OyChicago blog

My experience at the YSL Retrospective Exhibit

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08/31/2012

My experience at the YSL Retrospective Exhibit photo

As much as I love fashion and style, I wasn’t expecting my recent Colorado trip to be fashion-focused, as my boyfriend and I had big plans for more rustic adventures like hikes and horseback riding. However, on an unplanned whim, we decided to spend our final weekend in Denver following stays in Vail, Breckenridge, and Colorado Springs. To my pleasant surprise, there I was able to find my fashion fix.

The morning of our last full day in Denver, we asked our waitress about fun activities for the day. She mentioned that the Denver Art Museum was hosting a special YSL Retrospective exhibit. Of course, my boyfriend had no idea what this meant, and I of course immediately said, “We’re going!” After all, I missed the Alexander McQueen “Savage Beauty” exhibit, which was at The Metropolitan Museum of Art during one of my last NYC trips, and I was not about to make the same mistake twice.

That afternoon, we drove in torrential downpour to the museum, but were greeted by a mass of “Sold Out” signs for the exhibit. However, we pressed on and after bugging the guy at the ticket desk for a while, he miraculously discovered two final tickets to the 8 p.m. showing. This was the second to last day of the exhibit, which was developed by the Foundation Pierre Berge-Yves Saint Laurent, and it had only previously visited Paris and Madrid. Denver was the only U.S. city to host the exhibit, which is a retrospective covering 40 years of Yves Saint Laurent’s life and career. I felt pretty lucky to have been in the right place at the right time.

I actually did not know much about the famous Yves Saint Laurent (1936-2008) before experiencing this breathtaking exhibit, except that I very much admire the name brand’s current line of shoes and handbags (WANT the "dark magenta" patent monogrammed clutch). But I couldn’t wait to learn, and what I learned was magnificent.

The French designer, who believed that fashion comes and goes, but personal style is timeless, worked for Christian Dior during the early days of his career before creating his own fashion house. He was a phenomenal visionary who created a plethora of innovative and chic styles – a complete fashion trailblazer. Many of YSL’s designs are still fashion staples to this day. His innovations include but are not limited to the women’s tunic, the women’s pea coat, and refined women’s work attire, including women’s pant suits and tuxedos, which he famously called Le Smoking (various versions were dramatically displayed on perpendicular walls at the exhibit). A staggering 200 haute couture garments were featured in the Retrospective exhibit. If I could have touched them and taken a photograph next to each and every ensemble, I would have. They were displayed so artfully that I felt as though I was transported into an elaborate, Parisian fashion wonderland.

In addition to the fashions, the exhibit featured a re-creation of YSL’s studio and desk in Paris. This was actually one of my favorite aspects of the exhibit because it reminded me so much of my own personal work space – not my office at work, but my desk at home and the trinkets and magazine clippings I tend to collect from time to time to inspire me in fashion and in life. Just like my own, his desk area was contemporary and mostly white, but with pops of bright color. Actually, my desk itself is even the same style. Seeing all of this really made me smile, as I realized that I have something in common with the one and only YSL.

As I strolled through the exhibit, I became so engrossed that I basically listened to every recording on my little hand-held narrator machine twice (is there such thing as fashion OCD?). Although my boyfriend enjoyed the exhibit and appreciated the opportunity to learn about my passion, he was not as intense about it, and therefore, sped ahead from time to time. At one point, he came darting back to me and exclaimed (in a museum appropriate whisper of course), “You’re going to love what’s next!” As I entered into the next room, I discovered that the outfits were separated by culture, like a trip around the world. Here, I learned that for much of YSL’s career, he designed based on inspiration from various cultures and countries. His favorite? Morocco. For some time now, my boyfriend and I have been discussing a future trip to Morocco as I think it would be a fascinating country to see and experience firsthand. From what I have seen in photos, aesthetically, I think it’s magnificent. I learned that YSL fell in love with the country, especially the vibrant colors. He and his partner both in business and life, Pierre Berge, purchased vacation homes in Morocco and the country was so special to YSL, that his ashes were scattered there after he passed away in 2008. Learning about all of this definitely further inspired me to make the trip.

I walked from this room to the next, and finally into the “grand finale” room, which included a red carpet adorned with dozens of dresses and a unique piece of jewelry in a heart shape called “Le Coeur”, which YSL consistently lent to the model who wore his favorite design from each collection so that she could wear it during the show.

Needless to say, I left the Denver Art Museum completely impressed and enriched that I had expanded my fashion knowledge and appreciation. Yves Saint Laurent, through his tireless work, respect for women and their bodies, and passion for pushing boundaries and staying true to himself and his visions, made a permanent mark on the fashion world. I hope that one day I can experience the luxury and honor of owning one of his designs.

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The un-first day of school

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08/30/2012

The un-first day of school photo

It is strange to think about the things that you miss that you never envisioned you’d be the least bit nostalgic for. For me, this is the first day of school. Ever since I could remember, I mildly dreaded the first day of school. I loved shopping for color coordinated school supplies and picking out that outfit for the first day, that always seemed really cute and fashionable, but a few years later I would find myself asking “what was I thinking?” Even so, I never really looked forward to class, seeing certain people, and being at school in general.

There was always something that I would much rather be doing than staring at the clock, droning out my teacher or professors voice that explained the same set of instructions that I had been hearing for what seemed like eons, and writing down notes about the upcoming year or semester. Don’t get me wrong, I was always a good student and cared about doing well in class, it was just the actual being in class that seemed like a pain…and often it was.

However, today marks the first day since 1995 that I haven’t packed up a backpack or book bag, grabbed my favorite new pencils, and sat down at a specifically chosen desk ready for the first day of class and to be perfectly honest, it felt extremely weird. There is something about the structure of a classroom that is nice to have. These words would have never crossed my mind a year ago, but today, the end of class is real and kind of terrifying. In fact, I actually spent the day that should be my first day of class at an interview, which made this whole post graduate lifestyle switch all too evident to me. To be honest, I am not looking forward to trading welcome back barbeques and first day ice breakers, for job applications and daily edits to my LinkedIn profile. Although uncertainty and spontaneity can be fun, the quick trade from structure to close to chaos, is something that is extremely odd and scary for me.

So many of my friends who graduated last year, and even a few years before, still say they would do anything to be back in their college town for one more year. This is a constant topic of conversation and something that from time to time, I agree with. Looking ahead to a year of who knows what is weird, but I guess the only option is to embrace the uncertainty. So, here’s to a weird, random, and hopefully great year.

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Interview with White Sox’s draft Mitch Glasser

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08/29/2012

Interview with White Sox’s draft Mitch Glasser photo

Mitch Glasser is not just living out his dream, he is living out mine. Born and raised in Chicago, he moved to Minnesota and then got drafted by his favorite team, the Chicago White Sox. Seriously, I could not have scripted it any better. Mitch is a great guy and motivated by his dream of playing for the Sox (or running them someday). He also has deep Jewish roots which makes us at The Great Rabbino even more of a fan. Here is the story of the life I have dreamed about since I was a kid, actually being lived out by Mitch Glasser.

1) Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I’m 22 years old. I was born in Chicago and named after Cubs relief pitcher Mitch “Wildthing” Williams. My mom is a Sox fan; my dad is a Cubs fan. I grew up a Sox fan my whole life. When my dad brought me to the bleachers at Wrigley, I always wore my Sox stuff. I went to Macalester College where I majored in Psychology and Religious studies.

2) What got you into baseball and when did you know you had a shot to play in college?
My Grandpa taught me how to play baseball at a young age. I have fond memories of playing catch and him throwing me tennis ball batting practice in my grandparent’s backyard. Although I’m lefty in everything, he made me a righty in baseball. He claims it was so I could play more positions. I wish I hit lefty though.

3) What was draft day like?
It was surreal. I couldn’t watch, so I went to the cages and had my buddy throw me batting practice. When I thought the draft was long done, my buddy from college texted me and said congrats. That was the first time I heard it!

4) What are your future baseball/life goals?
I love playing baseball. However, I think I’m a better coach. I would love to one day open up my own baseball academy. If that doesn’t work out, I guess I’d settle for becoming the second greatest Jewish General Manager of all time.

Interview with White Sox’s draft Mitch Glasser photo 2

5) Who would you rather start a team with Sandy Koufax or Hank Greenberg?
Easy question. Koufax so I wouldn’t have to face him. I heard his fastball rose in the air…No, thank you.

6) Ian Kinsler or Ryan Braun?
Both. Hopefully they both play for Team Israel in the World Baseball Classic!

7) What was your Jewish upbringing like? How important is your Judaism?
I went to a Jewish day school in Chicago for 11 years where I learned Hebrew and Jewish tradition. In college I took a few classes about Jewish identity with an amazing Rabbi/Professor. There happened to be quite a few Jews on the Macalester baseball team. Some practiced more than others…practiced Judaism that is. We did several Shabbats together at my house.

8) What’s next for you?
I just got news that the White Sox are going to sign me for spring training 2013. I think I’ll do that…it’s only my dream.

9) I ask all Chicago athletes this; favorite Chicago-style pizza?
Deep Dish at Bacinos in Lincoln Park.

10) Anything else you want to tell us?
The U.S. better look out for Team Israel in the World Baseball Classic.

Thank you to Mitch for his time. Hoping to see you in the Big Leagues soon.

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The Importance of Chai [notes from the field]

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08/28/2012

Before we venture a few thousand miles over the ocean, I will bring you a brief recap: My name is Emily, I am an art teacher who, after graduating from college, chose to spend the majority of two years in Asia. The later half of this adventure found yours truly volunteering at a Dalit Rights NGO based in New Delhi, India as part of the American Jewish World Service Volunteer Corps. The following was written shortly after a series of field meetings with Dalit communities and activists in Uttar Pradesh and Harayana.

The Importance of Chai photo

3/2012: I drank eight cups of tea today.
I’m lying in a bed, not mine, in a home in Panipat, Harayana. I’m warm beneath my blanket and listening to nothing, a rare moment of near silence in the crazy, chaotic, supercharged world that is India. There are no physical distractions, but my brain doesn’t want to turn off. It’s buzzing with the homes and faces and stories of the last few hours. And I drank eight cups of tea.

As I sit and think about those little cups of sweet deliciousness, I find it hard not to reflect on my one time favorite book, Three Cups of Tea. Regardless of recent allegations of inaccuracy, exaggeration, and mismanagement, I feel Greg Mortenson was on to something when he described the importance of tea in Pakistan. Similarly, it seems the mechanics of friendship and business and everyday life in India are fueled on chai. We drink chai in the morning at home and again at work. There are chai breaks in meetings and chai before bed and chai whenever you feel like it in between. If you are invited into someone’s home or office, there will more often than not be an offer (that you would never dream of refusing) of a sweet and steaming cup. I like to think (perhaps I am correct in my assumptions) that any important conversation happening in India, is happening over chai.

As part of my work here on the Subcontinent, in an effort to better understand the realities faced by Dalit individuals, I have had the opportunity to go into the field and meet Dalit people in a variety of communities, as well as the individual activists and advocates working at the grassroots level. After a workshop in Lucknow, and on a more recent trip to Panipat, I attended a monthly meeting of a Women’s Domestic Workers Union and met legal advocates who take cases of atrocities against Dalit’s to the local district court pro-bono. I’ve also met volunteer tutors and Dalit children who study at night, having been forced to abandon their standard course of education. Due to the close connections and relationships formed by representatives of my NGO, I’ve been welcomed into people’s homes to hear their stories and into community meetings to discuss issues and solutions at the local level. And in all of these districts, in all of these homes, over many cups of chai, I’ve sat and watched and listened.

Late in the evening, I listened to women from a village outside Panipat, who work as manual scavengers (cleaning human waste from upper caste homes) for little pay in order to provide for their children’s basic needs and education. Many shared how at the end of the day, after their struggle to send their children to school, teachers in the local schools (illegally) practice untouchability, refuse to teach their children, and demand additional books and resources be supplied from home. The women, some of whom also deal with abusive relationships and alcoholism at home, want to know why their girls should go to school if it is not to be taught, and how they can possibly provide for their family and themselves if they refuse to work as manual scavengers. And I don’t have the answer. The government has promised ration cards for basic needs and scholarships for their children, but the people of Gronda (as is the case for so many) have not seen these promises fulfilled.

Earlier, I met a group of women, men and children, in a Refinery District. They were domestic workers 'employed' by upper caste (or ‘general category’) families working at the refinery. The GC families are provided homes in the district and their children attend school for 50% tuition; they are also allowed to hire a domestic worker, whose salary will be paid by the refinery. This worker, essentially a servant, is provided a small concrete room on the backside of the property to share with his or her family. According to the government, these workers should receive 3000-4000 Rupees per month (60-80 USD) for basic cleaning and housework with any additional work earning them extra pay. In reality, many of these workers earn little (a few hundred rupees) to nothing at all beyond their room. They are expected to be on call 24 hours a day, responding immediately to a bell wired from the main household to their single room. Should a worker refuse additional tasks, or ignore a summons from the homeowners, s/he will simply be forced to pack their bags and leave, loosing his or her home and livelihood in one fell swoop. One of these workers, a relative of the women whose home I was sitting in drinking chai, had been accused by the property owners of stealing. Based on this accusation alone, the person was arrested along with a few others, taken to the police headquarters where they were beaten for 24 hours, before receiving instructions to go home and keep their mouths shut. The activist I came with had become involved through work for another organization. She helped the victim receive medical treatment and later file a lawsuit under the Prevention of Atrocities Act. While there was clear evidence of police brutality, after months of intimidation, including threats from the police, threats from the land owners, and the denial of basic resources like water and electricity, the victim was forced to compromise. To date, even the small compensation granted in the compromise was denied.

In addition to speaking with various community members, I've watched and listened to activists supported by my NGO, interacting with these groups and struggling to find solutions to the great many issues facing Dalits across the country. In Lucknow, I met a young woman attempting to organize women domestic workers into a labor union. Some women have responded to her work, and moderate achievements have been seen. When organized, the women were able to pressure a homeowner who had been denying due payment to a laborer whom she had fired for being ill and unable to work. Though this activist has generated interest in the union, and women seem to understand the support it can provide workers in times of need, she is having less success helping them understand the benefits of demanding an equal minimum wage for their labor. "If I do not accept work for whatever payment I am offered," they ask, "how will I support my family and myself?" And again, I do not know the answer.

What I am learning here, what I am seeing in each and every one of these visits, is that there are no simple answers to the problems facing Dalit communities. There are questions asked that I can answer in theory, but even in my head my answers sound flat and unconvincing. My foundation does not expect me to know the answers. They don't expect me to solve the problems, for they are not problems I can solve. They expect me to learn, to educate myself so I can understand what and whom the foundation is supporting, and what I am supporting by working here. They expect me to learn, and spread the knowledge I have gained to others, and they expect me to provide support to the foundation wherever my skills allow.

And that is why I am here. I am here to do whatever it is that's asked of me, with the humble hope it will be helpful to my NGO in the work they are doing. I am here to learn and to listen. And hopefully, as I listen, I will begin to understand. And understanding, I think, is the first step in the great ladder towards progress.

For now, I am thankful to my teachers— the community members, the activists, my co-workers. I am thankful for the stories they have shared, and the knowledge I have gained from the work my NGO continues to do. I am thankful for the warmth with which I have been welcomed and thankful for the many cups of chai. And I am hopeful that, even when the problem seems too big and all-encompassing to tackle, Dalit individuals, with the support from those like the foundation, will inch further towards the path to equality. Further towards the end of caste discrimination. Further towards the finish line in their fight for basic human rights and equality. Listening and Hoping and Fighting. One day, one meeting at a time.

A version of this post was originally published on beautifulcommotion.blogspot.com in March 2012.

For more information about The American Jewish World Service and Volunteer Corps, please visit: http://ajws.org

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The Frashley Chronicles, Part 3

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08/27/2012

Here's a little background about me. I spent the 2010-2011 school year teaching English in Grenoble, France. Before that, I spent a year working in the heart of Chicago in the Jewish non-profit community. When I was abroad, my eyes were opened to the everyday experience of the Jewish community in my town and in the country at large. I experienced what it meant to me to be not only Jewish in France, but a Jewish, young, female, American in France. It was a ridiculously fun, thought-provoking and thrilling seven months and I'm excited to share these stories. By the way, all thoughts and opinions are purely my own…I take full responsibility for any sweeping generalizations.

The Frashley Chronicles, Part 3 photo

Picking up where I left off…after making my way to France and being introduced to the host family I found through Chabad, I transitioned to living abroad. I flew to Grenoble a few weeks before my contract started and for those first few weeks, I was completely and utterly jet-lagged. The language barrier added to the fatigue. Little things like acquiring a bus pass and figuring out which tram took me to work were a process. French bureaucracy is time-consuming, unpredictable and requires a great deal of finesse even for native speakers. Kvetching aside, the more I came to know my host family, the more settled I became and the more experiences I took on.

Naturally, with each meal I learned more and more about my hosts. Mr. and Mrs. B were business owners with great entrepreneurial spirit. Mr. B. designed restaurant and retail store concepts and owned a few clothing shops in town. Moving to Grenoble from Tunisia with his family in his twenties, he was determined to create a successful living. Mr. B’s mother would often stop by for lunch, Shabbat dinner or just to say, “hello.” A bright and vibrant woman, you could barely tell she was in her eighties. You could tell just how proud of her son she was. Chatty and personable, she always politely encouraged me to eat more, gleefully enjoyed stories of my American life and often told me I was smiley and adorable. Basically, she a Jewish bubbe away from home.

My host mother was just as passionate about business as her husband. She managed a clothing store near the town center. Mrs. B. was raised in a non-Orthodox household in France and “converted” her lifestyle when she met and fell in love with her husband. When she saw me taking in the two dishwasher set-up in her kitchen, she shot me a calming and understanding look. “It wasn’t easy,” she said, when she decided to take on the customs of a modern Orthodox lifestyle. “But it was worth it.”

Mr. B’s entrepreneurial attitude quickly revealed his capitalist leanings in a country with major socialist tendencies. Over dinner we would ramble on about the realities and shortcomings of the French 35-hour work week, the French workplace in general, and the plethora of creative ways French citizens could live off the state. He expressed great interest in the ways of American industry, especially American work ethic. He loved Obama, like most Frenchmen, but pointedly asked if I thought he had Israel’s interests at heart. Acting as an “American representative” made my head spin. I kept up with the news, but I didn’t want to express my opinions as anything other than my own. It was harmless really...as much as the French get a negative reputation for disliking Americans, in my limited experience, there’s more cultural and political curiosity than anything else. Though both nations are very “Western,” the motives that drive both countries and its citizens are very, very different.

My host brother was quite a character. At the time, 18-year-old David was studying to be a doctor, which meant being locked in his room for the majority of the day taking classes online and studying. Medical school in France seemed to be a terrifying endeavor...after the 1st year, more than half of the students are cut. Only the best and brightest make it to the end, so industriousness is necessary. When he emerged from his room, David proved to be an expressive guy with a seriously silly side. He talked like his mouth was full of marbles and was addicted to Diet Coke, well, addicted to Coca-Cola Light. He was a counterpart to his older brother who left early on to study at Oxford for the school year. Joachim possessed a quiet and composed demeanor, endlessly patient in showing me around town. He spoke slowly and smiled often, which was just what I needed those first few weeks in town. The B. family would soon take me to meet their friends at shul, teach me how to keep kosher in France and prepare me for my stay in the lovely and fabulous Grenoble, France.

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All Mine

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08/24/2012

All Mine photo

Years ago, I had a contentious interaction that I will never forget. It was with a man who was involved in the Jewish community. He was speaking to a group of us who gathered monthly to discuss Jewish culture, issues, and traditions. He asked all the people who donated money to charity to raise their hands. He then asked us to again, by a show of hands, identify if we had donated to Jewish charities. His final directive was to raise our hands if we donated to non-Jewish charities. We were then treated to a public reprimanding. I remember him throwing out statements like “…take care of our own!” and “…no one else will!” and “…they have their own communities!” I could have barfed.

Instead, I raised my hand. I remember being shaky and on the verge of tears. “Excuse me. I don’t share in your perspective – not at all. I am raising children and I am teaching them that we have a responsibility to make the world a better place for ALL people who live in it. It’s not us against them. We are all responsible. All of us, for everybody.” He scoffed and started relaying percentages showing Jews as the tiniest minority – and insisted if we didn’t take care of one another, no one would. “I refuse to believe that about people,” I said. Then I referenced the following quote attributed to pastor Martin Niemöller:

“First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out - because I was not a communist;
Then they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out - because I was not a socialist;
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out - because I was not a trade unionist;
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out - because I was not a Jew;
Then they came for me - and there was no one left to speak out for me.”

I have volunteered in Englewood, a community far from “us,” for many years. I have always been received with open arms by both the leaders and students there. My friends sometimes worry about my driving there at dusk to teach life skills to the kids on the far South Side, but I scoff at their worry. I don’t spend time hanging out on the corner or eyeballing people. I bring snacks and hopefully a little bit of helpful discussion. I always learn something myself and the reward is worth the risk of being there. I give to the kids and I get from the kids. It’s perfect.

However, Englewood kids are not technically “mine” – they don’t call me mom and they don’t live with me. We don’t look alike, we don’t live in the same community and we have different cultures and religions. But these kids are mine. I am invested in them and I care about them and I want them to succeed. I am not a Rabbi or anyone renowned in the Jewish community, but in my humble, reformed opinion, being Jewish has everything to do with making a difference in the world at large. Not just in “our” world with “our” people.

When this initial interaction happened years ago, I had two kids. I am now the proud mother of four. There are so many reasons to not take the long drive to Englewood anymore. But I do it because I believe in order to live a meaningful life; I need to extend myself beyond what is easy and beyond what is right in front of me. So in short, Tikkun Olam. Let me always see beyond myself and what is “mine”. I have hope that I will always have something I believe in to offer that can make a meaningful difference in the world.

Oy!Chicago is published by the Jewish United Fund which provides critical resources that bring food, refuge, health care, education and emergency assistance to 300,000 Chicagoans of all faiths and two million Jews in Israel and around the world.

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Can the masses appreciate good art?

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My meeting with a distinguished Jewish artist goes sour

08/23/2012

Can the masses appreciate good art? photo

That’s the way it is, he sighs, and grins at his ability to profit off the stupidity and ignorance of others.

He’s happy with the money, he told me so himself, through our translator who herself is a partially broken artist; broken down and beaten into reluctantly accepting the status quo, the way nature must be.

The masses cannot appreciate, don’t appreciate good art, they explain to me, and they laugh at the way they con them with colors and shapes, how the public gobbles up his artwork only because they don’t know any better.

Yet, I know the truth is that everyone responds in their hearts to good art, true art, even if they don’t know why. They will glance wistfully at it, years from now, long after an artist’s passing, tears welling up inexplicably, at the beauty their soul is responding to, coming home.

But his stuff is so fleeting. Entertains in an instant, yet leaves the viewer absolutely the same as before they came, maybe even a little worse off, if that is possible. He thinks it doesn’t come through in his art that he doesn’t care about it, but it does. I don’t want to tell him this because I feel bad that he has exchanged his soul for obedience to capitalism and he tries to instruct me that this breaking of spirit is necessary, and did him well.

He is miserable about his life choices, and yet (or probably because of that miserability, that miser ability), he tries to convince me to do the same. To have company down at the bottom. I shake my head. No can do.

Recipients, art aficionados the world over, beware. Art (and truth) may or may not be brought into the world because of you, the viewer. Which is a huge responsibility.

Respect yourself enough to take your art, your purchases, your tastes, seriously. Know that what you like and what you buy directly impacts what beautiful art (and therefore, truth) may or may not be brought into the world. Demand good art, and glorify those who are defiant enough to believe and to speak.

The artists, they are listening to you, they are watching you, because they are afraid. Afraid of not being liked, afraid of being poor. Who can blame them? And so, to explain themselves, they languish in their studios and hate themselves for selling themselves short (for selling you short), waving their hands and acting as if they are doing a service to the public, to the masses, who unfortunately are stupid and cannot appreciate good art, who can be fooled and satisfied by bright colors and overdone clichés. Who can be told what is beautiful.

It’s not true, but fear builds a vicious cycle, and unless the artist can look up at the sky and believe that what is true needs to be said, and that he/she will be rewarded by the Ultimate Creator for his/her efforts, until then, it will be the recipient in one room and the artists in another, one crying, one laughing.

The power to live in one honest, vibrant world lies in your hands.

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Dancing with my sister

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08/22/2012

Dancing with my sister photo

I still remember turning the music up loud and dancing wildly that summer night, holding my baby sister Mindy in my arms. She laughed and laughed, enjoying the movement and I joined her. It was unusual for us, because Mindy was not always a happy baby and because a few days before our family had received the worst news, a confirmation of my parents’ worst fears.

Mindy was diagnosed with Tay-Sachs, a degenerative genetic disease that affects mainly Ashkenazi Jews. Now we understood why Mindy, despite initially appearing to be healthy and strong, had started missing her milestones at eight months old. Mindy, dubbed “Super Baby” by our family for her early ability to hold her body upright, wasn’t sitting up on her own or even attempting to crawl. My dad and stepmother took her to see specialists at Children’s Memorial in the city and they quickly discovered the tell tale cherry red spot on her retina. Later I learned that my father yelled at the doctor who invited medical students to come in and look in her eyes. He wasn’t going to allow his daughter to be their science experiment.

I still remember my father and stepmother telling my little brother, Ben, and me as the four of us sat on my bed that evening. It was the first and only time I had ever seen my father cry. My parents explained that Mindy would have to be tube fed when she lost the ability to swallow and that she may eventually suffer from deafness, blindness and seizures. There was a good chance that she wouldn’t live past the age of 4 or 5.

I was only 9 years old and didn’t know how to process this new knowledge that my sister would get progressively sicker and die. Denial quickly set in and I urged my stepmother to look into treatment for my sister. “There’s nothing we can do, Sarah” Susan told me a few mornings later, her back to me while she washed our breakfast dishes. “I am sure there must be something we can do,” I told her. “I am going to the library to find out what sort of research has been done to find a cure”. I saw her shoulders slump, as she told me to face reality, that there was no hope. My brother Ben and I were the product of my father’s first marriage, but Mindy was Susan’s first and only child.

I don’t know what motivated me to push my own sadness aside that summer night I danced with my sister, but I am so glad I did. It was crazed frantic movement and in between songs we would collapse on my bed laughing hysterically. In between her giggles, she looked at me with eyes shining, seeming to ask for more. I picked her up again and again and in my memory the dance and our laughter went on for hours. At some point I remember looking out my bedroom window and seeing my father and brother on the sidewalk in the dark, watching us. I closed the blinds, turned up the radio and got right back to it.

Almost thirty years later I am mother to my own son and fellow dancer, Max, who is named after Mindy. As an infant sometimes the only thing that would calm him down was dancing. There were many nights I clutched him tightly to my chest and danced like crazy until he fell asleep. Max laughed early, only a few months after he was born. His contagious laugh is distinctive and complimented by friends and strangers alike. I know that I am blessed to have him, to have known my sister Mindy, and to have never known a shortage of dance partners in my life.  

Registration is now open for the Center for Jewish Genetics' upcoming carrier screening programs for young Jewish adults. To learn more or register, please contact Taryn Brickman at TarynBrickman@juf.org or visit www.jewishgenetics.org.

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Carrying Tom.

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08/21/2012

Thank You Chubby photo

We met over a year ago.

I was cycling in place, finishing treatment, waiting to be untied, unhooked, let go.

I held my hopes and dreams tight, I visualized myself on that lakefront path and I was brimming with excitement to reenter the world.

As I was getting ready to break free— you were getting ready to let go.

With cancer as the common denominator our paths crossed, our lives intersected, and I am now gratefully surrounded by your wisdom, your spirit, your spark.

Yesterday at my three month checkup, I carried you with me.

Leading up to this day of truth, this day of anticipation, this day of black and white, you comforted me and reminded me that it is not about tomorrow but today.

I carried you through the two weeks’ worth of sleepless nights, improvisational dancing, mindless TV, and countless other methods of distraction.

You helped prevent my thoughts from steering negative, and you reminded me that my friends and loved ones are the reason I am and will always be.

If the doctors were right (and I hope they weren’t right) you may no longer be physically with us. But what I know for certain, is that the connections you made in your short 33 years will live on in our hearts and minds in the days to come. You are part of the cocoon that protects and surrounds me, and I promise to carry you with me today, tomorrow and always.

As the days pass, as I grow stronger, and as I continue to gratefully receive clean bills of health, I am reminded of Dear Tom.

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Say Hey

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08/20/2012

Say Hey photo

As a cross country athlete, I spend most mornings in the summer logging miles for the upcoming season. It's a ritual we runners have long undergone: arising just as the sun peeks over the trees, groggily lacing up our shoes, and yawning as we walk out the door, we muster up the energy to get our feet moving and blood pumping, all in an effort to get the day's run in before heading off to our respective summer jobs. 

If you're unfamiliar with cross country, allow me to boil the sport down to its molecular level: cross country athletes run an excessive number of miles throughout the year to train for races in the fall. Running is as much a part of their day as eating or sleeping, and athletes make painstaking efforts to prevent injury and sickness so they may keep to their seemingly extreme and self-indulgent training schedules. Races fail to offer much more appeal: the autumn competitions are held at golf courses, parks, or any otherwise vast grass tundra where athletes first wait around for several hours with much apprehension, and then run a prescribed distance (typically 3-6 miles) as fast as they physically can, often throwing up or passing out after crossing the finish line. And they call it fun.

Because I'm home from college for the summer, most of my training is solitary, without my teammates. This makes it difficult to stay motivated. Runs get boring. I have no one with me to talk while out on the bike trail or neighborhood streets.

On early morning runs, though, I come into contact with runners, bikers, and walkers passing me by in the opposite direction. To ease boredom, I devised a plan: I began saying hello to try to elicit responses from them. It keeps my head up and passes the time during those endless 10 mile runs in 90 degree weather.

A typical encounter goes like this: I make eye contact with passersby, give a smile, and say "good morning" or some similar greeting. More often than not do I receive a grin and a "good morning" in return. Knowing I have some companions out there on the trail makes runs go by much quicker.

Earlier this summer, I was waiting in line one day at the bank when a man approached me. I recognized him as one of the triumphant early morning joggers, and he likewise singled me out as a usual bike trail suspect. He got my attention, introduced himself, and thanked me for saying "good morning" to him on the trail every day without fail. "It's a great start to my day," he told me.

Upon hearing this, I was taken aback. Here I was, a lonely distance runner trying to make summer runs less boring by staring people down and greeting them whether they like it or not, and someone thanks me for it. Guilt was the first emotion I remember feeling.

Still, after giving this encounter more thought, I felt honored that this guy went out of his way to personally thank me for saying hey to him. Perhaps the monotony of my summer runs was all for the best, because it led me to perform good deeds.

I still smile and say hello to others while running; not for my own amusement, but because it's a nice thing to do. Saying hello to someone, that is, genuinely acknowledging his or her existence, is an act of kindness so simple that it has the potential to make a big difference.

I encourage you to offer a sincere smile and a hearty "good morning" (or "afternoon" or "evening") to a stranger who crosses your path today. It keeps you on track and, more importantly, you never know of the impact your simple gesture might carry.

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Cheers! Chicago: To drink or not to drink

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08/17/2012

Cheers! Chicago: To drink or not to drink photo

Allow me to recall a conversation I struck up with a couple of ladies one night while tending bar:

“Excuse me, can I have a Margarita on the Rocks, with salt?”

“Absolutely, ma’am. Would you like Don Julio or Patron Tequila?”

“Um, Patron is fine.” (turns to her girlfriend, eyebrows furrowed) “I wonder which one is healthier....I wonder if I should order that or not.” Her friend shrugs, then nods in my direction, to which the first lady inquires, in a louder voice, “I WONDER WHICH ONE IS HEALTHIER.” I was speechless. Before I could give her an answer, as I tried to mentally calculate the caloric content of each ingredient, the guest had whipped out her smartphone and proceeded to research the amount of calories in an average Margarita. I continued to look somewhat dumbfounded as she shot a look up at me, her eyes lighting up, “I’m sure you’re curious to know, aren’t you? I’m saving you a whole lot of trouble looking this up for you, so now you will know what to say when people ask!”

While I was flattered by the gesture, I was taken aback more by what guests are asking at the bar. Often times as a bartender, I would be questioned as to whether or not there may be a “healthy” alternative to some of the more popular, highly sugared cocktails. Most of us don’t even consider how many calories we drink, which can be as important, if not more important, than what you eat. There are a thousand food diets with a thousand studies and ten thousand products that people are exposed to regularly, telling us what to eat, how to eat, and when to eat. Yet how often do we pay attention to what we drink?

There, I said it. Ron, don’t hate me, but liquid matters a lot.

Frankly, it should matter more than food to those looking to stay healthy because it is extremely difficult for most of us to consciously be healthy while not sacrificing fun and pleasure, and alcohol is one of society’s guiltiest pleasures. Yes, valuable nutrition comes from food and is the most effective way to stay fit and lose weight. But most of us don’t even realize how we are wasting away calories when we really only want to waste away brain cells. Doesn’t seem like a fair trade-off, does it? Want to do something about it? When going out, choosing a healthy alcoholic drink can be a difficult task, especially if you don’t know what your drinks are made of. There are drinks that have high calorie counts: a 10 oz Margarita can have up to 550 calories, a 12 oz. Pina Colada 586 calories, if not more, depending on what it contains! Here are some of my tips and suggestions for how you can go out and have a great time without having to count calories or ask the bartender weird questions.

Tip #1: Do NOT ask the bartender how many calories are in a cocktail. Period.

Look it up. The guy or gal is there to serve you a drink and somewhat keep your company, they are not a nutritionist or a calorie counter. They have a hundred things to do, so don’t look for them to stop everything and start counting.

Alternative: You can carry a chart with you or on your phone that can let you know relatively quickly how many calories some of the most basic and popular alcoholic beverages will run you. Keep in mind that the numbers are approximate because ingredients and portion sizes might vary. See where your favorites rank!

Cocktails (about 3-4 oz in volume):
Gin and Tonic: 171
Rum and Cola: 164, Rum and Diet Cola: 101
Mojito: 217
Bourbon Soda: 110
Margarita: 280, Strawberry Margarita: 210, Skinnygirl Margarita: 100
Martini: 160-210
Appletini: 148
White Russian: 425
Manhattan: 129
Old Fashioned: 180
Screwdriver (Vodka + OJ): 175
Mai Tai: 310
Mimosa: 75
Wine Spritzer: 100
Vodka Tonic: 175
Champagne: 90-110
Wine (5 oz): 120-150
Cosmopolitan: 200
Long Island Iced Tea: 780

Spirits (per drink, about 1.5 oz):
Vodka/Gin/RumWhiskey: 115-125
Tequila: 115
Beer: 64-198 (12 fl. Oz.)
SoCo: 180

Want to make them at home? You can! Some mixers that won't pack on the pounds include:
Diet soda or diet tonic: 0 calories 
Orange juice (6 oz): 84 calories, Light orange juice (8 oz): 50 calories 
Cranberry juice cocktail (8 oz): 136 calories, Light cranberry juice (8 oz): 40 calories 
Light lemonade (8 oz): 5 calories 
Coffee, tea: 0 calories 
Baja Bob's sugar-free margarita or sweet 'n' sour mix: 0 calories 
Lemon or lime juice (1/2 oz): 10 calories 
DaVinci or Torani's sugar-free syrups: 0 
Truvia: 0 
SKIP THE MIXER ALTOGETHER!!!!

Tip #2: Do NOT be fooled by “diet” labeled drinks or additives when constructing your cocktail.

Sometimes, they can make things worse, “A recent study examined the difference in blood alcohol levels from drinks containing sweetened (regular) versus artificially sweetened (diet) beverages. This study found a significant difference in blood alcohol levels between the two drinks. In fact, the "diet" beverage produced blood alcohol levels that would be considered illegal for driving in many jurisdictions, while comparable quantities of the "regular" beverage did not.” -medicinenet.com  

This leads me right into the next tip, which is...

Tip #3: KNOW WHAT YOU WANT.

Often times the guest will try to string the bartender or waiter along by asking, “Well, how many calories will X have if I take this out or substitute this for this?” If you think it’s hard and frustrating for a chef, it’s even worse for the drink slinger. Figure out what drinks you are most likely to order and know what it’s going to run you. Some drinks will net you very few calories, while others will ruin a well-intentioned week of hard work and sound nutrition.

Tip #4: Explore healthier alternatives to your absolute favorites.

I know, I know, it’s hard to get away from that Margarita or Chioccolatini, but let’s be honest, they are not kind to our waistlines. Well, believe it or not, you can still enjoy those wonderfully rich and delectable flavors without piling on the calories, and we all have our favorite guilty pleasures. Practically every cocktail that has more than 200 calories could be modified to lessen the calories but keep the flavor (and booze content).

Take charge of your nightlife, have a great time without having to sacrifice the fun or feel guilty in the morning. Life is fun, so live it up! Remember, to live healthy you can have your booze and drink it, too!

L’Chaim!

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Turn off the Trainer

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08/16/2012

Ron Krit photo 3

I once had a client drop 12 pounds and lower his body fat percentage by 10% in just four weeks. I often have pregnant clients who have babies and come back thinner than before. I am constantly amazed by the transformations I see in my clients. I get to witness the “after” picture all the time and it’s pretty amazing. Because I know what the body is capable of, I encourage everyone to get fitter, leaner, more muscular… and sometimes I need to turn it off.

You might think, why turn that off? The thing is, I’m learning people do not always want to hear, “you could get leaner” or “actually all calories matter, even those five m&m’s.” (Bear in mind, I breakdown often and have five (yes, I count them) Peanut M&M’s a few times a week.) Now the list of offenses continues. I told my sister she was “a little chunky” in college. My wife deals with the comments that I don’t think are mean, but no one wants to hear, such as, “are you sure you’re not full?” and “you should thank me for helping you eat more veggies.” I know, it’s surprising it took 32 years for someone to swoop me up. However, I have pledged to stop packing protein shakes in her lunch (unless she asks for them).

By the way, my recipe is very tasty: 

½ cup Almond Milk 
½ cup 1% Milk 
Tablespoon Greek Yogurt 
Tablespoon Justin’s Chocolate Almond Butter (or Peanut Butter) 
Banana 
Jay Rob Chocolate Protein Powder

I’m only trying to help when I suggest you switch to Greek yogurt, but moving forward, if you didn’t ask me, I won’t volunteer it. That’s right; I’m going to turn off the trainer. (Keep in mind if you ask one time for advice, you’ll have to ask me another time to turn off the trainer.)

When I’m at dinner with a non-client, I will not suggest the grilled calamari over the fried. If you know me, you know how hard it will be, but I’m going to do it. I will save my fitness suggestions for clients, readers and those who actually ask me for advice.

With that said, for those of you that want a healthy recipe, here are two of my new favorite, super easy sides.

Quinoa Cauliflower and Cheese

This is super easy and tasty! It has a good amount of protein, fiber, flavor and it’s inexpensive.

2 cups low sodium chicken broth
1 cup quinoa
1 package Green Giant Cauliflower and Cheese

Cook quinoa with chicken broth, simmer for 20 minutes. Cook veggies according to label. Mix in with quinoa, let sit for five minutes.

Sweet Potato Hash

This takes a little work because you have to grate a sweet potato but it’s simple and much healthier than the alternative.

1 Sweet Potato (will be enough for two people)
Olive oil
Cinnamon
Curry
Pepper
Salt

Preheat a skillet with a little olive oil. Grate a sweet potato. Place in skillet over medium heat. Add spices, cook until soft or browned. If you want to kick it up a little bit on the flavor scale, put in a tablespoon of butter.

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Scientific Cause for Concern

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08/15/2012

Scientific Cause for Concern photo

MadaTech scientist taking part providing a lesson with a classroom in Northern Israel.

Israeli institutes of higher education such as Hebrew University and University of Tel Aviv are considered to be some of the finest learning centers in the world. People think of Israel as the “Start-Up Nation,” the Middle Eastern innovator, and a leader in science, medicine, and business. And while these are all true, not many realize the very serious problems and deterioration of the Israeli primary education system.

As a pro-Israel advocate, both professionally and in the writing world, I am troubled most by the Israeli education system’s lack of focus and urgency in the sciences. For Israel to keep its regional qualitative edge over its hostile neighbors, and to keep developing as global innovators, excelling in the sciences at all grade levels is crucial.

A 2010 report printed by the Taub Center, an Israeli social policy think-tank, stated that some 48% of middle school students have less than two hours of weekly science education. Further, much of the time, the science education they are receiving is inadequate. A 2010 report published by the Knesset Research and Information Center on poverty and scholastic achievements included a survey that indicated 30% of Jewish students in elementary schools require private tutors. To make things worse, the report found notable gaps in terms of access to private tutoring services between students from financially stable towns and those from the periphery.

Professor Ofra Mayseless, the dean of the Education Faculty at the University of Haifa (where I spent my amazing year abroad in college) and chairwoman of the Forum of School Leaders for Education in Israel, told Haaretz that, “[t]he inclination towards private lessons stems mainly from the fact that teachers have a hard time teaching, and, in practice, a large part of class time is dedicated to addressing disciplinary problems and not to teaching," According to Mayseless, this has prompted teachers to relinquish responsibility for their students' know-how and education.

"In light of these difficulties, many of the teachers in Israel have lost their joy of teaching. They dedicate less of themselves to the student. Instead of the education system focusing on increasing students' curiosity and motivation to learn, there is a growing tendency for students to study and memorize the material only for the exam, and not to enrich their knowledge," she said.

Dani Ben-David, the Taub Center Executive Director, told Haaretz that, "[t]here are many parents today who have grown exasperated with the education system which, according to them, doesn't deliver the goods. Therefore, they are searching for alternative solutions." There are organizations that have risen to the challenge and need. The Israel National Museum of Science, Technology and Space (MadaTech in Hebrew), located in Haifa has stepped up in a big way.

The Museum is one of Israel’s three largest with over 600 exhibits. But it is its education outreach, which consists of over 200,000 Israeli children K-12, that makes it truly special. Its facilities constitute 25 laboratories, seven learning centers, and three mobile laboratory vans. Among its programs geared to strengthen students’ interest in science, the Israel Museum of Science annual science competition fosters creative and analytical thinking among Israel’s eighth and ninth-grade students. Thousands take part in the yearlong OlympiYeda Science Competition that culminates in a two-week science camp in Haifa, Israel. The summer camp includes an enriched science curriculum with guest lecturers, visits to technological facilities, and scientific activities. The 2010 competition focused on Robotics and in 2011 on sports and health.

The Museum also caters to peripheral communities, something the Israeli government should take note of. According to Dr. Ronen Mir, the Israel Museum of Science General Director, around 40% of the museum’s visitors are Arab, and 40% of its instructors are also Arab. Operation North for Arabic Speakers provides advanced science learning opportunities for Israeli-Arab junior high students. Led by prominent Israeli-Arab researchers, the program educates students on basic tenets of bio-medicine, genetics, nanotechnology, and astrophysics. There are similar programs for soviet immigrants, Ethiopians, and young girls. The Museum’s programs are designed to nurture a love of science in participants from a variety of backgrounds, foster coexistence and respect for diversity among Israel’s population, and promote the pursuit of science education and professions.

Equally important as helping the students, the Israel Museum of Science helps educate the teachers, providing them with instruction, materials, and inspiration.

More organizations in Israel need to undertake activities commensurate with the Israel National Museum of Science. I know it’s easier said than done; fundraising to produce such services is difficult, especially in this economic climate. But the attempt must be made. As a Jew, what makes me proud to have Israel as our homeland is its rapid development and adaptability in the most complex scientific fields, which in turn allows it to make significant contributions to the world; all in the wake of serious adversity and hostility. Studies and testimony suggest, however, that this source of pride may be taking a turn for the worst, starting with the Israeli youth. Both Israelis and Jews around the world need to come together to ensure that this trend is reversed, for all our sakes.

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Our kids are all right

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08/14/2012

Our kids are all right photo

One is a young man and one is a young woman. One is a musician and one is an athlete. One wears a kippah and the other wears Lycra.

U.S. Jewish Olympians are on fire photo

But Edon Pinchot and Aly Raisman are both young Jews on TV, making Jews everywhere proud.

He is a contestant on America's Got Talent best known for using his piano skills and powerful voice to turn pop songs into power ballads. She was a contestant at the 2012 London Olympics, best known for using her gymnastic skills and powerful presence to turn "Hava Nagila" into an anthem of solidarity with the Munich 11… and Olympic gold.

Another thing they have in common is how openly, proudly, and comfortably they wear (in Edon's case, on his head) their Judaism. In an era in which Jonathan Stewart Leibowitz, also very openly Jewish, still goes by "Jon Stewart," we don't see Edon saying "Call me Ethan," or Aly competing as "Aly Ray."

This is important, as it allows others to be more openly Jewish in their presence. Howie Mandel never (as far I as know) brought up his Jewishness in five years on Deal or No Deal. Yet, when praising Edon, he said— on national television— "From one to another, Jew are terrific!" 

We adults in the Jewish community— whether we are Jewish professionals, parents, or both— often wonder if we are making a dent. Are we getting through to our kids? Are we being heard at all among all the other voices being shouted at our teens today? Is anything that we present as Jewish as attractive as the flashy new toys and screens being shoved in their faces?

Then we hear Edon belt out a hit by some act that's hot right this minute (and not a minute before!) to then have Mandel ask him if he got a standing ovation at his bar mitzvah.

We see Aly literally leap over her competition and then answer questions about Israeli athletes who were killed more than 20 years before she was born.

And we smile and cheer. Because, yeah, our kids are all right. Our future is in the hands of teens who are bright and talented. Charismatic and confident, yet humble and mensch-y.

Edon and Aly are proud tell the world they are Jewish. And we are proud they are, too.

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Productively procrastinating: A blog I’ll finish later

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08/13/2012

Adam Daniel Miller photo

I submitted this blog at the last second. Really. I did. Do you have any idea how long this took me to write? Months. Months would be a lie. Weeks. Weeks would also be a lie. But days…days would be accurate. I’m already procrastinating on getting to the point so let’s just get there, shall we? In these times we call “the present,” there is a terrible acronym going around, being abused in its meaning by some of the younger folk. However, there is actual truth to the phrase. I refuse to write the actual acronym so to have you understand which one I’m talking about let’s say I take the delicious candy Rolo, subtract the ‘R’ and replace it with a “Why?” Say that sentence out loud if you don’t entirely understand. Or ask the younger folk. What I’m getting at here is I only live once and therefore, why am I wasting any time ever? Hence, with that way of thinking, I feel my procrastination always needs to be productive.

Productive procrastination is unlike regular procrastination in that I made it up. Defined, my version means participating in the activities that are most important to me and that advance my own wellbeing. Or something like that. I think you got the gist. I’m referring to activities like catching up on a television show, reading, working on my comedy, writing or even hanging out with friends, among other things. Basically it’s about getting the most I can from the non-real world while still being productive.

I am truly an active advocate of always being productive. In fact, I make it a point to advance myself in some way each and every day. Whether it’s real stuff like going to work to make a living, getting a shave and haircut (two bits) or finally making it to that restaurant I’ve been wanting to try, I attempt to end each day being filled with new and tangible knowledge. And yes, tangible knowledge is sometimes being able to spew new trivia about certain episodes of Batman The Animated Series.

When I turned 25 a few months ago, I realized a few things. One, my frontal lobe was fully developed and the headaches finally stopped. Two, I was now a quarter of a century old. Or 1/40th of a millennium old. However you want to look at it. And three, I needed to stop wasting time. The biggest culprit, of course, was sleep. I sleep for roughly a third of my life. That means a third of my life I’m technically doing nothing. I always say that I’ll sleep when I’m dead which is why I wish sleep wasn’t such a necessity. Now, don’t get me wrong. I love sleep. Sleep is incredible. I simply wish it I didn’t need it. My opinion towards sleep is the epitome of a love/hate relationship. I detest being tired but the only true remedy is sleep. A lifelong Catch 22 if you will. And I have to say, when I get older, I will NOT take more naps like older individuals often do. I don’t understand it. I’m running out of time at that point. I can’t waste it. That’d be like watching a 2 hour long movie and then I just started fast forwarding through 30 second parts during the last half hour.

My problem was I kept thinking to myself, I’m too tired to this, I don’t have enough time to do…SHUT UP! Why do I put stuff off? Ever? How lazy do I have to be? Every second I’m losing time and to be blunt, death is only getting closer. Maybe one of the only true facts of life. Well, that and Snickers Ice Cream Bars could create world peace. But that’s why I’ve deemed my procrastinating as needing to be productive. I try to limit my mindless meandering through the internet and my overabundance of sleep so I can put focus on accomplishing what I honestly and truly want to. I’ll lose 30 minutes of sleep so I can watch that TV show. I’ll spend that extra 45 minutes playing that video game instead of cruising through IMDB rereading quotes I’ve heard 1,000 times. I’ll take an extra hour to talk to myself. Not in a crazy way, not like a “let’s walk on the other side of the street because that weird guy is talking to himself” way, but in the way I talked to myself at the Western Wall in Jerusalem. The way I really opened up to my own thoughts, goals and dreams. Of course, it helps me at home that I have my authentic Western Wall snow globe. Ladies.

I haven’t exactly said specifically what I’m procrastinating from. I suppose, in a word, life. In two words, real life. Anything during productive procrastination is meant to be an escape. Most people simply call it free time. For me, productive procrastination is free time that is essentially used for a series of escapes, both big and small. The moments between the escapes are real life. I’m not saying life is bad by any means. I love life. It’s the necessary real life stuff that gets in the way of what I most want to do. I have a theory. Most people, even if they have a job they love and love going to, given a day off, would have something else they’d rather be doing. But when I’m stuck at work for my 50+ hours a week (two jobs), I revel in those little escapes. Like checking Facebook on my phone and, as stupid as it sounds, going to the bathroom where I can daydream for a moment and plan my next escape for after work. What it comes down to is this, when it comes to wasting time, I need to make sure I’m never wasting time.

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Eikev

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23 Av 5772 / August 10-11, 2012

08/10/2012

Dan Horwitz photo

In this week’s portion, Moses continues his speech to the Israelites and emphasizes their potential rewards and punishments for following the commandments.

Moses shares that the Promised Land is one that is flowing with milk and honey (from dates – not bees – a common misconception!), and that “when you have eaten your fill, give thanks to the Divine…” [Deuteronomy 8:10]

Our Christian brethren often do a much better job than we do of expressing gratitude around mealtime by saying grace (which is usually done with a bit more reverence than Ricky Bobby’s “Dear Lord Baby Jesus” offering in Talladega Nights). While we have a quick prayer we are meant to say before our meal (if eating bread, we would say the “hamotzi” which is a single line), our major proscribed blessing is made after the meal (“birkat hamazon” – the Grace After Meals), in accordance with the chronology in the verse. Eat your fill, and then give thanks.

Saying our major prayer after eating, as opposed to before, poses some interesting challenges. For example, it’s often easier to be thankful for food while it is still visible and we’re anticipating consumption. We have the ability to inspect the food, smell it, see the vibrancy of its colors, and be grateful for the meal we’re about to partake in. After eating, many of us would be quite content taking a nap, let alone trying to remember the beauty of the meal. Taking the extra few minutes to reflect on the meal we’ve had and to offer our thanks is an appropriate and powerful way to express gratitude.

Why should we be grateful and take the time to express our gratitude?

Because, simply put, there are people in the world who are starving.

According to Ban Ki Moon, Secretary General of the United Nations, six million children die of hunger every year. Many more are malnourished. Lest you think hunger is not an issue in the United States, in 2010, almost 15% of U.S. households were food insecure.

The United States has the highest obesity rate in the world, and still has citizens, many of them children, that don’t have enough to eat.

Our ancestors, overwhelmingly living in poverty in Eastern European villages, knew what hunger was. My grandmother, who survived numerous concentration camps, knew what starving was.

Nobody should go hungry.

Children should not need to worry about where their next meal is coming from, and should not be going to bed wishing they had something to eat.

These are not political statements – these are human statements. Regardless of your politics, from the Jewish perspective, you are not permitted to stand by as people starve to death when you have the ability to help.

How can you help?

A couple of ideas:

Donate your time and dollars to a food rescue organization, bring cans and perishables to The Ark’s food pantry, volunteer at The Uptown Cafe.

Each time you host a Shabbat dinner or other festive meal in your home, make it a point to invite a family (or individual) that you know is struggling to put food on the table. The ability to connect with such families certainly exists through your local Jewish Family Services, kosher food bank, etc. Make it a point to have everyone in attendance take home leftovers of some kind, so that the family can have some additional food for their home without being self-conscious or ashamed.

Be grateful for what you have, and take the time to express that gratitude.

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That “Shouldn’t I be in class?” feeling

 Permanent link
08/09/2012

That “Shouldn’t I be in class?” feeling photo

The other day I was at Argo Tea and discovered, to my horror, that they're now offering pumpkin-flavored muffins. Target is in the full swing of back-to-school shopping, and even CVS is starting to sell Halloween-themed candy. Most of my friends love autumn; I would mind it less if it didn't mean sixteen months of winter were close on its heels.

Even so, I do have a fondness for fall in Chicago: it still feels like coming back to school after spending my summers in Ohio. It's been six years since I graduated from college – six years! – and I have an observation to make: it's hard not being in school. I don't mean dorms or dining halls or all-nighters, though I do miss having the majority of my friends and extracurricular activities be no more than a 15-minute walk away. No, the hardest thing is not being in class. I'm serious. I am that person who misses being in class.

We're lucky here in Chicago, though: if you're interested in something, think you might be interested or didn't even know you could be interested, there's someone in this city that is happy to teach you. I haven't been signing up for discourses on 17th-century philosophy or Introduction to Modern Physics (alas), but as someone who's always hungry for more art and creativity in my life, I've been very lucky to fall into improv comedy (iO and the Annoyance), singing (Old Town School of Folk Music), ukulele (Old Town again), all kinds of creative writing (Story Studio) and, as soon as I find the right time, swing dancing (Big City Swing) and photography (Chicago Photography Center). Let's not even talk about all the arts and crafts courses I could be taking, given how close I live to LillStreet.

It's a little addictive, taking classes in things you've never done before. At Old Town, I'm in the middle of a course called Vocal Techniques. I've never had any formal voice training, so I wasn't sure what I would be learning. This week after class, I said to some friends, "I thought I could sing before. Turns out I didn't even know how to stand!" It's addictive, taking classes, but it's also humbling to be a beginner all the time. That said, the great thing about progressing in eight-week chunks is that you can see your own improvement as you go, which can be another solid difference from taking college classes.

Possibly my favorite thing about classes is how unexpectedly they can improve other areas of your life. I know that improv and a former gig as a copy editor have been the best teachers of creative writing I've had. Learning how to correct my posture for better breathing has helped me adopt commuting by bike. My next goal is to find a way to learn and perform Shakespeare; I've been immersing myself in the history plays this summer, and I can only imagine how the chance to deliver those words in front of people might affect the rest of my day. (If I start doing columns in iambic pentameter without noticing, please let me know.)

So, it may only be early August, but the notices for all the most exciting fall classes are going out now. I'm far from ready for summer to be over, but there may be a greater travesty afoot than candy corn-flavored M&M's, and that is the sad truth that there is not enough time for me to take every course that interests me. Wait, hang on, I know that feeling… Ah yes: yeah, I was that person in college too.

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Colin's First Mitzvah Project

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08/08/2012

Colin's First Mitzvah Project photo

Before having baby, I spent five years working in the non-profit sector as a volunteer coordinator. Over the course of those many days and weeks and months working with wonderful, kind-hearted volunteers, the one inquiry that always blew me away was when parents with infants or toddlers wanted to volunteer. I'd get calls from parents wanting to schedule hands-on volunteer projects to expose their children to volunteerism from a very young age. And I'm talking VERY young. I just didn't get it— what would a nine-month-old take away from this sort of experience?

Well, hello parenthood! Already I'm understanding where these folks are coming from, albeit with a more realistic set of expectations of just what we are able to do at this point.

A big part of being a parent is imparting a sound sense of values upon your children. This I know. And with Colin just ten weeks old, I know that we have plenty of time to accomplish all of this, since right now all he can say is, "Ahh, eeh, mah" and he has trouble finding his own hands.

But still, the first step toward teaching him to be a fine upstanding citizen seems to be modeling the behaviors we would like him to learn. Like being thankful for what you have (writing thank you notes for gifts), caring for others (checking on a friend who is sick), and kindness (not screaming at your husband when you are annoyed with him—being nice instead). And of course, being charitable and helping those in need.

That is where the tricky part begins. I certainly don't think Colin is ready to be serving meals to the homeless or marching on Washington for social justice. He doesn't even eat real food or walk yet. But it's good to start early and model the right behaviors, right?

Enter The ARK's Back Pack Project.

Today Colin and I shopped for school supplies for a 7th grade girl whose family would otherwise not be able to afford everything she needs for school. The ARK matched us up with her and is making sure that everything we brought in, from backpacks and binders to pens and pencils, gets to her before school starts.

Now obviously Colin didn't pick the colors of the folders, whip out his AMEX to pay for the supplies or drive us to The ARK, but while we shopped, I chatted to him about why we were getting everything, and then he came with me to The ARK to drop it off (and be fawned over by all my former co-workers— thanks guys).

I'm hoping we will make this an annual tradition, along with other projects and mitzvah opportunities, all in the right time as they become age-appropriate. My goal is that he will reach adulthood and think that this is something he has always deemed to be important, that generosity of time, money and spirit are qualities that are crucial to being a good person, and that this is something he wants to continue on his own once mom and dad aren't footing the bill or forcing him to tag along.

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Holy moments in the holy land

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08/07/2012

It was the summer solstice.

My friend and I had just left the Western Wall when we happened upon hundreds of people lining the streets of Jerusalem at sunset holding hands, dancing, and singing "Salaam (Od Yavo Shalom Aleinu)," an Israeli song, sung in Hebrew and Arabic, that's come to symbolize a call for peace.

Some donned dreads, others kippot, and a couple people wore keffiyehs. A few beat on drums, forming drum circles with kids in the crowd.

Maybe if I had witnessed a similar scene in Chicago, my street-smart instincts would have whispered to turn away from the unusual display of people dancing in front of me.

But I was feeling the love, they were singing my favorite Jewish song, and I figured, "When in Jerusalem…"

So I jumped right in and interlaced hands with an Asian woman on one side and a 30-something man in a kippah on the other.

"What is all this?" I asked the man.

"It's called the 'Jerusalem Hug,'" he replied.

In honor of the first day of summer, he explained to me, the Hug beckons hundreds of Jerusalemites and visitors to the city to stand shoulder to shoulder in a demonstration of love, peace, and unity.

Holy moments in the holy land photox

One of the organizers of the 'Jerusalem Hug,' leading the crowd through the city.

In a way, the scene couldn't have been more simple—people holding hands with each other. But then again, especially just steps from the Wall, the moment felt holy.

This summer marked my fourth trip to Israel. I had traveled there to participate in the World Zionist Organization-sponsored conference on "Women and Zionism" for 20 young Jewish women from around the world, as well as the Israeli Presidential Conference, under the auspices of Israeli President Shimon Peres.

On past visits, the planner in me structured my itinerary carefully, touring the country's majestic, holy Jewish tourist sites, like the Wall, Masada, and Safed. But in my free time on this trip, I let the wind carry me.

And it's no accident that it was on this visit that I felt most connected to the fabric of Israeli society sharing spontaneous encounters with Israeli people like my fellow hand-holders in Jerusalem. It was in these small, unplanned moments, I felt the power of this holiest place on earth.

Indeed, I felt a holy connection to the people and land of Israel when:

I tasted fresh watermelon at the open-air market.
I swam in the Mediterranean Sea, as warm as bath water.
I shared a seat on a city bus next to a local commuter.
I struck up a conversation with young Israeli guys at an outdoor bar on a breezy Jerusalem night under a crescent moon.

One of the speakers we heard from at the World Zionist Organization conference was a brilliant professor named Gil Troy. A Queens, N.Y. native, Troy taught history at McGill University in Montreal for many years before making aliyah with his wife and two young children. His favorite part about living in Israel, he told us, is doing "normal activities," like taking his daughter to ballet and watching his son practice soccer, in a Jewish state.

To him, and to me, there is holiness in the mundane in this unique place.

After the conference ended in Jerusalem, I took a bus to Tel Aviv. There, I spent a few days with Leah-- my Jewish American best friend from childhood—and her Israeli boyfriend, Itay. After initially meeting in Manhattan, they relocated to Itay's beloved hometown of Tel Aviv three years ago.

Leah and Itay gave me the kind of Israeli education you can't get from climbing Masada; they taught me about what it's like to really live in Israel.

Leah is starting her own fashion design business. When she's not working, she's exercising at Israeli boot camp by the sea, learning Hebrew, and taking on the daunting task of Israeli driver's ed—where she's killing two birds with one stone by learning to swear in Hebrew from a chain smoking, gravel-voiced Israeli woman. Itay is a computer consultant, specializing in technological educational resources for students.

The three of us shared a lot of deep conversations during my weekend in town on topics like what it means to be a Jewish minority in the diaspora versus part of the Jewish majority in Israel.

One warm Tel Aviv night, on our way home from eating sushi and drinking sake at a Tel Aviv sushi joint, Leah, Itay, and I bumped into a crowd of peaceful organizers—more than 1,000 strong—at one of the social protests commonplace in Tel Aviv last summer and this summer.

Israelis marched and chanted in support of civil rights for all members of Israeli society. To the delight of the crowd, a bus driver left his vehicle in the middle of the street, where traffic was at a standstill, and danced with the protesters.

And just like in Jerusalem, I joined in, this time with my friends, marching down the street with the Israeli people—another holy moment in the holy land.

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An ode to The Buffalo

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08/06/2012

An ode to The Buffalo photo

We walked out of the synagogue after my grandma's memorial service and asked what any Jewish family would ask each other after a difficult experience– where should we eat? Despite filling up on coffee cake while accepting condolences from friends, I was in need of some Jewish penicillin, and there was only one place I could think of.

"Let's go to the Buffalo," I suggested. My husband rolled his eyes. He believes the Buffalo is mediocre and overpriced (this from the man who believes the standard-bearer of Italian food is the Olive Garden). Perhaps because his wife's grandmother recently passed away, or because said wife was 22 weeks pregnant, he kept the kvetch to a minimum and dutifully drove me to my matzo ball soup.

The Buffalo Restaurant and Ice Cream Parlor is a fixture of the Buffalo Grove community. Though it's technically a Greek deli, the restaurant serves a variety of Jewish comfort foods and is one of the only places I can never go without make up on, since I am guaranteed to know at least one person there. The menu includes the aforementioned matzo ball soup, which boasts two big, fluffy balls in a just-salty-enough broth. Enjoyed with a roll from the bread basket, matzo ball soup at the Buffalo feels like home.

The Buffalo has played the "supportive and comforting friend" role in my life for as long as I can remember. Being centrally located in between the baseball fields and home, my family would eat there after my brothers played. We went there for ice cream after attending family Shabbat services at our synagogue. In junior high, when I was finally grown up enough to go out to eat with friends (and without any parents), the Buffalo was one of the only places we could get to on foot from our neighborhood. We often paid in change and under tipped the poor sucker who got stuck serving us. Allowance only went so far.

In high school I was involved in theater and choir. After a performance, our cast would often head to the Buffalo, celebrating over deep fried anything, massive ice cream sundaes, and of course, matzo ball soup. My high school boyfriend and I shared many evenings at the Buffalo over the "Lover's Delight," an ice cream creation I'm too embarrassed to continue thinking about.

When my friends and I were home from college on break and needed a place to meet, it was the obvious choice. When I lost my first job, hated my second job, and landed my third job, I drowned my sorrows and celebrated there. Battling a bad cold or upset stomach? The Buffalo. 

I moved to the city, which certainly did not lack for Jewish delis, but nothing compared. It was one of the first places my husband and I went for dinner after we moved back to the burbs. I was excited to introduce him to my place. He probably would have preferred the Olive Garden.

And so I found myself there after the memorial service, surrounded by family, slurping soup, and remembering Grandma. The familiar surroundings, the comforting food, and the shared memories of a lost loved one helped put a Band-Aid on my sadness. The Buffalo, my supportive and comforting friend, came through once again.

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Thanks for a great night on the water!

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08/03/2012

WYLD 
The recipients of the first Double Chai in the Chi: Jewish 36 under 36 list. 

Pictured: Beth Avner, Jenna Benn, Rachel Drescher, Jeff Ellman, Laurie Grauer, Lizzi Heydemann, Joel Holland, Jonny Imerman, Shalom Klein, Rachel Kohl Finegold, Ari Levy, Scott Lieber, Josh Liss, Ilana Marczak, Samantha Margolis, Michael Masters, Michael Oxman, Matthew Seidner, Benjamin Singer, Cameron Smith, David Solow, Kenny Stolman, Josh Weinberg, Adam Weingarten, Amy Witt, Jill Zenoff

Not pictured: Jordan Bendat-Appell, Brad Finkel, Aliza Goodman, Leah Jones, Lindsey Markus, Matt Matros, Evan Moffic, Brandon Prosansky, Jimmy Sarnoff and Roslyn Turner

Thanks for coming out to the WYLD on the water party last night! We had a total blast and hope you all did, too. Here is a sneak peek of some of the 36 under 36 posing on the boat. To see the rest of the photos from the event, click here.

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Fall in love with chocolate

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Celebrate the day of love with an icy chocolate treat

08/02/2012

Fall in love with chocolate photo

We all know that chocolate can bring out the glint in a lover’s eye and that the smooth creamy and sensuous Aztec treat is even good for you, with all of its anti-oxidants and flavonoids, but how do you share the sumptuous chocolaty pleasure when it is blazing hot? There is nothing romantic about a box of melted chocolates.

This Tu’B Av pull out your blender and ice cubes and enjoy a frothy, icy and sexy treat.

In Israel, Tu B'Av is a day of love and while it is a regular workday, music and dance festivals are typically held to celebrate the day. Israelis give cards and flowers to their loved ones on Tu B'Av; and, get married. Hot chocolate can warm your soul and is pure comfort on a chilly day. Iced hot chocolate is refreshing and fun. Be sure to use the best chocolate you can find to share with the object of your affection.

Frozen Hot Chocolate
Serves 4

2 ½ cups whole milk
1 cup half-and-half
½ cup powdered milk
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
4 ounces milk chocolate or white chocolate, chopped
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon instant espresso or coffee powder
3 cups of ice
Suggested garnishes: vanilla beans, shaved chocolate

1. Heat the milk, half-and-half and powdered milk in a saucepan on medium heat to just below the simmering point.

2. Remove the pan from the heat and add both chocolates. When the chocolates are melted, add the sugar, vanilla extract, and espresso and whisk vigorously. Cool the mix.

3. Place the hot chocolate mix in a blender or food processor. Add ice and process until the texture of a smoothie. Serve immediately. 

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Interview: Nationals Draft Pick Max Ungar

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08/01/2012

Interview: Nationals Draft Pick Max Ungar photo

He is young, humble, and most importantly, good. While the Jewish world was sparked by the Padres 7th pick in the draft Max Fried, it is Max Ungar who might be the most important Jewish pick in the entire draft. Ungar went in the 36th round (not quite the 7th pick) to his hometown Washington Nationals. But this kid is from an all Jewish high school, Charles E. Smith in Rockville Maryland. When asked how he wanted to be promoted, Ungar said to mention his coaches, family, and friends. So he can play ball and is a mensch. Below is the exciting story of Max Ungar, a kid with a bright future and someone The Great Rabbino is rooting for.

1) Tell TGR a little bit about yourself… Where did you grow up, family life, other interests besides baseball?
I grew up in Bethesda, Md with two sisters, one older (a professional ballerina) and one younger (an awesome soccer and guitar player). My family has always been the most important thing in my life and they have always supported me through my academics as well as athletics and I really want to thank them for everything they have done. Some of my other interests besides baseball include; writing a blog about dieting in college, doing "crossfit" style of working out, hiking, and being in nature.

2) When did you start playing baseball?
I've been playing baseball since I can remember so probably around three or four years old. I have a great picture of me in the backyard with a wiffle ball bat and ball on a tee. When I started playing, I was always at an age where I could either be the youngest on the team or I could be the oldest, and that translated over to school as well. I was one of the younger kids in my class and I usually ended up having to play on summer and fall teams where I was either the youngest or the oldest. This put me at somewhat of a disadvantage because when I was the oldest on the team, I wasn't playing the best competition that I could be playing, and I would go to showcases and the kids there would all be bigger and older than I am used to.

3) Congrats on being drafted by the Washington Nationals. When did you realize getting drafted was a possibility? What was that like?
I really never thought that I would get drafted. Being from such a small school that really hasn't produced the greatest athletes in its history, I was not really expecting this to happen. When I first got a call from Bobby Myrick, who scouted me, I felt like it was a possibility but I really did not think it would happen because, again of the small school. Getting that call was probably one of the coolest things that ever happened to me. My dad was actually the only one home and he picked up the phone and talked to him. When my dad told me the news, I was ecstatic. First off, it was really cool that my Dad told me because he has always been the one who goes out and tosses BP for me or throws with me. However, I still did not think it would happen, I knew then that it was a possibility and I kept it in the back of my mind since that happened, until I went to Israel.

4) What was draft day like and how did you find out?
Draft day was crazy. I had everyone in the neighborhood over and family over, all dressed up, and we had a huge feast and huddled around the T.V. waiting for my name to be called and then... No, just kidding not at all like that. I had actually kind of forgot that it was the last day of the draft and if it was going to happen, it would happen that day. I was more focused on my orientation at Denison. So, it was pretty normal, I went to the gym, packed and left for Granville, Oh. My friend Jordan Tuwiner had texted me a few days before saying that if I was going to get drafted that he would tell me first (Jordan runs a baseball recruiting website). So, I started driving to orientation with my mom (about a six hour drive) and my phone started to ring. I noticed that it was a (301) number so I thought I would pick it up (that was when I remembered that it was draft day). I picked it up and heard someone say "Hello this is the Washington Nationals, we just wanted to let you know that we will be drafting you in about 10 minutes so, you should turn on the broadcast on MLB.com and listen in, congratulations." When I heard that, I was at a loss for words, I think all I could come up with was "awesome, awesome, thank you." I started shaking a bit I think, and probably swerved a little bit on the road. I remember people passing me because I was all the way in the left lane and I started to slow down out of pure excitement. So, we frantically started calling everyone trying to tell them to tune in to the broadcast. Then, Jordan called and said they just drafted me. About a minute later we heard it over my mom’s iPhone on the car's stereo system. It was just a crazy moment. We pulled over and my phone, email, and Facebook just started to blow up. Every other second I was getting a phone call, text or Facebook notification. It was really awesome. All of my friends and family were really nice about congratulating and supporting me.

5) Were you excited it was the Nationals, your home team, who drafted you?
It is awesome that the Nationals, my hometown team, drafted me. I have been to a bunch of Nats games and know some people who have worked for the Nationals in the past. I even remember when the Nats came to town and it was a big thing to be a Nationals fan. Now, they are doing so well, that there are a lot of Nats fans out there and people are impressed when they hear the Washington Nationals. However, I am a Red Sox fan, first and foremost. A bunch of my family grew up in Boston and Red Sox nation has been instilled in me from the beginning by my uncle, aunt, cousins, grandmother, and mom.

6) What is next for you? Do you plan on going to the minors or college? If you go to college do you lose your draft status?
I will be attending Denison University in the fall and playing for the Big Red in the spring. While it is really cool to have been drafted, my teachers and counselors as well as Baseball factory (a recruiting organization) have all taught me that my college education is more important for my future. Unless the Nats offer me a lot of money, I do not plan on accepting. After that, I will go to Denison and play baseball for them while Nationals scouts and possibly other scouts follow me. After my junior year of college, I can be drafted again by any team.

7) What are your long term goals?
My long term goals are similar to most peoples’ long term goals. I want to be a family man first and foremost. If, to get there, the paths of life take me through professional baseball, then that would be really cool. If not, then that's okay also. I am interested in a number of things aside from baseball, and when it comes down to it, I have to make the best decisions for my family. One scenario that I especially want to avoid however, is getting drafted, signing, and then getting stuck in the minor leagues for a long time, where I can't really do much with my life except get better at baseball, where I have little money, and am away from home most of the year.

8) Which baseball player do you try to model your game after? Who is your favorite player?
I would say I try and model my game, and work ethic after Jason Varitek. I think Varitek is the epitome of a professional baseball player. He really knows the game, can predict situations, and is prepared for them. He was one of the hardest working guys in the game of baseball, even if he wasn't the most gifted, or talented athlete, he always used his intelligence and work ethic to make him an all-star and long tenured major leaguer.

9) If you had to start a baseball team which Jewish player would you start it with; Ryan Braun, Ian Kinsler, Kevin Youkilis, or Jason Marquis?
Jason Marquis. Pitching is the key to success. But, I think Braun is a really great player and is going to surpass Shawn Green as the modern day Hank Greenberg.

Good luck to Max in school (or scoring that huge lucrative deal). We will be following your story.
And Let Us Say...Amen.
- Jeremy Fine

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