OyChicago blog

Cheers! Chicago: Outdoor spots for dining and lounging

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Spring is here, and boy, it couldn’t come any sooner! I love the spring, especially in Chicago. It’s quite a spectacle watching this great city begin to awaken from its long and dreary hibernation, to emerge from behind those heavy grey clouds that seemed to hover and blanket everything in sight. The smell of fresh green grass, the sounds of birds chirping and cooing, envelops you in one giant breath and doesn’t let go. The city is coming alive again, and with it comes some amazing places to check out, nosh, kibbitz and schmooze with friends and family. Nu? Let’s get to it!

Spring is also one of my favorite times of the year because of its effect on the seasonal culinary and beverage reincarnation. The Green City and Farmers Markets bring some of the greatest food and drink, and you can bet the top restaurants in the city know it, too. Both markets are open to the public, but if you want to grab the best and perhaps rub shoulders with Rick Bayless as he choices out fresh produce for his restaurants, go there and go early. Make a day of it. Close your eyes and follow your nose, get back to your roots and explore everything you can get your hands (and nose) on, so you can take it home and cook and eat like the best without having to step out! But whether you go out or dine at home, be sure to make your way outdoors and soak in that spring goodness!

Know what else? Several bar and establishments are opening their respective outdoor and rooftop sections for dining and lounging. Yay! I got the lowdown on a handful of places you definitely don’t want to miss. With the wonderful weather and pleasant al fresco nights ahead, here is my short list of outdoor spots.

• ROOF at the Wit Hotel – Yes, this penthouse, ultra-chic and ultra-trendy lounge is still one of the best hangouts when looking for an outdoor escape. They still serve up amazing Mediterranean-themed small plates as you observe the hustle and bustle of nighttime Chicago, and the cocktails won’t stop flowing until you say so. While it is a place to be seen, it’s a rooftop nevertheless, and it does boast one of the more scenic views of the city. Go early to avoid waiting in line on the ground floor.

• Vertigo at the Dana Hotel and Spa – Vertigo has been around for a while now, and it still knows how to throw a party outside. Cushy seating and cute botanical arrangements drape this great piece of outdoor landscape. Combine the view with a good cocktail and you’re set for a fantastic night under the stars.

• Piccolo Sogno – This spectacular River West Italian spot has an amazing outdoor patio that is perfect for relaxing and enjoying the great Chicago springtime. While it may not be on a 27 story rooftop overlooking the city, you can easily lose yourself in the moment and firmly believe you are at an outdoor café in Italy sampling some delicious treats and basking in the warm sunlight. Me scuzi signore! And if you can’t get seated outside, don’t fret – they’ve got vertical gardens boasting fresh flowers and herbs to keep your eyes and ears on sharp alert. Oh, and let’s not forget the fabulous handmade pizzas and delicious Italian wines they serve up, too!

• C-View – I know, I know. Big seafood restaurant. I keep kosher so this would not be among the first places I would recommend to eat, either. That being said, the food really is incredible, but the rooftop bar C-View takes the cake. A gorgeous view that almost spans 360 degrees, this rooftop scene is definitely one to tipple towards when scoping out Chicago nights this season. Great place for a date or a girls’ night out— either way you are on your way to some good times.

• Citizen – I honestly can’t say enough good things about this place. It’s got a great vibe and a crazy rooftop that is really one of the coolest places to sightsee. The cocktails and service are ridiculous, and it’s an awesome choice as one of your many stops while rooftop bar crawling this spring and summer. Don’t pass this place up.

• Rock Bottom – You can’t miss this lively establishment standing tall and proud on the corner of LaSalle and Grand Avenue. Unbelievable lineup of craft beers to quench that thirst, tasty American style food, and of course, a bumping rooftop that will convince you to out long into the night. Plenty of good music and friendly faces will keep you coming back for more; I know I will!

• Honorable Mentions – Popsicle cocktails by the river at DeLaCosta, ski shots at Uberstein, and Chicago’s best new wine shop Juicy Wine Company’s rooftop oasis.

The Kentucky Derby is also this Sunday, and in honor of the long-standing spring event, I encourage all drinkers, wine, beer and spirit alike, to sample the quintessential Derby cocktail and one of America’s oldest libations, the Mint Julep. While a super-chilled silver or copper pewter is ideal, you can easily sip this sensation tall over crushed ice. It’s a simple four ingredient drink that has a well-balanced flavor with a nice refreshing kick at the end to entice another generous sip.

Choose a well-made Kentucky straight bourbon – I usually go with Woodford Reserve (Derby sponsors), Buffalo Trace or good ol’ Maker’s Mark – a handful of VERY fresh mint leaves, a couple of bar spoons of cane sugar or raw sugar (to taste if you want it more or less sweet) and very fine crushed ice. Muddle mint and sugar at the bottom of the glass, add crushed ice to top and gently stir to pull the flavors up from the bottom of the glass. Add 2 ounces of choice bourbon, stir gently, fill to top with more crushed ice, and garnish with a freshly smacked mint sprig.

Want a non-alcoholic alternative? Try this: substitute the bourbon and sugar with either Dr. Pepper or Barq’s Root beer (or a combo, or your favorite can of diet cola) and sip away!

So whether you’re kicking back with a Julep watching the Derby or chilling with a cocktail al fresco at one of Chicago’s many outdoor scenes, the spring and summer of 2010 looks to be an incredible and fun journey!



Why Bootcamp?

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Summer is coming and it’s no coincidence that I start to get busier about this time every year. Most people gain five extra pounds during the colder months, hence the term-“winter weight.” The problem is, most people only lose four of those pounds. This spring, I’ll tell you how you can lose all five pounds and maybe a few extra inches.

Now you might be asking yourself, “How am I going to drop that weight?” Well, I’ll tell you, you’ll join my outdoor bootcamp! Hey, a little self-promotion never hurt anybody. The reason my bootcamp has been around for 8 years is because it’s fun! We play with different equipment like medicine balls, agility ladders, soccer balls and the list goes on.


Even if you don’t join my class (but you should), I recommend getting outside! Put your SPF 30 on, and get moving. Summer in Chicago is the only reason many of us actually live in Chicago. Take advantage of the weather and train for a runbike race, or start swimming on the cheap at park district pools.

Take a hint from me and mix up your training. Play catch, ultimate Frisbee, basketball or soccer. The reason workouts that mix different sports or exercises work, is because you body adapts. However you train, your body attempts to become more efficient at whatever you do. That means your body will eventually get used to the recumbent bike, elliptical or weight routine you’ve been doing since high school, and you’ll reach a plateau.

Since the blogosphere is all about sharing, let me know what classes or outdoor activities you like. When it comes to fitness, I’m always looking for the newest trend or toy. My latest love has been a 40 foot rope, check out the video. I just bought the outdoor version!

If you do want to join my bootcamp, let me know ASAP. Class is filling up for my Monday and Wednesday, 6:30 p.m. hour of power in Oz Park!


A Jewish sports-themed Omer counter

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From the second day of Passover through Shavuot Jews count each day with a special prayer (49 days total). The time in between the holidays (Exodus from Egypt to receiving the Torah) is called the Omer. During the Omer people study pirkei avot, don't shave (notice some of your rabbis will have longer beards), and don't get haircuts. Personally, I am sporting a beard right now but I trim it for Shabbat, which is a common custom.

Everyone has different ways for remembering to count the Omer. I have seen a Simpsons calendar, an iPhone App reminder, and plain old going to synagogue. Check out The Great Rabbino’s Jewish sports-themed Omer counter—enjoy!

1 – Jordan Farmar’s UCLA jersey number.

2 – Taylor Mays’ USC jersey number.

3 – Jerry Reinsdorf has won two 3-peat Championships with the Chicago Bulls.

4 – Jersey number of NBA Hall of Famer Dolph Schayes.

5 – Jersey number of MLB Hall of Famer Hank Greenberg.

6 – Jersey number of Israeli basketball sensation Tal Brody.

7 – Jersey number of converted Jew and LA Dodger-great Steve Yeager.

8 – Jersey number of Milwaukee Brewer Ryan Braun.

9 – On 9/9 in 1965, Sandy Koufax threw his last no hitter.

10 – Jersey numbers of NHLer Matheiu Schneider.

11 – Jersey numbers of NFLer Julian Edelman, NHLer Jeff Halpern, and former Connecticut Huskies great Doron Scheffer.

12 – Number of catcher Brad Ausmus.

13 – Jersey number of NHLers Michael Cammarelli and Mike Brown.

14 – Number of Grand Slam titles won by tennis great Pete Sampras.

15 – Jersey number of Israeli soccer great Yossi Benayoun.

16 – Jersey number of former Giants pitcher Ryan Sadowski.

17 – Combined WWE, WCW, ECW, and TNA World Titles held by Kevin Nash, Bill Goldberg, Raven, and Macho Man.

18 – Jersey number of Kings’ forward Omri Casspi.

19 – Jersey number of Rays’ outfielder Gabe Kapler.

20 – Jersey number of MLBer KevinYoukilis and former MLBers Shawn Green and Joe Horlen.

21 - Jersey number of Nationals pitcher Jason Marquis .

22 – Shay Doron’s Maryland jersey number.

23 – Jersey number of NHLer Eric Nystrom.

24 – Jersey number of former Orlando Magic Danny Schayes.

25 – Number of wins posted by Steve Stone in his Cy Young Award winning season.

26 – Number in the NBA draft that Jordan Farmar was drafted.

27 – Number of complete games Sandy Koufax pitched in 1965 and 1966 and the age Koufax won the Cy Young and MVP awards in the same season.

28 – Number of wins for boxer Yuri Foreman and Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl in 2009/2010.

29 – Jersey number of Mets rookie Ike Davis.

30 – Jon Scheyer’s Duke jersey number.

31 – Number of home runs and stolen bases that Ian Kinsler had in 2009.

32 – Jersey number of Sandy Koufax.

33 – Number Mark Spitz was listed in Sports Illustrated’s 100 athletes of the 20th century.

34 – Jersey number of MLBer John Grabow and former MLBer Ross Baumgarten.

35 – Number in the NFL draft that the San Diego Chargers drafted Igor Olshansky in 2004.

36 – In 1936, Milton Green and Norman Cahners boycotted the Olympics in Germany.

37 – Number of home runs Ryan Braun hit in 2008.

38 – In 1938, Hank Greenberg hit 58 home runs.

39 – Jersey number of Texas Ranger Scott Feldman.

40 – Highest ranking of former ATPer Paul Goldstein.

41 – Number in the NFL draft that brought Andre Tippet to the New England Patriots.

42 – Jersey number of Chicago Bear Sid Luckman.

43 – Number of home runs Al Rosen hit in his 1953 MVP season.

44 – Number of league leading home runs Hank Greenberg hit in his last season with the Tigers.

45 – In 1945, the Philadelphia SPHAs won their 7th and last title.

46 – In 1946, Sid Luckman led the Chicago Bears to a title.

47 – Number of home runs Ron Blomberg hit for the NY Yankees.

48 – In 1948, Ilona Schacherer-Elek won Olympic gold in the Individual Foil.

49 – In 1949 Maurice Podoloff merged the BAA and the NBA and Dolph Schayes was named rookie of the year.

And Let Us Say...Amen.
-Jeremy Fine
For more on Jewish sports please visit www.TheGreatRabbino.com.


Happy Jewish Mother’s Day

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Happy Jewish Mother’s Day photo

So, as I was researching an Oy! article for Mother’s Day on depictions of Jewish mothers in popular culture, I kept running into the same name: Lainie Kazan. She is an actor; her most famous recent role was the mom in My Big Fat Greek Wedding, but she was also the mom of Adam Sandler’s friend in You Don’t Mess With the Zohan.

Kazan has been playing this Jewish (or Jew-ish) mother character at least since 1982, when she was the Jewish mom in My Favorite Year (she was nominated for a Tony for the musical stage version in 1993).

Just look at her character’s names since then: Shirley Hirsch (Oy Vey! My Son is Gay!), Miriam Goldman (Beau Jest), Jeanne Shulman (The Big Hit), Leona Bloom (Beaches)… and even Sylvia Goldman in Delta Force (filmed in Israel by the Golan-Globus guys). Next up, she is the mom in the short Ollie Klublershturf vs. The Nazis, about a Jewish kid with a time-travelling video-game controller.

Also, on TV, she was Claire Steiner in Karen’s Song, Rose Samuels in The Paper Chase, Kirstie Alley’s mom on Veronica’s Closet and Howie Mandel’s mom on St. Elsewhere. And now she’s an Italian mom— that of Hilda’s fiancée, Bobby— on Ugly Betty.

Sometimes, she’s the Jewish grandmother, aunt, etc. These characters have included Bubbe in the Bratz movie (the designer of the original doll and two of the “Bratz” kids in the movie are Jewish, too)… the “Old Woman” in Sandler’s Chanukah animation, Eight Crazy Nights… and Grace’s Aunt Honey on Will & Grace… all the way back to her recurring Aunt Frieda character on The Nanny (in the mid-to-late 1990s).

Kazan’s stage musicals have also had female characters who could be seen as either ambitious or controlling: Gypsy, Hello, Dolly!, A Little Night Music, and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Even Golda in Fiddler holds her own against the blustery Tevye.

The way Johnny Depp plays off-kilter fantasy-world anti-heroes, the way Gilbert Gottfried plays parrots and ducks, Lainie Kazan has almost cornered the market on Jewish mother roles.

But are Jewish mothers really this way? Or is there more to Jewish mothering than smothering? Maybe Jewish mothers are less like Lainie Kazan’s characters… and more like Lainie herself.

Her given name was Lanie Levine. She was born in Brooklyn in 1940; her father was Ashkenazic, her mother Sephardic. She went to nearby Hofstra University. In 1997, she was named “Queen of Brooklyn.”

She has performed on Broadway, understudying for Barbra Streisand in Funny Girl. A year and a half in, Babs got sick and Lainie finally took the title role; she got such good reviews, she quit the show (and who alerted those critics in the first place? Lanie’s mother.)

After her appearance in the October, 1970 issue of Playboy, two things happened. One, she became the basis for a Marvel super-heroine named Big Barda.

The other, more lasting impact on Kazan’s career was that she began performing for Hef (as a singer! please!). She ran and headlined two Playboy Jazz Clubs, Lainie’s Lounge East (in Manhattan) and West (in L.A.). She sang on Dean Martin’s variety show more than two dozen times, and even had her own variety show for a bit. She still does nightclub acts in Vegas and Atlantic City. Kazan even had a song on the Billboard Top 200 back in 1967. Two of her albums are currently available on CD; the material trends toward showtunes and standards.

Kazan, like many Jewish moms, is active in philanthropies. She serves on the board of B’nai B’rith, and was named its Atlanta branch’s Woman of the Year in 1997. She also served on the board of AIDS Project LA and has sung at its events. And Kazan regularly visits her own mother.

The problem with the idea of a “Jewish mother” is that before anyone became one, she was first a Jewish woman. No, the average Jewish woman has not had Lainie Kazan’s life. But as her life shows, there is no “average” Jewish woman’s life.

Similarly, there is no “Jewish mother,” when it comes to it. The “Jewish mother”— take Sylvia Fine (Renee Taylor) from The Nanny— or Roz Focker (Barbra Streisand) from Meet the Fockers— has a great deal in common with mothers of other ethnicities.

Look again at the Greek mother in My Big Fat Greek Wedding… or the Indian mother in Bend it Like Beckham and many Bollywood films. Listen to the Italian mothers on Everybody Loves Raymond and Seinfeld— yes, the Costanzas are supposed to be Italian.

True, Maria Portokalos (Kazan), Marie Barone (Doris Roberts), and Estelle Costanza (Estelle Harris) are all played by Jewish actresses. But one must admit that, while their characters are not Jewish, they and those other non-Jewish characters bear much resemblance to the “Jewish mother” archetype.

The original Jewish mothers, of course, were the Matriarchs of the Torah— Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah. They are known familiarly simply as, “Imahot (The Mothers).” The Matriarchs of the ancient Middle East do not fit the stereotype of the Jewish mothers of the Lower East Side. None of these women, should the lightbulb— or oil lamp— burn out, would respond as the joke would have it: “That’s OK, I’ll just sit in the dark.”

This Mother’s Day, think about the Jewish mothers you know. Are they “Jewish mothers”? Or are they a widely divergent group of women… with a variety of life experiences, personalities, and parenting styles?

If their lives would be turned into movies, would any of them be played by Lainie Kazan? In the Lainie Kazan bio-pic, could she even play herself?


Date Night

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Date Night photo

It is a rare occasion for my husband and me to find a movie that we both want to see. I drift toward the art house films and romantic comedies, while David prefers movies that highlight blood and battle, gangsters and gore (I am biased…I know). Our DVD collection looks like a classic case of opposites attract – do any other household owns the Godfather trilogy and all seven seasons of the Gilmore Girls?

On the rare occasion when a movie comes out that sparks both of our interest, we face our other great obstacle: scheduling. I work full-time, David is in school full-time, and while we have been married for two-and-a-half years, we (luckily) have not fallen into the pattern of spending all of our time with each other and other “coupled” friends.

David does boys night with the guys, I have my Saturday night book club group (read: pot luck dinners and bar hopping with a side of book), and basically, life gets in the way of scheduling a movie date.

A few weeks ago, we were on a mission to have a low key dinner and a movie kind of night. I knew it would be a tough negotiation, and I was hoping David’s lack of knowledge of my film of choice, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, would help me out in winning this war. The conversation went like this:

Me: David, you’d love it – it’s a murder mystery and there is a really pretty foreign girl in it.
David: (after Google-ing): Oh, the plot line does seem kind of cool. Oh wait, it’s 2 hours and 32 minutes? And in Swedish with subtitles?!? Hell no – not happening.

Whereas, David’s suggestion went a little bit like this:

David: I’d rather see Clash of the Titans – now that is going to be a great movie. It’s based on lore from Greek mythology and filled with intense special effects.
Me: And how will this be any different from 300, Gladiator, Troy, or any other movie you’ve ever dragged me to. No thank you.

Finally, we settled on a flick we could both enjoy – Date Night with Tina Fey and Steve Carell. It seemed funny enough, if not a bit far fetched, and got decent reviews. But then our plans changed, and we ended up spending our Saturday night out to dinner with friends and bar hopping downtown. Goodbye date night to see Date Night.

What did happen the next day was interesting. Our discussion about going to see Date Night led us to our own discussion about having a regular date night – not to see a movie necessarily but to have a designated time for us to relax, catch up and have a few hours that are reserved strictly for each other. No homework, no house cleaning, no cell phones or other distractions. Just us, whether we make dinner together at home or go out and try a new restaurant.

Three weeks ago was the pilot program for Friedman Sunday night date night, and it was a success. We’ve now tried three new restaurants and have yet to actually step inside a movie theater. We have both realized that movies are not necessarily good dates for us – I’m happier going to see movies I want to see with my girlfriends, and David ends of catching most of his flicks on demand at home.

Perhaps sometime soon, our date night will venture to Cinemark to see Date Night. Until then, I’ll happily settle for $20 All-You-Can-Eat sushi at Siam Paragon or venturing into Rogers Park to try Taste of Peru.


The life of a working mommy

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The life of a working mommy photo

I know a lot about guilt.  Perhaps it’s in my genes, or maybe I’m just a sucker for angst.  I’ve spent a lot of time feeling guilty for a wide variety of things, including but not limited to not calling my grandmas enough, leaving my dog alone all day, throwing my newspaper away on the train because there’s nowhere to recycle it, and watching Millionaire Matchmaker.

But all of this practice guilt has not prepared me for the ultimate guilt.

The guilt of the working mom is a vicious cycle.  I’m guilty when I’m at work because I feel that I should be at home with the baby, and I’m guilty when I’m at home because I feel that I should be contributing more to the family checking account.

My three months at home on maternity leave were both exhausting and exhilarating.  I became accustomed to waking up with Ben in the wee hours of the morning, snuggling with him throughout the day, toting him along to Trader Joe’s or the dog park.  I loved waiting with Ben by our front door for his dad to come home from work, and reading to him at night before bedtime.  For better or worse, I was in a stay-at-home mommy state of mind.

Despite the fact that I had negotiated a 4-days-a-week schedule with my boss, the return to work was like a bucket of cold water on my head.  I left my house at 6:45am, before Ben woke up, and returned home at 6:00pm, with time enough only to feed him, bathe him and put him to bed.  I missed our early morning cuddle sessions, and wondered if he did, too.  I worried that something terrible would happen in my absence, and I would be helpless to do anything.

On the other hand, I was again part of the workforce, and re-discovered parts of my brain that had been on “sleep” mode for the previous 12 weeks.  I looked forward to my quiet time on the Metra, as it was my only opportunity to read a good book.  I had lunch with my friends.  I reconnected with the real world.

I came to realize that wearing both a mom hat and work hat, and doing the best I could in both roles, made me a mommy to be proud of.  Instead of leaving the house in the morning and feeling instantly guilty about what I’d be missing, I began to think about what I could do at work that would make Ben proud (and yes, I realize his 8-month-old brain lacks the capacity for pride, but just go with it).

Six months into my return to the workforce and the guilt is finally starting to subside.  Of course, as only a Jewish mom can, I am now feeling guilty about not feeling guilty.  And thus, the vicious cycle continues.


Do your genes belong to you?

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Do your genes belong to you? photo

Let’s say someone offers you a test that will tell you if you’re likely to develop a certain kind of aggressive cancer at a young age. The cancer runs in your family, and there are preventive measures available so you can reduce your risk of developing the disease. The test is only available from one company, though, and you have to take extreme measures to get a second opinion. By the way, if your insurance doesn’t cover the test, it could cost you more than $3,000.

This is a real situation. The company that offers the test is Myriad Genetics, and it owns the patent on the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, which, when mutated, can dramatically increase a woman’s chance of developing breast and ovarian cancer as early as her 20s or 30s. (BRCA stands for “BReast CAncer.”) These mutations, or changes in a gene, have increased incidence in the Ashkenazi Jewish population, though they can occur in anyone. Preventive measures include lifelong surveillance, which could mean frequent MRIs and mammograms, and prophylactic mastectomies and oophorectomies — removing your breasts and ovaries before they develop cancer. If your results are inconclusive, meaning you have a mutation but the lab doesn’t know if it’s a harmful mutation, the next nearest option for Americans is Canada, which ignores the American patent.

Last year the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), along with hundreds of co-plaintiffs, filed suit against Myriad, claiming the BRCA gene patents were unconstitutional. They framed it both as an issue of access, highlighting the cost of the test, limitations on outside research and a perceived stranglehold on information, and as an attack on the gene patenting system itself. Genetic material, they argue, is a product of nature: it’s like patenting kidneys or oxygen or photosynthesis.

Nearly everyone I talk to about this issue is stunned to learn that 20% of the human genome is already patented. Why would anyone think such a thing was okay?, they ask. The reason for patenting a gene, as with any patent, is economic. Biotechnology companies invest millions of dollars in research and development. They want to be able to recoup that investment and put the money toward future projects. If there was no guarantee that investors would get returns on their investments, no one would give the company money, and no one would be able to develop life-saving technologies and medicines: they couldn’t afford it. Government grant money is nearly impossible to get, especially in this economic climate, and even then, it could never fund the depth of research needed to study something like BRCA.

Patent-holding companies also believe that focusing all their resources on a limited piece of genetic material encourages a consolidation of talent and knowledge. If people want to work on the BRCA gene, and their ideas are good enough, they can come to Myriad and have access to all their research and all their information. Nobody has to start from square one, and whatever good comes of that innovation can go toward funding new work. In refuting allegations made by a variety of consumer, health and research advocates, Myriad insists that its enforcement of its patents has not inhibited competition, shut down labs or projects, or denied women access to their genes, whether by availability or prohibitive costs. The many plaintiffs in the recent federal case, including medical societies, cancer researchers and BRCA-positive women, disagree.

On March 29, the federal judge overseeing ACLU v. Myriad Genetics sided with the ACLU. Myriad’s justification for seeking the patent in the first place is that it was the first to identify and isolate the BRCA gene. It applied to patent the isolated gene in purified form, which requires human processing. According to Judge Robert Sweet’s interpretation of the law, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office had no business issuing proprietary control over something that occurs in nature, whether in isolation or no. The suit is far from over – Myriad is certain to pursue a higher ruling to protect its patents, even as they begin to expire in 2014 – but the ruling is significant, and, if upheld, could signal a need for innovative thinking among companies that rely on gene patents as protection.

Access to your own genetic information is a good thing. Everyone should be able to make informed decisions about their own health care, and genetic testing can provide important information that may influence these decisions. Does genetic testing only exist because its development has been incentivized? Will the current model evolve or stay intact? We’re on our way to finding out.

•  Excerpt: In the Family – Filmmaker Joanna Rudnick visits Myriad’s laboratories and interviews Myriad founder Dr. Mark Skolnick.

• American Medical News: “Gene patents rejected by federal judge” – The newspaper of the American Medical Association, which was a plaintiff in the case, reports on the physician angle of the case.

• The Los Angeles Times: “Are patients misserved by patents on human genes?” – A geneticist and a lawyer offer two interpretations of the ruling.

• The Salt Lake Tribune: “Myriad elicits a genetics tempest” – Myriad’s hometown paper reports on the politics of the case.


How a Meeting of Three Became an Event for 250

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How a Meeting of Three Became an Event for 250 photo

I’ve now written a couple of blog posts about the virtues, the benefits, and the "how-to’s" of networking.  These were a few of the thousands of blog posts out there from experts, professionals, and aficionados on the subject.  However, I still meet with many people who do not take advantage of this tool to improve their professional, personal, or employment standing.  I thought I might offer a case study of how some casual networking between three professionals turned into something that benefitted hundreds.  I think it shows that the most important question in a networking conversation is “How can we help each other?”

I met Angela Jacobs at a Career Connections event hosted by JVS Chicago.  I had been on the job for less than two months; she had been coming to JVS Chicago events for a while.  Angela is the Senior Associate Director, Talent Development for Alumni Relations and Development at the University of Chicago and she told me she often meets good candidates for her job openings at JVS events.  A significant part of my role at JVS was defined as Employer outreach and since I had an employer standing right in front of me, I reached out to her.  “JVS has several free programs that help employers fill positions,” I told her.  “We also have a new job board launching this summer.  Perhaps I could stop by your office, tell you a little bit more about what we do, and see if we can help you.”  We exchanged contact info and I promised to email her to set up a meeting.

In the meantime, Angela also connected me with Erin Slott, Director of Recruitment and Alumni Affairs at Spertus Institute.  Fantastic, I thought.  Another key part of my job was outreach to Jewish Organizations.  I brought my materials for show and tell and she brought hers.  She was excited to hear about the services JVS might be able to offer her students once they graduate.  I was glad to learn more about Spertus Graduate Programs for JVS clients considering higher education.  A relationship was born of mutual benefit.

My meeting with Angela was equally as productive.  She was looking for some very specific types of candidates for her openings.  We were launching a website that might bring some of those candidates to her.  She also was glad to hear there might be more networking events for us to go to, as I was adding more to the schedule.

Angela also shared with me another idea that she and Erin were starting to develop.  Angela had been navigating the nonprofit world for some time.  She even had experience serving on nonprofit boards.  She had observed that there were a lot of nonprofits out there with a lot of great ideas.  Very few of them, however, were talking and sharing these ideas.  Angela wanted to host an event that would get everyone in the same room together.  Erin was on board, because she had 75 students and thousands more alumni that were desperate to get there foot in the door at organizations all over Chicago.  Without hesitation, I offered to support the event.  Perhaps some JVS clients looking for nonprofit work might want to come.

This initial meeting was in June.  It took many email exchanges, several meetings, and a lot of creative marketing, but we got the event approved from all three organizations.  Nonprofit Networking Night was planned for October 2009.  We had an engaging speaker/author presenting on a clever topic: how to self destruct.   Erin had made arrangements for us to use the Spertus auditorium and serve refreshments afterwards.  We kept asking ourselves.  What else do we want?  Who else can we call?  We took some chances.  We were all over LinkedIn.  We sold our bosses on using dedicated emails and inviting staff.  Erin and I were able to get our executive directors to come in support of the program.

On October 15, 2009, it was raining sideways outside of 610 South Michigan Avenue.  But inside, 250 people were settling in to one of the best attended events that JVS or Spertus had hosted in some time.  Some were job seekers that heard about it through JVS, hoping to make connections for informational interviews and maybe even jobs.  Some were students hoping to gain some insight on what the post-graduation world would look like for them in the nonprofit world.  Some were professionals, well established in their fields, looking for new ideas and new contacts, and new ways to help.  Everyone was there to meet someone and most walked away with a new idea, contact, or opportunity.  It all started with a simple meeting where the question was asked, “What can we do to help each other?”

The next Non Profit Networking Night: How to Thrive when the Economy takes a Dive, will be held Thursday, April 29 at 5:30 p.m. at the Spertus Institute, 610 S Michigan Ave.  Admission is free, but reservations are required.  To RSVP by Friday, April 23, email   nnn@spertus.edu .  For more information, call (312) 322-1707.



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I think we are supposed to end Passover feeling unburdened and brand new. I feel neither. Do not get me wrong—I had a great Pesach. The weather was amazing for Chicago in March/early April and we were able to get outside and take walks. We ate great food and enjoyed some fun family time. But I have this nagging feeling that I did not do the holiday the way I should have.

Sure, I cleaned my home and scrubbed my kitchen, even to the extent of getting on a ladder and wiping lighting fixtures. I cooked chametz free springy menus that were tasty and festive. And yet, I have some remorse.

Over the years I have collected pots, pans, dishes and serving pieces just for Pesach. But, I guess I did not amass enough. I still found myself reaching for the convenient stack of foil pans and lids, disposable trays and dare I say it…plastic plates. UGH! I feel horrible and typing this makes it even worse. Since when did Pesach become a disposable holiday?

You see, I am a person that feels that once you know something to be true you must change your behavior. If you know that using disposables like plastic, foil and foam are bad for the environment then it is your obligation to stop using them. Yet, I still found myself knee deep in side dishes that required platters and cookware that I did not own. Instead of changing my menus, I went for it anyway.

Passover is supposed to be a holiday of not just cleansing your home but also your soul. We want to leave our former self and be unburdened and unencumbered of things that are both tangible and intangible. So, here I am resolving how I am going to do it better next year—starting now.

I am a chef that is known for not using faux ingredients with a take-no-prisoners approach on seasonal produce and farmed fish. I eagerly shop the Green Market and have my favorite farmers that do not spray their produce. I turn my nose up at kosher foods that mimic non-kosher items at the expense of integrity of ingredients. So, what am I going to do to appease my own guilt for my reckless use of disposables?

With Earth Day just a few days away (April 22) I made some resolutions for myself:

• I will no longer purchase flowers for myself or anyone else that have been sprayed (OY!-I did send a flower arrangement during the chag). Flowers grown without pesticides and herbicides are better for the environment and for the recipient of the flowers—who wants all those chemicals in your home?

• No more disposables that harm the environment. Any disposables I need can be found in an expensive, but earth saving, bamboo product. Better yet, I will use what I already own. Eco-shopping is still shopping and has an impact on the planet.

• Less meat consumption. I eat a lot of meat. What can I say—I am a chef and I know how to make it taste good! But, methane is produced by all those scrumptious farm animals and is a big no-no for the environment.

• I am going to cut out my favorite bottled Italian sparkling water and let my tap flow. This will be tough—I love those bubbles. So refreshing! But tap water with sliced cucumbers and fresh mint is lovely too.

• I am going to do some foraging this spring. It is ramp season in Illinois. Ramps are wild leeks and are pungently delicious sautéed in butter and tossed with pasta.

So let’s end this unburdening session with a Pasta Primavera recipe. This recipe is written to include only in-season vegetables—what the dish is supposed to be.

These are some of the new steps I am going to take to rid myself of my frivolous use of resources. Maybe there is something on this list you can do. Or perhaps you have your list and would like to share? Let me know! I am all ears.

True Pasta Primavera

1 pound whole wheat penne
1 pound fresh fava beans, shelled and skin removed* and blanched and shocked (see below)
¼ pound fresh morel mushrooms, cut in half
2 baby leeks or ramps (if available), sliced thinly
1 clove garlic, minced
½ pound fresh English peas, shelled and blanched and shocked (see below)
1 cup ricotta cheese
2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme
3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
Salt and Pepper
Parmesan cheese for garnish

1. Bring a large saucepan or stockpot of salted water to the boil. Cook the pasta until it is al dente. Drain the pasta, reserving about 1 cup of the pasta water, and transfer the pasta to a large mixing bowl.

2. Heat a small sauté pan, lightly coated with olive oil, over medium heat and sauté the morel mushrooms until they are browned and lightly crisped at the edges. Add the leeks or ramps and continue sautéing until the leeks or ramps are lightly browned (about 3 minutes). Add the garlic and sauté for another 2 minutes until the garlic has softened.

3. Toss the ingredients with the cooked pasta adding the pasta water if needed to thin out the cheese and form a sauce.

4. Season to taste with salt and freshly cracked pepper.

*Fava beans are relatively new to the US produce market. They are plump and slightly nutty flavored green shelling beans. Typically found in Italian cuisine-they are a real springtime treat. They are a bit of culinary task though.

• Open the pod that the favas grow in and pull out the beans. Bring a medium pot of water to the boil. Blanch the fava beans in the boiling water for about 3 minutes. While the beans are blanching-place a colander in a bowl filled with ice water. When the beans are blanched. Strain the beans from the boiling water and plunge them into the ice water. This is called “shocking”. The ice water will stop the cooking process and set chlorophyll which makes the beans bright green.

• Now, you can gently peel off the skin that is on the beans and reveal their tender deliciousness. The beans are now ready to eat.


Illinois budget hole affecting the most vulnerable

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Illinois budget hole photo 1

On the spiral staircase at the Governor’s Mansion.

As a high school senior, I wanted to be president. But I knew I couldn’t become president because I’m not a natural-born U.S. citizen, so I decided I could settle for at least some sort of elected official – maybe a representative or a senator.

I haven’t thought about this dream in a long time, and the last two days changed my mind completely—I’d rather stay away from public office. After all, elected officials often have to make extremely painful decisions that affect millions of lives. I’m not sure I can live with that.

I was part of a group of 40 local organizational volunteers and staff from the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago who traveled to Springfield this week to advocate for human services funding. Illinois is having a huge budget crisis, with a deficit of about 50 percent of the revenue it needs to function – roughly $13 billion! As one of the legislators put it, “if last year was doomsday, this year’s budget is doomsday on steroids.”

Illinois subcontracts private service providers – like the Jewish Federation system – to care for the state’s most vulnerable citizens. If things remain as they are, vital programs will be cut, including services to the mentally ill (4,000 people now living in residential mental health facilities are projected to be on the street on July 1), older-adult in-home care, and respite programs for children with disabilities.

Among the potential cuts is a successful demonstration program run by CJE SeniorLife. The program provides home-health aides, transportation, and other services to seniors to help keep them out of nursing homes. Prevention, as Department of Human Services Secretary Michele Saddler told us, is always the more cost-effective route. The cost of a nursing home for one person could provide about three people living at home with services. The program is poised to be cut because it is not statewide, though it has been successful for 14 years and follows the latest guidelines issued by the state.

As part of the mission, we met with both state Senate and House leaders from both sides of the aisle. We also met with some of the elected officials and their staff that represent our city. All said they felt our pain. All were embarrassed that they hadn’t done more to prevent the budget crisis.

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State Sen. Don Harmon, who represents Oak Park, greets Ann-Louise Kleper, JUF Government Affairs Domestic Affairs vice president.

Although none of our meetings produced a solution, legislators and department staff welcomed our group’s input and noted the Federation and its agencies are an important partner in providing services to and speaking for those who cannot speak for themselves.

Want to know more about the issues facing the Federation system and its services? Read my story about the trip and my tweets.


Is my dog Jewish?

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Is my dog Jewish? photo

I’ve lived around my fair share of dog lovers.

One needs only to trace some of the cities and neighborhoods I’ve lived in: Growing up in Highland Park, I saw owners dress their pets in hats, sweaters, dresses and bedazzled collars and serve their dogs in Evian-filled water dishes; in London, where I studied abroad, I found an entire Burberry-for-dogs clothing line in Harrods department store and lived across from a park filled to the brim with Sunday-afternoon dog-walkers; in Roscoe Village, where I now reside, I’ve seen dogs pushed in strollers along streets filled with dozens of pet boutiques and groomers sandwiched between maternity shops—Roscoe Village is, after all, the land of babies and dogs.

Don’t even get me started on the new trend of “barkeries”—or dog treat boutiques—that are popping up.

Yes, I’ve seen it all.

Now, here’s the part where I put my tail between my legs.

I love my family dog—so much so, that I may or may not have helped my mother pick out a sweater for him at one time to help him ruff (pun stops here) the tundra-like temperatures in our family backyard during wintertime.

Also, I may or may not spend a great deal of time analyzing his simple psyche every time I visit my parents’ house.

My mother and I have concluded that Archie, a cocker spaniel-poodle mutt born on a farm in Iowa, is Jewish.

Despite his blondish-white shaggy hair, we think this Cockapoo has got some Jew. (In an aside, I have to point out the ironic fact that we named Archie after the character Archie Bunker from “All in the Family”—one of the most blatantly anti-Semitic, racist characters in television history. However, my family loved the show.)

Like his namesake, Archie (the dog) is a simple creature. But, one thing is certain: he loves food in general, and challah and matzah in particular. On this reason alone—if nothing else—my mother and I have concluded he’s Jewish.

Archie’s reactions during Shabbat prayers provide an interesting case study in Pavlov’s theory about conditioning. He barks when my dad begins the prayer over the challah. Archie also has some separation anxiety from his mother (my mother), among other neurotic traits stereotypically associated with Jewish men. Not to mention, he commands attention with his vocal attempts to be the loudest one in the room.

Archie’s incessant barking, fueled by his desire for matzah, got my mother and I discussing his psyche yet again during our Passover Seder a few weeks ago.

After our meal, I pulled a book from my parents’ bookshelf called “Yiddish for Dogs” by Janet Perr, which  my sister bought for them years back, particularly because the drawn figure on its cover is the spitting image of Archie.

The book, a self-described alphabetical handbook of Yiddish words, features illustrations of dogs meant to embody the Yiddish words’ meanings. The book, a sort of Yiddish encyclopedia, features words such as “putz”—featuring a black lab with a dunce cap; “shvitz,” showing a pug sweating and panting; and words such as “drek,” with an image of Archie’s twin stuck in a trash can.

The level to which we project human qualities on our pets got me wondering just how far people’s attempts might extend into the spiritual realm. But my short-lived quest to see if the Jewish Paris Hiltons of the world love their pets to the degree that they might convert them was somewhat fruitless.

I contacted Congregation B’nai Torah in Highland Park, because I had worked with one of the rabbis there in the past on stories. While he was not available to comment, his assistant did reveal the synagogue had gone so far as to host a pet blessing day event in the past. However, she said she did not know of any conversions.

The event, which was geared toward children, included blessings for a variety of animals such as fish, dogs and hamsters and wished the pets health; they expressed thankfulness for the pets’ companionship, she said.

My Catholic friend Melissa Riske, whom I wrote about in my last Oy! article, informed me there is a similar ritual in the church around the first week of October, in which Catholics recognize or celebrate St. Francis of Assisi—a blessing is near his feast day.

I also contacted JUF to see if they knew of a rabbi that performed pet rituals with no luck there.

Finally, I spoke with my family’s rabbi at Anshe Emet Synagogue in Chicago, Rabbi Michael Siegel, who not only humored me, but also spoke eloquently on the matter.

Siegel said that while Jewish law covers issues regarding the proper treatment of animals—for instance, he said there has been a tremendous amount written about feeding an animal before feeding oneself—there is no conversion process for animals or pets.

However, he pointed out that with the increasingly important role pets play in people’s lives, events such as “bark mitzvahs” now exist, which he said speaks to the notion that to a growing number of people, pets have taken on a familial significance likened to children.

Siegel said people are feeling “less communal” and more “individually minded,” these days, and thus want to put original touches on a 1,000-year-old prayer book. Blessings are constantly being updated, he said.

With Holocaust Remembrance Day last weekend and Israel Memorial Day ahead of us, I’m reminded of how we, Jews, both evolve our understanding of present day culture, while remembering ancient tales.

We both recycle and re-invent what it means to be Jewish, reflected both in the tales of our destruction and in our re-building.

So, though I didn’t find a rabbi who would officially convert Archie, or any other dog, I learned that perhaps it is not such a small gesture to take time to recognize our pets through Jewish ritual, because we are reinforcing and celebrating our Jewish identity in doing so. Plus, I’m pretty convinced Archie is already Jewish anyway.


Walking to save “The Girls,” Part IV

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Remember reading this and this and this last year?

Walking to save “The Girls,” Part IV photo 2

For 2 days, we walk as one

Well, we’re at it again with a new team name— Booby Trap— and a few fresh faces!  We’re once again fundraising and training to walk 39 miles in the fight to eradicate breast cancer.  The disease has touched all of our lives in different ways— my mom is a breast cancer survivor.  I don't think it would be out of line for me to guess— with 1 in 8 women diagnosed with breast cancer— that almost everyone knows someone who has been affected by this disease.

So far training has been going pretty well.  My new year’s resolution to discover (and use) the weight room at my gym has been a success and I’m in much better shape going into things this year— my knees are grateful.  Still, I think this my last time participating in this amazing event.  Fundraising is difficult, especially in this economy, and finding enough free time to spend several hours walking is a pain in the butt (and legs).  I’m grateful I’m able to participate and I’m savoring every experience— I can’t wait for the actual event!

I encourage everyone to find a cause that’s near and dear to their hearts— whether it’s a 2-day walk, a 5k, or even a marathon— and give it a try.  The sense of fulfillment and pride is worth every second of the pain and discomfort and it’s a great way to stay motivated and get in shape.  Right Ron?  If you’re interested, here’s the information about the Avon 2 day breast cancer walk: http://www.avonwalk.org/.

Now for a little team promotion— booby trap is hosting a fundraiser this year to help us raise some extra dollars— and we’d love to pack the place with as many supporters as possible.  So if you’re looking for a fun way to do a good deed, come join us for a night to save the boobies!  Here are the details:

On June 5 and 6, with blisters, sweat, and tears, Team Booby Trap will conquer 39 long miles in the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer.  In order to help us reach our fundraising goal, join us for a wild night of booze and live music featuring vocal group Fiveplay!  The fundraiser will take place at John Barleycorn in Lincoln Park (658 West Belden Avenue) at 7:30 p.m.  If you're up for letting loose on a Thursday night, $30 will get you an awesome wristband and an open bar.  If you don’t want to participate in the open bar, admission is just $20.  With both options, you will get to hear one of the greatest vocal groups in Chicago.  Here's a taste of what's to come:  www.fiveplaymusic.com .  It's going to be an awesome show, and the best part is that $10 of every ticket will benefit Team Booby Trap’s fundraising goal of $11,000.

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Vocal group Fiveplay

Hope to see you there and I’ll be sure to update you on how our team does— fingers crossed we all make it through that big pink finish line!


Desperate Deerfield-to-the-Loop Commuter

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Dear Mayor Daley,

As you know, traffic in our windy city really blows.  Yet thousands of commuters daily opt to sit stuck in traffic behind the wheel versus taking public transportation, exacerbating the problem and costing Metra and CTA millions in lost revenue.  And you want to know why?  Because for all of the perks of public transit—being able to read, relax, reliability, etc.—there are people—seat hogs, loud talkers—who ruin the commuting experience for others.

While most Chicagoans are pretty darn polite, a few rotten apples are ruining the bunch.  If the city could work to curtail their rude behavior, I believe more people would opt for public transportation.  Below, I have taken the liberty of listing what I believe are the worst offenses and suggested appropriate measures to tackle the offense.  I hope that you will consider these issues and solutions.

On behalf of commuters everywhere who are daily confronted with these issues, I urge you to propose the required laws and ordinances to effectively deal with these challenges and would make my life—errr, I mean the lives of millions of Chicagoans—better.

Thank you.

Desperate Deerfield-to-the-Loop Commuter

1. Uber-Slow Walking.  There are slow walkers, and then there are people whose pace can only be described as slow motion.  Usually, these people can be found waddling in the middle of the sidewalk so that it is impossible to get around them.  I propose separate lanes on sidewalks created for uber-slow walkers.  Offenders caught in the wrong lane should be fined.  Repeat offenders should be publically flogged by citizens who have missed their buses/trains and been late because the slow walker failed to stay in their “lane.”  (Note: this law should especially apply to tourists who should also be barred from public transportation during rush hours.)

2. Uber-Fast and Aggressive Walking.  Too many innocent citizens have been the victims of these people who walk at a pace that defies the laws of physics.  They often have no regard for people in their way, including 9 months pregnant women who are waddling as fast as their swollen feet will carry them.  (I suspect many offenders have lost their driver’s licenses for too many accidents or aggressive driving are now must take out their hostility on pedestrians.)  I suggest speed-walking limits posted throughout the city and officers who can hand out tickets. Repeat offenders should be forced to walk up and down the Magnificent Mile during peak tourist season.

3. Public Snoring.  In my humble opinion, being able to sleep on the way to or from work is one of the perks of not driving.  But a peaceful commute is rudely interrupted by those who snore—and by snore I mean make sounds like a cat going down a garbage disposal (ewww).  I propose a law that requires snorers to use nasal breathe strips (bought from the city of course), or citizens should be given the right to roll snorers onto their sides or stomachs.

4. Uber-Loud Talking.  Too many citizens have had to listen to the boring conversations and personal stories of loud talkers.  I would like to see “silent” buses/train cars introduced—where no talking is allowed.  I’d be willing to pay additional to ride these buses/trains.

5. Excessive Flatulence.  Nothing, and I mean, NOTHING, ruins a commute more than someone in near proximity repeatedly dropping stink bombs.  This is a complex problem that requires a multiple solution approach.  First, emergency gas masks should be made available on all public transit.  Second, industrial air fresheners should be placed behind glass for major emergencies.  And third, I suggest a detection device—similar to systems in pools that identify urine—that could identify the culprit.  This would help deter this behavior and also ensure that those who did not drop the bomb would not be accused.


The foggy path of womanhood

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From our health to childbearing to careers, being a woman today is confusing. With so many conflicting messages, the path of womanhood is foggy, even for a feminist like me.

Let’s start with health. Women are scared to death of breast cancer even though more women die from cardiovascular disease and lung cancer.

And although women are careful about breast screenings, new guidelines from the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force recommends that women in their 40s not get mammograms and women in their 50s get one every two years. Yet other experts disagree. Meanwhile, recommended frequency of the Pap Smear is another area of contention, for decades, it has been commonly practiced medicine to schedule annual tests to check for cervical cancer. Now, the recommendation from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists is for women in their 20s to get a Pap every two years instead of annually.

Don’t spend too much time in the sun is another recommendation. But now men, women and children are becoming Vitamin D deficient. So take Vitamin D every day? Is that enough? It seems like Vitamin D deficiencies cause a lot of problems. How do we weigh that against getting skin cancer?

Should our diet be low fat or low carbohydrate? Can eating Cheerios actually cure your high cholesterol? What’s the difference between good and bad cholesterol? What are the long term effects of high cholesterol that includes mostly good cholesterol? And if I eat non-organic food, will I grow another eye? Will my grandchildren?

How much do women need to exercise? The latest recommendations after a study by conducted by Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School is for women to exercise 60 minutes per day; prior to that, the guideline was 30 minutes.

First of all, and I don’t even have kids, who has 60 minutes a day to exercise? How do you fit it in? And how do you know if you’re fat anyways? Is it the BMI? Is it the skinny jeans test? (Can my butt fit into them?) And now women are supposed to exercise while they are pregnant to have a healthy baby. Exercise will help so that the baby shouldn’t be too big or too small. And when the baby is born, breastfeed for a year, no matter what, and don’t let your baby get too fat or he/she will be obese and have a high risk of developing Type 2 Diabetes.

In terms of relationships, women are told to wait for Mr. Right (unless you are Lori Gottlieb who wrote the book, "Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough.”) In reality, after the age of 35, the ability to reproduce becomes much more difficult and carries more risks. Many women pull it off, but how realistic is it to expect that if we don’t have kids before the age 35 that we ever will? Should we freeze our eggs? What should we do? One might argue you don’t need a husband or wife to have kids. But let’s get real here. It’s very hard to be a single mom. Nothing against single moms, I think you’re awesome. But it’s extremely difficult to have a child with no partner in the picture.

Let’s say you are a woman who is married with kids. Should you work or not work? Most likely you have to work, because you can’t afford not to. But what about women who want to raise a family and not work? With one out of two marriages ending in divorce, that sounds like Russian Roulette to economists and sociologist. What does a woman do if she has not kept up her skill set and her husband leaves her or vice versa?

My point is not to question the validity of the studies, but to say that it’s extremely difficult as a woman to determine the answers.

If I’ve made you anxious, come up with a list of questions to address with your doctor, financial advisor, Rabbi, and social worker.

Good luck navigating the waters. I’ll be swimming alongside you.


The Great Rabbino chats with Tani Mintz, speedskater and Olympic hopeful

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Tani Mintz photo

The Great Rabbino has had the pleasure of interviewing a variety of Jewish athletes— professional wrestlers, major league baseball players, and sports broadcasters. Today I bring you an interview with Tani Mintz, a speedskater who is trying to qualify for the Olympics. Tani is an old friend of mine from way back in the day. Besides being a great athlete, she is a nice Jewish girl. Below is my interview with her:

The Great Rabbino: Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got involved with speedskating?
Tani Mintz: My name is Netanya Shira Mintz, I’m 25 years old, and am extremely proud to say I was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois. I went to private Jewish school my whole life until junior year of high school when I switched to public school. Athletics and sports have always been essential in my life. I was a diehard Michael Jordan fan since I can remember. (The two of us even used to hang out at the Multiplex when the Bulls practiced there! OK, maybe not hang out, but he knew my name and I hugged his knee.) In junior high I played basketball and ran track. I also ran track at the Maccabi Games in 1998 and 2001 and earned a total of 12 medals: 3 bronze, 5 silver, and 4 gold. And in 1999 I played basketball at the Maccabi Games, and despite having a team of 6 (yes, 6 players total on our team!), we finished in a strong 4th place.

I started speedskating much later in life relative to other speedskaters. When I was 17 my family and I went to Salt Lake City for the 2002 Olympics. We all had tickets to see alpine skiing events because we are a family of skiers, but I really wanted to see a short track speed skating event as well. Admittedly, I totally bought into the Apolo Ohno hype and was super excited at the opportunity to see him live. It was at the Delta Center one night during the Olympics, watching Apolo win the gold that changed my life forever. I knew I wanted to be a part of the Olympics. Now that I had experienced what it was to be a part of the crowd, feeding off the athletes the energy, I wanted to taste it for myself. I decided I would be an Olympian one day. I would pursue speedskating the second I got home to Chicago, and I would somehow make it happen.

TGR: What was in like to try out for the Olympics?
TM: When I first began speed skating in 2002 the thought of competing in Olympic Trials was right up there on the “cool” meter behind actually competing in the Olympics. I remember the day in 2005 when I qualified to skate in the 2006 Olympic Trials. It was a blur of emotion because it didn’t sink in when I crossed the line and saw my qualifying time. It didn’t even sink in when I told myself “Hey, you just qualified to skate in the 2006 US Speedskating Olympic Trials.” It sunk in when my coach skated by me and said, “Congratulations. You will be skating in Olympic Trials.” What takes many skaters a decade or more of hard work to accomplish took me a short four years – albeit a daily routine of intensive training, full-time schoolwork, and a little Starbucks on the side, but a short four years nonetheless.

Two months later in December, I skated my fastest races ever at the 2006 US Speedskating Olympic Trials. Not fast enough to make the team, but that didn’t matter (well, I can say that now, of course at the time I was a little disappointed). It didn’t matter because I realized sometime during that competition that I truly was capable of fulfilling my Olympic dreams. I had just proved to myself that hard work and dedication will lead you to success. As long as I was in control of my life the Olympic Games would be mine one day. The 2006 Olympic Trials was just another opportunity to gain some competitive experience, so that next time I would be even more prepared.

Fast forward four years later and I’m at the starting line of the 2010 US Speedskating Olympic Trials. The past four years had felt the most uncertain and unstable of my life. The only thing I learned to expect from life was the unexpected. Having only known a world of constants and stability, I decided to redirect my path along one with more certain outcomes. I retired from speedskating in 2007 and pursued law school. Slowly but surely the competitive fire came back and with a vengeance. After being accepted to a couple law schools, I decided to put that avenue on hold and come back to speed skating. In September of 2008, I moved to Utah to train with no expectations of qualifying for any national, let alone international, competitions the next couple years. Three weeks later I qualified for every single national competition between September 2008 and March of 2010… including the 2010 US Olympic Trials. I also finished 3rd overall. Again, I didn’t place high enough or skate fast enough to make the Olympic Team, but I did renew my sense of confidence that the Olympics will be mine… next time.

TGR: Are you hopefully for 2014?
TM: Yes.

TGR: What do you do in when you are not skating?
TM: I don’t train on Thursdays and Sundays, so those are the days I usually work 5:30 a.m.-2:00 p.m. at Starbucks. (Yes, on my off days I wake up at 5 a.m.) To be honest though, Starbucks doesn’t feel like a job. It’s my social life! And there’s no better place to be at 5:30 a.m. than a coffee shop. And when I’m not at Starbucks or training I’m devoting all of my attention to the cutest, cuddliest, and craziest puppy in the world – Capone.

TGR: What are some of the coolest/most interesting experiences you have had because of skating?
TM: Another loaded question! Where to begin? I remember my first race in Salt Lake City. I was trying to qualify for the 2003 Junior Nationals. My best shot was in the 1000m. I signed up for time trials that weekend. Saturday rolls around and I take a look at the pair sheet. Chris Witty – Inner Lane, Netanya Mintz – Outer Lane. Are you kidding me? My first race ever in Salt Lake City and I’m paired with the Olympic gold medalist and world record holder in the 1000m? How cool and ridiculous was that? I told myself, “Just keep her in your line of vision and you know you’ll be having a good race!” She did stay in my line of vision (barely), but I just missed the qualifying time by a couple seconds. Oh well! Cool experience!

Speedskating also took me to Torino, Italy in 2007 for the World University Games. Skating on another Olympic track (even if it was a year late!), was very inspirational. Not to mention the cool opening ceremonies I participated in that felt like a mini-version of what to expect some years down the road…

But probably the most interesting experience I’ve had because of speed skating actually has nothing to do with, well, speed skating. In 2005 Starbucks began an Elite Athlete Program. Long story short, I became their sponsored athlete. When I retired from speed skating in 2007 I asked Starbucks to please keep me involved in any future endeavors they pursue regarding health and wellness. Passion for my sport may have dwindled, but passion for maintaining a healthy lifestyle never has and never will. Starbucks realized my dedication to health and wellness and in May of 2008 called on me to participate in the Nike+ 10k Human Race – a race held on August 31, 2008, hosted in 25 cities around the world to benefit three global charities. They wanted me to be Chicago’s ambassador to the program. Starbucks partnered with Nike in promoting the race, and Starbucks assigned me the duty of getting as many people in Chicago to run the race as possible. Through micro-chipped bracelets and shoe sensors and Nike+ iPods, Chicago racked up the most miles out of the 40 U.S. cities participating in the Starbucks’ competition. Because my city won, Starbucks selected me to fly with Nike on their privately chartered Air New Zealand jet to Melbourne, Australia on August 29, 2008, to run the race on August 31 at 8:31 a.m., and then I immediately jump back on the jet and flew to LA to run the last leg of the worldwide race beginning at 8:31 p.m. This all took place in one day. Totally awesome one-of-a-kind never to be duplicated again experience!

TGR: What will life look like after skating?
TM: What will life look like after skating? First, can I focus on what life will look like tomorrow? I have no idea what’s in store for me post-speed skating. I’m sure furthering my education is in my future somewhere. And as of now I intend on settling down in Chicago again, one day… one day… But ah… so many, many things to do before I can commit to one plan, one career, one city.

TGR: Has Judaism ever played a role in your sport? Has there ever been a conflict?
TM: The biggest conflict I experience regarding Judaism and my commitment to training happens only on Yom Kippur. I’ve never been shomer shabbos, so racing on a Saturday morning has never been an issue for me. But since I began speedskating Yom Kippur has always been the one holiday where I feel most connected to my religion. This is probably because while training I am unable to properly acknowledge the Holy Day – the full 24 hours is a constant reminder of what Jewish laws I am not obeying for the sake of pursuing my dreams. Although friends and family would never judge me for the religious decisions I make, especially on Yom Kippur, I can’t help but judge myself. I guess, ironically, Yom Kippur ends up being exactly what it is meant to be— a day of atonement. I constantly question my decisions on Yom Kippur and battle with myself whether to forego training that morning to go to synagogue, or to stay on track and not lose sight of my goal— not even for a mere few hours at synagogue once a year. Training has always won that battle, but at the heavy expense of extreme guilt the days leading up to and the day of Yom Kippur.

TGR: You are from Chicago, so what are some of your favorite spots to skate, dine, and hang out?
TM: I love this question: ESPN Zone. Niketown. Millenium Park. Whether I’m home for a week or just a day, these three Chicago landmarks are essential to every visit. Ahhhh… thinking about them now makes me feel nostalgic.

If you want to support Netanya for the 2014 Olympics you can email her at netanyamintz@gmail.com.
Thanks to Tani. Best of luck.

And Let Us Say…Amen.
-Jeremy Fine

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