OyChicago blog

Interview with former MLBer and pitching expert Jason Hirsh

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05/29/2015

Interview with former MLBer and pitching expert Jason Hirsh photo

There are a lot of guys who've made it to the Bigs -- that is an accomplishment in its own right -- but only a small percentage of those players have been Jewish. Meet Jason Hirsh. He might not have had the longest MLB career but he played against the likes of Albert Pujols and Barry Bonds. Not the easiest guys to pitch against. Since retiring Jason has stayed close to the game. Here what he is up to:

1) Tell us about yourself.

I'm a former MLB pitcher who now runs my own pitching academy, cleverly named, the Jason Hirsh Pitching Academy in Denver. I was drafted in 2003 by the Houston Astros in the 2nd round out of California Lutheran University, a small division III school in southern California. I became the 4th highest draft pick ever out of a division III school. While in the minor leagues for the Astros I was named the Pitcher of the Year in both 2005 and 2006. 2005 was in AA Corpus Christi of the Texas League and 2006 was in AAA Round Rock of the Pacific Coast League. I became the first person to ever win that title in those two leagues in back to back years. 

I made my MLB debut for the Astros in August of 2006 and got my first MLB win a few starts later in Milwaukee. After that season I was traded to the Colorado Rockies for Jason Jennings for the magical season of 2007. I was named the 5th starter out of spring training and was pitching to a pretty good season when I was derailed by injuries. The final injury was a broken leg suffered in August, which prevented me from being able to participate in the 2007 World Series. That next season I strained my rotator cuff in spring training and didn't regain form until September that season. 

In 2009 I was traded to the Yankees and sent to AAA Scranton Wilkes-Barre where I regained form and felt like my career was back on track. 2010 was a bounce back season in which I felt like my old self, pitching to some great numbers and helping lead my team to the playoffs. My career came to a screeching halt in August of that season as I tore my rotator cuff and labrum throwing a ball to 1st base effectively ending my season. After major shoulder surgery in 2010, I took 2011 off to rehab and in 2012 played in the Australian Baseball League for the Melbourne Aces. 

Finally in 2013 I was playing in Amarillo Texas for the Amarillo Sox of the American Association when I finally decided to hang up my spikes for good and start my own pitching academy. The goal of my academy is to teach kids proper arm care techniques and mechanics to ensure proper development and growth.

2) When did you know you would be able to make it to the Bigs?

I've always wanted to be a professional baseball player. When someone asks kids what they want to be when they grow up, most kids put fireman or policeman or astronaut, I always wrote Major League Baseball Player and my parents have the schoolwork to prove it. It has been my goal my entire life and I worked tirelessly to achieve that goal. 

I knew I was one step closer when I got drafted by the Astros but didn't realize how quickly it would come, especially considering all the adversity I went through to get there. When I got called up it was a total shock to me. We were in Salt Lake City playing the Bees (I was with Round Rock) and I was running out to the game mound to throw my warm-ups to start the game. Off to my right I could hear someone warming up in our bullpen which was odd considering I hadn't thrown a pitch yet. It was a reliever who hadn't thrown in a while so I figured he was getting some work in. I completed my first inning unscathed and took my seat in the dugout. The reliever continued to get loose. I ran out for my second inning and threw my warm-ups. After the ball went down the 2nd base my manger (Jackie Moore) began his stroll out to the mound. I was still clueless at this point. He reached the mound, laid his hand out flat, which was the universal sign for "give me the ball," he looked me in the eyes and said "Congratulations son, you're going to the big leagues." All my teammates came to the mound to give me hugs and handshakes and that's when I knew my dreams had finally come true.

3) What was recruitment like as a High Schooler?

I grew a lot in high school -- both physically (5 inches between my sophomore and junior year) and mentally. I was 6'8" 260lbs and throwing 88mph in high school. You would think people would be chomping at the bit to get me into their programs. Unfortunately that wasn't the case. I wanted to play for Arizona State, they wanted me to go to a JuCo and transfer in and I didn't want to deal with transferring as my education was just as important as baseball. Finally one day Cal Lutheran offered me a spot on their team. They said I could pitch from day 1 and that was music to my ears. It's a good thing I had a decent GPA in high school because division III colleges cannot offer athletic scholarships. Once at Cal Lu, I started in the bullpen. Then four games into the season a starter went down with an injury and I stepped in and never stepped back out. The rest is history.

4) What was it like to play in the Majors?

The big leagues is everything you could possibly imagine and more. From fancy hotels, to private jets to big paychecks to bigger stadiums, tens of thousands of fans and incredible pressures. There is a reason why people spend a lifetime trying to get there.

5) Who was the best player you played with and against?

I played with a lot of great players but the ones I remember the most are great teammates. I don't want to single out an individual because there were many people who had an impact on my career and my life. Likewise I played against a lot of great players from Albert Pujols to Barry Bonds to Gregg Maddux and Randy Johnson. Granted most of the greats I played against were in their twilight years, there were quite a few who continue to make an impact in the big leagues and are now the superstars.

6) Any regrets?

My only regret is not being able to stay healthy. I really liked to interact with fans and inspire kids and I felt like if I had stayed healthy I would have had a much bigger platform from which to achieve those goals. Other than that, I have no regrets.

7) What was your Jewish upbringing like?

I'm a holiday Jew, though probably the most practicing of all my family members. I'm extremely proud of my Jewish heritage and the legacy that I was able to help carry on. When I was a kid I mostly remember Hanukkah and as I got older we I participated in Yom Kippur services. It wasn't until I got to high school at St. Francis High School (a Catholic school) that I really learned about my faith. I took an intro to religion class which might as well have been called Jewish History where I probably learned more about my faith than if I had gone to another school. I also learned about my faith at Cal Lu (a Lutheran school) where I also took another intro to religion class which concentrated on Jewish history. Without either of these schools I definitely wouldn't have the love and appreciation I do today of my culture and heritage. On a side note my first catcher in the big leagues was a fellow Jew named Brad Ausmus (current manager for the Detroit Tigers). We became just the 2nd Jewish Pitching/Catcher battery in MLB history behind Sandy Koufax and Norm Sherry.


8) Koufax or Greenberg?

I'm a pitcher so of course I'm going side with Koufax. Plus I grew up in Los Angeles where I was a huge Dodger fan. I did learn quite a bit about Hank Greenberg from an amazing documentary I was fortunate enough to see called "Jews In Baseball". On a side note, my agent Arn Tellum was featured in that documentary which was cool for me to see. I love history, especially World War II history and the Greenberg's story was something that definitely peaked my interest.

9) What are you doing these days?

As I mentioned earlier, I have a Pitching Academy in Denver Colorado where I teach kids of all ages the art of Pitching and Arm Care. I'm also married to my beautiful wife Pamela whom I met in college and we have two boys (Brady, 5, Hudson, 3). If I'm not in the batting cage or at home with my boys you can probably find me wading in one of the many beautiful rivers in Colorado, fly fishing for trout (inspired in part by a book called "Fly Fishing: A Spiritual Practice").

Thank you to Jason for taking the time to answer our questions. Great story and checkout his academy www.hirshacademy.com

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What’s with all the “J” Names?

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05/28/2015

What’s with all the “J” Names? photo

Anyone making a list of Jewish names, or choosing one for a child, has to be struck by how many start with "J."

This is not an accident. One of the many names for God is spelled, in Hebrew, with the two letters "yood" and "hey." Together, they sound like the last syllable of "hallelujah." (Which makes sense, since that word means "praise God.")

The "yood" -- the 10th letter of the Hebrew alphabet -- is transliterated into the letter "I," the ninth letter in our familiar alphabet. And as any Indiana Jones fan can tell you, "J" began as a capital form of "i." Later, "J" took on its own pronunciation.

So all the "J" names actually start with an "I"… originally, a "yood." Here are some of the more well-known J names (alphabetized) followed by their meanings, their original Hebrew pronunciations, and more modern forms the name has taken… which is where your name might have ended up in the list. Most female names of this type are versions of male source-names; the ones that aren't usually start with a "Y" in English, like "Yael" and "Yaffa."

Jacob: "Heel"
(yah-ah-COHV)
[Jake*/Jacqueline/Jocelyn]

Jadon: "He will judge"
(yah-DON)
[Jaden. "Jayden" = "Jay" + "Hayden"]

James: (a form of Jacob)
[Jamie, Jim, Jake*]

Jamin: "Right (hand)"
(yah-MEEN)

Jared: "He will descend"
(yah-REYD)

Jedediah: "Beloved of God."
(yeh-DEED-yah)
[Jed]

Jeremiah: "God exalts"
(yeer-mee-YAH-hu)
[Jeremy]

Jesse: "God exists"
(YEE-shai)
[Jessica]

Jethro: "His excellency"
(YEET-roh)

Joel: "The Lord is God."
(YOH-el)

Jochanan: "God has favored"
(YOH-chan-an) [John/Johanna, Jack/Jake*, Jan/Jane/Janet/Janice/Janis and even Jean/Jen/Joan]

Jonah: "Dove (the bird)"
(YOH-nah)
[Jonas]

Jonathan: "God has given"
(YOH-naht-ahn)
[Nathan is its own, stand-alone name]

Jordan: "Descend"
(yar-DAYN) [Jordana; Jordan River flows southward]

Joseph: "God will increase"
(yo-SAYF)
[Josephine/Josie/Joe/Jody]

Joshua: "God will save"
(yeh-hoh-SHOO-ah)
[Josh]

Judah: "Praise, thanks"
(yeh-HOO-dah)
[Judith/Judd/Judy/Jody/Jude]

*"Jake" can be a nickname for Jacob, for John (through Jack), and even for James (since James is from Jacob anyway).

Some rarer Hebrew "J" names include: Jaleel, Jasper, Jedidah, Jehochanan, Jemima, Jephthah, Jeroboam, Josephus, and Josiah. Jumpin' Jehosephat! (Yes, also Biblical.)

While there are J-ified versions of these names, you mostly hear them in Hebrew or in Israel: Yael, Yafit, Yair, Yaron, Yechezkel, Yedidah, Yehudit, Yerucham, Yigal, Yirachmiel, Yishai(ah), Yisachar, Yoav, Yoel, Yocheved, and Yuval. All starting with a "yood."

Some "yood" names retain the "I," however: Isaac, Ilana, Iris, Isabel (from the Biblical name Elizabeth, even if it sounds like "Jezebel"), Isaiah, Itamar… Ian and Ivan (from John)… and of course Israel itself.

Why "I" in these cases? It has to do with the second letter, after the "yood." If the second letter is a vowel, the yood becomes a "J"; "Ya'acov" becomes "Jacob." If the second letter is a consonant, the "yood" has to stay a vowel; "Yitzchak" becomes "Isaac"… not the unpronounceable "Jsaac."

Probably the most prominent city names that start with "J" in English but "yood" in Hebrew are, of course, in Israel (which itself starts with a "yood" in Hebrew:):

Jaffa: "Beautiful" (YAH-foh)

Jerusalem: "Vision of Peace" (yeh-roo-shah-LAH-yim)

Jericho: "Fragrant" (yeh-REE-choh)

Not all J names are Hebrew in origin, of course. Those from other languages include: Jarvis, Jasmine, Jason, Jay, Jeffrey, Jennifer, Jerome, Jill, Joy, June, Julius (and, therefore: Jules, Julian, Julia, Julie, Juliet, etc.)... and Justin/Justine.

But still, quite a few "J" names do come from Hebrew, even from the Torah. And now you know why.

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We Should Get To Know Each Other

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05/27/2015

We Should Get To Know Each Other photo 2

Growing up I had a split personality. On the one hand, I loved smelling the tadlikos and spinaki that my great aunts would busily prepare in the kitchen during any family gathering. I loved hearing the stories about Macedonia, the "old country," that my grandfather and older relatives would tell around the dinner table. I loved the special "Non Komo Muestro Dio" (or Ein Keloheinu to most of you) that we sang for Shabbat.  But on the other hand, I didn't like that I looked so different from many of my other Jewish friends, that I didn't know most of the funny Yiddish words they tossed around so easily, and that I still can't tell the difference between kreplach and kashka. When I was younger, I didn't know how to address my Sephardic culture outside of my family--it's not something kids talk about with each other, especially if you're the only one who shares your customs. I felt different, and sometimes lonely. 

Wouldn't it be amazing if we all grew up in communities where these differences are embraced but also known about? As I got older, I became increasingly aware that none of my friends had ever even heard of the word "Ladino" before. Did you know that in Israel, the government has placed so much value in the preservation of this critical aspect of Sephardic culture that they have set up an entire institute, "The Ladino Authority," and appointed a former president of the State of Israel, Yitzhak Navon, to lead it. If only Jewish kids in America were even taught what Ladino is! A girl like me may not have felt so "other" as a child. 

We all come from families with amazing stories, in a country filled with immigrants. My story likely is not so different from yours reading this. My grandfather's family came to America escaping war. In his case, it was the Balkan Wars in 1911. The Balkans were home to a large population of Sephardic Jews who had found safety in the Ottoman Empire after the expulsion from Spain in 1492. Jews had lived in the region peacefully for over 400 years, but when the Ottoman Empire fell, my family in Monastir (what was then upper Greece, lower Yugoslavia) decided it was time to leave.  They came to America with nothing, and they quickly wanted to find success in their new country. They did not teach their children many of the customs from the old country, save for a few family recipes and songs. Sadly, Ladino, the first language of my grandfather, and the beautiful pan-Mediterranean Sephardic language based in Castilian Spanish, did not get passed down.

But luckily I grew up with the knowledge that our family history was precious and worth understanding. This picture below, of a synagogue in Thessaloniki, Greece that my relatives built in 1923, has stood for a symbol to me of why I need to share my story.

We Should Get To Know Each Other photo

Many people are not aware that Greece was the hardest hit country, in terms of percentage of Jews exterminated, than any other country during WWII. Greece? Yes, Greece. Eighty seven percent of the Jewish population, mostly all Sephardic, was murdered, higher than in any other country. While Thessaloniki was obliterated during the war, this one synagogue was left intact, as the Nazis used it as a Red Cross Shelter. It stayed standing. We are still standing. While the numbers of Sephardic populations are small, our stories are big and impactful. And I owe it to all my relatives before me who survived the Inquisition, and subsequent wars, to keep my Sephardic culture alive. 

Sephardic culture is Jewish culture. Just because I come from Sephardic ancestry doesn't make me "other."  Whether you eat gefilte fish or huevos haminados during Passover, we're all part of a larger Jewish history. I want to know your family's stories from Russia, or Vilnius, or Vienna. And I hope that you will want to hear about mine from Greece, or Turkey or Serbia. We should get to know each other better; we're all part of the same Jewish family.

Sarah Aroeste is a contemporary Ladino singer and composer living in Massachusetts. (www.saraharoeste.com). She will be speaking on "Sephardic Culture is Jewish Culture: Why Ladino Matters" on June 18th at WTTW11 in Chicago as part of the latest production of ELI Talks. Get your tickets to see her and five other speakers present their TED-style "inspired Jewish ideas" on new Jewish culture here.

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'Lonely Starbucks Lovers'

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Admitting when you're wrong
05/26/2015

I'm in a great mood right now. I feel vindicated, sane, and ready to conquer the world. 

For months my two daughters have been getting on my back because I was convinced that Taylor Swift's song "Blank Space" contained the lyrics, "All the lonely Starbucks lovers."

To hear from an 8 and a 12-year-old that I'm wrong isn't so bad, except that they weren't even able to tell me what they thought the line was in the song. I'm happy to honestly admit when I'm incorrect about something, but I felt that this had to be the lyric because I, too, am a Starbucks lover. While I couldn't ever "Shake It Off," I've been a drinker of Starbucks since 1992. I related to this line. 

On Monday night, after having great Shabbat and two inspiring days of Shavuot, I learned something that has caused a total paradigm shift in how I relate to the world and those around me. I found out that I wasn't alone. I wasn't crazy. I was wrong, but not alone. It seems that Talyor Swift's mother also thought the lyric was, "All the lonely Starbucks lovers." 

starbucks lovers

Being the only one wrong stinks, but it turns out that thousands have also been in the "Starbucks" camp. I guess, like myself, they never bothered to look up the lyrics (an action that has become outdated since the digital music era). I wasn't very upset, since I was comforted in knowing that others also heard what I thought I had heard. When we are not the only ones wrong, it's always easier to digest.

For the record, the lyric is, "Got a long list of ex-lovers."

When it comes to hearing things, I'm a bit subjective. It's not selective hearing (though my wife thinks it is), but I hear things in relation to what I can connect with. One of my teachers, Rabbi Moshe Weinberger, once explained that we all fall victim to hearing what we want to hear. He even quoted a popular folk rock song from his youth, "Still, a man hears what he wanted to hear and disregards the rest." 

Again, being wrong stinks, but for me there is a sliver of joy in it. When I do find out that I'm wrong and I have to admit it, there's a choice I have to make. I can either say, "Ok, I'm wrong, but it was an easy mistake," or admit my mistake and use it as a lesson to remind myself that I don't always know as much as I think I do. 

Tonight when I tell my daughters the "good news," I'm going to try to do so in a way that will let them see that it's OK to be wrong.

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Birthright Israel Survival Guide

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Tips to prepare you for Birthright
05/22/2015

Birthright Israel Survival Guide photo

'Tis the season for Taglit-Birthright Israel trips. For those of you who were accepted on the Birthright summer program, you are about to have one of the most incredible experiences of your life. Soon you'll be sharing your camel-riding, Masada-climbing, Dead Sea-floating photos all over Facebook. 

To those of you who've already gone, you know the high you have while in Israel and the low you feel when you're no longer surrounded by the 50 or so people who became your best friends in just a few days. 

I definitely felt prepared before I went to Israel because of the suggested packing list from my trip organizer. But, now that I've gone through the incredible experience that is Birthright, I can share, with expert knowledge, how to best prepare for this trip you'll never want to come home from. Yes, Birthright is that amazing. 

So, I've provided you with a short list of suggestions and items you most definitely want to carry with you during your travels through the Promised Land. 

Less is more
Men don't usually have an issue with over packing, so this tip is really for my ladies. Don't pack five pairs of leggings, three pairs of jeans, and two pairs of heels for the two nights you go out. I survived on, wait for it, one pair of leggings, one pair of jeans, and I didn't even bring heels. The people you meet on your trip become your best friends, and they don't care about how you look. They care only about the person you are. Focus less on your outfits and more on the unforgettable experiences you'll be having.   

Be a walking Walgreens
Do pack cough drops, Advil, bandages, sunblock, and allergy medicine. Since your days are jam packed with unforgettable activities and nights consisting of four hours of sleep on average, it doesn't hurt to be prepared in case you start feeling under the weather. In addition, drink an excessive amount of water all day, every day because you don't want all of the amazing hiking, sight-seeing and socializing to catch up to you. 

Bring out your inner photographer
I took a ton of photos and am really happy I did. I packed a journal thinking I would have time at the end of each day to write about the activities I did and the funny and memorable moments. I was completely wrong. You have basically no time to yourself, so take plenty of photos so you can look back and remember all of the amazing moments you had and people you met.  

It's all about the Benjamins … or shekels
There are Birthright programs that suggest bringing $200 to $300 that you later exchange for Israeli currency. You could very likely spend more than that. I did. Your suitcase will start overflowing with gifts for your family, like chamsah necklaces for your bubbe and mom; a yarmulke of your dad's alma mater; many shot glasses for friends and siblings; and, of course, an Israel Defense Forces sweatshirt, t-shirt and muscle tee.

Finally, don't forget to be open to every experience your trip has to offer and relish every moment because your time in Israel days will go by too fast.

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The Ultimate Potato Salad

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05/21/2015

The Ultimate Potato Salad photo 1

Does anything spell American BBQ more than potato salad? I think not.

There was a time when I could not stomach potato salad. Not one bit. I could not fathom cold, mayonnaise-drenched potatoes being appealing to me.

That all changed one day when I was working in a super busy cafeteria that serviced 3,000 people a day and it just so happened to be picnic season. During this season we made batches upon batches of potato salad. Huge 5-gallon vats of potato salad would disappear in a day's time. I even packaged it up and sold the stuff by the pound as most grocery stores did.  

Watching and serving the salad all day long made it even more unappealing to me.

But one day, I was the only chef manager in the kitchen and one of my favorite cooks Teresa came looking for me to taste the batch of potato salad.

"No gracias, Teresa. Seguro esta bien," I said. "No thanks Teresa, I'm sure it's good."

She waved her head, dunked a plastic spoon into the gooey mixture and said, "Here!" I had a feeling she was not going to take no for an answer. I had to taste it. It would be wrong and a bad example if I didn't, right?  So I sucked it up and tasted it …Teresa watched me with her usual cheery smile on her face. And then the unbelievable happened.

I accidentally breathed. You see, I was holding my breath hoping to not taste anything … I know, I know and I call myself a chef!  But people, I have a wretchedly evil gag reflex!

When I breathed, I was surprised to find that what was being passed around in my mouth was surprisingly delicious. It was creamy, but not in the gross way I had imagined. It had all the texture and mouth feel that I expected it to have… but those textures were not gross at all! They were delectable.

"MMMMMMMMMMMMMMMM es muy delicioso, Teresa," I said. She smiled, thanked me and began placing them in huge Tupperware containers to be used later on that day. And I continued eating the salad.

It was not all creamy; there was some crunch to it and even some tanginess.  And it was just what this girl's appetite wanted. Not needed, wanted. No one actually NEEDS potato salad, let's be honest.

The next day, I stood by Teresa and watched her make it. Such simple ingredients came together to make the ultimate classic potato salad.  She made it with such knowing hands and such precision, never measuring anything but consistently getting the same result. That, ladies and gents, is a pro.

And so I pass on her delicious recipe to you. I promise THIS will be the only recipe for potato salad you will ever need!  I brought this over to a BBQ I attended and it was gobbled up instantly.

I will say; I prefer making it the night before and letting the flavors marry a bit. It's a lot yummier that way.

The Ultimate Potato Salad photo 2

The Ultimate Potato Salad
From www.girlandthekitchen.com

Ingredients

5 pounds of red potatoes
5 hardboiled eggs
1 bunch of scallions finely chopped
3 stalks of celery, finely diced
¾ cup of sour cream
¾ cup of mayonnaise
4 tbsp dijon mustard
salt and pepper to taste

Instructions

1. First wash up your potatoes. I like to use classic small red potatoes. Cut them up in quarters if they are small, or in eights if they are the larger ones.

2. Place them in a pot with a few pinches of salt and bring to a boil.

3. While you are at it, grab some eggs and hard boil them. I got a nifty tutorial for you on how to make the easiest and most perfect hard boiled eggs every time.

4. While that's working for you, finely dice some celery.

5. When your potatoes are juuuuuust fork tender, dump them into a colander and let them cool. In fact you can always do this the night before as well.

6. Place the potatoes in a bowl and crumble up your eggs right on top of there. I just mushed the eggs with my hand, but feel free to do this with your fork if you would like.

7. Chop up a bunch of scallions (about ¾ of a cup) ... I like it really scalliony because I feel it really brings out the flavor in the potatoes. Add the scallions to the heap as well.

8. Now add ¾ cup of sour cream, ¾ cup of mayo, ¼ cup of dijon mustard and salt and pepper. (If you're forgoing the sour cream for a kosher BBQ, add a squeeze of lemon for some tanginess.) Mix everything with a big spatula or your hands. I prefer to use my hands because you get the "dressing" distributed a bit more evenly this way. Check for seasonings and see if you need it zestier, saltier or if it's just right!

9. Garnish with scallions and enjoy!

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Pickled Okra Memories

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05/20/2015

Pickled Okra Memories photo2

My favorite thing about food, other than how most of it tastes amazing, is how it's bonded to memory. What's your favorite thing to eat? Think about that food right now. Where are you? You're probably far, far away. Maybe you're a kid. Whenever it is, chances are you're happy. I love the instant time-traveling aspect of food memories. It's magical.

One of my most favorite foods is pickled okra. I wish I were surrounded by it this very moment. Okra is maybe a weird food to talk about if you're not from the South, but stay with me.

Whenever I think of pickled okra I am instantly seven years old and I'm at the salad bar of a restaurant in my hometown with my mom. She used to sneak me extra pieces of okra from the salad bar because she knew I loved it. Those little okra presents felt like our little secret.

When I think of those trips to the salad bar, I instantly see a giant canister of pickled okra and so clearly that I can almost reach out and touch it. Just about every time I eat pickled okra I have this little fragment of a memory. When the memory pops up I am filled with warm happy thoughts. I am filled with love, love for my Mom and love for pickled okra. 

I was at a fancy specialty grocery store recently and happened upon a selection of pickled okra. I know -- can you believe it? How random. There was more than one brand and several different flavors. I didn't even have to taste the okra; I was instantly seven and standing in front of that same old salad bar in my hometown with my mom. I love that feeling and I adore that weird little flash back. 

I don't run across pickled okra very often these days, but I decided that maybe I should start making it at home so I can have my little okra memories whenever I want. How revolutionary! Until I saw the okra at the store it never even occurred to me that it could be anywhere other than that salad bar from long ago. It's time to fix that. Maybe you're not in love with okra -- maybe it's chocolate cake or humus or homemade ice cream. It can be any number of things. I think you should find a recipe for your favorite food and make it tonight. You won't be disappointed I promise.

 

Pickled Okra

Ingredients

10 cloves garlic, peeled
2 cups white vinegar
6 teaspoons kosher salt
Several sprigs of fresh dill
1 teaspoon celery seed
1 teaspoon coriander seed
1 teaspoon mustard seed
1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns
1/2 teaspoon pink peppercorns (if you have 'em)

Directions

In a medium saucepan, bring 4 cups water to a boil, reduce the heat so the water simmers and add the garlic. Cook for 5 minutes. Add the vinegar and salt, raise the heat and bring to a boil, stirring until the salt dissolves. Remove from the heat.  

In 2 clear 1-quart jars, place a few sprigs of dill. Divide the seeds and peppercorns between the jars. Using tongs, remove the garlic from the brine and place 5 cloves in each jar. Then pack the jars full of cucumbers, carrots, scallions or green beans, cauliflower and chiles. You want them to be tightly stuffed.  

Bring the brine back to a boil, pour it over the vegetables to cover completely, let cool, then cover and refrigerate. The pickles will taste good in just a few hours, better after a couple of days. And they'll keep for about 3 months.  

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Grading the Bulls

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05/19/2015

Grading the Bulls photo

This is becoming a familiar feeling -- the Bulls' season cut short by LeBron James.  

I've thought about this a lot over the last week or so once I saw the writing on the wall that this team just didn't have what it would take to get past James and company, yet again.  

As much as we love the Bulls and as much as they have improved the roster -- probably the best roster they've had in the Tom Thibodeau era -- they never found an identity this season. They were never able to identify a true leader on the court, and they struggled pairing Thibodeau's defensive mind-set with a focus on making the Bulls a better offensive team.  

Their skill on the roster and on the bench got them as far as they could possibly go, but it was clear to me that this team was floating more often than not. Not only did they struggle to score at times, but they looked completely lost on offense for entire quarters.  

Here are my grades for each player this season. It will be interesting to see which, if any, pieces get moved around in the off-season.  

Pau Gasol -- Gasol was the Bulls' most consistent player this season, leading the league in double-doubles and earning his first appearance as an All-Star starter. Once seen as an off-season consolation prize in the Carmelo Anthony sweepstakes, Gasol gave the Bulls more than anyone expected. He was great in the pick-and-roll game and was the low-post scorer the Bulls have been looking for. His defensive lapses were often made up for by his shot-blocking ability. Although the veteran missed time when it really mattered in the playoffs, he was healthy for nearly the entire regular season. --  A  

Mike Dunleavy --  I really liked what I saw from Dunleavy this season. He gave the Bulls solid wing minutes, played good defense and hit threes coming off of screens as well as spotting up. Injury kept him out about 20 games this year, but he was a good veteran presence who wasn't afraid to play a little nasty on a team that lacked toughness at times. I would have liked to see him used more but that wasn't his fault. He may be the odd man out with his contract up after this season, but I think he would be a good asset to have if they can figure out a way to get him back. --  B  

Joakim Noah --  This year's Joakim Noah was not the Joakim Noah we've been accustomed to seeing. Maybe it was injuries, maybe it was difficulty fitting into the offense or with Pau Gasol, but Noah never really found his groove this season. His production dropped in every statistical category and just didn't have the emotional flair he had when he was All-NBA First Team last season. -- C-    

Jimmy Butler --  The NBA's Most Improved Player established himself this season as one of the league's best two-way players. He averaged 20 points and attempted a team best seven free throws per game. Butler bet on himself turning down the Bulls' pre-season contract offer and it looks like it is going to pay off. -- A  

Derrick Rose --  It was unclear at the start of the season which Derrick Rose we would see, if we would see him at all. Despite missing some time with a meniscus injury, Rose certainly showed signs of his former self. Prior to the injury he depended too heavily on the three-point shot (and was 28 percent from long-range), but in the second half of the season began to attack the basket again and played much more efficiently. Playing 51 regular season games and every game of the playoffs earns Rose a good grade alone for this season, but his inconsistent shooting and knack for turning the ball over drops him a bit. -- B+  

Taj Gibson --  I feel like I've been saying every year is going to be Gibson's break out year, but this might be his ceiling. After getting rid of Carlos Boozer, the starting power forward position was supposed to be Gibson's, but signing Pau Gasol and bringing over Nikola Mirotic changed that and Gibson struggled to find his role on this team. He looks to be the Bulls' most attractive trade bait this off-season as the odd man out in a crowded front court. -- C  

Nikola Miroti --  It was a hot and cold year for the rookie, but I loved the flashes that I saw from Mirotic. His ability as a big man to hit threes, put the ball on the floor and also find the open man put him at the center of some Rooke of the Year talk at points this season. He still has a ways to go on defense, but he definitely has potential to be a very good sixth man on this team for the foreseeable future. Once his confidence grows and he develops more of a low-post game, he can be a very, very dangerous player. -- B  

Aaron Brooks --  In the long line of great off-season point guard pick-ups, Brooks filled the bill. His often stellar scoring ability carried the Bulls a lot of the time when Rose or Hinrich were out. He got into the lane, hit impossible shots and shot well from (and sometimes two feet behind) the three-point line. But Brooks disappeared completely in the playoffs, showing very little ability to score the way he did in the regular season in limited minutes. -- B-  

Tony Snell -- Snell struggled to get into the rotation consistently, but he showed the potential to be the Bulls' next hidden draft find. When he did find his way on the floor, he showed he can hit from long range and also displayed a smooth, quick drive game. With Dunleavy's status in question next year, Snell may be ready to emerge as a potential starting 2 or 3 next to Jimmy Butler. -- C+

Kirk Hinrich --  Captain Kirk has always been someone I have defended when others didn't want to see him on the floor, but he made it awfully difficult to be in his corner even for me this season. Hinrich was always a favorite of Tom Thibodeau so he ended up in games even when he maybe shouldn't have been. He lost a few steps on defense, where he had been reliable in the past. -- D

We did not see much from E'Twaun Moore, Doug McDermott, Nazr Mohammed or Cameron Bairstow this season, but with the need to clear some cap space, we could see more of the first two next year and possibly not see the latter two on the roster at all.

I think it's unlikely that Thibodeau returns next year, and I'm guessing we'll see a few roster changes, but I don't know how much better the Bulls can be with the roster structured the way it is now. With Jimmy Butler likely to receive a max deal and Derrick Rose's max contract still on the books, we'll only see minor moves unless a trade is made.

It should be an exciting offseason full of speculation, but it appears for now that any improvement the Bulls make will have to come from within.

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What your selfie stick says about you

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05/18/2015

After all this time, I'm sure you're wondering: When will one of the writers at Oy!Chicago tackle the "selfie stick?"

Well, friends, today is your lucky day.

Last week, my fiancé and I got back from a wonderful 12-day trip to Europe, visiting cities in England, Belgium and Holland. We loved seeing the sights, experiencing the culture, and indulging in so, so many waffles. 

But there was one aspect of our trip that seemed to -- well -- stick out.

What your selfie stick says about you photo 1

Selfie stick in St. James's Park in London

What your selfie stick says about you photo 2

Selfie stick in St. James's Park in London

What your selfie stick says about you photo 3

Selfie stick near Kensington Gardens

Presenting the top five things your selfie stick says about you:

1. I am a tourist -- not that there's anything wrong with that, but I'm definitely, surely not going to even attempt to blend in with my surroundings

2. I love architecture, but I think that famous buildings like Buckingham Palace, the Taj Mahal, the Egyptian pyramids, and so many others would look better if my face were in front of it.

3. I'm not interested in talking to strangers -- even the nice, friendly ones who would gladly take my photo and then in exchange I'd take their photo, and then we'd talk about where we're from and think, wow, this little world really ain't so bad.

4. Seriously, I am so uninterested in asking a stranger for help that I would rather carry a metal stick around with me all day.

5. I truly believe that my metal stick and my arm are more capable than you to take this picture.

Although, with all of the European rain, if only we could figure out a way harvest that selfie stick technology and put it onto an umbrella -- then the tourists would really have it made.

And for the record, Adam and I somehow managed to get awesome selfies anyway, sans selfie stick.

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Can a Personal Worst Be a Personal Best?

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Running the 2015 Kenosha Marathon
05/15/2015

Yesterday my brother stuck his head through my window in the Hebrew school carpool line and asked if I'm ready to quit. Like the rest of my family, Jeff doesn't approve of my marathon habit, and while he hasn't yet staged a full-blown intervention, he asked me the same question after my first one. And second. And third.

I get it. I used to think people who ran marathons were insane. As recently as last Tuesday, I hated marathons. I approached them with dread. I suffered mentally for 26.2 miles and it was pure stubbornness that kept me going. I even announced my retirement on Facebook -- while still in an active state of bonk -- last October after completing Chicago with a 4:33 personal record.

Granted, I registered for Kenosha the following week, but not because of adrenaline, masochism, or the need to shave three more minutes off my time. But because I realize I have so much left to learn. With that, I set my next goal. Figure out how to enjoy a marathon.

My original vision entailed a Swiss cheese costume, something so absurdly out of character that it would be a constant reminder not to take myself, the run, or life too seriously. While I can get pretty literal with my symbolism when it comes to holes and imperfection, I couldn't quite figure out the logistics of foam. So, over time, my vision morphed into a glittery, yellow tutu I made myself and a Swiss cheese bow tie. I debated to the very last second whether I'd have the guts to actually wear it.

The Tuesday before the race, I attended my first Jewish meditation sit with Rabbi Jordan Bendat-Appell at the Center for Jewish Mindfulness at Orot (www.orotcenter.org), who talked about netzach -- endurance.

He said, "For this week, set the intention to endure -- to return with energy and confidence, over and over to your intentions, to that which is important. And, notice if this kind of persistence leads to unnecessary hardening. When this happens try to add a gentle softening, a dose of chesed, lovingkindness."  

I haven't decided if it's the ultimate cliché, or ridiculously timely, but this shifted my mindset. I was no longer dreading a marathon. I was curious if I could experience it as a 26.2 mile meditation -- with the intent to feel blessed that I could run long distances, to enjoy the nature and sense of community, to contemplate netzach rather than negativity, and to be carried along by the energy of the universe.

Can a Personal Worst Be a Personal Best? photo 1

I set out to run a 10:10 pace in my glittery yellow tutu and a cheesehead bowtie. 10:10 because it's symmetrical and slow; the tutu and bowtie as reminders not take myself too seriously.

Can a Personal Worst Be a Personal Best? photo 2

In purple Sharpie, I wrote the word chesed (lovingkindness) on my right hand and netzach (endurance) on my left hand.

So was it 26.2 miles of peaceful bliss? Hardly. My legs were heavy from the start. By mile 1, I was hot; at mile 7, I was a few gulps of air away from a full-blown panic attack; at mile 10, I was -- in the words of my dear friend Brian -- six seconds away from shitting in my pants; and at mile 13, I considered dropping out. By mile 16, I'd swallowed enough air to inflate a large inner-tube, and a gigantic bubble formed in my chest. The downward pressure made me nauseous, the upward pressure constricted my breathing, and running became damn near impossible.

But I also had meditative moments and during those moments everything shifted. I heard the sound of the pack, feet hitting pavement, collective inhaling and exhaling, as though the marathon itself was alive and pulsing. Sometimes I looked down at my yellow tutu and smiled in spite of myself. I loved my damn tutu. "Hello, Yellow Tutu Woman," said someone. Sometimes I thought of my daughter Emma who would be starring as Maria in The Sound of Music that night and I borrowed from her brave. On one out-and-back, I passed half a dozen participants in wheelchairs, one after another, many with giant grins, all being being pushed by runners -- and I borrowed from their brave. Sometimes I looked at the Hebrew words in purple Sharpie on the back of my hands, and silenced the voice that was saying, Your time sucks and listened to the voice that was saying, Run your own race, Dana. Don't stop.

That's when I came to terms with everything. On any random spring morning, I'd be all in if someone said, "Want to go for a walk?" To my surprise, Kenosha is far more than a bunch of outlet malls off of I-94. Think miles of lakeshore including a lighthouse, quaint shops, beautiful homes, subtle rolling hills, green fields, and quiet. Everything I'd want in a Saturday morning nature walk, with the added bonus of an occasional stranger offering me a banana and saying, "You're awesome" as I stroll on by. I decided to enjoy that stroll from mile 17ish to the finish and unlike Chicago, there were stretches where there wasn't a soul in sight. I loved it.

So no, my dear brother, I am not quitting. Thanks to netzach (and my friends), I didn't quit at mile 13. And thanks to chesed (and my friends), I enjoyed it. It was 72 minutes slower and 72 times better. I've already registered for Kenosha 2016, which gives me plenty of time to practice breathing with my mouth closed. And this time I learned the following: Sometimes conventional measures of success, like a marathon finishing time (or hitting every note in The Sound of Music) are secondary. Or even inconsequential. And it takes a yellow tutu to remind you of that.

Can a Personal Worst Be a Personal Best? photo 3

It takes truly dedicated friends to wake up at 4 a.m. on a Saturday morning, schlep you across the state line to run excessive distances, pop up at various points (4.5, 13, 18, 22 and 26) across bumblefuck (albeit beautiful) southern Wisconsin for five-plus (+++) hours, and haul your stinky, nauseous ass back home. And offer to do it again next year. Thanks, Sarah and Pat.  

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Arrive at Their Place

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The advantages of vantage points in relationships
05/14/2015

Arrive at Their Place photo

Relationships are the backbone of our emotional health, yet they are also the source of our emotional aches. So often the people we love and find comfort in are the cause for our distress, and it usually comes from a communication we had with them that went awry.

Wouldn't it be nice to just feel a strong bond and closeness constantly with everyone we're near to? Would you think this blog post is the start of a cheesy fake commercial if I told you that you can?

Let's take a look at a rather typical argument between a young couple that had a moment of conflict when they rendezvoused for lunch and he arrived late:

She says, "We said we'd meet for lunch at noon. It's almost 12:30! You're almost a half hour late."

He says, "I'm sorry for being late, and it's only 12:19. I assumed you realized it was going to be hard for me to get out to the suburbs from the city on a weekday from work."

She responds, "Well, if you couldn't come here on time, than you should've told me so I wouldn't have messed up my whole day!"

He responds, "Fine! Then I just won't even try to come out here to meet you next time!"

She replies, "I'm sorry for yelling. I just wish you wouldn't make promises you can't keep. It really messes up my schedule!"

And he replies, "I'm leaving!"

What went wrong here? Who messed up? Was it his fault for arriving late? Was it her fault for not forgiving or being appreciative that he made the effort to get there? Could either of them have said something to the other that could've fixed the situation?

She could've been more accepting about his tardiness, and he could've accepted her apology and offered to try to be more on time next time, but I don't think they are capable, not yet.

Let's try to understand what's really happening between them. He arrived late. What does that really mean to her? Well, it might feel as if he doesn't care about her or prioritize her in his busy life. In couples therapy, we call that a feeling of abandonment. Because she appraises his behavior that way, she's feeling really hurt and sad. And it's coming out at him as anger.

On the other side, he's experiencing her anger. He doesn't have a clue about her interpretation of his behavior and the profound sadness it evokes. It was hard for him to take the time off work to meet for lunch, and all he sees in response is that she's very upset with him. His appraisal of her criticism and anger is that he messed up and he can't ever seem to get it right. In therapeutic terms, we would say he's feeling unappreciated, even unloved. His feelings cause him to respond by pulling away from her. She then appraises his distancing to mean she's even less important and a priority to him. The abandonment feelings get stronger, the anger comes out harsher, and the nasty cycle spirals onward.

All relationships with our loved ones -- parents, friends, spouses, and children -- have patterns, and sometimes these patterns can get ugly. How can they see the depth of what's really going on underneath the external behaviors that are so triggering?

Hillel, a great sage of the Talmud almost 2,000 years ago, addressed this exact topic. He said, "Do not judge your friend until you have arrived at his place." Hillel is addressing the question, "What goes wrong in relationships?" And he answers, "You are 'judging' it from the wrong vantage point!" If you want to truly appraise the situation, you must look at it from the other person's perspective. Once you can see it from their paradigm, then you can truly judge the situation properly.

If he would step into her place and view the situation from her vantage point before making a judgment, he would see how hurt she is feeling from his late arrival. When he see how much it impacts her, he can better address those feelings and also understand why she's so upset. And if she would step into his place before making any judgment, she would see how important it is to him that she recognizes his efforts to meet her there. She would see how important it is to him to feel her appreciation and love for his effort and understand why he's distancing because of them.

We can truly take to heart the advice of Hillel and not judge our loved ones until we have fully arrived and put ourselves in their place. Then, from that vantage point, with the understanding of what's really happening, we can stay close to the ones we love.

Joshua Marder is a Rabbi & Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist.  Josh is the director of Chicago YJP, a Division of the Lois & Wilfred Lefkovich Chicago Torah Network.

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Oh, You Work Here Now?

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05/13/2015

Oh, You Work Here Now? photo

I have felt looked down upon many times in the various customer service jobs I have held over the years. I've often felt the need -- especially when unexpectedly reencountering former classmates -- to explain that my work at the mall/gym/concession stand was only temporary and that I was in fact studying/writing/traveling in my spare time, therefore proving that I had not fallen off the proverbial higher education bandwagon and still counted as an achieving member of society.

Looking back, I feel a bit ashamed of these hurried justifications of my social value. So, to cast a more insightful light on the world of mops and punch clocks, here are some of best, weirdest and thought-provoking experiences I've had while working in the service industry.

The Hydrogen Bomb

Well … technically, it was carbon dioxide.

When you go to a snack bar or fast food restaurant, you don't often think about how they make the soda (or pop, if you will). And why would you? When you buy soda at the store, it's already in bottles or cans. There's no assembly required. But at restaurants and snack bars, it works a bit differently. These drinks are assembled right when you order it. Carbon dioxide, water and soda syrup mix together as your cup is filled at the soda fountain, and most days it's a pretty effective system. However, if one of the three elements is missing -- say, carbon dioxide -- the machine stops working.

Fortunately, most kitchen instruments are fairly easily repaired and don't require an engineering degree, and I thought trying my hand replacing the carbon dioxide canister on the soda fountain would fall under that not-too-complicated category. Unfortunately, simple tasks become much more difficult when the instructions are in Japanese.

A coworker and I were in this situation during the lunch rush at the pool-side concession stand where I worked a few years back. We scrambled to the back room and got to work replacing the empty canister with a new one. However, having never before replaced one of these scuba-sized tanks and being illiterate in Japanese, we failed to wedge an apparently very important washer between the intake tube and the tank. This error prevented the carbon dioxide from reaching its intended destination, and instead resulted in something pretty similar to a Roadrunner vs. Wile E. Coyote routine.

Within seconds of turning on the soda fountain, the CO 2 canister decided to make its great escape, propelling itself with the leaking gas all around the back room. Screaming, my coworker and I jumped up and tackled the tank to the ground. Hearts pounding, we sealed the leak and reattached the tank to the soda machine with the metal washer in place. Afterward, we dissolved into hysterical laughter.

The canister fiasco, or The Hydrogen Bomb, as we called it, soon became one of our favorite personal jokes. Even today, I can't look at a soda fountain without smiling and tipping a mental hat to the workers who make that job look simple.

The Teen Philosopher

Working at the pool-side concession stand by my house was one of my favorite summer jobs. The work was gratifying and the people were extremely nice. On busy days at the pool, I was so busy assembling nachos and counting change that I hardly had a moment to think, which was nice in its own way. But on slow days, I could sit and read between visits from hungry customers.

One summer, I was preparing materials for a class on Heroism that I was helping lead as a T.A. for one of my professors. At the time, I had a narrow understanding of heroism that didn't extend much beyond the exploits of Grecian demigods, masked vigilantes, and rescuers of cats from trees. At school, I had a top notch library along with brilliant peers and educators as resources. At the concession stand, however, there were days when the most intellectual conversation I'd have was with the microwave.

Seemingly at a loss for human resources, I sought answers in the pages of books: The Odyssey , King Arthur , Harry Potter , anything I could get my hands on. One afternoon, I was sitting behind the lunch counter with my nose buried in The Lord of the Rings when a young voice chimed, "Which one are you reading?" Startled, I looked up and saw my teenage coworker trying to get a closer look at the cover of my book.

"Uh, the first one," I said.

A smile broke out on her face. "That's my favorite," she said.

At first I was surprised; I had previously pegged her as ditzy and not someone not likely to read The Lord of the Rings at all, much less have a favorite volume. I was never happier to be wrong, because her knowledge and enthusiasm presented me with an exciting opportunity. Returning her smile, I asked, "Who do you picture when you think of a hero?"

After a thoughtful moment's pause, she answered, "The people who went back during the Boston Marathon."

Reading the confusion on my face, she clarified, "You know, the runners from the Boston Marathon; the ones who were about to finish the race but turned around when they heard explosions to go help the people who got hurt. They could've kept running and won the race, but they chose to go back help the people they were racing against instead. They're real heroes."

Her answer rendered me speechless, not only because it proved that I had totally misjudged her character and intellect, but also because her perspective on heroism was positively inspiring. In addition to teaching me not to "judge a book by its cover," she opened my eyes to the incredible potential of every person, and she will always be my hero for that.

So the next time you stop by your local supermarket or go for a run at the gym, take a moment to consider the person behind the register. Don't assume that their uniform reflects anything but the jobs they are doing at that moment. They deserve respect for the hard work they do, and if you listen, you might learn something.

 

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Amazing Unbelievable Coincidences

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05/12/2015

Do you believe in miracles? Of course you maybe do or don't!

In my 28 years on the third rock from the sun (not the TV show, I mean Earth), I've experienced a lot that has truly blown my mind. Outside of once putting a blow dryer too close to my ear, some these experiences include the Blackhawks winning the Stanley Cup for the first time in 48 years, the fact that I've been to Israel on Birthright, and that I once saw a blue car. However, coincidences in which I unexpectedly see people I know are the most amazing moments to me.  

I know I'm not alone in this feeling, because when it happens to my dad, he actually writes them down and keeps track of them. Basically, he's keeping track of the universe. If only he had hitchhiked and talked about the galaxy more, he could have written some sort of guide or something. But like my father, I like to appreciate the fantastic and incredible moments in my life, especially when they involve running into someone I know, not only when it's completely unexpectedly, but also when it's in a faraway land. As you'll see, the faraway lands in this blog piece include Minnesota, Milwaukee and O'Hare.  

I often fly for work. As would be the case, in this first … case, my flight was cancelled due to people forgetting that Chicago is home to inclement weather. Because of this, I had to book a new flight on an airline I don't usually fly. This new flight was, of course, delayed. I had had enough, so I went to the bar, and as I flashed my ID to the bartender, the man next to me noticed my University of Iowa college ID (from 10 years ago) that is (still) in my wallet. And it just so happens that a gentleman next to me was a history professor there. He too was delayed. Of course, we hit it off immediately, though the bartender was none too pleased that we were hitting things off of his bar. But the point is, so much had to happen perfectly to lead up to that chance meeting to give me an experience I will never forget. But wait, the next two are bigger, better and more personal.  

I was on a weekend excursion in the mystical utopia of Milwaukee when who should I run into but an old friend that I hadn't seen a couple years. Now this friend is no ordinary friend. This is Scott, who asked not to be mentioned by name. You all know Scott, for he is great. It's why we call him Great Scott. (No one calls him that.) The thing is, he doesn't live in Milwaukee either. So the fact is, it was absolutely unbelievable that we ran into each other in Milwaukee by happenstance. (I didn't have a chair so I couldn't be happensitting.)

As you well know by now being an avid reader of my blog posts, I am an introvert and usually I will go out of my way to avoid people, but Scott is one of the few people who I would go in my way to not avoid. In fact, the experience was so incredible that it literally inspired me to write this piece. But yet, there is one more coincidence that must be told.

Amazing Unbelievable Coincidences photo 1

Me with Great Scott. Look at the love in that hug. Mostly so you stop looking at my butt in that hug.

Of all places, one of the most incredible coincidences in my life took place at the Minneapolis airport. I was coming home from a work trip, just milling about in front of the gate when I saw my uncle. Not just any uncle, but the brother of my father, my father who keeps track of the coincidences of the universe! All the more interesting, my uncle was only on the flight because of things that happened at the last possible moment for him. But here's the kicker (which was luckily not the child in the seat behind me): Not only were we on the same plane coming from a city we both don't live in, but we were also in the aisle seats in the exact same row on the same plane coming from a city we both don't live in. That's right, we sat right across from each other without any knowledge that each one of us would be flying to Chicago from Minneapolis that day. My mind cannot even fathom the odds.

Amazing Unbelievable Coincidences photo 2

Me and my Uncle. Separated by an aisle. Bonded by realizing they'll let anyone onto planes these days.

I believe in the Butterfly Effect, which says that the smallest change can have an everlasting ripple effect in future events. I can't comprehend how perfectly every moment leading up to that moment had to be in that absolute correct order in which they took place to make that coincidence happen. It is impressively mind-boggling, and my mind is the only part of me that I'm impressed with when it is boggled.

When it comes to these situations, some people say "it's a small world." When I'm involved, some people will just say, "Adam, stop singing 'It's A Small World.'" But whether you believe everything happens for a reason or not, those times when the chance odds of crossing paths with someone seem so astronomically slim, and yet they still occur are so special. Especially when both me and the coincidencee (I am the coincidencer in this case) are far removed our homes and the usual circles in which our lives operate.

I feel it's important to take note of these moments, because other than my birth, they are the life moments most unlikely to ever happen again. These, my fellow, dashingly attractive Oy! readers, are some of the moments truly worth remembering. Well, that and the blue car.

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Culture of kindness

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05/11/2015

Culture of kindness photo

When I was in junior high, I learned the hard way what it felt like to be bullied. Out of the blue, these three girls who'd been close friends of mine only the day before suddenly started taunting me.

One day, we were BFFs playing Chinese jump rope and choreographing a dance routine to Paula Abdul's "Opposites Attract." The next, they'd declared war on me. They would imitate my mannerisms, whisper to each other as I'd pass in the halls, and campaign to get other girls not to like me.

It was so devastating to my junior high psyche that I didn't want to go to school. But then, a few weeks later, they re-friended me. As quickly as they'd cut me out, they let me back into their inner circle, but their clique was no longer a place I desired to be.

The experience taught me a lot about how random and cruel people can be to each other.

Of course my story isn't that bad -- and it certainly isn't unique. It's even typical. A few years ago, I attended a BBYO-sponsored anti-bullying forum for an auditorium full of Jewish teens and their families. Members of the crowd were asked to rise if they'd ever "witnessed or been involved in bullying"; every person in the room stood up.

Kids today face a much tougher world than I did. Back when I was in school, a cruel joke or rumor had a short shelf life, confined to one's school or neighborhood. But these days, we all have the power to spread gossip, lies, and venom to millions with one click.

You'd think bullying would stop after high school, but that's just not the case. We urge our children to treat each other with kindness, but we expect them to do as we say -- not as we do.

Face it. We live in a culture of mean -- in politics, on reality shows, in the pages of tabloids where women celebrities who look a pound heavier than they did the week before are paraded on covers to be mocked, and in the anonymous comment sections of practically any seemingly innocuous electronic news story.

What does it feel like to face such constant and inescapable public cruelty, humiliation, and ostracism?

The world got a memorable answer -- a lesson in empathy -- at this year's Oscars. Chicago native Graham Moore inspired millions in his poignant acceptance speech for his adapted screenplay of the film The Imitation Game. It tells the story of Alan Turing, the mathematician who broke the Nazi code, which was essential to the eventual Allied victory over Hitler. Instead of being hailed a hero, Turing, who was gay, was investigated and prosecuted for "homosexual acts" and died, likely from suicide, before his 42nd birthday.

Moore said he related to Turing's story of feeling different, and that he tried to take his own life as teenager. "I felt weird and I felt different and I felt like I did not belong," Moore said in his speech. "…I would like for this moment to be for the kid out there who feels like she's weird or she's different or she doesn't fit anywhere. Yes, you do. I promise you do. Stay weird. Stay different. And then when it's your turn and you are standing on this stage, please pass the same message to the next person who comes along."

Like Moore and Turing, people of all stripes -- but particularly women, minorities, people with disabilities, and the LGBTQ community -- are targets of ridicule. Every week, we read a headline about another kid driven to suicide because they were tormented by bullies either in the flesh or on social networks.

We especially, as Jews, should care deeply about bullying. The issue goes to the very heart of our history and Jewish teachings. After all, just as bullies pick their scapegoats for no reason other than their victims are different from them, we as Jews have been bullied and branded as scapegoats on a grander scale throughout our history.

We should care because our tradition is rooted in kindness. The Torah teaches us most fundamental of all: "Love your neighbor as yourself."

And many other Jewish laws forbid cruelty from every angle. Halbanat panim bids us not to inflict public humiliation; rechilut prohibits statements that are untrue, while lashon harah expands this prohibition to include factually truthful speech that might malign an individual. And we are taught the concept of adam yachid -- that every human being is unique and precious.

Indeed, our community is working to counteract bullying. SHALVA, a JUF beneficiary combatting domestic abuse, and Response, a teen outreach program of Jewish Child and Family Services, both engage children, teens, parents, and teachers through anti-bullying programs.

But faced with a culture of mean, it's not enough to urge our children to teach each other with kindness. We have to practice it ourselves.

Let's not forget that kindness must be passed on to our children -- l'dor vador -- from generation to generation.

If everyone reading this could wake up tomorrow and feel the empathy to be a little kinder to each other -- to our families, to our friends, to strangers on the bus, to the people in our Facebook networks, and yes, even to the celebrities we've never met -- maybe, just maybe, we can change our culture for the better.

Because a culture of kindness begins with each one of us.

To learn more about anti-bullying programs offered through Response, visit www.responsecenter.org, email responsecounseling@jcfs.org, or call (847) 676-0078.

Response is a program of Jewish Child & Family Services (JCFS), a partner in serving our community supported by JUF.

To learn about anti-bullying programs offered through SHALVA, contact Bobbie Gordon by visiting www.shalvaonline.org, email bgordon@shalvaonline.org, or call (773) 583-4673.

SHALVA, the oldest, independent Jewish domestic abuse agency in the United States, is a beneficiary of JUF.

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Bad Mommy in the Bad Bikini

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05/08/2015

bad Mommy in the Bad Bikini photo2

Guilty. I was that mean mommy. You know the one all the perfect parents shield their children's eyes from? Yup, that was me.

To make matters worse, it happened on vacation and afterward, I hid in my hotel room hot with shame. My husband, on the other hand, got to be the nice daddy and take the boys surfing on a fake wave and happily played in the pool, never once fretting about how saggy his boobs looked in his four-year-old bikini.  

No one knew I hid in shame. My daughter was conveniently feeling sick, so actually I looked like a doting mother forgoing the fun in the sun to take care of her, which honestly made it worse.  

It all took place on a beautiful day with a sunny, desert mountain view. We were in a resort town. I didn't have to cook, clean, make the beds or unclog any toilets. I was on vacation. I should have been a happy mommy! I should have been a relaxed mommy!! I should have been an AWESOME mommy!!! But that was not the mommy I was channeling that day.  

In part, I am going to blame my newly teenaged teenager. He was quite the typical adolescent on the trip. And although I attempted to quell his angsty derangement, his hormones were seriously killing my R&R. My patience was shot. But he was just the spark. It was actually the kid my teenager insists is my favorite -- my youngest son - who bared the brunt of my mommy-rage.  

What led to my embarrassing display wasn't even that serious of an offense. It was one of those, "time to go and put your shoes on" scenarios. It took place at the pool, in front of a bounty of overly tanned and seemingly underfed absolutely perfect mothers with perfect boobs in fresh-off-the-runway bikinis.  

After the third calm request of, "We have to go. Please put your shoes on." I'd had it. I snatched him up by his arm and hissed, "Let's go. NOW!!!"  

"OWWWWWWWWWWWWWW!!!" he yowled, and suddenly I felt all sets of eyes on me as the pool area fell silent in disbelief that such trash had slipped through the exclusive and snooty gates. I immediately dropped his arm.  

"Come on sweetie," I assured him in my doting, attentive, ever-patient mommy voice that I conjured up on the spot, hoping to ensure the horrified public that the minor in my care for the rest of his life was perfectly safe with the deranged-looking lady with the hopelessly out-of-date bathing suit. "We need to go now. Then we'll get ice cream. And a pony!"  

My son skipped off compliantly as I smiled in shame at the head-shaking, tongue-clucking crowd, regretting never having fully completed my tooth-whitening regimen.  

I am sure the second I left everyone forgot about me and resumed drinking, tanning and well, drinking, but I just couldn't shake it. It's terrible to have a bad moment with your kid, it's horrendous to have that moment in public with unsympathetic witnesses. And so? What did all this humiliation lead to? It led to me to the realization that I too have been an unsympathetic witness. I too have turned my back on my parental brothers and sisters and I too have judged them in their weakest of public moments.  

So to my fellow moms and dads -- whether we wear Jimmy Choo's or flip-flops to the pool! -- the truth is, we are all just trying to keep our heads above the proverbial waters of parenthood. Let's throw lifesavers to one another in place of anchors. And may we always remember the rule: (We are) never swim(ming) alone.

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25 Questions I’m Asking Myself at 25

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05/07/2015

25 Questions I'm Asking Myself at 25 photo

Turning one year older always leads me to think about the state of my life, my goals, and what I want to accomplish in the future. It also causes me to usually feel like I am in some sort of crisis.

I can't tell if I am having an existential crisis about turning 25 because I feel like I am supposed to or because I am actually, kind of, mildly freaking out about moving beyond the 18-24 age bracket. Alas, my nerves are a little more out of whack than usual, meaning they're really out of whack.

As most people who love writing would say, I am confident that the best way of dealing with these overwhelming feelings is to write about it. That's what I did at 23, too.

So without further ado, here are the top 25 questions that I am asking myself during the week prior to turning a quarter of a century:

1. Does this mean I need to stop stealing the majority of my silverware from Chipotle?

2. What percent of my income has to go to Starbucks to prove that I have a problem?

3. Why is everyone getting engaged? More importantly, how is everyone getting engaged?

4. Seriously, two engagements popped up on my newsfeed while writing this. What is going on?

5. The kind of perfect Jewish boy has to be out there still, right?

6. In the meantime, is it bad that pizza is my most significant other?

7. Similarly, is it still socially acceptable to order Domino's? I am going to keep ordering it no matter what the answer is, but I'd rather just know.

8. How often do you really need to wash your hair?

9. At what age is it inappropriate to consider wine an appropriate meal?

10. Will I ever actually accomplish everything on this list? Is it more likely that I go to Patagonia or run a 5k? At least I go to Israel Eilat (see what I did there?) and am no longer that scared of the dentist.

11. Can someone just set up my retirement fund(s) for me? Please?

12. Do I really have to go off my family's health insurance next year? Can we just pretend that's a fallacy?

13. Will I ever not be tired? Is everyone else always tired? How do people function without caffeine? Maybe I'm cheating my list by asking three questions within a question. Is that annoying? I'll stop now.

14. Can you OD on hummus? Has anyone ever ODed on hummus? Will I be the first victim?

15. What about allergy meds? Asking for a friend.

16. Similarly, how much tuna do you need to eat to get mercury poisoning?

17. Can something be off fleek? Kidding, don't answer that.

18. Is asking for an assistant an appropriate birthday request?

19. What about a life intern? Is that a thing? Where can I find myself one of those?

20. Will someone teach me how to invest well? How do people just know how to do these things?

21. Is Spotify premium a worthy investment? Probably not. Did I just buy it this week? Of course.

22. Why isn't life more like Friends?

23. Do I actually need to stop buying things at Forever 21?

24. Can I have a voucher for all the naps I passed up in Kindergarten?

25. Wasn't I just 21?

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7 Tips for Avoiding Exercise Injuries

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05/06/2015

Ron Krit photo 3

Between performing surgeries, my friend and sports medicine orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Josh Alpert, carved out (bad pun intended) some time to talk injury prevention with me.

Dr. Alpert works for Midwest Bone and Joint Institute, and you can view his impressive bio here . As a sports fan, I was very jealous when he did his Fellowship in Boston and worked with professional sports teams. It was the year the Patriots didn't lose a game until the Super Bowl. Dr. Alpert has been my surgery advisor for years, and recently treated me.

With summer approaching, this is busy season for emergency rooms, physical therapists and doctors. Dr. Alpert offered some tips to avoid those visits.

1. Pain is not normal: Do not work out when you are pain. There is a difference between muscle soreness and pain. Stop working out and talk to a doctor; this is not an Under Armor ad a la "Pain is weakness leaving the body." For overweight exercisers, start slow and focus on eating better before pushing it in the gym. Extra weight is tough on joints.

2. Mix up your workout. If you do the same workout day after day you are more prone to stress fractures (and boredom). You are also strengthening the same muscles day after day, while skipping other muscles, which can lead to muscle imbalance injuries. Runners in particular need to vary the distance, do interval workouts, and strength train to help avoid stress fractures. Although running intervals are hard, they are much easier on your body than running a marathon.

3. Stretching is important. When I first injured my hip, I'll never forget Dr. Alpert telling me, "We're getting older, you need to stretch." Many trainers have different views on stretching, Dr. Alpert recommends 10-15 minutes of stretching post workout. A warm up to start your workout is also helpful. Take a cue from the Patriots and spend a lot of time stretching.

4. Follow the 10% rule. Whether you are running or weight training, increase your speed/weight by no more than 10 percent per workout.

5. Low impact for life. Thirty minutes of low-impact exercise three times a week is a great way to stay in good health and avoid the surgeon's office. Swimming, biking, and the elliptical are much easier on your joints than running.

6. Vary you child's activities. This one's for parents. If your child plays one sport year-round, they are 3.5 times more likely to get injured than children who play multiple sports. If your child is a pitcher, make sure to pay attention to pitch counts and make sure they don't throw back to back days. Make sure your high school or college athletes have supervision during their workouts with either athletic trainers, coaches, physical therapists, personal trainers or coaches. There is no suggested age for beginning a weight-training program, but they should start focusing on form and using light weights at higher reps. In fact, this is a good game plan for all lifters.

7. Be careful with supplements and anti-inflammatory drugs. There are a lot of supplements on the market, and because there's no regulation you have to be very careful. The most popular supplement for joint pain is Glucosamine Chondroitin. If you take it, look for a certification like NSF or USP : it should be pure Glucosamine Chondroitin and a recommended dosage is 1500 milligrams. Like all supplements it's controversial, but some people feel it helps.

As far as over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drugs such as Advil, work with your doctor on dosages. These pills can really do a number on your stomach and can have other side effects. Aleve is great because it's one pill every 12 hours, so you are taking less pills compared to Advil.

Start off slow this summer and as always, check with your doctor to ensure you are healthy enough to begin exercising. Please email me other topics in the wellness field you would like to hear about at rkrit@fitwithkrit.com .

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The 5 Jewish Girls You’ll Date in Your 20s

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05/05/2015

The 5 Jewish Girls You'll Date in Your 20s photo

If you're a single 20-something Modern Orthodox Jewish male like me, you are experiencing trying times when it comes to dating. Not only do you need to find someone you're attracted to, have good chemistry with and who laughs at your jokes, you also need to find someone Jewish. And if that wasn't hard enough, that person has to be willing to detach from a cell phone for 25 hours during the weekend.  

Needless to say, the checklist of what you're looking for suddenly makes it seem like finding the right one is impossible.  

Many of us go through cycles where we meet all sorts of girls. Based on my experience and the experience of other Modern Orthodox men I know, I've found there are five types of women who we are most likely to date before we get married.  

Your On-Paper Bashert  

You met through a Jewish dating site or were set up. Either way, she seems perfect for you. Maybe she loves How I Met Your Mother as much as you do, or enjoys a fine scotch on the weekends. When you first start talking to her online, you think she has it all and are jumping up and down to meet her.  

However, you go to meet her and she's now what you're looking for. Maybe there's no chemistry or she's too self-absorbed. Maybe you're too self-absorbed. You want to believe you can make it work with her, that this could be something special. So you convince yourself to go out with her once or twice more, but to your disappointment, there's nothing there.  

The College Girlfriend  

If you were in college, she'd be perfect for you. You feel like you can be yourself around her and the two of you hit it off. The problem is, you two have no future and it's apparent right from the start.  

Maybe she has no direction in life, or tells you she's "not looking for something serious." Maybe she always consults her parents before making any sort of decision, such as whether or not to go on vacation with you. Or maybe it's you -- you're not sure what you want just yet. You just don't see eye-to-eye with her on what you want your future to look like.  

These girls make great friends and are fun to hang out with, but simply aren't for you in the long term.  

The One You Regret  

Perhaps you made out with her at a Purim party or spent all your time with her over a Shabbaton. Either way, you quickly realize this isn't college and you need to be a gentleman. You go on a date or two with her only to realize that your conversations are as exciting as watching paint dry.  

Sometimes, this girl is on the same page as you. Sometimes, one of you has to be the one to  break it off, which is rough, but cooler heads eventually prevail and it becomes an experience you both let go.  

The Girl Who Makes You Swear Off Dating  

This is the one that hurts. Maybe it was her fault: she stood you up, strung you along or held her past negative dating experiences against you to the point that you felt like you couldn't win. Or maybe she revealed something about you that you that was tough to hear. Either way, you question yourself and even question dating period.  

The thing to remember is that while meeting someone like this can hinder your willingness to date, these are the exception more than the norm. And as the saying goes, "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger." At the end of the day, this girl is what's going to make you truly cherish your bashert.  

The Crappy Timing Girl  

This one causes a different kind of pain. You meet at the most unexpected time, usually just before one of you moves away or makes a big life change. Or you meet and it turns out she's just in town for the week visiting friends. The second you meet her, you think she could really be the one. The problem: this relationship has either no starting point or a definite ending point and there's no way around it.  

When you say goodbye, there's not an ounce of resentment in your body and no bad feelings: there is a hope that at some point you reconnect and make it work even though the odds are stacked against you.  

---  

Whether you've dated all five of these women, or only identify with a couple, remember there is a reason they came into your life. I believe each type ultimately teaches us about ourselves and we are better off for meeting them, even if they're not Mrs. Right. Often, your encounters with each of them provide you with greater clarity and perspective for when you finally find Mrs. Right.

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The Scout Life

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An interview with basketball scout Josh Gershon
05/04/2015

The Scout Life photo

After seeing Josh Gershon pop up on Twitter, I knew we had to be in touch. The man is living a dream -- his dream and I am sure many of your dreams: scouting the future of basketball. We caught up with Gershon, an up-and-coming scout, and learned his awesome story.

1. Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I'm 33, live in Hermosa Beach, California and work as a basketball scout for a living. Being a basketball scout was a dream job of mine as a kid and I'm very fortunate to be able to have made it my career. Between doing what I love for a living, residing on the beach and having incredible friends, family and colleagues, I feel like I have a dream life and am working hard to assure that it will be a lifetime dream life.

2. What is Scout.com and how did you get involved in it?
Scout is a digital media network that has a large collection of websites, many focusing on college sports team coverage, but the Scout brand has websites specializing in college basketball and football recruiting, NFL, MLB, etc. I covered University of Arizona Athletics during and after college for Scout's rival, Rivals.com, and was able to work my way up to being offered a job by Scout as a West Coast recruiting analyst in 2011. I was recently promoted to National Recruiting Analyst and NBA Scouting Analyst; as we grow into the NBA space, I'll be evaluating college prospects for draft coverage.  

3. What makes Scout.com unique?
As far as basketball recruiting, we have four full-time experts and the amount of resources we pour into scouting and covering the entire country is second to none. The majority of websites scouting high school basketball have just one full time expert and Scout has invested into dominating this market space.

4. Does scouting lead to coaching and would you coach given the opportunity?
I've had some opportunities to get into college coaching but it's not something I currently -- or ever really -- foresee myself being interested in. I'm investing everything into being a great basketball scout and think that getting involved in coaching would only distract me from that path. I have several close friendships with coaches and use those relationships to continue to gain knowledge about the game but being an actual coach isn't an interest of mine.

5. Which player do you look forward to in this draft? Any surprises?
It sounds obvious because he was the best player in college basketball this season, but since he's not unanimously considered a top 10 guy, I'll go with Wisconsin's Frank Kaminsky. He's a legit 7-foot power forward with terrific footwork, scoring and shooting ability, ball skills for his size and craftiness. Add that to the fact he's mentally elite and an intense competitor and you have someone who is bound to overachieve at the next level in the same way he did in college.

6. Did you play basketball as a kid? Were you any good?
I played up until high school and eventually got distracted by everything else going on when you're that age and stopped trying. I mean I was a 5-foot-8 power forward and there's not a big market value for those anyway and I certainly wasn't anyone that someone would have considered a good player. But I was extremely competitive and really only cared about defending and rebounding, which is funny because those are the characteristics I'm drawn to as a scout. Understanding that no matter how hard you try, there are many things you just can't overcome physically has been an important lesson for me as a scout. As hard as I tried, there was nothing I could do to be a good basketball player, despite my love for it. I'm thankful I've been able to take my passion for the sport and make it my life's work.

7. What was your Jewish upbringing like?
Even though I had a conservative bar mitzvah and education, I was raised as a Reform Jew and my family went to synagogue together every week growing up. We observed Jewish traditions at home and celebrated high holidays. My parents raised me to be proud of my heritage. The Jewish community in basketball is very strong and loyal and there have been several Jews who have believed in me, supported me and helped me grow as I've moved up the ladder. I'm very thankful to have that kind of support.

8. Lakers or Clippers? Mamba or CP3? Jack Nicholson or Billy Crystal?
Clippers. CP3 is one of my favorite players. Love his mental toughness for the point guard position. Intense competitor with extremely high skill set and basketball IQ. It would be hard to care about winning as much as he does. So definitely CP3 over Kobe. I feel bad going against Crystal and his awesome sense of humor, but Nicholson is one of the coolest actors ever. When I think about Los Angeles, which I now call home, he's one of the first people I think of.

9. Anything else we should know and where can we follow you?
One of the best parts of the job for me isn't just developing and growing into a successful scout, but also the opportunity to help kids get scholarships and chase their dreams. There have been several instances in which a player, often from a tough situation in which his family couldn't afford to send him to college, didn't have any scholarship offers and I've helped them land a full ride. I'm fully invested into maximizing my talent and having a great career but along the way I hope to have a big impact on the community as well and I feel like that's starting to happen and it's a very rewarding feeling. You can follow me on Twitter -- @JoshGershon

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Taking Care and Taking Action

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05/01/2015

Andy Kirschner 3

The rabbis at Sixth and I Historic Synagogue sent out a message acknowledging how the world can be a challenging place to live, and this week was far from an exception. An earthquake shook Nepal and left thousands of people dead. Violence broke out in Baltimore after the funeral of Freddie Gray. The Supreme Court heard the case for marriage equality and protestors shouted loudly outside the building, denouncing homosexuals as sinners. The rabbis made a compelling call to action, and reading their words, I realized how I had missed an opportunity to take that action.  

Amidst everything happening out there in the world, my 11-month-old son, John, was sick. After several days of fever he broke out in a rash. I reluctantly had to Google "baby … rash" for the first time in my life. I'll spare you the hyperlink. If you are a parent, you likely have seen it, and if you are not, trust me that you don't want to yet. After consultation with the doctor it turned out his sickness was relatively benign and the rash was gone by the middle of the week. But while he was sick, even as the world seemed to be crumbling around us, all I could focus on was my little one.  

Objectively speaking, my child's mild illness was in no way as tragic, complicated or shocking as the events going on in the world this week. I was aware of them, yet did not take action to help. Meanwhile, my baby was home from daycare half the week, without enough energy to smile. I was left helplessly holding him in my arms, trying to make him comfortable enough to rest and heal. In that moment, it felt like the most important thing I could be doing in the world. In hindsight, a teeny tiny voice, very deep down, wishes I could have been in two or maybe even more places at once this week. That way I could have helped everyone get better.  

Thankfully, there were those that did take the time and effort to focus their relief efforts outside of their homes. When news broke that villages were leveled from the earthquake, organizations like AJWS and JUF set up emergency campaigns to raise money in support of relief efforts. Local rabbis joined other faith leaders in and around Baltimore and Jews United for Justice joined other social justice organizations to organize peaceful marches in hopes of turning attention away from violence and change the conversation towards the problem of systemic racism in Baltimore. My Facebook feed lit up on Tuesday as friends in D.C. joined counter-protests on the steps of the Supreme Court to support marriage equality for all.  

As for me, my son is well now, smiling most of the day and back to the business of being a happy baby. I am breathing a sigh of relief for that. I also went online and made a donation to support the earthquake relief efforts. I am hopeful my contribution will still make a difference.

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