OyChicago blog

10 Jewish Baseball Stories to Follow in 2014

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03/31/2014

10. The reemergence of Aaron Poreda
A few years ago we were talking about Poreda as the next in line in terms of solid Jewish MLB starters. He emerged quickly with the White Sox and was a major piece of the Jake Peavy trade, but since then, his stock has plummeted and he really has not seen the majors or been a mainstay in any organization. This spring he has reemerged with the Texas Rangers and we hope he can reclaim his spot in the majors.

9. Joc the Jock
Joc Pederson is probably the best Jewish minor leaguer on the cusp of the majors. He has the potential to be a star. Let’s hope he gets a call-up this year with the Dodgers.

8. A Youkilis return
Kevin Youkilis has packed his bags for Japan, but it’s fair to say all of us would like him back in the USA. Let’s hope a team needs a third baseman soon and Youkilis can continue being one of the greatest Jewish players of all time – on American soil.

7. Free-man
Nate Freiman showed flashes of greatness last season but never became a full time starter. This year we hope the Oakland A's allow him to fly and strut his power hitting skills. Free Freiman!

6. Oldies but goodies? Fuld, Marquis and Valencia
Both Fuld (A's) and Valencia (Royals) have caught on with teams and stand solid chances to make their respective ballclubs. Marquis, one of the greatest Jewish pitchers of all time, has yet to find a home. Let’s hope all three find a way into the Majors this year.

5. Where do we begin? Zeid, Pillar, Lavarnway, Kalish
Josh Zeid, Kevin Pillar, Ryan Lavarnway, and Ryan Kalish all spent most of the season in the minors last year. Lavernway has yet to stick with the Red Sox despite high potential. Kalish, formerly with Boston, is getting over a season-ending injury and is now with the Cubs, and Zeid and Pillar are hoping to start where they finished the season – in the majors. Keep an eye on all four because they could all have breakout years.

4. Will they Met expectations? Satin and Davis
Both Josh Satin and Ike Davis have shown that they can play and start on a major league club. Both have also proven that they can go through major slumps. Both are vying for a roster spot and wouldn't mind starting at first base; we will see how much longer the Mets can deal with inconsistency. Here’s to hoping they can turn double plays together (Satin plays the whole infield).

3. New uniforms for Kinsler and Feldman
Both Scott Feldman and Ian Kinsler have new uniforms. Both come with high expectations. Feldman finds himself atop the rebuilding Astros rotation and Kinsler replaces the bat of Prince Fielder in Detroit. A great opportunity for both.

2. Breslow looks to go back to back
It’s hard to make a name for yourself as a middle relief pitcher, but Craig Breslow has. Now with a World Series ring, let’s see if Breslow can continue being sharp on the field and make it back-to-back titles for Boston.

Going to Bat Against Anti-Semitism photo

1. Braun's Back
Clearly the number one story is the return of maligned Milwaukee Brewers slugger Ryan Braun. Braun's steroid scandal rocked the baseball world as did his first at-bat of Spring training (a home run). Braun will have to keep battling the critics, but now it’s time for his bat to do the talking. Go get 'em, Ryan!

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Shabbat as a Choice

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03/28/2014

Shabbat as a Choice photo

Several years ago, I was privileged to staff a Taglit-Birthright Israel trip for Shorashim. From the moment I found out I’d be going, I was really looking forward to celebrating Shabbat in Israel again. Israel has so many sights to see, but there is something very special about leading a group of young adults through their first Shabbat in a place where the majority of people are also Jewish.

That’s not to say that all Israelis celebrate Shabbat in the same way, but across Israeli society, from the very secular to the ultra-Orthodox, I have noticed a profound awareness on Friday evening. When the sun begins to set, people know that something is different and Shabbat is coming.

As group leaders, we took special care to mark this important occasion for our group. There was time at the market in the afternoon to buy supplies and snacks for the day. We asked everyone to attend Shabbat blessings and dinner, and to wear something nice. We bought flowers for each of the men to offer each of the women as they arrived for dinner.

Our trip, as all Birthright Israel trips are, had already been full of life and despite having been there less than two days. The group was moving slowly as we checked into our rooms at the kibbutz where we would spend Shabbat. The participants let out a gracious sigh of relief that we made it in time to have a break in order to unpack, wash the sweat from our brows and unwind from a long day of traveling.

As the afternoon turned to evening, I remember the peace and quiet in the air at the kibbutz. Our group arrived for dinner looking refreshed; there was a special calming stillness in the air as everyone entered this holy space.

After the candles were lit, we asked each of our participants to share their favorite Shabbat memories. Many talked about going to Jewish camp in the summer, celebrating with loved ones at home or remembering happy times with relatives that had since passed. But one of the Israeli participants shared a time that he was serving in combat during the campaigns into Gaza. On Friday night, his unit was holed up in a bunker in the midst of the battle, bullets literally flying overhead and the sounds of explosions surrounding them. I tried to imagine being in that moment and thought all I would be able to do is duck, cover, and maybe even cry. Instead, this young man’s commander insisted that they all stop everything so that the unit could make kiddush together, the blessing over wine that sanctifies Shabbat. Our Israeli friend explained how important that ritual act was for everyone to normalize the experience for the entire unit.

The words of the kiddush remind us that Shabbat is about celebrating creation and acting as God did, by resting on the seventh day. However, the words of the kiddush also describe the exodus from Egypt. The great Rabbi and torah commentator Rashi suggested that God took the Jewish people out of Egypt for the very purpose of celebrating Shabbat. In Egypt, we were not given the choice of when to work and when not to work. In Egypt the Jews were not given a choice to practice their religion freely; however, once freed from slavery, religious observances such as Shabbat became a choice that Jews were then, as now, allowed to make.

Every week, from sunset on Friday to sunset on Saturday, we as free Jews have a choice to stop and mark the holy Sabbath. That might mean something different to every Jew; the observance and customs for some will often look different from one to the next. Regardless, each of us has the ability to find our own way and meaning to stop, rest, separate the day from the rest of the week and exercise our freedom to choose.

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Maybe I Should Go Back to Hebrew School

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03/27/2014

Ashley Kolpak photo

What a month it has been.

It’s been a month, hasn’t it? The days simultaneously fly by and crawl past when forced to sit out on the sidelines. Last month I wrote about breaking my ankle. Today, I get my cast off. It seems like a rite of passage I never really wanted to go through, but I’m feeling jittery and excited the night before I am scheduled to remove my recently acquired leg accessory.

One of the myriad activities keeping me busy this month is an edit of my friend’s grad school thesis. When Ingrid emailed from Munich that she was looking for an American set of eyes to peer over any language mishaps in her entirely-in-English analysis, I was happy to oblige. Yes, German is her first language. She speaks about seven others. And that entirely-in-English essay? Very nearly flawless. Her mastery speaks to something I often think about ... oh how I wish to be a polyglot. I wish I could add another language to my shortlist, currently existing of English and French.

Sure, I speak French to a fairly decent degree. At one point, I would say I was functionally fluent. I’m a bit out of practice now, though I try my best to dust up by reading French blogs and books, listening to foreign pop tunes and watching French news from time to time. I love speaking, reading, writing French with entirely reckless abandon, even when my language skills are in a sad state of disrepair. On the flip side of the coin, I often wonder – what if I had kept going and added Hebrew to the mix? What a polyglot I’d be then.

I have a bit of a history with Hebrew. My father speaks a little bit; his side of the family hails from Israel. I often wore this tidbit of my life as a badge of honor when my middle-school self would strut to advanced Hebrew class in sixth grade (oy vey). And by “advanced Hebrew class,” I mean it was taught by a strikingly skinny 16-year-old Israeli boy in a room on Sunday mornings. It was my first real taste of foreign language learning and I always looked forward to when we would flip open our workbooks and try something new. I kept up with it until my bat mitzvah, and sadly, that was the end of my interaction with the Hebrew for a while.

My first job out of college, I worked for an Israeli boss. Each day, she communicated in Hebrew on the phone for business, and it left quite the impression. Call me crazy, I love the speed of the language. It feels as if the speaker is always running a race. I enjoy the urgency of it all. I always delighted in picking up little phrases from my boss and coworkers and peppering them into my every day. It’s a feisty language. The story of how it was brought back as a secular language is fascinating. At the same time, I know so little, both about the language and its background, and I would love to learn more.So maybe I’ll try to learn Hebrew again. I should head back to Hebrew school, start from the beginning. Honestly, I think it would be interesting to try. Learning language at this stage in the game is enormously tough, but that’s what Rosetta Stone is for. If I ever give another language a go, I look forward to the new expressions, the new way words form on my tongue; the way that a new language reshapes my personality when I speak it. A new language forms a new perspective. And to have eight of those under your belt? Now, polyglots of the world, that’s just simply not fair.

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Greek Taverna-Style Fava Beans

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03/26/2014

Greek Taverna-Style Fava Beans photo 1

Most weeks when I am menu-planning, the main dishes always come easy. However, when I get to pairing the main entrees with side dishes, I find myself scratching my head.

I try and stay away from more than one carb-based side dish, and lately hubby has been asking me steer clear of those altogether. So I have had to get creative with my sides.

One day, hubs mentioned he wanted more beans in his diet. Having exhausted every baked bean recipe I knew, I decided to think globally. I do not exactly recall what triggered Greek thoughts in my head, but for some reason that’s where I went.

I recalled a summer way back when we were without child and crazy responsibilities and we got on my hubby’s motorcycle at 10 p.m. and sped to downtown Chicago to go to Greektown, an area in Chitown that is always awake, bustling with people trying to get their post-clubbing gyros, Greek music billowing out of the open taverna-style restaurants.

Hubs and I always loved going to Greektown on the motorcycle to sneak in some late night Greek-style fries with feta crumbles and a cafe frappe. The ambiance always made you feel alive. We would hang out there for hours, chatting, listening to music and sipping our frappes.

One of the many times we were there, they brought out gigantes plaki for us to pair with our chicken souvlaki instead of our Greek fries. Hubs was ready to send them back when I stopped him and said that we should try something different.

“Beans instead of fries? Are you nuts?” My hubby asked me. We both lifted the fork to our mouths and were instantly pleased we went with the beans instead. They were huge and covered in a tomato sauce infused with oregano and topped with feta.

“Make these for me!” Hubs said. And I did – six years later.

The best part about them is how easy they are to make.

Greek Taverna-Style Fava Beans photo 2

Greek Taverna-Style Fava Beans
From Girl and The Kitchen

Ingredients

1 pound Gigantes, elephant or fava beans
1 28 oz can crushed tomatoes 
5 garlic cloves minced
2 onions finely diced or shredded on the microplaner 
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 tbsp olive oil
Feta cheese crumbles to use as topping
Parsley
Salt and pepper to taste

Instructions

1. First soak the beans overnight by placing them in a large pot and completely covering with water. The pot needs to be large because the beans will expand. Drain the beans and rinse them once ready to use.

2. Fill the pot back up with water and turn the heat on high. Drain and rinse the beans and boil in water for about 40 minutes to an hour, until they are soft but not mushy. It's super important you boil them long enough; otherwise the beans will be too hard to eat despite baking them.

3. Preheat your oven to 350-degrees.

4. In the meantime make the sauce by pureeing onion in a Vitamix or shredding on a microplaner. I prefer it if the onions sort of melt into the sauce. Do the same for the garlic.

5. Sweat the onion along with the garlic in some live oil until fragrant.

6. Add the pureed tomatoes, tomato paste, parsley and oregano. Taste for seasoning.

7. Let it simmer until sauce thickens, about 15 minutes.

8. Once the beans are cooked to the proper texture, drain them.

9. Add the beans to the pot with the sauce and toss to coat.

10. Lightly coat an oven proof baking dish with oil or pan spray and place saucy beans into the pan.

11. Cover with foil and place to bake in the oven for about 40 minutes.

12. Once beans are tender, remove the foil and let the tops caramelize a bit.

13. Top with parsley and some crumbled feta.

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Happy Birthday, Destiny!

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03/24/2014

Happy Birthday, Destiny! photo 2

My name is never on a magnet at the souvenir shops.

I’m sure this wasn’t a major consideration for my parents when choosing my name, and it’s not entirely traumatic; but it’s something that I’ve had to deal with my whole life.

Sometimes the stores have “Leah” stickers or “Lee” license plates; but never “Lia.” It’s just how life has been, and I’ve compensated for it in other ways, like getting excited to get an American Girl doll that looked just like me (and even came with a Chanukah outfit!). So in general, I guess, I had a pretty good childhood and didn’t think too much about the stores full of magnets of Sarahs, Rebeccas, and Rachels, but no Lias.

But last week, while at Party City (obviously buying a Purim costume; why else would anyone go to Party City in March?), a display caught my eye. It was a display of “Singing Happy Birthday Cards” — cutesy cards with boys’ and girls’ names on them, and when you open the card, you’re jolted awake with a birthday song.

Not sure why I like to inflict pain on myself, but I decided to do a little search. Where were the “L” girl cards? Ah, here they are. Or … here it is. Just Lauren. The only “L” girl name was Lauren. No Laura, no Linda, no Lydia, no Lanie, and certainly no Lia.

Curiously, I looked through the rest of the girl names. They don’t make Lindsey, Leora, or Lena, but they do have Brianna, Jordan (for both boys and girls), and Jasmine. No Lexie, Lila, or Lori, but they do have Savannah, Madison, and Morgan.

And my favorite: Destiny (is her Hebrew name “beshert”?)!

I guess for now, I’ll have to settle with “Happy Birthday Special Daughter” or “Happy Birthday Lil’ Princess.”

Or, for my next birthday, you can get me four “Happy 7th Birthday” cards and I’ll just do the math on my end.

Happy birthday, Destiny, Taylor, and Victoria!

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Kid Rules vs. Adult Rules

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03/21/2014

Kid Rules vs. Adult Rules photo

It is impossible to be a parent and evade hypocrisy. It gets worse when your kids learn the word “hypocrisy.” And worse yet when they realize it applies to you.

Three times this week various children of mine have called me a hypocrite. The first was for not hanging up my coat. The second was because I have long nails and I am psychotic – er – very diligent about keeping all my kids nails very short. The third was when I got caught red-handed scooping hash browns with my fingers, from the pan, into my pie hole. “HYPOCRITE!” It has even (unfairly I think) crept into hours when they don’t see me but can hear me. For instance, we have a rule: no screens during the week. But all the kids have relayed that they can hear me clicking through the Netflix menu from their bedrooms.

Well you know what? Too bad! After (deep breath …) making homemade pancakes and arugula omelets for breakfasts, packing lunches, hawking the mohawks and froing the fro, getting them off to school, loading the dishwasher, emptying the dishwasher, washing, drying and folding the laundry, picking this one up, then dropping that one off, helping with snacks, helping with homework, making dinner, brushing teeth, reading books, rubbing feet, tucking in, I think I am allowed to watch some damn television! Besides, we never said that applied to the adults. Frankly, many of the rules don’t apply to us, fair or not. This is the benefit of being an adult. Otherwise there would be absolutely no reason to abandon the beautiful naivety and cradle of childhood. And this is what makes us, as parents, massive hypocrites in the eyes of our children.

In fairness, they may have a point. I don’t just watch TV during the week. I have also been known to not put away my shoes, not make my bed, not put my dishes in the dishwasher, not pick my clothes up off the floor, not say “please” or “thank you” or “sorry” in a timely manner and on occasion I forget to flush. I also have been known to swear. Most times I remain incognito. But when I get caught, it is with such devilish relish that my kids scream “HYPOCRITE!” that frankly, I’ve decided this makes them happy. They are happy to catch me and elated to know that their mom is not perfect, that their mom makes mistakes. And once in a while, under her breath, in a whisper, while a truck drives by making tons of background noise, mom says, “Frick!” Ahem … And more important than making my kids happy (this is of course what I was born and bred to do in their minds) I think it’s perfectly fine. Instead of saying, “Frick that! I’m no hypocrite!” I’ll say, “Yup. I’m a hypocrite. Because I’m a grown-up. Sh-tuff happens.”

My kids go to bed at 9:00 p.m. I prefer they eat sugar only once a day and immediately after school so they can calm down for bed. They brush their teeth twice a day – and floss (kinda). Me? Once in a while, at midnight, I eat an entire bag of peanut butter cups, don’t brush my teeth and, frankly, “frick” the flossing. I’m not trying to be snarky (well, maybe a little) but the fact is kids and adults don’t have the same rules. And it’s not fair (to them). And as parents I suppose we can acknowledge that.

I have vivid memories of many nights when my dad was watching All in the Family, better known to me as “Archie Bunker.” It was a show that had been parentally determined inappropriate for my eyes and ears but OK for my dad. One night, however, I came into the TV room ever so quietly, and settled uneasily onto the far end of the couch. I sat silently, my eyes darting nervously between Archie and my dad. When nothing happened (a.k.a. he didn’t kick me out), I sat back happily, not realizing that I had just crossed over the invisible threshold of no return. I was now being considered more adult: more responsible, more capable, unknowingly hurtling towards my independence, a job and taxes.

As much as I loved watching Archie Bunker, oh how I miss the days of Sesame Street. So kids, hang in there – be a kid. You’ll be a hypocrite soon enough. And then there will be plenty of years to gorge on peanut butter cups.

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Our Computers; Ourselves

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03/20/2014

Our Computers; Ourselves photo

The most memorable and “glamorous” moment of the Oscars show this year can be summed up by a mundane, movie-star-packed “selfie,” which host Ellen DeGeneres snapped on her phone with several of the stars in the first few rows of the audience and tweeted out to the world. It was later revealed the whole gimmick was a way to advertise the phone she carried during the show. I cracked up in the moment, and felt dirty afterward for enjoying this shameless product placement. In fact, I enjoyed the selfie so much at the time, that I made the image Ellen tweeted my Facebook cover photo.

The word, “selfie,” has become so ubiquitous that it was Oxford Dictionaries’ "2013 Word of the Year". As such, according to the Oxford Dictionaries, “selfie” is defined as “a photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smartphone or webcam and uploaded to a social media website.”

The most re-tweeted tweet ever, we clearly all loved that moment. It somehow made Ellen and her A-list friends feel like people we might know at a party, and for once, we were invited. Instead of watching a stiff awards show in which the host remains on stage and talks at the stars in the audience and to the cameras, Ellen trampled through the audience multiple times, ordered a pizza, and took a selfie with her friends. In a voyeuristic way, we shared in this odd pizza party and laughed when she was a little mean to the stars.

How different is this experience from browsing friends’ lives through a Facebook or Instagram feed? We capture the moments of our loved ones, often, without actually interacting with them or even having a conversation. The selfie is a self-selected projection of ourselves in the bathroom, having fun with friends or hopelessly in love. These photos are carefully posed, taken and displayed for others. The selfie does not produce a dialogue, but rather, is like an edited version of self, all wrapped up with a bow on top. No one takes a selfie when they’ve just gotten out of bed, hair standing up, without makeup. Selfies, and the photos we share via social media in general, don’t challenge perception, but rather they reinvent the narrative. The subject of the photo is always the protagonist with an assumed happy ending.

Of all the nominated Oscar films this year, the movie Her takes our multi-media driven society a step further, and then turns it on its head. Set in the near future, Siri (the voice of today’s iPhone operating system) gets a makeover that’s so life-like, she develops a personality of her own, with wants, needs, desires and curiosities.

I found Her to be both profoundly relatable and also profoundly perplexing—so much so, that weeks after seeing it, I’m still trying to sort through its themes and how I feel about them. It seemed like an exhausting prospect at first to see yet another film in which some awkward mutation of Joaquin Phoenix works through his issues with close camera angles (I last saw him in The Master), but Phoenix’ portrayal of Theodore Twombly was humble, complex, and heartwarming. He was just a normal, nerdy guy in ugly, futuristic, high-waisted pants.

I also pre-judged the film, assuming it would be about a socially awkward male protagonist who finds he can have all of his needs met by a very smart operating system, personified by the imagined embodiment of Scarlett Johansson. Based on my preconceptions, this film seemed like a feminist’s nightmare: a bodiless female attending to a man’s every need and whim, namely because he owns her…This bleak picture of the future seemed like a bad repeat of history and narratives past. I imagined the operating system’s character to be a cross between Samantha from Bewitched and one of the Stepford wives. I was half right.

However, the relationship between Theodore and Samantha (ironically), the operating system, felt quite modern. Their empathetic and vulnerable interactions surpassed many human-to-human relationships portrayed on screen. But, in some ways the selfie is a great metaphor for their relationship. Theodore and Samantha project all of their hopes and dreams onto each other without ever meeting. A strange spin on present-day online dating, the two characters never take their relationship “offline.” As we’ve learned with shows, such as MTV’s Catfish, people can have online and phone relationships for years without meeting. When and if they do meet, those relationships can fall apart when expectations don’t meet reality. When communicating via a computer, a dating site, or even via text on a phone, we present our best versions of ourselves, despite the fact that we might be sitting on the couch in sweatpants with no makeup, perhaps after a wretched day at work. Via our digital medium, we can present a cheery and colorful version of ourselves. Theodore delved deeper with Samantha, however, expressing what he often couldn’t with his ex-wife. A “person” he’d never confront in real life, this relationship with Samantha was a very safe one.

Upon first purchasing and installing Samantha, she appears to Theodore as a clean slate. He shapes her introduction to the world, and he takes her on a tour of his world (literally). As Samantha develops and gets smarter, her curiosity helps to mold her into an individual with her own desire for sex, intimacy, companionship, knowledge, and real-life experience.

[Spoiler Alert:] In an unexpected turn, Samantha reveals to Theodore that she has relationships with many others, and has perhaps, evolved past him. In the end, we find ourselves in a post-monogamous world in which the female operating system decides to pursue greater fulfillment, while Theodore is as alone as he was before their relationship.

“The heart is not like a box that gets filled up; it expands in size the more you love,” Samantha says in the film to Theodore.  “I'm different from you. This doesn't make me love you any less. It actually makes me love even more.” [End spoilers]

I struggle with Samantha’s character, and whether the film portrays her through the male gaze or not. Body-less, we, the audience, can’t objectify Samantha (unless the viewer chose to imagine Johansson). Body-less, Samantha developed her sense of self through Theodore’s instruction and through her own pursuit of knowledge. Samantha had her own free will.

The film leaves us wondering who we’re really talking to when we’re texting, instant messaging and emailing. While there’s another human on the other end of those messages, these mediums serve as filters for our ability to truly express ourselves. This movie asks us to question whether the nuances of face-to-face interaction are the foundation of a meaningful and fulfilling relationship. In an era of dwindling human-to-human contact, the language of love is a highly technical one to interpret. As the great media analyst Marshall McLuhan would say, "The medium is the message.”

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Passover: Your Winter Cure

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03/19/2014

I know I’m beating a dead horse here, but it has been a long cold December, y’all. I need something to look forward to and this year I’m looking to Passover to help me make it out of the tundra with a smile on my face.

Passover is the first real event of spring. It’s usually marked with warmish temperatures, newly sprouted flowers and trees with little baby leaves. Doesn’t that sound impossible? I realize that it hasn’t been -15 degrees in a while, but my Seasonal Affective Disorder is making me very dramatic. I am so scarred by those frigid days that I am desperate for the warmer and greener ones to come. Ok, I’m not actually sure how warm and green the Passovers of the past have been, but let’s pretend for a minute. I need the promise of that dream to bring me to the other side.

I’ll definitely be imagining spring this year as we read the Passover story. The concept of “wandering in the desert” reminds me an awful lot of us struggling to get away from this winter. So how can Passover rescue us all?

Personally, I always think of the holiday as my own Top Chef-style “quick challenge.” I’ve decided to let Passover pull me away from weather.com and push me into the kitchen. Maybe you need to do the same? Think of something new that you haven’t made with matzo. Don’t moan and groan about matzo. If you don’t like what you’re eating at your seder, now is the time to do something about it. Your dinner doesn’t have to taste like a wet cardboard box. Try to surprise yourself with a new dish.

I got very excited last week when the April edition of Martha Stewart Living showed up at my house. She usually has a couple new and interesting Passover recipes. This year she has a Passover Spinach Lasagna. I say give it a try. I made this last night and was pleasantly surprised. Maybe lasagna isn’t your thing. That’s fine. Try something else. It’ll take your mind off of the crazy back-and-forth weather get you ready for spring.

Passover: Your Winter Cure photo

Passover Spinach Lasagna

Ingredients
1 large onion
2 tablespoons of olive oil
2 cups mozzarella cheese
2 cups ricotta or small-curd cottage cheese
4 large eggs
1 ½ cups half-and-half
1 ¼ cups grated Parmesan (about 4 ounces)
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest, plus 1 tablespoon juice
1 pinch of freshly grated nutmeg (optional)
1 pound chapped frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed of excess moisture
1 box of matzo (I used whole wheat…it makes me feel like I’m being healthy)

Directions
Preheat oven to 400. Brush bottom and sides of an 8x8 inch baking dish with oil. Chop onion and sauté with olive oil. While your onion is cooking whisk together ricotta, eggs, half-and-half, ¾ cup Parmesan, zest, and nutmeg. Season this mix generously with salt and pepper. In another bowl, toss spinach with lemon juice and season with salt and pepper. Once your onion is cooked…(it should be translucent)…toss that in with the spinach.

Now build your lasagna!

Cover the bottom of your baking dish with a layer of matzo. Pour a layer of your ricotta cheese mixture…about a cup and a half or so. Sprinkle a layer of mozzarella and then add a layer of spinach mixture evenly. Repeat these steps top with matzo and drizzle with remaining cheese mixture and mozzarella.

Bake, uncovered, until puffed and golden brown on top, 35 to 40 minutes and serve.

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Confidence

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03/18/2014

Confidence photo

Sometime in the last 10 or so days, I was told that I had to plan a press conference to announce a new app that the organization that I work for had created. The app has launched in a few other cities and it was our turn to launch it in Chicago. I had very few details, had never really written a press release let alone planned an event of this proportion, and was extremely freaked out and overwhelmed. How was I supposed to do this? How was there any way this would work out?

I sat anxiously at my desk with a pit in my stomach, feeling as though I was set up to fail. There was no way that all the pieces would be able to come together; I hadn’t had enough time or experience or preparation. There was no way I wouldn’t fail at this assignment. Disaster was inevitable.

This might sound melodramatic, and it partially was, but in the heat of the moment, most people have experienced some sort of mild panic and stress in the workplace. I have spoken to people who work in a variety of environments, from hospitals and schools to Fortune 500 companies and non-profit organizations. Even though the type of work these people accomplish on a daily basis differs in many respects, most people can remember and reflect on a moment when stress in the workplace has gotten – or almost gotten – the best of them.

I experienced a few of these moments last week. Still, I went through the motions of everything that I needed to do. I researched how to prep for a press conference online, I asked for a lot of help, I delegated tasks, and I focused on our end goal. Our press event ended up going pretty well and I learned many new skills throughout the few days that I spent on this initiative, including many media relations skills that I am happy to know I will carry with me for the future. However, as cliché as it may sound, the most important thing I learned is the importance of having confidence in one’s abilities.

I’m skeptical. I doubt myself and sometimes other forces around me. I have never been the most overly confident person. I don’t suffer from a lack of self-esteem, but I am rarely the person that thinks that they are the best at things (except directions and knowing ridiculously specific facts about Space Jam.)

This is fine at times – who doesn’t love it when someone is humble and modest? No one wants to listen to someone talk about how great they are at everything because that can get extremely irritating, but at the same time, there are certain moments where you need to have confidence in your abilities and many of those times are the instances when your first instinct is to doubt yourself.

After reflecting on the chaos of last week, I really believe that if you put your mind toward doing something, you can achieve things that you never would’ve thought you could. That undeniably sounds like a line from a Disney movie (which I am definitely not complaining about) but it is something that holds true. The example of what I achieved is small, in the grand scheme of things, but sometimes it is the little things that teach us some of the most important lessons. Even during those times where you want to doubt yourself, push through and remember that it is better to put your energy towards trying to accomplish something than let doubt, worry, and fear get the best of you.

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A Jew, a Guru and a Hot Tub

 Permanent link
03/17/2014

A Jew, a Guru and a Hot Tub photo 

So this story starts at a hotel hot tub in Iowa. And it just gets weirder from there.

I was at the hotel with my (now) ex-wife, visiting her grandmother in Dubuque (the town with three ‘U’s!). She was taking a nap, so I left for the hot tub alone, in my bathing suit and flip-flops.

What I did not know was that the hotel was, that weekend, hosting a New Age convention.

I got to the tub. In it was an older man, also in just a bathing suit, with a long, white wizard beard. He was talking with someone sitting at the edge of the tub who just had his legs in the water.

There was another guy sitting at the edge, too, alone. So I sat in one of the only spots left, next to him.

He turned to me and said, “Are you Jewish?” Not, “Hello,” or “My name’s Frank,” but that.

I wasn’t wearing a chai or Magen David or kipah. Maybe the white hotel towel over my shoulders looked like a tallit. I was stunned by the bluntness and invasiveness of his question. It put me on guard, even though his tone was not hostile.

I decided my best reply was honesty, backed by stalwart conviction. “Yes. Yes, I am,” I stated, bracing for his response.

He seemed relieved. “Me, too.” He then told me his name — which I have now forgotten — and that he was there for the New Age convention, which is how I found out about it. He then told me that he was he was here to see his guru… quickly adding that the guy in the tub was not his guru, but that other guy’s.

At this point, I think I said something profound, like “Oh.”

I guess, to him, that meant, “So now tell me about your guru. In fact, tell me about your whole, extensive spiritual journey!” Because that is what he proceeded to do.

Now, this happened sometime in the 1990s, so I don’t remember all of what he told me, including how he ended up with a guru to begin with. Here are the parts I do recall:

At one point, the guru told him to give up sweets for him. The guy was angry, and felt this was an unfair request. “I really struggled with it,” he said, and even questioned the guru’s affection for him.

The guru assured him, “I love you as much as any of my wives.” (That line, I remember verbatim.) So he did it. He gave up sweets. And his commitment to the guru deepened.

Later, the guru asked him to give up meat for him. “This was very hard,” the guy told me. “I almost quit.” Again, he finally capitulated to the guru’s demand. And once again, felt even closer.

At this point, to use New Age terminology, I felt a change in the vibe. The energy flow had shifted, and I was feeling – recruited. So I made my apologies, dried my legs, and skedaddled.

On the way back to my room, however, I wondered what could make a person who was so assertive about his Jewishness do all that. So many Jews decline to keep kosher, and here this guy went vegetarian – um – cold turkey. So many find Shabbat to be constraining and this guy found giving up cake and ice cream liberating.

And even though he hated doing it, he did it, because his guru asked.

So why did this Jewish guy look for meaning outside of Judaism? I thought. We must not have asked enough of him.

We tend to fear that if we ask more of people, they will say “That’s too much,” or “That’s too hard,” and turn away.

Every time I think about that guy at the hotel hot tub in Iowa, well, I wonder if that’s true.

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Becoming the Perfect Jewish Dad

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03/14/2014

Becoming the Perfect Jewish Dad photo

I’m gonna be a dad!

Woo hoo! Yipee! Yep, cue the cheesy song and slow motion fist pump, the one-man horah, etc. That was me, almost six months ago.

In the beginning, I was overcome with joy. After we married, my wife Ashley and I decided to start a family right away. We were completely blown away with both the miracle of our pregnancy, its timing, and how smooth it’s been from the start. Ashley was in denial, of course, and so we had to take the pregnancy test twice, just to make sure. Somehow, though, Ashley strongly felt that day that the test results would change overnight to negative, and that this was all a dream. I was already singing into her belly, tears of joy streaming down my cheeks. What a miracle, I kept thinking. What a miracle.

Everyone’s right: you’re whole life perspective does change in an instant, once you know that you are bringing another life into this world and are responsible for its nurturing, upbringing and guidance through life. This news can be both exhilarating and a little scary. Let me tell you why it was especially true with me.

The moment I knew I was going to be a father, or at least when the idea of becoming a father was more than just “talk,” I did what I think most Jews end up doing: sit back and brace for the nonstop barrage of advice from the family. But aside from the overwhelming family support, another reaction I had that I’m sure many can identify with is trying to accumulate as much information as possible on the subject at hand, so as to be best prepared and capable of handling any situation that arises. Well, I learned pretty quickly that while you really don’t stop learning, it’s nearly impossible to prepare in every possible way for the arrival of a baby.

But that didn’t stop me, so I began scouring the Internet for daddy resources, including advice for Jewish dads-to-be. Out of the several dozen websites that I perused and analyzed, Men’s Health Dad and Kveller rose to the top. Titles such as “30 Ways to Be the Best Dad Ever,” “5 Smart Ways to Raise Your Kids” and even “How to Cradle a Baby” caught my immediate attention, sincerely showing dads some practical and philosophical ways to improve and enhance their abilities as a parent. One of my favorite articles was babycenter.com’s  “7
Fears Expectant Fathers Face
” and went down the list to see how many of these fears I have.

Security fears
Absolutely! Everything from providing enough income and space for my family and I to grow and live comfortably, to the newfound emotional support and presence I need to have as a father. Am I ready for my wife and child to lean on me?

Performance Fears
Not that kind of performance! The article quotes the performance anxiety many of us encounter during major life events, such as concerto, graduations and baby deliveries. Good thing statistics say only 1 of 600 men passes out in the delivery room, and only because of air conditioning failure.

Paternity Fears
Not the baby’s daddy? The thought never crossed my mind and I can’t relate to this fear.

Mortality Fears
I plan to have a mid-life crisis, just like any middle-aged parent. Other than that, the prospect of having a child makes me feel younger and more alive, not the pending death sentence we all encounter at some point. Judaism does a great job of keeping the focus on the present moment, on the life cycle event at hand and respecting each aspect to the life cycle. Reminds me a lot of Harry Chapin’s “Cat’s in the Cradle.”

Fear for Your Partner or Child’s Heath
I couldn’t believe when I read that when our grandparents had children in the 1920s, the main cause of death for women under 50 was childbirth. Thank goodness, both baby and mommy are 100 percent healthy and doing well.

Relationship Fears
This actually began when we brought our puppy Rebbe home; for the first six months it was all about him, and he was all about her. Boy, did I feel like the third wheel like never before! Ashley and I agree that raising a child requires a partnership, so hopefully neither of us will encounter abandonment issues when the other is with the child, especially when shopping for the absolute cutest PJs to wear to bed.

Fears of “Women’s Medicine”
No, I didn’t make this category up, it’s for real. OBY/GYN may not be every man’s forte, but I refuse to let something I do not fully understand dissuade me from supporting my wife and doing everything in my power to learn and to feel comfortable at the appointments and classes.

As I prepare for the arrival of my newborn child, I have learned many lessons along the way. But I’ve learned an important lesson through these countless hours of research, classes and being by my pregnant wife’s side the last many months. In my pursuit to become the best prepared Jewish dad possible, I discovered that I already have all those qualities without having to search high and low for the wisdom of some far-away spiritual guru or “Fatherhood Expert.” I have surround myself with friends, family and a strong Jewish community that not only provides support to me and my wife, but also grants me access to countless generations of baby-raising wisdom. I was blessed that my parents provided me and my siblings with a rich, immersed Jewish experience from the moment we were born, helping to shape us to who we are today.

Fatherhood is something I have looked forward to since I was a young boy. I look forward to those precious moments when I am able to share and fully immerse myself in being a Jewish father to my child. I imagine myself reclining in my lounge chair, my child on my lap, reading Jewish stories (in Hebrew, if possible) and showing her the beauty and wonder of our religion and culture. I can picture myself showing my child how to welcome Shabbat, spell her name in Hebrew, and make tasty hamentashen. I will watch my child grow from newborn to adult in an instant, and can see in my mind all of the memories paved along the way. I only pray that I can lead my child down that path safely, happily, and Jewishly.

L’Chaim!

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18 More Reasons That I’m Finally an Adult

 Permanent link
03/13/2014

The Woes of Being an Introvert and Other Shenanigans photo

If there’s one thing my mother has taught me, than she wasn’t a very good mother because mothers should teach you more than one thing. Luckily she is a very good mother and I’ve learned a great deal of things. But that’s not the point of this. The point is that as an adult, if there’s one thing I know for sure, well then let me know what it is because I have no idea what it is.

The only thing I do truly know is that, despite my best efforts, it appears that I am an adult. I may have written something about it before. Hence the word “more” in the title indicating that previously I may have explained my understanding of being in adulthood, whether I like it or not. Perhaps you could even see those explanations by clicking here.

Now that you’ve seen those explanations by clicking there, like all the other good attractive Oy! readers, the following “more reasons” shall truly show why I realize that yes, I am still finally an adult. Enjoy.

1. Parts of my body are starting to hurt for absolutely no reason. What’s scary is I didn’t realize I had those parts of my body.

2. When it’s bad weather out and I know friends or loved ones are going to be forced to drive in it, I become a Nervous Nelly. Or perhaps … an Anxious Adam. Heh heh.

3. I feel guilty about not coming home for the big holidays like Passover and Rosh Hashanah. Not because I’d miss out on seeing my family, but because I’d miss out on the chance to take home a week’s worth of free leftovers.

4. I’m able to reference things that happened a decade ago because there are now significant things in my life that have happened a decade ago and I don’t like the fact that I can so freely use the phrase a decade ago.

5. It’s tough when I get a haircut because my go to conversation starter of “So, what do you do?” doesn’t work there.

6. As an adult, when it comes to eating candy, I now always eat as much as I want because, well, I only live once. #rolo

7. I can now successfully argue with my parents and win because I am legally allowed to use the phrase, “Because I said so” as a debate tactic.

8. I’ve finally figured out what I want to do with my life. Nothing. Nothing sounds fantastic. Just have to figure out how to do nothing and get paid.

9. I’ve started to try and predict what I’ll die from. I’m assuming the mostly likely cause will be a bad case of death. Bah-dum … I’m so sorry.

10. I started to floss. For my heart health. Because that’s a thing.

11. I have a strong opinion on a lot of things, but the older I get, the harder it is to have a firm stand against gravity.

12. I’ve finally gotten in shape because I’ve accepted “amorphous” as a shape.

13. I’ve come to the full understanding that pants, while being of the utmost necessity in public, are the greatest nuisance in private.

14. Every night, my only hope is that I’ll be able to sleep through my insomnia.

15. I get mad at people for not at least trying new foods. I’m looking at you Trudy Miller, (my sister) who is currently studying abroad in Israel and refuses to try hummus. What is wrong with you!? It’s hummus! In Israel! You can’t get better than that!

16. This winter I succumbed to buying thermal underwear. The reasons being that I live in Chicago, it’s cold for six months of the year and they were all out of thermal onesies.

17. The toughest part about observing Passover has become that I’m not supposed to have beer because beer is essentially “liquid bread” and even if they invented a “liquid matzo” that would be the worst thing that has ever existed.

18. I have officially enrolled in my first 401k. However, I think I'm screwed; I haven’t even done a 5k.

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Purim Treats

 Permanent link
03/12/2014

Purim Treats photo

I have fun and delicious recipes to help you celebrate Purim and fulfill the mitzvot. My brittle with delicious pistachios and sea salt makes a fun gift or treat for your mishloach manot (Purim baskets) or your own celebration.

The drinks can also help you in your effort to fulfill the mitzvah of becoming completely blotto.

White Chocolate-Pistachio and Sea Salt Brittle

This brittle has everything I like: crunch, salt, decadent pistachios and sweet white chocolate.

My brittle has the fragrant addition of vanilla beans. I add the pods to the mix while the sugar is caramelizing to ensure a stylish and aromatic confection.

I also never use high fructose corn syrup. I prefer to use agave or honey. These sweeteners are tasty and a better choice, and since you are making this brittle for friends and family, go with the healthier option!

2 cups sugar
1/2 cup water
2 vanilla beans, scraped
1 stick unsalted butter
1/3 cup Agave syrup or honey
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
12 ounces shelled pistachios
Fleur de sel or crushed Maldon sea salt
8 ounces white Chocolate, chopped
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and lightly

1. In a large saucepan, combine the sugar, water, scraped vanilla and pods, butter and agave and bring to a boil.

2. Cook over moderately high heat, stirring occasionally, until the caramel is deep amber and has the very first hints of a lightly burnt aroma (about 10 minutes).

3. Remove from the heat. With tongs, remove the vanilla pods and then carefully stir in the baking soda. The mixture will bubble. Stir in the pistachios, then immediately scrape the brittle onto the lined baking sheet.

4. Spray a sheet of parchment with oil or lightly grease with butter. Lay the parchment on top of the brittle and using a rolling pin, gently roll the brittle to an even thickness. DON’T TOUCH IT! It is HOT!

5. Sprinkle lightly with salt. Let cool completely, about 30 minutes. Break the brittle into large shards.

6. Melt the chocolate in a double boiler and dip the cooled brittle into the chocolate. Transfer the brittle to a parchment lined pan and allow the chocolate to harden.

Mitzvah Mind Meld

8 ounces gin
8 tablespoons fresh lime juice (from about 4 limes)
1/2 cup thinly sliced Persian or Kirby cucumber, scrubbed but not peeled
Tonic water
Lime wheels, for garnish

Fill four glasses halfway with ice. In a cocktail shaker, combine gin, lime juice, cucumber slices, and a small amount of ice. Shake vigorously for 1-2 minutes, and pour into ice-filled glasses, making sure cucumber slices are evenly distributed.  Top with tonic water; garnish with lime wheels.

Bloody Haman

24 ounces tomato juice
8 ounces vodka
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons hot pepper sauce
1 tablespoon olive or pickle brine
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon celery salt
1 teaspoon fresh cracked black pepper
2 teaspoons prepared horseradish
Garnish: celery stalks, dill pickle, green olives, wedge lemon or lime

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People of and in the book

 Permanent link
03/11/2014

People of and in the book photo

I know, I know it’s not kosher to review books before you’ve finished them, but when you’re too angry to keep going, that’s sort of a review in itself, right?

Let me back up. I always get excited when I find Jews in fiction and media. Part of me thinks this is because I grew up in a small college town with a vibrant but small Jewish community, mostly university faculty and a rotating cast of students. Even moving to Chicago didn’t take away that pleasant moment of surprise when you realize someone is Jewish too.

The next best feeling is realizing that a character in a book or a film or a show is Jewish too. When a story in your favorite genre (fantasy) features a whole culture that’s an explicit analog of medieval Spanish Jews? I did a little dance when I found out about Guy Gavriel Kay’s The Lions of Al-Rassan, I won’t lie.

Kay, who is Jewish, published Lions in 1995, just before Game of Thrones was first released, but readers may recognize some of the same nation-jostling and king-killing in Al-Rassan, which is based on Moorish Spain and populated by three major religions. The Jaddites resemble Christians, the Asharites mirror Muslims and the Kindath are clearly Jews. The Kindath are wanderers, frequently persecuted, occasionally allowed to flourish and happily slaughtered when other people get unhappy.

There’s more to the story than that, but the point at which I stopped, about three-quarters of the way through the book, depicted the beginnings of a massacre. I was exhausted by it. I was done. And even though this novel borrowed from and transformed real history, I was tired of it. I don’t want more stories about Jews as victims and only victims, no matter how learned or talented or valuable they are when tolerated by the wider culture. I don’t want that to be our
inevitable story.

This is the fear that dogs me as soon as I realize characters in books or films or shows are Jewish. Will they be the plucky/tragic survivors whose suffering gives meaning to non-Jewish characters (nowhere more egregiously than for Spielberg’s Oskar Schindler)? Will they be neurotic man-children, a la Woody Allen? Will they be high-maintenance suburban princesses or sexy, ruthless Israeli soldiers? Will they even be from anywhere other than New York?

The stereotypes are insidious, even if you think you’re aware of them. Once upon a time, when I was taking improv classes, I made up a character with a nasal accent who tried to solve everything by pushing bagels on my scene partner. After, I felt ashamed, and I tried to figure out why I’d done it. I think it was because I believed I could get a laugh, that everyone knew that caricature and enjoyed it.

That isn’t the Jewish community that I know. I’m grateful for the Jewish characters who are as vibrant and diverse as the people I love, and for the creators who are working to do more. For my next read I have People of the Book, a Jewish sci-fi anthology, which should be interesting. Author G. Willow Wilson wrote the fascinating Alif the Unseen about a universe much like ours that operates according to Islam and Islamic mythology; I would very much like to see a Jewish book like that.

I don’t want to imply that we should smooth over or ignore our own history. Suffering is, of course, very much a part of the Jewish experience, and we should honor that. But just yesterday I learned about Qalonymos ben Qalonymos, a writer born in Arles, France, in the 13th century. “On Becoming a Woman” (in the original Hebrew, with translation) is a stunning poem written in 1322, and I find it somewhere between unlikely to impossible that it’s not speaking from the perspective of a transgender woman. In Provence, in the 1300s! We have this! How am I only hearing of it now?

We have so many tales to tell and people to be. I look forward to the new and wonderful ways in which we’ll do it.

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Brave

 Permanent link
03/10/2014

“Brave,” a song sung by Sara Bareilles, has been getting lots of airtime on my iPod these days. The song just lifts me up.

And it begs to be played loud. “Say what you wanna say and let the words fall out,” she sings. “Honestly, I wanna see you be brave…maybe one of these days you can let the light in.”

Written by Bareilles and Jack Antonoff, “Brave” was inspired by Bareilles’ close friend coming out of the closet, and it’s also become an anthem for patients battling life-threatening illness. (Check out the online video of Joshua, a 4-year-old cancer patient, singing the tune alongside Bareilles.)

But the song has a broader message for all of us, no matter what struggle we’re facing in the moment.

There’s no quality I admire more than courage, possessing the chutzpah to stand up for what you believe in, no matter how much external forces and momentum try to sway you otherwise. I think of the times I’ve tried to muster my own courage—where I’ve made the tougher choice, or stood up for what wasn’t necessarily popular. It’s in those instances where I’ve grown the most, morphed into a stronger version of me.

This month, we’ll observe Purim, one of the most joyous holidays on the Jewish calendar. The story, told in the Book of Esther, celebrates the courage of Queen Esther risking her life by telling the king about Haman’s plot to kill the Jews of Persia.

Throughout modern Jewish history, we’ve witnessed the courage of Jews taking big risks in the face of peril—people like Golda Meir, Elie Wiesel, and Natan Sharansky.

Hannah Szenesh, too, defined courage. One of 37 Jewish paratroopers from Mandatory Palestine, she rescued Hungarian Jews during World War II. She was later arrested at the Hungarian border, imprisoned, tortured, and then tried and executed for refusing to surrender details of her mission. Szenes, who wrote beautiful poetry during her lifetime, is regarded as a national hero in Israel.

Courage is all around us. Heroes in uniform—police officers, firefighters, and men and women serving in the military who protect our freedoms here and in Israel—run toward danger every day when everyone else is running away from it.

Jeff Peretz is a man of courage, but he’d probably disagree. Shortly after 9/11, I interviewed Peretz, a Jewish firefighter from Chicago’s West Side. After the planes hit the towers, he and nine other Chicago firefighters used their vacation time to help the victims. They drove caravan-style through the night from Chicago to New York. At Ground Zero, they used heavy machinery to lift debris from the site, and they also attended funerals—five a day—for fallen police officers and soldiers. I asked Peretz at the time if he considered himself a hero. “No,” he said, brushing off the question. “It’s my job. They would do it for us if it were the other way around.”

Sometimes courage wears no uniform. Malala Yousafzai, a Pakistani girl, was 15 when she was shot in the head by the Taliban for refusing to be silenced about her right—and all girls’ right—to an education. Malala, as she’s known around the world, has become a symbol of peaceful protest, the youngest nominee ever for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Little kids can show big courage. Take 11-year-old Tommy Cooney, of Massachusetts. He discovered his 6-year-old friend, Danny Keefe, who suffers from a speech impediment due to a brain hemorrhage, was getting picked on by other kids because Keefe prefers to wear a suit and tie to school. To make his younger friend feel less alone, Cooney decided to dress in a suit and tie too, and encouraged other kids to wear fancy threads to school.

Be brave. In small ways. In big ways. Never let fear stop you from standing up for the things you believe in, the things you want to do, the things you know to be right. They won’t seem as scary after you do them.

Let the light in.

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My 5 Favorite Health Tips

 Permanent link
03/05/2014

Ron Krit photo 2014

Everything is in fives these days: 5 top ways to burn calories, 5 best exercises, 5 healthy desserts … I’m not sure if it’s because of our short attention spans, or writers are getting lazy. Maybe the same marketer that said Power Point slides should only have three bullet points said fitness information is best in groups of five. I will play along with that new rule, and give five of my favorite health tips.

1. Pushup Holds
Some trainers refer to planks as holding yourself up in the pushup position; I think of planks as something you do on your forearms. Anyway, I love this simple exercise. If you have trouble doing pushups this is a great way to get stronger. This exercise helps your shoulders, chest, back, hips and core. With no equipment, you can hold this position for 30 seconds to a minute and really feel it. If you have any wrist pain, you may want to skip this exercise and do it on your forearms instead. The perfect form is head straight, hands underneath your shoulders (many people go to wide) and feet straight back. Don’t let your hips drop.

2. Cottage Cheese
I know some people think it’s gross, but I am a huge fan of cottage cheese. I buy the 4-percent fat, which tastes the best and usually has the lowest amount of sodium and sugar. This is a great post-workout food to eat because of the high protein content and the fat also keeps you full longer.

3. Goblet squats
I love this exercise! This is a great way to hit quads, butt, and stomach without a lot of pressure on your spine. Of course if you have any pain with this or any other exercise I’ve listed, do not do it. I recommend doing three sets of this during your leg workouts, 10-15 reps with a weight that’s challenging but still allows you to complete 10 reps. Check out this video for a simple demonstration.

4. LEGS
I hear this all the time, “I do cardio, don’t have to exercise my legs.” Yes, you do. I’m not suggesting squatting heavy weights or joining a bar class where you squat a million times, but you need to work on your legs. Weight training with your legs releases the greatest amount of growth hormone compared to any other part of your body. Often times, a stronger butt can help with back, knee, or hip pain. It’s important to have great form when exercising any muscle group but especially the legs. Email me or work with a trainer to make sure your form is right.

5. Cook
If you follow me on twitter @fitwithkrit or other social media outlets, you see that I cook a lot. I do this for two reasons: I love to cook and it allows me to control what goes in my food.  I can go easy on the salt, sugar, pick leaner cuts of meat, add extra veggies, and season with my favorite flavors. Additionally, it saves some money.

What are your health favorite tricks and tips? Send them my way at rkrit@fitwithkrit.com or post below for others to see.

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My Oscars Recap: A Personal Selfie

 Permanent link
03/04/2014

My Oscars Recap: A Personal Selfie photo

This year, I failed at the Oscars. I failed at the Oscars because I didn’t watch them. I didn’t even write about them, something I’ve done extensively for the last four ceremonies on my blog, moviemusereviews.com. This year, however, I did nothing. The Oscars were the red carpet/stairs and I was Jennifer Lawrence, only no one saw me fall.

Even that bad joke is really a 2013 Oscars recap joke, that’s how bad it is, and as much as I want to shake my blunder off like it’s nothing, I just can’t seem to let it go.

Ok, that was a 2014 Oscars joke. (I said I didn’t watch them – I didn’t say I had no idea what was going on.) But even though I knew who and what films were nominated and could swear to you that almost 100 percent of my mental Oscar predictions came true (saw the Gravity sweep with a loss in Best Picture to 12 Years a Slave coming for miles), I felt out of touch, like someone should try revoking my cinephile license.

I was in Houston Sunday night, staying with some wonderful friends who moved there from Chicago a couple summers ago. I intended to be home for the Oscars, but flights are cheaper on Monday mornings. Although my friends don’t have TV, our plan was to stream the ceremony, which ABC offered for the first time this year, but when the time came, it wasn’t working. We tried again and again, but eventually we gave up. So we spent more quality time together instead, which I treasured, but the movie nerd part of me was crushed; I essentially ignored his annual birthday party.

I also acted like I didn’t so much as care his birthday was coming up. For the years prior to this one, I would start preparing for the Oscars Dec. 1 by following the awards season buzz like a hawk, studying up to make Oscar nomination predictions. After the nominees were announced in January, I’d spend the weeks leading up to the ceremony analyzing every single category (even best documentary, short subject, despite not seeing any of the nominees) on my blog and predicting the winners. By Oscar Sunday, the suspense would boil over, and I would be glued to the screen. After analyzing the show the next day, I would sigh in relief that it was over and do the whole thing again 9 months later.

And I did it all for fun. I did it for free. I did it because I loved it. Just as I did with everything else on my blog, and another website (or two) that I wrote and edited content for over the course of three years.

Then, last March, I got a full-time job with JUF and Oy!Chicago, a job that has nothing to do with movies (except when I write these blog posts). (In a cruel poetic twist of course, I received the call with the job offer while at a movie theater.)

It all went downhill from there for the movie nerd part of me. I struggled to see movies in theaters or at home, especially in a timely fashion, and some reviews took weeks to complete. I wrote no feature stories or fun movie content to supplement the reviews I did write. My movie mojo had disappeared.

Everyone has their Super Bowl. Everyone has something that not’s a value or a priority but a pure love: a sport, a hobby, an event, a holiday or even a second professional passion, which every so often comes to a boiling point. It’s a time when the world stops and we must stop anything from tampering with our little love affair; we want to completely lose ourselves to it. For some people, that’s the Oscars. For me, it’s the Oscars, the actual Super Bowl, my fantasy football draft, and a few other things. At times, however, for one reason or another, our lives interfere with and impede our Super Bowls, and that disappointment stings a little.

The real challenge, however, isn’t dealing with the pain of a missed Super Bowl. It’s not about forcing yourself to understand that this passion isn’t all that important in the grand scheme of things and that you should get over it. Rather, it’s being able to recognize that where you are, what you’re doing, or who you’re with, is totally worth missing a Super Bowl for.

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Interview with former MLBer Justin Wayne

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03/03/2014

As my congregants know I have a wall full of Jewish MLB rookie cards hanging in my office. A congregant walks into my office, looks at the hanging cards and says "hey, that's Justin." Of course, I immediately asked for his contact information and Justin was gracious enough to answer some questions. We spoke on the phone for a while and he has some great stories. Although his career in the majors was short, Justin had a lot of amazing baseball moments including meeting Sandy Koufax. Below is a little more about Stanford great and Jewish MLBer, Justin Wayne.

Interview with former MLBer Justin Wayne photox

Justin Wayne and Jewish baseball legend Sandy Koufax.

Tell us a little bit about yourself.
Born and raised in Honolulu, Hawaii. Both parents from New York, who moved out to the Islands before my brothers and I were born. We played every sport growing up, not focused specifically on baseball until late into high school. Along with going to the beach as often as possible when we were younger, our priority was academics and family. I have visited South Korea, Japan, Canada, Mexico, Nicaragua, many countries in the Caribbean, and all the states except Montana. My interests in school were always geography, math and sciences. I have been living in Florida since I finished college, and now that my brothers live in South Florida with me, it seems to be the place that I will stay. I will be getting married this fall and look forward to having little Jewish athletic scholars of my own.

What was it like growing up playing baseball in Hawaii? Was it harder to get noticed?
Baseball was very competitive in Hawaii. Many times we participated on travel teams during the summer and competed in the continental United States. These travel teams have showcased Hawaii’s talent since before I was around. In high school, we had scouts come to the islands to evaluate us just about every week of the baseball season. Some professional teams even had local scouts, including scouts that worked for the Major League Scouting Bureau, that were able to watch us develop even before high school.

What was your experience at Stanford like? When did you know it would lead to the MLB?
I was so lucky to be able to attend Stanford. Everything from the academics to the athletics is top notch, as well as the ability to meet and become friends with kids from all over the country. I probably realize it more now than while attending, but the campus might be the most beautiful in the whole country. Once I became familiar with the Stanford baseball team, I saw many of my teammates using the program as a stepping stool to a career in professional baseball. I would say sometime during my sophomore year I began to believe that I might also have the chance to follow that path that so many before me took: an opportunity to live out all of our childhood dreams and play in the Major Leagues.

You were drafted 5th overall by the Montreal Expos. What was that moment like?
Because we knew there was a good chance a team would be calling us that day, my roommates and I,
including my older brother who was in town, were all waiting in our apartment. When the phone rang, it was as if I had forgotten about all the hard work that had been put in up to that point. It seemed just too good to be true. I wanted to call everyone I knew and let them know that I had just been given the key to the candy store. Not a lot of time was given to celebrating, as we were in the middle of getting ready for school finals, and preparing to go the College World Series. It will surely be a day that I will never forget.

Eventually you were a key component in a blockbuster trade involving Carl Pavano and Cliff Floyd. What is it like to be traded at that level?
I was just getting back from the Double-A All Star game in 2002, and was caught completely by surprise. Mixed feelings quickly spread through my mind. Did I let my team down? Did they not think I was capable? Were they trying to get rid of me? But from the positive end, another team was so interested in me, that they must have seen me as a valuable asset and a player that would make a positive impact on their club. This was an exciting feeling. A new situation gave me new opportunities. Within two months of the trade, I made my first appearance with the Florida Marlins.

What was the moment like when you were finally called up to the Majors?
I was sitting in our Calgary locker room, which is where the Triple-A team was for the Florida Marlins, when I was given the news that I would be called up at the beginning of September. As soon as I was told that I would make my first start with the Big League club, I tried to contact every person I knew that would be able to make it to New York to watch me pitch against the Mets. With family in town as far away as Hawaii, I was a nervous wreck. But what I had learned was that you could channel the anxiety, nervousness, and unknown to your advantage. Except for not covering first base on a double play opportunity, that moment will be like none other in my life. It seemed like every second flew by with anticipation, but I have such a clear memory of everything that happened that day as if it was yesterday.

Looking back on your experience, did you learn any specific life lessons?
Life lessons happen every day of our lives, sometimes without us recognizing it until we are much older. With all competitive athletes in any competition, whether in the Major Leagues or not, you will always find some that will, and some that won’t. I am not talking about winning and losing, but of putting yourself out there and not knowing what the result will be, just that you did everything you could to succeed. There will always be someone bigger, someone stronger, someone more capable. But if nobody works harder than you, nobody studies more than you and prepares to do the best that you can do, then you will never have to live with regret. You will never have to worry about the unknown, because you maximize what you are capable of, and that is success. In the classroom, on the field, with relationships, with life.

What was your Jewish upbringing like? Was it fun having brothers who also were very talented baseball players?
Our Temple (Emanuel) in Hawaii was a lot of fun. We had about 9-10 students in each grade. Most of the kids we grew up with were not Jewish. From my high school, I think there were five Jewish students in my grade, out of 450. While my brothers each had their bar mitzvah in Hawaii, I had mine in Oceanside, N.Y. (with a cousin who was very close in age). This was a significant change, as they had about 50 kids per class at their Hebrew school. This, along with the fact my brothers and I were close in age, created a very close relationship between the three of us. The three musketeers if you will. And the yes, the competition between us was always high. Sometimes to the point we got in trouble for it.

What do you do these days?
I separated myself from baseball to give myself a chance to pursue other ideas. I am now working as a financial professional, dealing with protecting and creating wealth for my clients through a quantitative and holistic approach. This has a lot to do with what I have always been passionate about, which is numbers and economic trends. I also am a great uncle to my niece and nephew.

Anything else you want to tell the TGR fans?
There are not many things in life more exhilarating than to assimilate one’s self with a sport, team or
player. Being a fan of the game is something that you can never outgrow. I will never lose my passion and love for the game of baseball, even though my playing days are in the past. We just carry that with us and pass it down to the people we show it to.

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