OyChicago blog

Why we need USY now more than ever

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USY logo 

If you polled the average American, I bet you that 75% or more would be able to tell you what the YMCA is and what the acronym represents. The Young Men Christian’s Association, better known for its notorious headline for the Village People’s greatest hit, is probably the most visible nonprofit organization that has existed for almost 160 years.

But what about USY? If you polled the average Jewish American, do you think that they can tell you what USY is and what the acronym represents? Perhaps. What I can tell you is that it is certainly less visible than YMCA, and rightfully so, since the majority of the US population is, well, not Jewish. But just because it is not as visible doesn’t necessarily diminish or discount the meaning of USY.

From April 8th to 10th, I had the honor and privilege of staffing and supervising the culminating USY convention for the CHUSY Region’s 2010-2011 year: Kinnus (key-noose). By definition, Kinnus means “convention,” but it means more than that to the USY community. It is a defining moment in both its signal of the end of a year and a time for both reflection of the past year and anticipation and excitement for the year to come. New leaders emerge, old ones pass their torches, and everyone is reminded of what it is that brought them all together in the first place: Judaism. I was amazed to see how many other USY youth resided in our region and experience their passion for everything Jewish.

I can tell you right now that I could not be prouder to be a part of this amazing experience, and I am so proud of all the SHMUSY (Anshe Emet’s USY Chapter) members and executive board, who literally turned around the chapter by raising more Tikkun Olam and social action money than any other chapter (over $9,000 and more than four times the amount of the next highest chapter). There is something to be said for what these committed and motivated Jewish high school students were able to accomplish. Through their efforts and continued participation, I discovered how vital it is for them to have USY both as an option and an opportunity, to develop new friendships and leadership skills, to reach out to the community as well as their fellow Jewish peers, to make a difference.

I am blessed to have been a part of such an amazing organization as a former member and now as an advisor. I was a SHMUSY member the year our chapter won chapter of the year and although we did not receive that award this year, we are proud to be a part of SHMUSY and of USY. Although I won’t be presiding as Anshe Emet’s Youth Director in the years to come, I am still so fortunate to be able to be in a position to bring the Jewish youth closer together. It’s amazing to know that there is a place for Jewish youngsters to come together and become that community that our forefathers and ancestors prayed would come to pass, a place in our minds and hearts that many people fought and died for and would only exist as a whisper.
Well, the time for whispering is over. Support USY in any way you can. Help develop and nurture our young Jewish generation to become the leaders of our communities and our society. Spread the word about USY and encourage those that qualify to get involved in their local chapters, whether as a member or as part of the executive board. I promise you, if you show them how amazing USY can be for them, they won’t regret it.

Tune in next issue where I jump head first into Chicago’s newest and hottest dining and drinking spots, you definitely do NOT want to miss my thorough and comprehensive reviews for your next exciting outing in Chicago!

Until next time! L’Chaim!  


What’s cooking?

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What’s cooking photo 

If you workout really hard, you could burn between 300-500 calories. If you are running or biking a ton, you could get that number even higher. And then you can have one meal of 1200 calories and the calories you burned in your workout are instantly negated. That’s why eating right is so important. I harp on the fact that you need to plan your meals. If you cook often, this becomes second nature.

I highly recommend cooking, or if you’re rich hire a chef. Healthy cooking is simple. Let’s talk about marinades—everyone knows how to grill a chicken breast, but how do you make it taste good and still be healthy? In the grocery store you can find a ton of marinades, which are seasonings and sauces to add flavor to food, most of which are loaded with salt. You can easily make your own marinade with olive oil, a pinch of salt, and pepper. You put that over your chicken and refrigerate it either over night or for a few hours before cooking. That same mix is fine for fish. Beef is a different animal (pun intended) and often quality beef only needs salt and pepper.

For some tips for marinating and healthy options for eating out, check out this video where I talk to Lou Goldhaber, owner of Leo’s Coney Island in Lakeview, 3455 N. Southport.

If on Sunday night you marinate chicken with my simple mix, you can use it over several days. The great thing about this chicken, it’s like a utility belt, cut up the chicken and toss in the following:
• Soup
• Pasta Marinara
• Sandwich with avocado and honey mustard
• Toss on top of Boboli or other pizza crust
• Stir fry vegetables with some soy sauce, made brown rice, toss in chicken

The options you have are unlimited! If you over power the chicken with garlic (because you want bad breath) or another seasoning, it will taste great but then it’s harder to use in other recipes. Make it simple and you can always add flavors with each dish, that way you’re not eating the same boring meal each night.

To go along with your cooking, buy some vegetables. I buy:
• Carrots
• Celery
• Onion
• Cucumber
• Green and red pepper
• Zucchini
• Sweet Potato
• Broccoli

Buy vegetables you like. I recommend buying a new veggie each week, it’s important to vary your diet, and who knows, you might really like parsnips.

If you are looking for healthy recipes check Ellie Krieger she makes great food and her recipes aren’t difficult.


Taking a walk

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I walk back to our mudroom, where we keep Ruby’s leash and collar, and the dog is right on my heels, crying with anticipation. After I get her ready, which takes too much time because she won’t stop jumping, I turn around and call for Ben, my 20-month-old.

At this point, Ruby’s excitement dims visibly. A walk with me means a brisk pace, and the opportunity to cover lots of ground. A walk with Ben and me means slow going; Ruby runs ahead until there’s no lead left on the leash, and then waits impatiently for us to catch up.

Ben, my curious little explorer, isn’t overly concerned about letting Ruby get her schpilkes out. He is content to mosey across neighbors’ lawns as though he owns the entire neighborhood. He walks up to each door and lifts up his hand to knock, knowing it’ll get a semi-panicked reaction from Mommy, especially when she knows these neighbors aren’t particularly friendly. He turns around to see what I’ll do, decides not to knock after all, and then darts back down the path to trample another neighbor’s lawn. He picks up every rock, acorn, insect, empty water bottle, chewed gum, cigarette butt, worm and goose poop that comes across his path. He keeps the rocks and acorns to himself, but hands me the other items for identification.

Ruby, agitated because a squirrel is within reach, suddenly chases the animal to a nearby tree. As she tries to climb up the tree, barking like a maniac, Ben runs over and howls along with her, pointing up at the elusive squirrel. Sensing defeat, Ruby makes her way to the fire hydrant for a sniff, with Ben close behind. Ruby finds a good smell and decides to make the area her own, and Ben follows suit, squatting alongside her as she does her business. It’s a Kodak moment.

At this point, Ben’s hands are full of rocks, and he’s trying to squeeze in more. He can’t understand why his hands aren’t able to do what his little boy brain is directing. I ask him if he’d like me to hold some of them, and he says no. He is determined to pick up one last rock, and somehow figures out that even though his hands are both full, if he holds the last rock between his closed fists, it will stay put. He looks at me triumphantly, and I respond in kind. Toddler victory.

We are about to cross paths with a Golden Retriever and his owner. Ruby’s tail is wagging so hard her whole body is shaking; Ben is yelling “Goggie! Goggie!” I start to remind him to be gentle, but before I am even at his eye level, the dog and its owner have crossed the street. Ben and Ruby both turn and look at me, disappointed and confused, and I am left wondering how to explain that sometimes we just don’t get everything we want. Ben points across the street and says “Goggie” once more. My heart breaks a little.

We collect ourselves and move on, 20 minutes into the walk yet only halfway around the block. A school bus drives by, and the Golden Retriever is forgotten. Ben trots after the bus, and Ruby is thrilled for the opportunity to run. We all race to the corner, where the bus drops off three students. I tell Ben that some day he’ll go to school and ride the bus, too. The thought of it makes me teary, but he grins and points to the bus.

Rounding the last corner, we make our way home. Ben starts to slow down, knowing the fun is almost over, and that he will have to leave his rocks in the designated bucket in the garage. Ruby speeds up, knowing that she’ll get water and a cookie, and a nice, long nap on her favorite stair. Before Ben can argue about going inside, I remind him that there are lots of new library books to read, and macaroni and cheese for lunch, and he takes my hand and leads the three of us inside.


16 dates before you give it up

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16 dates before you give it up photo 

From left: Bela Gandhi, Shanae Hall, Amy Dickinson and moderator Jeniffer Weigel

While Chicago might not have its very own Patti Stanger, it does have its own crop of relationship experts, including Chicago Tribune and nationally syndicated advice columnist Amy Dickinson, better known as “Ask Amy.” Amy, along with relationship expert and CNN Headline News Correspondent Shanea Hall and local matchmaker Bela Gandhi recently gathered to share their expertise at a panel discussion hosted by Trib Nation titled: “Finding and Keeping your Soulmate.” Seizing on the opportunity to learn from the real experts, some single friends and I decided to attend the at times hilarious and often cringe-worthy event. Focused mostly on the speakers own dating stories often affectionately referred to as a “dis-ate” and playing to a mostly female crowd of 30-40something women, the evening was an opportunity to learn, share advice and have fun.

Dating detox.
The former wife of an NFL player, Shanea Hall spent 14 years in a rocky marriage worried about her husband cheating. When she left the marriage, she knew she needed a break from the dating scene to pick up the pieces of her life, so she went on a, “dating detox” (and I thought I’d coined the term!) She was celibate for two years as she rediscovered what, “made her happy.” She recommends that others going through similar breakups do the same, “make it plain in writing to you what it is about you that you like— what you bring to the table,” she says. “If you jump into a new relationship too fast, without getting over the last one, you risk entering another unhealthy situation where your self-esteem is centered on the man.”

Exercise of clarity.
Bela Gandhi, founder of the Smart Dating Academy, takes a similar approach with her new clients. She has them do an “exercise in clarity” to examine how their past relationships—all the way back to childhood—can influence or pattern their new ones. She says it’s as simple as making a list of, “five things you like and dislike about your past relationships and to use them as red flags to watch out for in new ones.”

Don’t be online-averse.
Once you’re ready to find that special someone, don’t be “online-adverse.” According to the panelists, more than 40 million Americans are dating online and “everybody is doing it.” But there’s a right way and a wrong way to online date. First, make sure that your profile photo is just of your face with a big, warm smile. Bela recommends shying completely away from “glamour shots’ because they can send the wrong message—you need to be rich to date me or I’m too good for you. She also recommends creating an “authentic profile,” which includes examples and stories and about five adjectives that describe you. Finally, she says to cast your net wide— even using tools like Facebook.

A well of people.
They all agreed that Facebook is a great tool to help your super connectors— married friends who know single people they should set you up with— get you dates. Look at your friends’ friend lists and scope out potential mates. Don’t be afraid to ask your friends for details about them— you might find your next boyfriend or girlfriend.

16 dates till you give it up.
Once you think you’ve found that special someone, don’t give it up quick…in fact, the experts agreed you should wait 16 dates. They say, “women develop emotional chemistry immediately, but men need time to build it and if you give it up too fast, they won’t have a chance to.” Now, I agree with them and I’ve openly admitted to my own prudish tendencies in the past, but 16 dates before you give it up is a little extreme, even for me. Don’t get me wrong, I still don’t think people should sleep around until they are in a 100% monogamous and committed relationship, but I’m not sure it takes 16 dates to get to that point. What do you think Oy!sters?

One thing the panelists and I could all agree on is that the most important thing you can do in a new relationship is to look at what the other person is doing, not just what they are saying. And trust your gut to catch those red flags. For example, if they are significantly late to a date, they might not be that invested in you because if they were, they’d figure out a way to get there on time.

And that in the end, everyone is just looking for someone nice who can be their best friend, so be nice to everyone you meet because you never know when you’ll find your next love.

TribU!, a part of Trib Nation, a new initiative of community outreach by the Chicago Tribune, hosts live gatherings on issues of importance to Chicagoans. To learn more about TribU!, and to see the schedule of future events, check out: www.chicagotribune.com/tribnation 


Interview: Author and Baller Aaron Pribble 'Pitching in the Promised Land'

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Baseball player and author Aaron Pribble took time out of his busy schedule to speak about his new book "Pitching in the Promised Land."

Interview: Author and Baller Aaron Pribble photo 

1. Tell TGR a little bit about yourself.
I was born in San Francisco and raised just across the Golden Gate Bridge, which makes me a Giants, Niners and Warriors fan. After receiving a scholarship to the University of Hawaii, I pursued my dream of playing professional baseball, which included two seasons of independent ball and one final summer in France. Thinking I was headed to law school, I decided while in Europe to become a teacher rather than a lawyer. Three years into my new profession I learned of a baseball league being formed in Israel. Since I’m Jewish and had played a little pro ball, this seemed like a natural fit. The rest is, as they say, history—and hopefully an entertaining story.

2. What is your book about?
“Pitching in the Promised Land” is, as the subtitle makes clear, a story of the first and only season in the Israel Baseball League (IBL). Or Bull Durham in Tel Aviv, if you like. Sandy Koufax is drafted in a symbolic gesture as the last player, there are six teams attempting to play six games a week on three nearly playable fields, the league runs out of money, players nearly strike, one nearly dies, and Dr. Ruth throws out a first pitch. My teammates include a DJ/third baseman from the Bronx, a wild-man catcher from Australia, an erudite Israeli pitcher, and several journeymen Dominicans who are much older than they claim to be. But baseball is also a lens through which to view a story about the politics and culture of the Middle East, about what we’re willing to sacrifice in pursuit of a childhood dream. There’s also a little romance with a tall, slender Yemenite Jew named Yael. She was pretty hot. In the end, after a successful if bizarre summer of baseball in the desert, I’m faced with the decision to give up a career in teaching in order to become the first player from the IBL to sign a professional contract back in the US. It is a heart-wrenching decision.

3. What was your experience in the minor leagues and how did it compare to pitching in Israel?
I played for parts of two summers in the independent Western and Central Leagues. In the Western League I pitched for the Sonoma Crushers under my boyhood idol Kevin Mitchell and in the Central League I won a title with the Jackson Senators. Though independent ball is not affiliated with Major League organizations, the talent level is usually considered tantamount to Single A. Baseball in Israel was somewhat different. The rudimentary metric I uncovered was this: the more Jewish the player, the less talent he needed to posses. The IBL wasn’t quite sure whether it wanted to be the best Jewish league, or the best league in a Jewish country, so it settled on some amalgamation of the two. There were some incredible players, several of whom signed professional contracts after the season, and some other guys who might not have made a good college squad. “Bifurcated” is a word that comes to mind.

4. What was the highlight of your baseball career?
Tough one. I’d say signing my first professional contract, but that’s not really playing. Winning a championship with the Senators was the best, highest quality baseball in which I took part, but leading the IBL in ERA and finishing second in wins was also a huge thrill. Though to tell the truth, my two high school league championships are the most visceral, maybe the most sacred of them all, which is either pathetic or endearing. I still dream about fans chanting “MVP! MVP!” That’s heavy stuff for an impressionable, goofy 18-year-old kid.

5. Who is the best player you ever pitched to? What happened?
I hit several times against Mark Pryor in the California High School North-South All Star game, but that’s not the question. The best player I ever pitched to was Chase Utley of the Phillies, then playing for UCLA, which occurred during the first inning of my freshman season at Hawaii. He ripped a double to right off a loopy curve. Welcome to Division One baseball, meat. That guy can flat-out hit.

6. What are you doing these days?
I signed a contract with the Texas Rangers after my summer in Israel, and I’ve been with the Double A Frisco Roughriders for the past three seasons. Last year my ERA was—just kidding, that would be a story for Hollywood. Instead, after the IBL I returned to teaching high school history just north of San Francisco, choosing the more practical path over one last shot at my boyhood dream. (Not to give away the ending or anything.) I’m also coaching varsity basketball with my little brother Alex, former captain of the Cal basketball team, who teaches with me as well. It’s pretty awesome. The Schnitzel & Humus book tour will jump off once school ends in June.

7. Kinsler, Braun, or Youkilis?
Has to be Youkilis, that’s easy. Not only is he supersaturated with charisma, he was also a college teammate of my third baseman in Israel, the DJ/street artist Nate Fish. Both Youkilis and Fish are veritable characters, the former sans hair and the latter overflowing with shoulder-length curls. Fish once said Youkilis has never, ever, swung at a pitch outside the zone. He was not lying by much.

“Pitching in the Promised Land” is available online and at your local book store. Aaron also recommends we see “Holy Land Hardball,” A film about the summer of baseball in Israel.

Thank you to Aaron.
And Let Us Say...Amen.


Teaching Uganda's Jewish children

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Teaching Uganda's Jewish children photo 1 

Our first days in Mbale Town were filled with many “meetings.” Short-term and long-term dental goals, logistics, and schedules were discussed at length. As decisions were slowly made, we felt more than ready to hit the field running. Be prepared, Africa! We know your pace is a lot slower than the States, but we will not give in. As soon as we could, we began our work by visiting Hadassah Primary School and implementing what would be only the first of our education and sealant programs. Through the gates of Hadassah, we found the Headmaster Aaron welcoming us with open arms, sharing his learning community. Small classrooms scattered the dusty field. Each separate brick structure had a tin roof and open air windows to house the grade levels. We were greeted with interest by smiling students, some in threadbare green and blue uniforms, and others in worn clothes from the past day’s activities. In a large empty room, students of all ages were slowly gathered together.

And then, there we were.

Our first audience.

We had to pique their interest fast. What better way than starting with a science experiment? We used a disclosing tablet that turned the kids’ plaque pink. A perfect ice breaker since it catches them off-guard and evokes much laughter. Devorah was our brave volunteer.

Teaching Uganda's Jewish children photo 2 

As the students observed her colored teeth, they were asked to look and make hypotheses. Soon the conversation turned to the brushing basics: small circles, at least two times a day, two minutes in the morning and night. This was foreign knowledge to both the children and teachers, but both were quick to catch on. In all our classroom visits in the States, we’ve never seen such amazement over oral hygiene instructions. The time flew by. We covered sugar laden foods that are dangerous to the teeth and healthy foods that keep the cavity bugs away. Mango, sugar cane, and sweet potato seemed to be the children's first choices. Rice, millet, posho, and cassava were among the common staples eaten in a daily healthy diet. Throughout this time, while we spoke in our Chicago-accented English, the Headmaster translated into Ugandan-accented English. The program came to a close over a two-day period. We were blessed to meet and teach over 200 students, each instructed to become mini teachers for the rest of the community. As time goes on, we are now confident oral hygiene will go viral in Uganda. 


Exodus from Egypt

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David and his sister, Sarah.

The recent revolution in Egypt shook me to the core. For weeks, I was glued to Al-Jazeera’s live blog of the events, and I even joined Twitter to be able to follow those on the ground. Aside from being interested in politics and history, this revolution captured my attention because I spent the fall semester of 2010 living and studying in Cairo. I attended classes in a building on Tahrir Square, the center of the revolution.

Cairo had become home for me. The adjustment from life in the States was huge, especially on the day-to-day level. The smallest things are hassles in Cairo, from negotiating the correct cab fare to asking for directions to paying your Internet bill; absolutely none of one’s daily operations in the States translate to Egypt. It is foreign in every way. As frustrating as it was at times, the smallest victories were that much sweeter. Once I figured it out, I truly began to love Cairo and all its quirks. I loved the muezzin’s call to prayer, and haggling with cab drivers became one of my favorite games. I loved to sit at a Nile-side café and smoke shisha while doing my homework. I loved the sights, the sounds, and even some of the smells.

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David and his sister, Sarah, at the pyramids.

Along with the love there were also many challenges. One of the most difficult aspects of being a foreigner living in Egypt is that one is always a foreigner; there is no blending in. Regardless of the quality of your Arabic or the scarf wrapped Egyptian-style around your neck, Egyptians see you as a foreigner. As a foreigner, fortunate enough to be living abroad, knowing that the amount I spent on dinner the night before was the same amount as the average Egyptian earned last month was sometimes overwhelming.

The most pervasive foreign element was Egypt’s conservative Muslim society. I am an active Jew; a facet of my identity formed as a child attending religious school at Temple Beth-El in Northbrook and during my 13 summers at Camp Interlaken JCC, the Milwaukee JCC’s residential camp, and on my 6-week trip to Israel with camp. As such, it was a shock to my parents when I told them last spring I was going to go to Cairo. While I knew they were not going to deny me this opportunity, I knew they were worried. Aside from “Be careful,” the only other thing my father said to me was “Defend Israel.” Fortunately, the moments when I needed to defend Israel were few and far between.

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David and his sister, Sarah, at the pyramids.

There were two reasons for this. First, and surprisingly, there are a large number of Jewish students who study in Cairo. The satirical blog “Stuff Jewish Young Adults Like” even posted a piece about Jewish young adults travelling to the Arab world. The second is that the average Egyptian is more worried about putting food on the table at night than about Israel. Among the wealthier Egyptians I met, few seemed to care that I was Jewish, and many were very interested in comparing and contrasting religions. Furthermore, the assumption was that if I was American, I was Christian. And since the vast majority of Egypt is Muslim, many people simply didn’t comprehend “another” religion. This being said, I did not go around broadcasting my Judaism. Most people probably did not know.

Exodus from Egypt photo 4 

David at the pyramids.

As Passover approaches, I think of the Exodus story and now my own. While the Jews of the Bible fled Egypt to escape slavery and persecution, I also left Egypt, but for very different reasons. What I learned during my time there is that my Jewish identity is something I have internalized and always have with me, whether it’s displayed or not. We are Jewish, yes, but at the end of the day we are all people. My friends who witnessed the revolution commented on the sense of community; it did not matter whether they were foreigners or nationals, Muslims, Christians, or even Jews. For a few weeks, they were together as Egyptians fighting against an oppressive regime.  

David Korenthal studied International Human Rights Law at the American University in Cairo. He is in Chicago currently seeking full-time employment. 


Hugs, Mozungos, and Mbale

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Us in the Haddassa Primary School in Nabugoya Hill. We taught lessons on oral hygiene and brought in a sealant program for the students for cavity prevention.

The meeting of the minds of Mbale’s Jewish ambassadors. First impressions drew us in with the sincerity of the handshake. It’s not a wimpy, nice to meet you handshake. We are talking about a genuine excitement, one reflected in a full body handshake leading to many lengthy hugs. The magnetic energy led us to feel that if we did not let go we could be walking hand in hand around town all day.

At breakfast we were greeted with our first unexpected visitor—our fast friend Josef K, who we quickly dubbed ambassador to Uganda and the Abayudaya community. Our server at breakfast noted that Josef K began calling the guesthouse at six in the morning. Why? Because he wanted to ensure our safe arrival, and his hospitality proved above and beyond throughout our driving adventure with him.

Our journey began through the busy streets of Kampala, dodging motorcycles packed three to four people high. We smiled to each other, while inhaling the fresh humid air with a mix of kicked up dust from the road beneath. We realized something while traveling from the capital of Kampala to Mbale—the people you meet pour out kavanah, an amazing vibe and zest for life. Each one is happier to see you than the next. Abayudaya truly welcome you to a new second home, with more than open arms. 

Hugs, Mozungos, and Mbale photo 2 

After the hellos and hugs, it was now down to business. The exciting part—helping to build a sustainable dental health program that goes beyond teeth and approaches physical health as a whole. We hope to build more than a program with Dr. Samson of RAIN Uganda and the Abayudaya tribe. Using our foundations of education, prevention, and treatment we will help create a guide to encompass and treat all health modalities in a comprehensive and lifesaving way.


Kidding around on Passover!

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Kidding around on Passover photo 

Happy Passover from the Oy! team!

If these cuties make you smile, please share this video with family and friends.


No sense of relief

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No sense of relief photo 

My two student escorts at Shar HaNegev High School near the Gaza strip.

When I heard the news that a Gaza missile struck a school bus in Shar HaNegev, a small Israeli community near the Gaza strip, the faces of three wholesome teenagers flashed through my mind. Because I was at that school just last week, touring the campus with those beautiful students as my guides. I gaped at the photos of the mangled bus and the pooled blood and prayed that they were not on it.

I was in Israel representing the Jewish United Fund of Metropolitan Chicago as part of a national trip coordinated by the Jewish Federations of North America. Two students had escorted us around the Shar HaNegev High School campus to see the school grounds, and to watch students using the interactive technology that we’d helped to fund for their classrooms.

The girls were a study in opposites, one tall, tawny and artistic, and the other petite, dark and athletic. Both talked a mile a minute, so excited about their studies and their extracurricular activities. Their most recent art project? Painting the school’s bomb shelters. ”We made something beautiful out of something ugly,” 15-year-old Yahel explained.

The school is in the midst of building a new, rocket-proof campus, but for now, if there is an incoming missile, students must run to one of these shelters, or one of the reinforced classrooms, where the internal walls are painted blue.

I didn’t think to ask what they did if they were on the school bus.

At the entrance to the Fine Arts building, we came upon an enormous, circular patch of grass, paler in color than the surrounding field. The girls explained that this was where a rocket had landed years before.

“It’s hard to have a rocket in our school, in our safe place,” Yahel admitted. “The kids are going to this building to learn about music, and suddenly you have a rocket. It’s scary, okay? But we don’t want the feeling to stay.” And she firmly guided us away from the awful sight and directed our attention to the programs inside.

We met the teenage boy at the end of the tour, one of several students to discuss why this school, and its focus on open dialogue as well as arts and technology, was important to them. Asher was 13, a Justin Bieber lookalike, with tousled hair and a ready grin, eager to discuss his outlook on life.

“I don’t hate anybody,” he said. “I wake up in the morning and think about what the other side is thinking. It’s not the little kids or the mothers doing this. It’s a couple of terrorist organizations. There are millions of innocent people and we know that.”

He believed peace would soon be at hand, he said, and looked forward to helping to bring it about.

The early news reports were that a 13-year-old Israeli boy was badly injured in the rocket attack on the school bus. My heart was in my throat all morning as I thought about Asher. Midmorning an update included a correction: the teen fighting for his life was 16, not 13.

But I felt no sense of relief. 


Mommy needs some more vodka

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Mommy needs some more vodka photo

Catering to her royal highness is rough

Recently, my Facebook status updates have been filled with vodka (or any alcohol) ad ideas. Picture this: photo of screaming toddler with any of the following taglines:

“We got you into this, we’ll get you through it.”

“You need us more than we need you.”

“Yes, we come in economy size too.”

“16 more years until she’s off to college. Better stock up.”

And let’s not get started on tags with the same photo for birth control…

If you haven’t guessed, I’ve got a two-year old. My adorable, perfect, smart, genius baby seemingly overnight hit full-on-toddler stage. She’s cute and happy one minute, and then suddenly I’ve got the exorcist child on my floor, screaming and crying about some injustice that has just befallen her. Generally the answer “no” to her request to watch Little Einsteins, eat a cookie, or skip brushing her teeth.

*Sigh.* I miss the days when it was enough just to keep her alive. Actual parenting is hard work.

While it would be so much easier just to cave into my child’s demands, I know that if I did, I’d have a spoiled-rotten, couch-potato kid who ate nothing but chips and cookies. I don’t exactly see that as giving your kid the best foundation for a healthy life-emotionally, physically or mentally.

So I hang tough and say “no” to the demands, and deal with the tears and cries even though it would be easier to cave in. And it’s ok that she freaks out, because I know this is normal behavior and beyond being there to try to soothe, there is nothing I can do except wait it out. I’ve been known to pour myself a martini and watch the half hour show taking place on the kitchen floor waiting for those little emotions to run their course.

Maybe one of the benefits of being an “older” parent (according to my doctor, age 37 is ANCIENT in reproductive terms) is that I have a more laidback attitude about my kid. I know that she’s going to make a mess, spill her milk, and accidentally break things around the house. So I keep the good crystal and china out of the way, and our furniture has been scotch-guarded.

Nothing drives me insane like a parent who flips out when his/her toddler acts like a toddler. I recently witnessed this the other day at the Kids’ Museum. A mom caught her son who must have been about 18 months drinking the play water. She overreacts by immediately pulling her child away and angrily yelling at the dad about what he was doing—as if somehow the 18-month-old tot was willfully defying her. Needless to say, the poor little guy was scared and crying, not understanding what was going on. C’mon, I’m not an expert but even I know that an 18-month-old doesn’t have the capacity to defy anyone. And really, kids eat all sorts of gross and germy things—trust me, that water will be the LEAST of your concerns when he hits a public pool.

I have to say that day I realized that I’d rather spend my day with a bunch of two-year-old than some of their parents who act like two-year-olds themselves. At least the little tots are cute.

But then, I’ve been ominously warned by friends that age three is far worse than age two. And let’s not talk about years 12 to 22. And some of the parents I’ll encounter in schools and activities aren’t ever going to mature.

Mommy’s going to need more vodka.  


What it's like to be 35 and single

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Today marks seven years since I was given a new lease on life. It also coincides with one of the worst and saddest days I've ever experienced. However, sometimes the worst personal calamities in the long term become life's biggest gifts. That's not to say that the pain from that that time didn't linger, it has at times mutated like an antibiotic resistant bacteria, hardly recognizable from the original disease, but clearly originating from the primary sickness. If you were to ask me seven years ago, I would have told you that for sure after the breakup that I would bounce back, fall in love again, be married, and have kids by now. For a myriad of reasons, that hasn't happened. And as I approach my 35th birthday, the gulf that divides me from my married friends and those of my parents’ generation widens and widens.

I asked for people's questions about "what it's like to be single and almost 35" because I do sometimes feel like a freak to my friends and to my parents' friends— a lovable, cute, funny freak, but still a freak. So I thought I'd answer some questions to bridge the divide. I requested questions from my Facebook friends, Twitter followers and Scarpeta readers. Here are their questions and my answers. I don't speak for every single woman, just myself.

I have a few single friends in their 30s. In my 20s I used to set them up with single guys all the time just in the spirit of going out and meeting someone new. Now I figure if they want to be set up they'll ask. Is this the best approach?  

I think one of the biggest issues with set ups is that sometimes married people set up single people based on no evidence of compatibility other than the fact that the two people are single. If you set up your friends thoughtfully, I think it's welcome whether you are 25 or 70.

I have a question...when I was single I drank a lot more than I do now that I'm married. Do you drink as much now vs. your 20s?  

I have reduced my drinking considerably over the past two years, and specifically over the past year. One is for financial reasons and two is because I found that almost every poor decision I have ever made was while inebriated. I rarely have more than one or two drinks if I go out. Not drinking also has its negative side. It has definitely made me less "fun" and I go out less. This leads to a bit of isolation, which isn't great either.

As a 35 year old never-been-married single mom, I find that I don't really fit in anywhere socially. I can't hang out with my old friends who don't have children because their schedules are completely different and we no longer have anything in common. Then the married with children couples I meet, tend to shy away from me. I'm still a little baffled by this rejection, but it continues to occur. I'm guessing people only want to be friends with people exactly like them, meaning three's a crowd. What do you think?  

I'm not sure why married people wouldn't want to hang out, but I know I'm guilty of not wanting to hang out with married couples with kids frequently. A very small part of it is jealousy induced depression. My friends are living the life that I thought that I would have. Part of it is that it's hard to have a conversation with someone who is only half listening to you because their focus, as it should be, is on their husband and kids. My friends who are married with kids are cognizant of this and sometimes I'll meet just my girlfriend out for dinner, or my girlfriend and her husband, and sometimes I come by their home to hang out with them and the kids. It's all about balance. As for married people who don't want to hang out with a single mom, I have no idea what to tell you. I think focusing on the mom friendships vs. the couple friendships would make more sense.

I do wish I spent more time with my married friends who have kids. I miss them, a lot.

To what extremes have you gone to get a date (online, speed dating, etc.)?  

I've been on JDate, eHarmony, match, some Jewish set up service. None of them were for me, but I think they are great and a lot of relationships come from them. I don't think any of these things are considered extreme anymore, though. My current relationship is with someone I was friends with first for a year and then we moved into something more.

Biological clock concerns?  

Yes, of course I have them, but I'm not driven by them. I would like kids, but I realize with every passing year it will become more difficult to have them naturally. I hope that I will be blessed with them, but I don't know that I will take it into my own hands (sperm donor) or adopt without a partner. I can't rule anything out at this point.

Why don't you just write about how being a single-ish woman in your 30s has ceased to have negative cultural cachet?  

I'm glad that you think it has ceased. In my (Jewish) community, though, that is not the case. It is antithetical to Judaism to not have a family when the first commandment in the Bible is to procreate. There also isn't room for celibacy like there is in the Catholic Church with nuns and priests. It's not that single women are ostracized, but we are looked at like we are suffering from a disability or disease.

I do think in the urban secular world, being single and in your 30s isn't that big of a deal and is even glamorized. I don't reside their much, though.

Maybe you can discuss how social media/Facebook has impacted being single. Like, how one just used to hang out with people with similar lifestyles/interests and now everyone's "friends" post annoying (well, what I can only assume is annoying to non-kids people) updates on their kids. Oh, and someone in your comment thread mentioned that the married are probably envious of the singletons. I don't think that generalization is any truer than to assume that singletons are jealous of married and/or parents.  

I know that there are people who are single who have quit Facebook because they get too depressed by seeing all of their friends documenting their married lives with beautiful children, etc. I also know married people who aren't or won't join Facebook because they aren't in happy marriages and/or they have difficult kids and do not have the energy to put up a facade. I also know people who are unhappily married with and without kids who post on Facebook to provide more false documentation of a happy life.

I personally like to see my friends who are married and with kids on Facebook. It's fun to see how my friends have evolved as parents, and because I love kids, I like to see the pictures and read the cute things their friends say. What I find most annoying from someone who is single or married is a lot of bitching about their lives.

I agree, generalizations aren't great to make. But I would guess the adage "the grass is always greener" is probably true, at least sometimes.

All I know is that there are so many women in this situation and don't want to be in it...How much of the problem is with men, in general, who don't want to commit? And, how much falls on the shoulders of women who give men too much in hopes that they will commit -- only to be let down? It's very frustrating for all my single girlfriends.  

There is an article that was written by Tracy McMillan titled "Why You're Not Married." I know it offended a lot of feminists, but I found that for myself it was pretty much dead on. I realized some of what she said before I read the article, but I wish I would have realized her points a long time ago, or at least embraced them.

As for men, I don't pretend to understand why they will or will not commit. If I were to guess, I would say that sometimes they just don't like a woman that much or find her too clingy or annoying. (I myself have been guilty of being too clingy). But usually, I would say, that the answer to that question often has very little to do with any individual woman that they are dating and rather where they are in their own lives, baggage from their parent's marriage, or other self esteem issues.

If anyone agrees/disagrees with anything I've said, I welcome your comments. Or if you have any more questions, I'm happy to answer them.


The friend makeup…Is there an aftermath?

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I caught Rachel Bertsche’s Oy!Chicago article, “The friend breakup aftermath,” and it propelled me to talk about my own struggle with friend “breakups.” However, I’d like to offer a counter perspective.

The old cliché goes that some friendships are meant to exist during certain periods in our lives. They help us grow and then we set them free when they no longer serve a purpose for us. Friends inevitably diverge; friends outgrow each other; friends grown damn tired of each other. All of these reasons for the “breakup” are relevant, normal, usually healthy and inevitable parts of our lives.

As Bertsche humorously pointed out, we treat these ex-friends like ex-lovers and dodge them in restaurants. I’ve also been known to dodge ex-friends at movie theaters, in ladies’ bathrooms and in the grocery store. We’re afraid of having the obligatory, “How’s life?” conversations when we either: A) Could care less, or B) Resent them for not caring less.

As with romantic relationships, friendships suffer under the weight of new hobbies, long-distance communication and sheer neglect. I’ve seen many a childhood friendship perish for these reasons, as many of us do in our lifetime. Perhaps, it’s the fishbowl that is Facebook, that makes us painfully aware of how these childhood friends are now passing through major life milestones such as marriage and having children, and we’re not there to really witness and share in their joy…and their hardships.

How is it that these cherished slumber party pals that we shared our hopes and dreams with, cheek to pillow, no longer qualify for a role in a future that we schemed with them?

What if we want to make up? Is it too late? Can there be a part-deux to a friendship story? In some cases yes, in others, it’s nearly impossible. And, the difficulty of the makeup is not necessarily proportionate to the reason for the breakup.

A childhood friend and I “broke up” due largely to distance and neglect. I recently learned that she experienced a family loss, and I had an unexplainable urge to drop everything, find her and hug the pain away, but I couldn’t. Too much time, too much distance, too much… I sent an e-mail, and words failed me greatly.

There are some friends you know (or knew) almost as well as you know yourself, and when they are suffering, the empathy pains are magnified in ways you cannot anticipate. I want to be part of her grief because I used to be part of her life, but I can’t.

Perhaps it’s a selfish desire to intervene at this time and I recognize that, but it comes from a longtime desire to know her again.

We sometimes drift from friends because of petty reasons that seem to matter when we’re younger... I want to get to know this friend all over again, here and now.

Dare I say it: I would welcome an awkward run-in.


My great uncle, the Jewish gangster

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My great uncle photo 1   My great uncle photo 4 

Left: Samuel "Nails" Morton
Right: Nonna

When people hear the word "gangster" they immediately conjure up images of characters in the television show The Sopranos or in movies such as The Godfather or Goodfellas. So imagine my surprise when I found out as a young adult that my sweet, lovely Nonna had a brother who was in the Jewish mafia. Could this really be true? I had heard my Nonna speak lovingly of her brother Samuel. He had a strong devotion to his family and always expressed kindness to others, especially those in need. "He helped a lot of people", she would say. Samuel "Nails" Morton was considered a defender of the Jewish people by some, and suspect by others. While his life was cut short at the age of 29, it unfolds to tell quite an amazing story.

Samuel was born on July 3, 1893 in New York City. He came to Chicago at an early age with his Russian immigrant parents. Growing up on the west side of Chicago in poverty and without a great deal of opportunity, Samuel fell into gang warfare along with other ethnic groups such as Irish, Italians, Germans, Poles, and Greeks. Samuel got his nickname "Nails" at an early age for his involvement in gang fights.

According to Chicago writer Bill Reilly who has written extensively about Samuel Morton, he soon became a leader of the Jewish gang scene. Jewish gangs offered protection to the Jewish neighborhoods against non-Jewish gangs. During one such altercation, Samuel was brought in front of a judge and legend has it was offered either jail time or to enlist in the U.S. Army. He chose the latter and became a sergeant and then first lieutenant. He was a war hero, and was officially recognized by the French Government for his heroism with a French war cross. In the book History of the Jews of Chicago, he is listed as a Jewish hero of WWI.

My great uncle photo 2 

Samuel in the U.S. Army during WWI (far right)

Upon his return to Chicago, Samuel was lured back to the neighborhood and its gang activities. He became a gambler, and soon the proprietor of some well-known gambling establishments. By 1920 Samuel was involved in the bootleg whiskey trade, and a prominent figure at boxing matches often gambling $5,000 to $10,000 on a fighter. He owned a number of prizefighters. He was now considered a front man for the mob and worked under the guise of floral shop owner.

While Samuel was prominent in his own right, he and his friends were no match for the non-Jewish gangs. He was surrounded by the likes of Dion O'Banion, Bugs Moran, Hymie Weiss (Polish, not Jewish), as well as newcomer Al Capone. The men in the Jewish mobs picked sides, and Samuel chose Dion O'Banion who was an old friend.

Samuel was very good to his family and bought them a two-flat on Augusta Boulevard. His parents and siblings lived here. He was also known to lavish family and friends with many gifts. My Nonna especially remembered that he purchased a dog for her.

My great uncle photo 3  

The home on Augusta Boulevard

In August 1920, Samuel was placed under arrest along with Hershie Miller. The two were accused of shooting and killing two detectives. Research done by Bill Reilly suggests that the detectives tried to "shake Nails and Hershie down" and when they refused, the detectives made anti-Semitic remarks. This caused Samuel and Hershie to engage in gunfire. Samuel claimed his innocence, and in two trials both men were acquitted by juries. However, there were allegations of bribery and threats to witnesses.

Samuel "Nails" Morton seemed to have two sides. While much was written in the Chicago newspapers about his popularity and fame, it was also revealed that he was arrested several times. He lived a glamorous life with beautiful women and money, but one that was also filled with danger - both for himself and for others.

On May 13, 1923, Samuel went horseback riding as he often did with Dion O' Banion and Dion's wife in Lincoln Park. Samuel was an experienced rider, but while riding the stirrup strap broke causing the horse to bolt. Samuel lost his balance and fell. Frightened by what happened, the horse kicked Samuel cracking his skull and killing him. He was twenty-nine years old. His body was taken to Piser's Chapel on Broadway, and he was buried at Waldheim cemetery. His grave is next to my Nonna and Poppy. His occupation is listed as a florist on his death certificate.

5,000 people attended Samuel's funeral claiming that he was a protector of the Jewish people. It was said that Samuel made the west side of Chicago safe for Jews. An interesting Chicago legend is that the horse that was responsible for Samuel's death was kidnapped and 'bumped off'. This was later depicted in the James Cagney movie 'Public Enemy'. It was also said to be the inspiration for the scene in The Godfather when a horse head was placed in a man's bed as a warning from the mob.

Bill Reilly writes, "It seems that Nails Morton boy street brawler, gambler, and gangster had led another life - as the struggling Jewish community's white knight, its avenging angel." "While still a teenager, Nails had put together a neighborhood defense society made up of youngsters like himself, who were tired of being pushed around because they were Jewish." "Peddlers didn't have to live in constant fear of their carts being overturned, their goods stolen; old men their beards set afire, their yarmulkes knocked off; young girls insulted openly in the street".

Samuel "Nails" Morton certainly had a colorful life filled with glamour, heroism, and crime. He has been quietly forgotten by some, and for others is an unknown man. I felt it was important to tell his story to generations of Jewish people so that they could know a man who stood up in the face of anti-Semitism. I choose to see the good and am proud to say that Samuel "Nails" Morton was my great uncle. I say this because my Nonna who was the kindest, classiest, most amazing human being believed this, and that's more than good enough for me.


When the matchmaker tried to fix up her one...with someone else

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I consider myself a late bloomer. My first kiss took place my senior year in high school while I was on winter break with my family and I didn’t have a boyfriend until senior year in college. No one asked me to prom and I’ve only said, “I love you” to one boy.

I’ve had my share of casual dating relationships and one dating spree— it ended quickly when I started mixing up my dates’ names. I’m definitely not the most experienced relationship girl, but thanks to some good luck and determination on his part, I have been with my boyfriend Jason for five years.

When the matchmaker tried photo 2 

We met in the fall of 2006. I’d already been in two relationships that summer and was actively trying to be single for awhile. When I graduated from college, I also graduated from my first real relationship. (I know it sounds cliché, but it was true.) He was a few years older than me and a “townie” with not much of a future and I was returning to Chicago. I knew we had no forever-after together and it didn’t take me long to rebound. A week after graduation, I went on my birthright Israel trip, where I fell fast and hard for a fellow participant. In retrospect it was silly, but Israel brought out the naïve romantic in me and I’d pretty much convinced myself by the time I got back to Chicago that I was going to marry this guy. It didn’t help that everyone else on my trip thought so, too.

Well, we got home to Chicago and tried to date for a bit, but it fizzled quickly and dramatically (at least on my end) and as a way to distract myself from the pain, I rebounded again with a guy and an awful pick up line, “do you have a piece of gum?” He turned out to be perfectly nice with a perfectly nice summer internship in Chicago that guaranteed the fling would last only as long as the warm weather.

In late August, I moved into my own apartment and set out to be single girl in the city. I’d clearly been getting into relationships too quickly with the wrong guys (even the perfectly nice one) and needed a break from the dating scene altogether— my own dating detox. But one random Friday night soon after, my cousin asked me to attend a party in the suburbs being thrown by his sister’s boyfriend’s younger sister. Did you follow that? Well, I barely did and I didn’t want to go spend a night with a bunch of random people I didn’t know in Glenview. As part of my dating detox, I was actually enjoying spending Friday nights cooking dinner at my new place for my girlfriends. But at the last minute something made me change my mind and I decided to go.

He was the first person I met that night. It was raining and he’d been outside trying to grill food for the party. He had this big, adorable grin on his face and was soaking wet, which just made him even more attractive. You could tell from his happy, outgoing demeanor that he was the kind of person everyone wanted to be around all the time, including me…but just as friends. Later that night, I learned he was single, which meant that it was my job to set him up, but not with me, with one of my friends. Yep, little-miss-matchmaker was so preoccupied matchmaking for others (and trying to be single herself) that she attempted to set up her beshert with someone else.

Fortunately for me, my set up failed— neither my friend nor Jason had any interest in the other person— and after several weeks of wooing on his part, I gave in. Best decision I ever made. Being single is overrated when the right person comes along. And sometimes your gut just knows its right even when the rest of you hasn’t caught up yet. Bottom-line, you can do everything wrong and still end up with the right person—even when you least expect it. 


No need to plotz

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Your rescue recipes and game plan for Passover 

It was barely Purim and my phone was ringing off the hook with friends and clients asking questions regarding Passover. What am I making? Will I share recipes? Can I come over and cook for them? Will I come over for a meal (I especially love that one)?

I felt the panic creep into my normally blasé attitude toward the holiday. I made my peace with Matzo Madness years ago and have my annual game plan in place.

But the dread is contagious and I caught it.

I started digging around in cabinets. I planned my meals for the next month, all in an effort to rid my home of forbidden food items. I started my pasta scrap bag with its load of remnants of various pasta shapes. I call the dish created with it Pasta ala Odds and Ends—YUM!

As the anxiety deepened, I went through my spices and planned an alarming number of meals containing my most treasured ingredients. I love my spices and take great pride in my custom mixes. A little of this and little of that and voila, I have a masterpiece. As part of Passover prep, I fear that the delicate nuance that I try to achieve may just become a hodge-podge of global influences all in one dish with too much of this and too much of that.

Oh well, I will sleep well knowing that the spice cabinet Pesach cleanse has been schemed.

I practically freaked out when my husband brought home his favorite dried fava beans. I demanded an explanation for his lack of calendar sense. IT’S ALMOST PESACH!

I was really starting to fret as I was planning my menus a mere four weeks before the Seders, when I realized that I have a secret weapon for the holiday. My favorite ingredient, extra virgin olive oil, is kosher for Passover. I may have to give up my pastas, rices and spices, but I still have my extra virgin olive oil.

Last year I wrote about extra virgin olive oil and how it is important to purchase the best oil you can. I am revisiting that notion with renewed vigor and excitement.

Maybe you are like me. You go to the grocery store and you know you should buy good quality extra virgin olive oil, but you do not know which one is the best. You look at prices, pretty labels and country of origin and then make your best guess. You are rolling the dice and plunking down good money for something that may or may not be tasty.

Or, you could taste the oil before you buy it. I am not suggesting you crack open bottles and take a swig at the local supermarket. But, what if you could taste the olive oil before you purchase it, just like you go to a wine tasting and sample wines before you buy them?

There is a terrific store in Chicago that allows just such an experience. City Olive is a store specializing in extra virgin olive oils from around the world. At the back of the clever little shop there is a tasting bar where you can slurp and savor your way through dozens of bottles of luscious fragrant oils.

On a recent trip to City Olive, I tasted buttery oil from France that I am using for my Pesach baking. I also tasted oil from Spain that smells just like artichokes and tomatoes. I am using that oil for drizzling on finished dishes and for making pesto and vinaigrettes. I found my workhorse oil from Morocco that will be used for just about everything. That oil is complex and fruity.

You don’t have to be like me and purchase separate oils for everything. But why not? All extra virgin olive oils are kosher for Passover and year round, even with out kosher supervision. How awesome is that? We may give up our breads and cakes for eight days, but we will emerge from the holiday having feasted on foods made with delicious and healthy extra virgin olive oil. You cannot say that about Kosher for Passover oil which tends to be harsh and bitter and not healthy like extra virgin olive oil. How much cooking time and how many ingredients do you need to cover up the taste of bad oil?

My nerves have been calmed and I am cool as a spring day in Chicago knowing that my Passover plan has been executed. I can approach the holiday with excitement.

Roasted Halibut with Green Olive Pesto 

This sprightly flavored dish will remind you of warmer days. Halibut is my favorite springtime fish and the buttery flavor of the fish pairs well with the tasty and easy to prepare pesto.

Serves 6

For the halibut 

6 6-ounce skinless halibut filets
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 350

1. Place a large sauté pan over medium high heat. Season the filets with salt and pepper.

2. Place the filets (presentation side down-this is the side that did not have the skin on it. It is the prettier side!) into the pan. Allow the filets to brown (about 5 minutes). Transfer the filets to a sheet pan and roast in the preheated oven until the filets are firm to the touch (about 10-12 minutes depending upon thickness)

3. Spoon the pesto over each filet and garnish with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and mint leaves.

For the Pesto 

½ cup best quality extra virgin olive oil
½ cup almonds, toasted
½ cup golden raisins
2 cups green olives, pitted (I like the product from Israel)
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice
2 cloves garlic
Zest of 1 orange
Pinch of crushed red chilies, optional
¼ cup fresh mint leaves + additional leaves for garnish
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

1. Place all of the ingredients in a food processor or blender and process until the mixture is a very thick paste with some chunks remaining.

2. The pesto can be made up to 3 days ahead of serving and can be stored, covered, in the refrigerator.

Olive Oil Cake 

Luscious olive oil, saffron and almonds are the foundation for this fragrant Passover dessert. The cake is light and airy with a moist crumb. The saffron gives the cake an earthy honey flavor that complements the olive oil and almonds. I like to spread Olive Oil Ganache over the cake layer and garnish with toasted almonds for an elegant dessert.

3 eggs
2 ½ cups sugar
1 cup white wine
½ teaspoon saffron threads
½ cup fresh squeezed lemon and/or orange juice
Zest of 3 oranges
1 vanilla bean, scraped
1 ½ cups best quality extra virgin olive oil
1 ½ cups almond flour
½ cup potato starch
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon baking powder
pinch of salt

Preheat oven to 350
Line a 9 inch spring form cake pan with parchment paper.

1. Beat the eggs and sugar to a ribbon stage using the whisk attachment.

2. Combine the wine, saffron, citrus juices and zest, the vanilla bean and the olive oil and set aside.

3. Combine the almond flour, potato starch, baking soda, baking powder and salt and whick together. Set aside.

4. Alternate the wet ingredients and dry ingredients into the egg mixture. Pour into the prepared cake pan and bake for 30-35 minutes until the top springs back when lightly pressed. Cool the cake on a cooling rack.
Invert the cake layer onto a cake board or decorative platter. Garnish with Olive Oil Ganache or Passover powdered sugar.

Olive Oil Ganache 

8 ounces bittersweet chocolate (during Passover I Schmerlings)
2/3 cup brewed coffee
½ cup of Passover confectioner’s sugar
3 tablespoons best quality extra virgin olive oil
1 vanilla bean, scraped
2 teaspoons Fleur de Sel (the sea salt has a sparkly flavor that brings out the best in the chocolate and the olive oil)-optional

1. Melt the chocolate with the coffee over a double boiler in a bowl suspended over simmering water. Remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly.

2. Add the remaining ingredients and whisk to combine.

3. Pour over cakes while still warm and garnish with Fleur de Sel.


Do we really need tzedakah for our trip?

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Sam and Erica Weisz photo 

Our parents counted out eight crisp singles. We are now ready for our trip, but are hoping not to need the eight bucks. Erica and I have officially been hired as mitzvah messengers, shaliach mitzvah, in hopes of returning home safe, in one piece. This time our trip feels different, the comfort we normally get from a secure wad of singles just isn't as comforting. We have taken many trips together both short and long, and many times those singles might have helped to ensure a safe return. However, on this journey we will be carrying these singles to a Jewish village on the western slope of Uganda's mountain range. We will not need our singles, because we are traveling with one hundred pounds of dental supplies to help the Abayudaya one tooth at a time.

As we embark on this journey, there is a feeling of excitement, anticipation, but mostly anxiety.

Anxiety for Erica and me tends to be normal before any new adventures. We try to ease the tension with encouragement, but that rarely works. So we resort to this heightened tension that turns to a rush of adrenaline. During our marriage, dubbed “the newlywed experiment,” the normal stuff like packing, reservations, and transportation have always stressed the nerves the weeks before a big trip. This trip we have a bit more hanging over our heads. Are we bringing the right supplies? Collecting enough tzedakah? Will we be given the courage to justly distribute the minimal resources that we will be sharing? Our few answers have led to many, many more questions.

It is our hope this journey does more than sate our appetite for adventure. We pray that this time, we won't need our stack of singles, because we hope to be bringing a higher level of tzedakah to the people of Uganda. Right now we have a surreal feeling, like we really aren't packing, we really aren't training for safari dentistry. But we are, and we hope to share our trials and tribulations as we embark on another adventure in the newlywed experiment called marriage.

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