OyChicago blog

An Interview with Jewish Sports Hall of Famer Shawn Lipman

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09/29/2010

While we’re all still on a high from the big Bears’ win this weekend, let’s talk rugby. Recently, The Great Rabbino caught up with Shawn Lipman, arguably the greatest Jewish rugby player of all time. That's right rugby. If you haven't played or seen rugby you should. It is brutal. Real tough athletes who lay it all on the line. Thank you to my correspondent Rabbi Erez Sherman for setting this up.

Tell us a little bit about yourself?
I was born in Johannesburg, South Africa and developed a love for rugby, the national pastime, at a young age. Rugby was not a sport that was generally played by Jews, but I loved it.

I joined Wits University Rugby Club at the Under 20 level in 1983 on a Rugby scholarship, from Sandringham High School, where I was a first team (varsity) player, having received full colors (awarded to selected best players) in Rugby. I represented Transvaal Under 20s (Provincial All Stars, highest level in South Africa for my age group) whilst playing at university, and also South Africa in the Maccabiah Games in 1985.

I emigrated to the United States at the end of 1985 and joined the Santa Monica Rugby Club where I immediately made lifelong friends. Through my selection to the regional All Star teams, I was selected to play on the US National Team in 1988, earning my first cap (full international) against Canada, who we beat for the first time in many attempts. I traveled all over the world with the US National Team and represented the United States in the 1991 Rugby World Cup in England, the third largest sporting event in the world. I represented the US team in over 20 international matches, including nine test matches, and was fortunate enough to play against some of the best national teams and players in the world, including the New Zealand All Blacks, England and France.

I played in five World Maccabiah Games (held every four years in Israel) as a player, having captained the US team in 1993 and 1997, and represented the US in 1989 and South Africa in 1985. I was selected as MVP of the Maccabiah Games Rugby Event in 1989, 1993, and 1997. In the Maccabiah competition, we won gold in 1985; bronze in 1989; silver in 1993 and gold in 1997 (the first time South Africa did not win the tournament). The biggest honor was being elected as the Flag Bearer for the entire US delegation in 1997. Unfortunately it was marred by a bridge collapse at the opening ceremony where some members of the Australia delegation died.

In 2009, I came out of retirement at the age of 44 to represent the US at the Maccabiah Games, winning a bronze medal. This culminated a 24 year career of playing at the Maccabiah Games, winning two gold, one silver, and two bronze medals, and three MVPs.

I also toured South Africa in 1988 with the Pacific Coast Grizzlies, playing against the best teams in South Africa. My rugby career allowed me to play all over the world against international sides, and took me to places like Russia, Japan, Canada, South Africa, France, England, Israel, Scotland, and Bermuda.

I was inducted into the Jewish Sports Hall of Fame  in 2004 along with some of the best professional athletes in the United States, including Mark Spitz and Sandy Koufax, amongst many other great Jewish sports stars. I also earned the MVP of the Year award at the Santa Monica Rugby Club eight times and in 2006 was also inducted into that club’s Hall of Fame.

I married my wife Karen in 1994, who I originally met in 1988, and we have three awesome kids, Scott, 15, Jamie, 12, and Lindsay, 9.

What makes rugby such a great sport? How does it compare to football?
Rugby is probably one of the most grueling sports in the world. It requires significant endurance and strength, as you have to play both offense and defense with no timeouts and very little stoppage of play. The very physical nature of the game creates an environment where no player can hide and the true character of each player comes out. Through this test of will and courage, tremendous bonds are made with teammates and lifelong friendships are formed. Prima Donnas are not tolerated and are exposed through the demanding requirements of the game.

Football is a very tough game as well. However it is a burst sport, where the maximum exertion is used in short furious bursts. The game has a tremendous amount of specialization, with a great deal of emphasis on each play. Rugby, while requiring a variety of different skills and physiques in different positions, is a game of continuous attrition where capitalizing on a teams weaknesses and mistakes through continuity of play and possession of the ball is the key to success. No timeouts and no substitutes.

That being said, I think it would have been fun to have played football. I think I would have liked it.

What can the sport do to get more national exposure?
With rugby having been added to the 2016 Olympic Games we are already starting to see a great deal of interest. Major networks like NBC are starting to televise more rugby, and as we get closer to the Olympics we should expect to see much more. Now we have top athletes who have just missed the cut in the NFL or NBA, seeing rugby as a vehicle to continue their professional sporting careers and potentially be Olympians. The US National Team is now starting to attract these top athletes more than ever before.

Also, with the tremendous commercial success and following of rugby outside of the US, and it's inclusion in the Olympics, corporate sponsors are going to be eager to capitalize on the growth of the sport.

There has also been a huge upsurge in the amount of youth and college programs in the country, and that is ultimately where the growth will come from.

How was the experience of playing in the Maccabiah games?
My involvement in the games has had a profound effect on me. As a Jewish athlete playing a sport not usually played by Jews, it was a lonely place. There was always the sense that, as a Jew, you were not good enough. It seemed that I was always fighting the stereotype of the weak Jew who could not play sports. And then I went to the Maccabiah Games, and here there were thousands of Jewish athletes from all over the world; excellent athletes, and in some cases world-renowned Olympians, all with a commonality and shared experience. It was amazing to be with all these world class Jewish athletes.

It felt like we were sticking it to anyone who ever tried to perpetuate the myth that Jews could not play sports and were fundamentally weak, especially with the games being held in Israel, in the midst of all their enemies.

Having experienced the same feeling that other great Jewish athletes like Mark Spitz, Mitch Gaylord, Lenny Krayzelberg, Kerri Strug, Jason Lezak , all Great gold medal-winning Olympians, is truly life affirming, and having been selected as the US delegations flag bearer at the Opening Ceremonies in 1997 was a highlight of my sporting career.

What was it like being inducted into the Jewish Sports Hall of Fame?
It was surreal. Here I was, an immigrant from Johannesburg, South Africa, being inducted into the company of some of the greatest American sporting figures in history. To be in the same company of Sandy Koufax, Hank Greenberg, Mark Spitz, Sarah Hughes, Jason Lezak, Red Auerbach, Marv Levy, Howard Kossell and so many more, is unreal to me.

I am very proud that we have a Jewish rugby player in the Hall of Fame as it gives our sport the recognition it deserve and in some way I am merely a representative of so many other great Jewish rugby players in the US.

Having many of my teammates from Santa Monica Rugby Club and the US Maccabiah team, come out to New York for the induction, as well as my family, was a great thrill.

I think it is so important that young Jewish athletes can look at these inductees and realize that there are no limits to what they can achieve and that it does not have to come at the expense of their Jewish identity.

What are you up to these days?
On the personal side, I try and spend as much time with my family as possible. I have an amazing wife, Karen, who was a four-time All American swimmer in college. My oldest son Scott is playing football as a high school freshman, my middle son Jamie is also playing football now for his middle school team, and my 9-year-old daughter is a wonderful soccer player. I have coached all my kids and still coach my daughter. I have also been very involved in coaching youth rugby in the San Fernando Valley.

I am actually distributing a great rugby-themed movie that a close rugby friend of mine wrote and directed. The movie will be launched through a very focused Internet campaign and initially distributed through online streaming and downloads. Anyone who watches the movie will earn a chance to win a free trip for two to New Zealand next year during the rugby world cup. The movie is called Play On and is available at www.playonthemovie.com. It is a very fun project and obviously a labor of love.

Other than that I still play rugby and squash every Sunday on the beach in Santa Monica. I am also a partner with a lifelong friend and business partner in a Private Equity Firm called The KJL Group.

Thank you to Shawn Lipman for giving us some insight to your career and the sport.

And Let Us Say, Amen.
-Jeremy Fine
For more on Jewish sports checkout WWW.THEGREATRABBINO.COM

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Sukkot: only a man would time this holiday

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09/28/2010

Sukkot photo

Well, here we are: six days into Sukkot, and my undecorated, we-haven’t-had-one-meal-in-its-blue-tarp-walls sukkah stands on my deck, waiting like a girl on prom night for her date to show.

It’s just so sad.

Each time I look out the kitchen window and see the lonely little structure, I feel a serious pang of guilt.  In that brief moment I have the urge to go get some construction paper and make paper chains—the extent of my artistic abilities.  But then, something distracts me and I don’t think about it until I see it again, or am standing in someone else’s beautifully decorated sukkah and am beset with sukkah envy and guilt.

Goddamn sukkah.

(I know, I know.  It’s not the sukkah, it’s me.)

It wasn’t always like this.  I wasn’t always like this.  I used to be ready for the holidays.  Before I converted, you should have seen my Christmas tree each year, the meticulously-wrapped presents under it, and the decorations in my condo.  Both my husband and I assumed that I would transfer my holiday-decorating energy to Sukkot, and we would have one heck of sukkah.

Of course, I was single then, and didn’t have a 19-month old daughter, and a house sorely in need of updating.

It’s not that I don’t like Sukkot.  In fact, it’s one of my favorite holidays.  My first trip to Israel coincided with the festival, and I was taken by the feeling of celebration all around me, seeing the families walking together carrying their lulavs and etrogs.  I vowed on that trip that when I had a house that I would have a sukkah and make decorating it and eating in it a part of my family’s tradition.

And I really meant to make that happen this year.  I figured last year’s pathetically decorated sukkah that we only ate in once was an exception since it rained every day and we literally had just moved into our house the week before.  Surely, this year would be different.

But here I am, midway through, and it’s actually worse than last year.  I’ve had lots of meals in other people’s beautiful sukkahs, but not one meal in ours.  (At least I have ‘dwelled’ in a sukkah, even if it hasn’t been ours.)

This year, I’m blaming the timing of the holidays.

I mean, c’mon, we just had Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.  After all the preparations and hosting out-of-town-guests, I am exhausted.  This just reinforces my personal belief that the Torah was written by men (or if you believe God wrote the Torah, evidence God thinks like a man) because, let’s face it, a woman would know better than to bunch holidays back-to-back like this.

I’m burned out, Jewed out, and the last thing I want on my plate are more Jewish holidays.

This is not good.

Because, despite all my legitimate reasons for abandoning our sukkah, the fact of the matter is that I am shirking an obligation that I clearly feel (otherwise I wouldn’t feel this guilt), and along with it, the opportunity to create an important family tradition.  Being Jewish, living Jewishly, isn’t always convenient.  In fact, it is often a pain in the tuchas.  A pain that I asked for, and a responsibility that I have embraced.  And I’m lucky to do so.

So tonight, no matter what the weather (and it’s not looking good), I am going to eat in our sukkah, shake the lulav, and recite the blessings.  I know that it doesn’t matter that I haven’t had time to make it pretty, that I will probably freeze my ass off, or that 2 minutes in my daughter will be demanding the etrog, thinking it’s a ball to play with.  I will have dwelled, and damnit, I will be happy about it.  I will have fulfilled a promise that I made to myself, and performed an obligation that I feel as a Jew.

I might even hang a paper chain.

NEXT year I hope to have a beautiful sukkah that my whole family helped to decorate, and that it becomes a family tradition.  I know the timing of the holidays will never change, but maybe with a little bit of planning, I can pull it off.

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Mazel Tov Caroline and Jason!

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Oy!Chicago’s first match ties the knot 
09/27/2010

Mazel Tov Caroline and Jason photo

My dear friends who met at the first Oy!Chicago get together in the summer of 2008 tied the knot this past Saturday at the Standard Club in Chicago. Everything about the wedding was beautiful and everyone danced the night away. To celebrate our first love match, we thought we’d re-run the stories we’ve written about them over the years. Mazel Tov Mr. and Mrs. Chess and thanks for letting us exploit your relationship over the years.


8 Questions for Caroline Friduss and Jason Chess, foodies, gold coast dwellers, Oy!Chicago Lovers
11/25/2009

Oy33JYSK

Jason and Caroline out and about in the city

Many of you have attended an Oy!Chicago gathering in the past and have gotten to know some of your fellow Oy!sters. Jason Chess and Caroline Friduss met and hit it off at the get together at Matilda last June, and the couple has since been inseparable. Caroline is a Registered Dietitian who works with the elderly as a nutritionist at Friendship Village (a retirement community) in Schaumburg. Jason, a recent West Bloomfield, Michigan transplant, is a Business Banking Officer and Assistant Vice President for National City Bank. The two have discovered that they share a lot in common. It doesn’t seem like much of a coincidence that they live just a few short blocks apart in the Gold Coast, but it’s the second time they are close neighbors. Caroline grew up in the town next door (Bloomfield Hills) to Jason and lived there until she was eight and her family moved to Highland Park.

So, if you too are looking to meet new people, enjoy eating out or hate Chicago traffic, Caroline and Jason are Jews You Should Know!

1. What did you want to be when you grew up?
Jason: When I was really little I wanted to be a baseball player. Later, I wanted to be a CEO.
Caroline: I wanted to be a chef on the food network.

2. What do you love about what you do today?
Jason: Making a difference for my small business clients and networking to meet new people everyday.
Caroline: I love working within the healthcare field, knowing that I am helping people everyday.

3. What are you reading?
Jason: Crain’s Chicago Business and the RedEye.
Caroline:  Loving Frank  by Nancy Horan. It is the next book on my book club list.

4. What's your favorite place to eat in Chicago?
Jason: It’s always hard to think of something on the spot because we always like to try something new. So we keep a list of restaurants we want to try. We just had sushi at Mirai, Indian at Veerasway, brunch at Bongo Room, and lunch at Steve’s Deli. And the next on our list is Le Lan.

5. If money and logistical reality played no part, what would you invent?
Jason: The ability to make it 75 and sunny every day.
Caroline: The ability to get to work with no traffic.

6. Would you rather have the ability to fly or ability to be invisible? 
Jason: Definitely invisible. I can always fly in an airplane.
Caroline: Probably fly. So I can fly to work.

7. If I scrolled through your iPod, what guilty pleasure song would I find?
Jason: Hungry Eyes from the Dirty Dancing soundtrack.
Caroline: Anything Kenny Chesney! I’m a country fan.

8. What's your favorite Jewish thing to do in Chicago-in other words, how do you Jew?
Jason: My involvement at the Standard Club and being a member of the YLD board.
Caroline: Oy!Chicago, because I met Jason at the first Oy! event.


An excerpt from JUF Love stories
By Stefanie Pervos
2/09/2010

Jason and Caroline—our engaged couple

JUF Love stories photo 2

Jason Chess and Caroline Friduss met in the summer of 2008 at the first Oy!Chicago get-together at a bar in Lakeview. Caroline was there to support a friend involved in the website and Jason was there to find a nice Jewish girl.

“I went up to a group of five girls and I started talking to the one I had noticed from across the room, Caroline,” Jason said. “I called her three days later, asked her out and the rest is history!”

Caroline remembers talking to Jason for a long time at the bar and realizing just how much they had in common. “I was so excited when he asked for my number that I called my parents the next day to tell them about him. My parents were in Israel at the time and they told their entire bus about it. Maybe it was beshert, maybe my parents being in Israel gave me good mazel (luck).”

Jason, 30, grew up in the suburbs of Detroit and moved to Chicago two years ago where he works as a business banker for National City/PNC. Caroline, 25, is originally from Highland Park and now works as a registered dietitian at Northwestern Memorial Hospital.

Jason proposed this past Chanukah by creating his own episode of their favorite television show “How I Met Your Mother.” Jason created a video telling the story of their relationship, including scenes from where they first met at the Oy!Chicago party, their first date and other memorable moments from their relationship leading up to the proposal. They will be married in Chicago this September.

Their advice to Jewish singles out there? 

“Stop looking,” Caroline said. “When you stop looking for your beshert, it will happen.”

“Be involved in JUF, YLD, and other Jewish organizations. Be open to meeting new kinds of people,” Jason said. “We would like to thank Oy!Chicago and JUF for introducing us. It’s amazing how much this organization has done for us and we’re happy to volunteer and stay involved.”

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Cheers! Chicago: A New Year, A New Adventure

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09/21/2010

Shana Tova to you all! In the spirit of the New Year, and while munching on the irresistible flavor combination of apples and honey, I have compiled a list of my favorite bars and restaurants that opened their doors since September of last year. Some of these places are so new, you can still smell the freshly painted walls as you wander through the doors and see the long lines of people trying to get in on these brand new Chicago dining and drinking experiences! So what are you waiting for? Get out there and join the crusade for a culinary adventure!

Watershed
601 N. State St.
312-266-7677
www.watershedbar.com

If anyone has been to Pop’s for Champagne on State Street for some bubbly or a fun night out on the town, then you’ve probably ventured downstairs into the club/lounge area at one time or another. Well, for the past several months Pop’s has been quietly renovating the space, and from that chaos emerges a diamond of a hotspot. Watershed’s creative and contemporary beverage program is operating on all cylinders thanks to one of the top Chicago mixologists, and a very good friend of mine, Daniel de Oliveira. Recently joining the Olmeca Altos tequila company, Dan has put together some wonderful libations for both seasoned and the newbie drinkers to explore. The bar also features local craft beer and regional small-batch spirits. Pop’s chef Chris Walker is behind the configuration of cheers and charcuterie, small plates and small bite snacks. If you’re in the River North neighborhood, make sure to go in and wander downstairs for a unique drinking parlor experience.

Big Star
1531 N. Damen Ave.
773-235-4039
www.bigstarchicago.com

My girlfriend and I had recommendations from several friends to try this new place that opened up recently. Thinking we’d have no problems getting a table on a Thursday night, we made a big mistake and a huge underestimation at the popularity of this Wicker Park sensation that took over an old Pontiac dealership space. A 30 table wait, the hostess tells as we are strolling up to the entrance. And she was right—it turned out to be around an hour and a half wait. That should say something about just how good a restaurant Big Star has become in its infancy in the Chicago dining playground. Just what is it that draws such a crowd, besides is ample outdoor patio seating, its 360 degree bar featuring tasty local brews, and its killer Mexican food? Well, it just so happens that it’s part of a very successful family of city hotspots that include avecthe Violet HourBlackbird and the Publican, so you know it’s worth the wait. While my girlfriend and I did not end up waiting an hour and a half to eat that night, we are definitely making plans to check it out ourselves very soon. And why not, with all the tasty tacos, tostadas and beer you can imagine? Let’s hope it’s not another 30 table wait!

Kith and Kin
1119 W. Webster Ave.
773-472-7070
www.knkchicago.com

About a month ago, while volunteering at an annual fundraiser to end children’s hunger in the US, I had the pleasure of working a station next to David Carrier, who happens to be the chef de cuisine at Lincoln Park’s newly opened Kith and Kin. What a treat! After we exchanged introductions and had a chance to sample each other’s creations, I got a chance to get to know David and his philosophy behind the success of his food: simple and flavorful. And how! Try their tasty appetizers, dive into their hearty salads, or for those couples that love to share, try the 24 ounce ribeye for two. And don’t miss out on dessert, either! I’d recommend the buttermilk panna cotta or the chocolate mousse.

Benchmark
1510 N. Wells St.
312-649-9640
www.benchmarkchicago.com

This Old Town, two-story beer garden has taken eating, drinking and watching sports to a whole new level. I mean, they’ve thought of everything: a retractable rooftop and a plethora of windows for warmer climate, built-in TVs and screens that literally rise out of the back of the banquettes, a large but very affordable wine list, and some killer sandwiches and pizza to curb your appetite. Even when the weather cools, you won’t find a better spot in the neighborhood for a young and social crowd that want to watch their sports and enjoy some amazing bar food with friends and family!

The Bar 10 Doors
1251 W. Taylor St.
312-226-1611

This unique watering hole found in the Little Italy neighborhood on Taylor Street boasts a wonderful combination of great drinks and global small plates. They’ve got 16 draft beers, both American and imported, that will whet any thirsty traveler’s appetite. And the small plates are out of this world, or should I say all over this world! Sashimi from Japan, curry from India, ceviche from Spain, and a saffron risotto called arancini from Mexico that is absolutely lip-smacking delicious. The price range is very accommodating and they stay open well into the night, so don’t pass up this opportunity to travel to a different part of town and enjoy!

Try one of these five brand new hotspots and I will guarantee you a very sweet time!

L’Chaim!

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Love affair with autumn

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09/20/2010

Love affair with autumn photo

Photo credit Tiffany O'Neill 

Every year I have a love affair with autumn. The crisp air, colorful leaves, moody sky and my favorite produce filling the markets give me an incredible sense of well being. I also love Sukkoth. I like the whole premise of the holiday with harvests and ingathering, but mostly I like the fact that this is a holiday that does not tell me what to eat, only where to eat it.

I love that I can drive down many streets in Lakeview and the northern suburbs and see decorated huts in backyards. I adore the idea of eating outside in homey temporary shelters.

Autumn is also my favorite time of the year to feed people. Everyone is actually hungry. In the summer, people tend to have dainty appetites, but autumn brings out the hunger. Diets are forgotten or temporarily suspended and desire kicks in.

Nothing says autumn or Sukkoth like a good pumpkin. I love the nutty flavor that pumpkin adds to dishes and I use it in soups, sauces and the delicious mousse recipe below. I like to hollow out mini pumpkins and sprinkle the insides with sugar and then fill them with mousse just before serving. Or, you can spoon the mousse into pretty dessert glasses.

PUMKPIN-WHITE CHOCOLATE MOUSSE

1 ½ teaspoons plain gelatin
2 eggs, separated
½ cup canned pumpkin
3 tablespoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups heavy whipping cream
9 ounces best quality white chocolate, melted (I like Callebaut— available at Whole Foods)

1. Sprinkle gelatin over 1/3 cup water in a small bowl. Let soften 5 minutes.

2. Stir together the 2 egg yolks, pumpkin, vanilla and brown sugar.

3. Bring 1/2 cup cream to a boil in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Add gelatin mixture and pumpkin mixture; stir until combined.

4. Put chocolate into the bowl of a food processor. With machine running, carefully pour in hot cream mixture in a slow steady stream, and process until smooth. Transfer to a medium bowl, and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate until thick enough to hold ribbons, about 30 minutes. Stir until smooth.

5. Whisk egg whites to nearly stiff peaks and gold into the chocolate mixture.

6. Whisk remaining heavy cream to nearly stiff peaks. Fold into chocolate mixture. Mousse can be refrigerated, covered, up to one day before serving.

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How to find the perfect diet for you

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09/17/2010

How to find the perfect diet for you photo

There is a perfect diet.  It will help you fit into your skinny jeans, and help you gain muscle.  It works for everyone.  This magical meal planning will help you feel energetic, sleep soundly, gain muscle and drop fat.  You can either hire me to tell you this secret, or just keep reading.

My guess, you are still reading.  I would too, this is a steal.  Many fitness experts and doctors will not want me to share this with you, but I’m doing it anyway.  I can handle the scrutiny.

The perfect diet has nothing to do with Atkins, South Beach, or San Diego.  The diet that works best for you, is different than the diet that will work best for me, or anyone else for that matter, because it has to do with your own unique DNA.  A low-carb diet work may work well for some people, others may end up eating too much protein and fat, feel like crap, raise their cholesterol and end up with liver problems.  Giving up refined sugar works can work for many people, but not over the long haul, because at some point you’re going to find that cookie irresistible.

Finding the best foods to eat starts with tracking— write down what you eat.  Also, write down how you feel—tired, nauseous, energetic…  You have to make sure you write down everything you eat, even if it’s just one peanut m&m at four in the afternoon.  Why?  You are looking for patterns:

• Do you feel tired after meals?
• Do you eat too much sugar in the afternoons (i.e. mini-snickers and twix)?
• Do you drink too much soda?
• Do you eat enough fruits and vegetables?
• Do certain combinations of food bother your stomach (sometimes fruit after a heavy meal makes people gassy)?
• Do you eat too many empty calories (i.e. pretzels, rice cakes, dry cereal, chips)?
• Do you eat enough protein?

I could go on and on, but I think you get the idea.  To help you in your journaling, you can use a Blackberry or other application on your smart phone to get calorie and nutritional information.  The only way to improve your diet is to truly understand what you’re eating.

Once you have a month of data you can start to really analyze trends and make changes slowly.  Many yo-yo dieters make drastic changes and then once they drop a few pounds, they fall back into old habits.

Speaking of nutritional information, do you know that a chopped salad at Corner Bakery Salad contains over 60 grams of fat, and most Au Bon Pain sandwiches contain over 1200 milligrams of salt?  Eating out is no easy task these days.  Many of my clients had no idea how often they ate out, till they started logging their food.  My dad once told me, “I’m eating rabbit food everyday for lunch, and I’ve lost no weight.”  I asked him to bring me home the dressing he put on his “rabbit food.”  He was adding 26 grams of fat to his salad!

I’m not saying you should stop eating out, just be an informed customer.  Check out the nutritional information before you eat instead of after.  Almost every chain has information on-line.

So, start logging your food for 30 days and see how you do—  if you want to, you can email me your log and I’ll evaluate it.  Good luck!

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My Life (So Far...)

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09/16/2010

My Life (So Far...) photo

The details: I want bagpipes at my funeral. I want to donate all my organs. I have (almost) decidedly decided to be cremated, (which will come as a tremendous surprise to my husband.) I want my children and friends to speak at my service. I want people to remember all my accomplishments and excuse all my failures. I want to be missed. Not just for a period of time, but forever. I want to leave big shoes to fill. I want to have been on this earth for a reason larger than myself and my family. I want to have done something that means something to more than just me.
 
I have been watching "The Big C." It has forced me to start reflecting on what I would do if I were terminally ill. The main character, Cathy, is married with a teenage son. She finds out she has stage 4 melanoma. Although her doctor has not given her a specific timeline, it's clear that she is dying in the near future and without other options. Prior to the news, Cathy is an uptight control freak. She is calculated in all her decision making. She is orderly. She owns and ferociously guards a beautiful white couch. She has settled into a boring and predictable marriage. She is going through the motions of living her life without much thought as to why she does what she does. The news rocks her. She pours red wine on her couch, flips the cushions and then burns it. She builds a pool within inches of her back step so she can leap into the pool with no hesitation and teach her son to dive from the edge. She buys a red (of course) stick shift convertible with all the bells and whistles (which she quickly realizes she is unable to drive because she doesn't drive stick.) She becomes impulsive. She gets naked. She frees her spirit.

And she triggers a feeling of discomfort and regret in me.

I always wanted to get married. I always wanted a family. I promised myself if I didn't find a wonderful life partner, I would go at parenthood alone. I knew I would adopt. Beyond that, I didn't really know. I didn't really think about it. Now, don't get me wrong. I am not some, "yes dear" subservient wife. I don't hang my identity on my being married or a mom. But, family is at my core. I studied Psychology, which was not that shocking. My dad is a therapist— people interest me— I'm decent with human interaction. Slightly shocking might have been my going on to get my masters in counseling, since I really detested school. I still have those anxiety dreams about missing a test and staying in school forever. But I don't believe I ever took the time to procure a life plan. I was too afraid. I just kind of went through life.

I travelled a little. I lived in Israel for a year. This came about after 5 years of private school tuition at two liberal arts colleges. I proudly announced that I was going to live in Boston and be a bartender, where everybody knows your name. My parents gave me the "blink. blink." stare. About a week later my mom said they would pay for me to go to Israel, but I had to stay for a year. I said OK. I never really wanted to move to Boston and bartend. I had never really wanted to do anything. I did not have a vision beyond someday having a family.

I came home from Israel and started working for a Jewish organization. I was not overly passionate about the work, but it was convenient. I met my husband. I quit my job. I got married. I went to graduate school. I started a job. I quit graduate school. I went back to graduate school. I graduated from graduate school. I quit my job. And weeks later, my first son was born and I became a stay-at-home mom.

I went on to have three more additions— two more biological sons and one adopted daughter. I point this out so that you can see I achieved my two goals— family and adoption. I'm not a total slacker. But now, here I sit. In my house in the suburbs. Great husband. Four wonderful kids. Two dogs. The fortunate opportunity to be at home and raise my kids with full support from my spouse. But now, with all of that, I wish before it, I had lived my life differently. I always wanted to travel. But I never knew where to go. Now I know. Austrailia! Vietnam! Ireland! Italy! Spain! I want to travel by train around Europe! I want to join the Peace Corp. Now, with four young kids, it is completely and utterly impractical. Impossible. And I fear for myself that that I will die unfulfilled. And all of this triggered by a God damn TV show. I'm like a poster child for the influence of our media.

But, really. At some point, don't we all look around and take notice of where we were, who we are, and compare it to where we want to be? Where I am, I love. But if I were dying today, my life would not have been fully realized. Not because I am merely 38 years old— too young (objectively) to kick the bucket. But because of the perspective I have now, all these years later. I'm lamenting at the possibilities that remain unrealized, and at this point, possibly impossible. It's easy to lament, regret and accept what we haven't done as the end. For now, I am planning a romantic trip to Italy in the spring.

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Kindling change—part two

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09/15/2010

I recently wrote an article for Oy!Chicago detailing how eight months ago, my life changed via receiving an Amazon Kindle for Chanukah. Now one way I did not foresee my Kindle changing my life was by way of religion. I mean, come on, it’s an eReader. What can it possibly have in common with religion?

And that’s where I was wrong.

I was bored one day (probably when I should have been doing homework) and decided to surf Amazon.com to see what obscure books I could get for my Kindle—not that I’d actually buy them, but because I love randomly finding books that are so strange, unique, and “out-there.” After about ten minutes of perusing the Kindle bookstore page I found myself on a page I never would have thought existed.

The Jewish Bible for the Kindle.

Now it’s not so strange that Amazon would have digital copies of the Tanakh for the Kindle. There are regular, bound paged books of it so why not translate that to the Kindle? There are Kindle copies of the Bible so it would make sense to have the Jewish version represented as well.

The thing that is strange about having the Tanakh on the Kindle is the ironic aspect of it. To help explain, I reached out to Rabbie Dov Hillel Klein, from the Chabad house on Northwestern’s campus.

“According to traditional Judaism one cannot use electronic books on Shabbat,” Rabbi Klein said. “It is forbidden to initiate electricity on Shabbat. Likewise, one cannot use electronic prayer books on Shabbat. I use electronic prayer books during the week.”

So if it is forbidden to initiate electricity on Shabbat, then how are you supposed to use electronic prayer books on Shabbat? Yes, you can use them during the week, but the whole reason behind the Kindle is to make reading books convenient. You don’t need to carry heavy, hardcover books around when you have the slim, 8.7 oz Kindle that has the capacity to hold thousands of books for you. But you still need that hardcover Jewish Bible for Shabbat. So what’s the use in having a digital version if you still need the “old-fashioned” version for when it really counts?

I am a firm believer in technology furthering our society. I fully embrace any/all new gadgets and implement them in my life. The Kindle was no exception. I wholeheartedly welcomed it and allowed it to completely revamp the way I read. In the argument over whether eReaders are destroying the traditional way of literature or helping to further it along, you won’t find me on the side of the old-fashioned.

But perhaps when it comes to religion, technology just can’t provide the same benefits as traditional methods of prayer/study. That’s why it’s called tradition.

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20 Things The Baby Books Don’t Tell You

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09/14/2010

20 Things The Baby Books Don’t Tell You photo

So here are 20 things I had to learn on my own during the first week of my new baby boy’s life. (That the baby is now two months old and I am only now getting to turn my notes into a blog post is just a small indicator of how busy a small person can make a big person):

1) Don’t hold the baby while brushing your teeth. The pointy toothbrush handle can reach from your mouth to the baby’s face. Luckily, I realized this before anything happened.

2) When burping the baby by patting him on the back, you can keep rhythm by singing him a song with a strong beat. Good ones include “Give Up the Funk,” “Proud Mary,” and “When I Ruled the World.” Patriotic songs also work, especially “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” (“Mama Said Knock You Out” is a great one, except if mama walks in on you while you are using it.)

3) If you feed the baby first, the puppy will whine and annoy the baby during his bottle, making feeding difficult. If you feed the puppy first, the baby will lose his patience and cry, making feeding difficult. Anyone who can figure this one out deserves a Nobel.

20 Things The Baby Books Don’t Tell You photo 2

4) Babies hate cold. They hate it more than great-aunt Tillie who flees to Ft. Lauderdale when the first autumn leaf hits the sidewalk. Cold rooms, cold hands, cold bottles— all bad. Also, your “room temp” is baby’s “deep freeze.” So you put socks on him. He will kick off the socks. So he has to be bundled in a blanket. He will then kick off the blanket.

5) Babies look like whoever is holding them, according to the people looking at the ones holding them. Exception: If your wife is prettier than you, the baby looks like her. Exception to the exception: If the baby undeniably looks more like you, you will hear: “The baby looks like you— I’m sorry.”

6) Gifts brought to the hospital are appreciated at the hospital. They are less so on the way to the car with your first-time-in-a-car-seat-newborn, your post-partum wife, and several pieces of luggage, plus the discharge papers, which cannot be packed. Helium balloons are especially hard to wrestle into cars, and they block your rear-view unless they are in the trunk… and then you have to remember you have ceiling fans at home.

7) You don’t have enough blankies. You could have an automatic blankie-dispenser, or live over a blankie factory, and you won’t have enough blankies. You know how you go through a box of tissues when you have a bad cold? Like that, but every day you wash the same 17 blankies.

8) Mechanical swing + pacifier = just enough time to shower.

9) Not all baby-bottle nipples are created equal. In fact, there is more variety here than with shoes. There are sizes, shapes, materials, and “flow-rates” to consider, not to mention the viscosity of the fluid passing through the nipple and its likelihood of clogging the nipple. Too slow frustrates the baby; too fast gags the baby. Choosing a car is easier than finding the nipple your baby likes. And his preference will change in a week.

10) Some babies are clenched. They have that “put up your dukes” pose, and bent knees, too, because they have yet to get used to the fact that they are no longer in the womb, where that posture was the only one available for months. Yes, they eventually open up, but knowing this does not make getting clothes and diapers on him easier now. It’s like dressing a doll with steel springs for joints.

11) Aside from blankies, you don’t have enough batteries. You don’t have enough outlets. You don’t have time to download the 1,372 photos you take every day and forward them to desperate relatives.

12) Babies are natural clowns. Last Comic Standing would be vastly improved if the comics were replaced by babies waking up, nodding off, and in “awake-alert” modes.

13) Just because they make the nursing, pursing-lip face does not mean they are hungry. Some babies just like to suckle as a way of calming themselves. You will not know which he means until the pacifier comes rocketing back at your face.

14) Feeding every three hours is a guideline. Feeding on demand is more the rule.

15) Milk to a baby is like beer to an adult: first the chugging, then the burping, then the spewing, and then the passing out.

16) Onesies have three snaps in the, um, crotch-al area. Just use the middle one. If you try to line up all three on a squirming tush, you will fail. Even if you succeed, then you have three whole snaps to undo and redo every time you change the diaper. And they are designed to hold so fast you are more likely to tear the fabric than unsnap them.

17) Don’t both get up every time the baby cries at night. Here’s what we do: I went to sleep at 11:00 pm, while my wife stayed up until 5:30 am. Which is when I got up and took over while she slept until noon or 1:00 pm. Then we still have the whole afternoon and evening together, and both of us have had a relatively full sleep. Once I came back to work, we added a nanny to the mix so each of us three adults were on 8-hour baby shifts.

18) When the baby falls asleep on you, wait until he is really asleep, then put him down in his crib or car seat. But yes, then put him down. Eight pounds becomes 80 after two hours. If you let him learn that he can only sleep on your arm, you will get a cramp that laughs at tennis elbow.

19) There is an app for that. While in the hospital, I found one that timed contractions. And another than generates white noise. This is good for simulating the sounds the baby heard when in utero, and it’s remarkably calming for them. Also the Shabbat service because we were still in the hospital over Shabbat, but I didn’t consider that possibility and had not packed my siddur. I know, I shouldn’t have used the phone on Shabbat at all, but it was either that or not pray. Only after we got home did it occur to me that I could have contacted the hospital’s chaplain.

20) There are at least 20 more things just on the topic of what the baby books don’t tell you about poop, but I won’t go there…

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Rosh Hashanah dinner for two

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09/13/2010

Shana Tova!  Like many of you, I have been reflecting on this past year, 5770, and looking ahead to the next, 5771.  Over the past year I have transitioned from one full-time job to another, completed a part-time fellowship, staffed a Birthright-Shorashim trip to Israel, and proposed, planned a wedding, and married the woman of my dreams…just to name a few of the events that kept me busy last year.  I have no regrets.  I am in a great place in my life and I have had an amazing year.  My accomplishments have been significant and my experiences have been life changing.

Rosh Hashanah dinner for two photo 1

This time of year there is a lot of talk about New Year’s resolutions—let’s try to do more of this, spend more time on that, and really work to get better at all of these.  As a goal oriented, young Jewish professional, I am all for it and I unconditionally support the endless pursuit of excellence.  That being said, an interesting idea came to me this year.

As 5770 was coming to a close, I was celebrating my wedding over Labor Day weekend, just a few days before Rosh Hashanah.  With all the flurry of activity surrounding the wedding, my now wife and I had neglected to make any dinner plans for the holiday.  We didn’t make any arrangements to be anywhere or have anyone come to us.   Surprisingly, I felt great about it.  Well, admittedly, I felt a little guilty that I wasn’t planning some grand meal or traveling to see any family for the long weekend.  Deep down, though, I was relieved.  After one of the busiest and most intense years of my life, I had the opportunity to come into 5771 with nothing to do.

On Erev Rosh Hashanah, as many were stressing, traveling, preparing, cooking, and getting ready for the insane rush of the holiday, I felt completely at ease and relaxed.  I left work early, picked up a few items at Trader Joe’s, and cooked Rosh Hashanah dinner for two.  We had kosher wine, two round challahs, sweet honey, fresh apples, and all the necessities for a holiday meal.  Best of all we had time to just be with each other and enjoy our new life as a married couple.  I’m talking about good old fashioned free time: time for dreaming, napping, laughing, and playing.  After the year I had just completed it was the perfect and most peaceful way to bring in the new year.

The experience of a low key holiday taught me an important lesson.  There was one resolution that needed to be on my list this year.  In fact if it’s the only thing I accomplish, it’s safe to say that this will be an even more amazing year than last.  How do I top 5770, the year where I seemingly did it all?  The answer is to do less.  My resolution this year is to make more time to just be me, live my life, and enjoy the time with my new wife.

I wish all of our Oy! readers a happy and healthy new year.  For those of you of that have a lot to do this year, my wish for you is to have it all and do it all.  For those of you that need a break this year, my wish is that you give yourself permission to take a little extra time for yourself and occasionally enjoy a meal for just one or two.

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Things my Jewish grandma says…part 2

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09/08/2010

Things my Jewish grandma says part 2 photo 1

My grandma is the strong and silent type.  At least she tries to be.

When we take my grandma out to lunch (more like she takes us out – she never lets us pay), she typically remains quiet while we fill her in on the latest family gossip and share the details of our lives.  When we ask her what is new with her, we usually get a quick response of, “nothing much” and when you ask her about her opinion on the decisions of our family members, 95 percent of the time, she’ll say, “I’m just the grandmother, I don’t mix in” and leaves it at that.

There is however, an exception to this rule.  My grandma’s other 5 % is hysterical.  She will never criticize anyone directly, but every so often, she will be sitting with me and my mother and inadvertently make a very blunt comment about another family member.  Like, “Have you seen the low cut shirts that your cousin has been wearing lately?” or “If only he’d lose 20 pounds, I’m sure he’d have no trouble finding a girlfriend.”  Oy.

Last week, I received an alarming call from my mother letting me know that my grandma was in the hospital.  Worried, I immediately gave my mom the third degree, trying to assess what was wrong and how serious the situation was.

Here is what happened:

That day, my mother had spoken with Grandma Fanny at noon, and all was well.  At 4:00 p.m., my grandma failed to call her best friend Sylvie like she always does each day, so at 4:01 p.m., Sylvie panicked.  Oh, Jewish grandmas.

She frantically called my grandma, who was barely able to answer but told her that she was dizzy and was having major stomach problems, vomiting etc.

Sylvie proceeded to call my mother, Annette, and two uncles, Mardy and Jerry, at home, and received no answer (4:00 p.m. – everyone was at work – duh).  So rather than going over there, she called 911.  Then she realized that she can call my mom’s cell phone, got through, and from there, of course the whole family wass alerted.  My dad and my uncles raced across town to grandma’s house to beat EMS before they broke down her door.

Grandma, G-d bless her, was laying in bed, sick as a dog, and while my father dealt with EMS, my uncle Jerry noticed a small handwritten note on the fridge that hadn’t been there the day before when he had visited:

          If I get sick, it’s from the chicken that Mardy brought me from Giant Eagle.

Oh, Grandma.  I think you’ve been watching too much Seinfeld.  Most people just wouldn’t eat the chicken.  My grandma, bless her heart, eats the chicken that she already has a hunch is bad, and leaves a note to place the blame before the illness even sets in.

While it’s not the best day to be Uncle Mardy, it’s good to be my grandma, because we all love her and rushed to take care of her at a moment’s notice.  And to give my uncle a bit of credit, apparently the illness wasn’t entirely the fault of the chicken.  Grandma is on the mend but suffering not just from food poisoning but vertigo.

The holidays remind me each year how lucky I am to have my grandparents in my life, even when they’re a little crazy.  To all of you reading, take a moment at some point over the high holidays to tell your grandparents to have a happy and healthy new year – and that if the chicken looks bad, it likely is.  Don’t eat it!

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Dear Gillespie

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09/07/2010

Amen, Amen, Amen: an interview with author Abby Sher photo

“It’s kind of a no-brainer for us.”

“I mean, if you want a list of mohels, I can email you one.”

“For me, it’s more of an aesthetic thing. I had this experience with a guy who wasn’t circumcised…have you ever played with a long water balloon?”

This was the discussion I had with a few friends last week – all of us in our last trimester of pregnancy. And while the water balloon image stuck with me on the playground the next afternoon, I still didn’t get the answer I’d sought.

Two years ago, my husband and I were doing the circumcision debate and wound up in a dead heat. Blessedly, on the last push he yelled, “It’s a girl!” We spent the first eight days of her life in a blissful haze. Our biggest concerns were whether I had the proper breastfeeding latch and if we should reheat more lasagna.

But here we are, almost two years later to the day, still undecided. And this time, even though we’re trying to keep the gender a surprise, even my midwife has called my bump a he. The only name we have so far is Gillespie, because I was so dizzy for the first few months, and now though I’m physically more stable, my mind is still spinning. Here are some of the arguments, opinions, and inconclusive statements from my husband, Jay and me.

Me: Well, it’s been proven circumcision is healthier. I have to check the WHO website but I’m pretty sure.
Jay: I think they’ve found studies both pro- and con- health wise.
Me: Then, how will you explain it to him if he looks different than you?
Jay: I can handle it.
Me: Okay, and there’s also….the covenant thing.
Jay: Yeah, that’s what I thought.

The Covenant Thing. Jay is not Jewish. Which doesn’t upset me, but it does challenge me. To be more aware and honest about my own beliefs. When I first met him, he called himself an atheist.

“But you must believe in something!” I insisted. When he asked me to clarify my own faith, I got defensive and nauseous. I’d spent most of my thirty years obsessive about my prayers and rituals and didn’t know how to distill the importance of the Shema and yahzreit, kissing the mezuzah and Friday night chicken into a pithy response. My relationship with G-d was and continues to be sacrosanct. Jay knows I pray every day for a half hour. He knows not to open the door or interrupt me with anything short of a five-alarm fire. But he doesn’t know exactly what I am reciting or how I am constantly trying to evolve in my daily practice and make it into more of a conversation. Though I take comfort in the Jewish traditions and consider matzoh ball soup the truest form of manna, I have Chungpa Rinpoche and Pema Chodron on my night table, not Martin Buber. I visit the yoga studio a few times a week, and the local temple a few times a year.

Jay’s spirituality has definitely grown in our years together too. Though he was brought up with his parents practicing many different traditions, and his father is now a minister for Unity for Peace, I think studying martial arts is what brought Jay to a stronger belief in a universal connection. I find it incredibly hopeful (and pretty sexy) when he talks about putting positive energy into the world so someone else can feel that space and possibility. I love that we can connect through shared ideas about the power and responsibility of human kindness even if we don’t agree on what lies Beyond.

And yet, our personal journeys with religion do not solve the problem of what to do with our son’s penis. Or do they?

In many ways, Gillespie’s birth feels like my chance to truly uphold my end of the covenant. My parents gave me this inheritance of Judaism, which for so long meant doughy challah, a crush on my rabbi, and a warm temple library where I could find quiet in between Hebrew school classes. The Berit Mila could give my son the support and possible enlightenment of a time-honored tradition. It could give him a sense of belonging and protection, whether he chooses to be actively Jewish or not.

Equally valid are Jay’s ideas that if we do circumcise our son, we are imposing our will on him. Jay feels strongly that whatever we do shouldn’t commit him to any one faith. But if we have a doctor circumcise Gillespie in the hospital with no ceremony, that feels even colder and more barbaric. And what about the sanctity of letting him choose?

I wish this could end in a neat verdict. But it’s more like a to be continued. My role as mother now means keeping this discussion open in my family. Learning to articulate what and why we have our individual beliefs. I used to fear that I would do wrong by G-d. That I would sin so irrevocably, I could never earn His forgiveness. I often still list my mistakes and offenses when I sit down to pray. But I do not believe in a G-d who punishes or excludes someone from His fold because of the shape of his penis. This is what I know clearly, and can say with conviction to all of my children: I believe in a G-d who is all-accepting and all-loving, finding the good in each creature and each blade of grass.

So here is my half of the conversation that I’d like to start, and I hope one day soon my dear boy can answer me if he likes.

Hi, sweet Gillespie. This will be a running theme throughout your life, but Mama’s confused. I want to do right by you but I’m not sure what that is and also what will serve you best in the long run.

The long run? That’s a good question. Well, it means the future, but who am I to predict anything farther than what’s for supper? My job as mama is to live in the present tense with a generous heart and trust. Trust that the world will keep spinning and I will learn from my mistakes and you will find your own relationship with faith and G-d, whatever that means to you. All the covenants and sacrifices and candles and even latkes passed down are reminders of this one essential truth.

So right now? This moment, as you roll your body under my skin and give me such giddy anticipation with your hiccups. Right now, I feel like I should circumcise you so you can enjoy this connection with your Jewish brethren. But I also feel that I should let you be the perfect, untouched creature of astounding beauty that you already are. Connected with all humanity through your steadily beating heart.

And I’m trusting that the answer will come clear soon.

Abby Sher is the author of Amen, Amen, Amen: Memoir of a Girl Who Couldn’t Stop Praying. To learn more about Abby and her book, visit  http://abbysher.com/ .

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My eye-opening exhibit

 Permanent link
09/03/2010

Joseph G. was just a couple of years old when his family was forced to march to a ravine close to his home in Kyiv, Ukraine. There, Nazi soldiers shot almost the entire Jewish community of Kyiv. Few were able to hide under the piles of bodies and make it to tell the story.

Joseph survived. But his story is even more miraculous because at a time when few were willing to help their Jewish neighbors, a woman decided to act to save at least one person. She pulled Joseph out of a crowd being herded to Babi Yar. The Ukrainian woman was the neighborhood’s street sweeper and hid Joseph throughout World War II and then raised him as her own. No one else from his family survived those harrowing years.

Illinois Holocaust Museum logo

Joseph was among a group of 15 Russian-speaking seniors who visited the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center last week. The seniors are part of the Russian Senior Center at the Dina & Eli Field EZRA Multi-Service Center. Run by two Russian-speaking social workers, the program helps Russian-speaking seniors with filling out paperwork, English-language classes and cultural program, among its many offerings.

For this field trip, I had the privilege of serving as a translator.

I hadn’t been to the museum since it opened. The exhibits cover everything from Jewish life in pre-war Europe to Nazi massacres to the attempts at normalcy in the ghettoes to liberation and life post-war. It’s a hard path to walk, but one that made me keenly aware of all the benefits of living in a free society where my being Jewish – or a woman or Russian or any other way I identify – has no bearing on opportunities afforded to me.

Joseph was particularly agitated when we entered the Museum. He had donated an item to the collection: the medal recognizing his savior as a Righteous Gentile. In fact, a tree has been planted in her honor at Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust museum and the national memorial to victims of the Shoah.

I translated the placards, the sound recordings, the videos and photo captions as we walked through the winding rooms, passing from the dark, angular half into the light half of the Stanley Tigerman-designed Museum.

As we went, the group recalled their own experiences. Like Joseph, many lived in large Jewish communities. Three women remembered living in small towns in present-day Belarus and mourned the lives of their relatives who perished. Another woman was a communications operator for an infantry division. Still others fought with the partisans and only recently discovered information about Jewish partisans in the very same forests – like the Bielski brothers, whose stories were recently made into a film.

Joseph didn’t see his artifact in the collection, but was relieved to find out that it’s carefully catalogued and might be on display when the exhibits change in about six to nine months. He’ll get a postcard from the Museum when the medal is on view.

The visit was much more than a very welcome chance to practice my Russian and my simultaneous translation skills. The two narratives – of the group I was accompanying and of the exhibits themselves – converged into a much fuller, richer story.

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My love affair with fro-yo

 Permanent link
09/02/2010

I’m so excited for tonight’s Oy!Chicago fro-yo get together at my new favorite hot spot Forever Yogurt.  I LOVE fro-yo.  Love it!  Nothing beats a delicious bowl of smooth, creamy, soft-serve goodness topped with tasty treats.  It doesn’t matter what season, it’s always worth the trip.  I love fro-yo so much that I’ve been known to eat my cup, decide I didn’t get enough and get back in line for another scoop.  I also don’t play favorites.  Whether it’s tart and tangy a la Starfruit or sweeter than sweet a la Love’s, I eat it all.  I actually cried the day Treats closed for good in Lincoln Park. (I’ll forever miss you, blue cotton candy flavored yogurt.)

My love affair with fro-yo photo

Jo-Jo’s = the best ice cream spot in Kauai!

I consider myself something of a fro-yo expert, so I thought in light of tonight’s event, I’d compile my list of the top 10 best places for yogurt in the city.

In no particular order they are…

Love’s
Ahh, who doesn’t love Love’s?!  I’ve been frequenting Love’s for as long as I can remember.  Just down the street from my high school, Love’s and I shared many after school dates.  The yogurt is delicious, but it always leaves me wanting more (see above.)  My boyfriend recently discovered the Love’s location at Chicago and Milwaukee (just off the blue line!), and for a man who doesn’t like sweets, he’s obsessed with the peanut butter flavor.

Starfruit
I discovered this place by chance, because it is located next door to my gym.  It quickly rose to the top of my list.  I don’t feel guilty stopping by after a workout because it’s low calories and good for the digestive system.  They have a great product, creamy and even a little sweet, at decent prices and mochi is one of many amazing toppings they offer.

Forever Yogurt
This place isn’t just on the list because we are headed there tonight.  This place kicks butt!  I live just down the street and I’ve made it a habit to visit here for my fro-yo fix.  There are 14 self-serve flavors for you to choose from— my favorites are the red velvet cake, mama’s cake batter and the Reese’s peanut butter cup— and more toppings than any other place I’ve been to.  Just be careful (even with tonight’s 25% discount), this place can be pricey.  It’s easy to overload when you’re in control and at 40 cents an ounce, it won’t come cheap.

Yogunfruz
This places takes probiotic fro-yo to a whole new level with the “mix its.”  They’ll blend any fruit or even chocolate to sweeten up your treat and that’s before toppings.  For those of you who want the benefits of probiotics without the sour taste, Yogunfruz is catering to you.

TCBY
Truly the countries best yogurt and it will forever hold a soft spot in my heart.  Growing up, TCBY was right down the street from my house and my dad I used to go all the time.  We’d both order the white chocolate mousse— it doesn’t get any better than that.

Berrychill
I know people swear by Berrychill’s yogurt, but when I’m looking for a delicious probiotic treat, I usually turn to Starfruit.  The yogurt is slightly sweeter and creamier than the Berrychill stuff, while still chockfull of live active cultures that make it good for your tummy.  I go to Berrychill because it offers hands down my favorite fro-yo topping of all time— smiley face cookies!

Dairy Queen
It was a sad day when Dairy Queen discontinued the “breezes” and gave up selling yogurt in the store all together.  But did you know that a small DQ sundae is only 163 calories or a small vanilla cone is 142 calories?  Who needs yogurt when you can eat the real thing for so little calories?!

Costco
What!?  You don’t go to Costco just for the yogurt?  Well, next time you’re stocking up on massive quantities of paper towels, make a beeline for the yogurt stand (usually located after the check out).  Costco has a great vanilla and they’ll add ton’s of fruit to it all at low Costco prices!  It’s a delicious steal!

TastiDlite
Yes, I know this isn’t actually a Chicago spot, but it is the founder of the guilt free fro-yo movement and therefore deserves a spot on my list.  With so many places popping up these days, I think it’s impressive that TastiDLite has been serving soft serve treats since 1987.  And according to the Tasti D Lite web site, an Illinois location is coming soon— fingers crossed!

Wow Bao
Again, when you think of Wow Bao, you probably don’t think yogurt.  But did you know that the Water Tower location has some of the best yogurt in the city?  Next time you’re in the mood for a few Baos, pair it with a cup of the pomegranate ginger or fresh hibiscus yogurt.  You won’t be sorry!

So there you have it— my top 10 fro-yo spots!  What do you think?  Agree, disagree?

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An Interview with Former Jewish Blackhawk, Steve Dubinsky

 Permanent link
09/01/2010

An interview with former Jewish Blackhawk photo

During all the Blackhawk craziness in Chicago I searched and searched for a Jewish connection. Recently, I tracked down former Jewish Blackhawk Steve Dubinsky, who is still involved in the game through his sons and youth hockey. He was a really nice guy to talk to and still a big Hawks fan. Check out my interview with Dubinsky and celebrate the Hawks big win all over again:

The Great Rabbino: Did you follow the Blackhawks throughout the season? If so, how did you celebrate? 
Steve Dubinsky: Yes, I was rooting for them. It was extremely exciting. I was a firm believer that they would win. I was happy for the city and the organization. But on a personal level, it was not my place to celebrate.

What was the highlight of your playing career?
Probably my first goal against Vancouver in 1994.

Who is the greatest player you ever played against?
Probably Gretzky. Maybe Lemieux.

Who is the greatest goalie you ever face?
[Patrick] Roy, for sure.

Did you face any other Jewish hockey players during your time?
Yeah. Both Ronnie Stern and Mathieu Schneider.

What are you up to now?
I am in Edmonton for some youth hockey. There will also be a tournament in Vernon Hills, which will be great. I own a development company. Also, I work with Glacier Ice Arena in Vernon Hills.

Do your kids play?
All three of my boys play. My middle son is actually playing for the Junior Blackhawks.

Which is better: Chicago Stadium or the United Center? 
You just can't compare the old stadium.

Having lived in Chicago, what is your favorite Chicago pizza place?
For sure, Lou Malnatis.

Dubinsky suggested we check out www.selecthockey.com.

Thank you again to Dubinsky for answering our questions and taking the time out to speak with us.

Good luck in the future.

And Let Us Say...Amen.

For more on Jewish Sports check out www.greatrabbino.com

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