OyChicago blog

My 2015 Fractured Fairy Tale

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My 2015 Fractured Fairy Tale photo

I was debating calling this article “My Country Western Song,” but since I do not have a dog or a pick-up truck, I thought this was more apropos. With 2014 ending on a high note, 2015 has been a little rough, but I think I finally learned an important lesson.

Last year was great; we added Joel to our family, and I will briefly gush that he is sweet, handsome and smiley and his big brother has handled the attention-sharing very well. We are extremely lucky, minus a few trips to urgent care and one visit to the emergency room.

This year, I became the hot mess of the family. One of those reasons is sleep deprivation.

Having a baby is an interesting study in how to deal with tiredness. I have no idea how my wife has dealt so well with it. In fact, I am going to make a sweeping generalization that moms handle lack of sleep way better than I do. Don’t get me wrong, my recent lack of sleep wasn’t what cut my index finger to the point of stitches (that was an emulsion blender), but I think it has played a role in other aspects of my recent klutziness.  

The real culprit in my 2015, however, has been my need for speed. Not the drug – moving quickly. I like to get things checked off my list, so I’m often in a race with no one in particular. I wonder if that’s why my three-year-old hates to come in second place or even tie. Anyway, both bosses (wife and JUF) have encouraged me to take my time, and I’m going to start trying very hard to apply that advice, especially after my latest speed-related incident.

I took a day off recently and used the opportunity to try accomplishing all my errands. I ventured to our favorite butcher, hit two other grocery stores, and visited the auto-mechanic. But then I got greedy. I thought I should return my sunglasses to the mall before picking up family at the airport. I had a cushion of at least 15 minutes, but convinced myself that I needed to run into the mall. Had I not been running, the stones I stepped on probably wouldn’t have turned my foot.

The tiny bone break that resulted requires a massive boot and four weeks to heal. I now have been called “Gimpy” and can no longer sneak up on anyone (not that I did that before, but it’s nice to have the option).

My take away from this tired, sliced-up, limping start to the year? Sometimes you need to run, but most of the time, walking is your best bet.


8 Jewish things Leonard Nimoy gave us

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8 Jewish things Leonard Nimoy gave us photo

Leonard Nimoy died in February, but the memorials continue. Nimoy embraced and celebrated his Jewish heritage publically, especially in his later years. Here are some of his most Jewish contributions to popular culture:

The Vulcan greeting was developed by Nimoy for his iconic role as Mr. Spock on the seminal Star Trek series. He based it on the gesture used by kohanim to bless Jewish congregations. It represents the Hebrew letter shin.  

This is Nimoy’s first book of art photographs. The subjects are Jewish women interacting with Jewish objects such as a tallit, tefillin and mikvah. Some would find it controversial to see women wearing these items, let alone that they are wearing little else.

American Jewish Music
This was a 13-episode, nationally broadcast radio series Nimoy narrated. It was produced by the Milken Archive, a library of Jewish musical recordings, many rare or unique. The series, initially produced with WFMT, included works by Kurt Weill and Leonard Bernstein, film scores, operas, cantorials, klezmer melodies, symphonies based on Jewish themes, Sephardi music, and songs from Yiddish theater.

Portrayals of Jews heroes
Nimoy read the words of one of the greatest Torah commentators in the documentary Rashi: A Light After the Dark Ages. He played Samuel the Prophet in a TV movie about King David. He played Mel Mermelstein, a Holocaust survivor who took Holocaust deniers to court and won in Never Forget. He read the words of Israel’s third leader, Levi Eshkol, in a documentary about Israel’s prime ministers. And he even played Morris Meyerson, aka Mr. Golda Meir, in A Woman Called Golda, opposite Ingrid Bergman.

Narrations of Jewish documentaries
Nimoy was a go-to voice-over actor and interview subject for Jewish topics, including American Hasidism, American synagogues, Chinese congregations and even “Hava Negila.”

Nimoy hosted the 1977-1982 show In Search Of…, which later inspired the History Channel’s less-than-historical focus. The show delved into such topics as aliens, ghosts and Bigfoot. 

Nimoy’s co-stars and directors were often Jewish. On Star Trek, there were William “Kirk” Shatner and Walter “Chekov” Koenig. Fringe was created by J.J. Abrams, who later directed the Star Trek reboot films. The Transformers movies (for which Nimoy voiced different robots) were directed by Michael Bay. He appeared with Don Adams in the Mel Brooks show Get Smart, and on the Western show Bonanza with Lorne Greene and Michael Landon. He directed Steve Guttenberg in Three Men and a Baby. And Nimoy was a friend of Suzanna Hoffs’ family, which is how he ended up in a video for her ’80s band, The Bangles. Nimoy even took over as star of Mission: Impossible for Martin Landau… the man who was originally offered the role of Spock! 

A sense of humor
In a Simpsons episode, Krusty the Klown— born Herschel Shmoikel Pinchas Yerucham Krustofski— almost leaps to his death from a speeding monorail. Leonard Nimoy (or, more accurately, his cartoon self) grabs Krusty and pulls him to safety, declaring: “No! The world needs laughter!” Nimoy’s non-cartoon self agreed, roasting William Shatner and being interviewed by one of the Muppets’ Pigs in Space, Dr. Strangepork. He also spoofed his Spock character on Futurama and The Big Bang Theory. Most recently, he starred in a rather self-effacing video to Bruno Mars’ “The Lazy Song.”

Along with Barbara Streisand, Mel Brooks, Joan Rivers, Jackie Mason, Neil Diamond, Woody Allen, and a precious few others of his generation, Leonard Nimoy was one of the most proudly open and openly proud Jews in entertainment. 

As they say in Vulcan, “kol hakavod!


Lessons from Trains

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two trains

I took the two photographs above while walking on the “Bloomingdale Trail” in Chicago. This unused three miles of elevated railroad track and footpath is slated to become a park and trail system connecting four neighborhoods by summer of 2016 and has been renamed the 606.

In June 2013 I spent five days with my son and two friends running a small urban adventure day camp. One of our adventures involved walking the “Bloomingdale.” It was so cool to be walking 16 feet above street level and getting a very unique perspective of Chicago. We walked over and next to parks, streets, schools, old factory buildings, and residential areas for about 30 minutes. On a second trip there a few days later, we walked the entire stretch of from beginning to end and back again. It was on this excursion that we found the two abandoned trains. They had been left there and over the years had become part of the urban landscape; I had wanted to walk the entire Bloomingdale Trail prior to its reconstructive surgery.

These abandoned tracks made by joggers and bicyclists will lose some of their character when the city of Chicago transforms them into park area and trails. As I looked at and examined the these two sets of train cars, I reflected on how they, at one time, served a purpose holding cargo of one type or another, but without an engine pulling them they were rendered non-functional. I thought about myself and how I have big grand ideas and projects in my mind, but if they are not “attached” to an action plan or any measurable movement, then they are just plans, sitting abandoned on a railroad track.

Learning from our surroundings (people, places, and things) is key for those who try to invest time in working on themselves. This is what I was doing with the train cars. As I walked back to my entry point (which involved climbing through a cut out passageway in a fence, climbing up a man-made ladder, climbing over another fence, and then jumping onto a garbage can) I was reminded of a something  taught by ethicist, Rabbi Israel Salanter.

When he first observed the railroad system he was able to extract three important lessons: If you come late, you will miss the train; if the train jumps the rail, then all of the cars might overturn; and a person without a ticket cannot board the train.


Color Confusion

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the dress

No matter how hard I looked, I just couldn’t see any black and blue in that damn dress.

I know, I know. We’re all sick of hearing about the (white and gold!) viral sensation that took the web by storm. (All things considered, however, I did prefer this to photos of Kim Kardashian’s naked and glistening derriere, which apparently “broke” the internet last year.)

But hear me out: besides being a head-scratching conundrum that inspired millions of quasi-hysterical emails and re-shares, there is something genuinely puzzling about this singular image. How can color, of all things, be a topic so disputed?

I dipped into a little research to see why this could happen. As it turns out, the things we see right before our very eyes are by no means undebatable.

Confused yet?

Take Homer, for instance – the poet, not the Simpsons character. For him, the issue of color truly was black and white – and I mean that literally. He only saw black and white, with a splash of red here and there, maybe a hint of green if he really strained his eyes. Of course, we have no way for sure of knowing what exactly the ancient poet saw as he scanned the Greek landscape, but judging by his writing,  it’s very likely that he lived in a world that, at least to him, appeared rather colorless.

Homer is not alone, either. In most ancient texts, whether it be the Vedas or our very own Torah, color references aren’t as obvious as we might expect. Most interestingly, despite biblical texts’ innumerable references to the sky and the heavens, the color blue is not mentioned once. Never.

Blue is, in fact, humanity’s most modern color.

But the sky is blue. Isn’t it obvious? Yet, hundreds of years ago, this may have not been obvious at all. The color blue might have been there, but we humans were just unable to process, or even notice, it. It’s quite possible that, without a word or concept for blue, humanity might have just seen a colorless nothing as they gazed into the expansive mass of the sky. 

This begs the question: How many other things are so obviously right in front of us, but we’re just unable to notice?

Take another example. About 150 years ago, a single terrifying thought kept hundreds of people awake at night, shivering nervously under their wool blankets and clutching to their loved ones. It was the overwhelming fear of being buried alive.

That might make sense for a couple extremely paranoid or naturally anxious individuals, but masses of people?

This was because back then, doctors didn’t have the medical prowess to differentiate between when someone had died or, say, simply lapsed into a coma, or drifted into unconsciousness, or suffered an epileptic attack. So the fear of being buried alive was actually quite legitimate. And the heartbroken relatives, ridden with grief, had no idea that their cause of despair was something they could still change. The solution was right there — they were just unable to see it.

As William Safire, New York Times columnist and Romanian-descended Jew, quips, “Never assume the obvious is true.”

Today, new pictures of the dress are making their rounds across the internet. Indeed, the dress is blue. But whenever I look back at that initial image, no matter how much I squint my eyes or print it out and turn it upside down, I always see gold. 

What else is out there that I’m missing?

(For more info: Radiolab: “Colors;”Memory Palace)  


Three Ways to Improve Your Relationships Right Now

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Three Ways to Improve Your Relationships Right Now photo

One of my goals at 100 Reasons to Win is to help professionals improve their relationships. Some of my clients are looking for true love; some have found it and want to work better with their partners; and others are just looking to navigate the tough conversations that they engage in with family, friends, and colleagues. 

No matter the purpose, I have found myself offering similar guidance to just about everyone as the foundation for sustaining good relationships.

1. Understand the nuances among different types of relationships. There are all different types of people in our lives and different protocol for how we interact with them. There are also actions that can be taken to improve each of those relationships. Understanding those nuances helps us to increase the value of each and every one of our relationships as we strive to deepen those connections. A good read on this topic is the Seven Levels of Intimacy by Matthew Kelly. Kelly offers a path to overcoming fears and strengthening bonds with others.

2. Speak the truth. This doesn't necessarily mean you must tell everyone, everything all of the time, but it does mean that sharing a piece of how you feel or what you think about a situation breaks the ice and brings a certain authenticity. It can be as simple as having the courage to calmly tell a colleague, “I feel nervous about this event tonight, so I am glad you are here to help.” Sometimes this involves admitting when you were wrong and/or asking for forgiveness when you have wronged another.

3. Compare your similarities. When you meet or speak with someone, ask yourself not what is different between you and the other person, but what is the same. A very important coach and mentor once shared that with me and it has made a huge difference in my ability to prevent and/or resolve conflict. The idea is that when you try to figure out what's different, you are really asking, “What should I fear about this person?” This fear inevitably sets you up to be in conflict. On the other hand, when you try to look for what is the same, then you are asking, “What should I love about this person?” This love sets us up to cooperate with that person.

We interact with people all day long and every person is a part of another relationship for us. Understanding the foundation for what makes relationships a success is an important skill. Like any skill, it comes more naturally to some more than others, but it can be learned, and with practice, improved.

By the way, the best relationship to start practicing with is the one that you have with yourself.


Dating Advice from a Nice Jewish Girl

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Dating Advice from a Nice Jewish Girl photo

As a 24-year-old single lady, the world of dating is a 180-degree difference from when my parents were single and mingling. My mom was always being courted and my dad was taking women out on proper dates. You know your parents are way out of the loop when your dad’s dating advice includes going to Studio Paris Nightclub at 9:00 p.m. (For those of you who have not been to Studio Paris, the nightclub crowd doesn’t arrive until at least midnight.) His thought process is that respectable men who want to meet respectable women are out earlier. I’ve accepted that for me, meeting a quality guy probably won’t happen at a Lincoln Park bar or a River North nightclub.

Last summer I came across an article in JUF News that discussed the book How to Woo a Jew: The Modern Jewish Guide to Dating and Mating by Tamar Caspi. Although I’m happy being single, a part of me is looking forward to the day I meet my dream guy. So, I decided to read the book, which I suggest you do, too. The book puts dating in perspective.

We work hard to get into highly regarded universities and rewarding jobs. We nurture our relationships with our families and friends, but we don’t put that effort into finding a life-long companion. I applied every piece of advice from the book into my life, but I learned from experience that certain aspects of the book weren’t working for me. I’ve learned what has and hasn’t been working for me while dating and wanted to share my thoughts with you:

Make a non-negotiable list

Set high yet reasonable expectations

Make a list of traits you desire in your future companion. In the future, do you want a Jewish partner? Do you want to have similar passions like jogging? I keep my list handy in my iPhone’s Notes application so that I can add traits at any time. I learned from Caspi that creating this list reminds of us of our true desires instead of being tempted by a seemingly nicer present option.


Date to learn what you like

What better way to learn the traits you want in a partner than by going on as many dates as you can? By going on dates with numerous potential partners, you begin to learn the signs of a true mensch or meshugener. Dating can be fun, or one of the most dreadful encounters you’ll face. It’s all about perspective. My advice is to look at dates as a way for you to get to know someone and let them get to know you while enjoying delicious drinks and noshing on a yummy meal. You might realize this person is totally not meant for you or be surprised at what you have in common.

Go beyond those Dating Apps

Get out and meet people in the real world

Personally, I’d rather use resources that are going to enhance my dating experience. We all know someone who met their significant other on Hinge or one of those dating apps, so we start believing the same will happen to us—and maybe it could. I’ve gone on a handful of dates through these dating apps, but I didn’t have much in common with my dates because the apps only show the surface level of its users.

Caspi advises subscribing to online dating resources such as JDate. As someone who subscribed to JDate for about six months, I went on only three dates with the same person until I realized we weren’t right for each other. Personally, I wasn’t profiting from the investment of money and time to produce my profile.

In addition to your dating apps and online profiles, my advice is to join organizations and group activities to meet more people who share your interests (I have to admit that was my dad’s advice to me. I guess he’s not totally out of the loop.) One way to meet eligible singles is by joining LEADS, a program created by JUF’s Young Leadership Division, which is great for creating relationships in a relaxed social setting.

I know the game of dating can be difficult to navigate and rules are always being added and subtracted, but I hope my advice can help you think through what is best for you.

Happy dating!


The Egg Magician

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The Egg Magician photo-2

I recently poached eggs – successfully. I’m honestly not sure I’ve ever been more proud of anything; which probably means that I should find a more thrilling life.

Poaching eggs has been on my to-do list for a while, but I haven’t attempted them because I’ve been too afraid. They’ve always sounded like a difficult science experiment that I wasn’t sure I was strong enough to tackle.

When you think about it, though, they are kind of magical. How else are you supposed to describe cooking eggs in water? Then again, they can’t be that difficult to achieve since a poached egg of some sort is on every brunch and breakfast menu. They can be found everywhere, and up until this week everywhere excluded my apartment. 

Maybe you’re like me and you’ve let the idea of failure scare you out of the kitchen. I started cooking mostly because I got tired of the same boring takeout in my neighborhood. Most of the time I’m not very confident in the kitchen, but I’m learning to bite my tongue and go for it. I am slowly checking seemingly difficult cooking projects off of my to-do list. Originally I was hoping that would make me a better and braver cook; what I’m finding is that it’s making me a better and braver person. 

I can’t think of a better metaphor for life. Cookbooks are as readily available as any other book. They’re full of instructions – you just have to be able to read and try to do what they ask. The key word here is try. If you mess up, so what. Try again. If I’ve learned anything from my kitchen experiment, it’s that trying something new is absolutely worth it and when it does work out you feel like a magician. What’s better than that?


My (Magical) Version of Eggs Florentine

There are a zillion steps to this recipe, but once you’ve done everything and assembled it you’ll feel like a champion.


12 tablespoons unsalted butter (1½ sticks)
4 large egg yolks
3 tablespoons lemon juice
1½ teaspoons salt
¾ teaspoon pepper
¾ teaspoon cayenne pepper

Melt the butter in a small sauce pan. Place the egg yolks, lemon juice, 1½ teaspoons salt, ¾ teaspoon pepper and cayenne in the jar of a blender. Blend for 15 seconds. With the blender running, slowly pour the hot butter into the blender and blend for 30 seconds, until the sauce is thick. (You can leave it in the blender at room temperature for up to 1 hour. If it is made in advance, add 1 tablespoon hot tap water and blend for a few seconds before serving.)

Sautéed Spinach

1 tablespoon butter
1tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 small onion chopped
10 ounce package baby spinach
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat a large skillet. Melt the butter, and then add the olive oil and chopped onion. Cook until soft, about 3 minutes. Add the spinach and cook, stirring, until spinach is wilted. Season with salt and pepper and toss again. Serve warm.

Poached Eggs

Heat the water: Add enough water to come 1 inch up the side of a narrow, deep 2-quart saucier. Add 1 teaspoon kosher salt and 2 teaspoons white vinegar and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Meanwhile, crack 1 very fresh cold large egg into a custard cup or small ramekin. Use the handle of a spatula or spoon to quickly stir the water in one direction until it's all smoothly spinning around.

TIP: Use this whirlpool method when poaching a single serving (one or two eggs). For bigger batches, heat the water, salt and vinegar in a 12-inch nonstick skillet and do not stir.

Add the egg: Carefully drop the egg into the center of the whirlpool. The swirling water will help prevent the white from "feathering," or spreading out in the pan.

Let it poach: Turn off the heat, cover the pan and set your timer for 5 minutes. Don't peek, poke, stir or accost the egg in any way.

Lift it out: Remove the egg with a slotted spoon and serve immediately. Alternatively, move the egg to an ice bath and refrigerate up to 8 hours. Reheat in warm water just before serving.

Put it all together: Toast an English muffin and then top it with a bit of the spinach, top it with a poached egg and a bit of hollandaise sauce.


Bring on the Madness

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Bring on the Madness photo-2

One of my favorite times of year is finally here – March Madness. The good weather, the high stakes, and basketball on television nearly every minute of every day.

Now, I am by no means an NCAA aficionado; I don’t watch every minute of every regular season or even conference championship game. But since when does being an expert make you more qualified to pick winners when it comes to the NCAA tournament? Sure, there are trends to follow and hot players and teams heading into the tournament, but what truly makes March Madness great is its unpredictability – the “madness” if you will. It is one of the few sports bets you can make where the biggest college basketball fan has little advantage over the casual viewer. The thing I love about it is that no matter how much I know about any of the teams going in, I am going to become as emotionally invested as any other fan once that first game tips off.

I actually think I approach this with a bit of an advantage over someone rooting for their alma mater. My college doesn’t even have a team, so I go in completely unattached and open to jumping on and getting behind whoever I think is the most fun to watch. It is one of the few times for me when a loss doesn’t equal heartbreak. It’s like speed dating: I don’t have a life-mate, nor am I looking for one – I’m just going out looking to have fun.

With that said, let’s make some preliminary picks. These may not be the picks I stick with, but they are the ones I like right now after actually watching a good amount of college basketball this year and using a healthy mix of good, solid research and pure gut prediction. I’ll go region by region.

Midwest Region

I only see one real upset coming out of the Midwest, and that is 12th ranked Buffalo topping 5th ranked West Virginia in the first round. Aside from the history of upsets in the No. 5 vs. No. 12 portion of the bracket, I think there is a lot to like about Buffalo and they are a perfect underdog to get behind. This is their first trip to the tournament, coached by former NCAA star and NBA player Bobby Hurley. Their main weapon is big man Justin Moss, who nearly averaged a double-double this season. With a few notable injuries on West Virginia and a little Cinderella magic dust, I can see this 12 seed moving on. I like Notre Dame, but they struggle to get stops on the defensive end. Teams with stars typically have success in the tournament, and Maryland potentially has one in Melo Tremble. But this region starts with Kentucky, and I believe it ends with them. They are more than just hype – this is a team nobody wants to play. They have depth and were dominant all season long. Sure someone could always sneak up on them, but as of today, this is my team to come out of the Midwest.

East Region

I don’t see an obvious favorite coming out of this region. To me, the team to watch out for is Michigan Stage. Don’t be fooled by their seven seed. You can never count out a Tom Izzo-coached team, who will be coming in with a big chip on their shoulder as a result. I think they could get past two seed Virginia, but may have trouble with a team like Oklahoma. In fact, I’m going to take Oklahoma out of the East. They finished the season hot and have one of the best starting five in all of college basketball.

West Region

Now to the West where Big Ten champion Wisconsin holds the top seed, but I think Arkansas is the dark horse team to watch in this region. Arkansas can flat out score and are led by SEC player of the year Bobby Portis. Wisconsin is probably still the favorite and Arizona will be a tough out, but I am not buying Wisconsin. Bo Ryan has them right there every year and they are as fundamentally sound as a college basketball team can be. If the tournament were a “best-of-seven” scenario, Wisconsin might be my champion. But this tournament is about momentum as much as it is about skill and I see them being beaten on any given day by a team playing with more heart. I’m going to take Arizona out of the West because of how well they play against ranked teams.

South Region

The South has my true Cinderella team, Stephen F. Austin. SF Austin is a great offensive team who made noise in the tournament last year and I think have a favorable bracket to do it again. But to me this region comes down to whether or not Duke and Gonzaga are for real. Duke is a favorite every year and Jahlil Okafor may be the best player in the tournament. Gonzaga is one of the top teams every year, and this may be one of the best teams they’ve had in recent years, but the ‘Zags have a tendency to disappoint come tournament time. If either one of these teams come up with a letdown, look out for Iowa State in the South. I like them every year, probably because of my affinity for head coach Fred Hoiberg, but I also think they can shoot lights-out.

So, my Final Four looks like this: Kentucky, Arizona, Oklahoma, Iowa State. And my National Title game? Kentucky over Iowa State to win it all. Kentucky is just too skilled and too deep. They have everything that makes a championship team, and as much as I love to ride an underdog, I just don’t see them being upset on their road to becoming NCAA National Champions.


Travel in the USA

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I’ve recently learned that many of my friends — including my soon-to-be husband — have spent more time traveling abroad than within the United States. As kids, they spent summers and winter breaks exploring London, Paris, Peru, and Morocco, but have never been to Seattle or New Orleans.

As someone who, outside the U.S., has only ever traveled to Israel, Poland, Canada, and Mexico, I am in awe of these world travelers. I look forward to many years of exploring what our planet has to offer, near and far.

But for those of you who have the travel bug but haven’t yet visited the depths of the USA: What are you waiting for? Our country is beautiful, diverse, and full of history and culture. You don’t need a passport or a different kind of currency to go on wild adventures.

If you’re traveling domestically, then, here are my top 10 local destinations.

1. New Orleans, Louisiana. I love the feel of the culture here — it’s a little southern but also uniquely Cajun. There are musicians playing jazz in the streets, there’s a Voodoo Museum, the little shops are adorable, and even though I’ve sworn off of doughnuts, I’ll make an exception for the amazing beignets. Even after Hurricane Katrina, the culture is still strong, and it’s been so meaningful for me to help rebuild post-hurricane on my three trips there. 

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Eating beignets at Cafe Du Monde in New Orleans with Anne in February 2011

2. Sanibel Island, Florida. She may sell sea shells by the sea shore, but YOU can experience millions of the beautiful shells in sunny southern Florida. This quaint town is beautiful and romantic, known for its seashells and vacation atmosphere. 

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Picking seashells in Sanibel in February 2013 with Priya, Maham, Christie, Virginia, and Syema

3. Seattle, Washington. Seattle is a fun, hip town full of diverse neighborhoods and quirky things to see. And if you love rain, you’ll fit right in! There are food markets, a chocolate factory tour, amazing hikes, and a troll under a bridge. Plus, it’s a short ride to Vancouver, Canada — one of my favorite destinations outside of the U.S.! 

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Hanging out on the Fremont Troll in Seattle with Christie and Virginia in March 2012

4. Charleston, South Carolina. Charleston is probably the most unique city I’ve visited in this fine country of ours. It feels like you’re walking through a time capsule of the Civil War era, filled with southern mansions with gas lanterns and cobblestone streets with horse-drawn carriages. The locals love their city and are so excited to show it off to visitors. Plus, you can visit the oldest remaining Reform synagogue in the United States! 

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On a horse-drawn carriage tour of Charleston with Adam in December 2012

5. Sedona, Arizona. Beautiful multicolored mountains are the backdrop for this small, spiritual town in sunny Arizona. My friends and I loved hiking, horseback riding, and Jeep touring on the cactus-lined terrain. It’s known for spiritual vortices — and though I’m not sure we found deeper spiritual meaning, we sure loved the sun and the scenery. 

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Hiking in Sedona, Arizona with Priya and Virginia in December 2014

6. Saugatuck/Holland/South Haven, Michigan; and Indiana Dunes, Indiana. I listed a lot of cities here, but Adam and I visited these places all on one trip. The hiking in the Indiana Dunes was so beautiful (and full of many hills and stairs … my calf muscles still haven’t fully recovered), and I think we Chicagoans forget how close this gem really is. South Haven is an idyllic little town with great beaches, cute shops, and a beautiful lighthouse. Holland is like a little local piece of the Netherlands, complete with a windmill, a tulip festival, and wooden shoes. Saugatuck was lovely, an art lover’s dream, filled with art galleries, gift shops, and beautiful beaches. 

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Dune ride in Saugatuck with Adam in August 2013

7. Starved Rock and Matthiessen State Park, Illinois. Friends, you don’t even have to leave Illinois for a great getaway. The hiking and scenery in Starved Rock and Matthiessen State Park were fantastic — and oh so local! Many of us know of Starved Rock, but Matthiessen State Park is a lesser-known find, filled with beautiful waterfalls.

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Enjoying the waterfalls in Matthiessen State Park with Adam in May 2014 

8. Washington, D.C. I’ve often said that if I didn’t live in Chicago, I’d love to live in D.C. In addition to the thrill of being in the center of our nation’s government (I assume that any person who walks by in a suit is a member of Congress), I think the neighborhoods are great to explore and the vibe is so much fun. I just feel smart when I’m there. The museums are free, the food is great, and, let’s be real, any place that houses the Ruby Slippers is like home to me. 

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In front of the White House in Washington, D.C. with my friends from my Alternative Student Break trip in December 2008

9. New York, New York. Okay, okay, I’ll include New York on this list. It’s no Chicago, but it’s certainly an experience. The Broadway plays, the restaurants, the museums, the neighborhoods, the cupcakes, the studio tours, the Highline, the frozen hot chocolate — it is a fantastic place to visit. Plus, I recently visited Brooklyn, and it’s adorable — who knew?? 

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At the Carnegie Deli in New York with Adam, Dan, and Dori in November 2011

10. San Francisco, California. I loved visiting San Francisco, even for a short visit as part of my USY on Wheels teen tour (and somehow I forgot to wear some flowers in my hair). It feels straight out of the 1960s with hippies on Haight Ashbury, and I loved visiting the steep and curvy Lombard Street, plus Ghiradelli Square and Alcatraz. I definitely want to go back for a longer trip. 

Travel in the USA photo 10-2

My photos from my USY on Wheels trip in summer 2003 have not yet been digitized, but I did find this picture of our group from that summer — perhaps this photo was taken in San Francisco!  

Honorable mentions to Minneapolis, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, San Diego, San Antonio, Ft. Lauderdale, Birmingham, Breckenridge, Niagara Falls, Lake Geneva, Atlanta, Boston, and Madison, all of which I also enjoyed.

If you’re planning on visiting any of these places, I’d be happy to share my recommendations; and if you have ideas for other places that you loved in our great country, I can’t wait to visit them, too.

God Bless America! Play ball!


The bitter truth about horseradish

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The bitter truth about horseradish photo-2

We Jews love our food memories. We have our stand-by recipes that remind us of holidays, family, good times, and bad. And horseradish—maror in Hebrew—is one of those foods.

I can’t even look at the root vegetable without the familiar smell taking me to Passover. I can be standing in my kitchen at work, pulverizing the giant veggie in the middle of a hot summer day, and once I crack open the gnarly looking knob, I am back at the seder.

It is funny, because not many other foods do that for me. I can eat latkes all year round (and do!) and have occasionally snacked on an orphaned box of matzoh I found in a cabinet, months after the holiday. In desperate moments I have greedily gobbled stray gelt and never once thought of Chanukah.

But Horseradish is different. The pungent aroma is so unique and so—Pesadich!

Eating a bitter herb is an important part of the Seder.

There is a commandment in the Torah to eat bitter herbs during the seder together with the Paschal offering. Nowadays since we no longer bring a paschal offering, the commandment to eat maror during the seder is rabbinic in nature.

The reason that we eat the bitter herbs is to commemorate how the oppressive Egyptian slave-masters embittered the lives of the Jewish slaves in Egypt. According to the Talmud, there are different types of food that qualify as maror. The most common custom is to use romaine lettuce, but it is essential that the lettuce be pre-checked for any bugs. Others use grated horseradish and some people have the custom of using both. It is customary to dip the maror in the charoset (culinary bricks-and-mortar mixture) (and then to shake off the charoset) as an antiseptic to its pungent taste.

In addition to the requirement to eat the maror by itself, the maror is also an ingredient in the korech Hillel sandwich in commemoration of the practice at the time of the Temple to eat the matzoh and maror together with the paschal lamb as indicated in the verse “you shall eat it [the Paschal lamb] together.


Smoked salmon schmear

3 ounces Wild Alaskan Smoked Salmon, chopped finely
1 medium shallot, minced finely
1 tablespoon prepared horseradish
2 tablespoons mayonnaise (homemade or purchased)
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill
Freshly cracked pepper
Garnish: fresh dill, salmon roe, caviar, crème fraiche (for dairy preparations)

1. Combine all of the ingredients together in a food processor. Pulse several times until the mixture is combined, but still has some texture.

2. Dollop the schmear on latkes fresh out of frying pan and garnish as desired. Store the schmear, covered, in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.


Horseradish crusted standing beef roast

Serves 6-8

Something wonderful happens to horseradish when it is cooked. The pungent root vegetable so tearfully familiar during Pesach becomes sweet and savory once cooked and slathered all over gorgeous beef. The king of all meat cuts is a perfect celebratory gorgeous hunk of meat. It looks intimidating—but is actually really easy and can be done ahead of time and kept warm.

1 4-rib roast (about 9 pounds), cut from the small end or first cut with the chine bone cut off (ask your butcher to tie the bones on to the roast)
2 onions, coarsely chopped
2 red peppers, coarsely chopped
2 carrots, coarsely chopped
3 plum tomatoes, cut in half
4 tablespoons fresh cracked black pepper
6 tablespoons kosher salt
1 cup prepared white horseradish
2 bulbs of garlic, roasted and the soft garlic squeezed out
1 750 ml bottle dry red wine (I prefer Cabernet Sauvignon)
2 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade

Preheat oven to 450 degrees

1. Lay the rib roast, bone side down, in a large heavy duty roasting pan. Scatter the vegetables around the roast. These will be the base for wine sauce later.

2. Season the roast with salt and fresh cracked pepper. Mix the horseradish and roasted garlic together.

3. Generously smear the mixture over the rib roast. Place the prepared roast in the pre-heated oven and roast for 20 minutes. Lower the temperature of the oven to 325 and roast for an additional 60 minutes.

4. Insert a meat thermometer into the thickest part of the roast and when the temperature registers 115 (for rare-medium rare), remove the roast. Loosely tent the meat with foil and allow to rest for 20 minutes. This will allow the final temperature to be around 125-130. The internal temperature will continue to rise in a process called “carry-over” cooking.

5. Remove the meat and place the roasting pan over a burner at medium heat. Add the wine and gently scrape up any brown bits with a wooden spoon. Continue cooking until the wine has reduced by half. Strain out the vegetables and discard. Add the stock and continue cooking until the sauce has reduced and coats the back of a spoon. Adjust seasoning with salt and fresh cracked pepper.

6. Remove the bones and slice the meat. Serve on a platter with wine sauce and sautéed mushrooms if desired.

7. To hold the meat for Shabbat: Once the meat has reached the desired temperature, turn off the oven and remove the meat as in step 4. After the meat has rested and any carry over cooking is finished, return the meat back to the warm oven. Allow the door to stand slightly open and the meat will stay warm for another 30 minutes or more.


Purim vs. Halloween

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Purim vs. Halloween photo-2

My 5-year-old son, all dressed up in his finest Purim costume, looked up at me and said, “Abba, I love Purim! Let’s go do some more shalach manos!” He was referring to the special candies and treats that are given out amongst friends throughout the community on Purim day. 

He and his siblings along with all their friends prepared many days in advance, just like their parents were doing the same, to give out packaged treats to all their friends, neighbors and community. It is a special mitzvah on Purim called mishloach manot. I smiled and thought it was cute how he probably was perceiving the “agreed exchange.” Typical 5-year-old kid, right?

But then I remembered a beautiful teaching Rabbi Moshe Katz shared with us at our Purim event downtown. He asked the question we all have to ponder, “What’s the difference between Purim and Halloween?” They dress up, and we dress up. They get candy, and we get candy. Is it just that Halloween has a horror theme to it, and Purim has more of an ancient Persian royal banquet feel to it?

The answer he gave shed a beautiful light on the holiday; it also influenced my response to my son’s query. Rabbi Katz told the crowd of 60-plus young professionals gathering at JUF/JCC downtown to learn and celebrate the story of Purim, that the difference is profound and actually goes to the core of what it truly is to be a Jew.

You see, on Halloween children are taught to go around knocking on doors asking for candies and treats. They put in their efforts, and they reap the rewards. But on Purim, we teach our children to go around knocking on doors to give candies and treats. Despite the fact that we often receive in return, the true Purim experience dictated by our heritage going back over 2,500 years is to be giving on the day of Purim. That’s the Jewish “Halloween.”

Purim is a day of connecting with our friends, community and our heritage. Some even explain the age-old custom of costumes is to break down any barriers that may have been between us. Perhaps my neighbor and I are of a different socio-economic status, or perhaps we have nothing in common. Today, I dress up as a ‘50s rock star and he’s a green crayon. We walk around the neighborhood and the community sharing in our delight of being a part of the Jewish people. We send each other homemade goodies as we laugh and dance to our hearts content together, on par as comrades.

This is the message of Purim. It is the message of our Jewish people. And it was the message that I tried to convey to my son with his cute inquiry. I told him, “Enjoy your candies and treats, my son. They come from your friends who love and care about you. But remember, the most precious opportunity for you to be a part of on this day is the chance to show your friends how much you love and care about them!”

The Downtown Purim Experience was a project of Chicago YJP, a Division of the Lois & Wilfred CTN: Home of the Wondering Jew in partnership with JCC 20s & 30s. To receive periodical insights from Rabbi Moshe Katz, you can email him at RabbiKatz@TorahNetwork.org.


My Troubles with Eating Alone

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And Other Things That Shouldn’t Exist

My Troubles with Eating Alone photo-2

I’m terrible at feeding myself.

Not literally – when it comes to getting a forkful of food to my mouth, I’m actually over 98 percent accurate. What I mean is, in this life that could be considered adult, when I am tasked to eat a meal by myself, I constantly feel as if I’m failing quite spectacularly at it.

Now don’t get me wrong, there have been successful meals in the past. One you can actually read about here! That’s right, I wrote a whole Oy!Chicago piece about how I ate dinner successfully by myself one night. But what I’m really getting at is, for some reason, eating by myself seems to pose quite the multitude of troubles for me that really shouldn’t exist.

It all began in 19-aught-87, when I was born to wonderful parents, albeit bland-paletted ones. As I grew up, my mother was not one to cook much. I blame my father. That’s honestly not meant to be mean-spirited; let’s just say that for my dad, BBQ sauce is the most exotic thing he eats – as long as it’s normal BBQ sauce, which I think to him means McDonald’s BBQ sauce. Hence, my mom didn’t cook often, so we went to restaurants often; hence, as an adult, I am often at restaurants. Ironically, despite my lacka-taste-ical upbringing, I’ve actually developed quite the diverse palette myself, relative to my family of course. So a son or a brother, since that’s how I’m relative to my family … I’m so sorry.

The irony of going to restaurants on a more than regular basis is that my introversion would lead you to believe I wouldn’t want company. It’s not that I need company, but for whatever reason, I can’t just sit there and eat. Regardless of being at a restaurant, I need to either be watching something or have my mind focused elsewhere other than on the monotonous task of chewing my food. Therefore, because I get what I like to call “All By Myself Restaurant Anxiety,” I sometimes, like to play Eric Carmen’s “All By Myself” when eating, hence the title of the anxiety.

One major reason why I love all the big Jewish holidays is it gives me a reason to be around others conversing and having a spectacular meal. And while I love the leftovers that come with it, when I have to eat those leftovers alone it is just not the same. Not even close. At home, I pretty much have to be watching TV or something. It is the darndest thing and kids aren’t even saying it. I will literally plan my meals around a TV show or a sporting event which on occasion means I won’t eat dinner until roughly 9 p.m., or if I’m lucky, around softly 8:30.

When I don’t have plans to eat a meal with a companion, sometimes the struggle involves simply taking the time to eat. As a rational adult, I know that I need to eat or I will die. Not immediately of course, but pain will come via a rumbly in my tumbly if I don’t feed myself. Unfortunately, sometimes I get so hungry or as some like to say, hangry (hungry + angry) that I cease to have the ability to make any rational decisions. At that point I want to forgo any preparation time, so dinner sometimes becomes a bag of Flamin’ Hot Fritos and that weird flavored water that has been at the back of my fridge since I moved in three years ago.

I think the silliest struggle I have is the one with breakfast, the quote unquote most important meal of the day. I never eat it for the quote unquote exact reasons I’m supposed to eat it. It gets my metabolism going far too early and come lunchtime, I’m dealing with a whole different version of the Hunger Games. Yes, this paragraph was written just for that joke.

But here’s the thing, despite all these struggles, I manage to get through these spectacularly and honestly asinine troubles I have with dining by myself. Mostly because, and this is a whole different can of worms (I own about seven cans by the way), when eating alone at home, I don’t cook – I microwave. And with that microwaving, I have my fail-safe that has been my fail safe for the past two-plus decades: SpaghettiOs. Glorious, glorious SpaghettiOs.

I don’t think I’ll ever grow up.


On Tzedakah Boxes and Feline Philanthropy

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On Tzedakah Boxes and Feline Philanthropy photo

Growing up as a child I didn’t fully understand the concept of piggy banks.

As far as I could tell — based on the information amassed from countless viewings of Toy Story and the occasional Nickelodeon advertisement — piggy banks were strange, possibly animate creatures into which you put your unusually large coins. Later, when you wanted to retrieve that money, you either smashed or violated the piggy to get maybe $3 worth of change out of it. The whole thing seemed completely barbaric to me.

When my peers and I became old enough to receive an allowance and visits from the “Tooth Fairy” (sorry, Mom and Dad, you didn’t fool me for a second!) they kept their winnings in bright pink piggy banks, and I kept mine in a little box in my closet.

This choice greatly confused my friends, who would occasionally come to my house with piggy banks in tow so we could all count our money together in an entertaining ritual rather similar to sorting one’s candy on Halloween. The first time we met, no one mentioned my lack of a piggy bank. But the second time, Claudia asked, “Where’s your piggy bank, Jenna?”

Reveling in being contrary, I answered, “I don’t have one, I use this instead,” gesturing to my little box.

“So,” said Claudia, “what’s that?” pointing to an object on the shelf on the other side of the room. Looking up, I realized that she was pointing to our tzedakah box where we set aside money to donate each year.

“Oh,” I said, “that’s just our tzedakah box.”

To my surprise, my perfectly ordinary answer was met with blank stares.

“Don’t you have one at home?” I asked.

More blank stares.

Their silence led to wonder if maybe there was another name for tzedakah boxes that I didn’t know. My mom’s great-aunt called the freezer an “ice box,” so why couldn’t my friends have another name for this everyday household item too?

“You know,” I said, “a charity box. The place you put extra money to give to charity?”

They still had no idea what I was talking about.

It was then that I realized that tzedakah boxes were a distinctly Jewish thing and in fact not a staple in every American household. That realization made me kind of sad. I felt it was a shame that my non-Jewish friends didn’t get to drop coins in the slot of their tzedakah boxes and hear the “whoosh” and metallic “click” of money filling up the box. But then, looking back at the structure of their piggy banks, I realized that my friends did know the satisfying sensation of dropping money through the slot. The only difference was that the money saved in their piggy banks was for them, and the money we saved in our tzedakah box was for someone else.

From that day on, I looked at our tzedakah box with a heightened sense of responsibility. I began following my dad around the house and collecting the change that fell out of his pockets. I rooted through kitchen drawers for spare coins and dug through the washer and dryer too. By the end of that first year, I had helped collect over $25 in spare change — a mighty feat for an elementary school student. And the money went to the charity of my choice, the name and purpose of which I’ll admit I’ve forgotten. But every year since, my family has filled our tzedakah box and donated the money to a deserving cause, which I get to choose.

A few years ago, while counting the year’s savings, I decided to send our tzedakah to the JUF annual campaign. As we sorted the pennies from the nickels, my family and I discussed under whose name the donation would be made, since the three of us were already regular donors to JUF. But before we had the chance to make up our minds, the decision was made for us, for up onto the table jumped our cat, Callie, who then proceeded to roll around in the pile of change on the table. While this adorable — albeit passive aggressive — display was nothing more than a demand for attention, we decided that it was Callie’s way of telling us she wanted to become a regular donor at JUF, too. So we counted out the change and wrote a check to JUF from Callie Cohen for a grand total of $25.

Since then, Callie has become a regular donor of JUF, in fact, she’s come to take it quite seriously. Each year, without fail, Callie joins us on the dining room table to oversee the counting out of her annual gift. She no longer sits on (or rolls around in) her yearly donation, but sits beside the emptied tzedakah box with what seems to be a sort of feline pride.

You know you live in a delightfully Jew-y home when even the cat knows the importance of giving tzedakah.


Kicking breakfast up a notch—with matzoh!

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How do you make omelets and French toast even better than they already are? Matzoh, that’s how. I know that “matzoh” isn’t typically the answer to that kind of question because it’s dry and flavorless, but just go with me on this. Much like the fried tortillas in chilaquiles, matzoh has this way of turning regular old breakfast into something special, textured, and absolutely delicious.

And good news! Passover is coming, so matzoh is plentiful and on sale! What? You are gluten-free? Yup, I got you covered. Now all you need is to decide if you are in a sweet or a savory mood, because matzoh brei (fried matzoh) comes both ways. How switchy.

I grew up eating both versions, savory immediately followed by sweet, because dessert following breakfast is totally a thing and the only civilized way to eat. The classic savory version of matzoh brei has fried onions in it, but I also like to add a little garlic, some fresh herbs, and even a little cheese. What can I say? Gilding the lily is sort of my calling card. The classic sweet version is a lot like French toast, served with butter and syrup and powdered sugar on top. Though I wouldn’t say no to a tumble of fresh berries, some whipped cream, a drizzle of chocolate—I could go on all day!

Below are recipes for both sweet and savory matzoh brei. But by all means, do not limit yourself to my ingredient list. This can really be a “clean-out-the-fridge” meal where you toss in leftover grilled veggies or pesto from last night’s dinner, or scrape out the last spoonfulls of your peanut butter jar.

As long as you follow these five basic steps you can add pretty much anything to the mix and be happy about it. Chag Pesach Sameach!

Kicking breakfast up a notch—with matzoh! photo 2

The basic matzo brei technique in five steps:

1) Take out however many sheets of matzoh you might need. I typically use 2 sheets per person, but I like to over-feed people.

2) Crumble up the matzoh indiscriminately. You want some pretty large shards and some smaller pieces as well. Try to avoid making matzoh dust though.

3) Run some extremely hot water in your faucet. Once it’s hot, drown the matzoh for about 30 seconds, or until you feel it start to break down a bit. You don’t want it totally water-logged, but it should definitely be pretty soft.

4) Drain the matzoh of all the liquid. Completely. Literally press down on the matzo to squeeze out any remaining water.

5) Mix in 2 eggs per sheet of matzo, along with a few pinches of salt.

Kicking breakfast up a notch—with matzoh! photo 3

Boom. Now it’s time to get creative.

Sweet: Heat up a few tablespoons of butter in a large skillet. Pour in the matzoh and egg mixture over medium-high heat, and scramble it up just like you are making eggs. Once everything is nice and browned, plate it up and pour on your toppings of choice!

Kicking breakfast up a notch—with matzoh! photo 4

Savory: Thinly slice a medium-sized onion. Heat up a few tablespoons of butter in a large skillet with a little oil as well. (Pro tip: mixing butter with oil prevents the butter from burning at a high heat. The more you know). Add the onions to the skillet and cook them for about 10 minutes, or until the onions get super caramelized and brown and nom. Feel free to add in some fresh garlic or any other veggies you are into as well. You can also add some spices like garlic powder, dried herbs, chili powder, really anything your little heart desires. Just make sure you add a few big pinches of salt and black pepper. Pour in the matzoh and egg mixture over medium-high heat, and scramble it up just like you are making eggs. Once everything is nice and browned, you can add some cheese to melt in if you wish. Enjoy!

Kicking breakfast up a notch—with matzoh! photo 5

Stephanie Goldfarb, senior associate of teen initiatives at the Jewish United Fund, won the Food Network’s reality show ‘America’s Best Cook’ last year.


Love at first sight

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Love at first sight photo

I’m in love, and have been for a long time.

It’s a relationship filled with laughter, tears, intrigue, and surprise. It was love at first sight, back when I was a little girl—with an extra-terrestrial that longed to go home. 

From then on, that love has never wavered, and isn’t reserved for one, but for oh so many—Ferris Bueller, Annie Hall, Tootsie, Harry and Sally, Marty McFly, Atticus Finch, Danny Zuko, Yentl, that little dog Toto, Mrs. Doubtfire, and so many others.

Yes, I’m in love with the movies.

What’s better than settling into a crowded movie theater on opening weekend, the scent of $14 buttered popcorn wafting through the air, the larger-than-life screen, booming sound, and darkness enveloping us? Our daily worries melt away, and we’re swept into another world for 2-plus hours.

Sometimes movies are meant purely for escape, and other times their stories change the way we think about our own lives—our real-life dramas and comedies. At best, movies make us think, feel, connect, love, and even reach for greatness.  

Every winter—culminating with the Oscars—I cram in as many movie nominees as I can. In the last three months, I’ve watched a British mathematician break the Nazi code, witnessed peril through the eyes of a Navy SEAL sniper in Iraq, seen a boy blossom into a man over 12 actual years, marched on Selma, climbed inside the genius brain of Steven Hawking, hiked the Pacific Crest Trail, meandered “into the woods,” and more. 

We Jews, as a people, tend to love the movies, and we’re represented in so many interesting ways on film and behind the scenes.

In 2011, Tablet Magazine compiled its list of the top 100 Greatest Jewish films of all times. For the magazine’s staff to pick their favorites, they first asked themselves one crucial question: What the heck is a Jewish film? And since there’s really no formula for defining a “Jewish film,” they decided to think about their picks in terms of a broad definition of Jewishness— movies based on the identity of its creators, overarching Jewish themes, films that have a big influence on pop culture, and movies that simply possess a Jewish sensibility about them. Their list was eclectic, and included everything from The Jazz Singerto The Wedding Singer.

But their top choice for the best Jewish film might surprise you. They picked—drumroll please—E.T.the Extra-Terrestrial, the story of the little alien who made me fall in love with movies all those years ago.

Of course, the movie, one of the highest grossing films ever, was directed by one of our greatest Jewish filmmakers, Steven Spielberg. But there’s more to it: E.T.Tablet said, tells the story of a bewildered alien in a strange land, a metaphor for an immigrant’s tale. The film’s themes of home, love, family, friendship, and enchantment, according to the magazine, make it a beautiful choice for the quintessential Jewish movie.

Of course, any film school professor worth her salt would find it great food for thought to think about what makes a film Jewish or even what makes a decent film in general.

But the joy of movies, to me, doesn’t have to be proven like a mathematical equation. It’s really that je ne sais quoi quality that moves us to an almost transcendent place—that mystical, magical feeling that lingers with us long after the last frame ends.

No, we can’t always define what it is about movies that speak to us. All we know is—just like that sweet little Reese’s Pieces-eating alien—we love them.


When I’m Gone

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Annice Moses photo 2

A Rabbi once said that a person dies two deaths: The first is when you die; the second is when people stop remembering you.

On occasion, I like to play a terrible game. There are usually three scenarios and it goes something like this:

Scenario #1 - I am suddenly dead. My practical engineer husband, in an effort to appear “upbeat” for the children, never mentions me again. Why upset the kids, himself and his new trophy wife? It would be best not to burden the bunch with such unpleasantries.

Scenario #2 - I am suddenly dead. My husband Mike, in his paralyzing grief, tells no one I’ve died. Not even my friends on Facebook. No one attends my funeral.

Scenario #3 - I am suddenly dead. Mike alerts Facebook. Everyone and their mother attends the service. My ex-boyfriend reveals I was way more into him than he was into me. A girl named Wendy volunteers the story about how I peed on her in kindergarten. Someone farts loudly at the service. No one keeps to the two-minute rule.

My husband does not enjoy this game for a variety of reasons. (Well, duh. Add it to the list.)

This year I have a new “I’m suddenly dead” worry: what exactly is it that will be my “legacy” when I’m gone? How will my life be remembered?

My legacy with my kids will of course be inked with memories of my everyday perfection. They will fondly recall stories that equate me with Mother Teresa and most definitely name one of their children’s hamsters after me. But beyond my brainwashed offspring …?

This may seem very self-important, self-centered, grandiose … and maybe there is a tiny bit of ego in there, but truly, all ego aside (for the most part), I think we should all be thinking about this. How are we impacting the world? Are we making a difference? In other words, are we doing things that when we croak, our absence beyond the obligatory friends and family (assuming they like us) is felt and we are missed because of what we have authentically contributed to the greater good of humanity?

I believe we should all be missed in our communities and by communities outside of our own. Wherever we are and whoever we are, I believe we should be bringing something, doing something, adding something. I believe we owe it to the world to make it a little bit better since we have been given the incredible opportunity of living in it.

Maybe that’s where the answer lies. Instead of worrying about the long-term impact we will have made when we are gone – who will dedicate a plaque in our memory, who will make us a martyr as time erases the more human truths – maybe we need to be worrying more about who and what we are impacting while we are still here.

Because with all due respect to the Rabbi, I think it’s three deaths in a lifetime: 1) You die. 2) No one remembers you. And 3) While alive, you settle for complacency. Tikkun olam my friends! And you can put that on my headstone.


4 Tips for Fat Trimming

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4 Tips for Fat Trimming photo

Don’t get me wrong, we need fat. Fat stores energy; it is needed for growth, development, and function when there is a shortage of food supply. Fat also helps to keep you full. If you read the headlines, low-fat dieting is not a successful strategy for losing weight. I’m not telling you to eat burgers with bacon and cheese, but a little fat – namely more of the good fats – is good.

So if you want to shave off a little, here are four ways to do it without plastic surgery.

1. Eat more good fat

The low fat revolution started about 20 years ago, and obesity rates have exploded. Eat some fat – just don’t overdo it. There are even a group of people that eat high fat diets and lose weight, which is called a ketogenic diet. Then there are the paleo people who eat a ton of animal protein but little carbohydrates, and of course vegans, who eat zero animal products and claim their diet is the best.

The ketogenic diet was originally designed for children with epilepsy and has started to gain popularity with nutrition gurus. This diet is high in fat, moderate protein, and low in carbs. Bill Clinton switched from a vegan diet to a diet like this to lose more weight. I am not a nutritionist, but in my opinion, eating the following foods can help with feeling full and energized so you don’t snack from the office candy bowl:

Avocado (great smeared on toast)

Almonds, walnuts, cashews

Pumpkin, hemp, chia and sunflower seeds

2. Eat less sugar

This is a no-brainer: sugar is the enemy. Whether you drink soda, love candy, or are a choco-holic, eat less. I would never say to quit sweets. I have provided many tips in past blogs for enjoying sweets without overindulging, but here are some highlights:

Sample - try a tiny bite and only it’s good, go back for more

Share - my wife gets upset that I make her share sweets with me, but it forces to me portion control

Don’t buy it at home - there are certain things I can buy, like ice cream, that will last in my house for ever – then there are Oreos

Mini cokes - soda is empty calories that ruin your blood sugar level, waist line and teeth. It’s so easy to keep refilling the soda, but a small can lets you get the satisfaction without all the calories

Dark chocolate - because it’s so rich it’s hard to overeat; dark chocolate has less sugar and has many beneficial properties

3. Intensity matters

It’s not the weight you lift or how far you run – it’s the level you are working at. Not every workout should be super hard, but you need to intensify. I’m not recommending you work out so hard you puke, or feel light-headed; if you want to burn fat, short bouts of high intensity training are effective. Here are some examples:

Intervals: It doesn’t matter if you are walking, running or jogging, pick up the pace for 30-45 seconds, cool down and then speed up again

Mix it up: If you normally run, trying boxing; if yoga is your thing, try a different kind. Zumba your jam? Try pilates. Your body adjusts to how you train, so mixing it up will work different muscles

4. Have fun!  

The more you stress about your body, the harder it is to lose weight. Make exercise and eating healthy enjoyable. Experiment with different fruits and vegetables, or buy a new healthy oil like coconut and figure out how to cook with it. Keep it in the fridge and know it spoils and is best for cooking at lower temperatures. Take a different exercise class, enlist a friend, make a total 80s mix and enjoy the workout. And most importantly – don’t give up!  

If you want to work out with a trainer, get coached through the web, or just ask a question, email me at rkrit@fitwithkrit.com.


An interview with former NFL QB Jay Fiedler

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An interview with former NFL QB Jay Fiedler photo

Since Sid Luckman, the NFL has not seen its share of great Jewish players. Julian Edelman, Taylor Mays and a slew of offensive linemen have recently sparked our interest, but not too long ago, there was a man under center who was all the craze. His name was Jay Fiedler.

Fiedler revived the Miami Dolphins franchise, which showed signs of life for the first time in the years following Dan Marino. We recently got in touch with Fiedler, who not only has a great football story, but is an overall great guy.

1. What got you involved in football?

I grew up on sports. From the time I was 5 years old, I played every sport possible. At age 6, I began playing football, mainly because my older brother was playing in the town’s youth league. I started as a running back my first couple years playing, then became a quarterback at age 8 and stayed at that position ever since. I played all sports, but football became my favorite because of the intense physical and mental challenges it offers as well as the many team focused aspects that the game teaches so well. 

2. What was your experience playing in the Ivy League?

I went to Dartmouth College because of many reasons. First and foremost was to get a great education. Athletically, I wanted a place where I could participate in both football and track and field and Dartmouth not only allowed, but encouraged many of their athletes to play multiple sports. My experience on the football field at Dartmouth was great. The Ivy League, despite the perception, is an incredibly competitive brand of football with very talented players. Of course, winning league titles during my time made the experience extra special.   

3. Was it a tough transition to the NFL?

The NFL game is played so much faster than at any level of college football. For me, I was always able to process information very quickly, so I was able to transition my game on the field quick. The hardest thing for me was getting my opportunity to perform and climb the ranks. It took a long time and lots of persistence, but I finally got an opportunity to compete for a starting job six years after graduating college and made the most of it when I took over the starting job in Miami in 2000.

4. You took off with the Dolphins; why did you find so much success in Miami?

I had learned so much from many coaches and teammates I played with prior to joining the Dolphins and when I finally got my opportunity to prove myself with Miami, I felt I was extremely prepared to take advantage of that opportunity. Coach Wannstedt believed in me as his starter and I quickly earned the respect of my teammates in the locker room and on the field. 

5. What have you been doing since your NFL days?

I became involved in a few entrepreneurial pursuits, including owning and operating a minor league basketball team, before finally settling into my family’s business of running summer and sports camps along with my older brother Scott.

6. Tell us about Camp Brookwood.

The Sports Academy at Brookwood Camps is a summer sleep-away camp which combines the best of a traditional camp with the best features of a sports camp. We are bringing in world-class instructors no other traditional camp can attract to teach our campers in a number of different sports and activities while also offering the camaraderie and fun activities a traditional camp offers. Campers can learn football from former professional players, baseball from Leo Mazzone (former Atlanta Braves pitching coach), soccer from instructors who work with Manchester United’s Youth Development Program, basketball from two former Division I college coaches, and many more amazing instructors in tennis, dance, sports broadcasting and more. The best way to find out about our camp is to watch our videos on our website at www.brookwoodcamps.com/video

7. What was your Jewish involvement as a child?

I was raised as a Reform Jew and received bar mitzvah at Temple Avodah in Oceanside, NY. I remain very proud of my Jewish heritage today.

8. What is your favorite Jewish tradition?

My favorite tradition is spending Yom Kippur with family. While the fast can be a bit difficult, I enjoy spending time with family and feasting on a wonderful spread at sundown.

9. Who is the greatest defensive player you played against? Why?

The best defensive player I played against was Ray Lewis. He had all the physical tools to make every play on the field, whether blitz the QB, stuffing the run, or dropping into coverage. He also was incredibly instinctual and smart on the field which gave him the ability to get to the ball faster than any other linebacker I ever played against.

10. Manning or Brady? Why?

So hard to choose. Both are so smart and in command of the game. If I had to choose, I would pick Brady based on the overall battles we had in Miami against him. Throughout his career he has shown an ability to keep his offense at an elite level despite the fact that so many of his offensive teammates have changed over the years.

11. Anything else you'd like to add?

In addition to running The Sports Academy at Brookwood Camps during the summer time, I also really enjoy working with and coaching football players throughout the fall, winter and spring at the many passing clinics and training session I run through my Prime Time Sports Camp brand (www.primetimecamps.com). I am currently coaching up a few college players trying to make the jump to the pro level as well as many youth and high school players in my weekly clinics. Coaching these guys and watching them go on to success on and off the field has given me some great pleasures.  

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