OyChicago blog

The ultimate act of defiance

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04/27/2016

We Will Never Forget photo-400

I am the grandson of Holocaust survivors who were lucky enough to escape the Nazis. My grandma and grandpa narrowly dodged the concentration camps where many Jews, including family members, would perish. Though they survived, they lost everything. Money, property, educations, careers -- all lost. After scraping by for almost 10 years in the Jewish ghetto of Shanghai, my grandparents made their way to Chicago to begin life anew. But the thoughts of what "could have been," and resentment for the pain inflicted upon them, would never completely go away.

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The author’s grandparents on their wedding day in Shanghai, China, Nov. 30, 1947.

Growing up, my grandma repeatedly shared stories about her experiences. How things changed when Hitler came to power. Her father's arrest on Kristallnacht. The slow boat to China. The cramped living quarters that they shared with family members. Her bout with typhoid. The devastating and lethal bombing raids by the Allies. Her father's job managing the Jewish district's cafeteria. Right down to the food they ate and the songs they sang, my grandma stamped the stories of her experiences into my conscience. As I would listen, the sense of her loss was palpable. Something intangible was destroyed that could not be recovered. Even at a young age, I remember being angry and confused at how such a sick drama could play out in real life, and sharing in her bitterness at what had been done to our family -- simply because we were Jewish.

Even today, though my grandparents are no longer with us, I continue to carry their stories with me, and I share them every chance I get. My grandpa always said that my brother and I were his reward for a very challenging and tumultuous life. My wife and I recently welcomed our first child into the world -- his first name is Zachary, which means "to remember," and his middle name is Jacob, for my grandfather. For me, the only act of defiance as powerful as telling my grandpa's story is to keep his family going strong -- and to always remember.

Now, more than 75 years after the Holocaust, justice for Nazi horrors is nearly impossible even as aging Nazis are being put on trial to answer for the atrocities at Auschwitz and elsewhere. For the typical 20- or 30-something, who is finishing her education, forging a career, or starting a family, outlets for meaningful Holocaust remembrance and education must be -- and are -- available.

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Michael Bregman, as a baby, with his grandparents.

That is why I could not be prouder and more excited to be a part of the Young Professional Committee of the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center in Skokie. Founded by Holocaust survivors who regularly lead tours of the museum's exhibits, the museum is a permanent testament to the tragedies of the Holocaust and the stories of people just like my grandma and grandpa. The newly formed YPC is comprised of young professionals of diverse backgrounds. The up-and-coming community leaders of the YPC are taking up the mission of raising funds and awareness for the museum in order to preserve the legacy of our Holocaust survivors and to confront bigotry and intolerance in all its forms.

The responsibility to ensure that the experiences of my family and other families are not forgotten is as crucial as ever. Today we bear witness to virulent anti-Semitism in Europe and the rest of the world. The ignorance of Holocaust denial must be confronted urgently and immediately as it surfaces -- and in perpetuity. Telling the stories and educating future generations is the ultimate act of defiance and the best way to ensure that the tragic history of the Holocaust does not repeat itself. The YPC and the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center are committed, with your help, to doing just that.

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Michael B. Bregman is an attorney in Chicago with the firm of Ruff, Freud, Breems & Nelson, Ltd., and is an annual Co-Chair of the Young Professional Committee of the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center.

The Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center is a special grantee of the Jewish United Fund of Metropolitan Chicago.

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My Wonderful Little Monsters

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04/27/2016

My Wonderful Little Monsters photo

I cannot believe one of my sons is about to graduate from daycare. I know this does not sound like a milestone, but it is. I have watched an only child become an awesome brother (most of the time), and subsequently observed the start of an amazing bond, complete with unusual rituals.

One nightly ritual in my house is the running of circles. Ever since Henry, my oldest, could walk, he ran in circles. He doesn't even need anyone to chase him -- that's just his preferred method. And clothing (for him and his little brother, Joel) is optional, which I hear is very normal for kids under 5.

I'm also relieved that Joel can now chase Henry, because running around your house in tight circles while holding a 20-pound toddler is a scary workout. If you regularly read my posts, you know the exercise part of the equation is great for me, but the fear of falling is not. I'm happy to say, in almost two years of running with Joel, that has not happened, and he loves it.

Wrestling is another favorite family activity. When my nephews are over, the two of them, along with Henry, put on shows for us. Seeing as WWE wrestlers look like they are only wearing underwear, so are the boys. They run around and use props, like pillows, foam rollers, and couches. It's hard not to cringe when a child jumps off a couch and on to another person, but so far there have been no injuries and only a few tears.

Now Joel and Henry wrestle. It's hilarious. The almost-2-year-old is fearless, and Henry is gentle as Joel lies on top of him. At this point it's really sweet, and they laugh the entire time. In a few years it might not be so good-natured.

The loudest time at our house is meal time. I'm not sure where my kids get it, but they like to eat. We are so lucky that they ask for fish and vegetables. Henry loves sushi; it's hilarious how mad he gets if I eat more rolls than him. Joel is too young for sushi, but he does enjoy the veggie variety. He has recently started yelling at meals for no reason other than he thinks it funny. Henry also thinks it funny so he joins in.

One of the hardest parts of parenting is not laughing when you need to discipline your kids, and this is one of those times. Watching an 18-month-old squeal with food shooting out of his mouth is pretty funny; add a 4-year-old in the mix, and it's great television, but you have to put the kibosh on it. I am happy to say, Joel no longer throws food he doesn't want on the floor. Although that was entertaining, I should buy stock in the Swiffer.

The sweetest moments arise when one of the boys is sad. It doesn't matter if Joel is crying or Henry is crying; the other brother offers a consoling hug. Granted, the affection is not always appreciated by the injured/sad brother, but it melts a parent's heart. My goal as they continue to grow is to somehow develop more rituals that include hugging, helping each other, and avoiding WWE injuries.

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Guide to McSweeney’s Most Jewish

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04/21/2016

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McSweeney's is a non-profit publisher founded by editor Dave Eggers in 1998 and headquartered in San Francisco. Starting with a literary journal, it has expanded into a full-scale publishing house, offering novels, books of poetry, and other literature. The McSweeney's website, which it calls its "Internet Tendency," posts many humorous articles, including a series of lists. Rather than make you look through all 21 webpages of said lists for the Jewish ones, I went and did that for you. Consider it your afikoman present!

 

The Torah:

Biblical Figures of the NYSE

Tom Swifties Excised from the Bible

More Engaging Copy for the Ten Commandments

 

Jewish Holidays:

Jewish Holidays for Hipsters

Rejected Ben & Jerry's Passover Flavors

Plagues of Egypt That Did Not Make the God of Abraham's Final Cut

 

Yiddish:

Yiddish Spam [NSFW!]

Yiddish Words for the 21st Century

 

Israel:

Things I Could Have Said When the Strap on My Israeli Paratrooper Bag Broke If I'd Known the Outcome of Whichever War It Was Used In

Sentences and Short Dialogues Incorporating Names of Countries in the Middle East

 

Famous Jews:

Bob Dylan GPS Voice Quotes (My pick of the [at least] three about Dylan lyrics)

Judy Blume's Lesser-Known Philosophy Texts

Yakov Smirnoff Joke or Offensive to Russians? (Quiz)

Freudian Blender Settings

 

My Son/Daughter the Doctor:

Scientific Journals Available Electronically at the Mt. Sinai School of Medicine

Albert Einstein College of Medicine Professor or Dr. Pepper Knock-Off Brand? (Quiz)

 

A Light Among the Nations:

Kanye West's Lyric "The Way Kathie Lee Needed Regis/That's the Way I Need Jesus," Adapted for Other Religions

How Many Members of Each of the Following Religions It Takes To Screw in a Lightbulb

 

Jewish Culture:

Chain Restaurants That Went Kosher

Films about Tough Jews (I was disappointed by this one and may make a longer one myself.)

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Roasted Lamb Loin with Mint Chimichurri

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04/20/2016

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When I am not inventing new recipes in the kitchen, I find my favorite way to enjoy an evening is to get together with close friends and family over a warm meal. As most hosts will say, a lavish dinner is not an easy task to accomplish.

I like to think that I am a pretty fabulous host, the kind who is focused yet gracious; when my guests arrive, I seem perfectly put together and in control in a dashing outfit, seemingly relaxed and putting finishing touches on my food with a sprinkle of this, a dab of that and refilling everyone's emptying glasses.

Yea …not so much. Most of the time I am doing last minute dinner parties and running around like a chicken with its head cut off -- in yoga pants -- slicing, dicing, grilling and roasting. But you damn well better believe I am refilling everyone's glasses. That part is not optional.

I have always believed that every host has to have an arsenal of weapons at his or her side to prepare for dinners. And the most important weapon? The recipe.

The perfect recipe makes the host shine out like a star and leaves the guests salivating for more. Forget the chicken, forget the tenderloin; ladies and gentlemen, I would like to present to you the star of our show -- lamb.

Many of my friends and clients are terrified of making lamb. The hefty price tag per pound will intimidate any food-lover and make them question if they are worthy of cooking such a beautiful cut of meat. The bottom line is, yes, you are worthy and no, it is not difficult to make.

This recipe is a one-pan roast that is a true crowd pleaser. I used lamb loin only because it was given to me by a friend of mine who ordered meat from a purveyor and had no idea what to make with it. This recipe will work just as fabulously with boneless leg of lamb though.

The lamb loin is seasoned super simply with salt, pepper, really fruity olive oil and garlic powder. I added some potatoes to the pan and let them roast with the lamb, slowly absorbing the luscious juices. While the lamb cooks up, a quick whizz in the Vitamix and I have the sexiest and most delicious mint chimichurri to douse my taters and lamb in. It's delicate yet uber-flavorful -- perfect for this simple dish.

The aromas that fill the kitchen will truly make anyone's mouth water. And while that lamb is in the oven, you can even enjoy a delicious glass of wine. Go on, do it -- you deserve it! Yoga pants or not, you are still fabulous.

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ROASTED LAMB LOIN WITH MINT CHIMICHURRI
From Girlandthekitchen.com

INGREDIENTS

1 lamb loin (they vary from ½-1 lb in weight)
2 pounds of red potatoes, washed and cut into 1 inch pieces
¼ cup of olive oil
¼ cup of mint, loosely packed
2 tbsp of dill
3 garlic cloves
Pinch (or more) of red pepper flakes
1 tbsp of freshly squeezed lemon juice
Water as needed
Salt and pepper to taste

INSTRUCTIONS

1. In a food processor or blender, combine mint, dill, half of the olive oil, garlic, red pepper flakes, lemon juice and salt and pepper. If the mixture is a bit to "tight" loosen it up with a bit of water.

2. Preheat oven to 450-degrees.

3. Line a baking sheet with a raised edge with foil. I actually prefer to do this in a foil pan. Much easier clean-up.

4. Place the lamb roast flat side up on the baking sheet. Place cut-up potatoes around the lamb roast and drizzle with remaining olive oil, salt and pepper.

5. Roast for 30-35 minutes for medium rare. Toss the potatoes halfway through cooking to ensure even browning. An instant-read thermometer should read 125-130 degrees for medium rare.

6. Remove pan from oven and place tenderloin on the cutting board. Let rest for 10 minutes.

7. Toss the potatoes with half of the chimichurri sauce.

8. Slice the lamb loin, drizzle with remaining sauce and enjoy.

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The four answers

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04/19/2016

The four answers photo

The author and his wife, Laura, the directors of Chicago YJP.

One of the highlights at the Seder is the four questions. The youngest gets up on a chair and proudly declares four simple and insightful questions. Everyone watches proudly as the next generation is inculcated with the fundamental Jewish concept of being inquisitive (and super cute). This endearing introduction to the evening instills the essential lesson of life-to question-because we know it is only through questioning and receiving insightful answers that true learning and appreciation for our rich heritage is accomplished. However, after the four questions, we are left with a minor quandary-what are the four answers?

The first and second questions, which inquire about the peculiarity of eating matzoh and maror (bitter herbs), are answered directly by the Haggadah quoting an ancient Talmudic passage that says: "This matzoh that we are eating is because the dough of our forefathers did not have time to become leavened…This maror that we are eating is because the Egyptians embittered the lives of our forefathers in Egypt…"

The third and fourth questions, which inquire about the tradition of dipping vegetables twice at the Seder and the mitzvah to recline during the meal, are seemingly left unanswered by the Haggadah.

Actually, the answer to give our children (and ourselves) for why we recline is because we are behaving like royalty. (Note: "reclining" does not mean slouching or being lazy. It means relaxed, leaning, and comfortable.) What does royalty have to do with Seder night? Everything.

First, we have to ask, 'What is royalty?" In Hebrew, the word for "master/ruler" is adon, which also means "a support from below." True mastery and rulership is to support those in need, providing a foundation to hold them up. The word for a leader is nasi, which also means a cloud, because the clouds are above pouring down the blessings of rain and sustenance to the needy below. The Jewish definition of royalty is to provide support from below and blessings from above.

In a DP (displaced persons) camp shortly after liberation, one of the survivors arranged the baking of matzohs for Passover. Supplies were very limited, and the matzoh was rationed at two matzohs per family. A great Chassidic rabbi sent his son for four matzohs. The man responded, "I'm really sorry. I wish I could, but there is a limit of two per family. I'd love to make an exception, but I really can't." The boy persisted saying, "My father never asks for special treatment, but he was adamant about this. He said he needs four." The man found it hard to refuse, especially since this rabbi did so much to help his fellow Jews during the war. So he gave him the four matzohs. Right before the Seder, the rabbi came to see the man. "I know the kind of person you are, and I was concerned. I was sure you would give out all the matzohs and not keep any for yourself. The matzohs were for you."

Despite everything they went through, they had such sensitivities to the needs of others. They exemplify the Jewish definition of royalty. We tell our children emphatically, "You, my precious child, are royalty! As part of the Jewish people, you must bring support, love, blessings, and hope to the world." That is true royalty.

And what about the question about double dipping on vegetables? For that, you'll have to ask around the table! Happy Passover.

Joshua Marder is a rabbi and licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. He and his wife, Laura, are the directors of Chicago YJP, a Division of the Lois and Wilfred Lefkovich Chicago Torah Network.

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Unwatcha-Bull

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04/18/2016

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Chicago Bulls front office officials John Paxson and Gar Forman hold an end-of-season press conference

Full disclosure: I probably watched five total minutes of Bulls basketball this season. It's probably the first time that has happened since I was 16 years old, living in a suburb of Detroit, only able to catch Bulls games through thick radio static way down the AM dial.

Sure, some of it had to do with my recent cable-cutting, but I also don't remember a Bulls team that I was less excited about both pre- and mid-season -- or one that lacked an identity -- as much as this one.

This was not the result the front office wanted when it brought in first-year head coach Fred Hoiberg after firing Tom Thibodeau. Thibodeau led the Bulls to a .647 winning percentage in his five seasons as head coach, but also had a contentious relationship with the front office over roster control and minutes limits, among other things.

In Hoiberg's defense, it was not all his fault. This is not the kind of roster that plays to his strengths as a coach. He's been given leftovers from the Thibodeau era -- one defined by defensive grit -- and has asked them to play a more offense-oriented game plan with a focus on outside shooting. It was never going to work, but I don't think anyone expected a team with this much talent to play their last game of the season on April 13, even in an improved Eastern Conference.

The Bulls are in one of the worst conditions an NBA team can find itself -- knee-deep in mediocrity. They finished the season 42-40, ninth in the Eastern Conference and on the outside looking in at the playoffs for the first time since the 2007-08.

The 2007-08 team looked much more like the kind of Bulls roster you'd expect to miss the playoffs. The largest percent of their payroll went to veteran journeyman Larry Hughes, who only played 28 games. It was Joakim Noah's rookie year, but he was sitting behind "the fro," Ben Wallace, who the Bulls had acquired from Detroit.

Coached by Scott Skiles, who was fired on Christmas Eve and replaced by Jim Boylen, the rest of the primary roster included Ben Gordon (the team's leading scorer, averaging 18.6 PPG), Luol Deng, Drew Gooden, Andres Nocioni, Joe Smith, Tyrus Thomas, Thabo Sefolosha and Chris Duhan. And don't forget the two common threads they shared with this year's group -- Kirk Hinrich (whom the Bulls traded at the deadline this year) and assistant coach Pete Myers.

The only reason the Bulls found any kind of hope and direction after that season was because the stars aligned. They landed the number one overall pick in the 2008 draft - despite a .017 percent chance -- and selected Derrick Rose, who went on the win Rookie of the Year and later an MVP award.

Say what you will about Rose lately, he was a franchise-changing player who just struggled with injuries and never made it back to his peak physically or mentally. Barring another miracle like that one, the Bulls enter the off-season a team searching desperately for answers with very few resources at their disposal.

The Bulls have never been the type of team to tank or clean house, but it's difficult to see the long-term answer on the current roster, and I just don't trust their history luring free agents.

The Bulls are just filled with pieces. Jimmy Butler has played like a star at times, and carried them on his back dozens of times, but I'm afraid the chip on his shoulder is becoming too heavy for anyone around him to bear. Some of the pieces are nice, but without major changes, the Bulls don't stand a chance against teams like Toronto, Atlanta, Miami, Charlotte, any team LeBron is on or pretty much anyone in the Western Conference.

I didn't skip out on my favorite team of all-time because they weren't good (I've survived plenty of those seasons and rooted for my share of Eddie Robinsons) ;I couldn't watch because there was nothing fun about the Bulls this season. The Bulls would do well to take a few pages out of the Cubs' recent playbook, not only in terms of building for the future, but also in the way the Cubs play the game -- joyfully.

There will be very little joy this off-season. The Bulls claim every player is on the table and movable. But unless there is a drastic change in front office or at least in their mentality, we may just need to start praying that those Ping-Pong balls bail us out yet again.

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‘What’s the deal with…?’

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04/14/2016

'What's the deal with…?' photo

There's a bestselling book out about curiosity. It's written by a Hollywood producer who has spent his free time asking questions of interesting and accomplished strangers for the last 35 years.

In the book titled A Curious Mind: The Secret to a Bigger Life, Brian Grazer -- who produced films like Apollo 13 and A Beautiful Mind -- met with people from all walks of life with skill sets very different from his own.

Among them: pop culture artist Jeff Koons; the inventor of the polio vaccine, Jonas Salk; the king of pop, Michael Jackson; etiquette maven and Jacqueline Kennedy's social secretary, Letitia Baldridge; and science fiction writer Isaac Asimov. Grazer's purpose in these "curiosity conversations," as he calls them, was meant to broaden himself and his worldview on things he knew little about.

His project sparked my interest both as a journalist and a Jew. First, I entered the field of journalism in large part because I'm curious about people and what makes them tick. My day job enables me to spend many waking hours asking people probing questions, which inspire me to live my own life in a more meaningful way.

The idea of curiosity conversations resonates for us as Jews too. Questioning, after all, is a deeply Jewish activity. The very Talmud itself is based on rabbis questioning and debating the Torah with each other. And, in the pop culture realm, look no further than the quintessentially Jewish show Seinfeld, where Jerry has spent a career asking "What's the deal with… [insert life's peskiest, silliest musings here]?"

Our tradition allows space for us to ask the tough questions, and to be okay with uncertainty in life, faith, and, yes, even God.

Professor and Holocaust survivor and sage Elie Wiesel, who was an observant Jew as a boy before the war, wrestled with God about suffering during his time in the camps, and even questioned whether God exists. 'Where is God now?' Wiesel asks in his famed Holocaust memoir Night.

One of the things I love about being Jewish is there is space to ask questions; our tradition recognizes that not everything is absolute. There are, of course, Jews out there whose faith rarely wavers and then there are other Jewish people who aren't quite as certain. I meet Jewish agnostics and atheists who consider themselves part of the Jewish community.

This month, we will celebrate Passover, a holiday that invites questions. And along with the perennial Seder questions like "Why is this night different from all other nights?," Jews, this year and every year, have a lot of other big questions on their mind.

Why do bad things happen to good people? Why are we free when others are still oppressed? What is the most unique and precious gift we can each leave the world? How can we help others not as lucky as ourselves? Who the heck will be our next president? How will the world be different for our children than it was for us? How can fill we fill our days with meaning and love?

But maybe we're not supposed to have life all figured out by the time we get to a certain age because how dull would that be?

Maybe the real wisdom lies, not in knowing all the answers, but in knowing that it's okay to ask the questions.

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Three Reasons You Should Move in Your 20s

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04/13/2016

Three Reasons You Should Move in Your 20s photo

I used to think I had a grasp on what it meant to live away from home. Since fifth grade I've spent summers in Wisconsin, Indiana, and Pennsylvania, went to school in Massachusetts and lived in Israel for nearly a year. None of these diverse experiences, however, prepared me for a full-time move to New York City.

The Big Apple is a transition in and of itself, especially for someone single and Jewish, but most of the lessons I learned leaving Chicago would've been the same if I were moving to New Mexico instead of New York.

We need only look at the Passover story to understand that we are a moving people. Although the Jewish spiritual homeland has always been Israel, our physical homeland has changed quite a bit throughout time, and the story we're about to read at the Seder alludes to one of the many times we've moved (both in the Torah and more modern times). 

Yet we often forget during this retelling of the narrative from slavery to freedom just how reluctant the Jews were to leave Egypt, despite being slaves. Today, the decision to leave where we're from is not any easier or more comfortable, but much like leaving Egypt began the real narrative of the creation Jewish people, moving changes the narrative for your life like nothing else can.

Young adults share a lot of the same life-shaping experiences: getting a job, making ends meet, having friends come and go, dating, etc. Some are intuitive, some you just fall into; I believe living farther away from home should be one of the staples of life after graduation.

I've been in New York for five months, and already I've felt the effects of moving on my personal growth. Here's why you should do it:

You re-define yourself

When I moved back to the Chicago suburbs after graduation, at first I just hung out with everyone from high school. It was great, except we pretty much picked up right where we left off, just swap out fast-food restaurants and our parents' houses for new bars.

My world turned so small that many of the Jewish singles events I attended felt more like high school reunions. Of the dozens of social events, there were usually more people there that I did know than those I didn't.

Living in another state, even if some of your college friends live in your new city, the overwhelming majority of people you meet have no idea who you are. You are whoever you want to be; past experiences or expectations do not shape or define you.

You go outside your comfort zone

When you're a young professional far away from your parents, many of the safety nets are gone. This is nothing like going to overnight camp or college; your parents can't bring something you forgot from home on a random weekend or help you put your furniture together. And even if they have the means to visit you a lot, it's never long enough.

This forces you to truly be on your own and fend for yourself in ways that go well beyond learning to feed yourself and do laundry. Since my move, I had to negotiate a car lease and coordinate the construction of a fake room. (For the unfamiliar who presumably have never lived or do not live in San Francisco or New York, that means turning part of the common living space into a room by hiring a company to build you one.)

This is that point that you realize that you can accomplish something out of your comfort zone.

A new culture also forces you to adapt to your surroundings, even if it's uncomfortable. For example, I learned what happens (or, I should say, doesn't happen) when you try saying "excuse me" when you're stuck behind a large crowd of people on the subway and need to get off.

There is no better time to do it

If moving is something you've wanted to do but weren't sure when you could do it, the answer is now. Especially if you're in your 20s, you likely have the freedom others don't.

It's in our nature to lament and procrastinate, but it's much easier to move when you have fewer responsibilities and can deal with "roughing it" for a few months while you adjust.

Before I made the move to Manhattan, my sister left Chicago with nothing except my old car, her clothes and a few essentials before creating a temporary home in Montana. Her move started a series of adventures and jobs, including dating a guy she met almost instantly after moving.

After I made the decision to leave Chicago too, my dad remarked that he found it interesting that my sister and I both left a comfortable environment to live in a more minimalist way -- my sister leaving the comforts of urban life and me opting for the high cost of living in Manhattan. Yet somehow we both feel freer in our new homes than we did living in Chicago.

Had either of us waited much longer, the move might not have happened at all (dealing with roommates and living in a fake room in my 30s doesn't sound appealing).

Similarly, if the Jews had waited much longer to leave Egypt for the land of Israel, Pharaoh's might have changed his mind before they fled, and then we wouldn't be celebrating anything this season.

If you've ever had thoughts or dreams of living somewhere new, I hope this Passover gives you the clarity you need to create the freedom you've dreamed of. I once heard Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks say at a lecture that what makes the Jewish people distinct from other religions is that we've learned to never look back.

Here's to a year of looking forward, pushing our limits and finding freedom by creating a new home. Chag sameach.

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Three Things I Wish I’d Known Before Graduating College

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04/11/2016

Three Things I Wish I'd Known Before Graduating College photo

I've learned a great deal since graduating from Indiana University about 10 months ago. Sometimes, I find it hard to even believe that I was in college at this time last year. Trading textbooks for timesheets and "Two-Dollar Tuesday" for networking and fundraisers has provided me with a different perspective.

Here are three things I wish I had known before the band cued-up "Pomp and Circumstance."

Work ethic trumps all

As with most college seniors, I spent an incredible amount of time preparing for my future career. I took classes that would set me apart, attended networking events, traveled for informational interviews and even adjusted my wardrobe to look more professional. Although this helped, I've learned that maintaining a strong work ethic is paramount.

Who you know or previous experience may get your foot in the door, but work ethic is the staying force. It's not that the importance of a strong work ethic never occurred to me, but I undervalued the fact that it can propel your entire career.

We get so caught up in trying to control everything from paychecks to the merits of a graduate degree that it is easy to forget the value of showing up and approaching each day and each task with maximum effort. That is the best way to both stand out and make a positive impact.

A work-life balance is challenging, but important

Weekly happy hours and no homework were among the many things I eagerly anticipated during the transition from school to the working world. However, I quickly learned that achieving a work-life balance is not as easy as it sounds.

There are still opportunities to spend time with friends, visit family or catch the big game, but I oftentimes find myself fixated on work. From catching up on email to making myself available to clients or just discussing new and exciting experiences, work simply takes precedence. Perhaps my age and desire to earn the respect of my colleagues could explain my ambition, or maybe I just haven't learned how to keep these two things separated.

I love work, but also realize the importance of maintaining a balance. The ability to step back and take a deep breath is a key to staying sharp, keeping focus and ultimately continuing to learn and grow.

Keeping in touch is difficult

As I packed my car and headed home from school for the last time, I wondered how often I would talk with my best friends who weren't moving to Chicago. Perhaps we would connect daily or at least a few times per week? We would definitely keep our text and chat group right? It started off frequently, but as we all settled into new jobs or law school seminars, hours fell into days and days into weeks.

We all make time every so often, but it's just not as easy as we thought. Free time is hard to come by and daily conversations are the unfortunate casualty. This doesn't take anything away from the relationships forged and the bonds built, but it's simply difficult for communication to remain consistent.

While I wish I had known all this before graduating, the most impactful lessons are oftentimes learned through real-life experience, and I wouldn't trade the experience of the last 10 months for anything.

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30 Things I Will Do Before 30

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04/06/2016

30 Things I Will Do Before 30 photo

I'm 28 years old, going on 29. Right after that (a year, not immediately), I turn the big 29 plus 1. Quite the milestone -- though if we were in any other country, it would be quite the kilometerstone.

So time is of the essence! That essence being "Eau de Adam Needs to Do More Stuff Before 30." Since I have a little over a year until that decade-shifting age, I have decided to compile a list of 30 things I will (key word being "will") do before I complete another decade on this planet we call Mars' Neighbor. I'm a dork.

So here are 30 things I will do before I turn 30!

1. Turn 31. Gonna be tough to do this one, but I think with determination and perseverance I got it.

2. Fire a gun. I work with this jerk who happens to be a gun and I think it's about time I let him go.

3. Stop using the phrase, "All things considered." Most of the time, only some things are considered.

4. Lose a few pounds. A trip to England might help with that.

5. Run a half marathon. So a mara. Or a thon.

6. Go skydiving. Preferably in the shallow end.

7. Learn how to play an instrument. Maybe the kazoo.

8. Go skinny-dipping. Hmmmm, first I'm going to have to get skinny. So in the meantime, I'll go husky dipping.

9. Splurge on a once-in-a-lifetime meal at one of the world's best restaurants. Obviously Rainforest Café.

10. Sing karaoke. Specifically the song, "Tequila," because I know all the lyrics.

11. Travel somewhere new and different all by myself. I'm thinking of trying the grocery store.

12. Eat something exotic that seems disgusting. Perhaps gluten-free pizza.

13. Learn to speak a new language. This one will be tough since most languages are invented already and I'll have to discover a new one.

14. Travel somewhere truly exotic. Somewhere that feels like the end of the earth. So, I don't know, maybe Detroit?

15. Splurge on something I can't really afford, but that will last for years. I've really wanted an antique 6-foot hour glass that takes four and half years for each turn.

16. Try taking a class that is completely out of my element. Therefore nothing carbon-based.

17. Cross at least one item off my bucket list. Like actually buying a bucket.

18. Visit more states. I hear "confusion" can be a bit disorientating but worth the trip.

19. Start a 401k. Although I haven't even participated in a 5k.

20. Learn how to fly. A plane, a kite, whatever is easiest. I have no idea.

21. Visit the Great Wall of China. If that doesn't work out, visit The Pretty Good Wall of Evanston.

22. Travel to a remote desert island. Then travel to a TV desert island.

23. Watch a meteor shower. I don't care if astronomers view me as a peeping Tom.

24. Go to a cemetery and start bawling at the grave of someone I don't know. Then I'll belt out, "WHY!!!!???? WHY AM I CRYING AT THE GRAVE OF SOMEONE I DON'T KNOW!????"

25. Try something that terrifies me. Like picking up a phone call from a number I don't recognize.

26. Attend a major sports event. Whether it's the Super Bowl, the Stanley Cup Finals or a Cubs win. (This joke was funnier a few years ago.)

27. Make my bed. Into what you ask? Well I could make a broach. A hat. A pterodactyl!

28. Stop trying to be ahead of the game. I'm tired of being chased by the game.

29. Learn to count to 30.

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Investing in Your Jewish Past

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04/05/2016

investing in your past

One of my odd jobs in rabbinical school was working to build an alumni database for a national day school association. I was tasked with creating two events, one in Chicago and one in New York, to bring together alumni from its different branches and build brand awareness. Immediately, I went to a few friends of mine who had a band and asked if, as alumni, they'd headline a concert. The leader of the band looked at me and said, "I am not an alumnus. You cannot graduate from camp, youth groups, and clubs."

I was not there to argue semantics. Maybe he was right, but he was not correcting the wording so much as informing me that he had no attachment to the Jewish organizations that added value to his upbringing. This person has 15 friends who are inseparable, some of the closest-knit Jewish friends I had ever met, and their bond directly stemmed from attending summer camp and day school. How could he not credit the contributions of these organizations that clearly influenced his Jewish upbringing?

In general, I have been surprised to find out how many of my camp friends have not visited camp since their final days as campers or on staff, or how many day-schoolers are reluctant to credit their success to their day school education. The solution is twofold: Organizations need to connect to the individual's lifelong journey and individuals need to recognize the outlets organizations offer that do not involve spending a summer at camp or going on a free 10-day Israel trip.

I might be an exception to the rule. The nature of my work as rabbi automatically keeps me connected to my summer camps, youth groups, day schools and other pivotal Jewish organizations from my youth. As a leader of a non-profit, I recognize that once we stop attending these camps, youth groups, and schools, our affiliation begins to dwindle because we no longer need them in our lives.

So for these Jewish organizations, whose resources are stretched and sparse, it is difficult to invest in these "alumni," these non-dues-paying individuals whose careers and places of residence are in flux. Synagogues, for example, work daily to procure young professionals, but we acknowledge that most people return to synagogue when they have children.

I recently heard the paradigm "our personal organizations (i.e. camp, Hillel, etc.) are our stocks." People are always interacting with their stocks, tinkering with the finances and engaging with them. Federations -- and Chicago is lucky to have one like JUF, which supports such a vibrant Jewish community by promoting a variety of religious and cultural Jewish experiences -- are our mutual fund. They remain steady, a safety net in case our smaller organizations falter. They ensure we are able to have robust Jewish options, a voice in the larger world and ultimately, they provide care for the Jewish organizations and experiences to which we hold a deep emotional attachment.

For individuals with an emotional investment in a Jewish program or organization, today's landscape can be overwhelming. All Jewish organizations are starving for resources, so they're asking for an investment or your reinvestment. They are understaffed and competing with one another. It is often healthy competition, but they must meet budget, inspire participation and constantly rebuild numbers to maintain the services that they provide. To continue to provide the same or better opportunities that years and even generations of Jews were able to benefit from, organizations rely on their "alumni" to help support the future. Way back when, they needed you to participate or sign up, but the truth is that they need you just as much now, when you are not directly benefitting from your investment.

While Jewish youth organizations might cut off at a certain age, our connection to them does not have to. A counselor of mine once said to me that Jewish summer camp was not intended to be Jewish education for the campers, but rather for the staff members. With that in mind, how can we reimagine the continual benefits we gain by interacting with these organizations? And how can we optimize that long-ago investment?

An organization's board members are often chosen because of the "three Ws:" work, wisdom and wealth. I would say this holds true for what Jewish organizations need from their alumni. Of course they need people to write checks to ensure the lights stay on, staff is paid and families can feasibly afford programs. But all organizations need a healthy volunteer base and fresh perspective to create new ideas and meet unmet needs. So if you cannot open your pocketbook to provide the wealth, try to become the work or wisdom that your Jewish organization needs.

The highlight of my rabbinic career thus far -- outside of meeting Mel Brooks -- was at a Jewish camp where I met a young boy named Charlie who I had helped convince to go to camp that summer. When I first saw Charlie at camp, he spewed out the activities he was doing, Judaism he was experiencing, and how it was the best decision of his life. I walked away almost ready to retire -- what could possibly top seeing another child so happily Jewish? If you ever loved your camp, school or Hillel as much as Charlie, it's your obligation to never end that relationship, just as much as it's the organizations obligation to offer pathways that allow us to never stop engaging.

I take deep pride in my position as a board member of a Hillel. I have seen remarkable change happen during this time. I hope others can find ways of engaging with the programs and organizations that impacted them, or work to create new avenues to express their Judaism that perhaps they wished existed when they were younger. If you found friends, meaning, value, or even a sense of belonging in your Jewish "alma maters" it is important to invest in your past in order for these organizations to have a future.

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Minyan-niversary

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Celebrating five years of Windy City Minyan
04/04/2016

windy city minyan 2

My spiritual home doesn't actually have a home. It meets in my living room, or an apartment building party room, or an art gallery. On the third Friday of the month, the room is filled with the sounds of harmonized singing, the smells of homemade goodies, and the images of people making new friends. At the end of the night, I come home feeling energized. It's a minyan night.

I am so proud to be celebrating the fifth anniversary of Windy City Minyan, an independent minyan for young adults in the Lakeview area.

After I graduated college, some friends and I attended an intergenerational independent minyan in the Lakeview area for a few years. We loved this monthly tradition, but the minyan suddenly stopped meeting. I emailed the minyan's organizer to say I was sorry the minyan hadn't been meeting. He responded by asking me to take it over.

It wasn't the answer I had expected, but I gathered some friends and we decided instead of reviving the old minyan, we'd start something new. At that time, very little existed for young adults on Shabbat (now, of course, there are many options!), so we decided to focus our minyan on that population. After debating between names like Chi-town Minyan, Second City Minyan, and Deep Dish Minyan, we settled on Windy City Minyan.

Windy City Minyan held its first Shabbat service five years ago, on April 22, 2011, at my apartment. We spread the word to our friends and were so excited to see friends of friends and people we did not yet know.

We are so proud of what this minyan has become. Each month, we get between 30 and 80 participants, many of whom are new to Chicago and use this as an opportunity to meet new people. We see people who grew up in all streams of Judaism, as well as some new to the religion.

windy city minyan 1

As an independent minyan, we don't follow a specific movement of Judaism, but we define ourselves as egalitarian and we use the Conservative movement's prayer book. But being independent gives us flexibility: For example, we made a decision that we will face east (towards Jerusalem) in spaces that make sense to do so; but if east is the entrance to the apartment, we face the opposite way so as not to make latecomers uncomfortable, citing the verse of Talmud that warns against embarrassing people. We aim to be as welcoming as possible, including a greeter and a "welcome" sign at the door.

Our service leaders are our community members, and we encourage as much participation as possible by inviting people to lead Kabbalat Shabbat, Ma'ariv, and Kiddush, and also give a D'var Torah and share what Shabbat means to them (what I informally refer to as our "Shabbat Nugget"). Some are seasoned leaders and others use this welcoming group as an opportunity to learn to lead a service for the first time. All are appreciated.

We meet in apartment buildings and party rooms, and once we even met in an art gallery. Like traveling salesmen, we have a suitcase full of supplies like prayer books, painters tape for signs, door stops, garbage bags, and paper goods so that hosts merely need to let us in and we'll take care of the rest.

Following the service, we always have an oneg (reception) with appetizers and snacks -- many of us on the committee use this as an opportunity to refine our baking skills -- and twice a year we hold a potluck dinner.

Prayer doesn't always speak to me, but at Windy City Minyan, I find myself getting lost in the melodies, being completely present, thinking about the power of our voices coming together as this nomadic community. This minyan has taught me more than I ever thought I'd know about marketing, social media, room rental contracts, acoustics, Shabbat worship melodies, other Jewish organizations, apartment layouts, and logistics. I have made so many friendships and have had the opportunity to meet a lot of interesting people.

Thank you to everyone who has participated in this minyan over the last five years. I'm excited to watch it continue to grow.

Please join me in wishing Windy City Minyan a happy "minyan-niversary," and come celebrate with us at 7 p.m. on Friday, April 15 near Belmont and Lake Shore Drive for Friday night services -- and for the first time ever, a Havdalah service at 7 p.m. Saturday, April 16 near Roscoe and Sheffield. Visit us at windycityminyan.com or find us on Facebook for the exact address and more information.

Shabbat Shalom … the next Windy City Minyan is never more than a month away!

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