OyChicago blog

Beyonce, babies and the Holy Land

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09/30/2009

Hey there Oy!sters-

So, we admit things are a bit slow here this week because of the holidays, so in lieu of something intellectually stimulating, and in honor of the news that Beyonce will be performing in Israel this January, we’ve decided to share with you this video of an adorable and talented baby dancing to Beyonce’s “Single Ladies.”

Enjoy and happy hump day!

   
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8 Questions for Josh and Zach Sharpe, brothers, pinball wizards, brothers, corned beef eaters

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09/29/2009

JYSK Josh and Zach Sharpe photo 1

Josh and Zach with Diane Sawyer when they were on
Good Morning America in January 2008

You could say that brothers Zach and Josh Sharpe have both been pinball wizards since they each were born. Originally from New York City, the Sharpes moved to Arlington Heights in 1988 after their dad, Roger Sharpe, took a job with Williams/Bally Midway - the world's largest pinball manufacturer at the time. Roger Sharpe has been in the pinball industry since the 70s, designing games for a number of different companies, writing a book on the game, and even testifying to help legalize pinball in New York back in 1976, which led to pinball being legalized in Chicago and Los Angeles!
 
Both Josh and Zach went to the University of Illinois in Champaign—older brother Josh to study accounting (he is currently the Controller for Raw Thrills, Inc., a company that makes video games) and Zach to study marketing (he has worked in the advertising/marketing world ever since). In the pinball world, they are the President and Vice President of the International Flipper Pinball Association. They created the World Pinball Player Rankings back in 2006 which tracks hundreds of pinball competitions from around the world in over 20 countries, using a point system to rank players based on their performance.
 
Josh lives in Palatine with his wife, Amanda and Zach lives in Arlington Heights.

So if you like pinball, guys who look like Jason Biggs or hanging out with Diane Sawyer, the Sharpe brothers are two Jews you should know!

JYSK Josh and Zach Sharpe photo 2

Josh (in the white t-shirt) pinballing it up

1. What is your favorite blog or website?
Josh: www.ifpapinball.com!
Zach: www.pinballrankings.com

2. If time and money were limitless, where would you travel?
Josh: With over 100 IFPA endorsed pinball tournaments held each year, it would be awesome to try and hit as many as I could for a year.
Zach: I'd love to travel and set foot in every single country in the world while eating/drinking the best delicacy that each country has to offer...and of course competing in any pinball tournament that is taking place.

3. If a movie was made about your life, who would play you?
Josh: Jason Biggs from the first American Pie would be pretty good. I've been known to change between "Cool hip Josh" and "Laid back Josh".
Zach: The easy answer would be Brad Pitt, but for realistic purposes I'd go with Jason Biggs, someone who could pull off sarcasm with a touch of self-deprecating humor.

4. If you could have a meal with any two people, living or dead, famous or not, who would they be? Where would you eat or what would you serve?
Josh: The meals I enjoy the most are the ones with Zach and our friend Brian. The three of us enjoy a nice celebratory meal following the completion of any big tournament we've run. Anytime we have one of those, it means something just went really well!
Zach: While Josh's answer is pretty spot on, there wouldn't be any fun having the same response so why not… Albert Einstein and Tiger Woods, that'd be an interesting pair to eat Chicago style pizza with.

5. What’s your idea of the perfect day?
Zach: Waking up without the use of an alarm clock, followed by some sort of physical activity (golf, working out, pinball tournament), at some point watching a good movie or TV show to relax, sprinkle in an amazing breakfast/lunch/dinner to the equation and finally going out with friends at night.  All of this would take plus during a sunny, non-cloudy 77 degree weather day.
Josh: Eighteen holes of golf, followed by winning a pinball tournament.

6. What do you love about what you do?
Josh: It's so enjoyable to get to compete at such a high level in something. To know that this group of players is the BEST at what we are doing brings a certain level of excitement to the action.
Zach: I've always been a big fan of doing what you love and what makes you happy in life.  With a competitive fire that will probably never go away, it's exciting to compete all over the world in something I love to do (and happen to be good at).

JYSK Josh and Zach Sharpe photo 3

Zach working some pinball magic

7. What job would you have had if not the one you have now?
Josh: I was lucky enough to combine my education (CPA) with my hobby (coin-operated amusement games). Most likely I would have another accounting job in a much less exciting field. If I had to change fields entirely, I always thought being a math teacher would be fun.
Zach: If I did not end up in the world of advertising I'd say in another life I'd be an artist; painting, drawing and sculpting for a living.

8. What’s your favorite Jewish thing to do in Chicago?
Zach: Of course it's food related, but nothing quite beats a fresh corned beef sandwich with a huge bowl of matzo ball soup from an authentic Jewish deli.
Josh: Tuesday at Kaufmann's in Skokie has $2 off sandwiches, and their corned beef is amazing. Between corned beef and saving money, I can't think of anything more Jewish!

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Don’t read this responsively

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High holiday reading you won’t find in synagogue
09/25/2009

Are you going out Saturday night – during the 10 Days of Awe? You wouldn’t believe how many sins you commit just at a bar on a weekend night. Luckily for you, Yom Kippur begins Sunday night, so there’s still time!

If you’re having trouble relating to the Machzor, print this out and carry it with you to services. (Disclaimer: This prayer was not sanctioned by a Rabbi or God.)

Ashamnu
For the sin of drinking too much, embarrassing your friends, and ending up stumbling home alone only to throw up.

Bagadnu
For the sin of not visiting a sick relative or helping out a friend and instead doing something worthless like watching “Dancing With the Stars.”

Gazalnu
For the sin of stealing from the hot bar at Whole Foods … for saying you’re awesome at something you have no idea how to do …for the sin of being a wing man, talking to the other girl so my friend can hook up with her friend, even though I have no interest in the girl and hence have wasted her time.

Debarnu Dofi
For the sin of getting upset when a romantic interest treats you poorly, and then treating your next romantic interest just as badly.

Hevinu
For the sin of spilling something and not cleaning it up because you are in a hurry and no one saw you.

Vahirshanu
For the sin of goading someone into getting into a conflict with someone else.  “She was totally into you until X started talking to her. He always does that.”

Zadnu
For the sin of stealing that cool beer mug.

Chamuasnu
For the sin of road rage or for the sin of pushing your way onto the train and shoving someone else out of the way so you can get on and not have to wait in the cold.

Tafalnu Sheker
For the sin of saying “I’ll be there” when you know very well you won’t be.

Yatznu Ra
For the sin of advising a friend to do what feels good instead of what is right.

Kizavnu
For being on a committee just to have your name on the invitation and not actually participating in any of the volunteer work.

Latznu
For the sin of calling someone a slut or a male whore.

Maradnu
For the sin of bringing the bottle of red wine to the party that was sitting on your shelf for a year instead of the white wine your friend asked you to get that goes with the meal. Red? White? What’s the difference?

Niatznu
For the sin of instead of issuing a sincere apology when you have wronged someone, you make excuses as to why is it his fault or tell him, “I’m sorry you were upset,” instead of admitting to wrongdoing.

Sararnu
For the sin of bailing out of jury duty.  For the sin of not voting.

Avinu
For the sin of not filtering and saying something hurtful and not helpful.

Peshanu
For the sin of not giving a dollar or food to a homeless person because you already give charity that is tax deductable.

Tzararnu
For the sin of even though you may have had your eye on that guy first, sending that nasty email to an acquaintance telling her to go to hell.

Kishinu Oref
For the sin of refusing to recognize the point of view of a friend with opposite political beliefs.

Rishanu
For the sin of being a jerk because you are in a bad mood.

Shichatnu
For the sin of not telling a sexual partner the truth about your sexual history.

Tainu
For the sin of not getting up from a seat on the El for someone who could probably use the seat more than you. For the sin of driving way too fast.

Tiatanu
For the sin of telling an unsubstantiated rumor about someone.

Now you know why services are so long! Luckily you have your community to lean on. Kol Nidre doesn’t use the word “I” once. It speaks in the plural: “Our and We.” So during services, look around the room and don’t think of it as being in a room of sinners, think of it as being in a room of repenters.

Happy repenting and have an easy fast.

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Chill

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09/24/2009

My teenager is not keeping up her end of the bargain. During her senior year in high school, she is supposed to be so obnoxious that we cannot wait to ship her off to college. The truth is, she is a joy to be around. And I have no idea what I am going to do with myself when she’s gone.

Being a working mom is kind of an all-or-nothing proposition. Right now, “multi-task” is my middle name. I can bake brownies while editing a fundraising script, drive a car pool while devising a marketing strategy and plan Thanksgiving dinner during a conference call.

Last week, my friend made the mistake of asking what my plans were for that evening. As I rattled off my schedule, he looked at me and asked:  “Do you ever, you know, just chill?”

I admitted that I do not.

Here’s how it goes down:  I am preparing to leave the house with time to spare when my daughter produces a ream of permission slips that must be signed—and reminds me that she needs separate checks made out for each. I barely make the train, and plow through my morning. I plan to go to the farmer’s market at lunch, but then a young colleague asks if I will meet with her to talk about grad school. How can I tell her no, when I know what it’s like to need a mentor? Afternoon is busy but uneventful. I am halfway out the door to take an early train when a friend calls and asks me to recommend her for a free-lance job.

When I finally make it home, as I am cooking dinner, Amvets calls to ask if I have any items to donate (not now), Hubbard Street calls to ask if I want tickets (ditto) and another choir mom calls to ask if I’ll bring snacks to a school event (okay). During dinner, my husband reminds me that he has a rehearsal and needs to leave in a few minutes. He asks me to find the proofs for Jenna’s senior portrait so he can show them to his friends. After he’s out the door I deal with the dishes and several work e-mails and am pedaling away on the exercise bike when the daughter calls to tell me rehearsal is letting out early. I jump into the shower and get her, and make it home in time for Top Chef, my weekly guilty pleasure. This is my official Down Time! Except…five minutes after the show begins, Jenna asks me to test her on Spanish vocabulary during commercial breaks. I finally bite her head off, telling her to wait until 10 and let me watch my show in peace.

So let’s not engrave that Mother of the Year Award just yet. This is the downside of being on full throttle, at least for me. I periodically snap. And I don’t know how to sit and just “be.” It seems that whenever I try, the phone rings.

What does a woman have to do to get some peace and quiet?
 
I guess I should be careful what I wish for: Next year, I’m going to go from having no time for myself to having only time for myself. I will be able to read and watch TV and work out and cook to my heart’s content. But when the phone stops ringing, I know I will miss it. Just as I will miss the days when Jenna burst in needing to talk just as I was in the bathtub shaving my legs.

How long do I have to wait for grandchildren?

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Celebrating Rosh Hashanah in the woods

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09/23/2009

Celebrating Rosh Hashanah in the woods photo

In preparation for Rosh Hashanah this year, I baked two plain round challahs and an apple one, set out the Shabbat candles and checked to make sure we have enough wine to sanctify the holiday, just as people across the Jewish world were doing. But rather than go to services, my husband and I packed all the supplies into a backpack, gathered our sleeping bags and tent, and set out to Sky High Camp near Portage, Wis., for the Rosh Hashanah weekend.

That’s because this year, another tradition happened to fall at the same time as Rosh Hashanah: the KSP (klub samodeiatel’noi’ pesni – or the club for amateur song in Russian), a four-times-a-year Russian singer-songwriter festival and camp-out. Some friends from the Russian Moishe House – a grassroots community center catering toward the twenty-something post-college Jewish crowd – and I decided to combine to the two events in a nod to our Russian-Jewish heritage. About 15 of us plopped our tents next to about 100 other KSP participants – children and adults, semi-professional singers and lovers of music who prefer to listen rather than participate.

After lighting Shabbat candles, making Kiddush, and saying the Motzi over home-made honey whole wheat round challah on Friday night, we sat by the campfire singing familiar tunes with fellow amateur songwriters and guitar players. Although our homemade song books include some Jewish songs, favorite songs from the heyday of Russian rock dominated the night.

But rather than devoting Saturday to sleeping off the previous night, our small group made our way to Devil’s Lake for a celebratory Rosh Hashanah program. The air was saturated with the smell of pine needles as we climbed into the rocky hills above the lake. Before reaching the very top, we found a small overlook just off the path and settled for an hour of discussion and contemplation. No one in the group is a rabbi or even a Jewish educator, but our common interest in Jewish learning brought us together.

We started with the basics: What’s Rosh Hashanah? Why do Jews around the world celebrate it? What do we say on Rosh Hashanah? As simple as these questions sounds, some among our group had never thought about them before.

The goal of Rosh Hashanah is to look inward, to see where we missed the mark, to figure out how we can be the best version of ourselves in the next year. That’s exactly what we did as we read Yehuda Amichai’s poem “A man in his life” and Jack Riemer’s interpretation on Unetaneh Tokef, one of the central prayers of the Rosh Hashanah service. Together, we learned what Rosh Hashanah is about – the birthday of the world and the symbolic “soul check.”

As Jews from the former Soviet Union, we did not grow up with the tradition of celebrating Rosh Hashanah or fasting on Yom Kippur or lighting Chanukah candles or breaking matzah at Pesach. But celebrations that include both our Russian cultural traditions and new ways to do Jewish make us realize that Jewish tradition has a place in our lives despite our largely secular-cultural stance toward Judaism and Jewishness.

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This kid can rock

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Thirteen-year-old Spencer Tweedy takes the music world, blogosphere and Jewish community by storm
09/22/2009

This kid can rock photo

Spencer Tweedy is a pretty cool kid—and not just because his dad is Jeff Tweedy, lead singer of Wilco, an alternative rock band based in Chicago. Though he’s only 13, Spencer already has several significant accomplishments under his belt. He started playing the drums at age two, started his first band at age six and now plays with the band Tully Monster. On his 13th birthday, Spencer was dubbed “boy genius” by Rolling Stone magazine after he got to perform a killer drum solo Madison Square Garden during a concert featuring Wilco and Neil Young—not your typical bar mitzvah celebration, but pretty awesome.

Lucky for Spencer, he did have a very special and significant bar mitzvah—not every kid can say they got to share their bar mitzvah with their blind grandfather. Spencer chose to document his bar mitzvah in a blog he calls “All About Mitzvah” where he explains why he chose to donate a portion of his bar mitzvah gifts to charity. Spencer also writes several other thought-provoking blogs, including “Spencer Tweedy’s Blog,” where he writes about politics, music, social action and general stuff that’s going on his life. He also uses his blogs to share one of his other passions—photography.

To top off an incredible 13th year, Spencer was named one of JVibe, the magazine for Jewish teens, “18 under 18,” an award honoring extraordinary teens, and he is nominated as a hero in the United Jewish Communities’ (UJC) Jewish Community Heroes campaign. Check out other locally nominated heroes here at Oy!

Oy!’s Stefanie Pervos caught up with Spencer this month to talk music, blogging and bar mitzvahs:

Stefanie Pervos: How does Judaism play a role in your life today?
Spencer Tweedy: My family belongs to a Reform temple where Sammy (my little brother) and I go to Sunday School and Hebrew school. I had my bar mitzvah there in May and it was absolutely amazing!

I know you love music and have been playing drums since you were two years old. What’s it like having a famous musician for a dad?
Music to me is a lot of things. It's a form of art, but really I think it's an awesome, awesome way to express yourself and share emotions and communicate with other people. Both of my parents played huge roles in me becoming a musician and are both really involved in the music industry.

What made you start blogging? How does your Judaism influence your blogging?
At first, my blog began about two years ago as a random writing outlet. I'd post school language assignments, articles I'd written. I was really into this "child-professionalism/entrepreneur" thing, and that's what kind of got me started on blogging. Then, just last winter a Wilco fan emailed me a link to another teen's blog, Style Rookie. I'm not into fashion, but seeing Tavi's – who I'm now friends with – writing really, really helped me realize a whole 'nother side of blogging, and one that I like a lot more. Now I write mostly about my life and what's going on, with posts about other things (music, photography). And I love it.

Why do you blog? What’s your message?
I blog because it's an outlet for my writing and a way to express myself. Aaand it's fun! I've met so many awesome people through blogging—it's just great. I don't think of myself as having a particular message. I'm really proud that in a lot of emails I get (mostly from adults – I think most of my readers are adults) people are inspired that there are kids like me "out there" and that it gives them hope. And that's my message really, I guess.

What was it like to share your bar mitzvah experience with your grandpa? What made you decide to donate a portion of your gift money?
Aaah my bar mitzvah was the best I could have asked for. If you haven't heard the story, my grandfather was too poor to have a bar mitzvah as a child and didn't even have enough money to continue his Jewish education, so it was really cool to see him become a bar mitzvah – in his 70s. He's also blind, which made training a little more difficult. But he did it and it was great! As for the money: It's custom for (people celebrating their) b'nai mitzvahs in our temple to donate a portion of their bar mitzvah cash to an organization. For mine, I chose Direct Effect Charities, which helps children in-need living in Chicago.

What do you want to be when you grow up?
I would like to be a musician and a writer, and take photos as well.

Who is your biggest inspiration?
Hmm…Well, I think it kind of depends on what I'm talking about. In general, I think it would be my parents because they're the biggest role models in my life. I think they've done a pretty sweet job of raising my brother and I. Aside from us being pretentious brats, you know.

How did it feel to be named one of JVibe’s 18 under 18?
It was awesome! I'm really proud about it.

And what does it mean to you to be nominated as a Jewish Community Hero?
I have to admit, I was (am) really surprised to be acknowledged as a "Jewish community hero." I don't really think of myself as a hero by any means – especially after reading other nominee's profiles. There are people on there [the website] the have started up organizations, raised millions of dollars.. And then you go to my page and it's like, "I blog." Haha. Regardless it was an honor. :)

What’s next for you?
High school! Education! Music!

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Shana Tova Oy!sters!

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09/21/2009

Hopefully everyone had a nice Rosh Hashanah celebration.  My dad sent me an email over the holiday weekend with the following images and captions.  It was forwarded many times and I’m not sure who created it.  In any case, I thought it was a creative and touching way to commemorate the high holidays…  Enjoy!

 Shana Tova 1 

 May you enjoy your apples and honey. 

 Shana Tova 2 

 May you find it easy to give and receive. 

 Shana Tova 3 

 May you know when to surrender, and do so with grace. 

 Shana Tova 4 

 May you remember that some people's lives are parched dry...
and be grateful for the abundance in yours.

 Shana Tova 5 

 May you find beauty in unexpected places. 

 Shana Tova 6 

 May you carry your loads with ease amid sweetness. 

 Shana Tova 7 

 May you learn and teach well. 

 Shana Tova 8 

 May you move with as much joy and ease as you can. 

 Shana Tova 9 

 May your home be filled with fresh air and light. 

 Shana Tova 10 

 May your tense and angry times be short-lived... 

 Shana Tova 11 

 so that you come back quickly to your comfortable ol' self. 

 Shana Tova 12 

 May you be startled and delighted by new beginnings. 

 Shana Tova 13 

 May you find your uniqueness. 

 Shana Tova 14 

 May you play with friends. 

Shana Tova 15

 And hear beautiful music. 

 Shana Tova 16 

 May you come to the surface for air when you need it. 

 Shana Tova 17 

 May you take exquisite care of yourself. 

 Shana Tova 18 

 And may everything that hurts you also be a little funny. 

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Alcohol and Judaism: Can Wine Really Be Holy?

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09/18/2009

Well, my friends, a new year is upon us. Celebrations are inevitable: reunions with old friends and familiar temple-going faces, parties to break the fast, and prospects of starting with a clean slate. But how much celebration is allowed? And what exactly constitutes a holy celebration? In this installment, I will be exploring the question of whether or not consuming alcohol is considered holy, or even allowed, in the eyes of the Jewish faith.

To begin, there are an abundance of both positive and negative references to alcohol and, more specifically to wine, throughout the Old Testament and even in our rabbinic traditions. In ancient times, every sacrifice offered in the Holy Temple was accompanied by a wine libation. Because wine is considered to be the "king of beverages," the rabbis coined a special blessing to be recited exclusively on wine: the Hagafen blessing. Jews use wine for kiddush and havdallah on Shabbat and Jewish holidays. Many, many mitzvot are accompanied by a cup of wine. Blessings are recited on a cup of wine beneath the chupah (wedding canopy), at a circumcision, at a Pidyon Haben (the "Redemption of a Firstborn Son"), and let's not forget the four cups of wine we drink at the Passover seder! However, there are some pretty ugly stories as well. According to an opinion expressed in the Talmud, the Tree of Knowledge was actually a grapevine, believing that it was the fruit of the vine that tripped up Adam and Eve, causing them and their descendents untold hardship and misery. Nadav and Abihu, Aaron's two holy sons, entered the Holy of Holies while drunk, and were instantly consumed by fire.

When I asked some Jewish experts about this topic, I had a few different responses. Many pointed to the passages in the Bible about the negative effect of wine on the body and the insignificance of earthly temptations in opposition to becoming closer to God. From a close Orthodox friend, I learned something very unique about the relevance of alcohol in Jewish traditions. He begins by explaining to me that each of us (humans) has a body and a soul, and that our body is usually interested only in the material pleasures – good food, exciting entertainment, money, comfort and instant gratification. The soul, however, has higher aspirations than the body. In addition to seeking higher truth, it also seeks true love, meaning, inspiration and a meaningful connection to what's holy. So, essentially each person has an ongoing internal conflict that can convolute one’s true purpose in life.
 
“But how is this unique to Judaism?” I ask. “I know that the Muslim faith forbids all forms of alcohol in order to testify to its followers that earthly desires will deter one from achieving total spirituality with God.” He replies, “Well, all religions attempt to give us access to our souls, but as long as the body continues to follow its path towards the earthly desires, the soul becomes inherently trapped.” This explains why Muslims forbid alcohol consumption, to clear the mind and cleanse the body in preparation for holiness.

He goes on to say that there are two major methods to free the soul that are offered by different religions. First, by suppressing our bodily temptations, we can allow the soul to become free to explore its own path. Taken to its literal extreme, it will create a life of ascetism and abstinence, avoiding the pleasures of this world and concentrating only on achieving oneness with the holy.

Alternatively, by using restraint, we can find spirituality within the mundane itself by being involved with the physical world in a holy and refined way. Once we achieve that balance, he concludes happily, the body no longer opposes the soul but rather serves as a vehicle to express the soul's needs.

Then he turns to me and says, “Now, which method sounds more like us Jews?” I thought about it for a moment, then mumble, “Probably the second one, right?” He claims that Judaism insists on the second approach. Rather than suppress the body, refine it. Don't be celibate, but save sexuality for marriage. Don't fast all day, but only eat foods that are spiritually pure. Essentially, work with the body and not against it.

As I walked away from our conversation, I couldn’t help but start to think about how this philosophy about body and soul relates to Jews drinking wine on the holidays and even on Shabbat. Then I realized that there are some things about wine itself that parallel many Jewish traits. For instance, wine improves with age, much like our souls and lives learn and improve with each passing moment. Wine also embodies a unique property that demonstrates the fact that we need not afflict our bodies in order to tap in to our souls. While most foods decompose as time goes on, as most physical things do, the one exception is wine. Although it is physical, wine has the spiritual property of improving with age. Wine therefore represents what is at the fundamental core of the Jewish faith: fusing the holy and the mundane, the spiritual and physical, the body and soul. 
 
My cocktail for this blog had to embody the themes of our holiday, so this refreshing drink has some wonderful flavors and can be a great addition to any party or a night out, if your bartender is flexible enough to pull it off. Best of all, it’s 100% kosher! Chag Sameach!
 
A Sweet New Year 

2 oz. Apple Vodka (Smirnoff Green Apple is kosher)
½ oz. Apple Pucker
½ oz. organic honey/agave nectar
Or
½ oz. Koval Chrysanthemum Honey Liqueur
1/4 oz. Grand Marnier/Cointreau/Triple Sec
Splash fresh lemon juice
1 thinly sliced apple wheel
Optional: splash of butterscotch schnapps

Add ingredients to shaker filled with ice. Shake and strain into chilled cocktail glass or highball glass. Garnish with an apple wheel dipped in honey or agave nectar and serve. Also try with a splash of club soda or San Pellegrino.

L’Chaim!

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''A Taste of Honey''

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09/18/2009

With the High Holidays fast approaching, it must be noted that perhaps the most culturally significant contribution to popular music has Jewish roots. No, I’m not referring to Matisyahu, whose dominance in the vast world of Jewish rap is pretty much unparalleled. (No offense meant to early 1990’s rap legends “Two Live Jews” and their smash hit “Fiddling with Tradition”. Any of you who think I’m making this up need to get to iTunes immediately, and spend .99 on “Mertyle the Matchmaker”.)

I’m of course referring to The Beatles’ manager, Brian Epstein, the lost Jewish link to the Fab Four. You don’t hear much about Mr. Epstein these days. And frankly, you won’t hear too much about him in this article. I’ve merely used him as an obligatory Jewish reference to justify this article’s place on a Jewish website. Sneaky, right?

But really, does religion even matter when referring to the single greatest band of all time? That claim isn’t entirely subjective, either. To wit: they broke up in 1970, but during the week ending September 13, sold a staggering 500,000+ copies of their newly re-mastered back catalog. On their re-release date, 9/9/09, I was first in line at my local Borders (a moment of silence for bygone, real record stores like Tower and Rose Records) to purchase them all. In stereo. And in mono. Despite already owning all of them many times over, on every conceivable format. (Yes, I’m that guy who has every Beatles 8-track tape. If you’re too young to know what an 8-track tape is, I’ve probably written you on J-Date. Sorry about that. And please don’t tell your dad.)

Speaking of J-Date, allow me to relay a story which should illustrate my life-long relationship with the music of The Beatles. A few years ago, I experienced a genuine connection while trolling for love on J-Date. She and I exchanged the requisite 2-3 e-mails, and then went on what was shaping up to be a fantastic first date. After a two-hour dinner, we hit a local wine bar, and began to connect in ways clearly unique for a first date. As the wine flowed, and we began to discuss what our interests were, she spoke lovingly of her many years playing tennis. I’m not a tennis player – though the incessant grunting of random Russian women on TV never seems to get old— but found her interest in the sport really endearing; and told her as much. When she asked me what my interests were, I explained that as a musician, my passion was The Beatles. She appeared stone-faced for a moment, then began to smirk, and said to me (this is verbatim, by the way), “I never understood the whole Beatles thing. I mean, they’re not that great”.

Well, in the immortal words of White Sox announcer Hawk Harrelson, “She Gone.”  Our fate was sealed. She might have been the most giving, caring, loving woman in the whole world and might have gone on to be the ideal mother of my kids. Who knows? And who the hell cares? We were incompatible. She didn’t love The Beatles. That’s like Joe Wilson’s wife not loving the confederate flag.  It wasn’t going to work, and the date ended shortly soon after. I don’t need to date a die-hard, but is it too much to ask that my girlfriend knows the difference between the British and American versions of “Rubber Soul?” (Don’t answer that.)

Flash forward to 9/9/09. After a grueling work-out, done to punish myself for the forthcoming day of sitting on a couch and holding my own version of Beatlefest in my condo, I spent nearly $500 on the stereo and mono re-mastered boxed sets of every Beatles album ever released. Many friends, mostly casual fans of The Beatles, have asked, was it worth the purchase? Was it worth the purchase? “Of Course!” Ok, so the mono versions are clearly for diehards like myself, or for that grouchy old guy in your apartment building who lives alone and is still angry that they cancelled “Touched By An Angel”.

But the stereo remasters, all available as individual CD’s as well as a fancy boxed set, are an absolute revelation. The initial Beatles CD’s came out in 1987, back when digital was in its’ infancy. Accordingly, the old CD’s have never sounded very good, and have in fact dated the band in ways unfair to a new generation of fans. (This didn’t seem to stop music buyers in 2000, who made the greatest hits compilation “Beatles 1” the number one album of the year, and one of the biggest sellers of the decade. Again, this was mostly due to dummies like me who felt it incredibly necessary to own “Penny Lane” for the 92nd time.)

The remastered CD’s? Night and day from the old ones. The guitars in “Revolution” tear through the speakers. The harmonies in “Paperback Writer” have never sounded clearer. Paul sounds like he’s sitting right next to you during “Blackbird;” which may or may not be a good thing, depending on how much you want to hear him kvetch about his dreadfully dour ex-wife, Heather. (She was also, I might add, not a fan of The Beatles. Bad move, Sir Paul.) The early stuff (“Twist & Shout,” “A Hard Day’s Night,” “I Saw Her Standing There,” etc…) sounds fresher & crisper than ever, and the later stuff reveals the instrumentation & harmonies to be even more sophisticated than ever before, if that’s even possible. In short, each new CD will open the eyes and ears of any Beatles fan, of any interest level. I should know. I listened to them all on 9/9/09, from their first, “Please Please Me”, to the last one recorded, “Abbey Road”. My new downstairs neighbors must either think I’m Ringo Starr’s uncle or Dick Biondi; who may or may not be the same person.

Sure, I’m a little biased. My friends who’ve known me for years have another word to describe my Beatles fandom: “nuts.” Maybe they’re right? But at least I’m not alone. Bands like Pearl Jam, Wilco, the Beastie Boys, Ben Folds, Guster, and countless more continuously cite The Beatles as an immense influence on their work. And the literally hundreds of thousands of CD’s sold in one week indicate that “Beatlemania ’09” hasn’t just afflicted me. Plus, they’re a gift to a sagging music industry which now relies on such cutting edge “artists” as Susan Boyle; who’s new album, “Showtunes to Make You Suicidal” is unfortunately coming soon.

But I’m not looking for validation here; just to immerse myself in some of the greatest rock & roll music ever recorded, by a band that continues to inspire generations both new and old. Don’t believe me? Forget about all of the Beatles-related hype for a second, and pick up the newly issued “Revolver” or “Help!” Chances are, you’ll be hooked right away. If not, I happen to know a tennis fan you might like.

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An Interview with Men’s Health editor Adam Bornstein

 Permanent link
09/17/2009

Adam Bornstein photo

When a writer for Men’s Health magazine recently described a college athlete as a “mensch,” I knew I had to interview him. You don’t see Yiddish often in the sports world.

The author of said article turned out to be Northbrook native, Adam Bornstein. He’s a Men’s Health fitness editor, which might be one of the coolest jobs a self described fitness fanatic, could land.

Here’s a little bit about Adam: He has an admitted love of exercise, eggs, and oatmeal. When he’s not researching resistance training, nutrition, and physiology, Adam is applying the academic knowledge to living a more active, healthy, and fit life. Adam holds a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Florida, and a bachelor’s in psychology from the University of Colorado. He has worked as a faculty researcher at the University of Colorado and a fitness and sports reporter. He now collaborates with the best in the fitness industry on ways to improve men’s lives.

After speaking with Adam, I totally want his job! Seriously though, it was amazing to discuss fitness with a man who spends most waking hours researching exercises, trainers, nutrition, health gadgets, health studies… This is what I learned:

To be an editor at the number one selling health magazine in the world:
You have to research. Adam spends countless hours reading studies, fact checking, researching trainers, trends, and the list continues.  He’s constantly learning, and getting a chance to do what he enjoys most— educating others. The perks of interviewing professional athletes are fun, but it’s also a lot of work.  For a recent article, Adam worked-out with perennial pro-bowler, Dwight Freeney, of the Indianapolis Colts.  Although he enjoyed rolling and dragging giant tires around, it was not an easy day in the office.

Adam’s fitness philosophy:
Adam’s philosophy on training is similar to mine, high intensity, fun, and full body. “Don’t be so competitive. A lot of people think guys go to the gym to watch women, but they really look at other guys.  Who cares what you bench, get a good workout,” Adam said.

Trends in Fitness:
Adam commented, “Right now there is a lot of misinformation out there. People jump on the bandwagon so fast. It’s all about the basics, start slow and progress. Kettlebells are hot right now and they’ll probably stay that way. People need to realize, just because something is popular now, doesn’t mean it’s the best for them.”

“Research indicates that frequency over volume shows the greatest results, so the body part per day guys, might need to mix up there routine more. Tabata training is popular now, which are short very intense workouts.”

Adam has also formed a love/hate relationship with the TRX, which is a bodyweight-based portable training tool that allows you to workout anywhere.

This might surprise many readers, “research is leading away from crunches. They may even be harmful. There are so many other ways to work your abs, something as simple as a plank is a great way to work your stomach.” (Personal note, if you want non-crunch ab exercises, shoot me a note and I’ll send you some).

Adams Personal Trainer:
Right now Adam’s training with Todd Durkin and loving it. He hooked his father and brother into working out with Todd as well.  Like a kid with a new toy, Adam boasted, “The workouts are intense, with a lot of variety, no boredom, fun and challenging.”

Common Questions:
People write in with questions about diet, nutrition, posture, injuries, you name it. Adam tries to get people to understand proper form and debunk myths, like -“Low fat, this must be good.” He is shocked how many women write in and think avoiding fat is the key. “Eating the low fat Oreo might be worse for you then eating the regular Oreo.” Not that Adam condones eating Oreo’s, his point being, the less processing the better.

Changing people’s perception is the hardest thing to do; especially when it comes to women and weight lifting. Since Adam also contributes to Women’s Health, he hears the fear “Weights will make me bulky.”  And that’s just silly. Sure some women put on muscle easier than others, but in general weight training will only help women have better shape, stronger bones and more energy.

FitSchools:
Last but not least, we discussed FitSchools. FitSchools grew out of an article about revamping physical fitness for kids and turned into a full -fledged nonprofit organization. The goal was to reassess phys ed classes for children. Schools have archaic methods of testing kids fitness levels, he said, “The sit and reach test, doesn’t do much and the presidential fitness test, is out dated.” Schools should concentrate on getting children moving, teaching them the basics, focusing on improvement over the semester not grade them on running a four minute mile. For more information on FitSchools, check out, http://www.menshealth.com/fitschools.

Finally, if you haven’t had enough of Adam, here’s some word association with the fitness fanatic:

Jewish Athletes- Do they exist? Although I hear we can lay claim to USC stud Taylor Mays.
Working out is- The best way to add balance to your life and cope with stress.
When the television is on- I’m not around or sports are on. My TV is very lonely.
Chicken- Great, now I’m hungry. Thanks, Ron.
My job- The most challenging and educational experience of my life.
Protein shakes- “Bro Dust”—Let’s credit Alan Aragon with this one, but too funny and yet so true.
Power or- Passion-dedication to any cause is the real secret to success.
Sage Rosenfels- Wishes Brett Farve would disappear.

To learn more about Adam, read his blog: http://workingout.menshealth.com/

From one fitness enthusiast to another, thanks for making the time for us Adam!

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Rosh Hashanah: the social event of the season

 Permanent link
09/16/2009

Tradition.  It’s an integral part of the Jewish religion.  Every Friday night Jews around the world sit down for Shabbos dinner.  Every December we spin the dreidel.  And every fall we sit in services for an ungodly amount of time in order to welcome in the New Year, a tradition dear old Hashem did not count on becoming the social event of the season.

Each year Jews from all over the country venture to their hometowns to spend Rosh Hashanah with their families.  What is intended to be a time to take a step back and think about all the sins we’ve made, and yes, we’ve all made them, for some it’s slowly transcended into a time to show everyone your cute new High Holiday outfit and gossip about the people you haven’t seen for an entire year.  Ironic, I know.

I am about to embark on this yearly tradition and travel all the way to Minnesota to eat apples and honey and spend time with my friends and family.  While the players may have slightly changed, the game always remains the same.  I will go to my aunt’s on Friday night and eat my grandma’s carrot mold.  The evening will get progressively more tolerable with every glass of wine I drink.  I will wake up in the morning and meet my parents at shul, because going with them at 7:30 a.m. is out of the question.  I will have to park the car at my friend Maia’s house, because this is the one time throughout the entire year that trying to park at the synagogue is like trying to park in Times Square.  My parents will have saved me a seat on the left side of the bema.  The Weiners will be in front of us, the Sudits behind us, and the Rodiches will be across the way.  Now comes the fun.

If you think that sitting through a 4 hour service in a language you can’t understand could never be fun, you should come to the Adath, my synagogue in Minneapolis.  It’s this 4 hour period of time that happens to be the most entertaining.  Here is a glimpse of what will go down:

- There will be a person in the back corner covered from head to toe with talit (although it looks more like a burka).  She will be standing the entire time while rocking from her heels to her toes.  After 9/11, we all thought she was a terrorist.  This went on until the end of the service when she disrobed, and we were all shocked to see a girl we went to preschool with.  My, how people change.

- Throughout the service people will get up and walk around the sanctuary and out the doors for a restroom break.  This creates the perfect opportunity to scope out their outfit and whisper to your mother how much weight she has lost or gained.  Sad, but true.

- Starting from the moment we all take our seats, you will see people trying to have conversations with people from across the room.  Unfortunately, mouthing words from that far away can lead to lots of confusion.  It’s pretty entertaining when you try to speak to a friend across the sanctuary, and the person behind her answers.

- There will be lots of hugs and kisses.  Some from people you know and some from people you think you know.  After a while, and especially with age, all us Jews start to look the same.

- The stench of the room will be filled with the potent cologne of old women.  In order to reduce the coughing that ensues, the Adath has actually roped off a section in the balcony and marked it with a big distracting sign that says “scent free zone”.  Can’t you see Larry David sitting here on Curb Your Enthusiasm?

There is something comforting about the fact that even though it’s been 25 years, I can still map out where all of my friends and family will be seated during services.  Throughout the service, we all take breaks and meet in the lobby and catch up.  There will be constant pitter patter of new generations getting antsy.  The same ushers will be there, getting more and more bitter with age, yelling at all the kids who are trying to get back into the service during the sermon.  People will have gotten older; some won’t be there anymore.  But no matter what has happened that year, the nostalgic and comforting aura of being there is still the same year after year.

I have attended services in Chicago, Buenos Aires and Israel, and it’s nice to know that no matter where one goes, the outcome is the same.  No other culture can even compare.  It’s pretty cool to be a Jew.

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8 Questions for Michael Goldstein, father of twins, cottage lover, Mensch with a Wrench

 Permanent link
09/15/2009

JYSK Michael Goldstein photo

Michael Goldstein, aka the Mensch with a Wrench, is the ultimate handyman. He will tackle the projects you don’t know how to do, don’t want to do, or simply don’t have time to do. Some people refer to Michael as a marriage counselor because he takes care of the 'honey-do' list! He'll put together your IKEA furniture, mount your T.V., fix your electrical problems, or build you a deck. Plus, he’s got two little handymen of the future, fraternal twins Ethan and Charlie who are almost two years old. When he’s not at home in Lincoln Square, he goes on adventures with his family to places as close as the neighborhood playgrounds to as far as the family's cottage on Commerce Lake. So if you enjoy swimming in the lake, love your little toddlers, or need something fixed, Michael Goldstein is a Jew You Should Know!

1. What is your favorite blog or website?
Craigslist.org - you can find anything in the world on there. I have sold a lot of stuff from window air conditioners, furniture, and tools. It is the most random site. I’m also hooked on Ebay and msn.com, but am still trying to figure out the blogging world.
 
2. If time and money were limitless, where you would travel?
Everywhere and anywhere. I would have an open ended ticket around the world, first stopping at the Island of Truck in the Micronesian Islands. My parents volunteered in the Peace Corps there right after they got married almost 50 years ago. I grew up seeing slides and pictures and have always wanted to go there.
 
3. If a movie were made about your life, who would play you?
Jeff Cohen, the actor who played Chunk in The Goonies. Growing up I was the chunky kid and had the nickname of Chunk.
 
4. If you could have a meal with any two people, living or dead, famous or not, who would they be? Where would you eat or what would you serve? 
I would have lunch with two people: Lin Brehmer from 93.1 WXRT and my father’s father, Abe. I would take Lin to Manny’s for a corned beef sandwich (I would have latkes since I keep Kosher) and pick up the tab. I’ve always enjoyed his humor. He does a great piece in the mornings where people write the most random questions to him and he answers them on the air. Once I wrote in and asked for advice about having twins since I knew his brother has twins.
 
I never met my grandfather Abe – he died when my father was only eight years old. But if he’s anything like my dad he would have a big sweet tooth. I’d get to know him over a milkshake at Margie’s.
 
5. What’s your idea of the perfect day? 
The perfect day would be 85 and sunny and I would spend it at my family’s cottage in Commerce, MI splashing in the lake with my children, Ethan and Charlie. Everyone has their little piece of heaven and this cottage is mine. My mom’s from Detroit and her family bought the cottage in the 1950s as an escape from the city during the Polio epidemic and it has been in the family ever since. My mom and her siblings grew up there, then I spent a week there every summer with my sister and two brothers, and now I take my family there.
 
6. What do you love about what you do? 
It’s an adventure and I get to meet a lot of very nice and interesting people. The project I’m most proud of is the huge two level deck I built for my brother in Washington, DC. I took a road trip out there and built him a deck in one week. I guess that's what younger brothers are for.
 
7. What job would you have if not the one you have now? 
My dream job would be to run a Habitat for Humanity site. I volunteered with them while in college at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and did some electrical work here in Chicago at a site in Pilsen. I would also love to own an overnight camp with my wife as the director and myself in charge of facilities. My wife and I were both overnight campers growing up. I went to the Habonim Dror Camp Moshava in Maryland, which is a kibbutz style camp where I learned some Hebrew and a lot about Israel.
 
8. What’s your favorite Jewish thing to do in Chicago? In other words, how do you Jew? 
My favorite Jewish thing is being a Shabbat Dad at the JCC for my children’s classroom. I also like celebrating Shabbat with my family and volunteering for Yad B’Yad. I also worked at the JCC for seven years.

If you need a handyman, Michael can be reached at...

Michael Goldstein
773.791.7769
michael@menschwrenchchicago.com
menschwrenchchicago.com

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Feel the Burn

 Permanent link
09/14/2009

Rosh Hoshanah is coming. Step up to the starting line. Wait for the shofar blast… And you’re off.

Running is boring only to those who do not understand it; those who have never tripped on a runner’s high or been calmed by the meditative rhythm of their feet partnering with their will, defying what was previously believed to be their bodies’ limitations.
                                                          
I ran track in high school and it changed my life. Countless times I stepped up to starting lines, jumping in the air to warm up my muscles to prepare my body for the impending shock. In a couple of seconds, it would be me and five other women in different colored jerseys entertaining fans for 800 meters.

 No matter how many times I stepped up to that line, I was always terrified. Terrified. Little me, feet pounding, lungs hyperventilating, fiercely elbowing objects who no longer are people in my eyes but only obstacles in my hunger for victory.

To anyone else listening, my thought flow would sound like a three way conference call between my mind, spirit, and physical appendages, a little something like this: go go goooooo gooooooo go go goooooooo. Looping. For 2 minutes and 42 seconds.

With four years under my belt of this, I’m prepared for Rosh Hoshanah.

The word shana, year in Hebrew, has the same root as the Hebrew words for both tired and repetition. Jews follow the lunar year and a new month is called Rosh Chodesh. Chodesh meaning newness. For we believe the universe is being breathed into existence through God’s mouth at every moment, always new, fresh, constantly. Yet for the beginning of the Jewish year, we use the word shana, the opposite of newness. For the danger is that one can live and yet be asleep at the same time, unaware of the world around them. Some people think that just because you are running around in circles, you’re not getting anywhere. The days and years blend together, and boredom is a constant painful state of being.

Jews rectified this potential for disaster by wisely choosing a ram’s horn as our spiritual alarm clock. If you remove your ear plugs, you’ll hear the music that will energize you more than  “All the Single Ladies” ever could. If you’re not grooving, you’re just not fully conscious.

Make no mistake about it, you are not the same person you were last Rosh Hoshanah. You’re still breathing heavily from the previous year’s trials. You were tested this year, in ways you have never been tested before. You continued running when you thought you couldn’t move.  And you discovered, as any real runner realizes, that the real race is always within you. No matter what place you come in, no matter which girls you pass along the way, when you cross that finish line all you care about is how much you actualized your potential. The pride that comes from that accomplishment exceeds any other compliments you could be given.

The year is in front of you, and you have no idea what it’s going to be like. But you know this. You’re going to run it and you’re going to finish. And if you’re brave and optimistic, you are going to give it everything you have, and then beyond. It’s going to hurt. In that pain and struggle is the greatest reward, so you hope you will have the courage to push yourself past what you thought were your limits. This makes you terrified, but that’s not going to stop you from stepping up to that line once again.

We aren’t coming to the synagogues this Friday night to stand for countless hours and confess our sins. We are proudly celebrating our personal victories, with medals hanging like bling bling around our necks, ready to share in the victory with God who is chilling at the prayer house ready for the spiritual cocktail hour. Yeah God, thanks for all the help, ready for the next one, we chant over and over again, swaying back and over. It’s not about the past now, because now you’re about to begin a new race.

It’s a serious moment, for the moment before competition your body tenses expectantly, completely focused on one goal; the finish line and the strategy for getting there. The rest of your life melts away, as your eyes look steadfastly forward.

They say that how your year will turn out is determined on Rosh Hoshanah by the effort you put into your prayers. It’s critical to go into the prayers with the determination that you will be moved and inspired. There is not time for hesitation. The moment you doubt yourself, the possibility of success disintegrates.

We are all runners.

For anyone who truly knows how to live, there is nothing boring about this sport. Wait for it.  The shofar is going to blast at any moment. You better be ready to charge.

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Remembering 9-11

 Permanent link
09/11/2009

Remembering 9/11 flag

Many of us have a story about 9/11.  This is mine.

On September 11, 2001, I lived in Washington, D.C.  I woke up that morning excited for my first international trade show in Amsterdam—I was to fly out that night.

Bags already packed, I was leaving for the office when I learned a plane had crashed into one of the World Trade Center Towers.  I remember thinking that it was a bizarre fluke, and I flicked off the news and headed out the door.

As I walked into the lobby of my office, I saw on the giant TV screen a plane crashing into the Tower.   At the time, I didn’t realize that was the second plane, not a replay of the first.

It took a while for us all in the office to grasp what was happening.  My memory is fuzzy on the details.

I remember reassuring my boss that I was not scared to fly out that night, annoyed at the prospect of my flight being delayed and plans canceled.

 I remember a brief meeting to recap our show strategy, interrupted when a colleague informed us a plane had just hit the Pentagon.

I remember 8 of us crowding around my boss’ small TV, watching in horror as people jumped from the towers.  When the Towers crumbled, I remember we all went silent.  The silence was finally broken by David, whose broken voice uttered “they couldn’t possibly have all gotten out.”

I remember looking out my office window and seeing the smoke that was rising up from the Pentagon.   It was a clear day—you could see it billowing thickly up into the clouds.

And I remember being afraid, truly afraid for the first time in my life, when we heard that a fourth was plane missing.  We had no idea that it had already crashed—all we knew was that it was headed our way.

I remember trying in vain to reach my husband (then boyfriend) who worked on Capitol Hill.  He wasn’t answering his office line, and his cell phone was busy.  (As with New York, cell phones were hard to get through on—networks were overloaded.)

I remember going out to the patio with my coworker, cringing in fear when we heard an aircraft overhead—a response I would have to the sound for weeks thereafter.

I remember when our office went on lockdown, and we had to decide whether we would stay or leave.  The news warned us that the bridges getting out of the city were jammed with traffic, and, as was the Metro, vulnerable to attack.

I decided that I would try to find my husband, and I walked the two or so miles in heels to his apartment in Cleveland Park.  He wasn’t there, and I still could not reach him on his cell phone.

While I worried about him, my family and friends worried about me, not knowing if I was on that flight from DC.  My mother (who knew that I wasn’t on one of the planes that crashed) was worried I was stuck on a grounded plane somewhere in the country—a situation that two of my colleagues found themselves in.  They didn’t make it home for days.

Unable to walk another 3 miles in heels to my apartment, I braved the metro home.  That was one of the strangest rides I ever took—it was a virtual ghost town.

My husband finally made it to my apartment hours later.  His office had been in a panic—they heard a plane was headed right for them and rumors about other attacks on the Hill—and he had been evacuated out of the city.

I remember when, weeks later, I drove by the Pentagon and saw the gaping hole and the destruction.  Pictures and images on TV didn’t do it justice.

I remember wondering about the fate of the two New York City firefighters I had gotten to know over the years through trade shows in New York.  Both survived.  Louie had been stuck in Texas on vacation.  Jim wound up on the cover of a 9/11 Heroes book.

I remember seeing armed soldiers guarding National Airport for the first time—something that I had only seen in other countries’ airports—and it drove home our lost sense of security.

I remember when the barriers first went up around the White House, blocking traffic from driving down the road in front.  Never again would I be able to drive by the White House and wave.

Needless to say, I never made it to Amsterdam that year.  Instead, arrangements were made for an American Flag to hang in our empty booth.  We didn’t know it at the time, but some of our British friends had placed a makeshift memorial in our space.  The following year, a number of industry colleagues from various countries made a point to stop by and express their sympathy and support.

I am fortunate to not have lost any family or friends on September 11, or any at all to terror.  And still, the events of that day have had an enormous impact on my life.

It’s one of the reasons my husband quit his job on the Hill and decided to become a Rabbi, and one of the reasons why I have chosen a career in the non-profit world.  Like millions of Americans, it opened my eyes to how vulnerable we all are, how fleeting our security and how brief our lives can be.

Today I remember all those who perished on 9/11, and the brave men and women who risked their lives to save another.

May their memories be for a blessing.

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My New Year’s Resolutions

 Permanent link
09/09/2009

It never fails that on December 31st, I sit at my computer with a document that looks something like this…

1) Actually go to the gym – at least 3 times a week
2) Stop eating so much chocolate at work – enough is enough

The list usually goes on for a few more bullets, but you get the point.  Then of course, by February 15th, my gym bag is collecting dust in the corner, and I’m back to the daily trips to the candy bowl down the hall (ok, multiple candy bowls throughout the floor).

For most of us, this is our one chance each year for calculated self-improvement.   But then, last week, on the eve of my 25th birthday, my friend Julia asked me what was going to be different in my 25th year.

Wow – I had never thought about making a birthday resolution.  It got me thinking.  Can I make a new resolution that doesn’t begin (and end) in the dead of winter?  And then, I realized – I’ve been doing it for years, but just not as explicitly.  Every autumn, I schlep to Cleveland, head to shul with my parents, and begin the year anew by celebrating Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

As Jews, we ask God for forgiveness, ask our peers for forgiveness, and in general, try to be the very best people we can be as we seek absolution for our sins.  We apologize for our wrongdoings, communally and in silent prayer.  We pound our chests, we sing Avinu Malkeinu, and somewhere during these multiple 5+ hour prayer sessions, we commit to changes.

So today, on the 9th day of the 9th month of 2009 (weird…), I’m going to share a couple of my resolutions with you – resolutions for my 25th year, for 5770, for myself.  And, of course, it starts in a similar fashion as almost all of my annual resolution lists begin:

1) Actually go to the gym – at least 3 times a week (maybe even 4 – but let’s not get ahead of ourselves)
2) Stop eating so much chocolate at work – enough is enough
3) Budget better – my spending, my time, all of it

And the most important one…

4) While I’m busy planning one-time volunteer projects for others, find an ongoing volunteer project that adds meaning to my life.

Yes – I said it.  Rachel Friedman, Oy!’s resident volunteer coordinator, is looking to volunteer.  By sharing that information with all of you, hopefully it will light the fire under my ass to get started and find something meaningful that I can do regularly, while still helping folks like you find your passions.  Call it a quarter-life crisis.

And while I spend the next month seeking that perfect project, I thought I’d share a couple cool opportunities with you, Oy!sters.  Here are a few snippets from TOV’s Fall Mitzvah Mania, a catalog of one-time opportunities that will give you a taste of volunteering at a new agency.

Kids Enjoy Exercise Now (KEEN)
Work one-on-one with an athlete at a KEEN sports session.  Activities include KEENquatics, playing with basketballs, jump ropes, scooters, parachutes, hula-hoops and more.  Shift time includes training. KEEN is an active volunteer opportunity.
Date:
Sunday, September 13
Time:
2:15 p.m. – 5:15 p.m.
Location:
High Ridge YMCA
2424 W. Touhy, Chicago

CJE Lieberman Geriatric Health Centre
Escort residents to and from synagogue and assist during Rosh Hashanah/Yom Kippur services.
Dates:
Saturday, September 19
Sunday, September 20
Monday, September 28
Time:
9:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.
Location:
9700 Gross Point Road, Skokie

Chicago Chesed Fund
Organize, clean, and restock the shelves at the CCF warehouse.
Date:
Sunday, September 13
Time:
2:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m.
Location:
7045 N. Ridgeway, Lincolnwood

Bottomless Closet
Sort clothing inventory into categories: designer, professional, and unsuitable.
Date:
Tuesday, September 15
Time:
9:30 a.m. – 1:30 p.m.
Location:
445 N. Wells St., Chicago

To sign-up to volunteer, register online at http://www.juf.org/tov/mm_form.aspx, or call TOV at 312-357-4762.

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8 Questions for Terri Albert, professional organizer, folk-music lover, world traveler

 Permanent link
09/08/2009

JYSK Terri Albert photo 1

The Chicago Organizer

Terri Albert wants to get into your drawers… and closets, basements, attics and garages. Terri is now in her dream job as a professional organizer. Dubbing herself The Chicago Organizer, she says: “I hold your hand to help you make necessary decisions you have put off, to get rid of the excess clutter in your home— freeing you up to enjoy what really matters in your life. I take a no-nonsense approach to clearing your space and setting you up for success.” Even as a kid, her folks made her a T-shirt that said “Neat Freak”!

A native Michigan-er and U of M grad, Terri has made Chicago home for 25 years but has traveled the world. She worked in magazine ad sales for 13 years— for everything from Ms. to Soap Opera Digest. She still sells ads, on the side, for Divorce Magazine, which she helped launch. And she substitute-teaches at Jewish schools.

So if you collect clutter, read incessantly, or ride elephants, Terri Albert is a Jew you should know!

1. What is your favorite blog or website?
My favorite website is The Chicago Public Library site as I’m always requesting books to read, DVDs to watch, and frequently renewing online since I have so many books I want to read and don’t get to them by the due date!
 
2. If time and money were limitless, where would you travel?
Around the world— I want to go everywhere! Probably Spain as first choice since I’ve never been there. I’ve been to Russia twice already, but would go back even to places I’ve been before (i.e. Budapest, Prague, Israel, Thailand, Portugal and The Rock of Gibraltar). Get me back on that elephant’s back and white-water rafting!!

3. If a movie was made about your life, who would play you?
Someone who has hyper energy like I do— I was told when I was younger that my looks resembled Tatum O’Neal’s. (Do I still look like her and is she a Tasmanian devil-type like I am?)

4. If you could have a meal with any two people, living or dead, famous or not, who would they be? Where would you eat or what would you serve?
Eleanor Roosevelt, because I liked reading her biography as a kid and Hillary Clinton, as I admire strong and smart women. The last meal I cooked was damn good so that could be the menu: cranberry chicken; quinoa with butternut squash, cranberry and almonds; and roasted butternut squash and dark chocolate for dessert. Dinner will be in a beautiful but warm and inviting apartment in NYC with a good view of the city. I love the energy of New York City!

5. What’s your idea of the perfect day?
Biking for hours on a ‘rails to trails’ path in Wisconsin; maybe hitting some tennis balls; jumping in a lake/pool; hiking in the woods for awhile; cooking over an open fire; and singing by the campfire with a wonderful man under the stars (with a beer of course!). And then going to sleep in a motel! Or, second choice: matinee on Broadway in NYC. Lunch of a pizza slice and iced coffee. Then evening performance of another play, musical preferred. And then some people watching in The Village.

6. What do you love about what you do?
I love straightening up messy spaces—especially when the owner of the clutter feels their clutter is insurmountable. It’s a win/win for both of us. Bring on those messy closets and drawers and corners and cupboards!

JYSK Terri Albert photo 2

For those extra dirty jobs...

7. What job would you have had if not the one you have now?
Teacher in a Jewish day school or maybe administrator.

8. What’s your favorite Jewish thing to do in Chicago?
I love listening to Jewish music and have loads of CD’s from Debbie Friedman to The Piamentas, Tirzah Firestone, Shefa Gold, Hannah Tifferet Siegel… and my new favorites from The Kallah— Martin Levson and The Kirtan Rabbi.

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It's the Real World...Moishe House

 Permanent link
09/04/2009

Real World...Moishe House photo 1

Caren Minkoff checks out the list of tasks at JUF’s Uptown Cafe,
where the group volunteered earlier this year.

They all have full-time jobs, but for the past 2 years, the five people who founded Chicago’s first Moishe House have been turning a shared passion for all things Jewish into about seven – and sometimes more – events a month.

Open to the larger Jewish community, Moishe Houses are ways for young Jews to get in touch with their heritage in an agenda-free environment. Since the organization’s founding in 2006, the organization has grown to 18 houses in the United States and eight around the world, from Beijing to Warsaw.

“We aren’t affiliated with any movement and so there’s room in the House for everything,” says Joe Harrow, 27, who has lived in the House since its founding.

“Moishe House gives people a chance to be what they want to be, without any rules,” adds Ilana Schuman-Stoler, 26. “The people who come to our House are the people that Jewish community institutions want: they’re waiting longer to marry, waiting longer to join existing institutions, they might have gone to Hillel when in college, but are out of school now.”

Real World...Moishe House photo 3

The Moishe House kitchen was full of people as some rolled the
dough and others filled hamantaschen with traditional fillings.

Harrow and Schuman-Stoler have known their housemates – Caren Minkoff, 27, Elana Porat, 26, and Karen Lutsky, 26, – for years. All five worked at Camp Tavor in Michigan and ended up in Chicago after college.

Over the two years of its existence, Moishe House Chicago – there are two now: a house targeted toward Russian speakers opened in July – has hosted everything from barbeques and movie nights to trips to see Sox and Cubs’ games to excursions to learn Chicago’s Jewish past.

Their most popular events are the laid-back monthly Shabbat dinners, which regularly attract about 25 to 30 people. Nestled in a quiet courtyard in Wicker Park, the cozy third-floor abode becomes a hub of activity on Friday nights. The Moisheniks cook a vegetarian feast, and guests supply side dishes, dessert and drinks. The choice to go all-vegetarian for communal events was a conscious undertaking, says Minkoff. Their kitchen isn’t kosher, but the House’s residents want everyone to be comfortable eating there.

Real World...Moishe House photo 2

The Moisheniks combined their eco-conscious attitudes
with Passover to create an Earth Day Seder.

Some people who first discovered the Moishe House through a Shabbat dinner have become fixtures at events. Others don’t really go to any other event besides the Friday night celebrations. Still others might show up one day only to disappear for two months and come back later, says Lutsky. “It’s part of their lives,” she says.

Last week’s Shabbat dinner was a bittersweet gathering – it was the last for this group of Moisheniks.

The journey has been great for two years, but it’s time to “pass the torch,” Joe says. Each of the five founders of the Chicago House will stay involved in some way. They aren’t moving far, either. They even plan to hold a communal Shabbat dinner once a month like they did while living in the House – and of course, they’ll be at Moishe House programs, too.

“The house isn’t about us at all,” says Lutsky. “We’re in a different place in our lives now, but Moishe House is a great thing to continue.”

Five new Moisheniks are moving into the House this weekend.

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Sorry for ruining your day

 Permanent link
09/03/2009

Sorry for ruining your day photo 2

Depressed Oy!sters

Yesterday, Chicagoans received some rather unfavorable news, for the second year in a row Forbes Magazine has named Chicago the most stressful city in America.  Why did we earn such a dubious distinction?  According to Forbes, “Chicago’s rising unemployment rate, expensive gas, high population density and relatively poor air quality create a perfect storm of stress.”  Can you say, depressing?

To make matters worse, Forbes failed to include arguably the number one reason why Chicago should be considered the most stressful city in America— the weather.  Also, published yesterday was the Farmer’s Almanac winter prediction.  You guessed it— it’s going to be a “bitterly cold and dry” winter here in Chicago.

I mean seriously?!  Talk about two low blows in one day!  I’m stressed out and shivering!  And to think this whole time I’ve been waiting for summer to finally show up.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I HEART Chicago.  I’ve lived here my whole life and I have no intentions of ever moving anywhere else.  Five of my East Coast friends visited this summer and they all fell in love with the city too.  They were shocked to see the vastness of Lake Michigan, the crowded North Ave. and Oak St. beaches and the beautiful Chicago skyline.  My roommate and I gave these New Yorkers and Bostonians a whole list of reasons why this is the best city in the country: Second City, the Bean, summer festivals, laid back and low key people, Lou Malnati’s, Garrett’s and other great cuisine, the Art Institute, the beaches, Wicker Park and Bucktown boutiques, the Architectural boat tours, Wrigley and the Cubs, Michigan Ave., people-watching…

I know Chicago rocks and I know my fellow Oy!sters agree.  But still, I can’t not be saddened and overwhelmed by this news.  Plus, it doesn’t help that I’m also busy worrying about swine flu, the recession, the healthcare debate, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and always, the situation in Israel.  Maybe, Chicagoans (including me) really are the most stressed out people in America?!

So, what do we do?  How do we fight back?  How do we combat the stress of living in a crowded, fast-paced, urban environment?  What are your survival tactics for making it through Chicago winters?  Please share, I’d appreciate any advice. For now, I plan to spend the next 6 months or so hiding in my bed under the covers trying to stay warm, avoiding swine flu and watching mind-numbing reality TV to avoid any stress.

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Hello, my name is Stefanie and I’m a Facebookaholic.

 Permanent link
09/02/2009

Facebookaholic photo

So, we already know that I can be a bit compulsive sometimes. But recently, I’ve been thinking that my addiction to social networking may be a serious symptom, if not the cause, of my obsessive-compulsive behavior.

I just finished reading The Accidental Billionaires, by Ben Mezrich, which tells the story of the founding of Facebook—although, if you read the reviews, apparently it wasn’t the most accurate account... (I guess failing to speak with Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg in a non-fiction book about Mark Zuckerberg makes you lose some credibility). Still, I was enraptured by the stories of two nerdy Harvard AEPi guys, Mark Zuckerberg and Eduardo Saverin, who really just wanted to meet some hot Asian chicks, but ended up revolutionizing how the world socializes while making shitloads of money.

They may be Bill Gates-sized geniuses, but there are a few side effects of Facebook I’m not sure Mark, Eduardo and the other Facebook guys could have foreseen: somehow, they created the ultimate distraction and stalking mechanism and the perfect drug for compulsive people like me. Could Mark have known that the genius idea he cooked up in his Harvard dorm room would simultaneously make him a billionaire while companies everywhere lost money as employees spent hours upon hours tagging pictures instead of working?

The Facebook phenomenon first reached my computer screen during my sophomore year at UW-Madison. At first, like you, I was hesitant, but eventually I caved and caught the bug—friending people left and right, checking out the guys that would be in my classes for the semester, taking funny drunk pictures to use as my new Facebook pic. Now, about six years and a gazillion new Facebook applications later, I’m afraid that little bug I caught isn’t so little anymore.

An example: Like everyone else, I hated the new design and newsfeed when it first came out. But now, I’m not sure what I would do without it. When I’m feeling low, or uninspired by my work, I simply refresh my Facebook page (yes, I leave it open all day) to see if any new posts have been added. My favorite is when I’ve been gone for more than 10 minutes (this is a rare occurrence) and I see “show 14 new posts” Yes!!

As you can tell, this is kind of becoming a problem. And since reading Mezrich’s book (accurate or not, I couldn’t put the damn thing down), I’ve realized that maybe I need to get into some kind of twelve-step program or something to wean myself off of Facebook altogether. But then again, that seems kind of dramatic—

Before doing anything drastic like taking down my profile (like that would ever happen), I decided to do some research. Apparently, this is a real psychological condition! The RedEye posted a story this week about a treatment center in Seattle that just announced it will offer the first known rehab program in the U.S. for Internet Addiction Disorder! All you need is 45 days and $14,500 and you’ll be cured! If you think you might have IAD (or even just FAD) you can simply Google “Facebook addiction” and you’ll find tons of blog posts and articles where you can easily self-diagnose.

Despite the many reliable resources right at my fingertips, I wanted to make a list of my own to help me decide whether my life is better with or would be better without Facebook. Here goes nothing…

Things I couldn’t do without Facebook:

1) Find out who’s engaged/gawk at the size of their diamond, married/Can you believe she put her bridesmaids in that color? or pregnant/ew, I do not need a minute-to-minute update on your contractions (although cute baby pictures are encouraged).
In other words…stalk people.

2) Remember people’s birthdays. Once Facebook reminds me, now I have to decide whether you merit a gift, a card, a phone call, a ‘Happy Birthday! Hope it’s a great one!’ Wall message, or nothing at all…sad.

3) Keep track of old boyfriends and crushes/play matchmaker for friends and look up potential dates to read up on them/check out if they’re hot or not beforehand. What? You know you do it too.

4) Be “friends” with quasi-famous reality TV stars/school mascots/TV or movie characters/eating establishments.

5) Shamelessly promote myself, my articles and cute pictures from my friend’s wedding/my latest vacation/that weekend when my friend from out of town came to visit (sorry about this one guys…)

Things I could do without Facebook:

1) Get shit done—hell, I looked at some random girl from my sorority’s summer picture album just to get me through writing this sentence.

2) Get more sleep—enter boyfriend Mike: Would you stop playing on Facebook already and come to bed! Me: But so and so just put up pictures from her wedding this weekend! Can you believe she put her bridesmaids in that color?

3) Not get invited to people’s parties and events that I probably don’t want to go to. Just because we had a one hour class together freshman year, we were never really friends and haven’t spoken in six years, so I really don’t want to celebrate your birthday.  (I know it sounds harsh, but you have to admit it’s true, right?)

4) Write the next great American novel. Actually, in all the time I’ve spent on Facebook, I probably could have written it twice.

5) Oh hell, who am I kidding? There is no #5. Facebook, I need you!

As far as I know there’s no special patch or gum to help wean you off Facebook, and even if I could afford the $14,500 treatment program in Seattle I’m not so sure I’d want to be cured. Now that I’ve got it, can I live without it? Hell, no.

And now, there’s Twitter too. But I’ll save that for another post.

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Cheers! Chicago: Bringing the farm to the bar

 Permanent link
09/01/2009

Bringing the farm to the bar photo 1   Bringing the farm to the bar photo 2 

As I began packing for my Advanced Mixology Academy class field trip to Chef’s Garden in Milan, Ohio, I had no idea what to expect. Sure, I have been to my share of the city’s vast and vibrant neighborhood farmer’s markets. I've tasted some of the best food and sipped the highest quality cocktails around, but I was told that this wasn't anything like your typical farm and that these ingredients weren’t going to be found at the average farmer’s market.

I made sure to leave enough room in my bag to bring back anything unusual or unique that I might encounter. As a mixologist, I am responsible for helping to raise the quality of drinks for the average person to experience and enjoy, and this was another way we could incorporate aspects of the culinary world into the cocktail world. I could feel the excitement building and the creative juices flowing as I dreamt of mixing amazing cocktails with exotic ingredients: multicolored heirloom tomatoes, garlic chives, white celery herbs, multicolored and multi-spiced chiles, and square one botanical vodka for a perfect Bloody Mary; Cruzan blackstrap rum, pomegranate molasses, sorrel and orange mint with fresh lime juice. Patron silver tequila, fresh ginger beer, giant root beer leaf...

Twenty eager mixologists pulled up to the famed Culinary Vegetable Institute, which has welcomed food celebrities like Alex Guarnaschelli of the Food Network as well as local high-end restaurant chefs like Charlie Trotter. People say Farmer Lee Jones’s specialty produce is among the most demanded in the country, the farm even ships its “microplants” to China. As we walked up the entrance, we passed a number of gardens woven together in a circular path, with a fountain spouting freshwater out its top. As we made our way through, we realized the white labels sticking out from the ground were for ingredients in a completely edible mini garden! None of these plants reached past our knees, and some even fit in the palm of our hands! When we picked some and tasted them, we could not believe how flavorful they were.

Bringing the farm to the bar photo 4   Bringing the farm to the bar photo 3 

After a fabulous dinner that consisted of items taken directly from the farm, including luscious mixed greens and a superb steamed sweet corn right off the cob, we dove right to the herbs table and started mixing! A lot of us were excited to be bringing some of nature back to the bars and restaurants and reintroducing Chicagoans to freshness and quality.

We all expected to pull up to huge, corporation-owned farm, with acres and acres sprawling with all kinds of large and juicy crops. Instead, we were treated to a small family farm thats transformed itself into a literal creation of a chef’s personal garden, where he or she can tailor grow his crops and produce. The farm uses no chemicals, cross pollination or cross breeding, or seed manipulation. Instead the farm grows marvelous creations, including: “cukamelons”, or cucumbers shaped and looked like watermelons; garlic chives that really tasted like garlic cloves; giant root beer leafs that, you guessed it, tasted like root beer; and the coolest of all, the oyster leaf that looked exactly like a giant leaf but allowed me the chance to smell and taste something eerily similar to something not kosher!

We were also treated to some unusual produce: mini eggplants, multicolored heirloom tomatoes, chiles of all shapes and sizes, and even purple colored carrots called “dragon carrots” whose skin was dark purple and the flesh a vibrant orange! I brought home a sample of some of these fresh micro-plants and produce to work, my general manager and sous chef went nuts when they looked at such wacky but flavorful items such as purple-colored broccoli bunches! And I am sure fellow Oy! Blogger Ron Krit would agree that the freshest, most natural fruits, herbs and produce are the healthiest foods for your body!

Bringing the farm to the bar photo 6

The best part of this trip was not just experiencing this amazing garden, but also spending time mixing the sprits the Culinary Vegetable Institute makes.

Bringing the farm to the bar photo 5

Farmer Lee

Today’s signature cocktail is in honor of Chef's Garden in Ohio. Named after the generous and hospitable Farmer Lee Jones, this cocktail is a wonderfully refreshing beverage that is a modern variation on a classic sour recipe, but using Farmer Lee's fresh ingredients and herbs. You can try to make this yourself at home with fresh ingredients, but even if you can't the possibilities are endless when it comes to incorporating fresh herbs and ingredients such as these into a cocktail or a home-cooked meal.

Farmer Lee's Lavender Elixir

2 oz. Square One Botanical Spirit (You can use Tru Organic Vodka if you can't find Square One)
1/2 oz. Grand Marnier (Triple Sec or Cointreau will do)
3 oz. Fresh Lavender lemonade
4-6 orange mint leaves
3-4 lavender flowers

To make the lavender lemonade, stir together about 1 and a half ounces of fresh squeezed lemon juice for every ounce of simple syrup (heat equal parts sugar and water in saucepan until sugar is dissolved, then cool). Place 1-2 lavender flowers inside the pitcher and chill in the fridge for a couple hours, or until really cold. Do NOT add ice as this will dilute the mixture. Stir in more simple syrup to taste, leave flowers in pitcher for presentation and added lavender flavor.

In a pint glass, muddle the mint leaves with a splash of sparkling water. Then pour the vodka and Grand Marnier into mixing tin with ice. Shake well, then strain over crushed ice into highball or pint glass. Fill almost to top with lavender lemonade, top with splash of sparkling water. Garnish with orange mint sprig and lavender flower.

L'Chaim!

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