordinary moments—because we'll only live them once.


‘Fit’ it in

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‘Fit’ it in photo

I’m not selling a fitness DVD or my training services – this is free advice to get in shape in less time. Who doesn’t want that?

Having a 3-year-old and a one-month-old, my workout time has shrunk. I have to squeeze in fitness into 20-30 minute increments. How can you do that and stay in shape? Depth training is the answer.

Depth training is basically doing many different exercises in whatever time you have with little rest. It’s similar to circuit training, for those of you familiar with that term. The goal is to fatigue your muscles quickly.

A depth training workout involves doing several exercises, such as pushups, lunges, jumping jacks, rows, squats, and planks – until failure. Repeat the list of exercises until you have to get back to work, child-rearing, your friend, your spouse – of course you will probably want to shower afterwards.

I like to select exercises that hit more than one muscle, such as pull-ups, squats and pushups. What’s great about those exercises is I do not need a lot of equipment to do them, and since I’m using multiple muscles, I burn a lot more calories. I also love to do a workout with a mini exercise band in between my knees.  This way I can blast my legs quickly with squats, and quickly mix in jumping jacks, shuffling, and mountain climbers with the band adding resistance. Stay tuned for a future video blog with exercises.

To form your own depth workout, use a balanced approach by working opposing muscle groups, such as:

- Chest and Back
- Quadriceps (muscles on the front of knee) and Hamstrings (muscles on the back of the knee)
- Biceps and Triceps
- Abdominals and Lower Back

If your goal is to gain muscle, you might want to pick only one group of opposing muscles and train another group during your next workout. If you are just trying to stay in shape or shed a few pounds, I recommend working the entire body at once.

For a personalized depth workout, email me at rkrit@fitwithkrit.com      


Following in My Brother’s Footsteps … For 3.1 miles

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Following in My Brother’s Footsteps … For 3.1 miles photo

As the older of two siblings, I like to think my younger brother Bill looks up to me. Not just because I was literally taller for the 15 years before he got his growth spurt – but, you know, because I am so wise and worldly, what with my six additional years of life experience and all.

It doesn’t seem like so much anymore, but when we were kids, a six-year age gap was a huge deal. As a toddler, Bill (then “Billy”) used to follow me around everywhere, which I endlessly whined about but secretly found delightful. As we went through school, much to his chagrin (and my satisfaction), Bill was “Jessica’s brother” to all my former teachers, and as he hit each new milestone that I had already passed, I relished getting to share my infinite wisdom about what to expect on the first day of middle school, at the first Homecoming dance, first football game, etc. The VERY best was when he didn’t believe me about something, and then, of course, I’d turn out to be right and I’d get to say the most satisfying thing there is to say in the whole world: “Told you so!”

Then Bill took up running. To say he did not get the idea from me would be a massive understatement. As the girl who used to have my mom call me out of gym class, and who had a doctor send a note about my “exercise-induced bronchospasms” so I could get out of running the mile in freshman P.E., running has always seemed like a special kind of hell to me. I could not comprehend why anyone would want to subject themselves to that on purpose.

And yet, as Bill got faster and faster, and got more and more “likes” on Facebook photos of himself posing in race bibs at various 5ks … well, I guess I started to feel a little left out. So, after watching my baby brother triumphantly cross yet another finish line last summer while I sat munching on an energy bar from my perch on the sidelines, I decided to give following in his footsteps a try, literally, and – with his permission – signed up for the Make a Wish Foundation 5k last September.

Although running had come pretty naturally to Bill, whose advice for me was to “just, you know… run,” I knew I was going to need a little more preparation. With about two months to get into shape, I decided to do the aptly named “Couch to 5k” regimen, which gently starts you off in small running bursts mixed with super-long walking breaks.

To my great shock, the program actually seemed to work. By the end of the third week, I was up to three whole minutes running at a time – and feeling like a baller. Always one to get a bit ahead of myself, I immediately spent an absurd amount of money buying special running clothes and gear online, sure I would soon be surpassing Bill and his measly 5ks and headed straight for marathon championships.

Alas, Week Four, disaster struck. I woke up one morning with a sore throat, sniffles, and zero desire to get out of bed and pound the pavement. With WebMD’s blessing and a couple of loud, dramatically professed lamentations to Bill and anyone else who would listen that “my health just has to come first,” I took a few days off training.

And then something miraculous happened. My cold cleared up and I found myself wanting to get back out on the trails. I never would have thought it possible, but I missed running. In just a month, I had come to enjoy the feeling of accomplishment I got from watching my lung capacity improve with every session. I felt antsy without the release of running along the lakeshore, watching the waves crash and taking selfies in front of the skyline (what, they came out amazing). Maybe Bill was onto something after all.

With renewed resolve, I fell back into my rhythm of running three times a week. I even made it through the dreaded Week Six, when the program suddenly challenges you to run a full 20 minutes with no walking. I thought I would surely pass out and die, right up until the very last second, but I did it! (Does that make me a #legitimaterunner or what?)

To no one’s greater surprise than my own, when race day came, I was ready. It was a costume race, and Bill and I picked out the perfect outfits: Thing 1 and Thing 2 – with Bill as Thing 1, since, for once, we were doing something he had done first.

Clad in our DIY red t-shirts and bright blue wigs, we lined up side-by-side at the starting line. The horn blared, and we were off! I had been nervous that I wouldn’t be able to keep up with the crowd, but with Bill literally running circles around me and good-naturedly taunting me to run faster the whole time (little brothers, amiright?), I managed to clock in at a slow-but-totally-respectable 35 minutes.

I still kind of can’t believe I’m saying this, but it felt amazing. After we exchanged a sweaty high-five for the cameras (aka our mom's iPhone), I turned to Bill and gushed how I couldn’t have done it without him, he was such an inspiration, etc. etc. etc.

And what did he have to say in response to my heartfelt, emotional sentiments, at the conclusion of my long journey to self-actualization on the race course?

“I told you so, I told you so, I TOLD you SO!! AHAHAHAHA TOLD YOU SOOOOOO!”

Fair enough – I guess he’d been waiting to say that for a while.


Find Your Soul

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Find Your Soul photo

SoulCycle, the New York-based spin chain, recently opened a studio in D.C., where I live. For months, all I had been hearing from friends in other cities was how awesome SoulCycle was and how it was “so great” etc., etc., and frankly I was getting sick of it. I needed to try a class out for myself.

I should preface this by saying that I have taken multiple other classes and haven’t liked a single one. I tried core fitness in college and couldn’t walk; I tried kickboxing with a friend and kicked her straight in the face. I even tried yoga with my mom and couldn’t breathe. So my skepticism about SoulCycle was in full form before I even tried the class.

The SoulCycle locker room was white and clean despite the sweaty masses of girls pouring out. Other girls in yellow tank tops were abundantly available to help new riders, like myself, work our lockers and bike set up. I had gotten there 20 minutes early so I had ample time to survey the rest of the clientele.

There they were in their fancy brand name leggings and here I was upset that I was even in leggings. (Sofie shorts have been my work out attire since the tenth grade.) I scoffed at them, my skepticism of the $30 class growing alongside my nerves right up until 7:30.

Forty-five minutes later I walked out of the studio and knew that I couldn’t just go to one class. SoulCycle might have been the best workout I’d had since my high school soccer coach made me run suicides, and it was definitely the most enjoyable workout I had had, well, since ever.

Three months later I’ve become a SoulCycle enthusiast. As much as I would like to become a five-day-a-week junkie, I’ve had to control myself because while you might find your soul here, you’re definitely losing your cash. Here lies the downside to this fitness regime, unless you want to eat Eggo waffles for dinner (which I occasionally do). You need to draw the line on how much you’re willing to spend on this costly class.

I may as well be their spokeswoman when I tell you that you really need to try it out for yourself. As trivial as it may seem that I’m pushing for a spin class, ever since I started I have wanted to become healthier and exercise more. I’ve even started to occasionally eat salad. Salad!

Enticed? You’re in luck – SoulCycle comes to Chicago this winter.


An Interview with the Commissioner of the Israeli Football League

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An Interview with the Commissioner of the Israeli Football League photo 1

The reigning IFL champion Tel Aviv Pioneers take on the Ramat HaSharon Hammers. Photo credit: Stas Ivanov

It’s not fantasy football, but it is a football fantasy made real. Israel is going to the gridiron.

Meet Betzalel Friedman, the commissioner of the Israeli Football League. Some of you, myself included, played flag football while studying in Israel on the beautiful Kraft Field in Jerusalem. Well, things are taking off. I chatted with the IFL commish to talk about the kickoff of Israeli football.

An Interview with the Commissioner of the Israeli Football League photo 2

Members of the Jerusalem Kings (purple) and Judean Rebels (orange) light Chanukah candles prior to playing in last year’s “Chanukah Bowl.” Photo credit: Rick Blumsack

Please tell us a little bit about yourself.
I grew up in Indianapolis, and (was) moved to Israel when I was 10. I learned in the Gush and served as an officer in the paratroopers. Married plus three.

What is the IFL and how did it form?
The IFL was formed 8 years ago by a bunch of football enthusiasts who teamed up with Patriots' owner Robert (and Myra z"l) Kraft to start the league. Kraft is still the main sponsor.

Where are the players coming from and how do you recruit?
Most players (over 70 percent) are actually Sabras. Recruiting is mostly by word of mouth, but the teams also go out to universities/city centers/malls etc.

Is football growing in Israel? What cities are represented?
Football is growing all over the country. We have teams in the Galilee, Haifa, Ramat HaSharon, Tel Aviv, Petah Tikva, Mazkeret Batya, Jerusalem (three teams) and Beersheva. We also have eight youth teams, plus flag football for men, women and children.

Is football big amongst Israeli youth? Is it mostly American born interest or are native Israelis picking it up as well?
As I said, we're over 70 percent Sabra, and that's the goal. The sport will not grow if it's only a niche sport for Anglos.

Could you ever imagine a season like the Israel Baseball League had with former NFLers?
We pride ourselves on being a grassroots organization and growing the sport from the bottom up, in stark contrast to the IBL, which tried to start big and fizzled out quickly. I'd much rather see an ex-NFLer come to coach our guys than come to play.

What's next for the IFL?
We are trying to promote the sport in Israel and at the same time raise support abroad to help our efforts. We believe that football could and should be the third largest team sport in Israel behind soccer and basketball.  

Where can people follow the IFL?
Our website is www.ifl.co.il and our facebook is https://www.facebook.com/TheIflIsraelFootballLeague

Any last thoughts?
We've just started the Israeli National Team which will be quarterbacked by Alex Swieca and plan to compete in the 2016 Level C European Tournament.

Look out for the documentary called Touchdown Israel at Jewish Film Festivals soon.


It’s Not Just a Piece of Yarn

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It’s Not Just a Piece of Yarn photo

The other night I was hanging out with a couple of my friends, lying on a couch with my feet hanging off the arm rest. Not the most comfortable of positions, but it was getting late and it would do the trick. While scrolling through my Instagram feed, one of my friends began to tug on two pieces of string that had been tied to my lower ankle for the past three months. My friend chuckled a little and asked me in a cynical tone, "Why do you have strands of yarn tied to your ankle?"

For me, the answer was simple, but at the time of questioning, I couldn't exactly put it into words.

See, these strands of yarn are from one of my favorite activities at Camp Firefly that had a large impact on both the campers and me. The activity goes a little something like this; you have a ball of yarn that needs to be unraveled but can only be undone through conversation.

You might be confused so let me try to explain further. The ball represents a conversation, comment, question, or topic. The ball can only be passed if someone else has something to add or share. So let’s say you’re talking about camp. The only way for the ball to be passed and unraveled is if someone else can make a connection and talk about that topic. The point of the game is to have a fluid conversation, which sometimes can be a struggle for anyone, let alone a camper with autism.

The orange and pink strings on my ankle represent a conversation I had with a camper using this activity that really illustrate his growth and improvement over the summer. He really struggled with interpersonal relationships and putting himself in someone else’s position. One day, this camper asked me a question; this was the first time that he had taken an interest in my life, or the initiative to ask a question. It was almost the end of camp and I could see his attitude toward talking and making relationships changing. Curiously, he asked his question and I handed him the yarn. We went back and forth, talking to each other and the turns started to grow into full-length sentences, including commentary, questions, and excitement about what we were saying.

When all of the string was unraveled, I asked him if he thought we should keep pieces of the string to remember our conversation and always have that as a reminder. He seemed to love the idea. From this activity, he gained confidence as well as understanding in having a conversation about someone else’s interests. Because I am so proud, I keep the string around my ankle and it remains tied there today.

So to answer my friend’s question, I keep it there not because I need it to remind me of my amazing experiences at Camp Firefly, but rather because it is a conversation-starter. It allows me to talk about my life-changing time at camp. The strings show off a camp that goes above and beyond all expectations and constantly influences these campers’ lives in such a positive way. To me, the yearn signifies my need to brag about a camp that compares to no other.

That being said, the staff at camp is so supportive of the campers and each other, but we also need support from you, the people who care about these kids and their summer adventures. Our fifth annual “Give for the Glow” fundraiser is at 9 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 8 at Sluggers World Class Sports Bar, 3540 N. Clark St. Proceeds from the fundraiser go toward camper scholarships, as well as camp resources. It’s an amazing bar package with a fantastic raffle drawing. Please consider coming out and supporting the camp, because it would mean the world to me, my colleagues, and our campers. If interested in purchasing tickets, or simply making a donation, please visit our webpage here.

Ali Katz is a junior at Indiana University and a counselor at Camp Firefly, a camp for boys and girls ages 7-18 who have been diagnosed with social disorders. Camp Firefly is a program of Jewish Child & Family Services.

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