OyChicago blog

Big hair, big boobs and a big nose…

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Jacey Bader prom

Jacey, having no trouble attracting a mate

We Jewish girls are so lucky, aren’t we?  I remember going to a friend’s birthday party at YMCA when I was about eight years old.  We were changing out of our swimsuits, and I looked around at the undeveloped, blonde stick figures in the room and concluded that I was a chubby Jewish girl.  Yup, you read correctly.  The truth was that my stomach muscles hadn’t quite developed, and like a little pygmy child, I too, had a belly.

Since this glorious day at the Y, I have been all but obsessed with trying to attain a precise kind of beauty, and I am not alone.  We are told from day one by our mothers, television shows, and magazines that we need to look a certain way. 

I was at a bar the other day, and I was talking with this cute sailor (in uniform).  Everything was great until he said, “Are you Jewish?  You look Jewish.”  What was I supposed to say?  Why yes; as a matter of fact, I do have big hair, big boobs and a big nose?


The Hebrew Mamita had a similar experience

As little girls, we are growing up with constant pressure to look like Swedish models, so what does one expect?  I blew out my hair in the sixth grade, and yes, this was before the blessed Chi.  It was not my best look.  I had a breast reduction when I was eighteen, as I had had it up to here (literally) of both boys and girls talking to my chest instead of my eyes.  No nose job yet, but I can rattle off the names of at least 20 girls from my high school who have had one without even blinking. 

In the past year, I have done more to change my appearance than I care to admit. Of Russian-Jewish decent, I am the palest person I know.  My brother called me Casper for a decade.  So what did I do?  I bought tanning spray. I paid actual money to expose my skin and lungs to toxic chemicals that are supposed to mimic sun damage.  Last month, my roommate had a crazy idea to do a “cleanse”.  This meant that we simultaneously drank some nasty, chunky powder mixed with apple juice for a week, and nothing else.  I convinced myself that I did this for health reasons.  It’s supposed to clean out your colon.  Truth?  Not eating for a week makes your stomach shrink and you lose weight.  Don’t get me wrong, I am not condoning this.  It was pure torture, and I can no longer drink apple juice.

Why do we girls do this to ourselves?  Why can’t we embrace our ethnicity, whatever it may be?  Now is the time to say “enough”.  I am beautiful the way God made me, and so are you. Hey—writing this blog has been a cleanse in itself.  However, if you think this means that I am going to start wearing my Jewfro out on a daily basis, you are dead wrong.  That will simply never happen.


Did you know the Vulcans are Jewish? Or at least their salute is…

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Have you guys seen the new Star Trek movie yet? Ever notice that the Vulcan salute is a bit familiar? That’s because Leonard Nimoy, the original Mr. Spock, borrowed from Jewish tradition when the screenwriters of the original “Star Trek” series needed a special greeting to incorporate into the action. Nimoy remembered the way the Kohanim – the genealogical descendants of the Jewish high priests who used to serve in the Temple in Jerusalem – would position their fingers for the priestly blessing (known as Nesiat Kapayim in Hebrew). The ritual is associated with Pesach, Shavuot, (which starts at sundown tonight) Sukkot, Shemini Atzeret, Rosh Hashanah, and Yom Kippur in the Ashkenazi tradition and performed daily in Israel and among Sephardim.

In the Vulcan salute, much like in the priestly blessing, the index and middle finger are kept together and separated from the ring and little fingers. Thus the hand has three sections, which in Jewish tradition resemble the letter shin, the first letter of one of the names of God. Find out more about the Jewish origin of the Vulcan salute.

Nimoy explained his vision for the Vulcan salute as part of a documentary about the iconic series.


Cheers! Chicago

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When someone asks what makes Chicago so great, several possible answers come to mind:

Many natives like to boast about Chicago’s wonderful and illustrious architectural history.

Some can’t wait to point out our culinary fame, persuading tourists to go to deep-dish pizza joints and the summertime gorge we call the Taste of Chicago.

Others mention the city’s natural beauty with its lush public parks and bike friendly avenues, despite the looming skyscrapers.

But I am not like most natives.

Sure, I may have been drinking since day eight like most Jewish males (badam-ching!), but still too many fail to realize the rich history – and promising future – of cocktails available to Chicagoans. We all know that alcohol has been an integral component to human society since the dawn of civilization, and the Jewish community is not without its history, too. Jews have also been a part of Chicago since 1832, when cocktails were in their Golden Age and Chicago was rapidly becoming a major transitional hub between the expanding colonies and the New Territories. Fast-forward to the Prohibition, and you have Al Capone smuggling moonshine and beer into speak-easy joints right in the heart of our city. There is even a tour that takes you around his old stomping grounds, reenacted in a makeshift prison bus. Today, there is no shortage of bars and nightclubs to whet your whistle, including those frequented and managed by members of the tribe.

Since we are discussing cocktails, I will be providing a different cocktail recipe for you readers with each new installment, either to try at home or out on the town.

This time, I have chosen Cohasset Punch, one of the old school Chicago staples that has since vanished from drinking menus.

1½ oz dark rum, 1 oz sweet vermouth, juice of ½ lemon, ½ oz syrup from canned peaches (or peach purée/nectar), ½ oz Grand Marnier, and 2 dashes of orange bitters.

Start by putting half a canned peach/purée in the bottom of a saucer champagne glass; then half-fill the glass with shaved ice (crushed is an ok substitute). Put all the liquid ingredients in a shaker with ice. Shake and strain into the glass.

Try it for yourself and tell me what you think!

Until next time,


Fitness for free

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Ron Krit photo

Remember when you were ten, you didn’t need a low carb diet, points or a personal trainer—you simply played. You didn’t go to a group fitness class for spinning or weights, you didn’t even have a membership, but you worked out.  Whether you were riding bikes, shooting hoops or just playing tag, you were exercising.

With summer on its way, playing can once again become your workout. The parks of Chicago are free! You don’t have to spend much money to play basketball, run laps or do calisthenics. There are also leagues to join for almost any sport. Visit http://www.chicagosportandsocialclub.com/ or just Google, “sports clubs” in your neighborhood and you’ll find several options to burn calories while actually having fun.

Aside from team sports, there are boot camps (I run one in Oz park), Yoga in the park, Pilates in the park and other great workouts at a reasonable cost. I’m going to let you in on a big secret, if you buy some resistance bands, you can create your own workout at the park. I love the site: http://www.resistancebandtraining.com/blog/ you can get equipment and great workouts all from the “Band Man.” The bands are great to tie to a swing-set or use with a partner where you can pull, drag and push your way fit.

If bands, boot camps or volleyball games aren’t your thing, there are other options. To get a total Rocky workout you can run the Lakeshore path near Diversey Harbor. The path is complete with pull-up bars, sit-up stations, and other exercise equipment with brief descriptions. You can run, bike or walk to each station and get a great workout without spending a dime! And if the water ever gets warm enough (or clean enough) you can add swimming to your routine.

If you know any other great summer workout options or have questions, send them by.

Have a Healthy Day!

Ron Krit


A lovely neighborhood

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But will it stay that way?


Our neighborhood Jewel just completed its renovation. This is not just a statement of fact or inconsequential news. It is a sign. When we lived in Lincoln Square, the Jewel was being renovated along with a million gut rehab jobs and new condo buildings. Prices went up. Mom and Pops moved out. Potbelly’s and Coldstone moved in.

Now residing on the dividing line between Andersonville, Uptown and Edgewater, we are pleased to see that our investment in this neighborhood may eventually pay off. But I like the way things are and am wary of the coming changes.

I love my little street in Chicago. You’d think it would be quiet because it is an extremely narrow (yet somehow still a two-way) street, one of the only ones without its own number. But at 50 ½ blocks north our street is anything but quiet. I’m like a nosy old lady who stares out the window commenting on the foot and street traffic going by. And there is so much to comment on, like why would fire trucks choose our narrow little street complete with speed humps to blaze through, sirens blaring?

I love that I hear different languages on my walk to the el every morning. The older Vietnamese man tends his vegetable garden at the same time every day, hand rolled cigarette hanging in the corner of his mouth. The large bearded man in the wheelchair yells at everyone and to himself as he rolls down the sidewalk. Our Afghani neighbors regularly share the most delicious flatbread I’ve ever tasted. Bikers, skateboarders, strollers, and the young Hispanic guy pushing his cart of snacks are all on their way to the beach a few blocks away. Couples of all ages hold hands and stop to read the enormous new condo sign next door and I wonder if they will be our new neighbors.

After at least a hundred years – I believe our building was built around 1900 – the roof started to leak. And while we prepare to patch up the holes, I wonder if it too is a sign. That no matter what we do to preserve it, the inevitable change creeps in, drips right in front of your face, and then covers you in buckets you can no longer ignore. Mostly I welcome change with applause, but I wonder what our neighborhood will look like in 10 years and it makes me prematurely nostalgic. Who will live next door? Will that ugly green-sided building which supposedly once housed the entertaining Charlie Chaplin still be standing?

There are only a few Swedish businesses that have managed to stay rooted to this historically Swedish neighborhood. Is gentrification inevitable? It is undeniably sad, uprooting families and businesses and lives. At the same time, I was ecstatic to discover the new variety of Tofutti ice cream at Jewel just in time for summer. Despite the foreshadowing of the Jewel renovation, the housing market has slowed way down in the past couple of years. Will it merely slow down during the recession and pick up gentrifying again when things turn around? Is the housing market a blessing in disguise? Is your neighborhood changing too?


Life in 847

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Alyssa Latala photo

My husband and I recently came to the realization that we are living a cliché.  Some might call it the “American Dream”; we sometimes call it Our Life in 847. 

We moved to Arlington Heights about a year ago.  After renting some one else’s condo in Bucktown for a few years, we decided it was time to buy a home of our own.  Our first go-round of open houses in the city was enough to send us scrambling towards suburbia, where the combined salaries of a teacher and non-profit employee stretch a bit further.  Before I knew it, we were closing on a townhouse, saying goodbye to city life, and waving hello to my family, who live about a two minute drive away from the new place.

Two months later, even before we finished furnishing the house, Ruby Latala, an adorable cockapoo, came home.  Friends and family joked that we had the house and the dog – the only thing left was the baby.  I laughed and told them they were crazy.

But suburbia must have seeped into our blood, with its multitude of minivans, good schools and strip malls.  By December, Baby Latala was on the way, and I was looking back over the last six months and wondering whose life I was living.

I loved Bucktown.  We walked to Red Hen for coffee and a treat most Sunday mornings when it was warm outside.  We took the bus and the Blue Line all over the city, sampling restaurants, visiting museums, checking out farmers markets.  I could walk to my closest friends’ homes in less than 15 minutes.

Now, Joe, Ruby and I walk to the strip mall Dunkin Donuts on Sunday mornings.  We bought a second car, and we drive pretty much everywhere.  Our restaurant options are a bit more limited, though there are at least three Chili’s, three Chipotles and two Olive Gardens nearby. 

Instead of a 15 minute walk to friends’ homes, we walk 15 minutes to my mom’s house, where we are able to spend time with my brothers, recent college grads who will likely not be neighbors for very long.  And instead of settling for the peeling paint in our rental unit, we have bright, beautiful walls that we are free to paint any color we want.  We have a cute little backyard, where we’ll soon be planting flowers and herbs, and where Ruby is free to run around and eat grass.  And best of all, despite my long Metra commute, at the end of the day, I come home to my little family.

Do we miss city life?  Sure.  Would we trade in our little piece of 847 heaven for it?  Not a chance.


First African American, Female Rabbi

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Alysa Stanton

I just read this article on CNN.com about the first African-American woman ever to be ordained as a rabbi and the first African-American rabbi to lead a majority white congregation and thought it was really interesting.  Alysa Stanton will be a rabbi at a conservative congregation in North Carolina that recently became affiliated with the reform movement. 

I, for one, am really excited and pleased to see such diversity in the Jewish community.  What are your thoughts?

If your interested in learning more about Alysa, here is an another article from the JTA that covers her conversion process, her experiences living in Israel with her adopted daughter and why she decided to become a rabbi.


Moishe House: It’s like a frat house for grownups…well, sort of

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Very recently, I applied to live in the new, soon to be established Moishe House in Chicago. For those that don't know, Moishe House is an organization that opened houses all over the country to serve as hubs for local Jewish activities and events. Each house is occupied by several young adults that host a number of these events throughout the month. A typical event may encompass anything from a traditional Shabbat dinner, to a less formal movie night. In exchange, the organization provides a partial rent subsidy, as well as some funding for financing the events.

This particular Moishe House is targeted for the Russian-Jewish community, and is to be occupied exclusively by (you guessed it) a group of Russian Jews in their 20's.  In addition to Chicago, a few Russian Moishe Houses are opening in designated metro areas around the country. Nowadays, the events hosted by various Russian (and non-Russian) organizations are spread throughout cities and suburban locations. But the new Moishe House will offer one, centralized location for all sorts of events. Participants should expect a continuously dynamic environment on a weekly-basis.

The notion of living in a house with several roommates to host weekly events is a time consuming, but exciting endeavor. At the same time, it reminds me a little of running a college fraternity, not that I ever lived in one. Naturally, when I think of a fraternity, the movie Old School automatically comes to mind. However, there are few similarities between the over-the-top hilarious, yet unrealistic movie scenario, and the reality I can expect. Other than the notion of sharing a social hub with several other roommates, there is nothing fraternity-like about the idea. 

The Moishe House focuses specifically around organizing Jewish events with a Russian flavor. While the thought of a bunch of Russians under one roof carries a certain connotation (can you say, vodka?), these events are not to be confused with keg parties and streaking through the neighborhood, although I see no reason why the two cannot mix... kidding. Further, the house is not in competition with any other group or organization, but instead serves as a centralized, social sphere where Russian Jews can consistently seek an all too familiar cultural setting, regardless of religious affiliation—non-Russians are also more than welcome.

Yet, my mind cannot help but associate certain aspects of Moishe House with a fraternity lifestyle. Maybe I’m subconsciously trying this out to make up for my non-fraternity filled college years. My decision received support from some, ridicule from others, but I expected as much given such an unconventional move on my part, especially at this stage in my career.  For what it's worth, I expect a fun and educational learning experience for all involved and I invite all of you to share this experience with me through my posts at Oy!Chicago!


My journey from son to man

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Rachel Friedman photo 2

On October 7, 2007, I went from being a ”son” to a “man.”  If you’re looking at my picture right now, you’re probably thinking, “What is this crazy girl talking about?!”

As the sun shone bright, beaming 90 degree heat sweltering enough to shut down the Chicago marathon, I walked down the aisle flanked by Annette and Bill Friedson, my amazing (and teary-eyed) parents, as my bouquet sat in the synagogue’s kitchen, forgotten in the excitement of the moment. 

After seven dizzying circles, seven prayers and one big stomp, I emerged as Rachel Friedman, a 23-year-old newly-wed, glowing with happiness as I walked hand-in-hand with my husband to retrieve the rogue bouquet and catch the limo to take us to our reception.
If you didn’t read that carefully, you may not have even noticed the difference.  Friedson to Friedman.  Those two tiny letters have served as the ultimate pain-in-the-butt and resulted in a lifetime of mispronunciations and misnomers. 

Imagine going to the DMV – quite possibly the most inefficient and awful hellhole to have to go to in the first place – wedding license in hand and on a mission to change your name.  The story goes something like this:

Me:  Hi – I need to get a new license, because I got married and I’m changing my name.
DMV employee (glancing at paperwork in hand):  What are you talking about? – the names here are the same.
Me: Nope – check out those last three letters.
DMV employee:  Ooooh – hahahahahaha.

Now reenact that story with the Social Security office, the bank, the credit card company, my employer, and all the other people who inevitably had to be notified, and let me tell you, that joke got old fast.   “Are you going to hyphenate?”  No.  “Are you sure you’re not related?”  Yes.  “How about merging the two to become Friedsonman?”  Mmm – no.
My journey from Friedson to Friedman didn’t begin on my wedding day or even on the day I met David – my husband-to-be.  Nope, it started in the fifth grade in music class.  Mrs. Armstrong was in the middle of roll-call on our first day of school, and she went through the names…”Chris Felton – ‘here’, Danny Friedman – ‘here’, Rachel Friedman – ‘it’s Friedson, here’.”  While the teacher moved on, calling for Andre Goosby, the class tuned her out and began asking Danny and I when we got married (read: “Rachel and Danny sitting in a tree…”). 

After eight years of seeing Danny Friedman at the locker adjacent to mine, I couldn’t wait for my college days, when I could be Friedman-free, and people might actually get my name right.  But alas, my professors somehow knew to misread my name, and around that same time, I met David, an AEPi with enough confidence to fill a room (more like a building) and the good looks and personality to back it up. 

By the time I found out his last name, I was already head over heels, and there was no turning back.  Once the word got out that I was dating a Friedman, my friends would respond to the inevitable mispronunciations with “not yet!” before I could even correct them. 

Fast forward four years: the Friedson-Friedman wedding blow-out was filled with melt-in-your mouth lemon cake with buttermilk frosting, quite a bit of alcohol, a little bit of hora and several speeches filled with giggles over how great it is that I’ll only have to change two letters – my signature won’t change, my monogram is the same, and yes – I’m going from a son to a man.  Our little Rachel is growing up, both literally as she takes this huge new step into adulthood and of course, the name upgrade. 

After a year and a half of marriage, I’ve accepted that I’ve gone from a relatively unique ‘Rachel Friedson’ to being one of the 134 Rachel Friedmans on Facebook.  Anyone with a distant relative carrying the Friedman surname thinks we may be related, and my last name is correctly pronounced almost every time.  I even moved up in the alphabet a teeny bit. 

But I can tell you this:  I have learned to love being Rachel Friedman, because I picked a wonderful Friedman to love.

Rachel Friedman wedding


Kvetching Cub fans: Can you really ever stop bleeding Cubby blue?

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TJ Shanoff photo

My two closest friends from high school are complete, unadulterated liars.

Sound a little harsh? Keep reading. These friends, one of whom is a columnist for the Chicago Sun Times, the other a teacher at the Latin School (from where we all matriculated way, way, way, way back in 1992), have been lying to yours truly since around January of this year.

You see, it was in early January when the Chicago Cubs, our mutual team of choice – and ultimate heartbreak –since childhood, had just signed Milton Bradley as a free agent. Bradley is a talented, if somewhat mildly insane outfielder, who was brought in to provide some ever-needed “toughness” to a Cubs team that had gotten spanked in last year’s playoffs harder than Sarah Palin trying with all her might to answer Katie Couric’s hardball question, “what newspapers do you read?” (That darn liberal media and their tough, biased questions. But I digress.)

I celebrated the Milton Bradley signing with absolute joy, and for the 26th consecutive year, predicted a Cubs World Series win. (For those of you keeping score at home, you’ll note I’m now roughly 0-26 in Cubs World Series predictions.) My two friends, who for the sake of anonymity shall hereby be referred to as “Koske” and “Tuffy”, didn’t even blink. The reason: they were tired of having their hearts broken, especially after a mind-numbing playoff series against the Dodgers last fall, and decided to abandon ship this year.

When they informed me of their decision, I was stunned. Both Koske and Tuffy had been Cubs fans for longer than I had, and were quoting e.r.a. and o.b.p. stats with reckless abandon and glee when I was merely chasing high school girls with little to no success. Both of these guys were in fantasy leagues well before “Seinfeld” premiered on NBC, back when one had to read box scores for stats; before Yahoo! did all of your work for you. I was a relative latecomer to the Cubs bandwagon, but had joined with great aplomb; and in the ensuing 20-some years, the three of us would celebrate, commiserate, cry, and occasionally travel to St. Louis with the sole intention of making fun of Cardinals fans.

Back to Milton Bradley. His signing convinced me that Cubs GM Jim Hendry had “all the pieces in place,” a familiar refrain to anyone who’s ever followed Chicago sports. But Tuffy and Koske weren’t buying it. They were incensed that the Cubs let go of Mark DeRosa. They couldn’t believe that Kerry Wood was gone. Tuffy, in particular, still harbored some unresolved anger that Greg Maddux was not re-signed back in 1992. But last year’s playoffs were the last straw for them. The day Bradley was signed, they both pledged to not follow the Cubs all season, not until the playoffs began. That’s a little bit like saying, “you know, I really love this woman – but she’s cheated on me before, so I think I’m going to blow her off until our wedding day.” How could that not go wrong?

I chided Tuffy and Koske, insisting they’d never go through with their 12-step Cubs addiction program. It’d blow up in their faces by July 4th, or as soon as the Cubs were a game or two out of first place. They didn’t budge through spring training, and one night at a local bar, paid more attention to a late season Bulls game on one small television than the Cubs game being broadcast on the bar’s other 27 plasma screen TV’s. No, not even HD and half price Buffalo wings was going to bring them back on board.

Then came last week. A 31-year-old rookie named Bobby Scales, a career minor leaguer similar to the random guy the Cubs bring up every year with initial success before falling back into obscurity (Brooks Keeshnick, anyone?), was called up from the Iowa Cubs, and did some great things at the plate and in the field. The Cubs back-up catcher, Koyie Hill, began getting some clutch hits. New closer Kevin Gregg dutifully fit the description of “Cub pitcher most likely to give you a heart attack” and managed to give up around 17 runs each appearance, while still getting the save. I could sense that Tuffy and Koske were fighting the urge to come back into the fold.

In the span of a week, the Bulls made a heartbreaking exit from the playoffs, the Blackhawks got crushed in their first game of the Western Conference finals, and, perhaps most importantly, the White Sox went on a losing streak. That last bit of great news is what began my realization that neither Tuffy nor Koske could actually go through with their hard-fought promise to keep away from the Cubs all summer. Indeed, even in mid-May, nothing brings out the true spirit of a Cubs fan like a White Sox losing streak

Un-surprisingly, as a result of all of this, plus a few exciting Cubs wins, neither one of those guys could keep their “promise” any longer. As of this writing, they have both admitted to checking scores frequently, tuning into games, and even downloading the occasional Len and Bob podcast. It’s official: they’re back.

So yes, two of my closest friends were liars. But the good news here is that they both realized their mistake, and are again fully aware that a Cubs fan can never really tune out the team with which they live and die. As winter appears further and further in the rear view mirror, and the Cubs begin their annual flirtation with success, it’s impossible to not get back onboard. Oh sure, we all know how it’s going to end: the Cubs will win 92 games, face a Mets team with something to prove in the NLCS, force a game seven, and lose by one run when Carlos Marmol’s arm falls off in the 12th inning. But that’s the thing about Cubs fans – we know what’s coming, and we don’t mind being gluttons for punishment most of the time. Because when the World Series does happen, the rewards will easily overtake any of the misery. And unlike when the White Sox won it all, more than 27 people will actually give a damn. The entire world will care.

Even Tuffy and Koske, no matter how much they lied to me and to themselves, know that. Which is why they’re back in the fold a mere six weeks into the season. Welcome back from out of the Cubs closet, guys.


Twice Blessed

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A flashback, nearly 10 years ago to my freshman year of college...

David Reinwald

There I was motivated to begin living my life authentically, as the out and proud gay man I was becoming.  Near the beginning of that semester, I attended my first OUT meeting, Indiana University’s LGBT student union.  It was an incredibly empowering feeling to meet so many like-minded people all in one setting for the very first time.  Afterwards, I found out that it was the group's tradition to head over to Ben and Jerry's for the after-meeting ice cream social.  While we were eating our ice cream cones, I met Adam and Dorit.  We started talking, and when they found out I was Jewish, they became ecstatic... they were excited to add me into their found tribe.

I grew up in Buffalo Grove, always surrounded by the predominance of Jewish neighbors, classmates, and friends.  I thought little of any need to stake a claim on my Jewishness.  It had always been—and would always be—who I was.  In the back of my mind, I felt like I was already conquering the feeling of being the outsider—of being gay amidst a predominantly heterosexual society.

Then Adam and Dorit filled me in on a Jewish LGBT organization called Spinoza that was being reorganized by an IU professor.  The group was named for the famous Jewish philosopher Baruch Spinoza, a noted rebel and outcast in the Jewish community who was also unconfirmed, but speculated to have been gay.  Was I interested in attending the first meeting of the year?  I hesitantly said “yes,” balancing out how I wanted to spend my precious time this first semester.  But, moreover, I was weighing out who I was—was I Jewish before I was gay, or gay before I was Jewish?  Could I really even put one before the other? 

In time, I would realize that there was never a need to choose.  But at the time, finding a cross-section between these two parts of myself was incredibly new and unexplored. 

I ultimately became a leader within Spinoza, even though we hardly ever numbered more than a minyan.  During my senior year, I traveled to the National Union of Jewish LGBT Students' convention at Yale.  I was surrounded at the convention by a tremendous gathering of Jewish LGBT students just like me.  We all shared something amazing and incredibly close in our collective experience and point-of-view. 

Through these experiences, I’ve become highly attuned to the gift that has been given to me as a gay Jew, and as a Jewish member of the gay community.  Echoing the title of an anthology of LGBT Jewish writings published in the nineties, as LGBT Jews, we are "twice blessed."  I feel that as a minority within a minority, I have been given a perspective on life that is rich and unique.  It is one that I surely would never abandon. 

What does it mean to be a gay Jew?  For me, it likely defines itself in my seeking of the creative, the new and the innovative layer of reinvention in our culture and ritual, which builds itself upon our rich, established tradition.  I seek a modern tradition which unites us all equally.  And as a Jewish member of the LGBT community, I recognize and honor its incredible diversity.  It is a community which all too often is stereotyped not only by outsiders, but moreover, by itself. 

My most vivid memory from the convention was a ritual moment we created as a blessing for anyone who had recently come out, during our Havdalah service—a perfect time to mark the spirit of transition.  In a candlelit room, we gathered in a circle and sent the participants to the middle.  A special blessing was said for them, and then we broke a glass, borrowing the wedding ritual as a symbol of joy and freedom.  Then, amidst our smiles and tears, we danced and sang "Siman tov u'mazel tov."  We had all bridged the gap, and I had finally come home.


Four things I wish they would have told me when I first moved to Chicago

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During my daily web surfing, I stumbled upon this article on the JTA site, called How to Retire Happily.  No, I’m not retiring at the ripe old age of 24, but out of curiosity, I clicked to check it out.  Surprisingly, what I read really resonated with me.  Whether you’re 65 and moving to Scottsdale or 23 and moving to a new city, the advice remains the same.

In December of 2006, when I moved to Chicago, friendless and job-free in the dead of winter, I wish someone had shared these tips with me:

1.  Keep busy.  Staring at your computer and searching for jobs online will not lead you to friends, business contacts, or really anything but unhappiness.  Join a gym, go to networking events, find a hobby and meet others who share your interests…and don’t be afraid to do it alone.

2.  Rather than holding out for the perfect job while watching all seven seasons of Gilmore Girls with a never-ending tub of popcorn, do something.  Discover your inner barista, volunteer, babysit – you’ll supplement your dwindling bank account and fill your days with meaningful activities.

3.  Use your Facebook network.  If you have 37 “friends” in Chicago, none of whom you’ve spoken to in the past 2 years, try messaging a few and making coffee dates.  Even if you don’t connect with that person, they may introduce you to your future best friends.

4.  Always remember – eventually you’ll refer to Chicago as home.  You’ll have friends, a job, a social life – it just takes a little courage, patience and time.

I know I’m no expert – anyone else have any advice for new Chicagoans?


5 Ways to Do Jewish This Weekend

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-- Light up! Candles, that is, and join friends and family for a delicious dinner to mark the end of the week. Whether you celebrate Shabbat or just like candles for the mood, candle-lighting time is 7:45 p.m.

-- Make a food pilgrimage: Go for the staid bagel-and-lox combo or try kishke, chicken liver or homemade corn beef as you check out the abundance of Jewish delis all over the city.

The Bagel Restaurant & Deli (3107 N. Broadway St.)

Lincoln Park
New York Deli (2921 N. Clark St.)

Eleven City Diner (1112 S. Wabash)

Streeterville/Gold Coast
Ashkenaz Deli (12 E. Cedar St.)

Eppy’s Deli (224 E. Ontario St.)

Near West Side
Manny’s Coffee Shop and Deli (1141 S. Jefferson St.)

J.B.’s Deli (5501 N. Clark St.)

Thorndale Deli (1006 W. Thorndale Ave.)

Hyde Park
Morry’s Deli (5500 S. Cornell Ave.)

Kaufman's Bagel and Delicatessen (4905 Dempster St.)

-- Get your Birthright buddies together and watch an Israeli duo compete for the top prize in the annual Eurovision contest. Achinoam Nini and Mira Awad vie for bragging rights and the chance for Israel to host next year’s contest. Their song, “There Must Be Another Way” in English, Hebrew and Arabic, is among 20 contenders. Watch the entire show at www.eurovision.tv.

-- Put your thinking cap on at a Spertus Institute symposium exploring the intricacies of the shifting relationships between American Jews and Israel. The free event features a keynote address by UC Davis professor of American and Jewish studies Ari Y. Kelman. Responding will be JUF Executive Vice President Michael Kotzin, Jewcy.com founding editor Elisa Albert, and Middle East analyst and former Jerusalem Post editor Carl Schrag. Spertus Dean of Continuing Education and Public Programs Hal Lewis will moderate the program

-- Consider the apocalypse at a lecture by Rabbi Mordechai Becher on “Is This the End of Days? How Would We Know?” presented by the Torah Learning Center of Northbrook.


Calling all LOST fans!

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It was pretty awesome of J.J. Abrams to order that nasty hailstorm in Chicago last night to set the mood for the LOST season finale, don’t you think? If you’re already going through LOST withdrawal, here’s something to hold you over until 2010 (ugh).

Haaretz featured a story today about three Israelis, who in their free time recreated miniature clay versions of the entire cast on the beach in Tel Aviv. Check out the pictures--not only do these people have a lot of spare time on their hands, but their work is amazing. Hurley is a dead ringer!

According to the article, “Artist Revital Falke created the figurines from modeling clay; Yaron Jacobson, the creator of a "Lost" blog, aided with recreating the scene; and photographer Amit Herman documented the entire process. According to Falka, there have been attempts to contact the show's producers; they also plan to sell the tiny statues on eBay.”

Anyone have any theories on last night's finale? I'm certainly lost (no pun intended).


Walking to save “The Girls,” Part I

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Team Motorboat

My teammates in action at their fundraiser, “Beer Pong for Boobies!”

Some of the new faces you’ll be seeing around here—Jacey Bader, Abby Halper and Rachel Friedman—and I are in training. We’re participating in the 2-day Avon Walk for Breast Cancer. It’s a whopping 39 mile walk for whoppers, which I’ve realized over the past few months, is much more difficult than it first seemed.

Why didn’t I realize how long it takes to walk?

Rachel: “So, we have to train 20 miles today.
Jacey: “We’d better start early in the morning.”
Abby: “I’ll serve brunch at my house at 10:30 and then we can get started.”
Me: “Ok, we’ll be done by what, umm, 6pm?”

It’s a commitment. And whoever said that walking isn’t hard is wrong. By mile 9, my knee is hurting (I’ve succumbed to wearing a knee brace, don’t laugh if you see me out on one of these training walks.) My shoulder, yeah, I don’t know how walking hurts my shoulder, but it does.

I’ve always not-so-secretly dreamed of running a marathon, but it seems that dream has ended. I’ll announce it right here on the blog, it WON’T be happening EVER. I’m drawing the crazy line at walking a marathon (and a half.)

All whining aside, it’s been a great experience so far. If you’ve read my bio, then you know I am a big fan of ice cream. Well, one plus to spending your weekends walking all over the city is that you manage to stop and try every sort of ice cream in every ice cream store known to Chicago. Treats still reigns supreme in my world, but I’ve tasted some close contenders—iCream and Yogun Fruz—are also pretty damn good.

I’ve had so much fun with my Motor Boat teammates. Yes, it’s a reference to Wedding Crashers. They’re all fabulous and the only people I would voluntarily chose to spend walking away my valuable weekends. They are so committed to this cause. The team has managed to raise ridiculous amounts of money—we are well past $10,000.

You have to have a lot to talk about to make it through several hours walking together, which for us sometimes means reverting to grade school activities to pass the time. For example, Jacey never learned that state song most of us picked up somewhere around the third grade. It’s the one that goes, “Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado Connecticut…” So we taught it to her—somewhere around Lincoln Park, we realized that none of us remembered what came after Nevada. We had to stop for an emergency Youtube break (luckily one of us lived close by) before we could continue walking.

Breaks are important and frequent. Rachel likes to stop for hot dogs and we might have (just once) traded walking for beer and pizza. Although, we had an excuse that day, it was raining.

We’ll be out in full force this weekend; we only have a few weeks left to go before the big days!

If you want to hear more of our rambling, possible whining, but mostly cheering tales from the front, make sure you follow OyChicago on Twitter. We will be tweeting throughout the two day walk—June 6 and 7. (We will also post our tweet updates on the blog the following Monday.)

Or, you can always find a place along the path to cheer for us and the thousands of others who will be walking to save the boobies!


They’re ba-aack…

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Members of the Westboro Baptist Church engaging in Hate

I’m not gay. That’s always been a bit of a sticking point in my involvement in the gay rights movement, and in the HIV/AIDS arena, which date back to the mid-1980s. There were lots of times when I was the only straight person in the room. My fellow volunteers were cordial, but the unspoken question in their eyes often was: What is she doing here?

My family didn’t really understand, either. So I asked my father, who’s a refugee from Nazi Germany, if he remembered the German Lutheran minister who lamented that during the Holocaust, he didn’t speak out when the Nazis went after Jews, communists and trade unionists, because he was none of those things—so when the Nazis came for him, there was no one left to speak up for him.  Supporting gay rights was my way of speaking up, my way of keeping the promise of “Never Again.”

I have always felt that, just as much as Jews, gays and lesbians long have served as the “canary in the mine,” used to test the air for what society will tolerate. In an age where it’s (finally!) socially unacceptable to treat people differently because of the color of their skin, it seems to me that in some circles—and often, in the same circles—Jews are still iffy, and sexual orientation is still fair game. The pink triangle and the yellow star are inextricably bound together.

Now comes news that the Westboro Baptist Church is re-directing its energies from bashing gays to bashing Jews.  These are the Topeka-based slimebags who show up at funerals bearing signs with inspiring sentiments such as “God Hates Fags.” They started with the funerals of people who were gay, but then picketed any funeral likely to garner news coverage (think: U.S. soldiers killed in action, schoolgirls killed in a bus accident, etc).

It seems Pastor Fred Phelps and crew are bored with gays, and last week began rallying against Jewish community institutions in Washington, DC.

Their new message: “Jews Killed the Lord Jesus.”

Lesson: If bigotry against gays is allowed to go unchecked, then bigotry against others will follow. And sometimes, those others will be us.

Linda Cohen is a Diet Coke fanatic who lives in suburbia with her family and two psychotic cats. Linda also is a longtime HIV/AIDS activist who heads up marketing communications for JUF. Her favorite book is The Lone Pilgrim by Laurie Colwin, and she is addicted to “Top Chef” and “Iron Chef America.” She currently is having an affair with Jon Stewart.


Remembering Matt Lash

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Lauren Toppel, one of the Lash Bash organizers with Matt’s mom, Roberta

Last July, I wrote A Tribute to Matt, an article that celebrated the life of Matt Lash, a 2007 graduate of Chicago-Kent College of Law. Matt died April 30, 2008 at age 27 after a seven and a half year battle with Ewing’s sarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer. As I wrote a little over a year ago, though he only lived in Chicago for a short time, Matt left a lasting mark on the people he met here, both through law school and his Birthright Israel trip.

Last year, a group of Matt’s law school friends initiated the Matthew Louis Lash Scholarship Fund at Kent in his memory, to be awarded to a student facing health challenges. Marking the one-year anniversary of his death, Matt’s family, friends and classmates, including Lauren Toppel, Laura Potter and Ben Panter, organized the “Lash Bash,” held April 25 at Grand Central in Lincoln Park to raise funds for the scholarship. Over 150 people attended the event, adding $8,000 to the ongoing effort to fully fund the Matt Lash Scholarship.

Even though I never met Matt, after talking to his mom, Roberta, and learning all about his life, it feels like I knew him—or at least I wish I had. So, I went to the Lash Bash, and the love and support that filled the bar that night was palpable and overwhelming. In just 27 short years, Matt was able to become the kind of person who touched and motivated people, who made an impact and a difference in people’s lives. I left the bar that night wondering if I would ever become even half the person that Matt was—he certainly inspired me to try.

For more information, visit http://www.kentlaw.edu/depts/alums/enews/index.html 


Demjanjuk is the new ''Jesus,'' You've got to be kidding me!

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Accused Nazi war criminal John Demjanjuk was finally deported from Ohio to Munich, Germany yesterday to stand trial after a prolonged court battle that has covered many decades and countries.  The extradition came four days after the U.S. Supreme Court refused to consider Demjanjuk’s request to block the deportation.  Demajanjuk, at 89, will, in all likelihood, be the last person to stand trial for Nazi war crimes. 

Yesterday was a real victory for all of the holocaust survivors who’ve waited decades to see this man be brought to justice.  "After too many years of delay, Demjanjuk is now under a final order of deportation," said Abraham H. Foxman, ADL National Director and a Holocaust survivor.

Not everyone is so pleased that Demjanjuk will finally face trial.  MSNBC political commentator and former Presidential Candidate Pat Buchanan compared Demjanjuk to Jesus Christ and the American version of Alfred Dreyfuss in a column on April 14.  (Alfred Dreyfuss was a captain in the French Army in the nineteenth century who was accused and convicted of treason, simply because he was Jewish.) 

Buchanan wrote that the U.S. Justice Department’s efforts to bring Demjanjuk to justice is “the same satanic brew of hate and revenge that drove another innocent Man up Calvary that first Good Friday 2,000 years ago.”

Despite Buchanan’s anti-Semitic and holocaust denying rants from over the years, it's always surprising to hear someone defend the Nazis.  It's also surprising that NBC gives Buchanan a platform to speak his opinion as a political commentator due to his extreme views on Jewish issues.

Here’s some other perspectives on the situation:

JTA editor Menachem Z. Rosensaft: “OP-ED: Comparing Demjanjuk to Jesus is Obscene

Huffington Post’s Jason Linkins: “Pat Buchanan’s Holocaust-Denial Enabling Ignored by NBC” 


Serious advice for the Pope on Jewish-Catholic relations

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It seems like the Pope just can't get favorable coverage in the Holy Land, no matter what he does.

For example, Pope Benedict XVI’s speech at Yad Vashem was described in an Israeli newspaper today as lukewarm. He disappointed the staff of Yad Vashem and Holocaust survivors by his use of mild terminology and not apologizing for German atrocities. (He is German born and had to join the Hitler Youth and the German Air Force).

However, the Pope’s personal history with Nazism or his almost reinstatement of a Holocaust denying priest is really not what’s at issue here. Nor is his speech that probably needed a better editor or two.

The issue is in order to have complete reconciliation, you need to have truth.

And Jews simply do not have that yet from the Vatican.

Pope Benedict must authorize the release of Vatican archives from the time of Pope Pius XII, no matter what their contents or how unflattering they are. Those documents then need to be put into context of the Vatican’s power or lack of power during WWII and the antisemitism that led to the Church’s probable complicity during the war. Just as priests, nuns and other Catholics who saved the lives of Jews during the Holocaust have been recognized as “Righteous Gentiles” by the state of Israel, in order to heal, the negative parts of the story must be known.

Considering the scales of the atrocities, German-Jewish relations are good. Why? The Nazi documentation as it pertained to the so called “Final Solution” has been accessible to historians since shortly after the war. Although the relationship isn’t perfect, when a German leader visits Israel, he/she is not criticized about the Holocaust as the Pope has been during his visit.

Until the archive is open, a full and robust relationship between Jews and the Church just won’t happen - no matter how much time passes. And if there is a desire to reconcile, the entire truth must be uncovered.

When it is, and after it is digested, and the apologies are made, anything the Pope says at Yad Vashem will be praised.


The Pope in the Holy Land

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Pope Benedict XVI is visiting Israel this week, after spending three days in Jordan. On the agenda: a visit to Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust Memorial; touring the Temple Mount and the Western Wall; leading masses in Bethlehem and Nazareth;  and talking shop – i.e. peace-achieving strategies – with Israeli and Palestinian politicians. As commentators throughout the world have noted, the Pope’s also on a mission of improving his image among Jews and Muslims.

In the past six months, Vatican has made several bad PR moves when it comes to relations with Jews, including almost welcoming a Holocaust-denying bishop back into the fold. This trip goes a long way to mend relations, even if the Pope’s plan for peace is diametrically opposed to the new Israeli government’s stance on giving land for peace.

Follow the Pope’s visit to Israel:

Israeli President Shimon Peres found a way to showcase Israel’s technological achievements and please the Pope. Peres gave Benedict the text of the Jewish Bible in vowelled Hebrew inscribed on a nanotechnology particle about the size of a grain of sand.

In a speech at Yad Vashem Monday afternoon, Benedict stressed prohibition against the evil of Holocaust denying and said that “the Catholic Church feels deep compassion for the victims remembered here." The speech disappointed Rabbi Yisroel Meir Lau, the former Chief Rabbi of Israel and the chair of Yad Vashem Council because Benedict did not expressly condemn the perpetrators of the Holocaust, writes The Jerusalem Post.

Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs launched a special Web site to track the Pope’s visit. The site includes video recordings of speeches and ceremonies as well as detailed itineraries and stories about the visit.

The JTA’s Dina Kraft explores Israel’s small minority of Arab Christians.


An Interview with David Gergen

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To say that David Gergen has done it all when it comes to American politics and public service would be an understatement— his bio includes Presidential adviser, commentator, teacher, editor, public servant, best-selling author and TV news personality.

I caught up with Gergen in a recent phone interview prior to his visit to Chicago May 18 to speak at a JUF Women’s Division event. I was curious to hear his take on the first months of the Obama administration, his opinion about his daughter's conversion to Judaism and what it was like to serve both republican and democratic presidents.

Of all you’ve accomplished as a political and presidential advisor, educator, journalist, author and public servant, what have you found most rewarding?
It’s an enormous privilege for any citizen to serve a President in the White House and so I’ve been wonderfully blessed in life by serving under four different presidents. But some of my most rewarding moments go back to an earlier time in my life, back into the 1960s—I grew up in North Carolina and I became a college intern with Governor Terry Sanford, a very progressive, Kennedy-like figure in North Carolina and they assigned me to work with a fellow David Coltrane who had been a long time segregationalist and had changed his views and become very strong pro-civil rights. I worked for him for three summers traveling the state trying to keep racial peace but also trying to promote integration and jobs and educational opportunities for African Americans. I look back upon that time as one of the most satisfying in my public life.

What drew you to politics—did you always know you wanted to work in public service?
I was drawn early on to be at the scene as a participant of the big events of my generation—I’ve always wanted to have a ringside seat. Wanting to be there, wanting to make a difference if I could, wanting to be a voice, trying to help shape how things turn out. I’ve been very fortunate in life and people have been enormously kind to me along the way.

You’ve served both democratic and republican presidents—what was the greatest challenge in serving both parties and how did you manage to stay true to your own political beliefs?
It was not always easy. There were some that believed that after I’d worked for three republicans that to go to work for Bill Clinton was an act of betrayal—some thought I was Benedict Arnold. I was brought up with the belief that I inherited from the World War II generation that you can be a strong republican or you can be a strong democrat, but it’s important that you first and foremost be a strong American.

How does your experience as a public servant play into your role as a journalist?
There used to be a barrier between public service and journalism or working in government and journalism and that barrier has come down. I don’t consider myself a journalist so much as I am a commentator. I do have biases and I’m not there to just report the news—I’m trying to interpret and understand the flow of events.

What do you see as the future of journalism—do you see a place for print in the coming years?
I’m optimistic about the place of print—just as people felt that when television came along movies would disappear and that has not been the case. I think print is always going to have a place in our minds and I’m old fashioned enough to believe it—I much prefer holding a newspaper to reading news online. But there’s no question that the business model for newspapers is a mess. They may have a model of how they try to make money but they don’t make money. And I think that’s a shame. I think we will rue the day that some of our major city newspapers disappear.

From your experience, what do you see as the biggest challenges facing the Obama administration today?
Their first and foremost challenge is to help propel us out of this economic crisis. The bigger question is now becoming what the recovery will look like and whether it’s going to be a rapid recovery like the Obama administration originally forecast or whether it’s going to be a slower and often painful recovery and it’s looking more likely that the second will be the case. He has taken on other challenges— by the end of the year (Obama) hopes to have a healthcare bill dramatically reforming healthcare and also have an energy climate change bill at least down in the House of Representatives. Those are huge undertakings and if he can get all that done he will be remembered as a President that made big accomplishments—now whether they work or not we’re going to have to wait and see.

How do you see U.S.-Israel policy options going forward with the Obama administration?
I think there’ll likely be some difficult conversations between the new administration and the Netanyahu government. They’re not on the same page on some issues. The Obama-Biden administration is clearly committed to Israel but they’ve already signaled that they have some differences on settlements and their pushing hard to have (Netanyahu) recognized or embrace the idea of a two state solution.

What role, if any, do you think an American President should play in that process?
I think the American President should remain engaged, I think it’s a mistake to pull back. He needs to be fully engaged and I’m pleased the Obama administration is doing that. I think it’s going to be very important what role Hamas and Hezbollah play here in the coming months. There is the danger that you could see Hamas increase power in the West Bank and there’s the danger that Hezbollah will increase its power in Lebanon and that would make many Israelis who are also facing the existential threat of a nuclear Iran, extremely nervous and make life more difficult for them. These are serious times.

You were interviewed in the Jewish Daily Forward about your daughter’s conversion to Judaism in 2003—How did you first react to this?  How do you feel about your daughter’s conversion now?
We’re very proud of her conversion and the way that she and her husband are building a family. I must say when she first started going down this path I was ambivalent about it. We’d always raised her to make her own choices and she was headed on a spiritual journey of her own that I admired. It had nothing to do with the quality of Judaism but having some concern that she would essentially leave our family and join something else, and I wasn’t quite sure what it would be. I was worried that there might be some invisible curtain that would come between us. That has not occurred and I give a lot of credit to her husband, Mark Barnett, who is an extraordinary individual. He invited us into the process of her conversion and made us feel very welcome. Now we look forward to Shabbats and we celebrate Shabbat with them on many occasions. We’re not only becoming accustomed to it, we’re really just reveling in what she’s found in Judaism and what her children are finding. And I should add that Mark Barnett’s parents live in Chicago. Steve and Teri have become dear friends. The whole relationship has been a wonderful, positive experience and I’m very proud of our daughter.

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