OyChicago blog

A Good Date Gone Israel

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Ashley Kolpak photo

The other night I was enjoying a delightful date at a great pizza place in the Loop. In between sparkling conversation and stellar food (shout out to Pizano’s), something other than the cute guy across the table stole my attention. Flickering on big screen TV screen were the latest dispatches from Gaza.  

My demeanor shifted as I continued to stare at the reporter outfitted in sand-colored fatigues, trying to make out the specifics of what he was reporting. I quickly realized my faux pas and diverted my gaze away from the television. You’ve only been seeing this guy for a little while, I thought. Be true to yourself, but be cool.

So, delicately, I let loose what was running rampant through my mind. I shared that I am deeply pro-Israel, a little bit of my family’s history with the country, my feelings on the latest conflict, and so on and so forth.

He took a breath. A Chicago transplant via the Pacific Northwest, he said that I was the first Jewish girl he’d ever dated. I took the liberty of briefly going over the latest news and what I knew about the conflict escalation, emphasizing how important it is to read articles from various, qualified sources to make an informed judgment. I felt myself getting long-winded, but as I pieced together my thoughts, feelings and insights on this critical moment, I felt a sense of pride rising up that prodded me to continue explaining. Great date conversation – who knows? But Israel is an important part of me – I’m going to talk about it.  

I will never claim to be the perfect spokesperson, but I try my best to keep up on what’s going on, keep a cool head, while holding fast to my belief in Israel. It wasn’t really a test – but he passed with flying colors, so there.

Also, this is not the first time I’ve been on this end of a “you’re the first Jewish person I’ve met/dated/traveled with” conversation. I find the prospect of being someone’s first Jewish fill-in-the-blank incredibly interesting.  

I grew up in a very large Jewish community (Northwest Chicago suburbs, represent). When I was younger, I vaguely knew that growing up with so many Jewish friends was an anomaly. Studying abroad and later living in France introduced me to some amazing people – people who had never met or shared a close friendship with anyone Jewish. These friendships continually teach me not only more about other religions and perspectives, but they also encourage further exploration of what aspects of Judaism mean the most to me. Sharing Jewish traditions with others and discovering more about of Christianity, Islam, Buddhism and more is enriching in so many ways.

I’ll never forget the conversations I had with my friend Abed, a Syrian living in France. We shared open and judgment-free discourse on issues in the Middle East rooted in honesty while remaining respectful. Our views could not be more diametrically opposed, but we share an overarching desire for peace and that is what matters most.  

Regarding anti-Semitic attacks in Europe and elsewhere, my heart aches profoundly. There’s simply nothing more to say. However, on both sides of the conversation, it is my deepest hope that the majority of citizens are searching for peace during this incredibly trying time.


We Met on Craigslist

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We Met on Craigslist photo

During my undergraduate years, online dating was in its relative infancy and I thought a person would have to be crazy to answer a personal ad via a newspaper, let alone online. I knew a couple of bold friends who had tried meeting fellow students through local personal ads and I figured they’d be dead somewhere in an alley if they kept up these shenanigans. (Not to mention, I couldn’t understand why they were using such seemingly drastic measures to meet people when we were on a campus full of singles.)  

I never could have guessed that a mere few years later, I’d find my future roommate of four years on a site like Craigslist.  

Whereas Facebook, which arrived on the scene while I was in college, changed the Internet landscape from a somewhat creepy world of Internet strangers into one of socially acceptable, voyeuristic, semi-strangers, Craigslist has maintained a somewhat sketchy persona, with the “Craigslist Killer” and other creepy stories trailing behind it. That said, it’s a practical site for buying crap, getting rid of crap, and finding a place to store your crap—a.k.a. an apartment.  

I gave Craigslist a chance, not once, but twice, in my post-collegiate years when I needed a roommate, and neither situation was the nightmare I anticipated after hearing other friends’ horror stories. Many 20-somethings find themselves a bit stranded after returning home from college, as I did. Most of my college friends were spread out throughout the country, and various high school friends were as well.  

My first Craigslist roommate was not very friendly. I moved into her domain as a sublet, and she began plotting her departure and condo purchase after I occupied the room of her long-time BFF. I can safely say I knew this girl as well on the day she moved out as I did the day I moved in. I had come into that apartment hoping to find a new friend, and perhaps a new social network in Chicago. My first Craigslist roommate had no interest in such matters. We said “hello” in passing, and politely bumped around each other in our small kitchen, but otherwise she kept to herself. It was disheartening because despite our random meeting, we had both attended the University of Wisconsin together and were even in the same sorority pledge class (though I later deactivated from that sorority).  

When I returned to Craigslist for roommate No. 2, I’d given up on the pipe dream of a friendly roommate-soulmate. At a certain point after college, I just wanted someone who wouldn’t keep me up on a work night and would pay her bills on time. I had formed my own new network of friends at the time, and so could she.  

Hesitant to take that plunge again, one girl who read my ad was determined to burrow herself into my Roscoe Village abode. After interviewing various candidates, she appeared, like a rush of wind, and was ready to call in the moving truck. This first meeting, unbeknownst to me, was a preview of our relationship dynamic: she, the restless and decisive go-getter; me, the restless and indecisive (eventual) go-getter.  

This energetic and quirky Southern girl with an Orthodox Jewish background and a corporate job threw me at first, particularly once she revealed her intermittent Southern drawl. According to her Southern handbook, all sodas were “Cokes” and real gentleman were supposed to hold your hand on the first date. I was born and raised in the Chicago area and had a writing career under way, and both corporate life and Southern Jews were foreign concepts to me.  

In our first meeting, the Southern belle and I realized we might have a foundation for a good bond based on three criteria: 1) We were both Jewish. 2) We both loved the Gilmore Girls and Bravo. 3) We both were longtime fans of Ingrid Michaelson.  

As trivial as these commonalities might seem, they wound up being part of the glue that held us together as roommates for four years. Our common TV preferences kept us from fighting over the remote, except when we diverged away from Bravo, and I wanted to watch the Vampire Diaries (embarrassing, but true) and she wanted to watch Duck Dynasty (equally embarrassing).  

More importantly, while originating from different states, our Jewish commonality meant we had similar upbringings. Although she was more religious, we found a way to make it work with separate cookware. She also managed to more actively pull me into Jewish life in Chicago, attending more events and meeting more people. We built Jewish traditions with each other by attending some holiday services together and even hosting annual holiday parties.  

She also taught me about Costco, proper winter shovels, and the value of good tequila after a hard day; I decorated with each coming season and holiday, populated our kitchen with crazy gadgets and stress-baked while she reaped the sweet benefits. Together, we survived our mid-20s, job transitions, heartbreak, our crazy Jewish families near and far, Snowmageddon, and the Polar Vortex.  

This Southern tour de force forced me out of my comfort zone in ways I didn’t expect and also proved to be one of the kindest and truest friends I’ve known during my time living in the city. Friendship among roommates can go two ways: It can either grow, or shrink and become toxic. My Southern belle and I had a slow-growing friendship, but we eventually let each other in, in ways only matched by relationships I have with my sisters. We challenged each other to self-examine, grow and start again. I believe her deep faith in Judaism and her religious background colored her perspective during our late-night talks. I also think her good heart, selflessness and nonjudgmental nature made her a unique, admirable and rare soul.  

Two neurotic Jews from different regions of the country were able to come together via a creepy medium and make it work—a technological success story in the modern age. My Southern belle and I parted ways this summer, with her moving long distance, and we’re each figuring out what it means to forge ahead on our own. I’d like to think we’ve taken a piece of each other with us on our new journeys. If nothing else, we’ve learned a valuable lesson: A stranger who likes the Gilmore Girls is “good people.”


Five Aspects of Parenthood I Didn’t See Coming

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Five Aspects of Parenthood I Didn’t See Coming photo 1

Becoming a new parent comes with a whole list of new challenges and experiences. Leading up to the birth of our son, John, my wife, Rose, and I tried to prepare as much as we could. We read books, downloaded apps and watched videos to make sure we had all the right skills and had purchased all the right supplies. We were so exhaustive in our search for knowledge that at one point we fell asleep while watching a video on how to put the baby to sleep.  

Despite all this careful preparation, I found there were so many things that still caught us off guard and threw us for a loop. Below are five of those peculiarities of parenthood that I managed to jot down between diaper changes.  

1. Everyone you see has advice for you  

Oh yes, everyone is some kind of parenting expert. Most of the advice will start with the phrase, “You are going to get a lot of advice … oh and what worked for me is …” All advice from one person conflicts with the next person’s advice. The challenge here is you really don’t want or need any advice. You really just want to take a nap. This, of course, leads to the next unexpected reality:  

2. The only question anyone will ask is “Are you sleeping?”

The only true answer to this question is no. Anyone who has a newborn baby and answers yes to that question either has already secured 24-hour childcare or is lying. New babies need to eat every 2-3 hours, and at least one or both parents need to get up to make this happen. Asking this question is like asking someone that just went swimming if they got wet.

3. Your day slows way down

Most days, the biggest choice that you get to make is to sleep or shower. One morning, we noticed how nice the weather was outside and decided it would be a great day to take the baby out for a walk. By 8:30 that night we finally had made it out of the house for our walk. I have no idea what happened during those 12 hours because it literally felt like we spent the entire day getting ready to go for this walk. I understand that I have to lower my expectations for what it means to have a “productive” day.

4. You will get peed on

I had heard about this and always assumed it was because people were careless. This was the one that I was sure I could avoid. But John found a way to pee on us anyway. The first time involved watching one of those special covers, called “pee-pee teepees,” go airborne. At that point I wasn’t even mad, I was just impressed. After that, I considered moving the changing table away from the curtains, but have yet to find the energy to deal with it.

5. Poop is now a central part of your life and it doesn’t even gross you out any more

When your child is born, the hospital will give you a chart and ask you to start keeping track of how many times your kid poops. From that moment, you will become consumed with the need to know anything and everything about your child’s poop. You will scour the Internet for information about what colors are normal. You will ask the doctor over and over again to confirm that there is not a poop problem. You will ask the following questions several times each day:  

 “Did the baby poop?” “When was the last time the baby pooped?” “Is that poop on your shirt?”

Eight weeks in, all I can say is that a big part of parenthood is about facing these surprises and so much more. It’s a window into the world of a psychotic person. Having a baby was the biggest disruption to my life that I have ever experienced, but I am not even mad about it.  

That’s the crazy part. I am not one bit mad at the little person who caused all of this. How could anyone be mad at this kid, just look at that face!      

Five Aspects of Parenthood I Didn’t See Coming photo 2


Right Next to the McDonald’s

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You’re now looking at the newest member of the Global Entry program, offered by U.S. Customs and Border Protection. After a thorough investigation of my background and determining that I’m a relatively nice person, I now have access to quickly cut through security lines and customs lines when coming into the U.S. from abroad. So, here I come, world! Or, more accurately, after exploring other countries, I’ll get to enter back into “Sweet Home Chicago” a little faster.  

But this isn’t the funny part.  

The funny part is that when I received my letter in the mail with my new Global Entry card, here was the return address:

Right Next to the McDonald’s photo

Was it absolutely necessary for the return address to indicate that the Global Entry office is next to McDonald’s?  

First, are letter carriers not as smart as they used to be? Suppose the Global Entry office sent me a letter, the address turned out to be incorrect, and the postman had to return the letter to its sender. Would he really get so lost that he’d need a physical landmark to direct him?  

Second, when I think of the people who protect our country from the bad guys from abroad, I like to think of neat, clean offices with people wearing badges sitting at organized desks with white walls. I don’t like to think of greasy cheeseburgers and M&M McFlurries. Though, then again, McDonald’s might be the most American thing in our country, so maybe it is appropriate to pay homage to the symbol of our country’s obesity on my Global Entry letter.  

Third, if you’re going to mention McDonald’s, please note the proper spelling of your beloved neighbor: M-c-D-O-N-A-L-D-apostrophe-S.  

Maybe I should start addressing my own letters with landmarks.  

You can write to me at:  

Lia Lehrer
One of the highrises on Lake Shore Drive, across from the dog beach
Slightly south of the Clock Tower
Near the intersection that becomes a swimming pool in rainstorms
Two apartments to the right of the apartment that always smells like Indian food  

You’d have no trouble finding me, right?  


Israel Is like a Pomegranate

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Israel Is like a Pomegranate photo

It’s been said that within each pomegranate there are 613 seeds, just like there are 613 commandments. This is why the pomegranate is one of the seven species of Israel. I haven’t actually counted the seeds (it’s on my bucket list!), so I don’t know if it’s true. However, I do believe that the pomegranate is a perfect symbol for Israel. A pomegranate isn’t large, but it’s filled with powerful seeds, which is fitting for Israel – small but strong.

A pomegranate has an outside peel to protect the inside of the fruit, plump seeds to eat, delicious juice to drink, and oil to help us glow. Each part works in unison to give people substantial amounts of vitamins and nutrients. We need the whole pomegranate to keep our bodies healthy in the same way that we need every part of Israel to keep the country strong.

In addition to protecting the seeds of the fruit, the peel of the pomegranate, which is edible if cleaned properly, has antioxidant properties. Antioxidants prevent free radical damage, which is harmful to our health. The peel represents the land of Israel. Jewish people feel safe in Israel in the same way that the seeds are safe inside a pomegranate.

Pomegranate seeds are small, but packed with nutrients such as B vitamins, potassium, fiber, and iron. Pomegranate seeds also have Vitamin C and antioxidants that keep us from getting sick. The seeds are thought to protect against breast and prostate cancers, help lower cholesterol and reduce one’s risk for heart disease. I find the seeds symbolically comparable to the people of Israel. The population may be small, but each citizen fights to protect the heart of the Jewish people, Israel.

From the seeds, pomegranate juice can be extracted. The most nutrient dense and potent properties of the seed make the juice, which is similar to the Israeli army. In Israel, men and women are required to join the army at the age of 18, the time at which most people are at their physical best.

Pomegranate juice has been compared to other antioxidant juices such as blueberry and grape, as well as red wine, and outperformed all of them in heart health. Pomegranate juice helps fight atherosclerosis and inflammation, and lowers LDL cholesterol. It also supports the synthesis of nitric oxide, which is needed to prevent fatty deposits from sticking to the walls of our blood vessels, and promotes the vasodilation, or expansion, of our blood vessels to allow blood to flow freely throughout our bodies. This is similar to the Israeli army that assists the people and the government of Israel to run a free and democratic society.

The oils of pomegranates are used in beauty products. They help keep our hair, nails, and cuticles strong and beautiful and give them a certain glow. The oils represent the children of Israel. Each unique child is part of Israel, but these children have not made an impact yet. They will grow and one day be recognized, but when they are young they are the bright shiny lights that represent Israel’s future.

The pomegranate could represent the 613 commandments, or the fruit, juice, seeds, and oil might signify Israel and the Jewish people. Throughout history, the pomegranate has also signified fertility, with each seed representing a life that has the potential to blossom. We can only hope that the pomegranate continues to symbolize fertility of the people of Israel, and within the nation itself.


Bubbe Wanted, Apply Within

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I have secret delusions of grandeur. I fantasize about a lot of things. If I look up from my computer screen I can see my daydreams strewn about my apartment. There’s my treadmill, my enormous and endless mountain of a reading list on my desk and my dining room table whose top I can’t seem to get clean. I have others; most of them are far too embarrassing to share. My latest? I want to be your grandmother.  

Don’t be alarmed; I know that sounds completely ridiculous. I don’t want to actually be a Bubbe. What I want is to be the sort of person who can whip up treats without breaking a sweat.  

My granny-daydream mostly involves baking pies that pop magically from the oven 3.4 minutes after you arrive at my apartment. The buzzer on the oven will go off and you’ll give me a questioning look. I’ll laugh to myself and then say, “Oh, this old thing? I threw it together from some stuff I had in the fridge.” You know, like grandmas often do.  

I had a couple of friends over this weekend and I decided to put my inner granny to the test. I bought cherries from the grocery store and a few other ingredients including a pre-made piecrust. Yes, pre-made crust because Bubbes don’t waste time. I was beyond excited. I was planning to make a day of it. I’d take my time and create the most magical and tasty cherry pie my friends had ever seen. I imagined my friends arriving to the thick and delicious aroma of cherry pie. It would smell like, well, your grandmother’s house.  

I cannot lie. It was a disaster at the start. Daydreams are dreams, after all. The pre-made crust was frozen. There was no time for it to thaw. I held it to try to warm it up. I put it in a zip-lock bag and ran hot water over it. I glared at the crust hoping the death rays from my eyes would help bring it to room temperature. Finally, I gave up and removed the dough from the packaging. I warmed it by kneading it with my hands and forming it into a ball. So much for saving time!  

But wait! There’s more!  

News flash! Cherries have pits. I suppose I knew this somewhere in the very deep, dark corners of my mind. The pits have to be removed. How do you remove cherry pits when you don’t have a cherry pitter? At first, I sliced the cherries in half and pulled at the pits. I guess that’s a fine way to get the job done, but it’s very tedious. Thanks to Google, I learned that all you need is a set of chopsticks. You push the stick through each cherry and the pit pops right out.  Crisis number two averted!  

For all of my stress, worry and panic, my pie came out perfectly. I’m not sure I’ve ever been more proud of a dessert and the house did smell incredible. So everything worked out. Maybe this is how it starts for all grannies? Maybe the measured calm that your Bubbe seems to ooze is something that she’s had time to practice. Or … maybe we just don’t get the see the part where she’s standing in the kitchen Googling how to pit cherries and shaking her fists at the sky. I guess we’ll never know.  

Bubbe Wanted, Apply Within photo

Sweet Cherry Streusel Pie
(adapted from The Four & Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book by Emily and Melissa Elsen)  

Cherry Filling

1 small baking apple
5 cups sweet cherries, pitted
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
¾ cup packed light brown sugar
3 tablespoons potato (or corn) starch
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground cardamom
2 dashes Angostura bitters  

Preheat the oven to 425.  

Peel the apple, and then shred it on the large holes of a box grater. Combine the shredded apple with the cherries, lemon juice, brown sugar, potato (or corn) starch, cinnamon, cardamom, and bitters in a large bowl and toss until well mixed. Pour the filling into the refrigerated pie shell and evenly distribute the streusel on top.  

Bake for 20 to 25 minutes. Lower the temperature to 375 and continue to bake for 30 to 35 minutes longer.  

Streusel Topping

1 cup all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons packed light brown sugar
4 teaspoons granulated sugar
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into ½ inch cubes, at room temperature  

Stir together the flour, brown and granulated sugars, and salt in a large bowl. Sprinkle in the butter pieces and toss to coat. Rub the butter into the dry ingredients with your fingertips until the butter is incorporated and the mixture is chunky but not homogenous.  

Pie Crust

Seriously. Unless you’re an actual granny who has a pie crust recipe memorized and can make a pie crust in your sleep…buy a pre-made crust! Get a pie crust from your favorite grocery store and follow the directions on the box. Make sure to give yourself enough time to manage this piece of the project! The dough needs to thaw before you bake it!


Camp from a Counselor’s Perspective

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Camp from a Counselor’s Perspective photo

Ask anyone why a Jewish camp is important and you’ll get a bunch of answers involving words such as identity, continuity, community, friends, and informal education. For many, the word “camp” is a trigger that magically transports people back to their glorious days attending summer camp. I am not one of those people.  

Growing up in Wichita, Kansas, there were a few kids that went to Jewish sleep-away camps. I was never into going away because of two things: air-conditioning and cable TV.  

I did spend two or three years during my elementary school life attending a local Jewish day camp run by the Mid-Kansas Jewish Federation called CAMP SHALOM. I don’t remember much, except the camp brought the kids from my Traditional congregation together with the kids from the Reform Congregation. Oh, and we had rocking sailor hats we were allowed to decorate and had to wear on trips. That stunk.  

Now, like I wrote, I wasn’t so into camp. However, I totally loved being a camp counselor. I think, in the summers before 9th grade and before 11th grade, I was a counselor at CAMP SHALOM. I don’t remember much about working at the camp, except that my “bunk” listened to the Beastie Boys’ first album, “License to Ill,” and The Clash’s “London Calling” (a double album) most that summer. The rest of my summer days and night during high school were spent doing camp-esque things like hanging with friends, staying up late, drinking bottomless cups of coffee, diving out of the windows of various homes and apartments when law enforcement types would break up parties due to crazy loud music blasting. You know, normal stuff.  

During my summers in college I also was a counselor at a camp in Baltimore. It was a sports camp marketed to Jewish boys between the ages of 13-18. In the morning there were laid back clusters of campers studying Jewish texts with counselors and in the afternoon there were sports leagues, with trips at night. From a counselor’s view, most of those kids had a good time.  

I was also a camp counselor last summer. I ran a camp for my 13-year-old son and two of his friends. They were already out of school, but their real camps hadn’t started yet. I was in between jobs so it made sense to keep the boys occupied as much as possible for as little money was possible. Now that was a great camp. We spent the days checking out cool places around Chicago that were off the beaten path (maybe our destinations will be my blog topic next month).  

Now, as a parent whose kids attend Jewish camps I see why it’s so important, even if your kids attend a Jewish day school. All the buzzwords above are true. My kids get to reinforce the Judaism they have at home and that they learn in school. It gives them opportunities to be involved in art, drama, gymnastics, and ga-ga. They get to do cool things like take trips to water parks, make shelters in trees and learn to work as a team.  

Just this past Monday, 600 children from the Chicago Jewish community did something that I doubt any of them had done before. Kids from local day camps in the West Rogers Park area gathered together at a congregation and said a few chapters from the book of Psalms (in Hebrew, Tehillim). They did so to show unity and support for the safety of those living in Israel. Not exactly an activity that any of us thought our kids would be doing this summer, but a powerful experience. I wish I had been one of those counselors.


Bulls lose on stars, but could win with depth

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Bulls lose on stars, but could win with depth photo

Fresh off the Spurs’ NBA Championship, I wrote about how their win over the Big 3 of Miami signified that teams can still win with teamwork over grouping stars.

We were on the cusp of the off-season and the Bulls were tight on the trail of Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Love. And I’ll be honest, while my expectations were low, I was obsessed with this free agency period. Checking Twitter every few minutes, keeping SportsCenter on while I worked at all times, checking every NBA rumor site. I was hooked. I couldn’t take my eyes off it. The thought of having our current roster along with Carmelo Anthony was making my basketball brain explode.

But alas, this free agent period ended like all free agent periods in Chicago. We came up short.

Carmelo stayed in New York, Love stayed in Minnesota (for now), LeBron went to Cleveland, Bosh and Wade stayed in Miami and Stephenson went to Charlotte. The Bulls made some moves, which I’ll focus on a bit later, but I think the best moves for the Bulls were those made by other teams. Carmelo stayed in New York on a team that is rebuilding instead of teaming up with LeBron somewhere, and LeBron James went back to a young but talented Cleveland team, officially ending the Big 3 era. The East has become spread out for the first time since 2009 and as a result, is wide open.

The moves the Bulls made focused on depth, something they haven’t truly had since the 2010 season where they went to the Eastern Conference Finals. They added, Pau Gasol, Nikola Mirotic, Aaron Brooks, Doug McDermott, and re-signed Kirk Hinrich. The Bulls are 11 deep if you count Tony Snell, who is having a very good Summer League, into the equation.

Obviously the biggest factor in their success this season is Derrick Rose—will he play for an entire season and will he return to form. But assuming he does, because for our own mental health we have to, the Bulls have given Thibs reliable options off the bench so he doesn’t run the same six players into the ground the way he did the last two years. Hopefully he’ll be able to follow the Spurs’ model and take advantage of his depth to allow his top players to be fresh come playoff time. Here is my take on the new Bulls.

Pau Gasol: Veteran, great passer, scorer and rebounder. Takes Boozer’s spot, should have numbers about as good as Boozer at his best, with fewer bonehead plays and screams for Jo to “get that.” I’m interested to see how much he has left in the tank, but Pau strikes me as the kind of guy with a skill set that can last him well into his later years if his minutes are managed (which is no guarantee with this coach). He creates a really exciting 3 man big rotation with Jo and Taj, and should be lethal running the pick-and-roll with DRose. He has championship experience and is obviously highly respected by the Bulls.

Nikola Mirotic: Honestly, a big fat question mark, and the best bet is probably not to set expectations too high for him for a while. However, a stretch 4 as your 8th or 9th man with the potential to be a solid shooter and a matchup nightmare is great to have. As long as he isn’t depended on to heavily early on, and my guess knowing Thibs is he won’t be, he could be a really interesting piece. And after waiting on him for three years, I’m just excited to see him out there. 

Doug McDermott: I watched a little of him in Summer League, and while I agree with the qualifier “its summer league,” this guy could be really, really good. He is an incredible shooter – the comparisons to Kyle Korver are dead on. Moves well without the ball and has a very quick release. But he is big and can get to the hoop as well, which is something Korver never did. Thibs tends to “red shirt” his rookies, but I can see this guy very quickly eating up Dunleavy’s minutes.

Aaron Brooks: I think this is a great signing. Not only as the Nate Robinson, DJ Augustin, etc. DRose insurance plan, but as a legit 1 who can come off the bench and score. He can give Rose some rest and also allow Hinrich to move over to the 2 in some lineups. Also gives the Bulls a very interesting option to go small and fast with he and Rose together. A trusted veteran who Thibs can trust now allows this team to go a legit 11 deep.


Wet Hot Jewish American Summer

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Wet Hot Jewish American Summer photo

What exactly makes a movie Jewish? Does it have to revolve around Jewish characters doing Jewish things? Does it champion Jewish values? Does it need Jewish actors or writers/directors? And what does it even mean to be a “Jewish movie?” Should we even try to label movies as Jewish in the first place?  

Whoa. Overload. And it just gets more complicated with comedies. Do a few Jewish jokes count? Where’s the line between reinforcing our stereotypes and spoofing them?  

You Don’t Mess with the Zohan, for example, features a Jewish actor (Adam Sandler) playing an Israeli character, yet is it any more Jewish than the family movie Holes, which on the outside appears to have nothing Jewish about it, but has a cast full of Jews, was directed by a Jew (Andrew Davis) and was written by a Jewish author (Louis Sachar)? You have to do a little digging (no pun intended) to find out Holes is a Jewish movie, but does that make it any less Jewish?  

I think the true litmus test for whether a movie can be considered “Jewish” has less to do with meeting the aforementioned criteria and more to do with the audience consuming it. And for this reason, Wet Hot American Summer might be the most Jewish movie ever.  

I’m sure people who aren’t Jewish have seen Wet Hot American Summer, but I’m willing to bet a Jewish friend was the first person to recommend it to them. I first saw it in high school at the urging of Jewish friends and I’ve only ever talked about it with other Jewish friends. To me, it stands out as Jewish, but not in the same way that similarly labeled Jewish comedies do.  

Director David Wain’s debut film (he’d later go on to make Role Models and Wanderlust) never reached public consciousness, getting a tiny release and grossing below $300,000 at the box office in the summer of 2001. It has emerged as a cult classic since, because anyone who has ever been to overnight camp that watches it loves it, especially if they went to Jewish summer camp. I can’t stand quotes that begin with “there are two kinds of people in this world,” but the truest version I ever heard was, “people who went to overnight camp, and people who didn’t.”  

“Wet Hot” recounts the last 24 hours of the summer of ‘81 at Camp Firewood, a fictional Jewish overnight camp (sleep-away camp, if you prefer) in Maine. Everyone is looking for that last hookup or shot at romance, campers and counselors alike, and the story focuses particularly on Gerald “Coop” Cooperberg (Michael Showalter), who has a crush on Katie (Marguerite Moreau), but she has been hooking up with the obnoxious hot guy, Andy (Paul Rudd), all summer.  

The cast list of “before they were famous” actors in and of itself should tip you off that “Wet Hot” is a hidden gem. Rudd, Elizabeth Banks, Amy Poehler, Bradley Cooper, Michael Ian Black, Joe Lo Truglio, Christopher Meloni and Ken Marino are just a handful. So it’s no surprise that Netflix has a deal with Wain to make a new series based on the characters. But I digress.  

Very little about Wet Hot American Summer is explicitly Jewish. You can count the obviously Jewish references on one hand. Yet everything about this movie feels Jewish to me, from the oft-irresponsible counselors down to the singing of “Day by Day” from the Christian-themed musical Godspell at the all-camp talent show toward the end of the movie (ask your Jewish mother who came of age in the ‘70s if you’re confused).  

Jewish overnight camp is an experience that many of us share, and the way we, as Jews, connect to others Jewish people, is through an understanding of our shared experience, such as Jewish holidays, Jewish foods, etc. This is true of all religions and cultures. So when a movie can tap into that shared experience, that’s what really makes it – in this case – Jewish.  

Wet Hot American Summer is without question a gross exaggeration of overnight camps, but all great comedy comes from truth, and David Wain clearly had an authentic Jewish summer camp experience, or else the movie would’ve fallen flat on its face.  

But we don’t tend to claim movies like “Wet Hot” as Jewish, at least in the comedy world. We seem more inclined to claim films that are indiscreetly Jewish, that play off stereotypes (we’re a people who enjoy laughing at ourselves) and wear them proudly. There’s a place for that humor and those comedies, but we too often overlook the more implicitly Jewish ones. It’s not that Jews don’t see or like these movies, it’s just that we don’t celebrate them; maybe because it’s not obvious, maybe because we want them to be “our little secret” or maybe because we feel more comfortable hiding behind stereotypes of who we are in the public sphere because it’s comfortable.  

Find the movies out there that speak to your Jewish identity and experiences and claim them as Jewish. What makes a comedy Jewish should not always be how much it pokes fun at what makes us unique and different from others, but what makes us similar to each other.                                  


Don’t we all speak the same language?

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You would think that fundraisers and finance professionals would get along. I mean, they both speak in terms of numbers, they both focus on amounts raised and they both obsess over what is done with it. However, when the two collide it is as if a translator is needed in order to communicate. I just don’t get it! Don’t we all speak the same language?

Both fundraisers and finance professionals may speak in numbers, but those numbers are extremely different. Throughout my career in the fundraising world, I was focused on the number of people who would come to events, how much each person would donate, the total we would raise and of course the impact we were having on the cause. In my career in the finance world, those numbers changed to how much someone has, how much their money is growing and what the impact is that they can make with it. We all have the same end goal, so why can’t we understand one another?

I believe that it all comes down to what is behind the process. In my last article, I talked about how we all need a process in order to succeed. The steps of the process may be the same in finance and fundraising, but how we view those steps are drastically different. Let me show you what I mean.

Step 1Research: For finance this means statistics, past results, crunching numbers, but for fundraising this means collecting information, talking to donors.

Step 2 – Romance: Okay, romance may always mean love, passion and desire, but are you romancing the person the way they want or the way you want them to be romanced? In fundraising you find what makes the person tick, what do they want to see and then you show it to them. In finance you find out what they should see, what has been successful and then show the person why they should want it.

Step 3 – Request: This is a bit tricky as this is when, in a sense, the tables turn. In finance we are requesting trust (which will then lead to money) while in fundraising it is often times money (which will lead to trust). In both cases, we are requesting that the person think about the future and what they can do to improve it, for themselves or others.

Step 4 – Recognize: Do we recognize with stellar returns? Thank you notes? Success stories? Yes and yes. In this case, we ALL speak the same language. What is good is good, not matter what field it is in. Recognition is great, no matter what language we speak!


18 Chicago Facts (Sort of) That You (Probably) Don’t Know

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The Big Apple, The Big Easy, The Big Cheese. These are all words with the adjective “Big” before them. They also happen to be nicknames for cities. Except the cheese one. That’s just a phrase about an abundance of cheese.  

Now, having lived in Chicago for over two years, (A fifth of a decade!) I’ve learned a few things about our glorious city that needs an adjective like “Windy” to describe it. Because I’m talking, of course, about The Windy City. You (probably) saw that one coming. It’s in the title of the post after all. Well, Chicago is in the title, not the nickname so technically…eh, you get it. So what follows are some facts (sort of) about Chicago that you (probably) don’t know about. More title references. I’m very clever.  

1. I got a new buzzer system in my apartment building that connects directly to my phone. See? You (probably) didn’t know that.

2. It turns out Chicago is not The Windy City because of the wind. Or because of the politicians blowing hot air. It’s the Windy City because of all the Cubs players swinging and missing. Like this joke.

3. Apparently during big storms, like the one we had a few weeks ago, my toilet takes it upon itself to do a great impression of Buckingham Fountain.

4. When it’s a really hot day, The Bean gets very warm to the touch. On those days, I am the only one who appropriately calls it, “The Refried Bean.”

5. It’s incredible that we are getting the George Lucas museum. Because by putting him on display, this should prevent him from ruining any more movies.

6. Tom Skilling is not a fair weather fan.

7. There’s a hidden tunnel to the Red Line underneath Macy’s. All you have to do is bring a few sticks of dynamite.

8. Talking on public transit between the hours of 7:00 AM and 9:00 AM is a crime punishable by death (stares).

9. Becoming a Chicago pedestrian has made me a passive-aggressive walker because I aggressively pass people as I’m walking.

10. I have to watch out for places that say they are open 24 hours. Sometimes it’s not in a row.

11. If a CTA bus doesn’t come for a long time, fear not citizen, because eventually the choice of two buses at the same time will be made available. And what’s great is that when I opt for the second bus, it’ll pass the stop anyway!

12. We have Public Transit Stunt Trains!

13. When Wrigley Field opened in 1914, the only beer they served was Oldstyle. Back then, they just called it Style.

14. The Taste of Chicago is a lie. I got arrested for licking all of the buildings.

15. My parents still live in the suburbs.

16. Playing dodgeball has become incredibly easy for me; living in Chicago I have to dodge traffic and pedestrians.

17. In the city, I measure distance by time, not miles. And then I measure my gut by not measuring it, because I don’t want to embarrass myself.

18. I no longer have a fear of public restrooms. It only took 20 years to get over because I was attacked by one when I was seven.  

If you (probably) enjoyed this list of 18 things, why not check out my other ones so you don’t have to go back to work for another few minutes?

18 Reasons I’m Finally An Adult
18 More Reasons I’m Finally An Adult
18 Honest New Year’s Resolutions
18 Things I Did not Write About For This Blog Post 

Goodnight everybody! (Probably)


Chile Salt

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The Only Way to Make Summer Produce Better

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Summer is both the best and the most challenging time of year to cook. Everything is in season and readily available (yay!) but it’s all so beautiful and ripe that the idea of futzing with it in any way seems sinful (boo!). For real, when there are ripe tomatoes and technicolor peppers and fruit so sweet it’s basically crystalizing on your countertop, who needs recipes, or ovens, mixing bowls, or skillets? Cut open a mango and spoon it directly into your mouth. Boom. Dinner. Done.  

But if you miss being in the kitchen and absolutely need to get your little chefy paws on the gorgeous produce you bring home, here is a way to enhance it without screwing up a good thing. Take a lesson from the Southeast Asians, the Mexicans, and the South Americans and sprinkle summer time fruit with salt and chilies. Because salt and spice make fruit taste even … fruitier. 

Here is my recipe for chili and lime salt. It’s pretty basic, but you can also add things like fresh herbs and even a little sugar to balance things out a bit. All you need is some perfectly ripe fruit to sprinkle it on and you will be the hit of the party/summer/your own personal summer oasis in front of the air conditioner. Best part is that you can make a big batch and put it in the fridge for up to a month.

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Chile Salt

2 red chilies (I like Fresno, but red jalapenos work well too)
2 limes
2 cups kosher salt
A bunch of cut up fruit (I cannot think of a fruit that wouldn’t be delicious with this salt on it, but my favorites are pineapple, melon, and papaya)
Optional: a bunch of fresh herbs (cilantro, mint, tarragon, basil, etc…), and sugar (in case you would like to balance out the salty/spicy with some sweet.  

Slice the chilies. It doesn’t really matter how big or small your slices are because they are about to be pulverized in the food processor, but if you aren’t so much into super spiciness, this is a good time to remove the ribs and seeds.  

Use a vegetable peeler to remove the zest from both of the limes. Be careful and take your time. This recipe does not call for human skin.  

Throw the chilies, lime peels and salt into a food processor and blitz until everything comes together in a beautiful red sand. If you are using fresh herbs, throw some of those in too (about half a cup). Typically, I would tell you to dip a finger into anything you are processing and taste it for seasoning, but this shit is spicy and you might want to use a cut piece of fruit instead. Feel free to add more of any of the ingredients to balance the flavor as you see fit.

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Cindy Sher (far left) and the Chicago contingent of the National Young Leadership Trip to Israel.

We stood together in Independence Hall on the first day of our journey together, the space where Israel first became the Jewish state.

The music began and then 169 of us 20-, 30-, and 40-something Jews—34 of us from Chicago traveling with the Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation—on our Jewish Federations of North America’s National Young Leadership Trip to Israel, sang the Israeli anthem “Hatikva” together. I had been trying to make a cool first impression in front of my peers, but I couldn’t stand it anymore.

Tears welled up in my eyes for Israel, home to every person in that room, home to every Jew in the world. “Hatikva” means “The Hope,” and this is a place that has always brimmed with so much hope for our people. We are family.

After saying the Shehecheyanu as we embarked on our journey together, we did what any gathering of young Jews would do—we partied. We’d barely yet met, but we were all tied through the thread of our Jewish narrative, brothers and sisters, each of us filled with so much hope for our week and, in a grander sense, hope for our future as a people.

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We returned to our hotel rooms that night where our phones alerted us to the news that the three missing Israeli teen boys—Eyal Yifrah, Gilad Sha'ar, and Naftali Frenkel—were no longer missing. Their bodies had been discovered, murdered by Hamas.

I’d visited Israel several times over the course of my life. I’d climbed Masada, I’d floated in the Dead Sea, I’d prayed at the Wall, I’d hiked through the Negev, I’d sipped Israeli wine, and I’d bitten into the world’s juiciest, reddest tomatoes.

But only now, mere miles from where those boys had been found, did I feel it—this place called Israel in my bones. In a few years, those three boys could have been three of the guys on our trip. Those boys are us. We are family.

I’m a big believer in beshert and I think we were destined to be there that week. It meant so much to us that we could stand not just in spirit, but in physical proximity to our Israeli sisters and brothers when they needed us.

During the trip, a small group of us ate lunch on a moshav halfway between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. We shared one of the most delicious meals I’ve ever had in my life, prepared with love by a Moroccan immigrant named Bat Sheva Gabai. During lunch, Rebecca Stern, a Jewish Agency for Israel representative, and an observant Jew and vivacious native New Yorker who madealiyah a couple decades back, told us what it meant to the Israeli people that we were there, especially at a heartbreaking time for Israel. “Thank you,” she told us. We’re all connected, no matter what our level of observance, whether “we wear hats or no hats, sleeves or no sleeves…we are all family.

I flew back to Chicago the day the rocket attacks escalated. And now, every time I hear Israeli news, which is pretty much around the clock, I feel like I left a piece of myself, my heart, behind.We are family.

There was this moment on the trip, a favorite for many of us. Our group was headed to the Wall to pray on Shabbat, and stopped near the entrance to prepare for the momentous visit. There, we linked arms and started a chorus of the Jewish hymn “Hineh Ma Tov.” And, all of a sudden, from up above, we saw a group of Orthodox men link arms too, and join in on our singing. We knew the same words, the same tunes. We sang in perfect harmony. We may have never met, but we are the same. We are family.

I’ve been singing that song since preschool and yet I never stopped to think about the words until now. “Behold, how good and how pleasant,” the hymn says, “it is for brethren to dwell together in unity.”


An Unexpected Summer Camp Reunion

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If you are not from St. Louis or Kansas City, you probably don’t think of the Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri as a destination for Jewish kids to spend their summers. But dating back over 40 years, Camp Sabra has been the summer spot for campers from not only St. Louis and Kansas City, but also Houston, Dallas and hey, even a family from Chicago here and there. Sabra held a special place in my family’s heart as my mom went there, and it was only inevitable that my sister, my brother and I would end up there eventually.  

Maybe it’s not for everyone, but sleep-away camp to me was such an important part of my childhood and something I looked forward to every summer. My first true time away from home, the first time I kissed a boy, rafting and camping out in Colorado my last year as a camper, and then becoming a counselor for the next generation, camp was truly with me as I grew from a young girl to a woman. And it has unexpectedly continued to play a part in my life many years later.  

A few years ago I was walking to meet a friend in my neighborhood one day when I spotted a guy on the street wearing a Camp Sabra shirt. It’s not every day the Sabra logo appears around Chicago, so I had to make sure it wasn’t a rack buy from the local thrift shop! With no shame at all, I stopped to ask him about the shirt and if he in fact went there. Sure enough, Camp Sabra boy had both attended and been a counselor there, but we only overlapped the summer of 2002, so we never crossed paths.  

About a year later, my sister told me Sabra was putting together a mini reunion for Chicago alumni and suggested we go. I have to be honest, after a long workday (not to mention recently becoming single), I wasn’t really feeling it. But my sister convinced me and we made a deal that we’d make an appearance and leave shortly thereafter.  

At the reunion, I caught up with some counselor friends that I hadn’t seen in a while and then found myself playing Jewish geography with a guy who seemed to be a few years older than me given we didn’t run in the same camp circles. Then, out of nowhere, he said, “Hey, I think you’re the girl that stopped me on the street when I was wearing my camp shirt.” From there we realized we still lived in the same neighborhood, so before leaving I gave Camp Sabra boy my phone number thinking at the very least, we should reminisce sometime about being young again back in the Ozarks.

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The day we "re-met"

Three days later he called and two years later we are now living together. And the best part is that Jeremy doesn’t mind when I randomly break into a Sabra-favorite John Denver or James Taylor song and will even join me in a chorus of “Leaving on a Jet Plane” when one of us is heading off on a trip. While our families, college and city life have no doubt helped mold us into who we are today, I do truly believe a bit of who we are as individuals can always be traced back to camp. Being confident, social and independent is all about meeting new people, having the guts to go on the ropes course or waterski for the first time, or even asking a boy to the Sadie Hawkins dance. For us, camp is not just a childhood memory, it is a language and bond we both share that has served as the building blocks of our relationship. I’m sure the alumni of other camps around the country and world feel the same.  

So you never know, one day there may be a new group of Chicago kids who have to explain to all their friends how they GET to go to the Lake of the Ozarks for their summer!

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Our housewarming party after moving in together!

Stephanie Callahan is a public relations manager in downtown Chicago specializing in the food industry. She also writes a food and recipe blog called “Stephanie Eats Chicago” for the Chicago Tribune. She enjoys reading in the park, puppies, running and stalking restaurant menus. 


What Camp Taught Me That School Couldn’t

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How summer camp showed me the wider Jewish world

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This one time at Jewish overnight camp . . . I realized what the world had to offer.  

I have lived in the same house for my entire life. Yes, my family has taken vacations to Florida and Arizona, and now that I’m older we have ventured outside of the country. However, up until I was about eight or nine, I really had no idea the world expanded outside of my small rural hometown of Rock Island, Illinois.  

I hailed from a small Jewish community; my Sunday school class numbered about six students and that was considered big in my town. At eight years old, my parents offered me a life-changing opportunity: four weeks of overnight summer camp. I had no idea what I was in for, but my journey began in the Waupaca woods of Wisconsin.  

I remember going to camp and thinking, “Wow, I never knew there was this many Jewish people”. That was my first realization in the world; little did I know there would be many more to come.

After that summer, I grew up living the ten others months of the year waiting for the other two. Starting at Camp Young Judaea Midwest and then in high school transitioning to Tel Yehuda in New York, I learned more at summer camp than I did sitting at my school desk.

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Author and camp friends at Camp Tel Yehudah in New York

Camp teaches you a lot. When you’re stuck in the woods with a bunch of Jewish adolescents with no cell phone service and your only guidance is counselors who still pretend to be Jewish adolescents, you figure out a lot on your own and with your peers. You flourish with a Jewish community.

I will never forget the summer that I transitioned from my quaint Midwestern camp to the big dogs in upstate New York. It was quite the ordeal. Unpacking my clothes and putting them away I heard a girl in my cabin talking about Israel and what her views were. I was only a teenager – I didn’t have political views unless you counted what I heard from my parents. Whenever politics or Israel came up in conversation during group activities, I would pick at the grass around me, wondering if it was swim time yet. I had never truly paid attention to the news or my Israeli friends’ Facebook statuses.

I eventually became best friends with that girl in my cabin. She taught me about the terrors facing Israel and showed me that if advocated for what I believed in, I could make an impact in this world. That was when I learned there was more to life than frugal gossip.

And she was just one example. That summer I met kids from Texas who were into indie rock music; Californian kids who advocated for gay rights; Israeli kids who competitively mountain-biked. Any type of personality, I guarantee I met them, and I sharing in a camp experience with so many different Jewish peers was the best education money could buy. (Thanks for sending me to a giant educational sleepover Mom and Dad!)

At age 15 I could tell you what advocacy, Zionism, pluralism and secularism were; at age 16 I lobbied against domestic violence in Washington D.C.; at age 17, I was a reflective practitioner on issues in society; and at age 18, I was well prepared to bid a farewell to my parents as I departed to the University of Illinois, ready to begin my adult career.

Don’t get me wrong – I believe school is important, but I think camp teaches you to look at the world differently. I wasn’t learning about Israel from my textbook, but from my peers, which is much more powerful. Camp has no desks, no textbooks; it allows you to take a different perspective on the world and it allows you to see it from a different light. Camp inspired me, my values and my education and continues to every day of my life.

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Author and camp friends at Camp Young Judaea Midwest in Wisconsin


Mia Kavensky is currently a marketing/design intern for Spertus Institute for Jewish Learning and Leadership. She will be a junior at the University of Illinois this fall, where she wears the yellow tea rose proudly as a member of the Sigma Delta Tau sorority. She wishes she could go back to camp every day of her life.


One Bug Juice, Please

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Dating at camp vs. dating in the “real world”

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I suppose it was a first date. It started as just a walk – a continuation of a conversation we started hours earlier. I was surprised that someone I thought was so handsome could have such depth, let alone want to spend his free time talking to little old me. We found ourselves sitting with our backs to the barn, taking in a meteor shower that rained shooting stars down on us for hours while we talked. I felt that heart-pounding, sweaty-palmed anticipation that comes in the moments before a first kiss with a new person. I was 17. And I was in love with camp love.

What started as a walk at summer camp became a four-year relationship, and put someone into my life that I still consider chosen family. What I gained from my relationships at camp shaped who I am as a youth worker, a Jew and a person.

Buzzfeed recently published 24 Reasons Dating at Camp Is Better Than in the Real World, which got me thinking – like every stimulating Buzzfeed list – about the uniqueness of relationships at camp. In the “real world,” where dating sometimes feels like a social experiment (Can I get him to eat Ethiopian food with his hands? Is it too soon to wear my Star Trek T-shirt?) and at other times feels like torture (What does it say when the bartender with the excellent beard feels the need to give me love advice? How soon can I get home to my roommate and overanalyze over wine?), I’ve found myself missing the simplicity of camp love.

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There’s something to be said for dates that require no more than the sounds of teva (nature) and a clear sky for stargazing. Without the distractions of technology, elaborate foodie menus, social lubricants and people-watching, there’s no choice but to focus on the conversation (and maybe a little K-I-S-S-I-N-G, likely in a tree). It’s why a month-long camp relationship feels like a year – you reach a greater depth faster when you spend all of your waking hours with your person. You find out the things that matter more quickly than in the real world: How do they handle stress? Are they a morning person? Are they willing to apologize after a fight? Do they put enough chocolate chips in your pancakes?

At camp you’re stripped down to the real you. It’s impossible to spend hours getting glammed up at summer camp, because there are 12 children (sometimes in a communal shower) asking you how long until dinner, when tryouts for the talent show are, and why you’re shaving your legs if it’s not Shabbat. The things we see as our flaws, the things we spend so much time putting makeup over or avoiding in conversation, become part of the whole package of ourselves. We allow ourselves to be loved even when we’re covered in acne, mud, tears and sweaty color wars face paint.

We think of summer camp as a place for children to learn and grow into independent people, but it has the same effect on the young people and adults that spend weeks at camp as counselors and mentors to them. Maybe it’s them following us around like ducklings watching our every move that helps us to be and accept our better selves. Maybe it’s the freedom of loose schedules and work disguised as play (or is it the opposite?) that allows us to let go of what we “should be” and be as joyful as our campers, soaking up every moment because camp is finite.

If we could pack that feeling into our duffels and bring it home with us, what would our relationships look like? I suspect if we could bring more of summer camp into real life, we could be our real selves – love ourselves as we are, play more often, and put less pressure on our online dating profiles.

The next time you meet up with a potential b’sheret from JDate, remember – be you. And order the bug juice.

Logan Zinman works as the Director of NFTY’s Chicago Area Region with the best teens a gal could ask for. She has spent more than a full year of her life at URJ Camp OSRUI watching for shooting stars and hoping someone makes her farm-fresh refet eggs for breakfast. If you miss summer camp and would rather be at a campfire than at work, tweet @loganzinman to let her know if you think baked potato bar is a meal or a side dish.


A Picture Is Worth 1000 Memories

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On a cool April morning when I was in fourth grade, my family packed up our car to go to the Wisconsin Dells for a weekend. For some reason, my parents decided that April was the perfect time to go to the water park capital of the world. My dad was a CPA and could rarely take a break around spring break, so we often took excursions in the weeks following Tax Day. I didn’t know what we would do on our trip, but I was told we would spend a portion of the weekend seeing the camp that I would attend for the first time that summer, Camp Chi, which is surrounded by the Wisconsin Dells.  

I don’t really remember much about my first time on the grounds of Camp Chi, but I remember stopping when we got to the rock walls. At that time, camp was situated on three old rock walls near the lake. Close to these walls, there was an old-fashioned swing. My brother and I played on it for a bit, and after we were done, my family decided to take a picture there.

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A few months later, I went to camp for two weeks and I was hooked on the spirit, activities, traditions and camp life as a whole almost immediately. I came home only to ask if I could go straight back (this request was not granted because in a typical chain of events, I had to go to the dentist and was told I had to wait until next summer). In 2000, I returned for four weeks. Eventually, my four weeks at camp grew to eight weeks and my days as a camper grew to days on staff, and the rest was history.  

As I said, from the first time I stepped off the bus, I was truly hooked on camp. I remember the Staff In Training (SITs) cheering around camp my first summer, the inflatable trampoline on the lake, and lots of programs filled with music, dancing and more. Beyond that, I can’t tell you much about my first summers at Camp Chi except it just felt right. It felt safe, it felt comfortable, and I somehow just knew that was where I was meant to be. It was almost as if I subconsciously knew that this was home before I’d ever been here.  

My family doesn’t have many great pictures of the four of us: me, my brother, Brian (who is currently spending his 11th summer at camp training this year’s Staff In Training class), my mom, and my dad – who passed away a few months after my second summer. There is something serendipitous about the fact that the best picture we have as a family ended up being at the location that my brother and I can only describe as our favorite place in the world.  

We all have hurdles to leap over throughout our lives; many of mine have occurred earlier in life than they’re supposed to. Some years were better than others, but even with the years that seemed grim, there was always a light at the end of the tunnel: there was always camp to look forward to.  

When I learned about this blog series, I didn’t even know where to start because most of my posts end up being about camp. I think that is because when you are a camp lifer, everything leads back to camp. (I think I can still use the term “lifer” because even though I am spending just my second summer away from camp since I started going there, it is where I always would choose to be). Many of my closest friendships, best memories, favorite stories, struggles that I’ve overcome, and so on, have all either happened at camp or because of camp.  

I started a new job last week, where my supervisor is someone I have known for years because of camp. Camp not only builds the leadership skills that you need to succeed professionally, but it also builds you an unbelievable personal network. I can’t tell you how many times I mention Camp Chi professionally (granted I work in the Jewish world), but even so, I know most of my friends have spoken significantly about camp during interviews and expounded on experiences that have led them to where they are today.  

When my family took that picture so many years ago, I had no idea what camp would mean to me more than 15 years later. The impact that camp has had on my life is almost indescribable. Camp is something that will always be a part of my life and I know will continue to change the lives of those who are a part of it. I am extremely thankful for Jewish camp. We live in a crazy world, filled with many things out of our control. To have a bubble, a safe place, a home away from home – that is something truly irreplaceable.  

As I sit and look out on the beautiful Chicago skyline, I am counting down the days until I am walking back down gravel roads with the fresh smell of grass in the air, stars in the sky, and undoubtedly, the biggest smile on my face, because I’ll know that I am home and ready to create even more memories at this place that I love.    


Finding My Calling

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How Jewish Summer Camp Sparked My Love of Science


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This one time at Jewish overnight camp … I discovered my calling.  

No, I am not a rabbi. No, I am not a teacher. And I am not a social worker either. Instead, it was at Camp Ramah in Wisconsin that I realized I wanted to work in the health field.  

Today, I am a licensed acupuncturist practicing in Northbrook. Being an acupuncturist is about helping people to be at their healthiest, and there was never a time when I felt healthier and more spiritual than when I was at Camp Ramah, and to me, being healthy and spiritual are synonymous.

Finding My Calling photo

At Camp Ramah, you are required to take classes. Now, before you start to roll your eyes at the notion of spending time learning over the summer, think about how much more peaceful it is to learn while getting your daily recommended dose of Vitamin D. These “classes” included art, woodworking, basketball, softball, boating, Hebrew, and yes, some Torah. Although I had been receiving Jewish education my entire life, nothing had more of an impact on me than a class at Ramah that lasted just two weeks about the connection between Judaism and science.  

The main “connection” that we focused on during the two weeks was how the ten plagues can all be explained through science. The blood in the river can be explained as red algae, which caused the fish to die. The weather conditions weren’t the best at the time, which led some to believe that a set of storms came through, including hail. The final plague, the death of the first born, was caused by a fungus on the grains, and since the firstborn males were the first to eat, they were more susceptible to being affected by the fungus. My teacher pointed out that the miracle wasn’t that all of these incidents occurred, it is that they happened when the Jewish people needed them the most.  

I spent the rest of that summer finding little connections between Judaism and science/health. As I walked around the beautiful Ramah camp grounds in Conover, Wisconsin, I started to believe that all the fruits and vegetables given to us were also miracles. These foods give us our essential vitamins and minerals but, just like with the plagues, the most important aspect is the miracle that they exist. As this became clearer to me, I knew that I needed to devote my life to health and wellness.  

I continued to learn about science after camp and I went to graduate school for Chinese medicine. Coincidentally, Pacific College of Oriental Medicine is located in the very same building as the Camp Ramah office in downtown Chicago. Maybe this was fate!  

While I was in school I found many fascinating connections between the 4,000-year-old practice of Chinese medicine and Judaism, which is also about 4,000 years old. I wanted to share these connections, which I would not have made were it not for Camp Ramah, and help Jewish people become healthier.  

As an acupuncturist, I help people to balance their bodies. Balance is the key to health, and is the basis of Chinese medicine. Looking back to my time at camp, I realize that campers are perfectly balanced throughout a summer at Ramah. Little miracles harmonized our summers, like a rainy day when we needed a break from running around, or an opportunity for puddle jumping when we needed some good cabin bonding. We might see a bolt of lightning at the same time we saw the boy or girl we had a crush on, or experience the most beautiful sunny day when an outdoor basketball game was scheduled. All of these natural occurrences balanced us throughout the summer.  

Jewish camp is a place where many people become more religious, learn to pray, or meet their soul mates or lifelong best friends. Some campers go on to become rabbis, cantors, or teachers, while others pursue professions not directly related to their camp experience. I chose to take the spirituality that Ramah instilled in me to feed my love for science.      


Ramblings After Year Two

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Ramblings after Year Two photo

When I graduated college two years ago, I thought the worst had happened. No seriously, I thought the world was ending. And in a way it was; I didn't believe all those people who told me things would get better, I didn't even believe that anyone was actually happy in the real the world – fakers.

And here I am two years later, living in the (semi) real world alive and well.

If year one is for aimlessly wandering through life, year two is most certainly for figuring it out – or at least part of it. So maybe you don't find your life's ambition or discover your passion in two years, but maybe you're not meant to. Maybe down the line we discover instant gratification isn't actually as gratifying as working towards something.

Two years and two months later I'm nowhere close to where I thought I'd be. I don't think most people are. We're all still grappling with the concept of life but somehow it seems less enormous. Maybe some people feel established in a job, a relationship or even a city. One down and life to go.  

College has now become a past life, a memory that's vague and vivid all at once that you tuck away for safe keeping. You no longer live with your best friends, or even in the same city as them. People are getting married. Work or graduate school is reality. Instead, as a two-year-olds (in real world years) there are now mountains that need climbing and epiphany's that need having.  

And now we're ready for them.  


Motivational Potty Training

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Achieving Goals No. 1 and 2 with Your Toddler

Motivational Potty Training photo

Ok, so this is not the usual fitness/wellness piece, but the lessons learned can be applied to reaching any goal.  

My objective was to potty train my almost 3-year-old son. Many people wait until their kid is older, some when their child is younger, but with daycare, our deadline was creeping up. Also, Henry has been peeing every night before bed for months and he usually wakes up dry, which is a good indicator that he’s ready.  

After researching many different options, we went with a friend’s suggestion to do a three-day boot camp. There were no pushups or burpees, but definitely some running. With this method, you basically stay home for three days and ask your toddler every few minutes if he has to go. When accidents happen, you make no big deal about it and continue to re-iterate, “do you have to use the bathroom?”  

The first day was the worst, but still not horrible. Henry peed when he woke up with no problem, proudly sticking out his stomach as he stood up on his stool and aiming mostly in the right area. “Great job! I’m so proud of you,” I cheered as we walked down the stairs. He received an Angry Birds Star Wars sticker and seemed very happy. He knew that with 10 stickers he would earn a treat.  

Motivation tactic: Recognize a job well done.  

With this annoyingly wet summer, I thought I heard more rain while loading the dishwasher. While Henry was still at the table I asked, “Is it raining again?” He had a huge smile on his face and answered yes, though what he meant was, he made it rain on the floor. With cleaner and one of many towels used, I cleaned up the floor and said, “Henry, let me know when you have to use the bathroom.”  

Motivation tactic: Don’t harp on accidents or slipups.  

The rest of the day went pretty well. We played with building blocks, ran around the house pretending we were super heroes, and he had a few No. 2s in his pants. He was very scared to poop on the potty, which I hear is common. With more cleaning supplies we had a wonderful afternoon running around outside (our house only).  

As we moved further along with the process, my wife and I started giving him little presents for peeing on the potty. I’m going to call it rewarding good behavior, but it might seem like bribery. To get him to poop, we asked him what he would want as a reward. With a lot of excitement, he said, “a vanilla cake pop from Starbucks!” And then he added, “I don’t like the chocolate cake pops.”  

Motivation tactic: Reward yourself for successes along the way.  

Henry has, for the most part, mastered peeing in the potty. He will only do it standing up, which proves difficult at public restrooms with no stools, but we figure it out. I usually have him step on my feet and that helps. He is super excited to wear underpants. He loves his superhero underwear and shows them to friends. We continue to reinforce days he does well with little treats, and then there is the big bribe: being able to sleep in his big-boy bed, which is of course outfitted with super hero sheets, making it an even more attractive prize.  

Motivation tactic: Celebrate achieving your goal.  

We did learn a few things that didn’t work, like threatening to put him back in diapers. Although that thought really upset him, it did not motivate him to go. And forcing him to go when he wasn’t ready was also a big fail. However, saying, “before we get your treat, before the movie, before we get you lunch…you have to potty,” works very well. Like all other goals, it’s just a matter of keeping at it, staying positive, having great support, and in my case, extra cleaning supplies. 


Abi Gezunt! ''Be Healthy!''

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Eat, eat, eat! 

Abi Gezunt! 'Be Healthy!' photo

When I had my restaurant in New York, I would take a break outside on 55th street and Madison Avenue. I watched, day after day, 2 hot dogs carts at lunch time. One cart was a kosher cart and one was not. I saw long lines form at the kosher cart as people would wait traffic light changes just to get to the kosher cart.

I almost felt bad for the non-kosher cart as the lines were miniscule compared to the kosher cart.

I asked a cook in my kitchen who was a native NY’er and he told me that the perception was that the kosher dog was better/healthier.

Better? Maybe! Healthier? Probably not! Unless those dogs were nitrate and coloring free there are basically the same other than the whole kosher part.

Observant Jews know that keeping kosher does not necessarily equate with healthy eating and living.

Indeed the Jewish calendar is a minefield of dietary disasters waiting to happen. Jewish Holidays are food-centric and the norm and let’s face, we are food people! With us cheesecake and dairy goodies on Shavuot, fried potato pancakes during Chanukah, an eight-day eating fest during Pesach and Shabbat with its long leisurely meals and some Jews even feeding their neshama yeterah (extra soul on Shabbat), it’s no wonder many Jews are loosening their waistbands and are concerned about their health.

Eating to excess and high cholesterol foods are unhealthy regardless of whether they are kosher or not. Jewish dietary laws are not laid down as health laws, but religious laws, but there is no law for the quality of the food, nor for the amount eaten, just that it be kosher.

As a chef, I cannot offer advice on diets and weight loss; I can however tell you that the quality of food does matter. I work with food all day long. I read labels and understand ingredient function and I can tell you that the best tasting and most satisfying food is that food made from whole ingredients.

We hear over and over again to limit processed foods. Most packaged food products are made from inferior ingredients, loaded with salt and sugar and cheap fats. Unfortunately many of them are kosher and widely purchased and served. As a chef, I am going to say that everything you make from a box, jar or package can be made better at home.

We are also told to eat seasonally. Seasonal food is cheaper, better tasting, and easier on the environment. I am going to go one step further and tell you that seasonal food is exactly what your body needs at the time it is in season. Ever notice how citrus fruit season peaks at cold season? Here in the Midwest we don’t grow citrus but we do have long storing hard shell squash like acorn squash, butternut, and pumpkin. These versatile fruits (yes they are fruit) are loaded with vitamin C, folate, and other vitamins just at the peak of cold season and just what your body needs to make it through the winter.

But how do you know what is in season? My best advice is to visit a Farmer’s market. Get to know the farmer, visit their farm, and learn to cook with local and seasonal foods. It is exactly what your body needs.

I have been cooking professionally for a long time and I still get excited when I see gorgeous ingredients at the peak of their season. I spend hours cooking and experimenting with delicious foodstuffs only to watch people SNARF up their meal in minutes.

Hey! I want you to enjoy the food, but maybe enjoy each bite? Slowly and carefully, really enjoy the food I just made. Doctors and nutritionists are right when they say that our stomachs need time to signal the brain when they are full. If you eat slowly, you will be in sync with your body. I will never forget my first dinner service at my former restaurant. I was sitting at the bar (resting my weary body!) when a customer came up to me and gave me a thumbs up for what she said were NICE PORTIONS!

Maybe if she ate slower and more mindfully, the flavor and perfectly seasoned food would have been the thumbs up?

Eat well my friends and enjoy your food. Abi Gezunt!


Cumin-Brown Sugar Dusted Sock-Eye Salmon, Harissa Spiked Coconut Yogurt, Toasted Farro and Mustard Seed Roasted Carrots  

This easy to prepare but flavor packed salmon dish takes advantage of wild salmon. Sustainable and heart healthy salmon has natural sweet brininess that is enhanced with a brown sugar and cumin crust.


For the Salmon

4 6-ounce Wild Sock-eye Salmon Filets, skinned and boned
EVOO (extra virgin olive oil)
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
3 teaspoons ground cumin
Kosher salt
Freshly cracked pepper  

1. Lightly pat dry the salmon filets. Season the salmon with kosher salt and pepper.

2. Heat a sauté pan, lightly coated with EVOO, over medium high heat. Place the salmon filets, presentation side down (non-skin side) in the pan. DON’T FUSS WITH THE FISH!! Allow the fish to caramelize and brown.

3. Turn the salmon, remove from heat and cover the pan to finish the cooking process.


For the Harissa Spiked Coconut Yogurt  

Coconut yogurt is lightly coconut flavored and has a lusciously decadent texture. Zesty harissa adds a toasty heat with complex spices and garlic.  

1 cup coconut yogurt
3 tablespoons purchased or homemade harissa (or favorite hot sauce)
2 teaspoons lemon juice
½ teaspoon kosher salt
Pinch of freshly cracked pepper


Toasted Farro  

My new favorite old grain! Farro has been farmed since Neolithic times and is grown almost exclusively in Italy. The chewy, nutty flavored nuggets are perfect with meat, fish, and veggies. High in fiber, protein and vitamin B3, farro packs a nutrition and flavor punch with undertones of cashew and earthy cinnamon.  

1 cup farro
2 cups water
½ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon freshly cracked pepper
2 teaspoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons chopped flat leaf parsley
1 tablespoon chopped cilantro
1 tablespoon chopped basil
3 tablespoons EVOO

1. Toast ⅓ cup of farro in a sauté pan, lightly coated with olive oil, over medium heat. Toast the grains until they are medium brown and smell like popped corn.

2. Simmer the water and all the farro, covered, over medium heat until the water has been absorbed and the farro is tender (about 20 minutes).

3. Add the remaining ingredients to the farro and combine. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.


Mustard Seed Roasted Carrots  

1 pound baby carrots, peeled
2 teaspoons mustard seeds
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
Kosher salt
Freshly cracked pepper  

Preheat oven to 350 or grill to medium  

1. Toss the baby carrots with the oil, spices and salt and pepper.

2. Spread the carrots on a parchment lined sheet pan or on an oiled grill.

3. Cook the carrots until they are fork tender (about 15 minutes).


Homemade Harissa  

Like everything else, homemade is always best! Harissa is quick to whirl up in a blender or food processor.

This recipe is only a guideline. Make it your own by adding roasted garlic, fresh herbs, additional spices and even fresh hot peppers.  

½ cup crushed red pepper flakes
½ cup boiling water
2 roasted red peppers
3 cloves of garlic
1 large lemon, zested and juiced
1 teaspoon cumin powder
⅓ cup EVOO
½ teaspoon kosher salt  

1. Rehydrate the crushed red chili flakes in the boiling water until they are quite mushy (about 10 minutes). Drain the water and discard.

2. Process all the ingredients in a blender or food processor until the sauce is smooth. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper

Place the farro on a serving platter, arrange the salmon on top of the grains. Place the carrots on the platter and drizzle with harissa spiked coconut yogurt.

Garnish with chopped fresh herbs and lemon slices.

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