OyChicago blog

Kindle Culture 3: What I read in 2014

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12/31/2014

I’m back again, for the third year in a row, opening up my Kindle to share with all of you the best of what I’ve read this year.

There is something to be said about always being able to access the book you’re reading through an app on your phone or iPad, knowing that you can visit another world whenever and wherever you choose. These are the books that helped me pass the endless hours commuting on the El, the minutes on the treadmill and those nights when I couldn’t sleep. These are the stories that kept me company on lunch breaks, plane rides and relaxing Sunday afternoons.

Looking back, despite binge-watching several shows on Netflix and devoting some commuting time to listening to the Serial podcast, I actually read a lot of really quality stuff this year. Much like my past lists, not all of these books came out in 2014 and they aren’t necessarily the best books of the year—though a few of them might make those lists. These are, however, the books I enjoyed reading the most and hope you will too. So, without further ado, here’s what’s on my Kindle from 2014:

 

 

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We are Water by Wally Lamb
I was excited to learn that Wally Lamb (author of I Know This Much Is True and She’s Come Undone, among others) had a new novel coming out at the end of 2013, so this was the first book I read this past year. It’s a long one, but stick with it until the end. It tells the story of one modern family from the perspectives and voices of the various characters. The story is compelling, complex, suspenseful and emotional and the characters are rich and real.

 

 

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Me Before You by Jojo Moyes
This book got a lot of buzz this year, and I totally understand why. Once you start reading, it’s impossible to put down this somewhat heartbreaking love story that takes you on an emotional rollercoaster. I also read Jojo Moyes’ new book this year, One Plus One, which was a little bit slower at first, but one I’m glad I kept reading.

 

 

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The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion
So this book was recommended to me by a coworker and I’m pretty sure it was my favorite read of the year. This is the story of a genetics professor who is searching for the perfect wife. It’s a quirky, smart and endearing story and I just loved it. The sequel, The Rosie Effect, came out yesterday, and I cannot wait to read it.

 

 

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Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise by Ruth Reichl
This one was also recommended to me by that same coworker and was another great read. In this memoir, Ruth Reichl chronicles her time as restaurant critic for The New York Times, when she would often visit the restaurants she was reviewing in disguise, so as to not be recognized or get preferential treatment. It’s entertaining and will make you laugh and hungry all at once. Reichl has several other memoirs that I haven’t gotten to yet but look forward to reading.

 

 

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All Fall Down by Jennifer Weiner
I have read all of Jennifer Weiner’s books (and even interviewed her back in 2009) so as soon as her newest came out this summer, I downloaded it and got reading. This one tackles a suburban mom’s struggle with addiction. It’s a little different and slightly darker than some of Jennifer Weiner’s other books, but as always, she’s created a compelling, engaging story.

 

  

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What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty
As I celebrated the big 3-0 this year, the plot line of this book intrigued me—a 29-year-old happily married woman who suddenly wakes up at the gym to discover she is 39, divorced and her life has not turned out as she’d hoped. There is just something about the style of Australian author Liane Moriarty’s writing that really hooks you. This was the first of her books that I read, but I went on to literally read them all: The Husband’s Secret and Big Little Lies were my favorites, but I also enjoyed Three Wishes, The Hypnotist’s Love Story and The Last Anniversary. I was honestly bummed when I finished the last one.

 

 

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Not That Kind of Girl by Lena Dunham
This is a collection of personal essays by the creator, producer and star of HBO’s Girls. In true Dunham style, she shares stories from her childhood, her coming-of-age moments and her arrival onto the Hollywood scene. If you like Girls or are intrigued by Dunham, I think you’ll find this series of stories about growing up brutally honest and somewhat relatable.

 

 

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This is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper
The movie trailers inspired me (though I haven’t yet seen the movie) to read this novel about a family coming together for the first time in years, to sit shiva after the death of their father. This book is just really good—it’s a rich, emotional, sometimes vulgar story and I was sad to leave the characters when I got to the last page. 

 

 

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Orange is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison by Piper Kerman
As a fan of the Netflix original series Orange is the New Black, I jumped at the chance to interview Piper Kerman before her visit to Chicago next month. I wanted to learn more about the real story of the woman whose experiences and bestselling memoir of the same name inspired the show. Before I spoke to her, I read her book, which recounts the year (2004-2005) she spent in the Danbury Correctional Facility for a crime she had committed 10 years prior. If you watch the show, you owe it to yourself to read Kerman’s memoir which is just as engaging, but not quite as extreme as the show. And you’ll find the inspiration for many of your favorite characters and plotlines are based in reality.

 

So, what did I miss? And what should be on this list for 2015? Share your book recommendations in the comments below. Happy reading!

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The Absolute Perfect Time

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12/30/2014

The Absolute Perfect Time photo

I am going to tell you the best time to start working on your goals and it’s not “After New Year’s.” Around the holidays people are big on that comment, especially with diet and exercise. People often set goals/resolutions in the New Year; it’s the perfect time to achieve your dreams – or is it?

Whether you are a goal setter or simply want to get in better shape, start right now. Don’t wait for 2015, or your new job, or your new house ... excuses are easy for all of us, especially with eating sugary goodness during the holidays.

During the holidays, I made a ridiculously unhealthy delicious sugar bomb and ate a tiny piece, enjoying every single minute of it. Does that mean I’m waiting for next year to eat healthy? Of course not. Most nights there’s no dessert on my table, but occasionally I indulge. Part of being healthy is enjoying desserts sometimes, so you never get to that binging point.

With 2015 only a few days away, many of you might think I’m crazy. Why would anyone start with a new goal on Dec. 30? The simplest answer is most people give up on their goals (usually mid-February) so why not start early? Make a lifestyle change right now, because this is what you really want. Don’t deprive yourself of a fat steak, salty frites, and the industry standard lava cake (which I also bake), just enjoy small portions of each. Add a green vegetable to the plate that’s not deep fried. Since you cannot find a cab on New Year’s find a place in safe walking distance.

Another key to success is small steps. I have one client that gave up all sweets for a year, and to my surprise he did it. I have numerous clients make bold statements like that. Out of hundreds of clients attempting crazy diets/goals the ones that make it start with small changes:

- No more daily trips to the candy bowl
- Refill their water bottle at least twice a day
- Join Weight Watchers
- Try a new fitness class
- Cook more and brown bag their lunch
- Learn to share treats

If your goal is to be healthier, start right now with a quick trip to the water cooler, and if no one is looking, maybe add 10 squats.

Have a healthy, happy New Year! Be sure to send me questions and comments to rkrit@fitwithkrit.com

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Hallmark Doesn’t Make a Card for This

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12/29/2014

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Have you ever noticed that no one seems particularly eager for the arrival of their 22nd birthday? That there are no Hallmark cards for people between the ages of 21 and 25, and that no one when asked responds, “Heck, yeah man! Can’t wait for the big two-two!”

That’s because, up until age 22, or sometimes even later, you spend your whole life preparing for the next school year — the next paper to write, the next class to take — but once they hand you that weird piece of paper with your name on it, that’s kind of it. You either go to grad school or … you know … just figure it out.

And unless you have money or a plan — which you probably don’t, since you just spent every moment (and saved penny) of the last four years earning the degree now mounted like a deer’s head your wall — you have no choice but to pack up your college experiences and brave the infamous “real world.”

And by “real world,” I mean your parents’ house. You suck it up and move back in with your parents.

As you re-enter your childhood bedroom, it seems significantly smaller and – somehow – pinker than the last time you were home for winter break.

Horrified, you stare at the mountain of stuffed animals on your bed and think to yourself, did I really earn a bachelor’s degree while hoarding hundreds of Beanie Babies on the other side of the state? Can they revoke my degree for that?

Stuck in this foreign/familiar space, you feel yourself losing touch with the independent college-self you were a few weeks ago. Slamming doors and arguments over who gets the car slowly but surely make their way back into your daily routine.

Without homework to avoid, laundry becomes an actual chore. The hamper feels a little heavier without the stolen quarters from your roommate jingling on top. And once you run out of your counter-culture hippy detergent and go back to using Tide, it seems like your years of freedom were for naught.

Beyond the city limits of your college town, all the rules are different. Suddenly, your school-town jargon becomes a foreign language, one that Rosetta Stone doesn’t have a box set for, and worse still, you encounter people who refuse to understand the nuances of your (VERY SOPHISTICATED) college culture.

So what do you do without your college identity there to define you?

Well, for a while, you wait. Just like Dr. Seuss promised you would. But, instead of waiting for a bus to come, or a plane to go, or the mail to come, you wait to grow restless. Restless for the independence you just had a few weeks ago and become compelled to look for it again.

Then you apply. Apply for jobs you don’t want, and some that you do. Apply for internships and overseas voyages and organic farming licenses. You find out that you’re underqualified for the Peace Corps, which you had always counted on as your backup plan.

You take up running and volunteering, cooking and drinking, singing and, ultimately, knitting – even though you swore after a particularly traumatic project to never do that again.

Then, almost without being aware, you start your own business, the kind with actual clients. Business cards that have your name on them create a bulge in your wallet and cover every square inch of your desk because, at the time, 500 seemed like a totally reasonable number to order.

People begin to reach out to you, asking for a recommendation, a thought, for a moment of your time. You pretend less and less to know what you are doing and find more and more that you know what to do.

Coffee transitions from a noun into a verb, and it is often the reason you take the train downtown to meet impressive individuals in their impressive corporate offices, only to discover that, in fact, they are also impressed by you.

And you keep pressing forward, hoping that in one of these places, a confident, accomplished individual from the crowd will turn around, and you will look yourself in the face.

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The Language of Jewish Motherhood

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12/26/2014

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On the surface, it would seem as though my mom and Silvia have very little in common. My mother is a Soviet refugee living in the sleepy suburbs of Chicago; Silvia is Argentinian, from the heart of Buenos Aires. When we have guests over for dinner, my mom prepares organic asparagus and free-range salmon. Silvia cooks blood sausage, the cow innards positively teeming out of the juicy meat wrapping. 

If they were to sit across from each other at this fictitious dinner table, Silvia and my mother would not have a single language in common, yet, strangely enough, there is no doubt in my mind that they would become instant friends. For all their differences, my mom and Silvia have one very important thing in common: they are passionately, unyieldingly, wholeheartedly Jewish mothers.

There’s something about Jewish mothers that’s almost a universal quality, a sort of bond between those who grew up under the warm and sheltered wing of such a parent. That isn’t to say that non-Jewish mothers aren’t as loving, because of course they are, but Jewish mothers are somehow of a different stripe, in ways that can only be described in anecdotes.

Demian and I first bonded talking about our mothers. We already had a few similarities, but this was an instant click – Silvia and my mom had astounding qualities in common. For instance, both of our mothers worry intensely if we don’t wear sunscreen. There have been many a time when Demian and I – on separate occasions and in different hemispheres – have insisted that we don’t need sunscreen before going out, only to later find a bottle sneakily slipped into our bags.

Once, when he was just a baby, Silvia needed to take Demian to the doctor. It was winter in Buenos Aires, which drops down to a chilly 30 or 40 degrees on a cooler day. Naturally, Silvia worried that her newborn son might get cold. So she dressed him in a thick sweater and socks; then added another sweater, just to be safe; and a coat; and a scarf; and another layer of socks.

By the time they reached the doctor’s office, baby Demian was sweating profusely and, once the winter layers were peeled away, they discovered a full-body, heat-induced rash. The doctor openly gaped at Silvia. Demian’s mother literally almost loved him to death. 

When I left for college as a senior, my own mother suddenly began to suspect that I didn’t have a fall coat. No matter how many times I painstakingly tried to convince her that I did, in fact, have a coat, she was unwavering. She planned an emergency trip up to Madison, and within five hours, I had not one, not two, but seven coats laid out on display on my bed. 

My aunt Larissa, who is the Israeli duplicate of my own mom, is no stranger to Jewish motherhood. Like my mom, she has two children whom she cherishes and, in typical fashion, spends a good deal of time worrying about. Are they warm? Are they eating well? 

One time, her 15-year-old daughter asked to skip school so that she could spend the day at the beach with me.

“Of course not,” my Aunt Larissa responded, pounding a schnitzel flat on her kitchen counter.

“I’ll eat dinner at home if you let me go,” my cousin pressed.

“Done,” was the immediate response. We spent the entire Wednesday on the beach.

Most of my friends are baffled by this story, but when I told my mom, she nodded vigorously and insisted, “There’s a woman who has her priorities in order!” She then looked pointedly at me. “You know, it wouldn’t be so bad if you ate dinner at home every once in a while, too.”

As children of like-minded mothers, Demian, my cousin and I also share a handful of similarities. We all roll our eyes when we glimpse a bottle of sunblock sticking out of the sides of our bags. We make promises to eat dinner at home only to back out last minute. As aggravating as our mothers may seem, the truth is that we’re aggravating them all the more.

As frustrated as I get when having to insist that, for instance, I wouldn’t like a glass of juice, for the 12th time (even though yes I know the health benefits and the long-term gains from drinking organic juice), I also know that there will never be anybody as deeply invested in my well-being as my mother. And, in case I ever forget, I can always count on my seven coats to remind me.

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Yoga & Judaism: A Love Story

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12/24/2014

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I've been practicing yoga for about eight years; you would think I would be a full-fledged master by now. However, a great yoga practice is when I can touch my toes. 

To be honest, I’m not consistent when it comes to any form of physical exercise. It’s a “one step forward, two steps back” kind of relationship. I’ll go to yoga Monday through Friday for three weeks, and then I’ll take a hiatus for two months. Although this relationship clearly can’t be good for my physical health, the lessons I’ve taken away from my yoga practice have helped me through many emotional crises. I also realized how closely related my yoga practice is to my religion. 

Being present

This is the root of yoga. At the end of every yoga practice is the savasana pose, or corpse pose, when you lie down on your back for a few minutes and meditate. It’s considered one of the most difficult poses because your mind can easily wander out of the present moment. Through savasana pose, I’ve learned that being present gives you clarity that can’t be achieved from a multi-tasking mind. Savasana reminds me of the meditations I read in the machzor during the High Holidays at synagogue. Within the meditations are stories about rabbis who teach life lessons to those in need of guidance. I’ve learned from my yoga practice and the machzor that you learn unexpected lessons that alter your life for the better when you’re present.   

Gratitude

Yoga and Judaism teach us to be thankful for our blessings and misfortunes. It’s easy for us to be grateful for the good in our lives, but it’s much more difficult to be grateful for the setbacks. However, within the setbacks are lessons to be learned and opportunities to reinvent ourselves.

Acceptance

In almost every yoga class, you’ll find a yogi huffing and puffing while in pain because they’re pushing their body’s limitations. Pain is the antonym of yoga. Yoga is about accepting what your body can and can’t do. By accepting your body’s limitations in yoga, overtime, you’ll advance to more complicated poses. By accepting myself in my yoga practice, I was able to accept other’s in their entirety outside of yoga. My parents, however, were a whole other battle. I used to take all my frustrations out on them, which was ironic because the fifth of the Ten Commandments is to honor one’s parents. I realized I was the reason my relationship with my parents was sour, so I decided to implement the fifth commandment in my life. Now, the relationship I have with my parents is stronger than it’s ever been.  

It’s true: I’m very inconsistent when it comes to my yoga practice and the only time I can guarantee I’ll be attending synagogue is during the High Holidays. But, by being present in just one yoga class and Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur service, I’m learning valuable lessons on how to become my best possible self. All I had to do was show up.

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Powerful Memories

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12/23/2014

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Chanukah is just about over; last night my family lit our seventh flames and, as is our custom, I sat and watched them for a few minutes and let my mind wonder. After a brief mental jog around what exactly will happen when Agents of SHIELD starts up again in March, my mind sort of settled on memories. We all have them: the good ones and the bad ones. Of course, the most powerful ones are those that bring up emotions and take us back to that moment. 

This Chanukah, I experienced three moments connected to deep, powerful memories.

The first involves cookies. Yeah, cookies! Every year we wait and wait for my wife’s Chanukah cookies. It’s a recipe that is unveiled only once every 12 months (like a comet for your taste buds). Our 15-year-old son has been helping my wife make them since he could stand. It’s sort of their thing and every year he jumps in and rolls the dough, uses the cookie-cutters, and sprinkles the colored sugar. Their tradition never started as a platform to build memories, but that is what it has become and it’s the coolest.

I am probably the only one that still owns his childhood “dreidel collection.” I took some with me when I went to college, spent two years in Israel, went back to New York City, got married … you get the idea. My brother visited us recently and he was shocked to see that among the dreidels my kids were playing with was one from my old collection. It triggered a few memories for him, as it does for me. My kids, after years of spinning, know that my old dreidel really does spin better than theirs.

Lastly, I’ll open up (it’s easy when you are typing and not talking) about a personal memory. My father, of blessed memory, died five years ago. About once every 6-8 weeks I will stop by a Walgreens and make my way to the men’s fragrance section. I will glance up and down the aisle to make sure no one is around and grab a bottle of Brut cologne off the shelf. I take a quick smell, put the bottle back and leave. What can I say? My dad was a Brut man.

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Lilah Tov

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12/22/2014

Johnny sleeping 400

Our baby boy, Johnny, turned six months a few weeks ago, and a few days later our first resource from PJ Library arrived in the mail. I furiously tore open the package and was excited to find Dream with Me, a CD compilation of lullabies. Perfect, I thought, this will be great to play when we need to get the little one to sleep.  

From what I gather, Johnny’s bedtime ritual is pretty typical: change diaper, wrestle to put on PJs, nurse on the couch while reading stories and singing lullabies before drifting off to sleep. There are always three lullabies that make the evening lineup: 

You Are My Sunshine,” the song Rose would sing to him while she was pregnant; “The Circle Game," the song her mother sang to her as a child; and “Lilah Tov,” (“goodnight,” in Hebrew) a song my wife made up to whisk him off to sleep.

Even as I write this post, I start to choke up, thinking about the beauty and innocence of this experience that at least one of us has shared with our son nearly every night of his life. Sometimes, I watch him really closely, hoping to catch the exact moment he drifts off to sleep. It is incredibly touching how he falls away so effortlessly and peacefully. This is one of those moments when the emotional side of parenthood comes up from deep inside of you and permeates the entire room. I once walked into the nursery to find my wife singing to him while he quietly lied in her arms. I sat down on the couch and gently put my hand on her knee and tears began streaming down both of our faces.

After we received the Dream with Me CD, I grabbed it on the way to the car that afternoon for a preview. With the baby securely buckled in the back seat, I thought to myself that this would be a good test. The first words of the first song were “Lilah Tov.” In an instant, the sounds and sights of traffic all around me disappeared. For a split second, I was pulled out of the car and into the nursery at night, putting our baby to sleep. It wasn’t long enough to completely distract me from the road, but just long enough to summon those familiar tears.

I have heard that there is a sociological and biological reaction to fatherhood that helps bring out a man’s softer, more sensitive side and increases his commitment to the family. Consider this father a committed pile of mush.

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How We Can Be All-Inclusive

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5 Things the Jewish Community Can Learn From My Mexican Vacation
12/18/2014

5 Things the Jewish Community Can Learn From My Mexican Vacation photo 1

A few weeks ago, my fiancé, Adam, and I went on a vacation to our first all-inclusive Mexican resort – a place called Secrets Capri in Riviera Maya. With five days and nothing to do but relax and enjoy the sun (and, sadly, some rain), we came back feeling refreshed, reinvigorated, and tan – or, let’s be honest, slightly less ghost-colored.

As a Jewish professional, though, you can never really take a vacation. Every aspect of our resort made me think of my job as a Jewish communal professional. This time, I was a guest at a resort in a new country feeling very welcomed; most of the time, I’m busy welcoming guests to our community and folding all the towel art.

So, dear friends, I present you with the list of what we can learn from my Mexican vacation.

1. Don’t make me feel lost

We booked our transfer from the Cancun airport to our resort through the same company as our overnight stay, and they told us to look for the people in the bright floral shirts. They greeted us as we walked out of the terminal, and sent us to exactly the right place. We never felt lost and we didn’t have to ask directions from someone selling homemade jewelry – though that sure would have been interesting!

When a newcomer comes to a Jewish event, would he know where to go? Is there a greeter at the door? Someone with a name tag who makes sure he’s not lost?

2. Create an over-the-top first impression

When our van pulled into the resort, we were greeted with friendly faces, cold towels, water bottles and champagne. And if you walked in a few more feet, there were apples and chocolate chip cookies. Wow! I would have never thought to ask for a cold towel, but I guess after a long flight and a long van ride, it was nice to be able to wash my hands in the humid weather. Instead of beginning our vacation dirty, hungry and thirsty, the resort showed us right away that they care about us and want us to be comfortable.

In the Jewish community, what would someone see when they first walk in to your event? Is there a pitcher of water and maybe even a bowl of apples near the entrance? Some congregations offer an oneg (reception) before worship services – it sure puts people in a good mood and gets them ready to focus on prayer and song when they have a full belly.

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3. Offer something for everyone

The list of activities offered at our resort was extensive – water aerobics, a bags / cornhole competition, Pilates, dance lessons, Spanish lessons, towel art, watching Monday Night Football, different kinds of movies, and even a daily feeding of the lobby turtles. There seemed to be something for everyone.

Do our Jewish organizations offer a wide range of activities, or are we catering too much to one group or another? Do we assess our clientele and build programs based on their needs – or do we just offer what WE think they need?

4. Personal invitations

I probably would not have gone to water aerobics on my own. The water was cold, it seemed silly, I didn’t know anyone, I was scared, and somehow I couldn’t convince Adam to go with me. But Hector, one of the entertainment staff members and the leader of the class, went around to every person lounging around the pool and asked if they would be coming to the class. With a personal invitation, these people – myself included – felt a bit more comfortable throwing a bookmark in their book and dipping their toes in the water.

Just because we offer a spectacular, meaningful, artsy, delicious, Jewish-tastic program, it doesn’t mean people will come. We have to ask people to come. Make them feel welcome. Invite them, help them out of their chair, and walk with them to the event. And chances are, these potential Jewish communal newcomers, like silly-looking Lia in water aerobics, will actually enjoy the event and maybe even come back the next time.

5. Remember details.

My mom likes to tell this story of the one time our family went on a cruise – a Disney cruise when I was in kindergarten. As soon as we walked in the dining room, our waiter would immediately bring me chocolate milk and get me plain buttered noodles with no parsley. My tastes have evolved a bit since then, so my food desires in Mexico weren’t as complicated, but it’s nice to know that people remember things about you. We started recognizing the resort staff and they recognized us; and one particular hostess at the breakfast cafe knew that when Adam walked into brunch, he’d probably ask for a waffle.

How many times do I hear Jewish communal professionals – myself included – say that they have bad memories and have a hard time remembering names? It’s just unacceptable. We need to go out of our way to train our brains to be able to remember names and facts. Who in your community is gluten-free? Whose mother just had surgery? Who just gained a new grandson? If your Jewish organization is anything like my workplace, most of this information is readily available. Read the emails, read the newsletters, ask questions, and even eavesdrop a bit on the hallway conversations. Show that you remember who your constituents are and they will notice.

We can’t spend our whole lives as guests in an all-inclusive resort in the warm, humid air, but maybe we can take these experiences – and the ones you witness in your own life at the grocery store, the movie theater, and your client’s office building – to make our community stronger, warmer, and more welcoming.

Let's get to work – we’ve got lots of chocolate chip cookies to bake!

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The Problem with New Year’s Resolutions

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12/17/2014

The Problem with New Year’s Resolutions photo

All I can think about are New Year’s resolutions as we speed into 2015. It’s probably because I’m so terrible at them.

I find rules, restrictions and absolutes to be difficult to manage. When I hear the word resolution, all I can think about is what I’m not going to be able to do. Then, like clockwork, I obsess about what I can’t have while stress eating everything in my apartment. All of these feelings can only lead to one thing: doing exactly what I resolved I would definitely not do. It’s a vicious cycle, and I repeat it every year.

I know I’m not the only person who gets into this trap. I start out with high hopes. I do a little inventory of myself and then decide that real changes must take place. Then comes my list. I will train for a marathon. I will read Moby Dick. I will not have ice cream for dinner. These resolutions aren’t so bad, but in all honesty, I’m not likely to do any of those things very well.

That’s the problem with resolutions. It’s not that the bar is set too high, it’s that the resolutions, it least in my mind, are too absolute. What if instead of giving yourself strict edicts for the coming year, you cut yourself a little slack? I’m not sure that I have the time it takes to train for a marathon, but what if I try anyway? Reading Moby Dick sounds awful, but I don’t have to complete the whole book in one afternoon. Not eating ice cream for dinner doesn’t mean that I can’t have ice cream, it means that I try to remain mindful of what I’m eating.

Isn’t it better to work at something? Perhaps failing at a New Year’s resolution is part of the process. Maybe it’s better to be a bad marathoner who tries than to be someone who gives up and isn’t running at all. Could it be that all of those past resolution failures were just part of the deal?

This year, I’m going to give myself a few New Year’s resolutions and I’m going to try to give myself the space to achieve them. Whatever that means. Just don’t laugh in my face when I’m running around calling myself a vegan. I’m never going to be a vegan, but maybe I can be a bad vegan? It’s better than nothing.

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Cubs introduce Lester, new era

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12/16/2014

Cubs introduce Lester, new era photo

The Chicago Cubs introduced their new big money ace Jon Lester yesterday, and while the press conference itself wasn't particularly entertaining – especially compared to the quirk and quotability of the Joe Maddon presser just a few weeks ago – its significance is apparent. The signing of Lester, along with the hiring of new manager Maddon, is a clear message to Cubs fans that the era of bottoming out is over and the era of winning is ready to begin.

In fact, Lester's contract quieted any speculation that the Cubs either didn't have the money Theo Epstein needed, or were hesitant to spend. His contract, $155 million over six years, is the largest multi-year contract in the history of Chicago sports.

So the big question is, is Lester really worth it?

Yes. He's a proven ace who can be the head of a championship pitching rotation. He’s a lefty with the mechanics built for a long career and just the kind of experience a young Cubs team needs. He has won two World Series, both with the Red Sox, and is a three-time all-star. He provides the kind of stability on the mound the Cubs have so badly needed, which will also take some of the pressure off their young bats every fifth game while they continue to grow.

But to me, more than what Lester brings to the field, this signing is the Cubs brass sending a loud message to the fan base that this Cubs team is ready to win – now. Both Lester and Maddon discussed it at both of their press conferences, as did Epstein. Lester is by no means young. Entering his tenth season, this signing was much more about the present than it was about the future.

Some have compared this deal to the one the Cubs gave Alfonso Soriano in 2006, an eight-year, $136 million contract. But the biggest difference to me is that when they signed Soriano, the Cubs were not focusing any energy on their farm system. There wasn't a young bat waiting in the wings preparing to take over once Soriano began his decline, which also started way sooner than the Cubs predicted. But this is a new era, and while Lester is helping the Cubs win now, he is also allowing youngsters like Kyle Hendricks and CJ Edwards develop at their own pace.

This is the first time in almost a decade that I've been truly excited for baseball season. Regular season baseball games on the North Side will actually matter in 2015. Since Theo Epstein was hired back in 2011, the Cubs have preached patience. And I don't care what Back to the Future II says, I am not expecting a World Series next year. But now we can finally start to see the fruits of our collected suffering over the last seven years.

As long as we remember to continue tempering our expectations and understand that the growing pains are still far from over, we are in store for an extremely entertaining baseball season - words that I'm hoping to become more and more comfortable using in reference to the Cubs for many years to come.

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The Accidental Jewish Spy

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12/15/2014

The Accidental Jewish Spy photo

Have you ever been an accidental spy? There you were, just minding your own business when suddenly, people around you start talking about you – your people – without knowing you are “one of them?”

I had been invited to a fundraising luncheon through a friend, who had been invited by a friend of hers. Neither of us knew much about the organization we were breaking bread with, but we went in the good Jewish spirit of “either way, we’ll get to eat.”

We arrived to an explosion of elaborate decorations and live music. This was quite the shindig for the middle of the afternoon. The people were friendly, the check-in folks were very organized and we easily found our assigned seats boasting fancy tableware. I was immediately offered wine and I started to feel a little bit special having such an unexpected, swanky experience.

As the room filled with folks dressed in their Sunday best, a young man approached the microphone and began singing “Amazing Grace.” He was a very handsome kid and his voice was absolutely beautiful. While others around me teared up with sentiment, I was thinking to myself, “he must get all the girls,” while furiously texting my husband under the table that along with bagpipes, someone must sing “Amazing Grace” at my funeral.

When I looked up our singer had been replaced by a man of the cloth. Suddenly, we were saying Grace. The entire room was a sea of bowed heads. We were the only Jews! I looked nervously at my friend and then at my hands that were clenching my telephone. I took a deep breath. Realistically, no one was looking at me and no flashing “she’s a Jew” arrow was pointing at my head. So I waited it out, head bent respectfully toward my lap.

The main speaker followed – a plucky, well-spoken and clearly passionate person. In the speech, however, when giving examples of the hurdles that had been jumped for the mission of the organization to be realized, there were references to Jewish people and Jewish practices – and they were not positive. We were portrayed as a sexist people who don’t take women in business seriously without a man’s hand and that when the rent is due with a Jew, you better pay it or end up on the street. We were also perceived as self-congratulatory, proclaiming, “no one will outdo the Jews!” in our generosity.

I became lightheaded. My lunch began to bubble up in my throat. What was this person talking about? Why was this a part of the story? If the speaker knew there were Jews in the mix, would the speech have been different? In a lucky coincidence, we had already planned to leave early. I was sweating as I pulled on my coat.

I felt faint in the parking lot. When I got into the car I collapsed into the seat, my heart heavy with a combination of shock and sadness. How? How could someone say these things? When I got home my hands were a blur on the keyboard. I wrote what I considered to be a very impassioned email that concluded with:

“…You have hurt, offended and saddened me. In a world that has so many hurts to heal, it is beyond disappointing that you used your time with a captive audience to fan the flames of division and anti-Semitism.”

I received an almost immediate response. It was a combination of authentic shock and remorse. The speaker genuinely seemed to have no idea that what had been said could have been heard or interpreted the way it had been in my ears. I received a sincere and authentic apology, and the speaker said they would never, ever, use those words again as the intention was never to hurt or offend anyone. They concluded by saying the Jewish people are their brothers and sisters and thanked me for my courage in coming forward with my experience.

Call it courage, but I could not be silent on this one, nor do I believe we should we ever be silent.

We have the luxury of hiding our Jewishness – being able to conveniently tuck in our Chai necklaces, not reveal our last names, or be vague around what kind of G-d we believe in. But the times when we feel most inclined to hide, those are exactly the times that we should proclaim our presence. We cannot take the easy road as a minority and camouflage ourselves amongst other white folk. We ARE a minority. We need to take courage in our Judaism and the responsibility to educate those who for whatever reason don’t know the power of their words to hurt, however unintentional they may be. We must stand with other minorities that are unable to “hide” in a crowd. No one should suffer in silence. We should thrive in our collective humanity to ensure “never again” for us and for all people.

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Food in Technicolor

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12/12/2014

Food in Technicolor photo

Parshat Vayeshev is the story of Joseph, and whenever I think of Joseph, I think of his amazing technicolor coat given to him by his father, Jacob. This very special coat was a sign of greatness.

This concept of technicolor equaling greatness isn’t something that we should just strive for in our wardrobe, but also on our plates. Food comes in all forms of colors, and each color has a specific benefit that can help prevent disease, keep us strong, and assist us in staying healthy.

According to Chinese medicine, red foods such as goji berries help build blood. Tomatoes, which are rich in lycopene, are good for our heart and blood. Also, red foods contain a phytochemical called anthocyanins, which is an antioxidant that helps control blood pressure and protects against diabetes. Other red foods such as cranberries help fight urinary tract infections, and as you already know “an apple a day can keep the doctor away.”

Eating a diet rich in orange and yellow foods is good for the whole body. Oranges, lemons, and other citrus fruits have vitamin C. Vitamin C is said to prevent colds, flus, and scurvy. Other orange foods such as carrots, and yellow foods such as squash, contain beta-carotene which may prevent cancer and protect our eyes.

However, there are other nutrients in yellow foods, for example bananas are packed with potassium, which helps eliminate cramping. In general, yellow foods are also a good source of antioxidants and help maintain healthy skin and teeth.

From a young age we were all told to eat our greens, and in reality, everyone should. Foods like broccoli may reduce the risk of cancer, arthritis, and aging. Leafy green vegetables are actually a much better source of calcium than any dairy product. Kale, chard and other leafy greens are chock full of folate, fiber, and antioxidants. If we eat more green foods, we might not have to fortify our food anymore, because green vegetables have all the vitamins we need.

The blue and purple colors in foods are formed by anthocyanins, an antioxidant that fights inflammation and even cancer.  Blue and purple foods also help prevent age related memory loss, are good for the heart, protect the gums, eyes, and urinary tract. Blue foods such as blueberries can help fight the “blues” because they give your brain the boost it needs for the week.

Purple foods such as cabbage are loaded with vitamins A, C, and K. Also, elderberries can be applied to the skin to help cure wounds, or can be eaten for respiratory health (please do not eat any uncooked or unripe elderberries). Eating foods that are blue and purple will not only make your plate pretty, but they can also make it more nutritious and delicious.

 Jacob gave Joseph a technicolor coat because Joseph was truly special and destined for greatness. Let’s try to keep this in mind the next time you are thinking about what to eat. Try to imagine the greatness of Joseph’s technicolor coat, and make sure your plate is as colorful as his coat, because remember, what is on your plate is destined for your stomach and body. The more colorful your meals are the better; just make sure it is from natural colors and not dyes or preservatives. 

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‘Tis the Season for Giving … But How?

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12/11/2014

‘Tis the Season for Giving … But How? photo

If you’re like me, you probably get a ton of emails and countless mailed letters asking you to donate or to give to an organization. Many of them come around this time of the year, when the holiday spirit and the spirit of giving seem to collide in a frenzy of toys, appliances, gadgets and monetary donations. We hear the high-pitched jingles of the Salvation Army’s bell as we walk past our nearest grocer or pharmacist, or encounter people on street corners asking for spare change for organizations such as Misericordia or the Boys and Girls Club. Most of us do not ask for these seasonal solicitations, and probably do not give many of these a second thought.

Personally, I’ve collected close to 60 separate pieces of mail since Thanksgiving, and they still keep coming and probably won’t stop until the New Year. How do you not feel overwhelmed or lost among all the choices and solicitations for your donations? How do you choose which organizations to donate to or volunteer time?

The topic of tzedakah and its connection to the holiday shopping and gift-giving season really make me think more carefully about what it means to me. More particularly, it makes me wonder about how I can give as a Jewish person and how I can better understand how my decisions for tzedakah help shape the world around me and impact other people’s lives. I didn’t just want to give to a popular charity or organization, and I didn’t want to just write checks and click “Donate Now” on a website. I wanted to search for something a little more, and what I found surprised even myself.

Believe it or not, it all started with a group of sixth graders ...

Last year, my sixth grade religious school class had a special lesson on tzedakah organized and run by the American Jewish World Service. It was part of a series of lectures preparing the students for their bar or bat mitzvah. Included in the morning’s activities was a very interesting exercise that involved a little Torah study. The students and their parents were asked to look at eight different charity scenarios and decide how high or low that act of charity ranks on Maimonides’ Eight Degrees of Tzedakah.

The students were given eight slips of paper, one corresponding to each degree of tzedakah, and then asked to rank them to see how it matches up with Maimonides’ own list. Most of the groups were able to get the highest and lowest degrees, but there was some disagreement over the middle degrees. This was the first time that many of the students saw this list and didn’t even know that one could rank charity into different degrees. Isn’t all charity the same? Why does one type of giving get a higher rank than others? Isn’t all charity and giving a good thing? Why should we compare how we choose to give?

I was wondering the same questions myself. Personally, I hadn’t really given much thought to my own feelings and decisions on tzedakah. Up until I graduated college, my parents would donate around this time each year and make donations on behalf of me and my siblings. Since then, we have all been responsible and accountable for our own charitable actions: my brother found UJA-Jewish Federation and AIPAC in New York and discovered his passion for Jewish volunteer work and philanthropy. My sister, through her medical school program, worked at a facility that assisted abuse victims and their children, and would spend her summer days playing with the children instead of opting to go to the beach or on a road trip. For me, I’ve been involved with JUF attending Israel Solidarity Day and YLD events and engaging in opportunities for tikkun olam.

I learned above all that giving tzedakah needs to come from the heart. As long as it’s sincere and meaningful, and as long as it’s helping others to live and survive, it counts. Some years, I’d set aside clothes that wouldn’t fit and drop them off at a resale shop. A couple of years ago, rather than giving gift cards or writing checks to friends and family, I began to plant trees in Israel and give them as gifts.

While I shared these experiences with my students, I couldn’t help but think to myself that, while these were thoughtful and meaningful ways to give to charity and to help out those in need, was I being complacent? Was I, according to Maimonides, taking the easy way out and choosing a lesser degree of tzedakah than I was capable of doing? Was I capable of doing more?

According to Maimonides, the highest degree “is that of a person who assists a poor person...by putting him where he can dispense with other people’s aid ... [to] strengthen him in such a manner that his falling into want is prevented.”

This was difficult for many of the students to understand, so I told them a true story that another teacher recently shared with me so they could understand, and even imagine and visualize themselves performing this act of kindness themselves.

A man was wrongfully jailed for being in the wrong place at the wrong time, hanging out with some shady people one moment and charged with murder the next (get the full story on WBEZ). Eventually, after three years of legal battles and pro bono work from generous lawyers, a jury found him not guilty and he was acquitted. I explained to the students that they lawyers saw through the financial expense they were poised to endure and decided that helping a wrongfully accused stranger get out of prison – a place this man never imagined he’d go or even belong in – was the right thing to do. They saw an opportunity to give without expecting anything in return, to free an innocent man so he could go on living his life.

After I finished the story, the students barraged me with questions. Of course, many of us don’t get the experience or opportunity to perform this very high degree of tzedakah, so it generated lots of inquiry. What came over these lawyers that motivated them to provide this ultimate act of kindness? Did they have any expectations that he would pay them back in some way? Did the man have to promise to be good and stay away from bad people or bad things? Did they ever catch the real bad guys, and were they punished?

It turns out that this innocent man is now enrolled in college and fixing computers for a living, and the lawyers who sacrificed their time and energy to help a complete stranger for 10 long years still keep in touch with him on a regular basis.

So this season, and for the future, I encourage everyone to find their own path of tzedakah, to embrace the culture of giving freely and selflessly, and to pay it forward in whatever way works for you. The sixth graders taught me that it’s never too soon or too late to start giving, and to give thoughtfully and meaningfully.    

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Ingredients of a Healthy Relationship

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12/09/2014

Ingredients of a Healthy Relationship photo

Anyone else out there a foodie? Food is a great metaphor for relationships. If a person gets in the habit of eating cakes, cookies, and candy for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, it will be very difficult for that person to create a new reality of healthy eating.

Relationships are no different. If a person is dating in an unhealthy way, having “fast-food relationships,” then when it comes time to be in a healthy relationship, they will have created deeply entrenched negative patterns that are difficult to break. Just like eating healthfully requires knowing the rules of nutrition, so too, we need some guidelines for developing “healthy” relationships.

Dr. Sue Johnson, world-renowned relationships expert (and one of my personal mentors), ascribes three pillars to a healthy relationship. Let’s examine those three factors and then look at how Judaism approaches the establishment of a healthy relationship.

Factor #1 – Accessibility

This refers to the ability to connect emotionally with one’s partner even when it’s uncomfortable. Even when I feel insecure in this relationship, I will stay open and accessible to work through it together with you. Guess what? There will be times when the marriage feels uncomfortable. And you will have to apply good ol’ stick-to-it-ism and be there for your partner through the tough and challenging times too. But in the online dating world of several dates with several different people already set up for the week, if the date goes sour for a minute, the relationship is dropped. Hey, wait a minute! Where are you going? Don’t click off this blog yet! Hey … wait … Exactly.

Factor #2 – Responsiveness

This means that a partner is able to hear, understand, and respond on an emotional level to the needs of their significant other. Deep within all of us, we carry fears, loneliness, insecurity, and a need to be loved and cared for. Can you give me what I need? Can you enter my world, different from your world, see my needs, and provide them for me? Our generation struggles in the realm of relating to another person. One of the number one challenges of today’s technologically advanced communications world is the lack of eye contact. I do not really see you. Through emails, messaging, and texting, we dull the muscles needed to reach out and see what’s really going on inside of another person. Those skills are needed to create and deepen a healthy relationship.

Factor #3 – Engagement

A relationship that is engaged is a relationship in which both partners feel special to the other. It is where both share a special place in their heart for each other, willing and wanting to give a unique place in their lives for time, space, and attention to the other. It’s kind of like going to the movies with someone, but there’s no movie. Instead, all the anticipation and attention is given specially to your partner. Painful to many, this means turning off one’s phone figuratively, or sometimes when unable to fight that “gotta-answer-it’ reflex,” – literally. This will allow a couple to feel important to one another – a key ingredient in a successful relationship.

Sue Johnson created an acronym to remember these three relationship pillars: ARE. “ARE you there for me? ARE you with me?” Accessiblility, Responsiveness, and Engagement are the three factors that support a healthy thriving relationship.

The first step in establishing an ARE relationship is to see the other. You have to be able to see outside of yourself. There has to be the ability to acknowledge another person with potentially a completely different paradigm and experience of life. Second comes listening. This means listening intently to what’s going on inside the world of the other and caring. It means focusing intently and earnestly to each other’s deep vulnerable feelings. The third step is to connect. In this deep vulnerable place of sharing and understanding each other, connecting means to feel safe and secure, understood, and accepted. Finally, the goal is to reach a place of profound appreciation of each other and the precious relationship you share together.

These four steps: Seeing, Hearing, Connecting, and then Appreciating are actually alluded to in the first four names of the tribes of Israel: Reuben, Simon, Levi, and Judah. Reuben comes from the Hebrew word reiyah to see. Simon, or Shimon in Hebrew, comes from the word shemiya, to hear. Levi comes from the word leviya, to attach or connect. And Judah comes from the Hebrew word hoda’ah, to give thanks or appreciate.

When a husband can see what his wife is experiencing and listen to her share her feelings about it, he’s being Accessible. If he can then take that in and connect with her in that deep vulnerable place, he’s being Responsive. And when he then shows her how much he appreciates her for who she is at the core, how much he enjoys her sharing and being a part of his life, that is true Engagement. And it’s the same from her to him. These four steps: Seeing, Hearing, Connecting, and Appreciating are what construct an A.R.E. relationship of Accessibility, Responsiveness, and Engagement.

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Miracles

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12/08/2014

Miracles photo

My mom always made a big deal about Chanukah, and she instilled in our family a love for the holiday, too.

I know, I know. Chanukah's considered a "minor" holiday on the Jewish calendar, just trying to keep up with the commercialism of a Christmas culture that has us hearing the Mariah Carey Christmas song in our sleep for two months straight.

But in our house, Chanukah was a major holiday. We'd deck the place out in blue, gold, and silver metallic Chanukah décor worn from years of usage. The smell of frying latkes would waft through the house, we'd play dreidel for pennies, and exchange eight token gifts like Huey Lewis cassettes and Hypercolor T-shirts—ah the 1980s. But it wasn't about the gifts.

The centerpiece of the holiday in my home was lighting the Chanukiah (menorah). No matter what each family member was doing on those eight nights, we'd drop everything to go light the candles together.

I loved the special blessing we sing, and the smell of the Chanukah candles—a different tune and aroma than at our weekly Shabbat celebrations. I loved the glow of the lights in the window that passersby would see. And I loved to watch the colored wax melt down into abstract art until the final cinder would burn out, all in a matter of minutes.

We loved Chanukah so much that my mother even wrote a song about it, dedicated to my sister and me, called "The Maydel with the Dreidel." I've been singing that song eight nights a year since I was barely old enough to talk.

What resonates for us is that Chanukah celebrates not losing our Judaism to the larger culture—then and now. We're told that back in the days of the Maccabees, the oil lasted eight nights. And all these years later, through all the darkness—the peril, persecution, and turmoil—the Jewish people are still burning bright.

When we watch the news today, it's hard not to be overwhelmed by the poison: the evil of ISIS, Hamas rocket attacks, reports of anti-Semitism abroad and on our own college campuses, and the sale of swastika rings.

Yet, we've never let the dark extinguish the light, and we never will. In fact, our light—the light of the Jewish people—shines brighter than ever. That's the real miracle of Chanukah.

"The miracle," my mom would tell my sister and me growing up, "is you."

The miracle is every Jewish child. The miracle is all of us, the Jewish people, who endure and glow.

The miracle is all around us.

The miracle is in the handwritten notes tucked inside the Kotel (Western Wall).

The miracle is in the pages of the 317,000 books Chicago's PJ Library has mailed to homes of Jewish children for the last five years.

The miracle is the scientific and technological innovations that are coming out of Israel all the time.

The miracle is the songs sung around a bonfire at Jewish camps every summer.

The miracle is on the faces of the little kids who get up on the bimah (pulpit) and sing Adon Olam at synagogue every Shabbat.

The miracle is in the pantries of The ARK that feed people in need.

The miracle is at Independence Hall in Tel Aviv, where Israel first became a Jewish state, where last summer I sang "Hatikvah" with 170 Jewish peers from around North America.

The miracle is in the hands that bless our daughters and sons on Friday nights.

The miracle is the joy of dancing the hora at a Jewish wedding.

The miracle will be the more than 2,000 young Chicago Jews who will give together and laugh together at the YLD Big Event Fundraiser later this month, as we have for the last seven years.

The miracle is all of us—the Jewish people. Am Yisrael Chai!

May your Chanukah be filled with peace, joy, and light.

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8 Ways to Brighten Up Your Chanukah

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12/05/2014

One of the best things about traditions is that they stay the same. This familiarity brings comfort and nostalgia. But even a holiday that’s thousands of years old – or maybe especially such a holiday – needs some new ideas every now and then so it doesn’t get stale.

Since eight is the official number of Chanukah, here are eight ways to re-brighten your Festival of Lights:

1. New candles

Sure, the birthday cake-type ones are easy to get, but there are so many really pretty ones out there that burn much longer and don’t cost that much more. Some are beeswax. These are a bit pricey, but just look at ’em:

8 Ways to Brighten Up Your Chanukah photo 1

2. New menorahs

There is nothing wrong with – and even something heartwarming about – using a traditional style of menorah. But artists today have had a ton of fun with styles, shapes, and themes. And what better Chanukah present to give than something you get to use for Chanukah right away? I mean, there is probably a cat person in your life who needs this:

8 Ways to Brighten Up Your Chanukah photo 2

3. New latkes

Since the miracle was about the oil – and since the Maccabees had never seen a potato in their lives – it kinda doesn’t matter what you fry in your festive fritters. Sweet potatoes, yams, squash, carrots, zuccini, peas… there are all sorts of ideas. Also, you can use them as the base for dozens of toppings.

4. New desserts

The frying fun doesn’t have to stop with the meal. Aside from traditional Sephardic/Israeli sufganiot (jelly donuts on steroids), there are all sorts of fried desserts: fritters, zalabia, churros … deep fried delights from bananas to Oreos to ice cream. Dial the first two digits of 911 before indulging, though.

5. New gift-giving traditions

The “eighth gift” is a great idea for kids. Instead of eight gifts, they get seven, and the eighth gift is the one they shop for specifically to donate to a kid in need. It’s a great way to introduce the idea of tzedakah to small kids and remember the less fortunate in the midst of your celebration.

6. New music

There is ton of great Jewish music beyond the (uggh) Dreidel Song and Adam Sandler. Some of my favorite Chanukah albums are listed here… and they don’t stop at klezmer. They range from alt-rock to reggae to … Woody Guthrie. (His wife was Jewish, and so were his kids, so he wrote them great Chanukah songs, because he was Woody Guthrie.)

7. New dreidel games

Have you ever spun a dreidel upside down? Played Bey Blade-style demolition-dreidel bout with them? Held contests to see how many you could keep going at once, or who could spin theirs the longest? Dipped them in (washable) paint and spun them on paper? Since dreidels are a mash-up of spinners and dice, you can use them instead for games like Parcheesi. Challenge the kids at your Chanukah get-togethers to get creative! Oh, and for the grown-ups, No Limit Texas Dreidel.

8. New “Chanukah.”

This year, resolve to spell the holiday’s name the way Judah the Maccabee, one of the Chashmona’im intended – with a “Ch” and not just an “H” – and learn how to chh. We have two letters in the Hebrew alphabet that make the sound, and speaking Yiddish takes chutzpah, too. You chh when you eat challah or charoset or chrain… you use it when you see a choson under a chuppah at a chasanah… or when you tell your chaver the chazan you like his chai necklace.

Enjoy working some, or all, of these ideas into your Chanukah this year … and Chag same’ach! (There it is again!)

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Busy, Exhausted and 20-Something

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12/04/2014

Busy, Exhausted and 20-Something slide

I realized something the other day: I cannot remember the last time I felt bored.

It’s often said that “only boring people get bored.” Maybe that’s true, but maybe not. Quite possibly, being bored has nothing to do with being boring and everything to do with being busy. Whatever the case may be, I haven’t felt bored and I’ve most certainly felt busy, personally, professionally and mentally for quite some time now.

When I was younger, I always wanted to be busy. I was never really a “me time” person. Although most people who know me would’ve (hopefully) never really noticed that I yearned to constantly be occupied, I felt uneasy when certain things were unplanned and if I didn’t have something to look forward to each week.

Now, some of the things I look forward to the most are the nights where I can take a break, turn off my computer, relax on my couch, and decompress. If you would’ve told me a year ago that I would be thrilled to spend a Saturday night on my couch watching the Bulls and eating Pad Thai straight from the container, I would’ve told you that you’re losing it. However, nowadays, few things sound that ideal, which is most definitely part of growing up.

Weekends are essential for me now, but not in the way they used to be. Gone are the days of going out every night and getting minimal sleep only to binge on caffeine in order to get through the next week. Of course, I am still binging on caffeine, but now it’s more so because of insomnia and an inability to sleep in. Oh, “adulthood” … My free time is now so much more important because it’s much needed time to regroup and revamp.

I sat on my couch for a few minutes before starting to write this as I thought about my to-do list when all I really wanted to do was close my eyes and take a nap. My upcoming responsibilities ranged from urgent matters to trivial things and projects that should’ve been done months ago, but were somehow put on the back burner:

1. Write this post

2. Wash my hair

3. Clean the bathroom

4. Put away my laundry

5. Finish the things I didn’t finish at the office today

6.  Make a birthday picstitch

7. Actually go grocery shopping

8. Actually cook things with the food that I purchase

9. Call my friends who I owe a call 

10. Hang up the pictures that have been sitting on my window sill for almost two years

11. Build my shelf

12. Clean the kitchen

13. Sort the mail

14. Grade papers

15. Paint my nails

16. Stop making a to do list and actually write this post

Go ahead and laugh because the things I have to do aren’t actual responsibilities in the grand scheme of things. Sure, they are all important in some sense, but they are also such “20-something problems.” It’s not like I have to raise a child or buy a house or even cook anyone dinner (besides myself). I truly just need to do the day-to-day things to take care of myself and somehow it’s more exhausting than anyone would ever think.

So, as I string together a bunch of jumbled thoughts while snuggled under a cozy blanket on a winter night in Chicago, I can assure you of a few things: there’s always something you can be doing, never a reason to be bored, yet always a reason to give yourself some must needed rest and relaxation. Some things can wait until tomorrow. I know I often need to take my own advice, but at least I now have checked one thing off my to-do list.

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Bad Advice

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12/03/2014

Bad Advice photo

There is no shortage of bad training advice online. I see it all the time: some writer jots down the best moves for torching fat and one of those moves is a bicep curl. I’m not against the bicep curl, but the bicep is a small muscle, and if you’re only listing the four “best” moves, I would not include the bicep curl.

Like selecting a trainer, you need to be picky with what advice you follow online. Many of the self-proclaimed experts are excellent writers, but not trainers. Distinguishing between good and bad advice can be tricky; I’ve been fooled a few times. The best advice I can offer you? Check the source. Review their background, other articles they’ve written, and when all else fails – ask a trainer friend.

A few of my favorite resources are listed below. I want to warn you, however: I do not agree with 100 percent of what they say. These guys are pretty hardcore. When I steal ideas from them, I usually adapt the workout to make it easier.

Ben Greenfield - I listen to his podcast because it’s entertaining and his advice is really interesting. I will never follow all his suggestions because many ideas, such as buying a squatty potty and bathing in a cold lake, are a little too out there, even for me. I do though enjoy learning about the benefits of bone broth and cold showers, however. http://www.bengreenfieldfitness.com

Eric Cressey - I receive Eric’s email newsletter. I also have a few of his videos. I like his approach to an active warm up. I also like how he analyzes exercises. If you are interested in seeing examples of how to warm up and other functional exercises, check out his site http://www.ericcressey.com and look at his videos.

Mike Boyle - I’ve seen Mike speak a few times and really like his approach, he’s a straight shooter. He says from experience what has and has not worked. He trains hockey and baseball players. He worked with the Boston Red Sox when they recently won the World Series. He then promptly quit because he missed training his “kids.” The best way to check him out is through his podcast, called the Strength Coach Podcast.  There is also a lot of information available on his site: http://www.bodybyboyle.com 

Gray Institute - The sound quality of their workout DVDs might not be the best, but it’s a great workout that gets you moving in a lot of directions. I’ve taken classes and purchased videos from the Gray Institute. The workout videos have great content, the technical videos for trainers are very technical: http://www.grayinstitute.com 

Dave Schmitz - I saved the best for last. Dave, a.k.a. “the band man,” has an amazing video library collection on YouTube. All the above listed names also have video channels. What’s different about Dave, however, is all his workouts are with bands you can get on his site. The workouts are easy to follow and fun. I started watching them for my bootcamps, but all of my home workouts include band work. Check it out: http://resistancebandtraining.com

Do you have a favorite fitness resource? If so please send it my way!

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Fried Elegance for Chanukah

 Permanent link
12/02/2014

Fried Elegance for Chanukah photo

I want Chanukah this year to be a WOW! I am potato-ed out and frankly the thought of another sweet potato latke is as about as exciting as last year's Thanksgivukkah. HO-HUM!

I want a crunchy, crispy, and elegant Chanukah. Sure, I love latkes and apple sauce. I am crazy for sufganiyot. But this year, I want stylish food for my Chanukah gathering.

I am thinking of beautiful plates of golden-brown, fried delicious root vegetable ribbons, and cups of flavorful dips and sauces and sauces and all sorts of goodies waiting to be sampled. 

Don't fret and worry your pretty little head that crispy fried treats are a kitchen nightmare and a Gordon Ramsey fright scene in your own home. My Chanukah party requires few tools, few ingredients and allows you, the host, to attend your own soiree. 

The menu I have designed can be a part of larger party and these items used as starters or these items can be served as a casual or elegant cocktail party. 

This year I am doing simple peeled root vegetables fried to a golden brown, finger licking green beans coated in delicate tempura batter, and-for dessert—I have golden fried fritters with the jelly on the outside! Skip the gooey pastry bags and drippy countertop. These fritters are a snap to prepare.


Root vegetable chips with spicy smoked salmon and wasabi mayo  

1 medium carrot, sliced about 1/8 of an inch thick (I use a vegetable peeler to yield thin delicate ribbons) 
1 large parsnip, peeled and sliced about 1/8 of an inch thick (I use a vegetable peeler to yield thin delicate ribbons) 
Several large Jerusalem artichokes,* peeled and sliced about 1/8 of an inch thick (I use a vegetable peeler to yield thin delicate ribbons) 
1 medium yucca, peeled and sliced about 1/8 of an inch thick (I use a vegetable peeler to yield thin delicate ribbons) 
2-3 cups canola oil 
Sea salt and freshly cracked pepper 

1. Heat the oil in a medium saucepan until it is 350 degrees. Line a jelly roll pan with paper towels or a brown paper bag will also absorb the oil. 

2. Fry the vegetable chops/ribbons, in batches, until they are crispy and brown, about 1-2 minutes per batch. 

3. Transfer the fried veggies to the lined pan and sprinkle with sea salt and pepper. Continue until all veggies are crispy. 

4. The vegetable chips can be fried up to 1 day ahead and can be stored, once cool, covered at room temperature. 

*The name Jerusalem artichoke is actually a misnomer. These bumpy tubers have nothing to do with Jerusalem, nor are they a member of the artichoke family. In fact, they are actually the root of the sunflower plant, which is why they are also known as sunchokes. They have a nutty, earthy flavor similar to an artichoke. Jerusalem Artichokes are in season twice a year, in the late spring and again in the fall. 

For the aioli 

4 ounces best quality smoked salmon 
2 heaping tablespoons wasabi powder 
2 teaspoons lemon juice 
2 tablespoons prepared horseradish 
½ teaspoon freshly cracked pepper 
2 cups homemade or purchase mayo 

1. Pulse the salmon in a food processor. 

2. Stir all the ingredients together until well combined.  

3. Serve the dip with the vegetable chips. 

4. Any leftover dip can be stored, covered, in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. 

 

Crispy green beans with sesame, ginger soy dipping sauce  

⅓ cup all-purpose flour
⅓ cup rice flour
¾ cup club soda
Pinch of cayenne pepper 
½ teaspoon kosher salt
1 pound green beans, stem end cut off 
2 cups canola oil 

1. Fill a large bowl with ice and a small amount of water in it. Place a smaller bowl in the ice water and whisk together the tempura batter.  

2. Heat a medium sauté pan with 1 inch of extra virgin olive oil in it over medium high heat. 

3. Dip the beans into the batter and allow the excess batter to drip off. When the oil is at 350 degrees, gently place the dipped beans into the batter and fry it until it is crispy and golden brown (about 1-2 minutes). Turn the beans and fry the other side. Transfer the beans to a paper towel lined baking sheet.  

4. Sprinkle with salt and serve.

 

Sesame, ginger-soy dipping sauce  

This is a great all-purpose dipping sauce for any Asian delicacies. The sauce can be stored in the refrigerator for up to
5 days. 

½ cup good quality soy sauce
2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger-I use my microplane to grate the ginger
2 large garlic cloves, grated, I use my microplane to grate the garlic
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
½ teaspoon sugar
Garnish: chopped scallions, thinly sliced hot chilies

1. Whisk all the ingredients for the sauce together and garnish with scallions and chili rings 

 

Fritters with cranberry conserve

These fritters are a snap. There is no dough to make or roll out. I use a simple and rich chocolate pound cake that is sliced, fried to a golden brown and served with tart and ruby-red cranberry conserve. Delish! 

1 cup all-purpose flour 
½ cup best quality cocoa powder (I only use Valrhona)
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate (I only use Callebaut 71%), melted
3 eggs
½ cup brewed coffee
1½ cups packed brown sugar
½ cup canola oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees 

1.  Lightly grease a loaf pan with canola oil and then dust it with cocoa powder.

2.  Whisk the dry ingredients together in a large mixing bowl. Set aside

3. Mix the chocolate, eggs, coffee, brown sugar and vanilla together in a small mixing bowl. 

4. Mix the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients. Be careful not to over-mix or the cake will be tough. Pour the batter into the prepared loaf pan and bake in a preheated oven for 50-60 minutes until a toothpick can be inserted and will have moist crumbs on it.

5. Place the cake pan on a cooling rack and allow to cool for 1 hour. Run a knife around the edge of the cake and unmold onto a plate.

For the fritters

1 pound cake
2 cups canola oil
½ cup Powdered sugar

1. Cut the cake into 2-3 inch cubes and set aside.

2. Heat a small saucepan with the oil.

3. Once the oil has reached 350 degree, add the cubes, a few at a time and fry until crispy and dark brown on each side.

4. Transfer the cake to a plate lined with paper towels. Dust with powdered sugar and serve.

Cranberry conserve

3 cup fresh or frozen cranberries
½ cup orange juice
Zest of 2 oranges
1 cup sugar

1. Cook the ingredients together in a small sauce pan, over medium heat.

2. When the cranberries start to pop, turn down the heat to low.

3. Once the berries begin to "gel" (the berries will be very gooey and look like jelly), turn off the pan and allow to cool

4. Serve the conserve with the fritters. Any remaining conserve can be stored, covered in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks or frozen for 2 months.

  

Maccabi's Hammer 

Crisp, bubbly apple cider is refreshing and only made better and more complex with rosemary and smoky, molasses-rich bourbon. *For an alcohol free version, omit the bourbon.

Serves 4

1 lemon, cut into slices
1 rosemary sprig
1 teaspoon sugar
12 ounces sparkling apple cider
6 ounces bourbon
Garnish: apple slices

1. Place the lemon, rosemary, and sugar into a glass and muddle the mixture for a minute to get all the juice out of the lemon and to infuse the juice with rosemary.

2. Divide the apple cider between 4 glasses. Add 1½ ounces of bourbon to each glass. 

3. Strain the lemon juice and top each cocktail with the rosemary-lemon juice.

4. Garnish with fresh apple slices. 

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Jewish Baseball Players on the Move

 Permanent link
12/01/2014

Jewish Baseball Players on the Move photo

The baseball season might be long over, but the excitement is just beginning. While the White Sox and Cubs have made some really solid moves so far (Zack Duke and Adam LaRoche are coming to the South Side, while manager Joe Madden heads to the Cubs), Jewish ballplayers have been on the move as well.

Kevin Youkilis - After a year in Japan, Youkilis has announced his retirement. While he probably will not see the Hall of Fame, Youkilis had a very productive career, mainly for the Boston Red Sox. It will be nice seeing him on the ballot in five years.

Josh Zeid - After showing promise with the Houston Astros and then struggling through an injury, Zeid is on his way to join Jewish manager Brad Ausmus and second baseman Ian Kinsler in Detroit. This is a very solid move for the Tigers, who need some young pitching in their bullpen.

Ike Davis - After breaking out of the Minors as a solid player, Davis has hit some bumps in the road over the last few years. The Pirates sent him to the minors, then quickly traded him to the Oakland A's.

Gabe Kapler - The former MLBer will take over the Dodgers’ farm system. He was tapped by fellow MOT Andrew Friedman, who is the news President of Baseball Operations.

Craig Breslow - The Red Sox have allowed the veteran lefty to test free agency. The New York Mets have shown interest. He’s expected to sign with a team soon.

Aaron Poreda - Poreda's Major League resurgence landed him with the Texas Rangers, but he is taking his talents overseas and joining the Yomiuri Giants.

Josh Satin – The Mets infielder, who struggled this season after a strong rookie campaign in 2013, is staying in the National League, signing with the Cincinnati Reds.

Stay tuned for more possible moves: With the A's signing Billy Butler, what will that mean for Nate Freiman? Will Matt Kemp get traded to make room for Minor League phenom Joc Pederson? Can Jason Marquis continue his comeback?

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