OyChicago blog

Cheers! Chicago: Ari’s 2011 summer sips

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05/31/2011

After several months of tumultuous and unpredictable weather, from the unforgettable snowstorm in late January to the periodic flood watches and warnings that carried us through most of spring, we have finally reached summer’s doorsteps. You know what that means: beer gardens, retractable roofs and outdoor BBQs galore!

Indeed, Chicago is ripe for some outdoor activity, and you can tell by the excitement and good feeling that permeated most of Chicago yesterday. As every Chicagoan awoke to a cloudless, beautiful, 80 degree morning, I bore witness to the Memorial Day beach and lakefront mobs that descended on Lake Michigan’s downtown beaches and outdoor cafes. I joined in the excitement as I passed Oak Street Beach and saw all the umbrellas, beach towels and volleyball courts packed with Chicagoans bursting with summertime energy. After much thought, I decided to create a list of restaurants, cafes, and places to be seen this summer in Chicago. Some are old favorites that will never see the fading sun, while the newcomers are sure to turn heads and create a buzz. So whether you’re in the mood for a fancy cocktail to sip outside or kibbitz with your friends at a chic rooftop lounge, I am sure you will find good times and sensational sips at any of these places!

Ari’s Favorite Summer Sips for 2011 (in no particular order)

Piccolo Signo - Not enough can be said about this River West Italian gem. It’s one of my parents’ favorite places to take clients and family friends alike because of its amazing food, thanks to former Coco Pazzo executive chef Tony Priolo, who has truly created a Chicago gem year round. But it makes this list because of its virtually unbeatable outdoor patio setup.

Big Star - If you haven’t heard of this Wicker Park playground, you better make your play-date arrangements now before the sea of hungry and thirsty Chicagoans pounce on the popular tacos and throw back some seriously tasty craft brewskis. Prices are reasonable and the food is outstanding, but what makes this place truly unique is its heavily sought-after outdoor seating. On busy nights with reasonably good weather, you can expect to put your name down and be prepared to peruse the Wicker Park neighborhood as you wait for that hostess to call you to your table. On the brighter side, at least you picked a trendy and chic neighborhood to eat.

Terzo Piano - Just when you thought you would only venture to the Art Institute to check out some new and exciting exhibits, think again! Many Chicagoans have sung Terzo’s praises for quite some time, and there is no better time to echo those praises than now. I love the arts and will always promote and encourage skeptics to go see for themselves, but now I have another reason to send them there. So get up, go to the Art Institute, marvel at the amazing exhibits, then go treat yourself to a great meal, a gorgeous view and of course, some great weather.

The Dock at Montrose Beach - This brand new eatery has caught the attention of many avid outdoor dining lovers simply by its word of mouth (which is how I came across it). It’s so brand new, it opened this past weekend and has yet to even update its website or upload a finalized menu. Even though I have yet to experience everything that is “The Dock,” I have my eye on this particular lakeside property and hope it lives up to the hype. As the sunny summer days approach, I would put this one on your list of places to satisfy your appetite.

ROOF at the Wit - Two years ago I signed on to bartend at the newly-opened family style State and Lake Restaurant at the Wit Hotel, and while I don’t work there anymore, I still sing the praises of its chic, ultra hip counterpart ROOF. Two years later, ROOF is still one of the most frequented rooftop bars in the city, with its gorgeous views that span nearly 360 degrees, or its outdoor fireplace and floor-to-ceiling windows. The Mediterranean-style small plates will keep your tummy satisfied while you sip some deliciously original cocktail creations and marvel at how magnificent this city truly looks at night. There are alternative rooftop lounges that perch themselves on top of hotels and other downtown landmarks, but few offer the amenities that ROOF provides. It’s not everyone’s scene, but it sure hasn’t stopped Chicagoans from talking it up in the past and certainly won’t stop them now.

The Wiener Circle - Yeah, I put it here. What, would you really object to having this notorious Chicago landmark on this list? Wiener Circle’s classic red wooden picnic tables accompany classic Chicago food—hot dogs, burgers and fries—for a perfect al fresco dining experience. Not to mention all the fun you’ll have watching the throngs of nighttime partygoers stumble and mumble up and down Clark Street. If you have one place to take a first time Chicago visitor this summer, day or night, take them here. They won’t regret it, admittedly enough, neither will you.

Some honorable mentions that nearly made my list of al fresco dining are: Citizen Bar, Duchamp, Nightwood, NOMI, C-View, Epic Sky, Volo, and Terrace at the Conrad. If you’ve got some great spots that I didn’t mention, feel free to add to this list.

So as you take a sip of that deliciously cold beverage, feeling the drops of condensation traverse your fingers on the glass, remember to savor every moment and enjoy every sip, because you never know when that doggone weather will take another turn for the worst.

L’Chaim! 

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Perfect for Memorial Day and Shavuot

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05/26/2011

Perfect for Memorial Day and Shavuot photo 

Strawberries are my favorite fruit. They are available all year round, but are really only in season in the North and Midwest in May and June.

There are roughly 30 different varieties of strawberries, the most common being a hybrid. Most people who love the bright red berry have never tasted a wild berry. Wild strawberries are drought, frost and disease-resistant and if you love berries like I do, seek out wild strawberries at your local farmer’s markets. They are available June through November.

I only use organic strawberries. The berry is delicate and does not have a skin that can be scrubbed, so any spray that is used in farming cannot easily be washed off.

Strawberry Shortcakes  

My favorite spring dessert is simple and classic. I do not want any bells and whistles in my old fashioned shortcakes, just butter and juicy berries. This recipe is only really delicious with butter and real whipped cream. It is simply not the same with margarine and non-dairy whipped topping. The best berries deserve the best ingredients and this recipe delivers. Short on time? No problem! Make the shortcakes ahead of time and freeze them. Allow them to thaw at room temperature before serving.

Serves 8

2 cups flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
Pinch of salt
1 tablespoon sugar
4 tablespoons butter
¾ cup half and half
Melted butter to brush the cakes
Strawberries
Freshly whipped cream

Heat oven 450 degrees.

1. In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, baking powder, salt and sugar.

2. Cut in butter and shortening. Mix in half-and-half. Drop by large spoonfuls onto a baking sheet.

3. Brush with melted butter and sprinkle with sugar. Bake for 15 minutes or until brown.

4. Cool and eat with berries, ice cream and/or whipped cream.

Strawberry-Rhubarb Crisp  

I love homey fruit desserts. Nothing says comfort like the smell of a fruit crisp baking in the oven. This dessert can be made for Shabbat and can be served cold or warmed for Shabbat lunch.

Serves 6

3 cups strawberries, hulled and sliced
1 cup rhubarb stalk, cut into 1 inch pieces
3 tablespoons tapioca flour
1 cup white sugar
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon lemon zest
Pinch of salt

1. Stir all of the above ingredients together in a large bowl and transfer to a greased 10 inch baking dish.

For the Streusel topping  

2 cups all purpose flour
½ cup white sugar
½ cup brown sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon
Pinch of salt
½ cup chopped pecans
¾ cup cold butter or non-hydrogenated shortening

1. Place all the ingredients into a large bowl and rub the fat into the flour mixture until large clumps form.

2. Liberally cover the berries with the streusel topping. Save any remaining topping in the freezer for another crisp. Bake the crisp until the streusel has browned and the berries are juicy and bubbling (about 35-45 minutes).

3. Serve with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream, when I make this pareve I serve the crisp with strawberry sorbet.

Crispy Pan Roasted Duck with Strawberry-Rhubarb Chutney  

Strawberries and rhubarb team up again to create one of my favorite combos. This is a spring time favorite. The assertive duck is complimented by the sweet and sour chutney. The dish is mouthwatering, delicious and pretty.

Serves 4

For the chutney  

Olive oil
2 red onions, thinly sliced
1 clove garlic, minced
2 cups rhubarb, cut into 1 inch segments
¼ cup rice wine vinegar
3 tablespoons brown sugar
Pinch of crushed red chilies (optional)
1 cup strawberries, hulled and sliced
¼ cup chopped mint

1. Place a medium sauté pan, lightly coated with olive oil, over medium high heat and sauté the onion until it is dark brown (about 5 minutes). Add the garlic, rhubarb, vinegar, brown sugar and chili flakes if using. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for 10 minutes until the rhubarb has softened and the liquid has reduced to a glaze.

2. Add the strawberries and mint and stir to combine. Turn off the heat and allow the strawberries to soften.

For the Duck  

4 duck breasts, skin scored in cross hatches to allow the fat to render

1. Place a medium sauté pan over low heat. Place the duck breasts skin side down in the pan. Gently render the fat from the breasts, pouring the fat into a container as it renders.

2. When the skin is completely rendered and crispy (about 15 minutes), turn the breasts over and place the pan in the preheated oven for 5-7 minutes for medium rare.

3. Slice the breasts and spoon the chutney over the duck.

Homemade Strawberry Jam  

Easy to do and nothing tastes better than homemade!

2 cups of sugar
1 large lemon, zested and juiced
4 cups of strawberries, hulled and sliced

1. Combine the sugar, lemon zest, and lemon juice in a small saucepan and cook over very low heat for 10 minutes, until the sugar is dissolved.

2. Add the strawberries and continue to cook over very low heat for 20 minutes, until the strawberries release some of their juices and the mixture boils slowly. Cook until a small amount of the juice gels on a very cold plate. (I keep one in the freezer.)

3. Pour carefully into 2 pint canning jars and either seal or keep refrigerated. Use immediately, or follow proper canning guidelines.  

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Jessica’s Natural Foods

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05/25/2011

Jessica’s Natural Foods photo 

I fell in love—with chocolate chip granola! Not just any brand, but Jessica’s Natural Foods granola. I was in Michigan with my wife visiting family and I ran into a Plum Market. Someone, possibly Jessica, was handing out samples of this awesome tasting treat. I thought, no way is this stuff healthy. I then do what I always do in this situation, I read the label. Not bad! The fat wasn’t high and the sugar wasn’t either. It’s also gluten free, so perfect for those who have celiac disease.

At first I could not find the granola in Chicago, then after checking out a few Whole Foods, I found the product. I use it when I have a chocolate craving or when I want to mix something with yogurt and some berries. Usually when I find a product I love, I contact the owner of the company. My wife beat me to the punch.

Since the world is a small place, and everyone is on Facebook, my wife realized her friend from high school is Jessica! She was looking at a status update and put two and two together. As soon as I found out, I contacted Jessica to talk about Detroit’s top-rated granola. Don’t take my word for it—check the Detroit News.

Here’s the scoop from Jessica:

How does an engineer become a baker?
I have always loved baking. I like how you add a dash of flavor and it effects the taste and texture. With a background in science I like to experiment and see if I add more brown sugar than white sugar, will my dessert turn out chewier? What happens when I substitute baking soda for baking powder…

Why gluten free granola?
A few years back my husband discovered that he has a gluten intolerance. He couldn't find any gluten-free granola so I started making it for him. As other people tasted it, I was encouraged to start selling it. And now it's available at several grocery stores and online. It's also sold at all the Whole Foods in their Midwest region.

What else do you like to bake?
I like to bake cookies, brownies, bars, muffins. I love comfort foods! I have a few recipes online. My favorite recipes that I posted are the apple crisp and the granola pie. You would never know they are gluten free. When baking cookies and muffins, I enjoy using recipes from Elana’s Pantry. They're healthy and gluten free.

What’s next for Jessica’s Natural Foods?
We are already all natural, handmade and gluten free. Now I’m working on getting our kosher certification. I would also like to add another flavor of granola.

A quick game of word association with Jessica:
Gluten: Free
Cereal: Granola
Cookies: Chocolate chip
Work: Play
Relax: Sleep

If you like granola, try Jessica’s, it’s awesome! Currently the flavors are:
• Chocolate Chip
• Almond Cherry
• Vanilla Maple

If you have other favorite foods, send them my way. 

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Ten more things the parenting books don’t tell you

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05/24/2011

20 Things The Baby Books Don’t Tell You photo 2 

As we start to plan my baby’s first birthday, I think about all the things we have learned over the past year that, despite our being up on the latest research, came as a surprise…

1. There will be drool. Teething morphs your baby into a rabbit who will chew on anything from the coffee table to your finger. So we were ready with teethers in every room. But we were not ready for the torrent of spit that came with teething. We kept having to buy bibs, because otherwise we would run out in two days. My mother-in-law even complained that she has no photos of the baby wearing cute tops—they are all obscured by bibs. Some bibs say, “Spit Happens.” But none speak the truth: “Spit Never Stops Happening.”

2. As much as we talk to friends and family, we talk to doctors and pharmacists. The baby has had colds, off and on, for the whole year. Mostly on. Kids get sick even when kept at home— their undeveloped immune systems just can’t handle the onslaught of germs, viruses, and other invasive species our non-womb world offers up. But we try not to overdo the anti-bacterial soaps and such, either, as we do want his immune system to develop… and we don’t want to help foster the generation of drug-resistant “super-bugs” the anti-bacterial industry is unfortunately encouraging.

3. Statistically, there likely will be something physically wrong with your kid. Bowed legs, a flattened spot on the back of the head, a torticollis-tilted neck. And you will likely freak out when you discover it. The good news is: Your kid is not the only one, it’s more common that you realize, your doctor has seen it before, it’s treatable, and the baby will be fine by the time he’s out of diapers. So do the physical therapy as much as you have to, and enjoy the kid the rest of the time.

4. No home is baby-proof. A home may be burglar-proof and fire-proof, but it is never fully baby-proof. That is because it is not fool-proof, and you are the fool that forgot that babies like to chew on cords. And that they are strong enough to weaken child-proof latches simply by trying them 173 times in one minute. And that he has been practicing standing for awhile now, and today is the day he figured it out, but never thought to send you a memo… unless you count the tablecloth and everything on it accelerating floor-ward.

5. Comparison with others’ children is not helpful. I mean, if everyone else’s kid that age can do something that yours cannot, you might want to look into it. But if the next kid over is crawling and yours is not, and you are worried about it, please know that her mom is looking at your kid’s grasping ability with envy.

6. You will buy a cup specially shaped to keep bathwater out of the baby’s eyes when rinsing his shampoo. And you will get his face wet anyway. And he will laugh like you are Daffy Duck. So then you will use this $15, special-order cup to just splash the kid right in the kisser, which you could have done with an empty sour-cream container. But that night, you will dream of taking your splash-happy kid to the pool, the beach, and the water park.

7. Not something to seal the baby’s nether cheeks together— although sometimes that might seem desirable— “butt paste” is instead a brand of diaper-rash cream. Other terms that are now part of your vocabulary: Boppy, Bumbo, Baby Bjorn, Jolly Jumper, Excersaucer, Pack-n-Play, Snap-n-Go, Angel Care, and Diaper Genie. Just register for them, even if you have no idea what they are.

8. Resistance is futile—you will join Costco. Also “Amazon Moms,” as in amazon.com. This is because diapers cost their weight in plutonium unless you buy them in bulk. And by “bulk” I mean the way the Chicago Bears buy laundry detergent. Oh, and you will buy laundry detergent at that level of “bulk,” too, because you will want the baby in clean clothes and the baby will want to finger paint them with sweet-potato mush. (If you do go with cloth diapers— something I did with my older kids— you will want a diaper service for them. Unless you want to live in the laundry room. Seriously, the condo board president called me “Laundry Man.”)

9. Make friends who have babies three months older than yours, but the same gender. Baby clothes are sized in three-month increments. So if your baby is growing out of her 0-3 month clothes, you need the 3-6 month ones, which your friends’ babies are just outgrowing. If you don’t have friends like this, I suggest doing what I did, which is to have a sister with five children.

10. Some people have the strength and stamina to wrestle crocodiles. Some have the precision hand-eye skills of a neurosurgeon. No one has both. Which is why no one can clip a baby’s fingernails. We use a file.

11. Bonus advice for those with pets: Get the pets used to toys that are very distinct from your baby’s toys. Anything that is small and squeaks says, to a dog or cat: “Hi! I’m a rodent! Kill and eat me!” Also, if the baby’s toys are soft and animal-shaped, the pet’s should be ropes and rubbery things. You can also find toys that both baby and beast can enjoy together; the best one we have found is a yoga ball. This summer, we’ll see if they’ll share a backyard sandbox. 

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The last run down the lake

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05/23/2011

The last run down the lake photo 

I was running down the lakefront path. To my right, LSD and the whirl of buses and cars rushing up and down the highway. Just beyond that was the parking lot and main entrance to the Lincoln Park Zoo. I spent about a dozen Shabbat afternoons every year walking down from Lakeview to the zoo. “The zoo is free, so you can even go on Shabbat!” I would tell all the new people at shul. What a novelty it was for me to have Lincoln Park, the conservatory, and the zoo all within a short walk and completely accessible for those of us who tried to avoid spending money or driving in cars on Saturdays. I breathed deep and looked to my left.

I looked out to Lake Michigan, North Avenue Beach and Cast-Aways. It was early May, so there were some boats on the lake, dedicated sailors hoping to get a head start on the season. The beach, the path, the people watching down here were all reasons I moved here. I smiled and looked up ahead.

Hancock, Aon, Trump and Willis jutted up and out of the skyline. From my time as a tour guide in Chicago, I could list off unusual facts, past owners and architects for each of these testaments to the genius of modern construction. Chicago is home to the architects and engineers that built 80 of the top 100 tallest buildings in the world, and I was looking on at least 10 of them right there, across the sky. The skyline was the picture from a postcard that I got to say was the view from my backyard. I sighed and closed my eyes for a moment to help remember the entire panoramic view of my run, one last time.

This was my last run by the lake. I was grateful to get out and run as much as I could, but it still, at this very moment, did not seem like it had been nearly enough to take full advantage of what I had here. Dear Chicago, I thought, you are the biggest little city in the U.S.— rich, classy and cosmopolitan while holding on to your welcoming and warm Midwest charm. You taught me the importance of community and the strength of your Jewish community. You brought me the finer things in life like afternoon games at Wrigley, meals of the most delicious deep dish pizza and the smell of baking chocolate when you step off the train on days when the wind is just right. I learned a lot about love and met the love of my life in Chicago.

Most of all, I think I will miss my time on the lake. Running down the path at all times of the year and all temperatures of the seasons. There were days that I remember riding home on the bus and seeing the runners and bikers and bladers on the path. I was practically ready to jump off the moving bus to join them. For all of these reasons and others I can’t quite put my finger on, there were few things I loved more and few ways that I could find more peace than a run down the lake.

In early May, I took my last run down the path. On May 12th, I boarded a plane and moved to Washington D.C. It was the end of an era and the beginning of so much more.

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Ben says ‘Oy’

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05/20/2011

The life of a working mommy photo 

My toddler son said “Oyoyoy” the other day.

My inner Jewish mother kvelled. Not only was Ben starting to talk, he was starting to talk Jewish! My mom and I immediately set to work teaching him “oy vey,” which he had not yet mastered at the time of writing.

Upon further reflection, after hearing Ben say “oy” over and over due to the possibly overenthusiastic response he continued receiving from us, it became clear that there was only one possible way he could have learned such a phrase: Mommy.

Apart from a general resemblance to me, Ben had never actually done anything that could be connected with Mommy alone, and it struck me (and thrilled me, and terrified me) that he already was observing and so clearly imitating me.

I immediately began to wonder what other Alyssa-isms I was unwittingly passing along to my child. I watched him closely as he ate cheese quesadillas the other night, to see if he would start dancing. Sometimes, when I really love what I’m eating, I do a little “happy happy joy joy” dance, and am not even aware I’m doing it (though my husband enjoys pointing it out). I took a bite of his quesadillas, which were definitely dance-worthy; he did not seem to agree, as they mostly ended up on the floor. No happy dance, though that’s not to say he won’t pick up the habit later on.

The happy dance is a pretty harmless habit to imitate, and one that we’d probably encourage anyway, since Ben looks pretty darn cute when he dances. More worrisome are the tics and crazies that we’re in a constant battle to stop, even though they’re part of what makes us who we are.

I am stubborn to a fault, and can’t admit when I’m wrong, even when it’s increasingly obvious to everyone involved (usually my husband) that I am, in fact, wrong. Perhaps in trying to set a good example for my son, I will not continue insisting to Joe that The Bangles sing Roam, even after the DJ tells us it’s the B52s. I certainly don’t want Ben’s future wife to look at him in exasperation and wonder how he became so pig-headed.

In my quest to become more self-aware, I hope that by curbing some of my less desirable impulses, they’ll eventually just stop being impulses. Alyssa as Ben’s Mom will become an emotionally healthier person than any of the previous incarnations of Alyssa. Bonus for Ben’s Dad, who also will enjoy the benefits of the self-aware me.

The only thing that worries me is that these traits aren’t taught, they’re in our genes—in which case Ben’s wife is in trouble. 

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Is @MayorEmanuel coming back?

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05/19/2011

Is @MayorEmanuel coming back photo 

Do dreams come true?

Do great epics have great sequels?

All these questions may be coming to a head. Dan Sinker, the Columbia College journalism professor behind the foul, hilarious, gripping Twitter epic, isn’t saying a word one way or another. But ardent followers of the dormant account have been getting some hints, and there may be reason for us to hope—and be worried.

The Trib reported this week that momentary tweets have been spotted from @MayorEmanuel, deleted almost as quickly as they’re seen. They’ve been preserved through retweets and screengrabs; a wise few have set up their cell phones to text the tweets when they arrive. Of course, the tweets are in binary code— long strings of 0s and 1s—and backwards. Once deciphered, they reveal a troubling tale: just after Election Day, @MayorEmanuel disappeared into a time vortex. We assumed he was gone for good, as the rules of the universe dictate that only one Rahm Emanuel is allotted to each universe at a time. (There are multiple universes. Physicists think it’s likely, and more to the point, writers love it, so just go with me on this.) Now, however, something seems to be amiss. @MayorEmanuel seems to be sending profane entreaties to faithful Carl the Intern to “[mess] with the signal,” because there’s something wrong with time itself.

Skeptics, of course, will come up with more prosaic explanations. The real Mayor Emanuel was inaugurated earlier this week, which is a great event to piggyback for attention. Dan Sinker is also, to my great delight, publishing an @MayorEmanuel book with an unprintable title in the fall. The book will be thoroughly annotated and cross-checked, and it’s my great hope as a comic book nerd that it will be illustrated too.

Count me among the straight-up devotees, though. I’m a writer of fiction myself, and I can’t help imagining all the various ways this story could have continued after that final, incomplete tweet that thundersleety February night. In my mind, @MayorEmanuel crossed over into a Chicago without its own Rahm, but it was a wrong Chicago. It was a Chicago with Wal-Marts and thin crust pizza and championship-winning Cubs. It may even have been a Chicago without easy access to coffee, and anyone with more than passing familiarity with @MayorEmanuel knows that his love for coffee is outdone only by his love for elaborate curses. Of course he’s going to come back. He belongs here.

If you’re interested in the entire @MayorEmanuel saga and want to catch up before, fingers crossed, any more tweets come barreling our way, I advise you to check out quaxelrod.com. All the tweets are collected in chronological order, so you can read the whole thing from the beginning. (Be careful at work, though: you may not want to explain all the swear words on your screen or the reason you’re laughing so hard to your boss.) If you’re still waiting to be persuaded, let me leave you with a summary from another Tweeter, as quoted in The Atlantic: “It was a story about love all along, wadnit? Glorious […] cross-species time-bending Chicago-style love.” That should sell anybody, I think.

I’m the first to say it: We all love a good apocalypse. (Heck, we’re scheduled for the Rapture this weekend.) The end of the world is a great way to get our attention, and if time itself is falling apart, I want a guy like @MayorEmanuel on my side. Keep an eye out, Oy!sters. I can’t wait to see what happens next. 

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Facebook—friend or foe?

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05/18/2011

I love Facebook. But I also kind of hate it. One of my “friends” on Facebook—a girl from my college sorority who I have not seen or spoke to for over six years—posted something this week that really resonated with me and really got me thinking about whether Facebook is something positive or negative in my life and the lives of others:

“Sometimes I look at my FB newsfeed and think, 'gee, look at all these people I used to be friends with in real life.' What the hell happened?”

I joined the Facebook bandwagon when it was still www.thefacebook.com and hadn’t reached all of the universities across America, much less my great aunt Susan or my 16-year-old cousin Samantha. It’s hard to think back to the time before Facebook News Feed, when news actually arrived via telephone or in person, and being “friends” meant that you actually spent quality time with someone on a semi-regular basis.

There are certainly things I love about Facebook—reading articles and blog posts shared by friends that I would not have seen otherwise, watching YouTube videos that would not have otherwise made it onto my radar, and reconnecting with old friends who live in remote places. I like being able to keep tabs on old acquaintances and have birthday reminders for those who I would otherwise forget. And of course it was amazing to see just how similar William and Catherine’s wedding clothing was to Cinderella’s!

But for all the joy that cyber-stalking on Facebook provides, I’m noticing more and more that having access to all of this information can sometimes have a negative effect, even for a relatively well adjusted and happy 26-year-old with fairly-decent self-esteem (if I do say so myself).

As most men and many women will admit, women (and I should note that I include myself in this gross generalization) can be a little bit…crazy. We are incredibly critical and judgmental, of ourselves and of others, and oftentimes we hold ourselves to impossibly high standards. For me and others I know, it seems that Facebook only amplifies our insecurities, giving us a whole new wealth of opportunities to feel bad about ourselves.

Examples abound. All of your friends seem to have that something (insert one: boyfriends, fiancés, husbands, pregnancies, children, vibrant social lives, tons of friends, great jobs, etc.) and your life pales in comparison. You notice that a friend is attending a birthday party of your mutual friend…and you’re not invited. An intentional exclusion or an accidental omission? Your friend posted pictures from last weekend’s event, and wow—how did no one tell you how incredibly fat you looked in that dress that you thought was fabulous? And how dare they tag you in such an awful photo!?

Most of us are able to handle this overload of information without too much stress, but more and more often, I’ve heard friends saying that they are no longer using the site. Some have gone so far as to deactivate their account.

What do you think? 

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The story of a busybacksoon and her gradual return to reality

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05/17/2011

I’ll never forget the day I stood, in deeply perplexed contemplation, the book “The Tao of Pooh” clutched tightly in my hand.

Rushing to speak with my roommate, gripping the book that she had lovingly loaned me to read, I charged, bewildered: “Arielle, do you think I’m a busybacksoon?”

She threw her head back and laughed, and it was all over.

“Yes!” She exclaimed, overjoyed that she could finally express her frustration at my hectic lifestyle , which differed so much from her own free- spirited saunterings through the streets, spending hours reading poetry and digging into explosively outrageous conversations, which I would always need to cut short, showing her the door. “I have a lot to do,” I would explain with an apologetic shrug.

A busybacksoon is a personality-type affiliated with “The Rabbit” from Winnie the Pooh, someone rushing from one task to another, always determined to accomplish. Yet, in her struggle to succeed, she spill things all over the place on her way, too busy for people, never having enough time even though she tries to make the most of every moment. “Sorry… busy…I’ll be back soon,” the Rabbit will call over his shoulder when invited to the latest social gathering or requested for a favor. In his vain efforts for successful, productive time consolidation, he becomes a busybacksoon.

And now Arielle was telling me, and “The Tao of Pooh” was telling me, and I was trying quietly to break the news to myself...that I was a busybacksoon.

Mostly it’s a crime to oneself, an obliteration of the self, a codependent unhealthy relationship with one’s ego, that leaves one’s soul whimpering in the corner, obediently and dutifully being a slave to the taskmaster, which lies within and balks orders. “ You have ten pages of science homework to do!” it exclaims, throwing up its hands and glaring. As the soul stands dutifully at attention, nodding fervently in agreement. “ And then you must call your friend Alice and wish her happy birthday, but you can’t talk long because the packages are at the post office, the children are hungry, the bills are piling, and you need to find another job. “

And these things are so important and there’s not enough time in the day, so you must brace yourself and resolve to get it all done and as quickly as possible and schedule in frivolous things in your life at two o’clock next Friday. Frivolous things such as lying in the grass and looking at the clouds, or exposing your deepest dreams and feelings to a friend in the corner of some eclectic coffee shop.

I stared at Arielle, my mind reeling, trying to figure out how to change my busybacksoon ways.

But old habits die hard, and I struggled with busybacksoon syndrome for years, a constant struggle.

Once Shabbos hit, I would light the candles and be hit by the holes in my life as the sun descended and it was all too late. What art had I done that week? What Torah had I learned? What people had I loved deeply? And my soul at last was heard in the Sabbath silence, crying out for attention and demanding proper upkeep.

But Sunday would come, and I had things to do, and that was that.

In my vain efforts to get things done and be accomplished, forever busy without any time, I was missing out on the essence of life, the magical, glorious, beautiful and delicious juicy quality of existence that is what we are meant for. The world is not an office and your friends are not your business associates. The world is a carefully orchestrated, operatic symphonic melody, and we are to listen for it and to dance to it. While we work, we are meant to dance. This dancing can and must happen in all places—in the study halls, the stock market, the gym, and the wedding canopy. The trick is to enter all of these arenas and know that this is what you are there to do—to dance.

It has been six years and counting since the busybacksoon revelation made a mark on my emotional history, a powerful lesson to gradually undue the stubborn resolve of a confused mind.

Life is changing for me now, but the struggle remains the same. “Do I have the time to speak?” I might be found, responding assuredly to a friend. “For you, of course!” And in those gradually increasing moments of triumph in choosing life, I breathe and I know. I know I am living.

I’m sorry God for not dancing as much as you wanted me to before. I didn’t hear the music. You were playing it loudly, but there was too much white noise. But I’m hearing it now, faintly. My hips are starting to shake free.

It is in the delicate balance between making a living and making a life that the dance of our existence really takes place.

Choose life.

And Arielle, thanks for your honesty. It has changed everything. How about a trip to a coffee shop, you and me?

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Rahm Emanuel inaugurated as Chicago’s first Jewish mayor

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05/16/2011

Rahm Emanuel 2011 photo 

“None of what we must overcome will be easy, but in my heart I know this: The challenges for the city of Chicago are no match for the character of the people of Chicago.”

So said Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Chicago’s first Jewish mayor, during an inauguration ceremony at Millennium Park in downtown Chicago Monday, May 16.

Emanuel succeeds Richard M. Daley, who retired after 22 years in office. Daley’s father, Richard J. Daley, was mayor for 21 years until his death in 1976.

“We are a much greater city because of the lifetime of service that Mayor Daley and First Lady Maggie Daley have given us,” Emanuel said. “Nobody ever loved Chicago more or served it better than Richard Daley. Now, Mr. Mayor, and forevermore, Chicago loves you back.”

While reflecting on the education, public safety, and financial difficulties the city faces, Emanuel offered a strong message of hope, based on in part on the city’s diversity.

“I believe in our city. I believe in our city because I know who we are and what we’re made of — the pride of every ethnic, religious, and economic background, and nearly three million strong,” Emanuel said. “Look at the three of us being sworn in today. Treasurer Stephanie Neely and Clerk Susana Mendoza….An African-American whose family came from Grenada, Mississippi in the great migration north; a daughter of immigrants who came from Mexico; a son of an Israeli immigrant from Tel Aviv…

“The three of us have achieved something our parents never imagined in their lifetimes. And while our three families traveled different paths, they came to the same united city for a simple reason – because this is the city where dreams are made.”

Emanuel’s connection to the Jewish community is a source of great pride to that community, according to Steven B. Nasatir, President of the Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago, who was among the invited guests at the inauguration.

“In my meetings with Mayor Emanuel and listening to his inauguration address today, it’s clear that he intends to be mayor of the entire city. Thank goodness it doesn’t matter in 2011 whether you’re Irish, Jewish, African American or Hispanic, leadership comes to the front depending on what the job is, and what skills and talent it requires,” Nasatir said.

“Notwithstanding that fact, the Jewish community is—and should be— proud that a person who is involved in our community—in terms of synagogue membership, Jewish education, connection to Israel, and as a donor to the Jewish United Fund—has been elected. In that connection we are very pleased and supportive.”

“I have big shoes to fill,” Emanuel said in his inaugural address. “And I could not have taken on this challenge without Amy, my first love and our new First Lady, and our children, Zacharia, Ilana, and Leah. And I want to thank my parents, who gave me the opportunity to get a good education and whose values have guided me through life.

“As your new mayor, it is an honor to fight for the change we need and a privilege to lead the city we love," Emanuel said. 

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A piece of litter goes to Wrigley…

 Permanent link
05/13/2011

A piece of litter goes to Wrigley photo 

Recently, I feel like life is moving extraordinarily fast. It seems like just a couple of days ago it was April. Okay, that is actually true, so let’s try that again. It seems like just a couple of weeks ago it was February. Even so, trying to remember what February was all about, on the other hand, is a dubious task. When I go back into my Oy! archives, I can see that I was clearly enjoying my first winter in Chicago walking down Lake Shore Drive and racing turtles. That was back in the innocent times, with weather too cold to worry about missing anything exciting happening outside and most people hibernating in their mole holes.

It seems like the annual rite of passage for springtime is the completion of my favorite holiday— Passover. I view it as a transition in the types of things we complain about. All winter, we complain about the cold and the slush and closed beaches. But on Passover, we forget all that - we have to spend a billion years cleaning our bear dens and the only reward we get is to not be able to sit down and have a beer (chametz) when it is all done! At least there’s matzah pizza and Netflix, but that’s hardly consolation.

As spring has moved in, the opportunities for fun have become a lot more abundant. Joining an Ultimate Frisbee group, running in the Cinco de Miler (destroying my mile with a 35 sec./mile improvement!), and actually enjoying hanging out on the streets of Chicago have all put some spring in my step. What could be better to top it off than heading over to Wrigley to take in a fresh dose of America’s past time and get some chametz back in my system, salted peanut and cracker-jack style. This ballgame, however, was the beginning of a crazy journey.

Sitting in Section 229-3, Row 23, Seat 10, I was being blown at by a fierce wind from all sides and then drifted down to a closer seat - Row 15. The trip down to Row 15 was not an easy one. I was kicked around, thrown about, and pushed aside by an usher. At that time, I had only made it down to Row 20 when I quickly realized I was positioned in Someone Else’s seat and that Someone Else, who was not a small individual by any definition, was quickly moving towards me on his way back from the concession stand. Someone Else was getting closer and closer and I finally got up. Before I could get far, he tried to step on me to teach a lesson, but his corpulent self could not outwit me! Just as I was about to be flattened, he tripped over me and dropped his soda and soft pretzel on the chair in front of him. While trying to rescue his snack, I was able to sneak away and resettled myself seven rows down to my more-permanent resting place in Row 15, Seat 7.

You’re probably waiting to read about how I got through this unscathed...don’t worry, we’ll get there!

Seat 7 turned out to be the most exciting though. The guy sitting two seats down from me got in a shouting match with a seagull after the bird wanted to add a little bit of flavor to his nachos but missed, hitting his sleeve with something that went “splat!” Seriously though, what are the chances of getting hit by bird “leftovers” at the game? Probably about the same as catching a foul ball, which I might add, happened to the same guy two innings later!

After the baseball game, which the Cubs lost, I figured I would stick around for a little while and relax, but the baseball gods had something different in store. Finding me in Seat 7, an usher picked me up and threw me in an alley outside Wrigley alongside a dumpster. After wandering the streets of Wrigleyville for a few hours and getting shoved aside and kicked around by anyone who came my way, I eventually found my way over to Lake Michigan, where the only logical thing to do after such a journey was to jump in and let the current take me away.

The story I just described to you really never happened to me, but it is one that could have happened to a piece of litter in a public place like a baseball stadium. Recently, I was able to participate in and help in leading an Alliance for the Great Lakes beach clean-up at Montrose Beach along Lake Michigan. I’m not trying to gather your sympathy for the long and hard journey that trash takes, but to gain awareness for our local natural resources and to instigate thoughts about where our trash ends up!

Our drinking water, our beaches, forest preserves, and parks are all made less enjoyable by the things we pour down the sink, flush down the toilet, or leave behind without cleaning up. Among the trash that was found at the beach, most of them were items that can be traced back to activities based at the beach: broken glass, bottle caps, fishing line, and cigarette butts. However, there were plenty of items that we found which you would have to come up with an outlandish story (like the one above) to figure out how they got there: a fake Santa beard, personal hygiene products, and a fake finger nail.

In addition to protecting our natural resources so that we may be able to enjoy them more, we should protect our natural resources so that they can be healthier and safer for other species and life forms to use, too. Raccoons, normally preferring to live in woodlands, are attracted to the beach by leftover food waste, creating an unsafe environment for them and for human beach visitors, too. Other animals that spend their time in coastal areas are also attracted to food waste and cause other problems in coastal ecosystems when their increased droppings cause chemical and bacterial imbalances and funky smells along the beach.

The natural resources that we treasure so dearly, especially in the springtime and summer, are so important for us to protect. Last year, 10,000 residents of Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, and Wisconsin picked up 31,295 lbs. of trash at beaches along the Great Lakes through Alliance for the Great Lakes’ Adopt-a-Beach program. While there are many ways that beaches become unhealthy, our actions can contribute to having healthier, cleaner, happier beaches this summer and beyond.

Enjoy the sun! 

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Bittersweet endings and new beginnings

 Permanent link
05/12/2011

With the exception of a brief fellowship at an Indianapolis newspaper, my entire—albeit not too long—career has been as a professional Jew. That’s altogether different from being a Jewish person who is also a professional. In fact, as a professional Jew, I’ve been steeped in Jewish undertakings in both my work and home lives.

Recently, I switched between two Jewish organizations. I’m still getting used to my new position—and my new office, which has a beautiful, 29th-floor city view!

But as I’m adjusting, I can’t help but think about the transition. I’m also realizing that a few key steps helped me (I think) make it as comfortable for everyone involved as possible.

When I left the Jewish Federation to start working at the American Jewish Committee, I tried to make sure that I was leaving on good terms. This was the first time when I left not because I was moving to another city, but because I got a different job in the same city. I rehearsed my “I’m leaving in three weeks” speech several times before actually going into my supervisors’ offices to make the announcement. All four of the conversations were tough. But I had to think about what was best for my career ambitions—and I’ve got a whole slew of them.

Leaving my colleagues was bittersweet. Over the past 2 years and 8 months, I’ve shared more than early morning magazine proofing sessions and marketing strategy meetings with other professional Jews.

My new job involves building relationships with other communities—something I’ve been keen on for some time (see my old blog post about finding non-Jewish friends). But I want to think that the relationships I’ve built with my Federation colleagues, whom I respect tremendously, will endure this change. After all, we’re all in the same business of making this world a better place, as cliché as it might sound.

From my recent experience, here are some tips to make transitions sweet rather than wholly bitter:

1. Finish your work. I was in the middle of two big projects when I found out about and took the offer for my new position. It’s a given that they needed to be completed—or tasks handed off to appropriate people—before I left. And as much as finishing all tasks sounds like a given, I imagine it might be hard to concentrate on current projects when you’re already looking ahead to future ventures in the new job.

2. Be truthful about why you are leaving, but be diplomatic about it. I loved working for the Federation and with my colleagues. But I wasn’t using my graduate degree or many of my other skills and talents. My new job gives me more of a chance to do so.

3. Offer to help the new person when the position is filled. I have no reservations about fielding a call from whoever is my replacement about the job—whether it’s about who to contact for what or how to upload a document to the website.

4. Keep the connections with former colleagues going. I’m the first to admit that I can be lax in this area. Since my new office is just five blocks away from my previous one, I’ll be checking out all our old haunts to have lunch or a coffee date with former colleagues. And who can say that building relationships with other local Jewish organizations is bad for business? 

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Two months to 27

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05/11/2011

Willis Tower photo 

I realized yesterday that I turn 27 in two months. Twenty-seven seems like an incredibly big number. That’s definitely out of the mid-twenties, and it’s definitely closer to 30 than I’m used to contemplating. People who are 27, in my rather skewed view of the world, have their lives together. Considering that I now have less than two months until July 10, I have started keeping records and making lists. I have an act to get together.

This has been a while in coming. A few months ago I accidentally fell into a Borders liquidation sale and accidentally fell out with a significantly slimmer wallet. One of the treasures I picked up was an honest-to-goodness little black book. I’ve written about my dangerous love affair with blank notebooks before. This one, however, I’m trying not to lionize. It’s a place for lists: to-do lists, grocery lists, lists of links to send friends, lists of projects to organize. If anything grandiose happens here, it’ll be by happy accident. (Dada poetry, perhaps?)

It’s funny, how quickly this urge to organize my life came on me. Like many of my decisions, it happened in fits and starts, with plenty of melodrama. I think I spent an entire weekend alternating between feeling frustrated at easily fixable things and furiously congratulating myself for solving all my problems in one glorious sitting.

This is not to say that there’s been no progress, that I set my goals too high and have given up on all of them. I’m actually pretty pleased with how well I’ve been sticking to the goals I’ve set. One new development has been my slow integration of a regular workout schedule. I’ve had many friends do Couch to 5K over the years. It’s worked for some and not for others. It turns out I love it. I’ve had a longstanding antipathy to organized exercise. The reasons are, by and large, irrational, but all the same, I’ve never belonged to a gym and I haven’t been on an athletic team since middle school summer league softball. When the weather started getting nicer, or at least bearable, I made my first attempts, supremely confident in my own overall fitness.

Ha. That was a fun start! Lesson in humility: learned.

Through the power of perverse persistence, though, I’ve started to get tastes of the legendary runner’s high. It’s a nice reward in and of itself, but it’s also nice not to feel so reactive. Somewhere in one of the creative writing blogs I follow, someone made the observation that the Sears Tower didn’t spring up fully formed all at once: all sorts of little rivets and bolts had to come together, and that huge building is the result of many small actions that accumulated over time. That could be the wisdom of the ages talking: people over the age of 27 surely understand that and go through life perfectly in control of their world. Being an adult is absolutely just like being the Sears Tower.

Well. I’ve got two months to get my routine straightened out. If anything comes up, no worries: it goes straight to my book of lists.

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A new twist on feeding the hungry

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05/10/2011

A new twist on feeding the hungry photo 

Photo credit: Bob Kusel

Until today, I had always thought of soup kitchens as gloomy establishments where the impoverished stand in line for hours to receive food rations in a method similar to the one employed in Oliver Twist. In high school, I avoided soup kitchens and found other ways to do service because I didn’t think I could handle seeing mass poverty up close.

But today I took a trip to the JUF Uptown Cafe with Northwestern Hillel’s Tikkun Olam Task Force, and all of my perceptions changed.

The JUF Uptown Cafe is Chicago’s first kosher anti-hunger program and is housed in the Dina and Eli Field Ezra Multi-Service Center in Chicago. The feeding program, which offers four meals a week to its registered clientele, is housed in a well-lit room with blue and white tiling and a diner-style layout. Volunteers act as waiters, taking drink orders from customers and carrying food to the table.

Jake Adler, who is the case manager for many of the attendees, said that the restaurant style gives people more dignity. They feel as if they’re going to a meal with friends because they enjoy the atmosphere, not because they are desperately in need of food. I saw this to be true as I watched large groups of people laughing and telling stories as they ate a full meal at a table decorated with flowers for Mother’s Day.

But the man that I was serving was sitting alone, eating his eggs and orange juice in silence. It wasn’t until I sat down to speak with him that I discovered he was deaf in one ear, and had trouble participating in group conversation. For the next 15 minutes, he told me all about his career in the restaurant business and his run as head chef in a Chicago establishment. He said can’t cook anymore because he doesn’t have a stove.

Another man that I served ate his meal and took another to go, asking for an extra bagel because he was “really hungry.” It was heartbreaking to have to deny him, but resources are limited and Jake had explained to us a fair rationing process. It really made me stop and think about what happens to these people when they leave the cafe, about what they do for every other meal.

The Ezra Multi-Service Center provides not only meals, but also movie nights, musical groups and health programming. The program caters to Jews and non-Jews alike and provides them with a case manager who monitors their physical and emotional health. According to Jake, everything that the JUF Uptown Cafe serves is kosher, being that about 40 percent of the people who attend meals are Jewish. He discussed with us the difficulties of trying to keep kosher when just finding food is a problem. It’s not something I ever thought about before today.

On the whole, I found my hour and a half of volunteering at the JUF Uptown Cafe a positive and enlightening experience. I feel informed about the struggles of the impoverished Chicago population and also grateful that programs like this exist. I appreciate JUF for all that it does in terms of outreach, and I commend the Tikkun Olam Task Force for getting Northwestern involved in the service opportunities available. I encourage everyone to find as many ways possible to combine faith and philanthropy, as being Jewish is not an individual identity, but a communal one.  

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Israel education 2.0

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05/09/2011

Israel education 2.0 photo 

One of the reasons I love working at Shorashim is that I get to work on cool projects in addition to Taglit-Birthright Israel. One of them is called Classroom to Classroom: an initiative to help Hebrew high school classrooms and religious schools make their Israel curriculums more innovative using social media. Through a fellowship sponsored by the iCenter and the Jewish Education Project called Project Incite, I was coached through creating a brand new educational project that will rock the Jewish world, and most importantly to our organization’s mission: connect Americans and Israelis.

With the help of Shorashim’s Executive Director Adam Stewart, we designed a pilot social media platform and invited classroom teachers to join us on a trip to Israel to meet with other teachers from Kiryat Gat to be trained on the program and put their already existing curriculum to use.

The trip, thanks to our P2K hosts Niva Vollman and Susan Peled, was a success beyond my imagination. The teachers from the Chicago area (Hanna Pashtan—Highland Park High School, Semadar Siegel—Evanston Township High School, Ezra Balzer—Congregation Am Yisrael) hit it off with the four teachers from the Kiryat Gat high schools and picked up the program quickly.

After follow up visits to most of the schools, the program was launched and the students from the Chicago area and Israel were connecting with each other within (and sometimes outside) the framework of the Classroom to Classroom platform. Perhaps one of the most poignant exchanges came from the following question: What do you think is the hardest thing about being a teenager in the United States and Israel?

One Chicago area teen wrote: We have many pressures on us. Most of us are involved in many after school activities. It is very hard on American teenage students to manage our time. A typical school week day for me is going to school, staying three and a half more hours for dance rehearsal, then going home to do all the homework I have that night. The homework level we get can be very stressful. As a junior in high school, another pressure is the ACT, which is a standardized test. All colleges you apply to look at your ACT score to help them determine if you should be accepted or not. Many students spend a lot of time studying and practicing for this test throughout the whole year. It adds even more pressure than just keeping up with school activities and homework.  

Another Chicago area teenager wrote: The hardest thing about being a teenager in America is the constant fake personalities of people and the nonsense that people say to you to try and make you feel bad. 

An Israeli teenager wrote: I think that the hardest thing of being a teenager in Israel is the wars, for example ‘Oferet yetzuka.’ We were supposed to stay at home all day long, afraid from the missile, even very late at night! But despite all the pain and fear we are proud to be Israeli teenagers. In times like this, it's important to support each other and be united.  

Another teenager from Israel wrote: For my opinion, the hardest thing of being teenager in Israel is to be able to manage all the hatred and hostility from the world ...it took us so long to build this whole state, why can’t we just live in peace without all the wars and the fear in our eyes? Although it sounds very depressing, I wouldn't change my origin for any penny in the world! It who I am, who we are, the Israeli citizens... and we have our special quality. 

Shorashim’s mission is our belief that students (and adults) best learn about Israel from her people, and that the same is true for Israelis learning about American Jewry. While the absolute best way is to visit Israel until a student can get to Israel, perhaps Classroom to Classroom is the second best way.

If your school or congregation in interested in participating in Classroom to Classroom 2.0, email me at sharna@shorashim.org.

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Cello Lessons in Practice

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05/06/2011

Cello Lessons in Practice photo 

Back in the day of the regular (electric) cello practice.

“Have you practiced your cello yet?” It’s a question, but growing up it was the answer to my questions about watching T.V., playing at a friend’s house, having a sleepover, you name it. Some days I responded with a groan, other’s a happy “Yep! Can I go now?” It took a while, but over the years I grew to love practicing. I struggled through those junior high years when I wasn’t allowed to quit, and as I improved my technique and my sound smoothed out and became full, my practice sessions stretched into the hours. Even though my cello practice changed over the years and has waned almost completely, it has marked my life forever. The lessons I learned from playing the cello keep coming back to me in other ways.

Lesson 1: Discipline
Put your butt in the chair and do it. Play your scales and etudes, repeat. Write your 500 words of the day. Draw something and mix your paint. Unroll your yoga mat and lay on it until you are ready to do some sun salutations. Breathe during all of the above.

Lesson 2: Focus
Pay close attention to what you’re doing; how else will you recognize when the art happens? Tune out the background noise and voices of doubt. At first this focus will be on finding the correct pitch or selecting the perfect word, but eventually you will forget about the individual notes you are playing and the story will pour out of you.

Lesson 3: Repetition
Do it every day. Develop cello calluses on your fingertips and wear them with pride. Play the difficult sections of your piece over and over and over. “So, you want to be a writer and a painter?” I ask myself. “Then write and paint every day. Then you will be a writer and a painter.” (Yes, I talk to myself sometimes.) So, you want to play music? You want to be a fill-in-the-blank? Well then sit down, dig in, and repeat.

I no longer have a daily cello practice, but I do have a writing practice, a painting practice, and I would like to revive my yoga practice. Having a practice is a little different now that I have two 16 month-old girls running around, but the same lessons still apply: Discipline to keep working on my personal goals despite sleep deprivation and a million baby-related distractions, focusing on one thing at a time, and regular, if not daily practice. Most days there is time for one, maybe two practices during a nap time or after night-night, in between cooking and paying bills and showering.

I read somewhere that at work you should always dress like your boss. Dress like the person you want to become and you will be that person. Same with decorating your house. Surround yourself with the furniture and artwork of the person you want to be and you will be that person. Same with your practice, whatever it is that you choose. A friend once gave me a card with this quote from Van Gogh. “If you hear a voice within you say, ‘you can’t paint,’ then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced.” Creating the life you want is all about the practice.

Last week I saw this Ira Glass video where he talks about being an artist and pushing through those times when you are making stuff that you know isn’t good – films, radio, music, etc. It is only by making that stuff that you improve and make the work you know you are capable of creating. I had been thinking about this idea of having a practice and the video inspired me to keep going.

Whatever the practice, I’m finding that the concepts are the same as those I learned growing up with my cello. With gratitude, I offer up a big shout out to my cello standing in the corner, my parents who gave it to me, and the teachers that pushed me. Thanks for teaching me so much more than how to pull a bow across some strings. 

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Under the Mango Tree

 Permanent link
05/05/2011

Under the Mango Tree photo 1 

The week was filled with outside dentistry. Our days were spent under the shade of a mango tree, helping the community with much needed dental care.

Under the Mango Tree photo 2 

Under the Mango Tree  

Under the Mango Tree,
It’s always more fun doing dentistry.
Tools spread out on the table,
Something you couldn't even read in a fable.
Leaves shade the patients waiting in chairs.
One extraction after the next and no one cares.
No need for appointments, the weather is nice,
If you need a snack reach up without thinking twice.
Children wander in and out,
Many sit in the dental chair without even a shout.
People sitting in observation,
Others watching in anticipation.
They just relax the day away,
Under the Mango Tree. 

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The Bear Jew: Gabe Carimi

 Permanent link
05/04/2011

The Bear Jew photo 

Chicago has had its share of great athletes—Michael Jordan, Frank Thomas, and Stan Mikita to name a few. The Bears have probably been the richest of the Chicago teams, with players like Walter Payton, Gayle Sayers, and Dick Butkus. But it has been a while since any Chicago team has had a great Jewish athlete. The Cubs had Ken Holtzman and Steve Stone but besides those two it has been hard for Chicagoans to rally around a top Jewish star. The one Chicago Jewish athlete that has Hall of Fame status is Sid Luckman. Luckman retired in 1950 and Chicago Jews have been searching for a star ever since. And with the 29th pick in the 2011 NFL Draft the wait might have ended. The Chicago Bears selected Gabe Carimi out of the University of Wisconsin.

The last two NFL drafts have seen three Jewish football players drafted. In 2010, Tampa Bay took Erik Lorig in the 7th round. The other pick was Taylor Mays who was a projected first round pick. After getting snubbed by his own college coach Pete Carroll, Mays fell to the second round. But this year Carimi was selected in round number one. Jewish football fans finally have a player to cheer for. Over the last few years there have been a bunch of up and coming Jewish athletes in other sports including Jordan Farmar, Kevin Youkilis, and Mike Cammalleri. But Carimi comes in immediately and is arguably the top Jewish NFLer. His numbers will not be flashy and he won’t be catching touchdowns, but he has the opportunity and potential to be a perennial Pro Bowler.

Carimi will play for an offensive line that is anchored by Olin Kruetz. He has one objective in the Mike Martz style offensive: protect Jay Cutler. The Bears have invested a lot of time and money in their quarterback and have done a poor job giving him time to throw the ball. So, Carimi needs to keep Cutler off his back and allow him to throw touchdowns.

In college Carimi won the 2010 Outland Trophy for the nation’s top interior lineman. He had 49 starts at left tackle and played in the 2011 Rose Bowl. He was also a unanimous selection 2010 Consensus All-American and the Big Ten Offensive Lineman of the Year.

That is what he has done on the field but in the synagogue he has been much more impressive. He grew up in a Reform synagogue where he was bar mitzvahed at Temple Beth-El in Madison. He had a bar mitzvah project that helped Habitat for Humanity. While in high school he helped in his synagogue’s Hebrew School. According to a JTA article, this past September, Yom Kippur coincided with an afternoon game. Carimi wrestled with whether he should play at all, even going to his rabbi for advice. Ultimately, he came up with his own compromise: Instead of fasting from sundown to sundown, he started the fast early enough to give himself a few hours to recover before the game.

He is not only Jewish but he cares about his religion. Caring brings Jews more pride than just playing sports. Yes, we love Sandy Koufax for being Jewish, but we hold him on a pedestal for not playing on Yom Kippur. We love Omri Casspi for playing basketball but we cheer for him more for embracing the Jewish community. And we follow Yuri Foreman for being a champion, but we love him more because he is going to be a Rabbi. Carimi is not just another Jewish player; he will be a leader on the field and in the Jewish world.

We as Jews should celebrate this first round draft pick. Not just Bears fans, but Jews everywhere. Carimi is a public figure, one that embraces his Jewishness and can be a role model for young Jews everywhere. I know I will be watching him on a weekly basis, which is made easier by him wearing Blue and Orange. Welcome “Bear Jew” and get ready to Bear Down!

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Pub Grub: Jewish-style

 Permanent link
05/03/2011

Pub Grub: Jewish-style photo 

In celebration of the Royal Wedding, I offer a true Jewish recipe. A trip to London or anywhere in the UK cannot be complete without a pint of beer and a platter of fish and chips.

But, did you know that fish and chips is actually a Jewish dish? The battered and fried fish recipe was brought to England in the 1500s by Portuguese Sephardic Jews who had come to Britain to escape persecution. The crispy fish was called Pescado Frito. The history of the addition of fried potatoes is a bit blurry and may be credited to the Belgian recipe for fried potatoes. By the Victorian era, eating fried fish was very popular throughout the UK and was referred to in a Dickens novel and other popular fiction.

The first fish and chips shop opened in London in 1860 and was owned by Joseph Malin. The fish was fried in oil in “the Jewish fashion” and served with potato wedges that were rounded and resembled the fin of a fish.
Fish and chips is a delicious and crispy treat. While the recipe is easy to prepare, the timing can be tricky.

Have all of your ingredients measured and prepared and your hungry diners assembled. Once the fish is fried, it should be served immediately so that the crispy batter does not get soggy.

Fish and chips—in the Jewish style  

6 cups neutral flavored oil (I use canola or safflower)
2 pounds Russet potatoes, peeled and cut into ½ inch thick wedges
1 cup all purpose flour
2 teaspoons Old Bay seasoning
Pinch of cayenne pepper
1 cup dark beer (I like Guinness)
2 egg whites, whisked until they at soft peaks
Salt and pepper
4 6-ounce fish filets, be sure to use firm, thick fish such as cod or halibut
Malt vinegar

1. Heat the oil to 275 in a large, heavy pan. Blanch the potatoes in the oil until they are opaque and soft (about 3-5 minutes). Transfer the potatoes to a sheet pan lined with paper towels and allow them to cool completely. (this will allow the starch to crystallize and ensure a crispy chip)

2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, Old Bay, cayenne and beer. Fold in the egg whites. Place the bowl inside a large bowl that is filled with ice water. This will help the batter stay crispy and delicate.

3. Pat dry the fish filets, dredge them in the batter and place them into the heated oil. Cook until they are crispy and brown (about 3-5 minutes). Transfer to a pan lined with paper towels. Add the blanched chips to the hot oil and fry until the chips are golden brown (about 3 minutes).

4. Serve the fish and chips with malt vinegar, tartare sauce, horseradish sauce or your favorite condiment. 

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