OyChicago blog

A few of my favorite foods

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A few of my favorite foods photo 1

That picture is my son burying his face in ice cream, or is it? It’s actually Ben and Jerry’s Vanilla Greek Yogurt. They only sell it at the ice cream shop. It’s lower in sugar, much higher in protein, and tastes great. My 19-month-old son had no idea it wasn’t regular ice cream. Greek yogurt is everywhere for good reason, it has double the amount of protein as regular yogurt and has all the probiotics found in your Yoplait. You really cannot escape it in the grocery store. And with every other healthy product, companies are bastardizing it. Yogurt companies are adding sugar, making granola bars with it, mixing it into a million unhealthy products. My suggestion, stick with plain and add the following:

• Honey
• Frozen fruit
• Fresh fruit
• Chopped almonds

And you can add Greek yogurt to thicken soups, chili and any recipe that calls for sour cream, you can usually swap in Greek yogurt instead.

Sweet Potatoes are naturally sweet and high fiber. They are more nutritious than your Yukon Gold or Russet and very easy to cook with. I know many people think of sweet potatoes as that ultra-sweet Thanksgiving dish with marshmallows and brown sugar. I’m not a fan of that treat but I LOVE cooking sweet potatoes. My son always likes them and my wife has slowly come around. Here are three easy recipes. All you need for most dishes are cinnamon, salt, pepper, onion and oil.

The other night my son ate three plates of my Skillet Sweet Potatoes:

Pan fry an onion with olive oil until it starts to brown, add a cubed sweet potatoes. Add salt, pepper, and a heavy hand of cinnamon. Cover and cook until they are soft. Add a drop of butter and a little more cinnamon.

Simple Mashed:

Preheat an oven to 400. Place potato in aluminum foil and bake for 40 minutes. Let the potato cool, remove the skin, mash with a fork, add a drop of butter or olive oil, salt, pepper, and cinnamon.

Home Fries:

Preheat the oven to 400. Slice potato and put in bowl, mix in with a drop of olive oil, salt, pepper, and paprika. Bake for 15 minutes, flip the slices over cook another 15-20 minutes. If you have Silpat I recommend using it so the pieces do not stick.

In my heart of hearts, nothing beats a semi-sweet chocolate chip cookie. A cookie a day is not the best approach to eating well, but a piece of dark chocolate is ok. Dark chocolate is gaining a lot of press because it has been linked to health benefits like lowering blood pressure and it won't cause huge spikes in blood sugar levels. Dark chocolate is bitterer than milk chocolate. I like it because it’s an intense flavor that you can have a little piece and feel very satisfied. Health experts want you to buy 75%+ cacao (dark chocolates are marked with level of cacao) to get the health benefits. That’s pretty bitter. I recommend starting with a lower number that tastes great and build up to a higher percentage. And for the record, my son put the bar in his mouth, and then tossed it on the floor, but it makes for a great picture.

A few of my favorite foods photo 2

Being a health guy, I have to end with a vegetable, and that’s asparagus. This delicious and nutritious veggie is easy to cook with a few spices. A few new nutritional facts about asparagus:

• High in fiber
• Low in calories
• Good source of B6, A, C, E, K, potassium
• And relatively high in protein

Asparagus can be grilled, baked, or pan fried. Season it with salt and pepper, toss a little olive oil on it and it’s ready to cook. One of my favorite recipes is asparagus soup (thank you Tracy Adams). It’s super easy and everyone thinks it’s really fancy:

In a large deep pan, cook a small onion with a little olive oil, add celery and brown the onion. Add asparagus, garlic, salt and pepper. Cover the vegetable mix with low sodium chicken broth. Simmer for ten minutes or until asparagus is soft. Blend it (blender works better than emollition blender), season with a little salt and pepper serve. If you want to add a little cream, add some Greek yogurt. 


The Beginning Continued, Part 1

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The Beginning Continued photo

It was late at night. I was staring at the ceiling. My mind racing. My husband asleep. “We should take a trip with all the kids to Ethiopia. To see Fray’s family,” I said. Husband replied: “       .” Now I could pretend that I am married to a disagreeable sort of man who can only be approached with expensive, arduous travel plans while he is sleeping because of his domineering and nasty nature, but this would be wildly untrue. Rather, HE is in fact married to an impulsive, semi-inconsiderate, slightly self-centered woman who thinks nothing of starting potentially controversial conversations at 1:00 a.m. I took, “       .” to mean, “Absolutely! Sounds great! Let’s get right on that!” and other shiny and bright exclamations of loving, spousal encouragement to travel with 4 children and spend money. I closed my eyes. It had been decided.

“Ethiopia? With the whole family?” He later asked. I was disappointed. Men never pay attention. “You agreed!,” I said. He replied, “I did? When?” “Last night…,” I responded. “Well, OK. We can look into it.” (See? No reason really to disturb his R.E.M. sleep – except for that I can’t help myself.) So, that very day, I began searching for reasonable airplane tickets for a family of six to fly to Ethiopia to visit Fray’s birth family. The fare results would have been comical if they hadn’t been so tragic. I was undeterred. I contacted a friend’s uncle who was a travel agent. Not much better – certainly not good enough to make it happen. I googled rates regularly. I did fare alerts. I looked into using miles. I became consumed. It was the first step of many to be climbed before this trip could become a reality, and I was stuck in the basement. Without windows. I was getting anxious. I was getting nervous. I was beginning to feel defeated before I had even really started. But luckiest of all, I felt pissed. I do good work when I’m pissed. I sit up late at night (when I’m not blabbering to my sleeping husband) and I brood. I come up with sleep deprived solutions to world problems. (By Googling, of course.) “Cheap ass tickets to Ethiopia!!!” I typed pressing ‘enter’ angrily. And BINGO! A consolidator popped up! And the first step to take-off had been achieved.

“Ethiopia? Cool! Can we pleeeeese go during my chorus concert? I really don’t want to go to that.” My oldest said. Priorities in all the right places. “Ethiopia? Do we need shots for that? Lots of shots?! I don’t want to go! I don’t want shots!!!” My middle said. Ever-cautious. Always dramatic. “Ethiopia? OK.” My youngest said. Used to going with the flow. Generally the most agreeable. And then, Fray. “Ethiopia? Are we going today?” Our daughter said. Our whole reason for going. Our inspiration. “No. Not today. But soon – when it gets cold. Then we’ll go to Ethiopia. Then we’ll go to see your family,” I told her. I still remember the happy flutter in my heart when I said those words.

This would not be the first time Fray visited her birth family since being adopted from Ethiopia in October of 2009. I had returned in 2011 with Fray. It had also been an impulse trip. We had always intended – as an entire family – on going back to Ethiopia, it just wasn’t going to be so soon. But two years ago I had a dream that I woke up from feeling very strongly that I needed to go back to Ethiopia with Fray as soon as possible. Life is uncertain everywhere, but in a developing country, where the average life expectancy is only 52-years-old; I feared if we didn’t go back soon, there would be a blood link forever missing in my daughter’s life. It was a thought I couldn’t bear to be realized. My husband was still too raw from knowing the details of the impossible choice Fray’s family had to make putting her up for adoption. He supported my going back, but opted out of coming with me on our first return trip. He stayed back with the three boys and promised to join us the next time. And he knew when he made that promise; I’d hold him to it…. 

Read Part 2


The Sheva Brachot: Whom to Give Which Blessing

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I have been married, I have been to Jewish weddings, and I have been in Jewish weddings that were not mine. And it’s just hard watching someone who is not familiar with Hebrew struggle and stumble through the thicket of words that are the Sheva Brachot— especially knowing that, had they been given another blessing, they would have come across very nicely.

So this is not about the meaning— literal or spiritual— of the seven blessings said under the chuppah. This is simply a guide to help soon-to-marry couples decide whom to give which blessing to recite in front of dozens, or hundreds, of people. In short: once you have chosen the seven people you wish to read the blessings, how do you decide which person gets which one? (Of course, this only applies if you are, in fact, having them read in Hebrew):

Blessing #1:
This is the blessing over wine, the “boray pree hagafen” that is one of the most well-known of all Hebrew blessings, right up there with “Hamotzi.” It’s the lead-off one, so your impulse might be to give it to someone with an imposing resume. But to them, it might be the equivalent of asking A-Rod to play whiffle ball. Better to give this first one to someone with a basic, general knowledge of Jewish life; there are toughies later that you’ll want to save your heavy hitters for.

Blessing #2:
This one starts like 90% of blessings— “baruch atah…” but ends in three unfamiliar words. And there’s a “chh” in one of the words, too. So you’ll want someone who can learn three new Hebrew words, given enough prep time.

Blessing #3:
The same “baruch atah” start again, but now only two new words. But they are short and easy, with no “chh” sounds. And just two new words! So again, someone who can manage that.

Blessing #4:
This one is the second-longest. It does have the “baruch…” intro, but then it goes on for a while. So you’ll want to give this to someone with a very good knowledge of Hebrew. Maybe a Hebrew teacher of yours, a friend with a degree in Jewish Studies, someone who spent a year in Israel…

Blessings #5 and 6:
These have the “baruch…” part, but not until the end. They require a better-than-average Hebrew reader. Try someone who you know can lead services or read from the Torah.

Blessing #7:
This final one is the longest by far. It also has two passages that have become songs, so the guests might want to sing those passages along with the reader. For this one, it’s best to have someone with a very good knowledge of Jewish traditions and melodies… as well as someone with a decent voice! So you might want to give this one to a friend or relative with cantorial training… or just to the cantor, who would take it as an honor.

Now, if you don’t have enough proficient Hebrew readers in your circle, you still have options. The Sheva Berachot are often done in a sing-song style, so you could probably get a cantor to do them one by one, alternating in the English translations read by your family and friends. Or you could just have the cantor run through all seven, then have your honorees come up and repeat them all, each in turn.

Any way you do this, you will want to let the honorees know at least a couple of weeks that they will be getting up and reading something in public. Most people want to rehearse, so you should provide them with the blessings list, with theirs highlighted. Yes, the whole list, so they know their place in the batting order. Or, if you don’t want them opening up a whole piece of paper under the chuppah, you can give them theirs on a numbered 3x5 card. In either case, you can include transliterations, too.

If you think it’s necessary, you could let the Best Man or Maid of Honor have a master list of who goes when, and have him or her call people up. I’ve even seen it done with intros: “Reading the second blessing, the Uncle of the Bride.” This both tells the guests who this guy is… and signals Uncle Ned to get his tuxedo up there.

I have just seen way too many ceremonies glide along with grace only to come to a jarring halt when it’s time for the Sheva Brachot. You get people forgetting it is their turn, so there is an awkward nothingness until they get to the microphone. People sweating over tongue twisters written in the “wrong” direction. People having to have someone guide them through it, one excruciating syllable at a time, while the guests cringe in empathy and impatience.

All of this can be completely avoided by knowing which blessings are easy to say and which are decidedly less so, and then matching the reader with the blessing appropriately.

One last point: the same Seven Blessings are read again, as a conclusion to the Grace After Meals. If people are put out by not being included in the initial Seven Blessings read during the ceremony under the chuppah, just know you have seven more opportunities to have them bless you on your blessed day.


V’Nahafoch Hu - Our Life Flips Upside Down

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Hiking at Sugar Loaf Mountain in Maryland near our home

This past weekend we celebrated the Jewish Holiday of Purim. Purim celebrates the story from the Book of Esther and one of the major themes discussed around the holiday is the concept of nahafoch hu. This is Hebrew for turning something around or flipping something upside down. The Esther story is full of characters that turn things around and plot twists that seem to turn the story upside down.

Two years ago my wife and I had a nahafoch hu in our lives. We were perfectly happy to be settled in our Lakeview apartment. We knew we wouldn’t live there forever, but had no plans to move away anytime soon.

Then in early February, the Blizzard of 2011 dumped two feet of snow on Chicago and the entire city shut down. We were relaxing at home when the phone rang. It was an early childhood curriculum company calling from Bethesda, Maryland, just outside Washington, DC. They wanted to fly my wife out for an interview. One thing led to another and about 6 weeks later, she accepted a job offer, and we decided to move across the country.

We drove out the first weekend in April, arriving on a Sunday evening. Tuesday night, we signed a lease for an apartment in DC. She started work the next day, and I flew back to Chicago to finish packing our apartment. Our lives had completely turned upside down.

Now that we have lived here almost two years, it’s wonderful to know that things have worked out amazingly well. Her job is great, and I’ve found my way into some exciting opportunities. Both of us feel like we are in roles that allow us to make the world a better place. We volunteer with several of the local organizations here, we have made many friends around the community, we feel engaged and involved in the social, cultural, and religious scene around us. Of course we miss our Chicago friends and family back in the Midwest, but we are happy, healthy and loving our new life here.

In celebration of Purim, the custom is to wear masks and costumes because there is a lot of masked identities in the story. Most notably Esther hides her identity as a Jew from the King when she is crowned Queen of his massive kingdom. When her people are in peril, she finds the courage to go before the King and invite him and Haman to her banquet. Here is the part of the story where Esther sets up the nahafoch hu for Haman, revealing that she is a Jew and Haman’s evil intentions to annihilate her people.

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My Purim costume this year

Throughout the Purim story, one finds that the characters set up these nahafoch hu moments by taking off their masks and taking a chance. Those that continue to trick, hide and connive are destined for destruction in this story. Haman is hanged. Those that remain or come to express their truest selves and intentions are rewarded generously. Mordechai replaces Haman as the King’s closest advisor and Esther the Queen saves the Jewish people.

We can relate. We weren’t sure how this moment in our lives where everything was flipped upside down was going to work. We believed that the opportunity for my wife was amazing, unique and one of a kind. We hoped it would allow her to step onto a true and meaningful path for her career. We gathered our courage and took the chance.



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13 Adar 5773 / Feb. 22-23, 2013

Dan Horwitz photo

In this week’s portion, Tetzaveh, we find the instructions on how to consecrate Aaron and his sons as the priests of Israel, how to create the High Priest’s special garments, and we also learn how to construct the incense altar (and are told to light incense twice daily).

Really? An incense altar?

Why on earth would our ancestors need to construct an incense altar / be commanded to light incense twice daily? What does an “incense offering” really do anyway?

Well, first off, it seems pretty apparent that the fragrance of incense would be a positive addition to a courtyard in which you’d also find the burning carcasses of myriad animal sacrifices.

In addition to the practical, Maimonides, the great medieval rabbi, doctor and philosopher, felt that offering incense also had spiritual implications:

Since many beasts were daily slaughtered in the holy place, the flesh cut in pieces and the entrails and the legs burnt and washed, the smell of the place would undoubtedly have been like the smell of slaughterhouses, if nothing had been done to counteract it. They were therefore commanded to burn incense there twice every day, in the morning and in the evening, in order to give the place and the garments of those who officiated there a pleasant odor. There is a well-known saying of our Sages, "In Jericho they could smell the incense" [burnt in the Temple]. This provision likewise tended to support the dignity of the Temple. If there had not been a good smell, let alone if there had been a stench, it would have produced in the minds of the people the reverse of respect; for our heart generally feels elevated in the presence of good odor, and is attracted by it, but it abhors and avoids bad smell.

Maimonides, Guide to the Perplexed 3:45.

According to Maimonides, good odors have the ability to elevate our hearts. In addition to this being a strong argument in favor of bathing before going out on a date, it also shows the significant value our tradition places on scent, and its perceived mystic linkages.

We find the first mentioned linkage between the nose and the soul in the Book of Genesis (2:7):

“Then God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.”

We later learn from the rabbis in the Talmud (Berachot 43b):

“What is something that the soul enjoys but not the body? It is the scent.”

This special connection between scent and soul can also help explain why smelling spices is part of the Havdallah ceremony. We learn in the Talmud (Taanit 27b):

“Reish Lakish said: Man is given an additional soul on Friday, but at the termination of the Sabbath it is taken away from him…”

When Shabbat ends, we’re taught that the extra soul departs, and smelling the spices at Havdallah is meant both to revive us – serving as spiritual smelling salts – and to soothe the remaining soul that is now left alone.

While contemporarily it’s not customary to burn incense in synagogues, are there ways that we can better creatively and effectively use our sense of smell to uplift our souls on a regular basis?

Most of us know what it’s like to smell a Shabbat meal before it's served. (There’s just something about challah baking and chicken soup on the stove that puts one at ease and heightens one's awareness). What prevents us from striving to fill that aspect of our souls every week?

Maybe there’s a special perfume or cologne that you want to set aside for Shabbat, holidays and other special occasions where you want your sense of smell to be particularly heightened in order to have a clearer channel to your heart.

Or maybe, you just want to make sure to Febreze your apartment or home before having company over.

By consciously finding ways to infuse our lives with wonderful scents, we can keep our spiritual avenues open, and like our ancestors before us, connect with the Divine.


It’s Good to Be the Queen

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Esther Bergdahl photo

Ah, to be an Esther during Purim. I mean, I’ve always enjoyed my name, but it can be a little lonely. No novelty personalized keepsakes, ever. Not many famous namesakes, beyond a synchronized swimmer and the protagonist of The Bell Jar. No one knowing there’s an “h” in it, so you’re constantly misidentified as some sort of chemical compound.

But at Purim, it didn’t matter that there was never going to be a Disney princess or an American Girl doll with my name. I was a savior of my people, baby! Kings would do anything for me. Beautiful, intelligent and compassionate, the catch of catches—not to mention because of me we have delicious, delicious hamantaschen. How many girls have preventing massacres and inspiring baked goods on their resume?

There are lots of great things about being an Esther on Purim, and as a little girl, I took advantage of most, if not all of them—sparkly costumes, imperious proclamations of greatness, scarfing down the “uglies” that weren’t making it to the hamantaschen tray. But I’ve always been subversive at heart—my favorite Disney princess is actually Scar from The Lion King—and at a certain point, maybe around 8 or 9, I began to wonder what shaking off the shackles of Esther-dom would look like for a day. Who wanted to be a princess every year? And such a goody-goody: at least Vashti had the self-respect and the spine to refuse a dudebro king on her own, without an overprotective brother advising her on every next move.

So the next time our turn came around to put on the Hillel Purim play, I rebelled. I was ready. I wanted to see the other side of the coin. I asked to be Haman.

It was to become an iconic moment in my young life. I had waist-length hair at the time, and had the inspired idea to give myself a beard by tying a ponytail at my chin. I also acted my little heart out in the finest tradition of outrageous film and stage villains the world over. But the crowning glory was the feast scene.

Let me qualify this by saying that first and foremost, it was an artistic choice. Haman is greedy, right? You want to show that not just in his words, but his actions. It’s layering in a subtle commentary on the state of his soul and his character. That’s what actors do, obliquely and skillfully manifesting the internal through the external.

At the time of this performance, I was obsessed with Twinkies. A well-meaning family friend had introduced them to me a few months before, and they were all I wanted out of life. We didn’t have much in the way of costumes or props for this performance, but I was so committed to the role that I very generously had my parents buy a box of Twinkies and arrange them on a fancy plate for the sake of art and transmitting my cultural heritage.

Dear readers, during the feast scene, where Haman believes he’s going to receive a great reward and instead Queen Esther reveals his dastardly plot to exterminate the Jews of Persia, I ate the entire box of Twinkies in front of my whole Sunday school. It was carnage. My ponytail beard was in shambles. Even I broke character enough to realize that I was a little queasy in the stomach, despite the giddy glee of pulling off such a stunt with such an audience. Being the bad guy is clearly a lot more fun on paper.

Eventually I aged out of Purim plays, but it took a few more years before I came around to thinking about Queen Esther again. I still like deconstructing villains and enjoying fine desserts, but the cliché is true: perspective changes everything. Esther is a person who has to confront power and put herself, her family and her entire people at great risk for the sake of justice. That’s a lot of pressure, but in the end, she’s the one who has to rise to the task and follow it through. She’s the one who does the hard thing, and lives to tell the tale. That makes her a great lady in her own right, and I admire her for that. It’s not a bad way to be a princess; in the end, it’s always good to be an Esther.

Have a good holiday, Oy!sters: dress up to the nines, be excellent to each other—and on behalf of my younger self, eat, drink and be merry responsibly.


Humor and Anti-Semitism: A Match Made In Controversy

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Adam Daniel Miller photo

If there’s one thing I do in abundance, it’s make fun of myself. I have to in order to survive. It’s a defense mechanism as well as a way of life for me. Even without being prompted, the self-deprecation I have towards myself is always there, but only because I love who I am. When someone tells me I’m funny, I instinctively say it’s because of the face. It’s always good for at least one laugh. But I bring this up because the self-deprecation I have for myself as a way to make others laugh is also the main tactic I employ in combating anti-Semitism. For some, my way of dealing with anti-Semitism may very well be crossing a line but my intention is, in fact, to get rid of that line.

I recently had the privilege to attend a special program that the Anti-Defamation League, or ADL, offers for young adults between their Bar and Bat Mitzvahs and college called Confronting Anti-Semitism. It’s a program that offers insight on what anti-Semitism truly is in our modern world and how we can prevent and educate against it. It is a powerful program that I enjoyed quite thoroughly. For my full account of what the program is and has to offer, you can pick up the March issue of JUF News. A fine publication if I do say so myself. Mostly because they let me write for them even though they choose to accompany my articles with a picture of me. Remember, the face.

I will say right away, I am aware that I come from a relatively easy life, having grown up in the northwest suburbs of Chicago and then attending the University of Iowa for college, a relatively heavy Chicago occupied school for being out of state. Anyway, having attended the ADL program I started to think about my own dealings with anti-Semitism when it has faced me or those I’ve known. As not everyone is keen to do, I deal with it utilizing humor.

In general, I embrace most anything towards me that is meant to embarrass, be slanderous or hurtful, regardless of context. It’s what I do to defuse and dilute what is thrown towards me. I’m like Maxwell Smart where everything that happens to me I pretend it was always my intention. When I screw up, I take it and run with it. For example, if I slip on ice and fall on my bum, I exclaim I was simply testing that gravity was still in full effect. I embrace the hand given to me. On the more controversial side, in my opinion, I do the same with Jewish stereotypes and what some may perceive as anti-Semitic attitudes. By embracing the stereotypes I attempt, as I said, to dilute the stigma associated with them. If I’m not bothered by the joke there is no joke. Embracing helps to never be embarrassed. If someone says I have a big nose, I say lucky me as I get to smell incredible scents that they unfortunately will never be privy to. Not that it needs any help from me, but I try to make it look awesome to be a Jew. Because, well, it is.

As I have said before, part of what enables me to so easily do this is my fortunate lack of truly horrendous first hand anti-Semitism. But I have had friends who have experienced such moments that I still find unbelievable. For example, I had a friend who, upon first arriving at college, met people who had never seen a Jew in their lives. Subsequently, my friend was asked where their horns and tail were. It’s shocking to me that ideas like that still exist. I mean, my goodness, we haven’t had tails for centuries.

See what I did there? If you’re still with me, thank you. If not, you probably aren’t reading this sentence.

But this concept of horns and tails is beyond me. That particular stereotype is one that I simply don’t understand since if I had horns and a tail then I would be exactly like Hellboy and be invulnerable to fire. I fail to see the anti-Semitism because being Hellboy would be awesome.

Humor can often educate stronger than it is given credit for. It may feel like a roundabout way of education, but by using humor and subsequently installing confidence and acceptance with ourselves I feel that we give great power to the Jewish people against anti-Semitism, even if only in minute ways compared to the grand scheme of things. By taking power away from the stereotypes and the concepts that many are offended by, we give ourselves the advantage. No one can laugh at you if you are laughing with them. By instilling humor into combating anti-Semitism, not only do we dilute the negativity but we are then also fortunate enough to add laughs as well. And if there’s one group of people that are known for their remarkable senses of humor, I do believe that would be the Jews. Now if you’ll excuse me, Fiddler on the Roof is on and I haven’t reached my monthly quota of a dozen viewings yet.


From role model to criminal

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From role model to criminal photo 2

When I finished rabbinical school, I moved to Chicago to be a second Rabbi-in-Residence at the Chicagoland Jewish High School.

In many ways, I was the female role model for the impressionable girls. Every morning I showed up for minyan, and put on my tallit and tefillin in order to daven with them. Softly, I encouraged more girls to take on this obligation. Some did, but most chose not to. It would be a lie to say that I did not feel deep admiration for the girls who chose to take on this obligation and stuck with it. Many hours were spent in conversation with female students about their place in the Jewish world. I loved the opportunity.

About three and a half years ago, I left Chicago to be the first Conservative pulpit rabbi in Queens, NY. Currently, only a few women in my congregation wear tallitot, but every twelve- or thirteen-year-old girl has purchased one for her bat mitzvah.

When I pray each morning, the tallit becomes an extension of my body. I don’t put on a tallit to demonstrate or as an act of rebellion. I wear a tallit because I am a Jew.

Monday, Feb. 11 this year was my final day of a week-long mission to Kiev and Israel with the Rabbinic Cabinet of the Jewish Federations of North America. It was coincidence that I was in Jerusalem for Rosh Chodesh Adar, and thus able to support and join Women of the Wall (WOTW) for minyan. This is a group of women who have been meeting at the Western Wall, on the first day of each Hebrew month, for 24 years, to celebrate with prayer, song, and Torah. My colleague, Rabbi Debra Cantor of Connecticut, along with many male rabbinic supporters, awoke early and flocked to the Old City. We had all heard of Women of the Wall, but had never davened with them before.

After a melodious Hallel, we left the Kotel en masse to Robinson’s Arch to begin the Torah service, as is the custom of WOTW. As soon as I exited the metal detector at the Kotel plaza, a police officer asked for my identity papers. I explained that I had a Canadian passport and then she asked for that. When I asked her why, I did not receive an answer.

Nine other women joined me at a satellite police station in the Old City. While some of the women had been detained before, there did not seem to be a clear reason as to why others were chosen. Throughout the morning, we were taken into an interrogation room, one at a time. I was informed that my two crimes were that I violated the regulations of holy places and that I behaved in a way that may violate public safety.

The experience was surreal, not scary. When I was in Chicago, I wore a tallit and was considered a role model, yet in Jerusalem I was considered criminal. It makes no sense.

After some time, we were told that we could be released, as long as we signed a surety document that stated we would not come to the Kotel for 15 days. I signed the document, and then at about noon, we were taken by police escort to a larger police station near the Jaffa Gate. Once there, we were fingerprinted and photographed. And then we were free to go.

Social media has been aflutter with positive comments about this experience. My own father contacted me from Canada to tell me that I was following in the footsteps of Heschel and Martin Luther King. More members of my synagogue have reached out to me to share the nachas they are feeling than I see on a given Shabbat morning.

That is all fine and dandy, but it does not lead to change. Last month, in response to growing pressure from Jews around the world, Prime Minister Netanyahu appointed Natan Sharansky the task of evaluating the situation at the Western Wall. Mr. Sharanksy, if you are reading, can you please do something soon. I am going back to Israel in the summer, and spending time in the company of Old City police officers does not fit into my schedule.

Rabbi Robyn Fryer Bodzin, who used to live in Lakeview, is the spiritual leader of Israel Center of Conservative Judaism in Queens, NY.


Taking the fashion leap

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Michelle Well photo

This morning on the bus there was this girl sitting a few seats away from me and she looked amazing. Cute skinny jeans, chunky faux fur jacket, color-blocked black and white purse, perfect bright red manicure, and I thought I spied with my little eye a chunky bejeweled necklace under that faux fur. She was totally decked out, but somehow didn’t look completely over the top or crazy. With a glance, I became inspired to push my fashion envelope.

I have come to realize that doing that is a lot harder done than said. I gravitate more towards the classics. Sure I have a fantastic faux fur vest (thanks to my amazing boyfriend) and other trendy pieces that I can pair together, but if I wear my vest, then everything else is totally classic. And, if I were to style someone, I would tell them to do the same thing. If you’re going to go bold with one piece of the ensemble, play down the rest. Yet, after seeing this girl on the bus today, it begs the question, should we do away with the rules sometimes and take more fashion risks? Today, I'm casual in skinny jeans, navy suede riding boots, a simple black v-neck sweater and my trusty hunter green Lands End ski jacket. Cute, classic and pretty much on trend, but let's be honest here, no fashion envelopes are being pushed today.

In fact, I recently joined Pinterest (which I'm still working on figuring out) and I think it’s great, but my "My Style" board, which is a work in progress, looks a little funny right now because it's pretty much made up entirely of neutral colors. I can talk a good game about fashion risk-taking, but I’m not doing it. Admittedly, my personal style is very much about the classics, with an added surprise here and there, and by no means do I want to jeopardize how I define myself through my fashion, but perhaps from time-to-time it couldn’t hurt to engage my fashion alter ego. As they say, “What would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail?” If you think about life that way, it seems pretty limitless, doesn’t it?

So in honor of New York Fashion Week, which just produced all sorts of glamorous fashion inspiration, and in honor of the new spring season approaching, I am going to use fashion as a metaphor for life and engage my alter ego. You never know, something fabulous may happen!



Should the Rebbetzin Get Candy on Valentine’s Day?

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Happy Valenstein's Day photo

My grandmother, Row Row, called me the other day and began our conversation with, "I am mad at you." Now there are few things in this world that I am sure about and one of those is that my Row Row could never be mad at me. I responded, "Row Row what did I do?" She said, "I asked Papa if it was alright if I sent Annie (my 6 ½ month old daughter) a Valentine's Day card and he said you would not want it because you are a rabbi. And then I ended up getting a Valentine's Day card from Annie." I said, "Row Row you can always do as you want, Annie is happy to get love from her Row Row any day of the year."

This year I have begun a great deal of research on the topic of Halloween. I have mainly centered my research around Leviticus 18:3, "You must not do as they do in Egypt, where you used to live, and you must not do as they do in the land of Canaan, where I am bringing you. Do not follow their practices." This verse has produced commentary from rabbis for hundreds of years in relation to celebrating secular and non-Jewish holidays because of the words "their practices." I hope to present my research to the kahal, community, sometime next year.

But while I look for answers regarding Halloween and a Jewish perspective on the topic, I ran into many writings about Valentine's Day celebrations and its permissibility for the Jewish people. Now please note that I am aware Jews celebrate Valentine's Day, the question is whether or not halahkically, according to Jewish law, that celebration is permissible. In a paper written by Rabbi Michael Broyde, an Orthodox rabbi and professor at Emory, he concludes; "I think it is the conduct of the pious to avoid explicitly celebrating Valentine's with a Valentine's day card, although bringing home chocolate, flowers or even jewelry to one's beloved is always a nice idea all year round, including February 14th."

Broyde has permitted Jews to celebrate Valentine's Day with presents and other romantic gestures, although note he differs in the observance of Halloween. Broyde comes to his conclusion believing that Valentine's Day has completely lost its status as a gentile holiday; just as New Years has in modern times. He quotes Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, one of the greatest deciphers of law over that last 100 years, who wrote; "On the question of celebrating any event on a holiday of Gentiles, if the holiday is based on religious beliefs [by the Gentiles], such celebrations are prohibited if deliberately scheduled on that day; even without intent, it is prohibited because of marit ayin (for the sake of appearance)…The first day of the year for them [January 1] and Thanksgiving is not prohibited according to law, but pious people [balai nephesh] should be strict."

Broyde suggests that Valentine's Day's (the celebration of love) is something Jews can buy into. This is different than Halloween's rituals, which Broyde feels are traced back to Gentile origins. He finalizes his opinion by once again using Rabbi Feinstein as his source, "Thus, it is obvious in my opinion, that even in a case where something would be considered a prohibited Gentile custom, if many people do it for reasons unrelated to their religion or law, but rather because it is pleasurable to them, there is no prohibition of imitating Gentile custom. So too, it is obvious that if Gentiles were to make a religious law to eat a particular item that is good to eat, halacha would not permit eating that item. So too, any item of pleasure in the world cannot be prohibited merely because Gentiles do so out of religious observance." Thus Broyde is able to approve the chocolate obsession that surrounds Valentine's Day and permits it for Jews.

The question now becomes just because we can celebrate Valentine's Day, does that mean we should? Plenty of things in this world are permissible but that does not mean we should observe them. For example, rooting for the Cubs is permissible, but I would never recommend anyone actually be a Cubs fan. In Rabbi Feinstein's first statement he wrote, "But pious people should be strict." Certainly I agree with that, but it's not necessarily only pious Jews (I believe Rabbi Feinstein really means observant), couldn't all Jews be strict? The fact is that Valentine's Day, New Years, and even Halloween are so regularly celebrated by American Jews. I attended Jewish day school K-12th and I think I celebrated all of these holidays in some fashion every year. However, it would seem that there is a Jewish problem when Halloween is more readily observed than Purim or New Year's more than Rosh Hashanah (or at least day two).

The Jewish people have a day dedicated for love called Tu B'Av (15th day of the Hebrew month of Av). This day usually goes unnoticed since it is during the summer months when Jews are at summer camps or not in Hebrew school. This holiday was originally associated with the grape harvest and took on symbols of love and fertility. And yet, I imagine more Jews celebrate Valentine's Day than we do Tu B'Av. Since every store and television show obsesses over chocolates and teddy bears and it seems like a no brainer that American Jews are more familiar with Valentine's Day. This is probably why today's American Jews care just as much, if not more, about their American identity as they do their Judaism. Americanization is intrinsic and Judaism is often attained, regardless if someone is born Jewish.

However our debate really comes down to defining our Judaism. That is why rabbis have written about Leviticus 18:3 and not celebrating "their practices." Even if Jews can celebrate the holiday, is it "theirs" and can "theirs" also be ours?

So to Row Row I say thank you for the gifts. It is a wonderful gesture and I love you even more for being sensitive about it. And to my daughter and wife I certainly smile a little more on Valentine's Day, even if it is just a reminder of how wonderful the women in my life are. To Rabbi Broyde I say, did Rabbi Feinstein celebrate Valentine's Day and if not (which I am assuming he didn't), how do we reconcile standing on his words? And to the Jewish world I say it's up to you and your communities to decide how to celebrate all of these holidays. I just hope and ask that we treat our Jewish holidays with as much love as we do our secular holidays.


A retrospective on V-Day: Why does my wife love me?

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A retrospective on V-Day photo

On paper I probably sound like a good husband:
• Take out garbage
• Move heavy objects
• Cook
• Grocery shop

Hey, I’m pretty good at getting my chores done. I get my son up every other morning and usually I give the crazy man baths. Occasionally I will surprise my wife with flowers or a treat. This all sounds probably above average, but there’s much more.

I am a huge pain in the butt. Mostly for two reasons:
1) I think I’m hilarious all the time
2) I have trouble turning off the trainer

First, I’ll tackle my addiction to all things funny. You see, if you know me well, there’s nothing I like more, than making people laugh. Whether it’s an inappropriate joke about my wife’s grandfather or just an inappropriate joke in front of a grandfather, not much stops me. I usually know that my joke was in bad taste, after I get that look from my wife, the one where her hand is on the side of her face as she shakes her head.

I have trouble with using my filter, always have. I figure I have to filter myself at work for 8 or so hours a day so when I’m outside of work, I sometimes forget about my audience. Usually, that audience is my wife. She has to listen to me test material in front of her (yes, I am that guy). Not only does she have to listen to my shtick, but if I think it’s funny, I’m like Jimmy Fallen, I crack up sometimes uncontrollably. When she asks me to stop, I have no control and keep going. My favorite expression is, “If there was a third person in our relationship they would be laughing right now.” And that holds true with a few people, but not everyone appreciates a good limerick (I think my 18 month old son will be on my side).

You know how people say, “One day, we’ll look back on this and laugh,” I have no internal clock for this. Don’t take me for that horrible person that laughs when someone falls. I’m the person that makes a joke about that fall, while the person is on the way to hospital. This applies more to arguments. If my wife and are fighting about something, once I calm down I usually say, “I’m going to write in your journal.” I always think that’s funny. When my nephew was five years old (three years ago) he would get mad at someone and then threaten to write in their journal. My wife and I thought that was hilarious, so for a while we would say that to each other. I think jokes have no shelf life, so three years later I’m still saying this, usually it’s in mid-argument. And I laugh every time. I apparently need new material.

When I watch a comedian like, Aziz at Big Event, I am the worst to be around. I will tell any person I know some of the jokes I just heard. And of course, like when I sing a song, I use my own lyrics and might alter a punch line or two. Keep in mind I’m not recycling these jokes once, but multiple times, usually with my wife right next to me. I think of it as sharing the laughter, an obligation that other people should hear Chris Rock talk about Britney Spears. 

Being a personal trainer, you think I would be more sensitive when it comes to gaining weight. For the most part I am not mean, but I did get on the scale at one of my wife’s checkups, to see if her pregnancy weight was greater than my weight. I did not mean any harm; I thought it was legitimately funny and interesting. I was informed by the nurse, the doctor, and some friends, that it was, in fact, not nice. Usually I do not joke about gaining or losing weight, but I am like your grandmother and will tell you, “Stand up straight!” A list of other things that are appropriate for a trainer to tell his clients, but not his wife: 

A. With a judgmental look, “You’re going to eat all of that?”
B. “Are you sure you’re not full?”
C. “Did you work out today?”
D. “Chasing around a baby is parenting not exercising, unless it’s tag.”
E. “It could be fat.”
F. And the worst thing might have been when she was pregnant, “you move like a whale” 

Despite telling my wife, “I did not say you look like a whale, it’s just how you move,” it was still horrible. I know terrible. I am in desperate need of a filter. I am learning. There are some things I will never say again (this for example).

In the meantime, to my beautiful wife on this wonderful Hallmark holiday, thanks for loving me, I love you too!



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Had this website been around while I was in high school, I would have been obsessed with it. As anyone who has played in the Red Sarachek Tournament or an intense rivalry game with Jewish pride on the line, JewishHoopsAmerica.com adds a little more fuel to the fire. The Great Rabbino loves the site and the idea, so much so, I reached out to Elliot Steinmetz, the creator to find out more. Turns out he was a pretty good player himself. Below is the interview:

JewishHoops photo 1

1) Tell TGR a little bit about yourself?
I am currently the head coach of the boys’ varsity basketball team at the North Shore Hebrew Academy High School (NSHA) in Great Neck, New York. In my first season at NSHA, I led the school to its best record ever (23-8 overall, 12-2 league), as well as a division title and the school’s first ever semifinal appearance. From 2003-2008, I developed and ran the JV Elite basketball program before ultimately selling the program and maintaining and running the JewishHoopsAmerica.com website. I live in Woodmere with my wife, Sima and our three children, Jacob, Noah and Lea. During the day I am an attorney licensed in both New York and Connecticut and currently working as an Associate General Counsel at Arbor Realty Trust, Inc. in Uniondale, New York.

2) What made you want to start JewishHoopsAmerica.com?
My brother and I used to run a basketball camp at the end of each summer for Jewish HS kids from around the country called JV Elite. We felt it was great how the players had those five days to see and compete with players they do not see or know of during the year. The site evolved from that lack of connection that we felt existed for Jewish schools across the country. We decided to put together the website and rankings so that players from across the country could have a place to follow each other's progress throughout the season.

3) What are some of the cool features on JHA?
I think the twitter feed is a terrific feature. We see every year how more and more people get involved with social media and this allows our visitors to interact with the site and help get information out there. The rankings are obviously a big hit because there is no other measure for Jewish HS teams nationally to compare. I think the rankings have also helped fuel a lot of the out of town tournaments and turned them into real competitive contests with legitimate repercussions in the rankings. I also have started to try and bring out more feature and interest articles. The last few articles have gotten a lot of feedback and sparked a lot of conversation in the Jewish and mainstream basketball world. I think features like that make it more than just an informational site and start to become thought provoking as well.

JewishHoops photo 2

4) How do you accumulate all the information for scoring and scores for the site?
Jon Bandler. Many know Jon from the Sarachek tournament at Yeshiva University. Jon is the reason we are able to pull together the national information. Jon is behind the scenes but the site doesn't run without his hard work. He is in touch nationally with coaches and athletic directors and compiles all the information for us to post. Obviously a lot depends on the cooperation of the schools. I would love to see more students get involved as well. Perhaps get credit for a club or put on their résumé their work as a reporter for the site. I think it's been great in the past when we have student-written articles about their teams' success.

5) Who is on the panel for rankings? Is there a New York bias? 
Since I am a coach in the Yeshiva league I am actually not told who is on the panel. Again, Jon Bandler takes responsibility for the rankings panel which consists of knowledgeable basketball personalities from around the country. There is not a NY bias by any means. I think often the stronger base of teams are going to be in NY and CA. You have to remember, with schools like Frisch, Ramaz, North Shore, Magen David and others, along with YULA and Valley Torah, the sheer volume of kids in the schools lends to a stronger talent pool year by year. This generally plays out in the tournaments as well. Any of the big tournaments, be it pre-season in Memphis or Sarachek in the post-season will often see their final four dominated by NY and NJ schools along with CA and occasionally Chicago. Often, though not always, it is the larger schools too.

6) Out of all the players you have covered who is your starting 5 all-time?
Fun question. I would have to go with (in no order):

1. Jordan Marcus of Solomon Schechter (now Golda Och Academy).

2. Eitan Chemerinkski of JDS Maryland.

3. Benjy Ritholtz who played for me at HANC.

4. Yisrael Feld who played for MTA and played for me on the gold medal winning USA team in the Maccabi Games in Australia.

I have to say to round this out I'm going to take a left turn. And by the way, there are so many great players I am leaving out here. But many of them I didn't have the chance to see in person, and truth be told, I had the good fortune to sit on the bench and watch two of the above players win championships for me so those are my guys. But to throw out just a couple of other names, Eric Avdee, Aaron Liberman, Solomon Schoonover, Shlomo Weisberg, Dovie Hoffman were all terrific players. Most of the above players are playing college basketball.

Now for my 5th, I'm going with a young woman who played for Ramaz. Charlene Lerner. Charlene was a terrific player for Ramaz and a great three point shooter. Why does she make this list? Because she did all that with only one arm. Charlene was born without one arm from the elbow down. I was lucky enough to be a guest speaker with her at the preseason Cooper Tournament in Memphis last year. She is an extremely inspirational person with a great story and lesson. She would be my fifth starter along with the others.

7) What is the future of JHA? What is the next step? 
We are actually working on a site update now that will hopefully take place in the very near future. This will help make the site more user friendly and social media capable. It will enhance the coverage and modernize many of the features. My hope is to continue to make the site as interactive as possible and continue to get as much school and student involvement as possible. I also want to continue to regularly put out opinion articles and interview pieces which I think fosters discussion and brings people of many different ages and backgrounds to the site.

8) Can Chicagoland Jewish High School finish #1 even without going to YU this year?
Absolutely. My North Shore team played them in the championship at the Memphis tournament early this season. They were missing a top player and even so, were as good as anyone. They are a well-coached and fundamentally sound team. And the kicker, they play harder than everyone. Those kids are committed to a way of playing that requires major conditioning and major heart. They are a terrific team. I think there are a few teams that can compete with them. Shalhevet in CA is excellent and deep and has size. Frisch, north shore, MTA and Magen David from the Yeshiva League are all very strong as well.

9) Anything else you would like the TGR readers to know? 
Sure. For those of you who have involvement in schools or athletic programs, I think it's extremely important that while everything must be kept in balance, especially with student athletes, I think it's important not to lose sight of the tremendous value that comes with competing as a student athlete. The social and yes, academic value, that comes from being part of a team and representing your school is not only a real honor and privilege for those who have the opportunity, but a real and genuine way to help shape your future. 

I am an attorney at a real estate investment trust. I still remember what my current general counsel said to me during the interview process—he told me he could never put enough value on the level of competency at work that comes with having competed in high school or collegiate sports. I hope that as parents, students and administrators, that we support our schools athletic programs and recognize their importance to the student athletes both for the present and the future.

Thank you to Elliot for the great interview and keeping an awesome site running. 

Can't wait for Sarachek!

And Let Us Say...Amen.
- Jeremy Fine


Happy Valentine’s Day, Oy!sters!

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Happy Valentine’s Day, Oy!sters photo

Yes, I am one of those exceedingly annoying people who actually love Valentine's Day and looks forward to it every year. Guilty as charged. I've shared all my reasons for loving this sweet day of the year in a blog post last Valentine's Day, so I won't reiterate them again here— but the chocolate is to die for this time of year. 

Instead, I'd like to share all the reasons I love life in this moment:

My family. It's because my mom and dad took the pressure off of Valentine's Day when I was a little girl and made it a holiday for everyone to celebrate— instead of just couples— that I love them so much. Every year, my parents celebrated Valentine's Day with chocolate, cards and presents of pajamas. And not just regular old PJs, but the kind of fun PJs a kid would want. As an adult, I still have the best pajama collection around and we've continued this tradition with my nieces and nephews. Nothing takes the burden off of Valentine's Day better than a pair of footie pajamas.

Verizon. I love my phone company. A few weeks ago the on/off button on my old iPhone 4 stopped functioning. Then this past week, so did the 3G and my smart phone went "stupid." Luckily I have insurance, but wasn't really looking forward to spending the $50 to replace my old phone when I'm up for a new phone in a few months. After a few days of not being able to receive email or look up addresses on my phone while in cabs, I reluctantly went to the Verizon store over the weekend. To my surprise, Verizon offered to replace the phone for no charge and they're upgrading me to a 4s. I know it's not the new 5, but I still get Siri!

Award shows. Did you watch the Grammies on Sunday? How great were all the tributes and the return of JT to the stage?! Loved it. The Globes were just as entertaining this year— Amy Poehler and Tina Fey killed it. While I admit the Oscar show is always kind of a snore, I'm still looking forward to it, it's fashion at its best.

Marianos. If you've yet to visit the new grocery store Marianos, then you are sadly missing out. A hybrid of Trader Joe's prices, Whole Food's quality and convenience and Jewel/Dominick's selection, this grocery store cannot be beat. I love everything about it. Where else can you dine-in on sushi and oysters, order a delicious custom-made cake, scoop up some exotic spices from the spice wall and grab a box of cheerios and bulk paper towels at the same time? Also, Marianos has amazing Valentine's Day items and gifts. This past Sunday, they were hand dipping chocolate covered strawberries at one of the demo stations and selling them for just $1 a berry! (Now you know where to go to get that last minute gift for a loved one. Your welcome!)

Surprise parties. This also could have been titled "birthdays." A self-professed planner + a reason to celebrate+ friends= happiness. So with my boyfriend's impending 30th birthday, I went big. I spent five months lying, I mean planning, an elaborate surprise weekend for him skiing at a cabin in Michigan with all of his friends. I'm not sure whether I enjoyed fooling him or the actual party better. In case you were wondering how I got my boyfriend to Michigan without ruining the surprise…it involved a fake birthday party, bikes and dog sitters and I could dedicate a whole blog post about how to throw a proper surprise party.  

Holidays in the "dead" of winter/mild winters. I don't know about anyone else, but I'm always looking for distractions from the cold and snow and reasons to celebrate rather than hibernate during this time of year. Other than MLK and President's Day, the pickings are slim. So even if you don't have that special someone to share Valentine's Day with, spend a few moments in your happy place this February 14th and know that at least one Valentine's Day fan is wishing you a Happy Valentine's Day this year!

Tell me below what or who is currently on your "love" list. 



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Ashley Kolpak photo

This post should really be titled, Oy!Suburbia. For work each and every day, I commute out to the north suburbs of this fair city. This is not my first go at the suburban-city shuffle. These days, I brave the downtown-Northbrook route, but just out of college, I journeyed from Buffalo Grove to The Loop for nearly a year. As irony would have it, I currently live a few blocks away from my inaugural post-college job. It’s not terribly ironic, considering my choice to live in the bustling Loop district had everything to do with my crippling fear of driving from the city to the burbs; I would much rather take the train. So Loop living it is, and I couldn’t be happier. The bright lights of State Street accompanied with a 15 minute walk to the Metra, the gilded gateway to suburban life makes it a location, in my eyes, that simply can’t be beat.

An hour-or-so long Metra commute, I’ve come to learn, is a fascinating thing. If you ask any coworker (or anyone who’s known me for more than a few days), they know I am a terribly chatty person. Full of opinions and enthusiasm, always piping up with something, that’s me. Not soon my daily commute. I see the same people every day, the same people see each other every day. And with the scant exceptions, no one speaks a word. I get it, at the wee hours of the morning, there’s not much reason to gab on and on. In the light of seeing a cast of characters whose only lines I have invented in my head, I present my commuting adventures. I’m sure more than a few of you can relate. Here’s to all of us train commuters out there, riding in silence, happily so most of the time. But don’t you wonder sometimes, just what’s going on with that neighbor of yours in the brown coat with the fur on the hood? 

My Imaginary Train Boyfriend (MITB)— The most important one on the list, clearly. I noticed him the first day of my Metra commute. Standard outfit: brown cords, cool blue Nike shoes, a t-shirt or sweater in rotating shades of blue. I’m hard pressed to remember what one of my coworkers wears from one day to the next, but I will most certainly remember when MITB wears the striped sweater with alternating blue hues. Funny how that works.

Smiley Guy— In high school, I distinctly remember this quote from many a girl’s AOL Profile (yeah, I went there): “Don’t frown, because you never know who is falling in love with your smile”. Now, I’m not falling in love with Smiley Guy, but I definitely notice him and his infectious little energy. His bright countenance greets his fellow coworkers each day, a gaggle of guys who commute as well. SG, I salute you. It’s difficult to be cheery at 7 am.

The Sneezer— He looks nice enough. But please, cover your mouth, cover your nose, do something when you sneeze. Every commute/commuter has one. Mine tends to sit behind me.

“We Work in the Same Building…Should We Be Friendly? Nah, Let’s Not”— As these descriptions get longer, the less attached I feel to these people. A woman works in my building. We walk down to go catch the train together sometimes. Why is this of note? It just boggles my mind. In looking at the train commute through a sociological standpoint, it tends to isolate normally outgoing people (I’m referring to myself. I can’t speak for the others). But we all lead our lives; we all go to work each and every day. We do what we need to do.

Other commuters who make up the fabric of my every day:

The Veteran. I know because his hat tells me so.
The last one on the bus (have I mentioned that I take a train to a bus? That’s what I do). She doesn’t take a seat when offered. I wonder why.
Very rarely, one of my coworkers. We’re chatty. I hope people appreciate my effervescent (read: loud) personality when we prattle on about the day’s events.
The Imaginary Train Boyfriend, If He Seemed Nicer. Standards are important. 

So if you happen to head north and west one of these days on the Metra, don’t be shy, stop by and say hi! 


We oughta be in pictures: bio-pics of Jews

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Fade to black hats photo 2

One of the most common forms of film is the "bio-pic," short for "biographical picture." It tells the story of a notable person, either in full, or just focusing on one of the most notable parts of his or her story. Naturally, Jews have been among those whose lives have been depicted on screen, but which Jews are depicted has changed, well, dramatically over time.

In the earliest days of movie-making, only Biblical Jews made it to the screen. In 1909, there were movies about Moses and the rivalry of Jewish kings Saul and David. The first Jewish woman whose story was portrayed on film was Judith, the femme fatale. And then 1923 brought us… another Moses movie.

The first "modern" Jew was not depicted until 1929: British prime minister Benjamin Disraeli. He was followed by two movies telling of the framing of the Jewish French soldier Alfred Dreyfus, two years in a row (even then, Hollywood copied itself!). Next up was German-Jewish financier Mayer Rothschild.

It was not until 1945, that an American Jew's story was told, and it was that of George Gershwin. This sparked a trend of movies about Tin Pan Alley and Broadway songwriters, including Rodgers & Hart ('48), Kalmar & Ruby ('50), Gus Kahn ('51), Sigmund Romberg ('54) and Lew Brown ('56). Plus two about Al Jolson, who sang those songs. The 1940s closed out with the first of many Samson and Delilah films. 

Another Biblical romance, 1951's tale of David and Bathsheba, kicked off the '50s… and the romance of King Soloman and the Queen of Sheba closed it in 1959. In between came the timeless Biblical epic The Ten Commandments. And another Dreyfus movie (This one, in French).

But in the 1950s, Hollywood also began to tell the stories of other, more recent Jewish entertainers and celebrities: Eddie Cantor, Harry Houdini, Benny Goodman, and boxer Barney Ross. Also the painter Modigliani… and the first Holocaust victim: Anne Frank, of course.

The 1960s continued to present Biblical stories, including three movies about King David, as well as Joseph, Jacob, and even Lot (Abraham, his uncle, would have to wait a long time!). Finally, we see more Jewish women from the Bible— both Esther and Ruth.

As for non-Biblical Jews, Freud makes his first of a few screen appearances. Franny Brice, we are reminded, was a very Funny Girl. And the first Jewish villain to have his story told? Gangster Arnold Rothstein.

The 1970s revisited the stories of Jacob, Joseph, Moses, and David. But they also showed us the Marxist Leon Trotsky… and the much more recent stories of Lenny Bruce and pioneering rock DJ Alan Freed.

In the 1980s, Biblical epics were on the wane, and we were only given the stories of David and  Samson (again). Instead, we see the first Jewish athlete since Barney Ross. It's Harold Abrahams, in Chariots of Fire. We see our first Israeli, and he is the heroic super-spy Eli Cohen. And, finally, we see a range of modern Jewish women: the irascible Gertrude Stein, the talented Nora Ephron, and the martyred Hannah Szenes.

Of course, there's nothing like a Biblical epic, and in the 1990s they came roaring back: Jacob, Joseph, Moses (twice!), David, Solomon, Samson, Esther… and Abraham finally got his movie, as did the prophet Jeremiah.

One person's story that jumps from the list this decade is that of "Long Island Lolita" Amy Fisher. It pops out because she was involved in one scandalous crime and has no other claim to fame… but she had no less than three movies in one decade. And then, because her 15 minutes were up, nothing ever again.

But plenty of other Jewish no-goodnicks got screen time in the 1990s: Blacklister Roy M. Cohn (McCarthy's right-hand man); Jack Ruby, the man who shot the man who shot JFK; mobster Lefty Rosenthal; and psycho killers Leopold & Loeb. Gangster-turned-real-estate-tycoon Bugsy Siegel, founder of the Vegas Strip, too.

Other Jews depicted in this decade created controversy with their words: Dorothy Parker, Howard Stern, Ayn Rand, Andy Kaufman, and powerful gossip-monger Walter Winchell. Pianist David Helfgott (Shine) and memoirist Jerry Stahl (Permanent Midnight) were able to create great art despite mental instability— and a doctor, Oliver Sacks, worked to cure it.

We also saw depicted the stories of two famous actresses who converted to Judaism to marry famous Jewish men— Elizabeth Taylor and Marilyn Monroe— as well as another converted entertainer, Sammy Davis, Jr. One of the two movies about European Jews in this decade, Europa Europa, about a child victim of the Holocaust, was a success; the other, about the philosopher Wittgenstein, was not.

Which brings us to the 2000s. We see one Joseph movie, one Moses, one Esther… and that's it. But there are dozens of other films telling the stories of mostly modern Jews (including Modigliani again).

From the world of comedy, we get movies about The Three Stooges (all four of them!), Gilda Radner, Jerry Lewis, Peter Sellers, and Chuck "The Gong Show" Barris. On the literary front, we saw graphic novelist Harvey Pekar, and graphic (the other meaning) poet Allen Ginsburg (twice), plus his fellow radical Abbie Hoffman. Musically, we get the stories of Bob Dylan, blues producer Leonard Chess, and "fifth Beatle" Brian Epstein.

Yes, we get the Holocaust victim Anne Frank again, and the Holocaust survivor Pianist Wladyslaw Szpilman, but also Holocaust resistors the Bielski Brothers show some Defiance.

Speaking of Jews with backbone, we learn about martyred journalist Daniel Pearl, assassinated gay activist Harvey Milk… and United 93  passenger Jeremy Glick (twice), who helped rush the cockpit of the plane on a collision course with the White House on 9/11.

But the '00s were about continuing the Hollywood  trend to show Jews of all stripes, even the less-than-flattering ones, like Hollywood madam Heidi Fleiss and Stephen Glass, a journalist who made stuff up. But we also met photojournalist Diane Arbus, who was solidly committed to showing the truth… the Israeli Ari Folman, who faced his war demons and learned to Waltz with Bashir… Brad Cohen, who became a teacher despite having Tourette's, and poker virtuoso Stu Ungar.

The 2010s, so far, seem to be somewhat disappointing with regard to Jewish biopics. We have only one Biblical epic so far, it's true (Solomon, again)… but also Freud (again), Elizabeth Taylor (again), and Marylin Monroe (again… twice.)

As we enter 2013, the only new Jewish person of note whose story we have seen filmed this decade is, at least, truly a celebrity of the new millennium: Mark Zuckerberg, the face behind Facebook. Let's hope this starts a trend for new stories coming out of Hollywood about new Jewish headline-makers or, if they are figures from our past, at least not the same ones again and again. 


Secrets to a happy Jewish marriage—toothpaste and all

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Secrets to a happy Jewish marriage photo 1

Max & Rita Sher

The Hebrew word for love is “ahava,” from the root hey vet, which means to give. To love, put simply, you must give.

How much do you think the divorce rate would plummet if all engaged couples knew the connection between these two words?

My cousins, Sarah and Chuck, married for more than 48 years, certainly do. I once asked the Chicago couple how they’ve made their happy Jewish marriage last. One word, Chuck told me—generosity. “Be generous with your time,” he said. “And give of yourself.”

In honor of this month’s love issue, I wanted to gain some new insights about love and marriage so I recently called up my two sets of wise marriage mentors—my parents and grandparents. Judy and Neal Sher, my parents, who make a home for themselves in Minneapolis, have been married for 42 years. My Long Island-based grandparents, Rita and Max Sher, will celebrate their 66th wedding anniversary in the spring.

So it turns out both couples know a thing or two about the topic at hand.

Secrets to a happy Jewish marriage photo 2

Judy & Neal Sher 

Both conversations sounded like a ping-pong game, the marital advice bouncing back and forth between the two sets of spouses. They’d finish each other’s sentences as couples tend to do when they’ve been together as long as these pairs have. When they weren’t interrupting each other, they were laughing—a lot.

For both couples, their personalities are polar opposites, but their Jewish values are in sync.

All four talked about how giving to each other leads to shalom bayit, peace and harmony in the home. Never let an argument fester, they told me. “If something about the other person annoys you, have it out—have the uncomfortable conversation,” my dad said. “Don’t hold a grudge and never go to bed angry.”

“Yield to the other one,” my grandma said. “You can’t have your way all the time.”

Back in 1946, right after my grandfather returned home from serving in the Pacific, my great-aunts fixed up my grandparents. My grandma’s sister and my grandpa’s sister, close friends with each other, thought Rita and Max would make a good pair, so they invited them to a party to get them in the same room with each other. Four months later, they married. They would eventually have two sons.

In their day, there wasn’t so much obsessing, like nowadays, about whether their intended was their perfect match. “It’s a different world today—let me put it that way,” my grandpa told me.

When I asked what attracted them to each other, my grandpa said he liked having an intelligent woman to talk to. “Oh, thank you,” Rita replied, in a faux British accent. And what drew Rita to Max? “He was good looking and tall and we just got along nicely.” Simple as that. They liked what they knew about each other and whatever they didn’t know, they’d learn along the way.

Sixty-five years later, they know each other pretty darn well.

Today, my grandma’s slowing down, and she can’t do as many tasks for herself, so my grandpa is there for her more now than ever before. “He shops, he cooks for me,” she said. “You’d do it for me too,” Max added.

Like my grandparents, my parents were set up too. In 1969, my parents were attending college and grad school in Boston. One day, my mom mentioned to friends that she wanted to see an obscure documentary film. A bystander overheard her and insisted my mother meet this friend of his, Neal, who also loved seeing obscure movies. When the bystander-turned-matchmaker called my dad to give him my mom’s number, he told my dad, “You’re going to marry this girl.”

When Judy and Neal spoke on the phone for the first time, she dug his voice and he loved her laugh. On their first date, they talked for hours over Chinese food. And then, at meal’s end, my mom opened two fortune cookies. The first said, “Your present love is a true and lasting one.” The second read, “Your home will ring with the laughter of children.” The cookies were prescient: they married a year later and would go on to have two daughters, my sister and me.

I asked my parents the secrets to a happy Jewish marriage, hoping some of their marital wisdom would trickle down to me, the next generation, when I tie the knot someday.

“You need to work at a marriage even if you’ve been married a long time,” my dad said. “Keep it fresh and pretend you’re still dating. Make it special and don’t take the other person for granted.”

“Have a sense of humor,” Mom chimed in. “Have a sense of humor about yourself.”

“Don’t try to change the other person in terms of anything important,” my dad said. “It’s okay to be annoyed if someone isn’t neat, but don’t try to change fundamental things, their values.”

My mom may have offered the best marriage advice of all. She said the secret to a happy marriage is to focus on the big picture and not to sweat the small stuff. “Don’t worry if your spouse doesn’t cap the toothpaste, or squeezes the toothpaste from the middle of the tube,” she said. “It’s how he treats you—not how he treats the toothpaste tube—that counts.”


A Token of Remembrance

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A Token of Remembrance photo

Most families have an heirloom that someday will serve as a prized possession to the person that inherits it. For me, this treasure, a simple silver coin, is undoubtedly the most important thing I own, a token that reminds me of my grandfather, Conrad.

It was 1942 as Conrad stared at the small, old shul, the sun beat down on his back. He began to sweat through his perfectly fitted suit as the June heat of Chicago immediately became more apparent. He adjusted his tie that was tied tightly across his neck and looked at the building. It only stood a few blocks away from his family’s yellow apartment complex on West Augusta Boulevard on the Northwest side of Chicago. However, this building was very different, traditional, and antique. His fascination with buildings began at a young age, as he stood at the structure where he was about to become a Bar Mitzvah. After examining the architecture, he entered the building, making almost immediate eye contact with Ruth, who was the aunt of his first cousin and close friend, Joan. Although they were not directly related, Ruth knew Conrad well and treated him as family. She pulled Conrad aside quickly, handing him a small, brown woven bag. In the bag were five silver coins that brilliantly sparkled in the artificial light of the old synagogue. Conrad thanked Ruth and began to examine the coins as he moved towards the room in which the service was held.

Nervous and looking for any sort of good luck charm before entering the sanctuary, my grandfather, pulled out the coin with the year he was born, 1929, and glanced at it. On one side, the coin was embellished with lady liberty looking into the distance as the sun rose towards her left foot. She had an almost angelic presence that held anyone’s attention that looked at the piece. The top of the coin was engraved with the word “Liberty” in all capital letters and the bottom of the coin simply displayed the year “1929.” In the right corner, next to Lady Liberty’s other foot, the coin displayed the famous quote “In God we trust”. The other side of the piece displayed a classic, American eagle etched between the words “United States of America” and “Half Dollar,” which in all capital letters surrounded the circumference of the metal piece. Conrad glanced at the coin and slipped the small piece of metal into his left pocket. Thanking Ruth again, he said his goodbyes and proceeded to sanctuary where he would become a Bar Mitzvah.

From that day on, he placed that same round silver dollar in his left pocket every single day; no matter whom he was with, what he was doing, or how big of a rush he was in, Conrad carried the coin with him. His family, friends, and most of the people he interacted with during his life knew how much he cherished this piece, although none of these people understood why he carried it. However, our family always speculated.

My mother insists that it was a good luck charm for him while my Nana supposes it reminded him of his Bar Mitzvah, which is why he kept it so close. My brother and I, however, always felt that our “Papa” kept it as a token of his childhood and as an heirloom that he could someday pass down to someone who would appreciate it as much as he did.

Regardless of why he carried the coin, it was an action that he took part in each day. Every morning, he would get dressed and place the coin in the same spot. Every night, he would undress and empty his pockets. He would take out his keys, change, wallet, and the coin, placing it alone on the top shelf of his armoire. The coin was with him for every monumental and mediocre day of his life. The day he met his future wife, the day he married her, the days that they traveled together, moving homes from Chicago to Philadelphia to Washington DC and back home once again. From the births of his two children and four grandchildren, to trips to Italy, the Caribbean, London, Switzerland, Arizona, Florida, California and more, the coin was with Conrad as a good luck charm, an emblem of personal tradition, and a reminder of his past experiences.

My mom considers this a symbol of her childhood. She remembers that he always put it into his pocket as soon as he was dressed. She would hold it when she was a child and examine it carefully. When the family would spend their day boating around Fox Lake on their 25-foot Trojan cabin cruiser, my mom often feared that it would fall into the water, although it never did.

Beyond having the ability to own a boat with a great job as a contractor, a healthy family, and a cozy home in the suburbs of Chicago, the coin granted Conrad the luck he hoped for. In 1966, my Papa was working on Lake Point Tower. As the construction superintendent, he needed to inspect the building. While he was climbing up an elevator shaft on a thin ladder with one of his coworkers, the ladder collapsed and Conrad fell two stories down the shaft. Miraculously, his body made impact with some surface after two stories and his coworker bounced off him onto the surface as well. Something broke his fall and ultimately saved his life.

Although my grandfather dislocated his elbow, an injury that would prevent him from swimming, golfing, and moving his arm in a certain direction for the rest of his life, the outcome could have been much worse; doctors said the accident could have easily taken his life.

Other instances of luck occurred throughout the years. My mom, who was born prematurely and taken directly to an incubator, survived with no complications. Whenever something happened that my grandfather was thankful for or seemed inexplicable, the coin always came to his mind.

Although he wasn’t a superstitious person, he always felt that his coin bought him some sort of luck. When he earned a great contracting job with Kohl’s in the early 80s, my mother said that attributed his success to his lucky coin.

At this point, the coin had completely changed form. Originally, as it began to deteriorate, you could see only part of the pictures on the coin. The eagle’s wings had worn down, most of the ridging around the circumference had gone away, and lady liberty had virtually disappeared. Eventually, all that was left was a silver disk; the initial surface had fundamentally vanished.

“I remember how smooth it was,” my Nana explained. “The surface had worn away completely. That’s what the years did.”

Over the years, my Papa misplaced the worn coin temporarily, but he always recovered it somehow. Once, he left the coin in a pair of his pants that had a small hole in the lining of the pocket. The coin fell through into the lining and was misplaced for a few hours, but he found it soon after.

My mom and grandmother vividly remember the panic in his voice when he called each of them on the December day in 2001 when the coin went missing.

“He was just dismayed. He was heartbroken,” my Nana recalled.

He searched everywhere for the coin. He inspected every pair of pants he owned and searched through his entire condominium. When the coin was still missing, he retraced his steps, including walking around the entire snow covered parking lot of his business and digging through monstrous piles of snow, hoping to somehow find it.

My Papa’s first cousin, Joan, was the heroine in this part of the story. She had coins too from when they were children and found the one dated closest to my grandfather’s date of birth and gave it to him when he couldn’t find his own.

Still, shortly after, my Papa somehow misplaced his second coin. At this point, my mom went on EBay and ordered him a coin from his Bar Mitzvah year, 1942. With the new coin, came a plastic case to keep the coin in from this point on. He felt the case kept it more secure and provided more protection; he would always know where it was.

My grandfather carried this coin each day for eight more years until he passed away in 2009 from a short but brutal battle with cancer. I remember my family deciding what he would be buried in. We picked out his sweater which we called his “Jell-O sweater” that was knit with thin, vivid, pastel thread, and nice pair of slacks. We sat and debated if we should place the coin in his pocket, but after much thought, we all believe it was much more important to keep his memory and tradition alive by passing on the coin. My brother received my grandfather’s jewelry—his Rolex, his diamond ring, and his solid gold chain. I received the coin.

I remember that my mom sat me down and told me that I would be getting my Papa’s coin. There were no dramatic gestures or lengthy descriptions, just a simple sentence that caused me to breakdown.

I remember the tears sliding down my cheeks when I learned that the coin would be mine. My grandfather’s death was extremely difficult for me and as I feared returning to school in DC and leaving my family, I placed the coin in my pencil case, hoping to keep it with me every day.

Only a few weeks later, I called my mother in hysterics after realizing I left my pencil case with the coin inside at the university’s library. Why would I have not been more careful? How could I misplace this coin already? How could I be so careless? I sprinted from my dorm to the library, hyperventilating and wheezing. Thankfully, I was able to find the case at the front desk of the library. As I gasped for air, I vowed I would never carry the coin again; something this important could not be lost.

Little did I know, my brother felt the same exact way. Our papa gave him a coin on his Bar Mitzvah in 2003 that he carried around for a few days. Panicked by the story of my Papa misplacing his coin, Brian vowed to never carry his coin with him as well. Both of our coins sit in the top left drawers of our nightstands, where we are assured they are safe. They might reside in a different location, but they still have an important function; they honor my grandfather’s memory.


Twist Out Cancer – Gets Big.

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Social Media— A Mechanism to Effectuate Real and Meaningful Change photo

A few weeks ago, I had the honor and privilege of meeting Ayush Maheshwari who is the founder of the I AM BIG SHOW, which is a weekly web-based program that focuses on what is working in a big way. I AM BIG focuses on what makes everyday life extraordinary. Ayush believes that there is ‘ bigness’ in each one of us. The purpose of this weekly show is to bring folks from day-to-day life and talk about what’s working in their life, what’s working in their personal lives, what’s working with their careers and what’s working with their connection to the community.

I had the rare opportunity to be interviewed by Ayush for his show and blog for his website.

Check out the blog I wrote for his show.

Ayush— you are undoubtedly changing lives one story at a time.

From the I AM BIG SHOW Blog

Can we write our own story?

Yes we can. Our guest Jenna Benn, at the age of 29, was diagnosed with a rare form of blood cancer. One of the hardest three words one can hear in their lives is ,‘You Have Cancer’. This was not part of her plan. However, she took control and empowered her life. As a result, ‘Twist Out Cancer’ (TOC) was born.

TOC is a movement today and helps survivors and their loved ones combat the feelings of isolation, loneliness, and helplessness that often accompany cancer diagnoses and treatment. In other words, Jenna wrote her own story and continues to do so. It is our honor to have Jenna on our show. The post below is from Jenna to You. 

Writing My Own Story

When you are forced to come to terms with your own mortality at a young age, the way in which you see the world inevitably changes.

Diagnosed with a rare type of blood cancer that affects less than 300 people in the United States, I realized fairly quickly that I had two options. I could either turn into a recluse and cut myself off from the rest of the world or I could write my own story.

The need and desire to write and chronicle what I was experiencing was almost instinctual. Within days of my diagnosis, I had started a blog that served as my coping mechanism and strategy for managing life with cancer. While the rigorous treatments rendered me speechless, I found my authentic voice through writing.

As I documented my journey, I started to realize that I was in a unique position to be able to raise awareness about the unique set of challenges and issues facing the young adult cancer community.

I tackled what it was like to feel betrayed by my body, the inevitable regression and dependency on my parents, and the eventual loss of my perceived femininity. In addition to these challenges, I also painfully opened up about what it feels like to lose your own fertility.

The more that I wrote— the more that I shared— the more I felt the world opened up.

I no longer felt burdened or smothered by my cancer diagnosis, but rather I felt an inexplicable sense of freedom.

Silence is what shames us and so I was screaming.

I chose to find my voice, I chose to write my own story, and I chose to twist out cancer because it was what was right for me. I can only hope that my choices and my story will be able to help others.


On February 14, say “Olive You!”

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Instead of the usual box of chocolates and the cliché soufflés and cakes, give your heart's desire a gift that is from your heart and good for theirs.

I am talking about olive oil. Extra virgin olive oil has a long list of health benefits from reducing coronary artery disease and cholesterol regulation.

My favorite extra virgin olive oil is an unfiltered oil from Spain. It is rich, luscious and smells like artichokes and tomatoes. I recently tasted an oil from France that was rich and buttery. Olive oils like wines have a distinct taste or terroir depending upon where they are grown. I urge home cooks to shop the specialty and gourmet shops for their olive oil. The supermarket oils are often lacking in flavor and are frequently misleading in the origin of the olives. The bottle may say that the oil was bottled in Italy but not mention where the olives were grown. The olives could have come from many different countries and in different stages of ripeness which yields an off tasting oil.

Estate grown oils are picked at the perfect stage of ripeness and pressed right after harvest. This ensures a balanced oil that is luscious.

Baking with olive oil is easy and yields a moist delicious cake. This February 14, I urge you to try something different and say OLIVE YOU, your heart and your beloved's will thank you.

Super Fudgy Chocolate Cake   

This easy and delicious cake has chocolate and olive oil in it. What a great combo! The cake may be made up to 2 days ahead of serving. 

4 large eggs
1 cup light brown sugar
1 cup white sugar
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon vanilla
1½ cups all-purpose flour
½ cup cocoa powder
¼ cup potato starch
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 cup boiling water

1. Place oven rack in center of oven. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Oil a 9-inch spring-form pan or 2 9x5x3-inch loaf pans.

2. Place eggs, brown sugar, and white sugar into the bowl of a standing mixer. Using the whip attachment beat on medium-high until mixture is light and fluffy. Slowly drizzle in the canola oil. Continue beating until the mixture is well emulsified. Add the vanilla and mix well.

3. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, cocoa powder, potato starch, baking powder, and salt. Mix together with a whisk until thoroughly blended.

4. Change to the paddle attachment. With the mixer on low, add the dry ingredients to the egg mixture all at once.  While blending, slowly add the boiling water. Be careful not to let any splash out. Continue mixing until the batter is smooth. Finish mixing with a rubber spatula, scraping the sides and the bottom as you mix.

5. Place prepared pan on a baking sheet. Pour batter into prepared pan. If using two loaf pans, be sure to divide batter evenly.

6. Place into preheated oven and bake until a wooden skewer comes out cleanly.  This will take about 1 hour and 15 minutes for the 9-inch spring-form pan, and 40-50 minutes for the loaf pans.

7. Remove from oven and cool on a rack for 30 minutes. For the spring-form pan, remove the collar and cool completely. For the loaf pans, after 30 minutes, carefully run a thin knife around the sides of the pans. Carefully tip the cakes out on their side and then stand them back up. Allow to cool completely. If cakes do not come out easily, allow to cool in pans for 10 more minutes and try again. As they cool, they shrink away from the sides of the pan. 

When cool, cakes can be wrapped and stored in the refrigerator for 5 days. Allow to come to room temperature before serving.

Cakes can be served as they are, dusted with powdered sugar, or glazed with Dark Chocolate Olive Oil Icing. 

Dark Chocolate Olive Oil Icing 

This versatile and rich icing is quick to put together and can be used to frost cupcakes, cakes, pound cakes or as a filling for sandwich cookies. 

1⅓ cups + 1 tablespoon powdered sugar
3 tablespoons cocoa powder
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons water
½ teaspoon vanilla

1. Combine all of the ingredients in the bowl of a standing mixer. Using the whip attachment beat on medium-high speed until the icing is light and fluffy. If too dry and stiff, add more water ½ teaspoon at a time until a smooth, fluffy consistency is reached. If too loose, add more powdered sugar 1 tablespoon at a time.

Yields enough icing for the top of 1 9-inch cake or 2 loaf cakes.

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