OyChicago blog

Tone Deaf Daddy

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A Mother’s Day Ode
04/30/2014

Tone Deaf Daddy photo

I am taking a break from fitness writing this month to write a story for Mother’s Day and poke some fun at myself.

This tale starts in college, when I was a freshman – a tone-deaf freshman – and nobody knew, not even me. I was practicing with friends for a talent show. The theme was songs from the movie Forrest Gump. During the first practice, all the young men sang the same songs, over and over again. It was easy to hide in the background while my peers sang their heart off. The second practice it was harder to hide when an upper-classman requested to “Just have Krit sing.”

Growing up, my sister was the piano player and in the chorus club. I was not a singer and it never bothered me. It never dawned on me that I had no vocal skills. Until I was 14, I could pass for my sister on the phone so I thought maybe I could sing. I was wrong.

When I started singing “What the World Needs Now is Love,” it was clear I had no business even attempting to carry a tune. When everyone stopped laughing, another older student added, “We have a new plan: Krit will sing all the songs. And we will try not to laugh.” Fortunately, it was impossible to not laugh while I sang; partly showmanship, but mostly horrible singing.

That memory slowly faded, and I started my working career. Normally, singing was never something I would do at work. Then it happened. My boss Tracy was a cabaret singer. He did plays and had his own one-man show. He sang around the office all the time, and his humming was a little infectious, so I started to sing. I don’t think I even meant to. It’s like when “Billie Jean” comes on and you can’t help but dance and sing. Needless to say, I was banned from singing in the office. Sure, I was a little humiliated, maybe even hurt, but auditioning for American Idol or The Voice was never on my radar anyway.

Fast forward another few years, and I met my wife. She quickly agreed with Tracy and tried to ban me from singing. At first, I was not allowed to sing in the car, but then I was banned from all parts of the house except the shower, which is okay with me because that’s when my voice is the strongest anyway.

Now if you are thinking, “why is everyone so mean to Ron?” these comments were never spiteful. Sure there is a dent in my pride, but hey, I have other skills. My wife cannot juggle or whistle, so I’ll always have that.

But I’m afraid there is now another person who fears my singing. He’s my 2.5-year-old son. Although I sing to Henry all the time, and will never stop, he will eventually ban me from singing. It will not be today, or tomorrow, but soon it will happen. He’s already alluded to it, and that’s why I’m thankful for my wife.

Aside from taking care of our son with love and care, supplying him with food for 14 months and being his sole parent on Saturdays, she can not only carry a tune, but she also remembers the correct words. Recently, I put Henry to bed and he was disappointed and slightly offended by my version of “Let it Go” from Disney’s new powerhouse movie “Frozen.” He refused to go to sleep until someone sang it correctly, and with soul. In comes his mom. Tired, not feeling well, but still a mom, she belted out “Let it Go” with love while cradling Henry. He had a huge smile on his face. I further punished myself by asking, “Who sang it better?” Without any hesitation, he declared, “MOMMY!”

Thank you Henry’s mom! Happy Mother’s Day to you!

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Making the ‘Jump’

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From Fundraising to Finance
04/29/2014

My journey as an interfaith leader photo

Seven months ago, I shocked myself and many of my coworkers at the Jewish United Fund; I gave my notice, leaving JUF and YLD for the world of finance. The most common responses I got included “Wow! That’s a big change. Are you qualified? How did you get the job?”   

Let me tell you a little secret: the work of fundraising is not that different than finance. I know, I know … you think I am crazy, so let me explain.  

For years I wanted to explore the financial industry. I loved (and still love) budgeting, statistics, daily news and watching the markets. But when I attended a job fair and had people look at my resume, I was told point blank that I had cornered myself into the Jewish non-profit world.   

Hearing this only made me want to prove to the world – well, really to myself – that I could get a job in finance, but my search ended quickly when I landed an incredible job at JUF. For years I planned programs, raised money and built the community. I loved it, but two things in particular: building the relationships and bringing in the money.

Now here is where it gets interesting, so read carefully. Knowing how to build relationships cannot be taught. You are a good networker, trustworthy, caring, etc. or you are not. Finance can be learned. A person can study options and read about the markets.

I had just cracked the code. I had found my way into finance – relationships! Now, the key was to prove to others that I was not full of B.S. and THAT was not as easy as picking up the phone at a phonathon!

The first thing I had to do was convince myself. After stating over and over again that you can learn finance but not relationships, I started to believe it myself. From there it was using those relationships. It worked. I made the “jump,” which I see more as a skip, and am now a full-time financial professional, building relationships and bringing in money, just like I did at JUF.

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Interview with Dodger Legend Norm Sherry

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04/28/2014

You may have seen this amazing piece of artwork below. Greg Harris has really drawn up some amazing interest and excitement through his project, Jewish Baseball Player.com. Connected to this achievement has been his ability to help non-profits raise money. We spoke with Greg and he put us in touch with Norm Sherry as a way to collaborate.

Interview with Dodger Legend Norm Sherry photo

If you are a baseball fan, you need this piece of Jewish baseball history and if you are a baseball fan you need to read more about the guy who helped Sandy Koufax become Sandy Koufax. Meet Norm Sherry.

How was your experience with Jewish Baseball Player.com?
It was a fun time. The people were so nice. There were a bunch of people there. It has been a long time since I have been around that many Jewish people all at once. It was nice.

What was your Jewish life like?
My parents weren't religious but my grandparents were. My great grandfather was a rabbi. My mother and grandmother always spoke Yiddish to each other. But we never learned about being Jewish even tough my High School was 90 percent Jewish. In order to play in a ball game we needed to come to school the day of the game and it was the Holidays. So I went and I was there basically by myself.

Others in your family played as well correct?
Larry played with me in '59. We also played winter ball together in Venezuela. Growing up we didn't play much together because he was 4 years younger than me. He would come to the field with us and we'd stick him in right field. My youngest brother George played 1 year in the majors too but hurt his arm, his rotator cuff and never came back. My other brother Stan was in World War II.

Did Sandy Koufax go to synagogue the Yom Kippur he missed his World Series start?
I don't know if he went to synagogue. Sandy is a great guy, very down to earth. He never wanted the fame. Our lockers were next to each other. Once there was a young reporter and all the other reporters stormed him and the young kid didn't get to ask his question. After the other reporters left, Sandy went up to the young reporter and asked him what he wanted to know. He was a great guy.

Are you still in touch with Koufax?
We are not really in touch. Last time we saw each other was 3 or 4 years ago. I did call him after he was on TV recently and told him he looked good.

Do you ever go back and do work with the Dodgers?
When there are moments of emotion. For example, when the Dodgers celebrated the '59 team. They are good about it and invite some of the old timers to come back.

What did you do after your playing days?
I managed in the Majors for a little and in the Minors as well. After my playing days, I came back to Los Angeles and friends offered me a good-paying job at JB Stevens, a carpet company. But then I was offered a manager job in Santa Barbara and took it. It paid a lot less money. Managing can be very taxing on a person, especially in the Major Leagues. Being a player was the best.  

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Tanks a lot.

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04/25/2014

lia float tank

There I was, on a Friday afternoon, floating in a pitch-black tank filled with 10 inches of water and 800 pounds of salt, stressing out about earplugs, and trying to relax.

(How’s that for catching your attention?)

Dear readers, you may be shocked to hear this; but last week, I decided to try something NEW.

When my friend Lindsey and I thought about taking a mini vacation over spring break, we were thinking along the lines of a trip to Mexico, the Dominican Republic, or a Caribbean cruise. But when our wallets, our calendars, and our mothers disagreed, we decided to go with a new plan: A Chicago Staycation. 

If we had been in Mexico, we would have spent most of our time relaxing on the beach. What’s a way to do something similar in cold, winter-in-March Chicago? One idea popped into my head: A sensory deprivation tank.

I first heard about the sensory deprivation tank from my friend Josh. He said it was an incredible experience that was almost impossible to describe; you had to experience it for yourself. My interest was piqued, and so was Lindsey’s when we planned our staycation. We booked our flotation tank appointments.

On Friday afternoon, we had been instructed to eat a snack beforehand so as not to focus on our hunger in the tank. With scrambled eggs in my belly and a tuna melt in Lindsey’s, we arrived at SpaceTime Tanks in Lincoln Park, not knowing knowing what to expect. We were instructed to take off our shoes and wait in the dark, calm waiting room. The owner then showed us into a room where we were given detailed instructions on how to make the most of our flotation experience.

When our rooms were ready, Lindsey and I waved goodbye and went into our separate rooms. Or at least I thought I was waving goodbye to her; I was told to take out my contact lenses, so I couldn’t see much of anything.

In each room there was a shower and a tank that looked almost like a very long file cabinet. I rinsed off in the shower and then put in earplugs — we were told that without earplugs, we’d get salt in our ears. I opened the door and entered the tank, which was filled with 10 inches of water and 800 pounds of salt. Like the Dead Sea, with that much salt, your body immediately floats. I closed the door and it was pitch black.

I had a whole hour to float, close my eyes, relax, and enjoy having my brain freed of the senses of sound (earplugs), smell (you just have to get used to the salt smell), sight (opening my eyes and closing my eyes were the same), taste (don’t swallow the water!), and touch (floating in water set to around 94 degrees causes the body to feel weightless and like it’s not touching anything).

And now, for your reading pleasure, I present to you: Lia’s Thoughts During the Flotation Tank Hour:

Alright. Time to relax. After a stressful week, this is my time to just be alone with my thoughts.

Or wait, was I supposed to NOT have thoughts?

My earplugs are falling out. Did I not put them in right? Does my ear canal go up or down? Why don’t these earplugs fit me? I should have practiced before I came here. Why didn’t they warn me I’d need to be certified in Earplugs 101? 

Try to relax, Lia.

Maybe I should push the earplugs back in. But no, then the salt will be pushed deeper and deeper into my ear! I will have salty ears all week!

Clear your thoughts. Ohmmm…

Aw, what the heck, I’ll just take the earplugs out. Wait, where are they? Oh haha, they must have fallen out of my ears 10 minutes ago. 

I wonder how much time has passed.

Okay, NOW I’ll really be able to relax.

I bet Lindsey’s earplugs stayed in her ears. Ridiculous.

It sure is dark in here. But I think I can still hear things. Is that the receptionist answering the phone? Maybe that’s what the earplugs were for, drowning out the sounds.

Do they make brainplugs? To drown out my thoughts? Go away, thoughts!

Well, if I’m in here thinking anyway, I might as well be productive. The lady at the front desk said many writers will come here when they have writer’s block and need to think of new ideas. I wonder what I’ll blog about next week. Maybe this! Yeah, I’ll write about how I keep thinking of things when I’m trying to let my mind be blank. But other than that, I can’t think of any new blog ideas. And even if I did, how would I remember them? I can’t write them down in here.

I feel like I’m in a Seinfeld episode. This is totally the kind of thing that would happen to Elaine.

When’s the last time I watched Seinfeld? I can’t believe I’m two episodes behind on Glee. Here I am, floating in here for an hour, when I could be catching up on Glee.

They should totally put TVs in these things.

Floating is fun. My skin feels soft. This reminds me, I should really go swimming. I wonder if I know anyone with an indoor pool. 

I’m going to close my eyes now. Wonder if I’ll fall asleep.

[5 minutes later]

Nope, not asleep. I wonder what would happen if I rolled onto my side. 

Weird.

Or my stomach.

Ooh, this is nice!

I’ll go back on my back. My head feels like it’s going to fall in. Is my head too heavy? I’ll rest my head on my hands. Oh, this is nice. 

Is the time up yet? How long have I been here? I could probably get out now. But I’ll give it some more time.

Ahh…relax…

About 30 minutes later, my time was up. I showered, got dressed, and put in my contacts. I put on my shoes and my coat, and I walked back into the real world. The world where, even while I was in the tank, taxis were picking up passengers, restaurants were serving waffle fries, and people were buying movie tickets. I had to turn on my brain to preparing for the lunch I was hosting the next day, thinking about when I would do my reading for grad school, and wondering when I’m going to get the time to clean my apartment.

And in a way, I wished I could have had another hour in the tank. 

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Building a “Village” to Raise a Child

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04/24/2014

Rachel and Colin

As my son approaches his second birthday, the days blur together in a flurry of messes, play dates, tantrums and “eat, play, sleep” cycles. And although each day seems to blur into another sometimes, I remember those first few months of my parenthood journey so clearly:

- An endorphin rush at his birth followed by a hormone crash and weeks upon weeks of sleep deprivation.

- Navigating a whole new set of experiences and challenges, from the mysteries of infant sleep (“will he ever sleep?!”) to figuring out how to manage my time and get anything done with an infant who wants to be snuggled and/or fed 24/7.

- Feeling overwhelmed with attention and feeling alone all at once. 

- Trying to figure out how and where to meet other new moms while also maintaining my friendships with my “pre-Colin” friends who didn’t always understand why I couldn’t return to my late-night partying ways now that I wasn’t pregnant or why my plans revolved around a newly-developing nap schedule.

- Meeting another new mom only to find out that her family was house-hunting in the ‘burbs or moving back to their hometown to be closer to family, and secretly wishing we could move closer to our out-of-state family and have a built-in village, even though I knew it just wasn’t in the cards for us.

- Slowly building a “village” of my own, with a mix of new “mom friends”, families my husband met at the park on the swings, and babysitters who have become a paid version of extended family.

These “mom friend” relationships slowly developed into real friendships. Superficial discussions about introducing solids, nap schedules and teething turned to solid friendships, built on trust and camaraderie and all sorts of conversation topics beyond just baby. We would meet weekly (or more) with our little ones at playgroup, which I soon understood was an event designed by parents to spend time with one another under the disguise of “socialization for the kiddos.”

What I was surprised to realize was that the moms and families my husband and I “clicked” with most early on all had one thing in common: we were all a part of the Jewish community. I’m not sure why I was surprised, since we shared so much before we even met, from common childhood experiences to shared values. We didn’t meet at “Jewish events” and we weren’t actively seeking a “Jewish” connection, but in the end, we’ve all expressed how glad we are to have found each other.

Building my village was (and still is) a slow and evolving process. It’s not like there was a magical place to show up and be introduced to people who are in the same stage of new parenthood as you.

But what if now, there was? Ok, well it isn’t magic per se. But it has the power to create magic, I am certain.

JUF recently launched a brand new program called jBaby Chicago, which aims to be a resource for parents raising Jewish children from birth to 24 months old, creating a fun, social, supportive community to help navigate those critical first two years. Through classes, playgroups and special events across the north side of the city, jBaby Chicago will help parents find and build their “village” from the very beginning.

I think back to the beginning of my time as Colin’s mama, and I only wish that a program like this had been around for us. And I couldn’t be happier to be involved now.

Are you expecting or raising a Jewish baby under 24 months? Find more information at www.juf.org/jBabyChicago, or email me at rachelfriedman1@gmail.com. I would love to take you out for a cup of coffee (doesn’t every new parent need a cup of coffee?) to tell you all about how you can get involved!

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Tradition!

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04/23/2014

Topol Fiddler

Just before Passover, I found myself in a fury of planning, cleaning and shopping. My heart beat faster inside my chest as we raced to get everything done just right and just in time. I felt the sweat dripping down my brow as we scrubbed every last corner in my kitchen. I strained and grunted as we stuffed our appliances into closets and taped up cabinets of food not suitable for Passover. It was about getting enough done to meet the requirements of the holiday without going completely insane!

In the classic musical, Fiddler on the Roof, Tevye explains it best: 

A fiddler on the roof. Sounds crazy, no? But here, in our little village of Anatevka, you might say every one of us is a fiddler on the roof trying to scratch out a pleasant, simple tune without breaking his neck. It isn't easy. You may ask, “Why do we stay up there if it's so dangerous?” Well, we stay because Anatevka is our home. And how do we keep our balance? That I can tell you in one word: tradition!

Passover has now ended and with it some of the most widely observed traditions in Judaism. Millions of Jews from around the world, even if they did very little else “Jewish” for the rest of the year, found themselves back again at another Passover seder, eating matzos, and/or ridding themselves of chametz for the entire week. 

Tradition! We do the same thing year after year. Many of the traditions we share as a people, like joining together for seders. Others we share in our communities, such as where everyone will be meeting for pizza when the holiday ends. Still, some we have for our own families, mainly Bubbie’s brisket. Every year it is the same, and yet, it feels like, if we don’t eat every bite, read every line and sing every song just the way we always do, it just doesn’t feel like Passover.

Tradition! In the same breath, we kvetch and kvell at the redundancy of it all. Why does it always have to be so long, so hard so much the same thing every single year? How do I love this time of year, so many people, so joyful, so much food? We keep the good and the bad of every holiday close to our hearts.

Through it all, a theme rang true for me this year that helped the traditions start to make more sense and even feel worthwhile. Passover is the same every year, but we are not. We come together every year for the same meal with the same people to sing the same songs because it provides a constant against which we can measure change. The value of engaging with this tradition is that it gives us a starting place from which to return and measure how much we have indeed changed, hopefully for the better, from year to year. As a people, tradition lets us know how much we have improved from generation to generation. As much as we must remember what it was like to be slaves in Egypt, we must also measure how much we have to bettered ourselves each year as free people.

 

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''Let My People Go...''

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...go and do what?
04/18/2014

'Let My People Go...' photo

I somehow got sent a copy of “The 30 Minute Seder.” It has a song in it that is not traditionally a Passover seder song, but I can see why they put it in there. It's the spiritual "Let My People Go."  

This is a quote directly from the Torah, sure, but it's incomplete. The full sentence that Moses says to Pharaoh in the name of God is, "Send (forth) My people that they may serve Me."  

This is probably a big part of the reason Pharaoh refused. The Israelites were coming back in three days. It would be a capitulation (and a loss of productivity) to let them go for that long, but not necessarily a threat to his reign. Pharaoh could even spin it as proof that they were not really slaves, and that he was even benevolent—"See, I even gave them a vacation!"  

No, it was the second part, I think. Pharaoh could not allow the Israelites—or any in his empire—to think of themselves as able to serve non-Egyptian gods, himself among them.  

Today, we tend to focus on the "freedom" part, and stop at the "go" of "let my people go." But in his book Man's Search for Meaning, psychologist and Holocaust survivor Victor Frankl proposed that, opposite the Statute of Liberty, we build a Statue of Duty.  

Jewish superhero creator Stan Lee agrees, and has his creation, Spider-Man, repeat that: "With great power comes great responsibility."  

On Passover, we celebrate our liberation, and say that we're free. Now that the holiday is over, we have to ponder, "Free to do what?" After four cups of wine, it’s a sobering thought.  

And so I propose an addendum to the Four Questions: "Now that I am free to do any thing, what thing do I want to do?"

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Oh Bulls, I just can’t quit you

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04/17/2014

Oh Bulls, I just can’t quit you photo

No matter how lost the last two seasons were, I cannot quit these Bulls. No matter how many times they are counted out or how many star players to lose, the Bulls continue to be not only fun to watch, but one of the top-tier teams in the NBA who could beat anyone on any given night.  

After Derrick Rose was lost for the season for the second year in a row, I was ready to cash in all of my chips on these Bulls. It was time to trade away their assets, tank and hope for good draft position going into next year. But for the second year in a row, the Bulls refused to quit. They refused to listen to their critics and they again find themselves one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference heading into the playoffs. Last year was a fun team to watch. Nate Robinson was worth the price of admission and kept the Bulls in several games they should not have otherwise been in. But injuries plagued them all year and by the time they hit round two, they just didn’t have enough to compete with. But as much as Robinson and Marco Bellineli were fun to watch and made big plays, they also made a lot of mistakes that had me yelling at them in frustration almost as much as I did in joy.  

Yet somehow this year’s team, with no Rose and Luol Deng traded away, is a much more fundamentally sound team. DJ Augustin can score off the bench, but can also play defense and makes his teammates around him better. Mike Dunleavy can hit the perimeter shot, but also has size over almost every small forward in the league. Taj Gibson is improved his scoring, continues to be a force on defense, and now closes every game. Jimmy Butler’s game has improved, and he has settled almost seamlessly into the Deng role. And coach Tom Thibodeau just flat out knows how to get the best out of his players, and put a team capable of winning on the floor every single night.  

But the biggest difference is the emergence of Joakim Noah as a leader, a legitimate difference maker, and the heart of this team. Noah’s energy and enthusiasm makes him fun to watch, but it’s his winning attitude that makes this less of a “try-hard bunch” and more of a team who could make a legitimate playoff run in an overall weak conference. 

That is what makes them so intriguing to me this year. They are not the “Little Engine That Could” team they were last year. They play as a team, they have no selfish players, and it’s no longer a surprise when they beat a good team. So even when they lose like they did last night, they always bounce back. So as a fan, they don’t leave you down for too long. And why I just can’t quit these Bulls.

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My Grandpa’s Jacket

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04/14/2014

My Grandpa’s Jacket photo

Abby, with her afikoman-hiding grandpa.

It was the end of the fourth, and all eyes were on me.  

That's the fourth question, of course. Although the unofficial fifth question (will she find the afikoman?) was on the minds of everyone in the room.  

Most people's unofficial fifth question is “Who will find the afikoman?” But when you're the only child at the Seder year after year, no one wonders who. They only wonder when. Where. How. And in my case, if.  

I admit it, hide and seek was never really my strong suit as a child. I usually preferred to play “hide and then tell me where you are when I become annoyed that I can't find you.” Unfortunately, afikomans (dessert at the seder) can't speak up and tell you where they are. And my grandpa, who always hid the afikoman, wasn't talking either.  

“Come on Grandpa, give me a hint,” I begged. At this point, I had scoured our three-story house approximately 12,000 times. Probably more. I had flipped every cushion, looked under every bed, and triple-checked the inside of every cupboard. Nothing.  

The adults, of course, thought this was hilarious. I shared an eye roll with the dog.  

As I sat back down at the table, defeated, embarrassed, and wondering if I'd still get my $18 Barnes & Noble gift card (the one that was supposed to be guaranteed, since I didn't have any competition), it occurred to me that Grandpa's torso seemed a bit bulkier (and more . . . square . . .) than usual.  

I looked closer.  

It did not appear that Grandpa had worked out anytime during the Seder.  

Being the loving, totally non-sneaky granddaughter I was, I brilliantly decided to go in for a hug. Everyone likes a good Passover hug.  

Hmm. Grandpa felt rather—crumby. Interesting.  

Finally putting the pieces together, I dramatically pulled his suit jacket open, and watched in amazement as the afikoman fell out.  

“Busted!”  

Everyone laughed, and though I was relieved, I was not particularly amused.  

I should've been happy—the precious Barnes & Noble gift card was secured, after all—but frustration lingered long after the dessert had been eaten. I searched high and low, near and far, and in some dark, disturbing places (a kid should never have to look through his/her parent's sock drawer for any reason), and it was in his jacket, at the table, the entire time? Seemed to me like a lot of wasted time and effort.

My mom, picking up on my subtle (okay, fine, not subtle) crankiness in the way that moms do, asked what I was so upset about, and I told her.

“But you found it,” she said. “Who cares where it was or how long it took? You found it.”

She was right. The more I thought about it that night—and additional nights later on—it didn't have to matter how long it had taken me. After all, it had taken the Jews 40 years to find their way out of the desert. While I'm sure they would have liked to skip 39.999 of those years and head right into their new lives as free people, I highly doubt they were moaning and groaning too much when their journey came to an end. They were likely pretty ecstatic to finally make it out of the desert, regardless of the disheartening amount of time it had taken. Also, that lengthy amount of time—in its own mysterious way—had probably made them even more grateful and appreciative when their journey ultimately concluded.

Of course, my afikoman adventure was obviously nowhere near the plight of the Jews in the desert in terms of levels of difficulty and aggravation, but thinking about the Passover story and what they endured helped put things in perspective. Would I have liked the afikoman to be easier to find? Absolutely. Would I have liked my search to take less time? Of course. Was I proud of myself for overcoming Dad's nasty socks and finding it anyway? Heck yes I was.

Passover reminds us to persevere in times of struggle. Whether it's a big wandering-through-the-desert type of struggle, a where-the-heck-is-that-darn-matzoh struggle, or anything in between, we have to trust that we'll eventually find what we're looking for, even if it takes longer than we'd like.

But, word to the wise: Always check your grandpa's jacket first.

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Self Love

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Acharei Mot
April 11-12, 2014
04/11/2014

 

This week’s portion, Acharei Mot, begins by sharing the specific instructions for what the High Priest is meant to do on Yom Kippur (the holiday is introduced as well). We’re told that the High Priest is charged with making atonement for the Israelites and their sins once a year. We also find the fascinating invention of the scapegoat – literally a goat that the High Priest would place the sins of the Israelites on and then send out into the desert. We learn that the average Israelite is no longer permitted to offer up sacrifices / burnt offerings on his/her own, but must utilize the priests (it’s often good to have a monopoly when you’re in charge…). We also are reminded that consuming blood is a no-no, and are provided with a large list of prohibited sexual relationships (sleeping with family members is generally a no, in case you were wondering).

I’m particularly intrigued by the order given in the Torah as it relates to the High Priest’s atonement efforts on Yom Kippur. We learn that the High Priest is instructed to make expiation (1) for himself, (2) for his household, and then (3) for the nation as a whole.

Why this order? Aren’t the priest’s actions really about the nation as a whole? Don’t we often say that we want our leaders to be selfless, putting the needs of the nation ahead of their own? Why wouldn’t the High Priest atone on behalf of the entire nation first, and only worry about himself later?

Practically speaking, there’s an argument to be made that one needs to have atoned oneself in order to have obtained the state of heightened purity necessary to be in a position to atone for others.

But in a more meta way, I think our major takeaway point needs to be that before we can go out and take care of others, we need to make sure that we’re taking care of ourselves. Are we exercising regularly and eating healthily? Are we getting enough sleep? Are we forgiving ourselves for our own perceived shortcomings as we walk through the world?

Are we recognizing that sometimes those we hold up as leaders also need private time on their own and with their families?

By taking care of ourselves (and recognizing that we all need to do so), we truly become capable of taking care of others.

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Carb-Cramming before Passover

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A guide to getting your gluten fix in Chicago before the matzo meal begins
04/10/2014

If you’re at all like me, one of your favorite things to do in Chicago is go out to eat. With a plethora of delicious restaurants, Chicago has a great food scene. I love trying out new places and, of course, returning to all of the establishments that I adore. Living in a Midwest metropolis means that many of the best places have amazing carbohydrate-filled delicacies—foods that are huge no-nos during Passover. 

If you’re trying to plan how to fit in some great meals before your eight-day abstinence from bread, pasta, pizza, etc., you are in luck. Here are my recommendations of some of the best places to feed your carb cravings before Pesach begins.

Pizza

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Pizza topped with French fries, cheddar cheese, BBQ sauce, and ranch dressing at Dimo's Pizza.

Pizza is, hands down, the greatest food ever created, right? Of course. For a casual meal in a relaxed, but fun atmosphere, I suggest going to Homeslice. It’s gotten to the point where I go to Homeslice at least once a month because it is that delicious. They offer individual pizzas, sell pitchers of great beer, and have a patio that I plan on utilizing as much as possible over the summer. I recommend ordering the breadsticks and goat cheese. You can even skip the breadsticks and just dip your crust in the sauce (thanks friends for thinking of this brilliant idea!) “The Big Teve” on whole wheat crust is also a must-have. This pizza includes spinach, roasted red peppers, red onions, mushrooms, oregano, feta, parmesan, mozzarella, provolone, garlic and olive oil. Need I say more? 

I also have a soft spot for Dimo’s Pizza. Although I didn’t go to University of Wisconsin, I spent enough time there that sometimes I feel like I could convince people that I did. One of the best places in Madison, Wisc. is Ian’s Pizza, where you can line up into the wee hours of the morning to get your slice of mac and cheese pizza (yes you read that correctly and it is heavenly). When I found out Ian’s operates as Dimo’s in Wrigleyville, and now Wicker Park, I was thrilled. Sometimes at 2 a.m. on a weekend night, you just need a slice of pizza. Also, sometimes you might want one mid-day—what? Anyhow, Dimo’s has amazing varieties of pizza offered by the slice including the infamous “The Mac” topped with macaroni noodles and cheddar cheese on a homemade crème fraiche base. My other favorite pizza there is the “High Fry” or any variation of this slice that is available that day which includes hand-cut French fries with mozzarella and BBQ sauce on a creamy bleu cheese or preferably ranch sauce base, topped with cheddar cheese and fresh parsley. 

Beyond that, the classic deep dish pizzas at Lou Malnati’s, Pequod’s, and Giordano's are worthy options, although I think they are worth saving for a celebratory feast once Passover is complete.

Burgers

Keeping kosher makes going out for burgers kind of monotonous at times. I get sick of eating the same boring veggie burgers that I pretend taste as good as hamburgers, when, in fact, they usually do not come close. This is one of the many reasons that I love DMK Burger Bar. Beyond their amazing milkshakes (half peanut butter, half chocolate is my favorite) and crispy fries, which you can get for free before 7 p.m. if you check in on Foursquare, DMK has one of the best salmon burgers that I have ever tasted. The fresh salmon is seasoned with ginger, topped with scallions, and includes Asian slaw and spicy, red Thai curry sauce. 

When I am in the mood for a real burger, nothing is better than Milt’s BBQ for the Perplexed. Everything on this menu is incredible and even if you aren’t in the mood for a burger, you can always treat yourself to their smoked brisket sandwich that is out of this world.

Brunch

Carb-Cramming before Passover photo 2

Bananamisu Pancakes at Bongo Room

Like most 20-somethings, I am obsessed with brunch. Not much is better than waking up on your day off and treating yourself to an extensive, delicious meal. The best brunch in Chicago is hands-down at Bongo Room. Although I have only been a few times, their sweet pancakes and French toast options are incredible. One of the options that they have available right now is Bananamisu Pancakes, a breakfast friendly spin on the classic Italian dessert topped with fresh bananas. Everything on their menu sounds like one of the best foods ever created. Although there is usually a pretty decent wait time to get in, it is completely worth it. I also love Hash House A Go Go, mainly because they have homemade flakey biscuits. Who can say no to that?

Desserts

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Birch & Marshmallows, Banana French Toast, and Chocomole ice cream at Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams

As always, save (one of) the best for last. I have a huge sweet tooth and my favorite places to nurture that sweet tooth are Sweet Mandy B’s and Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams. Besides the fact that Sweet Mandy B’s is one the cutest bakeries in the world, their buttercream frosting is absolutely perfect, especially on top of their homemade sugar cookies and homemade rice krispie treats. If those don’t float your boat, they have many varieties of cakes and cupcakes, including snickerdoodle cake, which I have yet to try, but I might just need to before Pesach. 

As a Michigan Fan since before birth (probably), loving something that came out of Columbus, Ohio seem wrong. However, when it comes to Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams, it has to be right. Jeni’s has some of the best ice cream that I have ever tasted. Their flavors are creative, dynamic, and extremely tasty. Some of my favorites that are available at their scoop shop right now are Banana French Toast (bananas and honey ice cream with homemade French toast gravel and hints of pecan, cinnamon, coffee, and maple syrup), Bangkok Peanut (roasted peanuts, honey, coconut, and cayenne pepper), and Dark Chocolate, which has the richness of fudge in every bite. Depending on how strictly you keep Passover, some of their varieties may be okay to nosh on during your eight-day hiatus from bread, but even so, it would be wrong to not stop in for a little taste.

If you say you aren’t sufficiently hungry after reading this, I don’t believe you. Enjoy some treats before it’s time for matzah, macaroons and Manischewitz. Happy Passover!

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The Pursuit of My Afikoman

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04/09/2014

Around the beginning of spring every year, or as Chicagoans call it, “three quarters of the way through winter,” lots of us are having fun-filled family functions where searching is the primary activity. Some search for matzo. Some search for eggs. I search for egg matzos. It gives it some extra panache. 

That’s right my ever faithful, incredibly attractive and – did you lose some weight? – Oy! readers, it is Passover time at last, one of my favorite holidays of the year. Number 3 in fact.

One thing I’ve always liked about the holiday is the search for the Afikoman. Or in English: the search for dessert. I suppose, in that case, every meal for me ends with the search for the Afikoman. But I digress. Or should I say, digest? No. No I shouldn’t. But as I’ve grown older, my search for the Afikoman has no longer been in the traditional sense, but rather in the much grander sense that is life. Big metaphor, I know. What I mean to say is, the way I view the search for the Afikoman equates to the pursuit for what it is that I can be doing every day to be as happy as possible. And yes, hopefully there’s money at the end of that pursuit.

In the past few years, I’ve grown a little older, a little wiser and a lot more mature. (I’m almost 27! That’s a chai and a half!) Through that time, I’ve taken a few good long looks at myself in the mirror and really tried to figure out, what is that growth on my shoulder? Once I cleared up that mystery (shirt fuzzy) I discovered that I measure success differently than I used to. That’s probably because outside of having lots and lots of money, I wasn’t exactly sure how I measured success. I know it may sound terribly cliché, but I feel success is doing what I love every day. If I am truly lucky, then maybe, some day, I’d even get paid to do what I love.

Based on this criterion of success, I can say that I’ve had it, just not as often and as consistently as I’d like. I very much like my day job, but there is a lot I would rather doevery single day than go to my day job. However, my success criterion has the unfortunate blockade of adulthood. Adulthood is why I used the word blockade. As I often like to state, I am an adult. At least I’ve been trying to convince myself as much for some time now. (Thosesome times can be found here and here for your convenience.) There are many adult shenanigans that contribute and also anti-contribute to my overall ability for success.

My recent discovery – my personal Afikoman – is a relatively new find, yet it has always been there. At heart, I am a performer, or as I like to put it – a humorist of sorts. Always have been, always will be. In college, I was even doing standup comedy for a bit and for a less of a bit I was even getting paid $25 bucks a week and free beer. Greatest hourly wage I’ve ever had. However, it does qualify me to say I was a professional standup comedian for while. Heh heh. So I’m working toward the being happy doing what I want to be doing on a daily basis thing. The problem is that day in and day out, I’m not doing exactly what I want to be doing on a daily basis.

The real thing I want to do is to make the funny voices and sounds that got me in trouble in 7th grade (and still sometimes today). See, I consider myself a voiceover enthusiast, and that’s my ideal Afikoman: using my voice to make a living. My neighbors have to be frightened that it sounds like more than 100 people live in my apartment. And they are all VERY loud.

With all that in mind, I keep considering the possibility of pursuing voice acting, which I have actually been doing subconsciously for quite some time. And if I pursued it every day, that’d be me pursuing my Afikoman. Some days I pursue it, some days I don’t. Perhaps during this Passover, once again being in the presence of the annual search for the Afikoman, my urge for the daily pursuit of my own Afikoman will take full flight. The main thing I need to overcome is that I’m lazy, but more so that I’m frightened to go after my dreams and fail, to pursue my Afikoman and not find it. But is it really better to try and fail then to never try at all?

Yes. Yes it is. Future Adam will be disappointed if I don’t ever actually try and I know I can’t let future Adam down because he has a lot more stuff than I do right now and that makes him really cool. So grab some egg matzo, warm up that voice and let’s find us an Afikoman. Allons-y!

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It’s gotta be spring somewhere

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Welcoming the season and Passover
04/08/2014

Laura Frankel photo 2

Polar vortexes and mountains of snow be damned, full speed ahead to spring and the holiday!

We Chicagoans have been through a lot and we deserve a delicious and full flavored Passover.

My theme for all the food this year is CLEAN recipes. No hidden ingredients and no faux or ersatz substitutes. Just pure, scrumptious flavors.

I get depressed when I see the piles of mixes and boxed Passover foods lining the shelves. I am not sure what those mixes have to do with Passover, but I know they are not good. I prefer to eat with whole and unprocessed ingredients. Passover should be is a feast for the senses that will nourish mind, body, and soul. I don’t see boxed and nutritionally empty foods as a part of that sensibility. I want to emerge from “Mitzrayim” (Egypt) and the holiday renewed physically and mentally.

I attended the International Association of Culinary Professionals and the Women Chefs and Restaurateurs Association, both hosted in Chicago this year. The lectures I attended at both events were remarkable similar. The topic of discussion was regarding the health of the nation and why no one cooks at home? The only way for our families to get healthy is if we spend more time cooking at home and eating wholesome homemade meals. I was saddened to hear that the First Lady of the United States and Private Chef for the First Family both said the reason people don’t cook at home is not due to time constraints or even economics; it is due to the simple fact that they don’t know how!

As a chef, it is my mission to share recipes, techniques, and any tricks I have up my sleeve to get people in the kitchen and cooking. I think one of the first steps to that end of cooking at home from fresh whole ingredients, is to skip the box of chemicals and gunk and go for the fresh and whole foods.

I think the holiday is a chance to break away from our usual work-day routines and eating habits and start the season clean and fresh, just like our freshly scrubbed kitchens and homes. And yet, more than any other time of the year, I see store shelves and shopping carts full of boxed, prepared foods that bear no resemblance to real food.

After the winter we have had, I am cooking up a holiday full of bright, fresh and clean flavors. Here’s to a holiday of home cooked and fresh meals of Clean Food. Chag Kasher v’ Sameach Pesach!

Standing Rib Roast with Smashed New Potatoes

Cooking a large piece of meat to the perfect juiciness starts with bringing the meat to room temperature before cooking.

The center/eye of the meat should be at room temperature or it will be undercooked with the outer layers being overcooked. Your goal is a large medium rare EYE of the meat with a thin browned layer on the outside.

Take the time to allow the meat to come to room temperature which should be about 1 hour or so.

I scatter the bottom of my roasting pan with small onions, baby potatoes, and whole heads of garlic. I use cipollini onions, which are small and sweet. They cook to a delicious caramel-gooey texture and make a great schmear for the meat. Divine! 

Serves 8-10

6 rosemary sprigs, leaves stripped and chopped
8 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
¼ cup kosher salt
2 tablespoons freshly cracked pepper 
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 8-81/2-pound bone-in rib roast
2 cups small onions (such as pearl onions or cipollini), peeled
2 pounds new potatoes
2 whole heads of garlic

1. Place the rosemary, garlic, salt, pepper, and olive oil in a food processor and pulse until the mixture forms a paste

2. Schmear the paste, generously, on the roast and allow the roast to stand at room temperature for an hour or refrigerate overnight.

3. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Place the meat in a roasting pan, meat facing up, and roast for 30 minutes. Decrease the oven temperature to 350 degrees F and cook, occasionally spooning the juices over the meat, until a thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the meat registers about 125 degrees F (about 1 ½ hours) for medium rare. (I go a little under to account for carry over cooking, so I prefer to pull the meat at 115 degrees F.)

4. Allow the meat to rest for about 15 minutes before cutting the meat off the bone and slicing.

5. Skim the fat off the pan juices and serve.

6. Squeeze the cooked garlic out of the bulb and mash in a bowl.

7. Smash the potatoes with the back of a small pan and toss with the garlic and salt and pepper

8. Place a pan, lightly coated with olive oil, over medium heat and cook the potatoes until the edges are crispy and browned.

9. Serve the potatoes on a platter with the sliced meat and top with the browned onions and pan juices.

Roasted Carrots

When spring has sprung so has one of the simplest and most underrated vegetables, baby carrots. I am not talking about the carrots that are machine cut and in a bag in the produce department. I am talking about the carrots that are purchased with their tops still on and are miniature gorgeous orange, yellow and burgundy sweet root vegetables loaded with earthy flavor.

These beauties don’t need much fussing. Just a quick rinse and scrub (I don’t even peel mine) and then a good toss with good EVOO and some salt and pepper.

Simple is sometimes the best way of showing off color and flavor.

2 bunches of baby carrots with tops (carrots with tops are a good indicator of freshness. If the tops don’t look fresh and vibrant, the carrots are not fresh), tops cut off with an inch left attached to the carrot for a rustic look
EVOO
Kosher salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees, line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

1. Toss the carrots with olive oil, salt and pepper and place the lined baking pan. Don’t overcrowd the carrots or they won’t brown evenly.

2. Roast the carrots about 15-20 minutes until they are light toasty brown but still show their gorgeous color. You should be able to pierce the carrot with a fork and have a little resistance.

3. Toss the carrots with crispy shallots.

Crispy Shallots

Crispy shallots are a professional chef’s best friend. We use them whenever we need a tasty crunchy garnish.

The secret to crispy shallots is to cook over medium low heat and in plenty of oil. Don’t worry, the oil can be used to sauté in…bonus!

4 large shallots, peeled and sliced very thinly on a mandolin or with a knife

Extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly cracked pepper

Line baking sheet with paper towels

1. Place a 9-10 inch sauté pan over medium-low heat. Add about ½ inch of oil. Cook the shallots very slowly until they turn golden brown. Be patient! This could take 15 minutes. Transfer the shallots to the lined pan and season with salt and pepper.

2. Store the shallots in a container with a tight fitting lid at room temperature for up to 3 days.

3. Save the tasty oil for sautéing, or drizzling on matzo in the refrigerator. YUM!

Meyer Lemon Sponge Cake

Sponge cakes are boring and ho-hum unless you kick them up a bit.

My sponge cake gets added oomph from Meyer lemons. Meyer lemons are cross between a tangerine and lemon. The fruit is fragrant and lively with the perfume of tangerine.

I also use vanilla bean in my cake. The essence from the vanilla bean adds an elegant flavor and aroma.

I bake my sponge in individual cake pans and add Meyer lemon curd as a filling between the layers. The curd is tart and refreshing.

You can also bake the sponge cake in a bundt style pan and place a dollop of the delicious curd right on top of the cake.

1 cup matzo cake meal
6 tablespoons potato starch
½ teaspoon sea salt
7 large eggs, separated
1 ½ cups granulated sugar, divided
1 ½ tablespoons grated Meyer lemon zest
½ cup Meyer lemon juice
½ Tahitian vanilla bean, scraped

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. 

1. Mix the flour, potato starch, and salt into a bowl and set it aside. In a large mixing bowl, beat the egg yolks and 1 cup of the sugar with an electric mixer on medium-high speed for 5 minutes, scraping down the bowl once. Mixture should be thick and light. Mix in the lemon zest, juice, and vanilla on low speed just until blended. Set aside.

2. In another large mixing bowl, with clean beaters, beat the egg whites on medium-high speed until the whites are thick and quite foamy. Gradually add the remaining 1/2 cup of sugar while beating the egg whites on high speed until they are stiff and glossy, about 7 minutes.

3. Fold in 1/3 of matzo mixture using a rubber spatula into the beaten egg yolks. Fold in another third of the flour mixture along with a third of the beaten egg whites. Then, fold in the remaining flour, then the remaining egg whites, until the batter is completely mixed in. Pour slowly into 9-inch cake pans and smooth the top with a spoon.

4. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean, remove onto a wire rack and let cool completely. Carefully remove cakes from the pans.

5. Spread layers with Meyer lemon curd and finish cake with Meyer lemon glaze.

Meyer Lemon Curd

There is nothing especially Pesadich about this recipe. It is so delicious you can use it year round.

My Meyer lemon curd is a clean recipe. I don’t use margarine as a butter substitute, instead I add rich and delicious olive oil to give the curd extra richness and shine.

The curd is delicious as a cake filling and as a “dip” for berries and other fruit.

2 teaspoons Meyer lemon zest
Juice of 4 Meyer lemons
½ cup granulated sugar
6 egg yolks
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
¼ teaspoon sea salt

1. Microplane lemons to make 2 teaspoons zest.

2. Whisk together zest, juice, sugar, salt, and eggs in a non-reactive pot. Place over medium-low heat and cook, whisking, until thickened and smooth, about 5 minutes. Strain curd through a fine sieve set into another bowl. 

3. Add the olive oil and mix thoroughly. Chill until ready to add to cake. Cover with plastic before chilling to prevent skin forming.

Meyer Lemon Glaze

The simple glaze adds flavor and finishes the cake beautifully. Be sure to use the glaze quickly before the sugar crystallizes and becomes grainy.

1 cup powdered sugar
2 tablespoons Meyer lemon juice

Mix vigorously to combine. Use immediately.

Visit Chef Laura Frankel’s Facebook page (Chef Laura Frankel) to find out where she is teaching Passover cooking classes around town.
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The power of the jester

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04/07/2014

The power of the jester photo

There's this scene in National Lampoon's Vacation that gets me every time I see it.

Maybe you remember it too. It's the one where the camera pans to the two kids sleeping in the back seat of the Griswold mobile, then to the mom napping on the passenger side, and finally to Clark sleeping peacefully in the driver's seat—the car still in motion. It's just a few seconds long, but it always makes me laugh.

We have Harold Ramis to thank for that funny moment and about a million more like it.

Ramis, the Chicago Jewish filmmaker and a giant in the world of comedy who brought us beloved hits like Stripes, Ghostbusters, and Groundhog Day, died in February. At only 69, he left this world way too young.

But what a legacy he leaves behind, a treasure trove of many of the funniest movie classics of the last four decades, movies we'll be laughing at from now until eternity. And with each funny moment, with each belly laugh, he made the world a better place.

"Funny" is underrated. Funny people don't "get no respect," to quote Rodney Dangerfield, another Jewish comedy legend.

But making people laugh, helping them forget their troubles even for a little while, has power. In fact, that's a pretty hefty contribution to society if you ask me.

The act of cheering someone up is considered a big mitzvah in the Jewish tradition. The Baal Shem Tov, the famed Jewish mystical rabbi, once said, "Whoever lives in joy does the work of the Creator."

There's a story in the Talmud about Rabbi Beroka Hoza'ah who would frequent the town market. On one of his visits, he asks the prophet Elijah if "there is anyone in this market who has a special share in the world to come?" In response, the prophet points to two brothers. So the rabbi approaches the men and asks them their occupation. "We are jesters," they reply. "When we see men who are depressed, we cheer them up…"

Life's tough. There's famine, poverty, disease, hatred, and war. And, on a less global level, in our everyday lives, "it's always something," as another Jewish comedian, Gilda Radner, used to say.

Even if you don't currently have any big complaints, there isn't a Chicagoan out there who didn't need a laugh—and maybe a hug too—this past winter of perpetual polar vortexes.

Throughout history, we Jews certainly have had our share of tsuris (trouble). With everything we've been through, we've got to laugh because otherwise we'd cry. As Sholom Aleichem put it, "The world is in a terrible state, and just on spite we ought not to cry about it. And if you want to know the truth, that's the source of my humor. Just on spite, I'm not going to cry. Just to spite them, there's going to be laughter."

Maybe that's why in last year's Pew study of American Jews, 42 percent of people surveyed listed "humor" as essential to their Jewish identity, which Rabbi Daniel M. Bronstein explored in his recent lecture for ELI Talks: Chicago, sponsored by JUF News.

Like so many of the people surveyed, I love to laugh. Happiness studies show that the average adult laughs 17 times a day, but I'm shooting for 20.

Lately, I've been hooked on The Tonight Show ever since the show recently ushered in the talented and adorable Jimmy Fallon, a past YLD Big Event headliner. As Fallon recently remarked to his television audience, "I just want to make you laugh and put a smile on your face" before you go to bed.

And how can you not smile watching Fallon lip sync with Paul Rudd to Tina Turner, or croon alongside the Muppets and Billy Joel?

So thank you, Harold. And thank you, Jimmy.

Thank you to funny people everywhere for repairing the world, one laugh at a time.

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A Case of March Madness

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04/04/2014

A Case of March Madness photo

It might no longer be March, but it’s still Madness.

Ever get that feeling when your heart clenches and you kind of feel like it might burst from beating too quickly? Welcome to March Madness, and if you’re half as big a fan as I am, then you know suffering through a heart attack during the last two minutes of your team’s game is a real feeling.

The strange thing is I feel like I’ve become an infinitely bigger fan of my school’s teams since graduating. That’s not saying I didn’t love sports before, but they were more of a social event. Now I’ve become so neurotic I can barely be around anyone while intensely staring at my TV screen. Please don’t think I’m joking.

This basketball season I watched every game. I know every player. I know who can hit a three, who can play good defense and who scares the crap out of me when they handle the ball. For the games I had to miss, I DVRed them. That’s either true fandom or borderline lunacy.

Why the change from casual sports viewer to crazed fan?

I can’t say I’m the only one. Maybe my sports transformation has been more severe than others, but all my friends who had maybe no interest in collegiate sports (and by that I mean weren’t sure what 1st and 10 meant) suddenly avidly follow our school’s teams as alumni. Maybe once people graduate from college they lose a commonality a little bit. Maybe rooting for your team recovers those feelings even if just for fleeting moments.

But why March?

At the beginning of March you have all of these concrete statistics and predictions by top sports analysts. As someone who has taken a horrifying amount of statistics classes, I know that they usually predict the correct outcome – just look at Moneyball. However, March pretty much has a mind of its own and throws all of those statistics and predictions out the window. Out of 11 million brackets created on ESPN last month, less than 700 predicted the Final Four correctly. Now, I don’t want to badger you with statistics, because March doesn’t. March takes down NCAA giants and builds up Cinderellas. It is the source of devastation and elation, inhales and exhales.

Even if your team didn’t make it to the Final Four this weekend and you experienced that devastation that probably lasted two whole workdays, there is an upside. Because March says peace out to statistics, next year your school has as good of a chance as any to pull off the upset, hit the buzzer beater or cut down the net, because that is the heart-clenching madness of March.

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Passover and Punk

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04/03/2014

Passover and Punk photo

So, what do you do when you have to write a blog post and really don’t know what to write? You fall back on the literary tool of telling a story. Today I was listening to a lecture from the former Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom, Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, and heard a short, but thought-provoking, story.

In the 1940s David Ben Gurion, Israel’s first Prime Minister, came to the United States and said to a group of senators, “Your ancestors came to America 300 years ago to fight for freedom. But tell me, can you remember the day they set out and the food they ate on the way?”

Rabbi Sacks concludes his lecture by saying, “Our ancestors set out on their journey for freedom 3,300 years ago and we have never forgotten the day we set out and the food that they ate on the way.”

You could attribute this to a case of OCD or our obsession with food, but it’s more than that. The collective celebration of our journey out of Egypt is the most celebrated Jewish holiday of the year. The story of Pesach reminds us that for the first time in history, a nation went against the grain of society, religion, and government to become truly free people. Until the Exodus (whenever I always hear or read this word I start humming or singing the Bob Marley song) 3,300 years ago, slavery was pretty commonplace. As our tradition teaches us, we were given our freedom, left Egypt, and, subsequently, gave it to the man. In this case, the man was called Pharaoh, and – as most scholars believe – was known as Ramesses II. Telling the most powerful leader in the world to let your people go is pretty punk.

Passover comes every year and we all stock up on Temp Tee cream cheese, matzah, and do serious damage in the closest kosher wine section we can find. As a kid, I remember going to school year after year and bringing my lunch of matzah and chocolate candy. A healthy lunch? No. A nonconformist lunch? Yes.

Even the Seder plate is a DIY project. We have to prepare all of the items ourselves and keep them away from leavened bread products. We boil the eggs, roast a shank bone, grate the horseradish, grab a bitter herb, make charoset (the original salsa), and dip something in salt water. Of course, there is symbolism for each of the items. Some people eat the square matzah and others use hand-crafted artisan matzah (which is round – pretty anti-establishment if you ask me). If that wasn’t radical enough, the last thing the Haggadah says we should eat is the afikoman – if it can be found. Nothing screams “fight the system” like having to actually find food that has been hidden.

The word Pesach literally means “the mouth opens,” eluding to the idea that we tell the story of leaving Egypt and read the Haggadah out loud. Aside from a library or Starbucks, when do you ever see people reading out loud at a table?

While most people tend to eat whatever they want and follow the crowd, my family and I will be spending just over a week consciously choosing what we eat and drink. We will spend two nights talking about slavery, freedom, and plagues. We will ask four questions, read about four types of children, and occasionally lean to our left as we drink wine or grape juice and eat matzah. If possible, we will go against the mainstream and talk about thinking for yourself, standing up for what’s right, and not always following the crowd.

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Meathead Myths

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04/02/2014

Meathead Myths photo

With this thing called “the Internet,” fitness misconceptions run rampant. I’ve read articles that tell you the benefits of over-training. Seriously? There are so many myths out there that I wanted to tackle four that can be overheard in gyms and blogs everywhere. 

1. Soreness = Awesomeness

I use to love that feeling of soreness. I was one of those sick, twisted lifters that would be so happy that I couldn’t sit on the toilet without pain in my legs. I would work my abs so hard the next day I had no idea if I had a stomach ache or if it was the workout. Yes, I was a skinny meathead.

Soreness from training is not a bad thing. The idea of lifting weights is that micro-tears breakdown the muscle and as it repairs the muscle gets bigger and stronger. That does not mean, however, you need to work out so hard that getting out of bed is difficult. You don’t even need to be sore to gain muscle or burn fat. I’m not saying being sore is bad, but don’t overdo it.

There are two main reasons not to overexert yourself:

• Working out is hard on your joints and ligaments. Although your muscles might be able to handle the abuse, your joints might not. As someone who has had a few orthoscopic surgeries, my muscles can handle a tough workout, but my hip will be sore in a bad way for days if I push it too hard.

• If you push it so hard that you are sore for days, you might have to skip the next workout. That’s not a bad thing, because your muscles need to heal, but that can impede your goals if you consistently have to take extra days off.

2. More Protein Please

Trainers, including me, are generally not nutritionists. We can offer diet tips but everyone has a different belly. Some people have trouble digesting wheat, while other people have trouble digesting certain proteins. If you have GI issues, track your diet so you can discuss it with the professionals.

All that said, I love protein. I eat a lot of protein. I also enjoy carbs and fat. As someone who has helped people lose weight and gain muscle, I know protein helps with weight loss and gain. It is part of the equation. In most cases, however, portion control is the major issue. People eat too much. I recommend getting protein through multiple sources including beans, lean meats, dairy and eggs, and eating it with fruits and vegetables.

Years ago, people lost a lot of weight with the Atkins diet, which is high on protein and low on carbs. Ever since then, people have been going protein crazy. And it does not always equate to weight loss or being healthy. I had a client tell me, “I had a snack a few hours before I came: a Wendy’s bacon cheeseburger. But I skipped the bread.” You think that’s the worst part of that meal? Eating protein can help, but eat healthy and turn to a doctor and registered dietician if you are changing your diet.

3. Go Heavy or Go Home

I will play the old man card again. I love to lift heavy weights, but it usually ends badly. The adrenaline is pumping, you throw up a big bench, squat, or deadlift and you feel like Hercules for a minute. That minute ends and all the sudden your back aches, your foot hurts, and your shoulder is tweaked. Many people lift heavy with no issues. Football players especially benefit from lifting heavy, but the majority of us do not need to push a Jeep to get in good shape.

I overhear trainers telling their female clients, “Lift heavy – you won’t get bulky.” Many women might need to lift more than 2 lbs., but there are some women who put on muscle extremely easily. I have had numerous female clients for which I’ve cut down on leg exercises because they get thick quads and can’t fit into their clothes. I don’t advocate lifting light either, so my advice is listen to your body. If your joints are achy after workouts, it’s time to look for a workout that’s challenging with less weight. If you really want results, it’s the intensity that matters most, not the weight.

4. Better Results through Supplements

My boss, my wife, and my doctor have told me the same thing: SUPPLEMENTS ARE NOT FDA APPROVED. I have been a sucker and taken over 15 pills and powders at one time. I felt awful. I’m not talking about a multi-vitamin or fish oil (which recent studies show might not be as beneficial as once thought), I’m talking about powders and taking multiple pills.

Why would anyone do this? Usually, some “expert” suggested it. You would be hard pressed to find a doctor that is okay with mass supplementation. When I had my last physical the doctor told me he sees liver, kidney and other issues that disappear when clients stop taking protein powders. He said, in his Eastern European accent, “No one knows what’s really in those things.”

Additionally, we all have different guts. I’ve tried numerous protein powders and most of them upset my stomach. When I make my own shake with Greek yogurt, almond milk, peanut butter, chia seeds, and some cacao powder, I have no gut issues. My takeaway is not to scare you away from supplements, just be cautious. Look for supplements that have been USP verified (you check online, and they should have the label).

I do not want to say the name of the bar I use to love, but I found out it used ground up bones to up the percentage of protein in them. I was crushed – these bars tasted amazing. But truth is, I was better off with a handful of almonds.

Ok, I’m off my meathead soap box. If you have any questions or comments, please post them below and remember to workout smart!

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A Legen – wait for it –

 Permanent link

…dary party for a legendary show.

04/01/2014

A Legen – wait for it – photo 1

Jason dressed as Barney Stinson suiting up with a ducky tie, Caroline dressed as Robin Sparkles.

After nine seasons, Monday night was the last episode of How I Met Your Mother. Ted Mosby’s kids (and countless fans of the show) finally know the full story of how he met their mother.

This show has always held a special place in our hearts. Jason started watching when it first aired in 2005, and he got Caroline into it when they met in 2008. A year or so later, Jason proposed to Caroline by creating a nine-minute video of how he met his future kids’ mother. Jason (along with his sister in a blond wig) re-created the dates and events that led him to the Oy!Chicago launch party at Matilda’s on June 12, 2008, where he and Caroline met.

To celebrate the show’s series finale on Monday, we hosted a HIMYM party at our house for our friends and family who are also avid fans. This was Jason’s second TV finale party, the first being for the Seinfeld finale in 1998, a party he hosted at his parents’ house that made the front page of the Detroit News. So, needless to say, we went all out.

A Legen – wait for it – photo 2x

HIMYM catch phrases surround the TV.

As guests entered our home, the front door welcomed you to MacLaren’s Pub and the cab driver Ranjit saying “Hellooooo.” Then, a series of signs, each with pieces of “It’s Gonna Be LEGEN- …wait for it … -DARY!” led everyone into the party. We had a large 10-foot “INTERVENTION” banner in the room and also had several HIMYM catch phrases posted everywhere, including “Challenge Accepted,” “Suit Up!” and “Happy Slapsgiving.” Additionally, The Bro Code was available for those that wanted to brush up on their Barney Stinson skills.

A Legen – wait for it – photo 3

HIMYM catch phrases and the Bro Code surround the TV.

We of course had HIMYM-themed food, including long submarine sandwiches (actual sandwiches, not the “sandwiches” that Ted and Marshall enjoyed in college). For drinks, MacLaren’s Pub is based on McGee’s Pub in New York, which we visited a couple of years ago, so we featured McGee’s list of HIMYM cocktails such as the “Robin Sparkles,” “Have You Met The Captain,” “Daddy’s Home,” “Don’t Drink Tequila” and “The Pineapple Incident.”

A Legen – wait for it – photo 4

Submarine sandwiches and "sumbitches" cookies were served.

Lastly, some of us dressed up as our favorite character or guest star: Jason dressed as Barney Stinson suiting up with a ducky tie and Caroline dressed as Robin Sparkles. Fortunately, nobody came as “The Naked Man.”

To get everyone in the spirit, we showed our four favorite episodes: “Woo Girls,” “Spoiler Alert” (Glass Shattering), “Intervention,” and the pilot episode so that everything would come full circle in the finale. We also had a HIMYM trivia contest to test our friends’ knowledge and share little-known fun facts about the show. You can take our quiz at the bottom of this post and tell us how you did in the comments! The most anyone at the party got correct was 8 out of 20.

Jason’s favorite trivia question asked what year Ted’s kids filmed their final scene, which aired at the end of last night’s episode. It was filmed on a closed set back in 2006. The two actors, the show’s creators, and one camera operator were the only five people present and they all had to sign non-disclosure agreements. Little did they know they would have to keep the secret for eight years.

[Spoilers ahead!]

Some of us were surprised to learn that Ted and Robin would end up together in 2030 after Ted finished telling his story to his kids. On the whole, our group liked the ending for the most part. One friend said it was a perfect finale that ended how she expected. Another friend said the one-hour episode could have been longer and more time should have been devoted to the actual meeting of the mother. One die-hard fan said he always knew that Ted and Robin would end up together and that’s probably why they never let us get too invested in the mother, even during the last season. The show was really about the five main cast members and Ted and Robin ending up together in the long run makes perfect sense.

We used to think that Ted couldn’t end up with Robin because Ted’s kids called her Aunt Robin; they did a great job of throwing us and so many others off for so many seasons. We especially liked the scene with the yellow umbrella in the rain, where Ted and Tracy (the mother) finally meet and click instantly.

[End spoilers]

It seems that we have grown up with these characters over the last nine years. When the show started, our group of friends was in their mid-20s, single, and always going to the bar. Now, we’re into our 30s, married, and with babies – just like the show’s characters.

Having met at the Oy!Chicago launch party and featured on Oy! a couple of times when we got engaged and married, we thought this was the perfect place to share our thoughts on the end of the HIMYM chapter of our lives. In a few years, our 14-month-old daughter, Ivy, will sit on the couch and be able to watch the proposal video, it might only be nine minutes as opposed to nine seasons, but it’s our story.

As for future TV finale parties, any more and Caroline will probably need to break out the “INTERVENTION” banner.

 

HIMYM Trivia

1) What actor narrates Ted’s voice while he’s telling his kids how he met their mother?  What year is he telling them the story?

2) Robin Sparkles had two hits, what were the names of the songs?

3) What famous actress turned down the role of Robin when production began in 2005?

4) What was Quinn the stripper’s stage name?

5) Where were Barney and Marshall when Barney loses a bet and is forced to wear a ducky tie for a year?

6) How often does “The Naked Man” work successfully?

7) How do you spell Robin’s last name on the show? What is Cobie Smulders’ full/birth name?

8) What’s the name of the baby who leaves behind a sock that makes Lily decide she wants a baby?

9) Which neighborhood did Lily and Marshall buy an apartment that had a slanted floor? (Bonus question:  The name of that neighborhood is an abbreviation, what is it short for?)

10) Which song is stuck in the tape player of Marshall’s old car? (Name the song and car)

11) When Ted and Barney turn Ted’s apartment into an impromptu bar, what did they name it?

12) What is Barney’s mistaken nickname that started when his name was written incorrectly on his drink?

13) In the ninth and final season, Marshall is in the car for several episodes driving to Robin and Barney’s wedding, what is the name of his driving companion?

14) How often do Ted and Marshall watch the entire Star Wars trilogy?

15) What is the name of the drink that Marshall invented at MacLaren’s?

16) What TV star had an uncredited cameo as a background MacLaren’s patron in Season 7?

17) What is the name of the HIMYM “spin-off” that is scheduled to premiere soon?

18) What TV star is the real-life husband of Cobie Smulders who plays Robin?

19) What are the character first names of Ted Mosby’s kids that have been sitting on the couch throughout the show?

20) In what year did Ted's kids film their final scene from the finale? Filmed on a closed set, all the cast and crew present had to sign a non-disclosure agreement. How many people were present?

 

Trivia Answers

1) BOB SAGET IN 2030
2) LET’S GO TO THE MALL, SANDCASTLES IN THE SAND
3) JENNIFER LOVE HEWITT
4) KARMA
5) IN A JAPANESE RESTAURANT
6) 2 OUT OF 3 TIMES
7) SCHERBATSKY. JACOBA FRANCISCA MARIA “COBIE” SMULDERS
8) JEREMY
9) DOWISETREPLA. DOWN WIND FROM THE SEWAGE TREATMENT PLANT
10) 500 MILES (I WANNA BE) BY THE PROCLAIMERS, IN A FIERO.
11) PUZZLES
12) SWARLEY
13) DAPHNE
14) EVERY 3 YEARS
15) THE MINNESOTA TIDAL WAVE
16) CONAN O’BRIEN
17) HOW I MET YOUR DAD. 
18) TARAN KILLAM FROM SNL
19) PENNY AND LUKE MOSBY
20) 2006. 5 PEOPLE (THE 2 ACTORS, THE 2 CREATORS, AND 1 CAMERA OPERATOR

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