OyChicago blog

Interview with Jewish boxer Cletus Seldin

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08/31/2015

Interview with Jewish boxer Cletus Seldin photo

Meet the newest Jewish boxing sensation, Cletus Seldin. He isn't just hard-hitting, he is repping the Jewish people hard too. Take notice!

1. Tell us a little bit about yourself.

I grew up in Shirley, N.Y., which is a working-class neighborhood in Eastern Long Island. I graduated from Longwood High School and I played multiple sports through my years there. I was the starting cornerback on the 2004 Long Island championship team, I was a second-in-the state-wrestler, played lacrosse … I held the state record for a deadlift of 470 pounds at 145 pounds, and I took fifth place in the Eastern USA regionals bodybuilding competition. Don't mess with me when the Dallas Cowboys are on and I'm a food connoisseur. Outside of the ring I'm a really laid back, fun guy to be around, but when I work, I work hard and I don't let anything get in the way.

2. How did you get into boxing?

I started boxing around 2005 after my brother took me with him to the MMA gym where he attended. I was actually pretty good naturally because of my wrestling background and believe it or not, I tapped out the Sensei my first day there. I even worked my way up to a brown belt in Judo. But what I found out was that my stand-up fighting ability was pretty bad. There was a local boxing gym in Shirley that trained a couple big name guys and they had a really good amateur reputation in the Golden Gloves. When I started there I was getting knocked around pretty good by experienced amateurs until made a decision to start going every single day until I was beating those same guys, and that's what I did. I started winning exhibitions and winning amateur competitions and now the rest is history.

3. Have you ever considered going into MMA or wrestling?

MMA, yes. Before I started boxing, like I said earlier, I was doing MMA training. But once I started excelling in boxing, I haven't really looked back toward MMA. I can't say that I never will in the future, but as of now I am 100 percent committed to boxing. As for WWE, nope, never really crossed my mind.

4. How did you get the nickname The Hebrew Hammer?

The Hebrew Hammer alias started when I was still competing as an amateur. I was going to all of these tournaments and people started noticing my really hard-hitting right hand. They would say "Wow, that kid has a hammer. What is he, I don't know. Umm, I think he's Jewish. Yeah he's got a hammer, The Hebrew Hammer." And that was it, I'd go here, they said it, and I'd go there they'd say it and eventually I just stuck with it. I'm the Hebrew Hammer.

5. What was your Jewish life like growing up?

There are very few Jewish people in the town and in the schools where I grew up. So there was plenty of misinformation and Jewish banter. Nothing really offensive, it was more ignorant humor type of stuff and you learn to adapt. But I was a tough little kid back then. Small but tough, and eventually everyone realized that if you said something that I really didn't like, you were going to have to answer for it, or fight. But I did like growing up in a Jewish household. It makes you feel part of something special and you have a certain insight that can't be learned. We weren't terribly religious, but we kept the holiday traditions, I had a bar mitzvah, and everyone in my family all have Hebrew names as well.

6. What is next for Cletus Seldin?

The next step for me is to become a contender for a World Championship Title shot. I feel ready whenever they are. Ultimately, I want to fight anyone in the world at 140 pounds with a belt. I want to fight them all and I want all the belts.

7. What does life look like after boxing?

If I can get another three or four solid years out of my career as a boxer, that would be great. ;Right now I'm in top shape, I feel excellent, and I can easily fight at least 4-6 times a year. As for life after boxing, I don't know with certainty where this road is taking me now, so I couldn't tell you where it'll take me then. But I can tell you that I've always been solid on my own two feet, so wherever I do end up after boxing you can expect good things.

8. What else should we know about you?

Fans should know that I do what I do not only for myself, but I do it to represent a part of every hard-working American, and everyone with dreams, ambition, drive, and the courage to do what it takes to get where you want to be.

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Let’s create an American Jewish holiday

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10 historic events worth honoring
08/28/2015

Let's create an American Jewish holiday photo

With the Jewish holiday season fast approaching, perhaps this is a good time to ask: Why are there no Jewish holidays based on events in American Jewish history?

We have Jewish holidays for events that happened in Persia (Purim), Egypt (Passover), Europe (Yom HaShoah) … even in no-man's land (Sukkot). We have holidays about ancient-Israel events that took place under the rule of the Romans (Lag Ba'Omer), Greeks (Chanukah) and Babylonians (various fasts).

Sure, many of our holidays celebrate events in the Torah, but we create new holidays all the time. Modern Israel has three (Yom HaAtzmaut, Yom HaZikaron and Yom Yerusahalyim), and there are people alive today older than the Jewish State itself.

The Jewish community in America is one of the largest and strongest in history. We were only recently (in 2013) eclipsed by Israel as the country with the largest Jewish population in the world, a position we have held for centuries. Jews have been in North America for more than 350 years! That's longer than many other empires' entire existences.

So where are our holidays? Are American Jews not part of Jewish history? Can you even talk about "Jewish history" without taking about American Jewish history?

Jewish American Heritage Month is nice, but a bit vague. In attempting to encompass all of the Jewish American experience, it spreads itself too thin. It's also not a part of the Jewish religious calendar, like the history-based Purim or Chanukah.

It's time to rectify this situation. Here are 10 Jewish-American events significant enough to warrant a Jewish holiday celebrated by Jews everywhere:

American Jewry Day
Jews won the right to settle in New Amsterdam and establish a Jewish community in 1655, and on this day, we celebrate the relationship of American Jews with their country -- for all its faults, easily the strongest between the Jews and a Diaspora country in history.

Jewish Rights Day
Jews achieved political equality in all 50 U.S. states in 1877, and today we appreciate our rights and pledge to continue our efforts toward equal human and civil rights for all.

Zion Day
The Federation of American Zionists is established in New York City (1898), but the day honors the overall role of American Jews in helping Israel become a country.

Triangle Fire Remembrance Day
A solemn day for remembering the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire of 1911, and redoubling our efforts to ensure fair and safe working conditions everywhere.

Justice Day
Louis Brandeis was appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1916 becoming the first Jew ever nominated for the Court, let alone to serve on it -- and in his name we honor all that Jews have done to bring justice and the rule of law to America and the world.

Immigrants Day
Today, we remember the racist Immigrant Acts of 1921 and 1924, which closed America to East European Jews and others, and advocate for immigrant rights.

Civil Rights Day
In 1964, Congress and LBJ passed the Civil Rights Act. On this day, we honor all Jews who strove for civil rights in America and worldwide, and pledge to follow suit.

Jews in the Arts Week (8 days, of course):
The contribution of American Jews to the world(s) of art are incalculable. We would take a whole week to celebrate achievements in painting, sculpture, music, dance, theater, film, poetry, prose and comedy.

Rebecca Gratz Day
In honor of this pioneering Jewish woman, we recognize all the achievements of Jewish women to American history and culture, and renew our commitment to women's rights.

Soviet Jewry Day
The Exodus of a million Soviet Jews from behind the Iron Curtain is celebrated and the story of their liberation retold, including the American Jewish role. This, certainly, is an historic landmark of Biblical proportions and deserves a formal holiday.

Let the Jewish people and the rabbinic authorities work together to create, ritualize, and promote a holiday based on America's Jews and all we have achieved over the centuries.

I mean, waffles have two holidays. And American Jews don't even have one.

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5 Inevitable High Holiday Moments in Your 20s

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08/27/2015

5 Inevitable High Holiday Moments in Your 20s photo

Growing up, the High Holidays were that time of year when our parents made us wear the fanciest dress or suit in our closet and sit through long services while sitting so far back in the room, you questioned if the rabbi was even on the bimah (stage). The trade-off was you got two nights of your parents' or grandparents' finest cuisine (assuming you survived your family meals).

In our 20s, nobody is forcing us to go to services anymore (guilting us, perhaps, but not forcing …) and sometimes even a family meal isn't nearby. Suddenly, we realize how much life has changed, which coupled with how introspective Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are, leads us to ask ourselves some questions.

In hopes of preparing you for the inevitable, here are five scenarios all too common for 20-somethings during the Days of Awe.

Wondering if you're a "Good Jew"

Despite the fact that being "good" or "bad" is not really a Jewish concept at all, this seems to be the time when everyone questions their spirituality. As a result, this moment creates one of three scenarios: 1) You make a promise to yourself that you know you aren't going to keep, but do it anyway because you feel like you should; 2) You embrace your "badness" by doing something that feels taboo (such as not fasting on Yom Kippur) and using the High Holidays as a time to rebel against your childhood or 3) Jewish guilt overtakes you and you decide to change things up. This could be anything from keeping kosher to participating in YLD's LEADS like your mom always bugs you about.

Having to explain the state of your life struggles

If the High Holidays mean being reunited with family, the joy you have from getting the best home-cooked meal you've had in months suddenly becomes a line of interrogation. Nobody ever explained that graduating college required hiring a PR agency to explain why you aren't in graduate school or why you're still single. When you try to defend yourself, your "Tinder culture" argument falls on deaf ears as every relative suddenly thinks they're Patti Stanger and wants to suggest "the perfect match" for you. Where's the swipe left button when you need it?

The unfortunate run-in

The person you thought you'd never see again when you graduated is literally the first person you see in shul. Either they are also visiting home or happened to move to Lakeview (because where else to 20-something singles go for the High Holidays when they're not at home?) and spot you before you can avoid them. Maybe this is a friend you had a falling out with over a decade ago, or maybe even an ex. Whatever happened, they're the last person you want to see and you have a lump in your throat. Suddenly, the focus you originally intended for prayer drifts toward this person. Perhaps this is what the Day of Judgment is really about?

The rabbi's sermon

The rabbi will almost certainly touch on at least one of the following subjects: 1) Why you should give more money to the shul; 2) An extremely controversial political opinion or 3) New beginnings/praying for mercy before our fate is sealed. If you find yourself listening to all three, then congratulations -- you hit the sermon jackpot. These are the most uncomfortable moments of the never-ending service. To top things off, the usual "two Jews, three opinions" stereotype suddenly becomes five opinions and the last 45 minutes you really didn't want to hear to begin with becomes the subject of a two-hour conversation at your dinner table.

Inexplicable excitement about the shofar

You know the shofar is coming. You've heard it every year during High Holiday services and yet, you still have the same reaction to the shofar service that you had when you were six. Perhaps it's the one point where you feel nostalgic about spending the high holidays with your family, or maybe you just like shofars. Even if you decided to rebel and sleep through most of services, you set your alarm just to hear the same blasts you hear every year. It's like the Jewish version of fireworks.

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Living Jewishly Lately

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08/26/2015

Living Jewishly Lately photo

JCC Chicago’s Shabbat on the Lake. Photo credit: Mishkan Chicago

The last gasp of summer is upon us, so I'm making it my business to get outside and enjoy as many activities "al fresco" as I can before the blustery winter weather inevitably makes its sinister return (Sorry, not a winter fan).

In that vein, I went to a lovely outdoor gathering last week: JCC Chicago's Shabbat on the Lake. As I rounded the corner and walked along Lake Shore Drive toward Diversey Parkway, it dawned on me that it's been quite a long time since my last Shabbat celebration. I was a casual Hillel attendee in college, enjoyed some Shabbat festivities when I lived in France, but a gathering with approximately 500 Jews on a Friday night isn't anything I'd ever experienced. I felt a slight shiver of trepidation, but as I saw the event sprawling out of the welcoming crowd in a lush green park, I advanced with a spring in my step and geared myself up to shmooze.

The setting sun cast a lovely glow on the festivities. As I gathered my bearings and scoped out the scene, I noticed a drum circle to my left, a few discussion groups scattered about and some pre-Sabbath yoga to boot. I'd shown up after work -- a.k.a. blue jeans, semi-cute top, potentially disastrous hair -- while most people were dressed neatly in outdoor-ready synagogue attire.

Seeing circles of friends congregate around the park, I couldn't help but think this little gathering resembled a hive of bees. Productive, chattering, buzzing -- filling the area with warmth and activity. Fun fact: Dreaming about bees can symbolize a moment in your life when you're particularly social, when you are balancing a lot of interactions at once. Whether or not that's entirely accurate, it's hard to be sure. In any event, it's a fitting metaphor, don't you think? After prayers were said and dinner devoured, a quiet hum fell over the crowd, the evening easing into a state of blissful contentment.

What I love about going to events like this one is that you never know just whom you might run into. The friend who invited me is a sorority sister. As soon as I arrived, I was joined by my friend, her sister and a healthy smattering of fellow University of Illinois grads. We were quickly joined by her boyfriend, his friends from the local Hillel, Israelis visiting, working and enjoying Chicago, and so on. I spotted friends from college, random acquaintances from high school and I even bumped into a friend from my French conversation group.

It's gatherings like this that remind me: no matter how large a city can feel, a sense of belonging to a community can make the world seem small.

Another college chum is a recently ordained rabbi settling into her new post in Chicago. She put out a call for ideas on how to reach out to people our age, not quite just out of school, but who want to be engaged with Judaism in a way that is comfortable for them and suits their lifestyle. I'm excited to hear what my friends will have to say.

What suits me is taking a moment to engage in Judaism in a way that doesn't feel forced. Something that isn't necessarily focused on "meeting singles" (even though those events are pretty fun, too) is a breath of fresh air. As the High Holidays approach, it feels like a mighty fine time to delve into what it means to be a participant in the community for me, and how I'd like to get involved in the future.

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My Tutors in Happiness

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08/24/2015

My Tutors in Happiness photo

Before I began a tutoring program in inner-city St. Louis, all I knew was that I would be teaching reading and writing skills to third through fifth grade students who were not reaching the state-required levels. Additionally, I was to serve as a mentor just by being someone who graduated high school and attended college -- many of the adults in these kids' lives did not.

Our task was to teach commitment, determination and responsibility. I knew trying to impart these values and skills would be a difficult but rewarding process. If I was lucky, I would help these kids stay the course in their education and hopefully their lives, but I never considered how much they might teach me in the process.

On my first day as a tutor, I walked down the fluorescent-lit hallways and into the cafeteria, which was filled with approximately 30 children, all African-American. The majority of the tutors were Caucasian.

There seemed to be an invisible barrier between the two groups because of our evident differences in age and background and our lack of knowledge -- maybe even ignorance -- about each other. I could feel each group clinging to what was familiar and being resistant to hear someone else's story. But I was determined to break down the wall between us and show my students that we do in fact share values and experiences that can allow us to develop a deep connection.

I sat down at a table with three 10-year-old girls. They looked at me with curiosity and confusion, as if they were seeing an alien.

"I'm Jessica," I said to their awed stares. After a minute, their silence broke. They asked me questions about my favorite music and color, and I was transported back to fourth grade. I loved answering every question, and we bonded over our mutual love of Taylor Swift and Beyoncé.

We immediately had a connection. My playfulness fed their curiosity, and we discovered many things in common. I could feel their preconceived notions of me disintegrating as we spoke, and I felt the same way. We were together to learn, and we had lots in common to connect us.

We worked together all school year. At one point in the curriculum, the students had to read a children's newspaper aloud and discuss the topics it presented. Then, the girls were supposed to write about one of the topics.

In the beginning, the girls were hesitant to write because they had a hard time spelling or thinking of what to write. For example, one of the topics was about "giving back." The girls had a hard time relating to it. I told them that it's possible to write about something even if it hasn't happened to you personally. I suggested they write as if they could assist anyone in whatever way possible. The girls thought about the question in this way instead, and wrote down beautiful tales of donating clothing and giving food to those in need.

Every time they had an obstacle in writing, I would try to frame the question in a relevant and interesting way. After a while, they started to do this practice themselves, and by the end of the year, they needed very little prompting before they began writing. They improved their critical thinking and motivation skills immensely over the months.

The girls also taught me lessons that I will carry with me for the rest of my life. I once asked them if they had been playing outside because it was sunny that day, and one girl told me that she couldn't because her neighborhood was too dangerous. Another girl told me that all of her cousins moved into her house, and it was fun to hang out with them, though I couldn't help but imagine how cramped and challenging it must've been. The girls would tell me these things without my asking, and they would tell these stories with a nonchalance and positive attitude that was admirable and extraordinary.

I was astounded by their stories and how they conquered every day as if it was the best day of their lives. They loved being together and with family, and they didn't need much more in order to be happy.

I hope that these girls never lose their ability to see the positivity in every situation, and I know that in my own life, I can definitely follow their example. They taught me to remember and heed all the blessings in my life, and try not to dwell on the more negative aspects. They were not bogged down by their reality, and they enjoyed all victories, small and large. And whether that was receiving a new "Frozen" pen or a new backpack, they were excited at everything, and were my tutors in happiness.

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Lifestyle Changes that Last

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08/21/2015

lifestyle changes

Whenever my mom wants to diet, instead of using the "D" word, she professes that she's making a lifestyle change. I like the way this woman thinks.

To me, a diet implies incorporating a new eating trend that swears you'll lose weight and look fab in your skinny jeans, bridesmaid dress, or crop top. However, once you've achieved your goal and ended that diet, you often gain the weight you've lost. On the other hand, a lifestyle change, to me, offers lasting physical and mental health.

There are many types of lifestyle changes. Maybe you want to get eight hours of sleep each night, workout five days a week, or eat more veggies. The difficulty of a lifestyle change, however, is sticking to it.

In my free time, I love reading books and articles on ways to better myself physically, mentally and spiritually. Below are a few tricks I've learned to help maintain a lifestyle change, so it just becomes a lifestyle:

Write It Down

A lifestyle change of mine has been to work out Monday through Friday. To best achieve my goal, I plan my workout schedule each Sunday. By planning it out, I know I have enough time in my schedule to hit the gym. Naturally, some weeks I make it to the gym when I plan to, while other weeks I sweat it out less frequently, however, ever since I started writing down in my schedule when I'm working out, I've been more likely to do those squats and arm curls.

Be Your Lifestyle Coach

One of my lifestyle goals is to get eight hours of sleep each night. If you're like me, you're busy, and it's hard to keep up with everything in our lives. So, if I'm at an event that goes past my bedtime, I'm learning to feel comfortable leaving before it's over so I can get some shuteye. Don't feel guilty doing things that are going to make you a happier and healthier person.

Don't Worry

We all have good days, bad days, good weeks, and bad weeks when it comes to implementing lifestyle changes. Don't beat yourself up about not sticking to your new lifestyle 100 percent of the time. Honestly, life would be boring if we followed every healthy habit. Find a balance with your new lifestyle change and your current lifestyle. A lifestyle change is supposed to empower you and not to deprive you.

It's important to always find ways to improve ourselves, so we can live more fulfilling lives. I hope my advice helps you stay on track.

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Generation Wanderlust

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08/20/2015

Generation Wanderlust photo

As I prepare to jet off for a week-long trip to South America, a trip I have been saving for and planning for years, I can't help but wonder about the rise of Millennials making "hashtag wanderlust" not only a thing but a way of life. Traveling is emphasized more than material goods, and spanning the globe is deemed far more important than holding down a 9-to-5 job. While this sounds all well and good (I mean who wouldn't want to take exotic elephant rides through Thai jungles), to me the entire concept feels a bit unrealistic.

Quotes pervade social media emphasizing traveling while you're young. Jobs and money are deemed secondary to the knowledge and memories you acquire while traveling. The "lose yourself to find yourself" in pretty much any country but America argument makes this phenomenon appealing and glamorous to an entire generation.

While it seems like everyone and their mother is taking hashtag wanderlust to heart by eating the local food in Asia and wearing the local garb in India, I can't help but wonder, how are people really doing this?

First there is the cash. Young 20-somethings who can afford to travel the world with no means of income and no job to return to can only mean that they are supported by others, are spending a lot of their savings or have won the lottery. Whatever the case, these people seem to be the exception among college grads as opposed to the rule.

Second there is the sheer reality of the thing. I recently read an article in Cosmo that chronicled the adventure of a young woman in her move to the Caribbean to scoop ice cream. She escaped from her well-paid albeit demanding corporate job in New York, completely changed her life and has apparently never been more satisfied. As inspirational as that is, I don't know too many New Yorkers who would be so casual about waking up to find poultry in their bathroom.

Although the article encourages taking risks, trying new things, and falling off the grid, it's a bit hypocritical -- it ran in a major fashion magazine! Still, I recognize this woman drastically changed her life, lives the way she wants to AND stands on her own two feet. For those who travel the world in this way, applause.

Packing your life up to move somewhere foreign and mysterious is no easy task, irrespective of how you achieve means to live. Not everyone can do that. But not everyone has the wanderlust gene either. Maybe that's okay too? What if it's okay to just try new things on the weekends? Or travel to another city to visit a friend? Shouldn't these less drastic things be encouraged and valued too? What ever happened to just treating yourself to a vacation?

My upcoming trip has been three years in the making with a group of friends who haven't been together in the same place since they took pictures together in their caps and gowns. Would I love to extend this trip, travel the world for a year and forget about my responsibilities? Of course! But for now I'll settle for doing that one week out of the year and to be honest, I don't think that's too shabby.

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Tomatoes and Premature PSL

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08/19/2015

Tomatoes and Premature PSL

I am deeply in love with Starbucks. Every morning I stop by my local drive-through and pick up the largest coffee that the law will allow. I'm fairly certain that I wouldn't be able to function with out these daily trips. Frankly, I'm surprised I manage to find my local store in the morning, since I'm not being chauffeured by a grown-up and haven't had a drop of caffeine. I mean it. I've got it bad for the coffee mermaid -- she saves my life everyday!

Now that I've gotten that out of the way, can we talk about the recent announcement that the Pumpkin Spice Latte is coming soon? Like very soon -- Aug. 25 soon. How can this be happening to us, Chicago? I just felt the sun on my face for the first time two weeks ago and I had almost forgotten that winter was even a thing. I understand that we have to constantly move on to the next trend, but can it be summer for just a minute or two more? Please?

It's not that I hate the PSL. I actually like it a lot. I'd just prefer to focus on the foods and flavors of summer before having to wrap myself up in all of my clothes while returning to the cave to hibernate. If Starbucks really had our best interests at heart they'd be burying us in the flavors of summer. 

Let's all think of summer foods for a moment. When I think of summer, all I can picture is tomatoes. Where are the tomatoes, Starbucks? This is tomato season after all, and nothing says summer like fresh tomatoes. I guess that's probably not the best flavor to combine with coffee, but I'd try it at least once. Maybe more if that's what I was handed at the drive through in the morning.

No! I'm not about to give you a recipe for tomato-flavored coffee -- that's the most disgusting thing I've ever heard! I would, however, like to share my new favorite summer recipe: Caprese salad. It's the easiest thing you'll make for dinner all summer, almost easier than picking up coffee at a Starbucks drive through.

 

The "It's Still Summer, Dammit" Caprese Salad

Ingredients

4 large, beefsteak tomatoes (or whatever tomato variety you're most in love with)
3 balls of fresh buffalo mozzarella 
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
Small container of pesto (optional)
Small red onion (optional)
Basil leaves
Generous pinch of salt and pepper

Directions

Slice tomatoes into 1/3 inch-thick slices, if you're using the onion, slice it into very thin pieces and then also slice the mozzarella the same thickness at the tomato. Arrange the tomato slices on a plate and sprinkle each with a pinch of salt and fresh black pepper. Top each tomato slice with onion and dab a tablespoon (more if you like) of the pesto on the onion, then top with a slice of mozzarella and top with a basil leave and drizzle each with olive oil.

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Cubs Ahead of Schedule

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08/18/2015

Cubs Ahead of Schedule photo 1

The Chicago Cubs' nine-game win streak came to an end this weekend, after a dominant 15-strikeout performance by Chris Sale in a loss to the White Sox on Sunday at U.S Cellular Field.

And this is no disrespect to the Cubs, but when I saw Sale vs. Haren, I knew the end of the road was near.

The loss ends an exciting run by this young Cubs team, which is performing well above expectations and ahead of schedule.

The last time the Cubs won nine games in a row was in May 2008. The fact that they are in playoff contention and winning in this fashion so late in the season is not only remarkable, but also completely unexpected. According to ESPN Stats & Info, this was their longest streak in August or later since they won 10 in a row in September 1953.

After being swept by the Phillies at the end of July, many analysts thought this would be the beginning of the downward spiral for this young Cubs team. They had kept themselves in contention for longer than anyone expected, but lack of experience was finally going to get the best of them as the games started to matter more and more.

The Cubs didn't see it that way.

They went on to win 16 of 19 after that series, including a 4-game sweep of the defending champion San Francisco Giants. During that stretch, Kris Bryant had a 12-game hit streak and Anthony Rizzo and Dexter Fowler both hit near .400, not to mention the hot run Kyle Schwarber has been on since his most recent call up. But it hasn't just been the bats. In his last 10 starts, Jake Arrieta is 7-1 with a 1.23 ERA, which is 3rd best since late June.The Cubs also have the best road record in baseball at 33-25.

This is not a fluke. The Cubs really are this good. They'll tell you themselves.

And it has been so much fun to watch, in part because you can tell it has been so much fun for them. This does not feel like a "curse-busting" team of strung-together players like we saw during the playoff runs in 2003 and 2007-08. This does not feel like a group carrying the baggage of 109 years of losing like those teams did. This is a whole new type of Cubs team, a complete re-build of not just a roster, but a way of baseball in Chicago.

The Cubs are somehow still "quietly" sitting with the fourth best record in baseball, in part because of the quality of their own division. Two of the three teams with better records than the Cubs also reside in the Central, the St. Louis Cardinals and the Pittsburgh Pirates. With the exception of the AL Central, the Cubs would be in first place in every other division in baseball. The fact that the hype machine has not completely overtaken Chicago yet is a factor I believe is helping the Cubs focus entirely on improving as a team and winning games.

As great as they are playing on the field, I would be remiss if I did not give credit to the work Manager Joe Maddon is doing. As exciting as the Maddon hiring was prior to the start of the season, expectations were still not through the roof. Baseball managers do not add more than 3-4 wins above replacement, especially on a team with their best days still expected to be ahead of them. As much as Maddon is known for his personality and antics, his biggest role so far in Chicago has been to keep them grounded -- focusing on fundamentals, not taking anything for granted and earning their way onto the field every day. So far there has been very little drama and they look like a team that belongs in the playoff race every time they come out onto the field.

Cubs Ahead of Schedule photo 2

Joe Maddon

But as I watch and as expectations continue to rise, I feel it is important to make a plea to Cubs fans not to forget to exercise patience in a sports world focused on results, viewing anything short of a title as a failed season.

As great as they have been, there is plenty of time to regress. We've seen them go through stretches where they struggle to score runs, and with a tough final seven weeks ahead of them that will see two series each against the Cardinals and Pirates, it is still possible that despite their record, the Cubs could still miss the playoffs -- be it by record or a loss in a play-in game.

It is important to remember, we were not supposed to be here yet this season. This is still a team with four rookies that are more or less everyday starters. We were not even supposed to see Schwarber or Addison Russell until next season. Let's not let our history of bitterness and cynicism spoil what this team has already done. I hope as much as anyone that this continues into the playoffs, but if it doesn't, this season was still a huge success.

The Cubs are finally moving in the right direction. It is not always going to be an exponential growth, there will be setbacks, but the fans on the north side need to appreciate that they have the privilege of watching the Cubs play in games that matter in August and September. Even if they lose those games, the fact that they are meaningful at all is something to be grateful for.

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My Wedding Subconscious

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08/17/2015

oy lia wedding

For my upcoming October wedding, as a somewhat Type A bride, there's a lot I'm trying to control.

I don't think I've become Bridezilla, but I've spent 28 years daydreaming about this special day and I have a vision I'd like to achieve. I'm choosing specific flowers (I now know my new favorite flowers are dahlias and ranunculi!), I have songs I'd like the band to play (and not play), and I'm designing our invitations myself.

But I'm realizing that there's one aspect of wedding planning that I can't control and it is driving me crazy. It's my stupid subconscious.

I'm not one who usually remembers my dreams -- I rarely had those "oh-no-I-forgot-about-the-math-test-and-here-I-am-running-late-to-school-and-I'm-wearing-my-bathrobe-and-bunny slippers" nightmares, at least that I could remember. But leading up to our wedding, the nightmares have begun.

It's not monsters and zombies that scare me overnight. What frightens me awake are visions of the hair stylist not showing up, the bridesmaids forgetting what day it is, taking my dress out of the box to find it is salmon colored (yes, even in my dreams, I'm picturing colors by their Pantone names), the chuppah being an enclosed phonebooth-like box where no one could see us during the ceremony, and the photographer's pictures turning out horribly. And that was all one real, horrible midsummer night's dream!

The truth is -- I know the wedding is going to be great. It will be perfect because I'm marrying Adam, who is wonderful and loving and calm. It will be perfect because we will be surrounded by our friends and family who love us. And it will be perfect because at the end of the day, love is the winner. Things will go wrong, mishaps will happen, someone will forget to put out the place cards, but it will still be Our Wedding Day.

So why can't my dreams CALM DOWN?

Is there a way to send a message to my subconscious? "Hey, whoever's listening deep in there … these dreams have been getting a little crazy recently and are kind of stressing me out. Can we tone them down a bit?"

While I have spent a lot of time planning our wedding, the majority of it has been fun and even relaxing for me. I like meeting with florists and I enjoy trying on dresses. Even choosing linen colors is fun. But my nightmares are taking my fun and exciting reality and MAKING. ME. SCARED.

I'm sure this is normal, and I'd love to hear about other people's pre-wedding night terrors. Is there a trick to make them stop?

I guess I can't control everything. My brain is clearly bored while I'm sleeping (come on, brain, isn't there an episode of "Everybody Loves Raymond" that you can find in there? That show is always on somewhere) and so it wants to mess with me.

But what I can control is focusing on all of the love, all of the friendship, all of the family, and all of the many years of happiness in our future as husband and wife -- and, okay, maybe spending a few minutes every day daydreaming about my bouquet of dark red dahlias. 

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Out of the shadows

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08/14/2015

I had much internal debate over writing this, but my decision was made by a sighting at my local Walgreens of a young girl donning an athletic jersey of a person currently under suspicion for less than gentlemanly behavior. It made me pause and it gave me courage. So here we go …

I froze. There were words coming out of my mouth but I felt other-worldly -- removed from my voice, my body.

He did it again. Suddenly, I felt myself resurfacing.

"Are you married? Do you have kids?" I demanded.

His voice changed from smug and cool to someone who had just gotten busted.

"Yes. I'm married with kids."

I looked him dead in the face, "If you were my husband and I saw what you just did to me, I would (insert unpublishable bad "-ing" word here) kick your ass!"

He stepped back admonished, with his hands now behind his back.

"What? Was I too handsy?"

"Yeah." I spat, pissed off and finally fully present. "You're too handsy."

He slinked away.

The truth was "handsy" was an understatement. Where and how he touched me, which I find too appalling to describe in writing, could not be filed away and dismissed as borderline inappropriate groping.

I found girlfriends. I told them what happened. We commiserated on his vileness and speculated what his problem was. We then universally agreed that we didn't give a shit.

For a little while I felt better. By the time I got home and climbed into bed next to my sleeping husband, I was drenched in a blanket of shame.

I've been me my whole life. I know that sounds like a ridiculous statement. But there's nothing like thinking you know yourself and then having that whole understanding crumble in an instant. That's exactly what happened to me that night. The stand-up-for-everything-sit-down-for-nothing, mouthy, in-your-face woman I know myself to be, had stood mute, mousy and wide eyed for many minutes. Where had I gone?

My mind went where I suspect many women go when they are violated in this way -- blank. I went blank. And when I returned to my senses, I still didn't act or behave as I would have expected until the following day.

I wrote an account of the injustice which I sent (albeit shakily) to the offender privately on Facebook. After two days of no response, I copied and pasted my words to his work email. Within 30 seconds of my hitting "send" it was returned to me as undeliverable. I felt bereft and enraged all at once. The justice I was seeking had to come from this man knowing what he had done was wrong. I had to wait for the man who with no thought at all had touched me -- twice -- in the middle of a party, to acknowledge his violation in order for me to feel better. This man, who only had more than cordial access to me because I had peripherally known him for years, needed to read my words so I could pass my shame and humiliation on to him and his conscience. It was sick and ironic. And I waited nonetheless.

While I waited for a reply, I ran through the scenario again and again. Each time I replayed the scene I would wonder, "What if...?"

Sometimes it was, "What if I had slapped him?" Sometimes it was, "What if I'd said something to a bouncer?" Sometimes it was, "What if I'd walked away the minute I'd gotten that bad vibe?"

I'm embarrassed by the answers that I would have given in that moment, but in the spirit of full disclosure and in an attempt to close the gap of loneliness and shame, I'm going to reveal them:

If I slapped him, I would have looked like a bitch; if I'd gotten him kicked out, his friends would be mad at me and I would have ruined the celebration; I didn't want to be rude and it could have been possible that my gut reaction was off.

I cannot express the embarrassment I have typing that. I have four kids whom I am entrusted to help navigate the world safely, empowering them with the confidence to stand up for injustices. And there I just stood, frozen, my mind full of reasons why I should talk myself down from advocating on my own behalf, for my own body.

He eventually responded. He apologized. And I was shocked that the justice I was seeking through his apology felt so hollow. It would never be squared because he was sorry, embarrassed or hung over. I had been violated and led to question and doubt myself. The two experiences would never meet in the middle.

I am now realizing something else; I haven't felt grounded up until this point -- up until just now -- as I type these last few sentences. The injustice beyond the actual offense was the silence and the shame of the secret. By sharing this publically, I no longer live in those shadows.

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Treasuring the Moment

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08/13/2015

Treasuring the Moment photo

If you thought "Cat's in the Cradle" was a heart-wrenching song when you were single, try thinking about it when you're a dad! We can all relate to that boy who missed out on those moments with his father, and the father (who we can also all relate to) missing out on those moments with his son. Life goes by so fast, and there's so much going on! We all have to fess up to the truth -- it's really hard to catch those special moments in life. Harry Chapin knew what he was talking about.

That poor father and son -- it's too late for them. But we won't let that happen, right?

In real life, there are real feelings, real relationships and real opportunities for deep satisfaction, pleasure and connections. But if we don't open up a space inside to hear and hold them, we lose them. We have to create space for the precious moments in our lives and relationships in order to treasure them. And that's what they are, treasure. But they're lost treasure if there's no space to store them.

This message was actually taught to us by the all-star greatest relationships rabbi of all time, Moses. When Moses was told to prepare two stone tablets for receiving the Torah, he was also told to prepare an ark to keep them in. Moses took those two instructions, but he swapped the order. He prepared the ark first, then the tablets.

Our sages tell us this was done purposefully. Moses felt it was important to have the ark built before preparing the tablets. What's the big deal? They're stone, can't they hold up for a few hours while he puts together the ark for them? His actions teach us that it actually is a big deal. Even if nothing would happen in the interim, the experience of having the tablets without a special space set aside for them would detract from their preciousness.

Symbolically, we learn a very special lesson. Without having a space for our "treasure" to be placed, it's not as treasured. Just like the kid in the song, Dad has to make some space for him. Otherwise, like in the lyric "you know we'll have a good time then …" the "then" comes and goes without ever having a good time.

This is applicable to anything we hold dear to us in life. We have to create a space for it to be a part of us and our lives. If we don't have a space within us to hold happiness, special moments, meaning and all the other wonderful experiences life can give us, we won't have anywhere to put them when they do arrive. We might even completely miss them.

We naturally assume that when good things happen to us we'll realize it, dive in and bask in the pleasures of the moment. But it's not true. We don't do it, and often it's because we haven't created a space for it. And then the experience is lost, as if it never happened. This goes for emotions, relationships and spiritual matters too. We need to create within ourselves space for feeling love, hearing the empathy of our loved ones, experiencing a spiritual existence and even for simply being happy in the moment. Otherwise, we could be missing out on all the abundant treasure around us.

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The Voices in Our Heads

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08/12/2015

The Voices in Our Heads photo

There are many voices in my head. This is mostly because I consider myself somewhat of a voiceover enthusiast, but also because I like to talk to myself.

I do like all the stuff I like after all, so I can hold a great conversation with me. But outside of the cavalcade of voices in my head, there are two voices talking to my head (i.e. voices I hear) that have great importance in my daily life. I am, of course, talking about the ever-present voices of Carolyn Hopkins and Lee Crooks.

You never heard of them? That might be the case, but while you may have not heard of them, I can almost guarantee you have heard them. So journey with me.

Once we stop singing "Don't Stop Believing" together, let's journey in a different way to find out why these two people are such huge influences in my life, and possibly yours, without us ever even realizing it. If you haven't already Googled them, these two people are the voices of pretty much every transit announcement I've ever heard, ever. If you live in Chicago, it'll be the same for you as well.

Carolyn Hopkins is the voice of hundreds of airports and subways. Not the restaurant, but the mode of public transit. Pretty much anytime you go to an airport and you hear a pre-recorded announcement over the PA system, that's her. When you're at the airport and you shouldn't park in the white zone, which is for loading and unloading of passengers only, that's her. And when you hear someone say, "What the hell are you doing in the bathroom day and night!? Why don't you get out of there and give someone else a chance!?" you're probably watching Mel Brooks' Young Frankenstein.

I travel for work on average every other week, so the voice of Carolyn Hopkins is one I've heard more often than I realize. The point is that my life is probably a little bit calmer and smoother for having Hopkins' voice guide me through my cross-country travels.

When I'm not on the road and in sweet home Chicago, that voice role is filled by the aforementioned Lee Crooks, the voice of the CTA. For those of you not from Chicago, CTA stands for "Causing Total Anxiety" because of all the delays experienced in day-to-day transit. I'm just joking of course. CTA really stands for "Can't Time Accurately" because of all the delays experienced in day-to-day transit.

If you decide to ride the train or the buses in Chicago, you will hear Lee Crooks' voice, provided your headphones aren't on so loud that I can hear your music even though I am listening to my own music. So pretty much anytime you hear an announcement for a stop, that's him. Anytime you hear "we are waiting for signal clearance," that's him. And most famously, according to my own life, anytime you hear "doors closing," that's him. I often find myself repeating "doors closing" in the exact same manner as Crooks whenever I am on the 'L.' Or on the elevator in my apartment building. Or when I go to the bathroom and shut the door. Man, I close a lot of doors.

Within the past couple months, I was finally was able to put a face to these voices, which I found very cool. Most people don't realize the enormous amount of voiceover around them in their daily travels, and it's sometimes baffling to me to think of how many times I've heard these voices without taking the time to think about them. If I ever meet either of these people, I should thank them not only for making my commutes and travels subconsciously a little better, but also for giving me material for this Oy! post.

What's nifty is that as of 2009, these voices actually cross roads in my life, or should I say tracks? Yes, yes I should. Because it happens around trains. See, while Crooks announces CTA stations and all things CTA when you are on the transit, when you are off the transit while on an 'L' platform, Hopkins is the one announcing things like an "inbound train will be arriving shortly." So in just a few moments, I could hear both these voices belting sweet nothings in my ear. It's almost like a marriage of the two.

It'd be amazing if these two voice actors were married in real life. The same way the voices of Minnie and Mickey Mouse were married in real life. You didn't know that? Oh, it's true. Could life get any more adorable than that? Could it!? COULD IT!!??!!!

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Wet Hot Jewish American Summer, Part 2

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It's like the 'First Day of Camp'
08/11/2015

Wet Hot Jewish American Summer, Part 2 photo 1

The arrival of Netflix's Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp came with a feeling similar to that first day of overnight camp: who will your new friends be? What will your new memories look like? Will you find someone special? The possibilities seem limitless, and so was the case for David Wain's return to the cult classic that launched his career and the careers of so many of today's biggest stars.

I already praised 2001's Wet Hot American Summer as one of the best Jewish movies of all time, so needless to say, my excitement at seeing the entire cast (and then some) return for this prequel series was palpable, and my interest in what the Jewish components might be even more so. My expectations, on the other hand were tempered. Comedies of the cult variety are nearly impossible to replicate.

Fourteen years of reflection and insight definitely help First Day of Camp. Wain and co-writer Michael Showalter, who plays Coop, have a real sense of the spirit of their film and why it caught on as a cult classic, and they honor that without apology in this 8-episode series, which while not brilliant, has enough nostalgia and subtle laugh-out-loud moments to warrant the return trip to Camp Firewood.

The key is self-aware absurdity. Just the concept of making a series with all the same actors playing teenagers again (teenagers technically younger than they were in the movie, which took place on the last day of camp) is ridiculous enough. First Day of Camp makes jokes about it. Camper Abby Bernstein, for example, is played by a young girl in the first episode, but then gets her period, and from then on is played by Marisa Ryan, reprising her film role.

The Jewish humor of the series is more overt than it was in the 2001 film, and you can tell its personal for Wain; he plays a new character, Yaron, a counselor from Israel.

Wet Hot Jewish American Summer, Part 2 photo 2

Yaron is the free-spirited, sexually liberated Israeli who is friendly and sweet with everyone yet intimidates and angers his fellow American male counselors, namely Coop, simply by default, i.e. he steals away their women with his Israeli swagger. In particular, Yaron captivates Coop's girlfriend Donna (Lake Bell), also a new character, a Jewish hippie type with a Star of David necklace who gifts everyone in camp a shofar from "Yerushalayim."

Israeli shlichim, the Israelis who come to American each summer to work at camps, are an integral part of the American Jewish camping experience, and so Yaron feels like the piece of the original movie that was missing. His subplot with Donna and Coop enhances the Jewish tone of the new series, suggesting Wain felt a certain pride over his movie's Jewish roots and popularity among Jews, and wanted to fly the flag a little higher this time around.

The entire First Day of Camp series is totally outrageous, sometimes to the point of tedium, but it's all in homage to the movie. The stories for each character line up with the original and sometimes in ways that put a twist on what we thought we knew about those characters -- for better or for worse. It's a total reunion-type series, much like Netflix's foray with Arrested Development, and it works as just that. A Wet Hot "virgin" would have a much lower chance of appreciating the series and wouldn't get many of its subtle references to the movie.

True to form, the only time the series is sincere is in the notion of camp friendships and romance, specifically the subplot involving nerdy camper Kevin (David Bloom), who gets bullied and has a crush on a girl. That's the truth of both the film and the series -- camp is a magical yet unforgiving place where a lot of growth happens in a short time.

So in a very roundabout way, First Day of Camp further reinforces why Jewish kids need to go to Jewish summer camp -- just don't show it to them until they're older.

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Advice to my 13-year-old self

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08/07/2015

Advice to my 13-year-old self photo

One of the best things  about getting older is growing more confident in who we are and more comfortable in our own skin.

I remember back to my own bat mitzvah and how much more timid I felt back then, in daily life, and certainly standing up in front of all those people on my big day. I wish I could whisper in that 13-year-old girl's ear, up there on that  bimah (pulpit), and reassure her. But growing up is also about learning lessons for yourself. If we could, though, wouldn't it be nice to tell our younger selves a few pieces of wisdom?

Here are 13 things I would tell the younger me:

1. Don't worry so much about what other people think. Now I know that's way easier said than done, but teens and -- who am I kidding? -- adults too, spend a lot of time concerned about how they come off to other people. We obsess that others are judging everything we do. But I've got news for you: Everyone else is way too concerned about what they're doing so how could they be paying attention to your every move?

2. Go to Israel. Take advantage of the incredible opportunities in the Jewish community that will get you to our Jewish homeland. It will change you forever.

3. Listen to the stories your grandparents and parents tell you about your family tree. They're your roots and learning where you came from reflects on who you are and has a lot to do with who you will become.

4. Appreciate summer break. You're not always going to have the luxury to take three months off from the rest of the year to do something totally different.

5. Be kind to people -- and treat them just like you'd want them to treat you.

6. Eat dinner with your family whenever you can -- especially on Shabbat. The life and schedule of a teenager is kray-zee, but share a meal at the end of the day and week as much as you can to ground you from the chaos of our daily routines.

7. Be you. Don't just go with the crowd, wear stripes and polka dots together if you want to, and stand up for what you believe in -- even if it's not the popular thing to do.

8. Tell the people you love that you love them.

9. Be nice to your sister or brother. If they're anything like the little sister I was (and still am), they look up to you and want to be like you.

10. Pick classes and activities you actually want to take in high school and college, as opposed to what's going to look good on your applications and resume. You've got the whole rest of your life to worry about your job. Taking courses you're interested in will make you a more well-rounded person-and more fun to talk to at cocktail parties.

11. Mail a letter. My 13-year-old self didn't know from texting, Tweeting, and Snap Chat, but if she did, I'd still tell her to occasionally write a letter to someone on good old-fashioned paper. I know you'll probably have to find where your family keeps the stamps because it's rare to use them these days, but think of how fun it is to receive a letter in the mail every once in a while.

12. When you learn to drive in a couple years, try not to drive up onto your neighbor's lawn, which I admit I did, almost giving my driving coach/dad a heart attack. And never EVER drink and drive, or text and drive!

13. Remember that this too shall pass! You won't always go to school with that mean bully who probably has pretty low self-esteem, you will one day pass geometry (and perhaps never use your geometry knowledge again), and you're not always going to be in love with that one guy from U.S. History class. I promise you, next semester, you'll have a crush on that other guy from U.S. History class.

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Interview with Jewish baseball legend Shawn Green

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08/06/2015

Interview with Jewish baseball legend Shawn Green photo 1

After Sandy Koufax and Hank Greenberg, the debate over the third greatest Jewish baseball player begins, and that conversation often starts with Shawn Green. For a stretch, Green showed elite power, which led him to all-star status, but his story is far deeper than his home runs.

1. What have you been up to since you retired?

I retired to spend more time with my wife and two daughters. I wrote a book that came out about five years ago called The Way of Baseball: Finding Stillness at 95 mph. I was doing a lot of speaking with the book. I have been involved in a few businesses, mainly tech startups. Currently, I work for a company called Green Fly, which mainly handles media apps.

2. Do you think the National League should adapt the DH? Would you have played longer?

I like old school baseball. I am not a big fan of interleague play. I believe the game should be innovative but there is something about old school baseball that I love. I liked when it was a true World Series and the leagues had advantages and disadvantages. It threw a wrench in the mix. It was like two very different games going on which was exciting. I do not think a DH in the National League would have kept me in the game any longer. It is more for infielders rather than outfielders. Leaving the game had less to do with not being able to play anymore and had more to do with not wanting to play anymore.

3. What was it like playing for Israel in the World Baseball Classic? How good was Joc Pederson?

Playing for Israel in the WBC was a lot of fun. It was great to put on an Israeli uniform. There were a bunch of young Jewish players and it was definitely the smartest team I have ever been a part of. While playing I got to know Joc. Joc was coming out of A-ball. We all knew he would be special because he has a beautiful swing. He reminds me a lot of Lance Berkman because of the way he swings and the backspin he hits the ball with. He is young and getting better. Right now he hits lots of home runs and his strikeouts will reduce because of his natural swing.

Interview with Jewish baseball legend Shawn Green photo 2

4. What is the hardest part of being away from the game?

I was burnt out when I retired. I do miss the camaraderie. And I miss the flights but not the travel. There is also something about the physicality of a sport, like taking batting practice and honing a craft. I do not miss the stress of competition, but I do miss the success of accomplishing physical goals; it is a lot of fun to hit a home run.

5. What was your greatest professional accomplishment?

I am proud of a lot of things. My first few years were a big challenge mainly because I was platooning. Getting over that hump and becoming an everyday starter and all-star was gratifying. Also the Golden Glove and 35 stolen bases were major accomplishments. My critics believed I couldn't do either. These things stretched me and got me outside my box.

6. Who was the best pitcher you ever faced and the best player you played with?

No question Mariano Rivera was the best pitcher I ever faced. He basically had one pitch and I could never hit it. Best player I ever played with was Adrian Beltre. He was super talented and truly an incredible ball player. All four years we played together he showed signs of being MVP, but what separates him from everyone else is the way he plays defense. He also could have 3,000 hits and 500 home runs by the end of his career. He should be in the Hall of Fame.

7. Like Sandy Koufax you sat out on Yom Kippur. Is that decision still meaningful in your life?

I actually sat out three times. I sat out in 2001 after 9/11, but that did not get much attention because we were a few games behind the Giants. In 2004 we were a few games ahead and had two games that landed on Yom Kippur. I played in one game and sat out the other. When I was younger we acknowledged the holiday but we were not super religious growing up. In 2007, I again sat one game and played the other. 2004 became a big story juggling a religious decision in the modern workplace. It was the right decision for my family and looking back I am happy I made the decisions I did.

Green is a speaker with The Great Rabbino, the Jewish Sports Speakers Bureau.

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Kettlebells Rock

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08/05/2015

Kettlebells Rock photo

The first time I saw a trainer using a kettlebell, I judged him. With his thick Russian accent he would yell at his clients, "Pop your hips. Use your legs." I cringed as another trainer tossed a 30-pound kettlebell in the air and caught it with the other hand. Part of me thought, that can't be good for your joints.

Yet I was also intrigued. Fast forward a few years, and this weighted ball with a handle went from an Eastern European fad, to an American gym staple.

The most cost-effective bell is made from cast iron; they last forever and are not expensive. They also make vinyl versions (which don't wear well) and steel (more expensive). The benefit of a kettlebell over a dumbbell is the way the kettlebell can be held, swung, and racked next to your body. These heavy objects are not for everyone, but they are great for improving endurance, burning calories, and becoming more athletic. I own several and use them with most of my clients. When I'm short on time, I'll crank out a quick workout of squats, rows, deadlifts, and presses with limited breaks.

If you are already weight-training, ask a trainer at your gym for some guidance. If you are new to weight training, schedule a session with a trainer to learn the basics. I would look for a trainer that completed a certification or class on using kettlebells.

If you don't work out at a gym with kettlebells or trainers, there are a million videos online that can help. Obliviously, be cautious; whipping a heavy object around can lead to injury. I start my clients off with a few basic movements and light weight, and once the movement is down we can add more weight, speed up the movement or make other tweaks.

The links below are four great starter exercises:

1. Deadlifts
2. Goblet Squat
3. Swings
4. Overhead Press

Let me know if you have any questions. Keep moving! 

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Millennials and Minimalism

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08/04/2015

Millennials and Minimalism photo

I am a Millennial and I am fascinated with the idea of minimalism. And no I'm not talking about the art form or furniture style -- I'm talking about a lifestyle.

Through literature and real-life examples, I actively expose myself to minimalist ideas/principles for a few reasons. Besides it being a freeing experience both physically and mentally, practicing minimalism is a catalyst for growth. It's a journey to discovering a hidden treasure. But this journey is not long and arduous -- it gets easier along the way; instead of gems, this treasure contains the most powerful gem of all: a freeing state of mind.

When I think about minimalism, I think about living life in its purest form. To think that the key is as simple as simplifying life is a refreshing revelation, to say the least.

Sometimes it's just throwing stuff away, donating or not buying that hot new item, but the more I discover, the more I realize that minimalism is all-encompassing -- it's so much more powerful when applied to all facets of life. The moment I apply it to decisions about my relationships, work, passions and future; almost immediately, I get mental clarity.

What did my math teacher always say when I stared blankly at a scary, complex math equation? "Break it down." When I looked at the problem as a whole, it was intimidating, paralyzing even. But as I broke apart the pieces of this long, scary-looking equation, I realized it's just made up of many very basic mathematical rules.

And it's like that with everything. If you want to understand your finances, break down your expenses. If you want to be healthier, evaluate your diet.

When in doubt, simplify, simplify, simplify. You'll discover so much in the process.

"Simple is always better." This statement resonates with me, and I do my best to  actively practice it. I seek simple. I say seek because we live in a complex world. And so, to experience simple, I clear and create space for it.

There's nothing like walking home instead of taking the bus on a sunny day. The city is breathtaking, the people are free energy, and Vitamin D is fuel for the body and soul.

A perfect Friday involves talking, thinking, asking and listening to close friends. A perfect Saturday morning is waking up to natural sunlight and enjoying every sip of my green tea while writing till my thoughts run dry.

These are simple, effective and most importantly, mine; my pure moments of happiness and clarity.

Contrary to popular belief, basic is not boring. Basic is fruitful. Less is more.

For many established individuals, those that garnered immeasurable "success," minimalism is a Zen destination, a realization later in life and sometimes too little too late.

For them, monetary success, and all its stickiness, precedes this realization that money, power, fame, and even respect are not everything. Minimalism embodies this very idea.

And Millennials get it.

You know, we get a bad rap sometimes; we're often called lazy, entitled or cocky. But this generation is redefining success. We're not easy. You can't buy us with money and fancy titles. We're just not that impressed.

We want depth. We want meaning. I am proud to be a part of a generation that is enamored with culture, consumed by curiosity, and hungry for change.

And change requires evaluation. Evaluation requires what? You got it. You need to break it down before you can build it back up, and in this process, you may discover that some things, many things, can remain broken down. Not everything has to be complex to be cool or right.

It's the little things that matter. And it's the little things you'll remember. Minimalism is a way of life -- a life of meaning, a life of purpose.

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Dear Netflix

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A pitch for a Maus series
08/03/2015

Dear Netflix photo

Netflix, I see you have branched out from live-action into animation with, ahem, BoJack Horseman. But you also might want to develop an animated series targeted at adults that does not have an alcoholic anthropomorphic horse as the main character, whose best friend is a humanoid dog named Mr. Peanutbutter.

You know, something with a touch more … class.

You will run into a problem. Most works that could be animated -- comic books and graphic novels -- would probably end up being for children, like your many other animated series.

Those works that are not for kids, however, almost always contain adult humans, and so lend themselves best to live action. Take Sin City, Ghost World, American Splendor, V for Vendetta, or even Hellboy. Like those, most in that small category have already been developed into movies, including animations such as Persepolis.

Where will you find a property that is for adults, should be animated … and hasn't been, already?

The first that comes to my mind is Maus. The subject is the Holocaust, which is treated respectfully in the graphic novels -- respectfully enough to be treated honestly.

Moreover, all its characters are depicted as animals. Jews are mice, Nazis are cats, Americans are dogs, and so on. The only way to put this work on a screen would be to animate it.

Maus is a major property with worldwide recognition -- it was just in the news again for being pulled off the shelves in Russia. It has won the Pulitzer (the only graphic novel ever to do so) and was a bestseller, so it comes with both critical and popular adulation.

The subject is certainly weighty enough to stand alongside House of Cards and Marco Polo. It would automatically have the gravitas to win back the critics turned off by BoJack. And it would attract major voice-over talent.

Maus is a finite series, true, but there is enough material in the two novels to stretch to four seasons. And author Art Spiegelman is still alive, so you could bring him on as a writer and consultant -- even director or producer -- so fans would know the work is being given its propers.

Turns out, I'm not the only one clamoring for a Maus series, so the audience is already there.

Spiegelman has been approached about this before, and gone on record saying "no" to an adaptation, as that other article notes.

But Netflix, he's never been approached by you before. As a streaming service, you present the unique opportunity for his creative control. As an adapter and savior of other series, you have shown the sensitivity and respect for an artist's vision that few, if any, other studios have. Spiegelman may listen to you when he has rebuffed others.

Besides, he's in his late 60s now and may realize that he'd rather be around for the adaptation than leave it to others once he's gone. Because it's going to happen. As I noted, it's one of the few major unproduced properties of its type, and people have been begging to see it made for decades.

Think of an animation with the profundity of a Shindler's List on your cue. Think of being hailed as the network that dared put a show about the Holocaust on. Think of the acclaim you'd get from being the ones who taught several new generations about the Holocaust -- and at a time when anti-Semitism is on the rise, globally.

Netflix, give Spiegelman a call. As our people say, it couldn't hurt.

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