Living Jewishly
Haters Don’t Gotta Hate photo_th

“I hate you.” These are powerful words. They can ruin years of relationship development in two seconds.

Feeling the Tefilah photo_th

Essentially, I've grown up with tefilah (prayer) -- that I know -- but have I become a grownup with tefilah?

Learning to Be an Upstander photo_th

My papa, Ralph Rehbock, has been the greatest influencer and teacher in my life. Since surviving the Holocaust as a young boy, he has never been shy speaking about his past, or about teaching the lessons of the Holocaust as a member of Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center’s Speakers’ Bureau.

Ich Bein a Juden photo_th

My grandfather’s Judaism called to him when he was 16. It was 1942. His family had emigrated to America decades earlier and he was living the American Dream.

My Grandfather the Barber photo _th

I first remember learning about the Holocaust when I was 5 years old. Sitting in my grandparents’ living room, the camera crew entered with all of their equipment and I sat quietly on the couch with the rest of my family as we waited for the interviewer to begin asking my grandfather questions.

The ultimate act of defiance photo_th

I am the grandson of Holocaust survivors who were lucky enough to escape the Nazis.

The four answers photo_th

One of the highlights at the Seder is the four questions. The youngest gets up on a chair and proudly declares four simple and insightful questions. Everyone watches proudly as the next generation is inculcated with the fundamental Jewish concept of being inquisitive (and super cute).

Not the Purim I Remember phototh

It doesn't take much to realize why I'm happy -- I've got a Purim grogger in one hand and a lasso in the other. I'm marching my way to shul in the same suede and tasseled cowgirl costume I've rodeoed into for the fourth consecutive year.

Purim and the Blame Game photo_th

If someone pushed a button that released a fleet of nuclear missiles all over the United States and then quickly shot down each one saving everyone from utter destruction, would we call them a hero?

From Chicago to Jerusalem photo_th

Growing up in the Chicago Jewish community, I was raised with a deep sense of pride in our history. I was taught how to love my community and to love my city because of its rich cultural history.

Choosing a Name For Our Jewish Baby photo_th

Imagine this for a moment. You are the creator of something completely new, special and unique. Your creation is about to come into the universe, and you are given the task of choosing the name. You have some ideas, but the moment to decide is rapidly approaching.

Having each other’s backs photo_th

On a recent snowy Chicago Friday night, I attended a pop-up Shabbat dinner in the Uptown neighborhood of Chicago, where the menu, prepared by a gourmet Jewish chef, featured a modern twist on traditional Jewish food -- matzah ball soup, butternut squash cholent, pastrami, and of course challah and wine.

My Religious High-Wire Act photo

I’ll never forget my first Shabbat at home after spending five months in Jerusalem studying Judaism at the Pardes Institute. I had spent my entire life in the northern suburb of Deerfield before going away to college, yet I came back feeling like a stranger in my home town.

Where’s Our Parade photo_th

I love Israel Solidarity Day and the Walk with Israel, but while a participatory walkathon is important, I want a parade -- floats and bands and a grandstand, the whole schmear.

CHI to NYC: My Chanukah Miracle photo

Every Chanukah we are reminded of the phrase “nes gadol hayah sham” -- “a great miracle happened there,” and we celebrate the various miracles of Chanukah. But as I’m writing this from my new apartment in New York City, I’m thankful for a different type of miracle, and the “there” in this case is a little more complicated.

College Sex and Orthodox Values photo_th

My roommates and I lounged around in Sunday pajamas, which became our outfits for the day, when a friend walked in, plopped onto our sofa and announced how last night she had come close to losing her virginity.

A Rabbi, A Priest and My Brother’s Wedding photo_th

My eldest brother recently got married to a beautiful woman whom I’m now fortunate to call my sister-in-law. The Drake Hotel in Chicago was the perfect romantic backdrop for the magical evening celebrated with close friends and family, scrumptious food, delicious drinks and a groovy band.

The Original Birthright Trip photo_th

“Mom? Dad? Remember how you wanted me to love Israel and it was really important to you that I go there? Well, now that I’m here, I do love Israel. In fact, I’m not coming home. I’m staying here.”

Moment of Zen photo_th

Over the summer and now into the fall--and a brand new Jewish year--I've been waking up early in the morning a few times a week to make it to the lake to watch the sunrise. Blame insomnia for getting me out of bed, but there's a bright side to rising early.

Contain Yourself photo_th

While they may look very different at first, most Jewish sacred or ritual items have something in common: They are containers.

Yom Kippur in Tel Aviv photo _th

A little less than a month ago, I took a leap of faith and moved to Israel to participate in a 10-month volunteer/internship program called Tikkun Olam in Tel Aviv-Yaffo. The program gives me the extraordinary opportunity to intern for local non-profits and live alongside the communities my workplace serves.

The Confession photo_th

Yom Kippur is "Judgment Day," and there is a prayer that repeats over and over again throughout the many services of the holiday called Vidui, or "The Confession." Every year when I go to shul for Yom Kippur, my heart beats a little faster when the Vidui comes up in the liturgy.

New Year. New Mindset. New Results. photo_th

Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year and the Day of Judgment, is upon us. And it’s kind of a funny day. No, being judged for the year is not so funny, but if you look at our customs for the day, you’ve got to wonder what’s going on; we have these huge festive meals on the Day of Judgment.

Wakeup call photo_th

Close your eyes and imagine yourself in the synagogue listening to the blasting of the shofar, something some of us will be doing just days from now.

The Title Ain’t Vital photo_th

I can’t forget that cloud of gray coiffured hair breezing beside Madison Street Bridge. Tell me you saw her too, perched on the florescent Home Depot bucket, in a stylish purple top that matched her pomegranate lips.

Let’s create an American Jewish holiday photo_th

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

5 Inevitable High Holiday Moments in Your 20s photo_th2

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

Living Jewishly Lately photo_th

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

Treasuring the Moment photo_th

If you thought “Cat’s in the Cradle” was a heart-wrenching song when you were single, try thinking about it when you’re a dad! We can all relate to that boy who missed out on those moments with his father, and the father (who we can also all relate to) missing out on those moments with his son.

3 Uncomfortable Conversations All Observant Jews Have photo_th2

I’ll always remember the day I told my parents about my decision to become more observant. I was in Israel with knots in my stomach, unsure of how they’d respond to my decision.

Ashley Kolpak photo_th

At a recent event I came across a vibrant, expressive man in the midst of a “mid-life opportunity,” surely not be confounded with a “mid-life crisis.” Ears perked, I asked him directly what brought him to this event. His eyes were perfectly still and fixated on mine as the words left his mouth.” After spending my whole life in the church, I’m leaving. I left. I’m making a clean break.”

Joshua Marder photo_th

My son and I have reached a new milestone. We can learn together! I’m not referring to math or science, of course, but Torah study. We open up the Torah together, start reading and -- here comes the best part -- we start blasting questions at each other left and right.

What’s with all the “J” Names? photo_th

Anyone making a list of Jewish names, or choosing one for a child, has to be struck by how many start with “J.”

We Should Get To Know Each Other photo_th

Growing up I had a split personality. On the one hand, I loved smelling the tadlikos and spinaki that my great aunts would busily prepare in the kitchen during any family gathering. I loved hearing the stories about Macedonia, the “old country,” that my grandfather and older relatives would tell around the dinner table.

Remembering is Repairing photo_th

I think I hit my all-time tikkun olam high when I was 16. For the first time in my life, I left the North American continent and, with 16 other teenagers from my synagogue, traveled to the Czech Republic. I don’t think any of us quite understood the sheer holiness of the task before us, but that would quickly change, and change us for good.

Matzah, the Holocaust and the Jewish Drive photo_th

After the Nazis had fled Bergen-Belsen knowing their demise was imminent, Izzy Starck and some friends searched the Nazi barracks to find a bunch of rifles. They were starving – that wasn’t what they were looking for.

The Seder Plate of Me photo_th

Passover is one of my favorite holidays. My third favorite, in fact. One element I enjoy is the Seder Plate and the items we put on it. In general, we Jews like to use symbols – or in the case of Passover, food – to represent things. It’s why, especially during this holiday, if I walk past a fellow Jew all I have to do is shout, “Represent!” and they know exactly what’s going on.

Matzo Musings photo_th

Passover has always been my favorite Jewish holiday. Not for the funky food — and definitely not for the candy fruit slices that taste like Tums — but for the people. Passover, more than any other holiday, has been a special time to for our family and friends to congregate.

Purim vs. Halloween photo_th-2

My 5-year-old son, all dressed up in his finest Purim costume, looked up at me and said, “Abba, I love Purim! Let’s go do some more shalach manos!” He was referring to the special candies and treats that are given out amongst friends throughout the community on Purim day.

On Tzedakah Boxes and Feline Philanthropy photo_th

Growing up as a child I didn’t fully understand the concept of piggy banks. As far as I could tell — based on the information amassed from countless viewings of Toy Story and the occasional Nickelodeon advertisement — piggy banks were strange, possibly animate creatures into which you put your unusually large coins.

Welcomed like family photo_th

I went on Birthright the summer of 2013 because I didn’t get the advertising internship I applied for. What I could never have predicted was bawling tears of joy in the middle of the mikvah (ritual bath) in Safed, climbing Masada with a sprained ankle, or announcing I wanted to live in Israel the third day of my trip. What started out as a bet with my staff member turned into me picking up my life and spending five of the most transformative months in Tel Aviv.

Bridges photo_th

It's a new year, full of hopes and dreams-dreams like the one Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke about all those years ago. In the last two months, one thing we've learned is that we have a long way to go before we shall overcome.

mother daughter thumb

If they were to sit across from each other at this fictitious dinner table, Silvia and my mother would not have a single language in common, yet, strangely enough, there is no doubt in my mind that they would become instant friends.

5 Things the Jewish Community Can Learn From My Mexican Vacation photo_th

A few weeks ago, my fiancé, Adam, and I went on a vacation to our first all-inclusive Mexican resort – a place called Secrets Capri in Riviera Maya. With five days and nothing to do but relax and enjoy the sun (and, sadly, some rain), we came back feeling refreshed, reinvigorated, and tan – or, let’s be honest, slightly less ghost-colored.

The Accidental Jewish Spy photo_th

Have you ever been an accidental spy? There you were, just minding your own business when suddenly, people around you start talking about you – your people – without knowing you are “one of them?”

‘Tis the Season for Giving … But How? photo_th

If you’re like me, you probably get a ton of emails and countless mailed letters asking you to donate or to give to an organization. Many of them come around this time of the year, when the holiday spirit and the spirit of giving seem to collide in a frenzy of toys, appliances, gadgets and monetary donations.

Miracles photo_th

My mom always made a big deal about Chanukah, and she instilled in our family a love for the holiday, too. I know, I know. Chanukah's considered a "minor" holiday on the Jewish calendar, just trying to keep up with the commercialism of a Christmas culture that has us hearing the Mariah Carey Christmas song in our sleep for two months straight.

8 Ways to Brighten Up Your Chanukah photo_th

One of the best things about traditions is that they stay the same. This familiarity brings comfort and nostalgia. But even a holiday that’s thousands of years old – or maybe especially such a holiday – needs some new ideas every now and then so it doesn’t get stale.

The Value of 140 Characters photo_th

I tend to believe that there are lessons to be learned in the world, and that most of them eventually connect within Jewish life. This is even the case in the social media world.

Knowledge, Gratitude and the Philtrum photo_th

The groove in the middle of a human’s upper lip is called the infranasal depression, or a philtrum. There is a Jewish myth, stemming from the Talmud (Niddah 30B) that explains the infranasal depression’s origin.

Shabbat in Layers photo_th

In the heart of downtown Chicago, a large party room was filled with young Jewish professionals. Candles were radiating, wine was poured, homemade challah was savored, and the communal companionship was felt by all. My wife and I were relieved that Shabbat had begun and the hours of preparation in the kitchen (and on social media) had come to a close.

Cindy Sher 2_th

A year ago, for the month of Thanksgiving, every night before I went to bed I jotted down one thing I was grateful for each day.

Paul Wieder photo 2013_th

I started working at the Jewish United Fund in 1994, on Oct. 10, a day after my birthday. In that time, I’ve had two marriages, three kids, three pets, eight places of residence … and one place of work.

It’s Not Too Late photo_th

I know I’m late. I’m always late. (Heck – this blog post is late.) The High Holiday blogs have long since been published and Passover matzah but a dry and pasty memory, but and still, as someone who’s always late I am OK with my writing being slightly less in the news of the moment. (And I have no interest/ability in tackling the Ebola “pandemic.”)

Cindy Sher 2_th

With Sukkot here, and a chill settling into the air outside, we're reminded of the warmth and peace of home, and the Jewish concept of shalom bayit—peace in the home. But as news of domestic violence captures our attention in the media, we know not all homes are peaceful.

A full sukkah photo_th

Oy!Chicago asked its readers the following hypothetical question: If you could invite any "ushpizin"-Sukkah guests-into your sukkah-living or dead, famous or not-who would top your guest list?

Lia Lehrer photo_th

I’ve always been a bit of a synagogue hopper. Right now, when asked where I go to synagogue, I say, “I go to five.”

Into the light photo_th

Only once do I recall someone saying something anti-Semitic in my presence. At a high school summer program away from home, a new acquaintance was speaking casually about shopping when she mentioned someone "Jew-ing" down the price.

My Grandma’s Super Sweet 90th Birthday Bat Mitzvah Bash photo_th

A few weeks ago, my wonderful, hilarious, sassy grandma reached the incredible milestone of 90. Nonee Ethel has always been an integral part in all of our lives, “our” referring to my sprawling extended family. Like most grandmas, she is infinitely special to us.

Let Them in Your Personal Space photo_th

The High Holidays are around the corner, and with them comes an opportunity to share many meals with friends and family.

How I Fell in Love with Israel photo_th

Earlier this week, Slate magazine published an article titled, “Did Birthright Kill Max Steinberg?” Since then, the title has been changed to something a little less preposterous, but the point remains the same — Benedikt seems to believe that a largely donor-funded trip to Israel is actually a trick masterminded by the Israeli government to ensnare foreigners into the IDF.

Ashley Kolpak photo_th

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

Family photo_th

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

Jessica Korneff photo_th

I once read that the University of Wisconsin-Madison, 15 percent of the campus population is Jewish — meaning that about every sixth bleary-eyed, sleep-deprived student you bump into on the street is statistically a Jew.

Pomp and circumstance photo_th

I'm a bit of a dork, but I love graduation season. I tear up at montages on the news of commencement speakers serving up their most sage nuggets of advice to senior classes. I smile at stuffed animals at Hallmark dressed in caps and gowns.

Wooing a Jew in the Digital Age photo_th

I can safely say, until reading Tamar Caspi’s How to Woo a Jew: The Modern Jewish Guide to Dating and Mating, I’d never come across a dating advice book so specific to the Jewish experience. Caspi’s book covers everything from online dating to Jewish singles events to the taming of Jewish mothers.

Non-Trivial Pursuits photo_th

I was cleaning out my parents’ game cabinet during Passover and found a deck of trivia cards from the 1980s. As I leafed through the questions, I soon realized that many of them were Jewish in nature.

Nurturing the sparks photo_th

Over fifty years ago, when people were beginning to note a decline in Americans' interest in organized religion, one of my favorite rabbis of all time made this observation: "Religion declined not because it was refuted, but because it became irrelevant, dull, oppressive, insipid. When faith is completely replaced by creed, worship by discipline, love by habit… its message becomes meaningless."

On the Cusp of Jewish Parenthood photo_th

I was squirming a bit in my seat and not exactly breathing regularly, yet Rose seemed relaxed. Her smile was gentle, even as she explained the less glamorous moments for women in their first trimester.

'Let My People Go...' photo_th

I somehow got sent a copy of “The 30 Minute Seder.” It has a song in it that is not traditionally a Passover seder song, but I can see why they put it in there. It's the spiritual "Let My People Go."

My Grandpa’s Jacket photo_th

It was the end of the fourth, and all eyes were on me. That's the fourth question, of course. Although the unofficial fifth question (will she find the afikoman?) was on the minds of everyone in the room.

Self Love photo_th

This week’s portion, Acharei Mot, begins by sharing the specific instructions for what the High Priest is meant to do on Yom Kippur (the holiday is introduced as well).

The Pursuit of My Afikoman photo_th

Around the beginning of spring every year, or as Chicagoans call it, “three quarters of the way through winter,” lots of us are having fun-filled family functions where searching is the primary activity.

Passover and Punk photo_th

In the 1940s David Ben Gurion, Israel’s first Prime Minister, came to the United States and said to a group of senators, “Your ancestors came to America 300 years ago to fight for freedom. But tell me, can you remember the day they set out and the food they ate on the way?”

Shabbat as a Choice photo_th

Several years ago, I was privileged to staff a Taglit-Birthright Israel trip for Shorashim. From the moment I found out I’d be going, I was really looking forward to celebrating Shabbat in Israel again.

cindy sher oy thumb

"Brave,” a song sung by Sara Bareilles, has been getting lots of airtime on my iPod these days. The song just lifts me up.

The Guide to Jewish Wedding Gifts photo_th

Weddings are in the spring and summer, so invites are going out soon, and that means you have to go wedding-gift shopping again. Well, we’re here to help. Here are the major categories of Judaica (according to one website, at least…) and my unsolicited advice as to whether they will make good wedding gifts.

Life, Love and Shawarma photo_th

I’d never dated a Jewish guy in my life.

Braiding True Love photo_th

I always thought that I would marry someone Jewish. It seemed like a given; USY and Hebrew school classes were sometimes dedicated to teaching us about the challenges of marrying outside the faith. I was on board, and my beshert would surely be Jewish. My true love would naturally have an affinity for my first love, Judaism.

Dan Horwitz photo_th

In this week’s portion, Tetzaveh, we find detailed instructions for how to go about creating vestmentsfor the High Priest (Aaron) and his sons, as well as how to consecrate and ordain them as the nation’s priests.

cindy sher oy thumb

What's the key to happiness? Is it winning a million bucks? Or maybe eating large amounts of chocolate and not gaining any weight?

My Jewish Journey: Or How I Came to Drink the Pickle Juice photo_th

My journey to Judaism has been complicated, and Jewish motherhood has thrown me my fair share of challenges as well.

Beshalach photo_th

In this week's portion, Beshalach, the Israelites have just left Egypt and are being led by a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night into the wilderness. God has Moses encamp the Israelites alongside the sea, and then proceeds to harden Pharaoh's heart one final time.


Tonight and tomorrow, Jews will descend on Chinese restaurants across the United States to honor the annual tradition of eating Chinese food on Christmas (most likely followed by a movie).

Holiday Mash-Ups Beyond Thanksgivukkah photo_th

Now that we have all long-since survived the cholesterol cornucopia that was Thanksgivukkah—during which we celebrated both oil and gravy—it's time to see what other Jewish/American holiday mash-ups are coming up in 2014.

Ice Cream Topped with Kindness photo_th

For the fourth consecutive year, my father, along with the rest of the immediate family, has managed to host quite a special birthday party celebration. The reason I say it’s special is, well … why don’t you tell me if this sounds like a fun and happy birthday party.

How I Became a Full-Time Jew photo_th

Now that I work in the Jewish community, people always assume that I’ve been a “super Jew” my whole life. In reality, it took a special trip to pique my interest—and experiences thereafter—to land me where I’m standing now.

Stuck Like Glue photo_th

This week’s portion, Vayechi, marks the end of the book of Genesis. We first find Jacob about to pass away, and note that he still hasn’t learned his lesson about the issues that come with playing favorites, as he adopts Joseph’s sons as his own, ensuring that each gets an equal share of his inheritance with his trueborn sons.

Dinosaur Chanukah photo_th

I’m not particularly proud of it, but this is what I did for Chanukah. Strike that. This was my attempt to make Chanukah as cool as Christmas. I happened upon a Facebook post about a couple who told their kids each year that, once a year, their toys woke up for the night to have a party.

Chanukah Confessions of an Interfaith Kid photo_th

Logan Zinman I’m pretty sure my family coined the term Christmukkah. We were interfaith hipsters, once we realized that the alternative, Festivus, wasn’t really for the restofus. My family began blending two faiths at a time when my bubbie had to pay off the cantor at her shul to marry her son to a Cat

M-M-M-My Menorahs photo_th

My parents collect menorahs – I amass them. The difference is that they actively seek theirs, while I passively receive mine. For some reason, I seem to receive a lot of them. I suppose once you have a critical mass of any item, people assume you collect it – and suddenly, you do.

Giving thanks this Thanksgiving—and Chanukah photo_th

If you’ve visited any water cooler frequented by Members of the Tribe lately, the subject of the first day of Chanukah landing on Thanksgiving Day for the first time since 1888—and the last time for another 70,000 years—was bound to come up.

All You Need Is Love photo_th

In this week's portion, Vayetzeh, we find one of most intriguing love stories in the Bible. Jacob lays eyes on Rachel for the first time (yes she was his first cousin; no that wasn't weird at the time), and knows that they're meant to be together. He immediately proceeds to water her flocks for her, and lets her know who he is and his relationship to her.

Gabi Bronstein photo_th

I grew up in a town that was 85 percent Jewish. Every summer I attended a camp that was 95 percent Jewish. Then I went to a college where I lived in a dorm that virtually emptied during the High Holidays. Despite these being rough estimates, I think it’s safe to say I live in the Jewish Bubble.

Taking the “–el” photo_th2

One of the many (many, many — some say even 72) names of God in Jewish thought is “El.” This Divine name ends up in almost as many human names. Here are some of the most popular, and some of the most interesting, followed by their meanings and their original Hebrew pronunciations (with “ch” as in “challah”).

The Axis of Remembrance photo_th

Next month will mark the 75th anniversary of Kristallnacht. I learned about the vicious November Pogrom as a child growing up in Skokie, but my grandma and grandpa experienced first-hand the anxiety, humiliation and persecution inflicted upon the Jews of Germany and Austria during those horrific times. The sorrow and significance of their stories has been sealed in my conscience.

Cheers! My Jewish Wedding photo_th

I’m a married man! Boy that feels good to say. I am so happy, I cannot begin to describe how in words. Jewish weddings are indeed a wondrous occasion, filled with lots of joy, happiness, and really good food like everyone says. And for a fact, I would not have attended my own wedding if the food did not meet our collective standards; both my wife Ashley and I are well-known Chicago foodies.

Dan Horwitz photo_th

In this week's portion, we begin to learn a bit about Abraham (at the time, still called Abram). When introduced, Abram is already 75 years old; granted the years might have been a calculated a bit differently back then, given that biblical characters were often cited as living very long lives.

Andy Kirschner thumbnail

On Wednesday morning of Erev Rosh Hashanah, I found myself overwhelmed with the thought that it was the start of the Jewish New Year. Soon I would be sitting in synagogue pondering transgression, judgment and forgiveness. I felt a pit in my stomach because the notion was so final.

Dan Horwitz photo_th

Our tradition describes Yom Kippur as “Shabbat Shabbaton” – the “ultimate Shabbat.” Given our usual association of Shabbat with rejoicing (whether by eating great food, relaxing with our families, being intimate in the bedroom, etc.), it seems odd that we’d compare a day like Yom Kippur, where we specifically avoid comforts, to Shabbat.

Becoming a Jew after the Holocaust photo_th

For centuries, Rabbis have used Naomi’s three attempts to send Ruth back home as an example of how to deter a potential convert, and with such dissuasion comes vague warnings of the persecution that is part and parcel of being a Jew.

cindy new year thumb

Ready for a fresh start? We Jews are lucky to get a chance to start over every fall as the shofar sounds a wakeup call in each of our lives.

Dan Horwitz photo_th

I don’t know if you heard, but apparently a royal baby was born in England recently. How fitting that in this week’s portion, Shoftim, Moses provides the framework for the Israelites appointing a king over themselves (the one whom God chooses of course) should they choose to do so once having conquered the Promised Land.

Two Charms photo_th

I watched my grandmother take her last breath. It was a Thursday night. Bubbe—as we had come to call her, once she got past the point at which all Jewish grandmothers decide to give in to their age and allow their grandchildren to call them by this Yiddish term of endearment—had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer just two months before.

Life after JUF, Part 2: Back to Birthright photo_th

I finally made a choice. I'm happy to share with all that after a lot of thought and consideration, I am officially a JUF layperson and a member of a brand new committee with a super long name, The Back from Birthright Israel Committee.

Dan Horwitz photo_th

This week’s portion, Devarim, kicks off the last of the Five Books of Moses. Most of the book is Moses’s final speech to the Israelites before they enter the Promised Land, in which he recaps their travels, battles and the various miracles they witnessed.

From sea to shining sea photo_th

Cawker CIty, Kan. claims the world’s biggest ball of twine. Kenosha, Wisc. is home to an actual cheese castle. And in Leicester, Vt., you’ll spot a statue of a giant gorilla holding a Volkswagen Beetle. Only in America.

Cindy Sher 2_th

This is a letter to my future twin step-daughters, age 9, and my three nephews, ages 8, 5, and 2. Dear Kids, Thank you for being you. Thank you for making me happier every time you smile, sneeze, laugh, dance, tell me a joke with no punch line, and find magic in the mundane things I take for granted like a train, the produce aisle of the grocery store, or even dirt.

The Bar Mitzvah of My Bar Mitzvah photo_th

This year, May 20 was the most significant May 20 I had since the May 20 that was 13 years ago. For you see, on this May 20, it was exactly 13 years since my Bar Mitzvah, or as I have been saying, the Bar Mitzvah of my Bar Mitzvah. I should make that the title of this post.

dan horwitz headshot thumb

In this week’s portion, Naso, we find the language Aaron was instructed to use when blessing the Israelite nation. We find this blessing still being used regularly today. For example, this is the blessing traditionally offered by parents to their children at the Shabbat dinner table on Friday nights. It is often recited for a bride right before her wedding, and sometimes under the chupah as well for both bride and groom.

My friend, Guy photo_th

Last year, while volunteering on MASA Israel Journey—Israel experiential programs sponsored in part by the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago—in South Tel Aviv, I met an extraordinary friend named Guy. I volunteered with the African refugee community at the African Refugee Development Center (ARDC), a non-profit that helps refugees reach basic social services in Israel.

Not Just Kid Stuff photo_th

First, you are a kid, and you experience the Jewish holidays on that level: costumes and graggers on Purim, The Four Questions and afikomen gifts at the Passover Seder, and dreidels and latkes (and more gifts) at Chanukah.

Life After JUF photo_th

It’s very weird sitting down to write this blog post for Oy!. For one thing, I’m not writing from my office, instead I’m at home sitting on my bed with my dog (who is barking) by my side and writing from my personal laptop. And for another, I’m not your managing blogger anymore.

Show Choir Confessions photo_th

The other day, it came up in casual conversation that yes, in my younger days I was a member of a Jewish show choir. As a matter of fact, I was involved in two show choirs during my high school years: one through school, plus the aforementioned crew of lovely singing Jewish boys and girls, all of us aged roughly from 12-18. I was so totally Glee long before Glee ever happened. Oy.

Steven Chaitman photo_th

As your new managing blogger for Oy!Chicago, I thought I owed you a little bit about myself. But rather than glaze your eyes over reading my lengthy list of previous part-time jobs (mine glaze over listing them), I figured I would take a slightly more intOy!resting approach.

YLD Hurricane Sandy Rebuild Mission photo_th

Tikkun Olam, repairing the world. I once saw an image of Tikkun Olam that depicted the world broken into many different pieces. The image showed people putting the pieces back together as if the world was a giant puzzle. Traveling to Long Island with JUF to rebuild homes, I got the opportunity to pick up the pieces.

I Ain't Afraid Of No Ghosts photo_th

In this week's double portion, we find the steps the High Priest took each Yom Kippur to atone for the nation, we find a slew of sexual morality laws (incest is not okay – sorry Lannisters), we get some general guidance as to how we're meant to be holy in our actions as a result of God being holy, and we learn that hanging out with ghosts is a no-no.

My road to keeping Kosher photo_th

My mom jokes that her temple growing up was basically a church. My dad was raised in a Kosher home (which I am sure he snuck his fair share of cheeseburgers into) and attended a Traditional synagogue. This matrimonial union led to my early Hebrew school days and Bat Mitzvah taking place at a Conservative synagogue.

The packing list photo_th

I'm packing up, getting ready to move on out after more than a decade of living in the same building. You've been there. You're standing in your home—a dot in a sea of cardboard boxes, bubble wrap, packing peanuts, and duct tape—enveloped in a tornado of possessions strewn across every piece of furniture and floor space as far as the eye can see. You've got to decide what to take with you, what to give to tzedakah, and what to give to the garbage man—and you've got like a day to do it. Sound familiar?

Dan Horwitz photo_th

In this week’s portion, Tzav, we find the specific instructions delivered to Aaron and his sons as to how to perform the ritual sacrifices. In particular, we learn about a few different types of offerings: burnt, meal, anointment, sin, guilt, and well-being. We learn that priesthood would only be passed on to Aaron’s male descendants, and we learn that we’re not permitted to eat certain animal fats (who knew the Bible was so ahead of its time as it relates to eating healthily!), and that eating blood is not permitted.

The Thrill of the Afikoman and Other Stories photo_th

Okay. I lied. There are no other stories. Yes, I must be the wicked child. Despite my age of 25 (going on 26!), I am still a child. Passover still tends to be one of my favorite Jewish holidays of the year. Believe me, when I’m in my local Jewel Osco, and yes I shop there because it’s JEW-el Osco, I never PASS OVER the chance to check out the kosher section.

This year in San Diego photo_th

There’s something about celebrating Passover each year that makes me very happy. It’s definitely not because I get to eat matzo for eight days and little else. But the story of Passover, of all the Jewish holidays, really speaks to me— maybe it’s because it’s going to finally get warm again…soon.

Freedom, matzoh brei, and that little goat too photo_th

Growing up, my friend and I—the youngest representatives from each of our families and tasked with singing Ma Nishtana ("The Four Questions") every Passover—would spend a good portion of the pre-Seder festivities each year practicing the song together. We loved the holiday and took our role in the seder seriously, striving to get the questions just right—and we would have just died of embarrassment if we messed up.


I have been married, I have been to Jewish weddings, and I have been in Jewish weddings that were not mine. And it’s just hard watching someone who is not familiar with Hebrew struggle and stumble through the thicket of words that are the Sheva Brachot— especially knowing that, had they been given another blessing, they would have come across very nicely.

V’Nahafoch Hu photo_th

This past weekend we celebrated the Jewish Holiday of Purim. Purim celebrates the story from the Book of Esther and one of the major themes discussed around the holiday is the concept of nahafoch hu. This is Hebrew for turning something around or flipping something upside down. The Esther story is full of characters that turn things around and plot twists that seem to turn the story upside down.

Dan Horwitz photo_th

In this week’s portion, Tetzaveh, we find the instructions on how to consecrate Aaron and his sons as the priests of Israel, how to create the High Priest’s special garments, and we also learn how to construct the incense altar (and are told to light incense twice daily).

Esther Bergdahl photo_th

Ah, to be an Esther during Purim. I mean, I've always enjoyed my name, but it can be a little lonely. No novelty personalized keepsakes, ever. Not many famous namesakes, beyond a synchronized swimmer and the protagonist of The Bell Jar. No one knowing there's an "h" in it, so you're constantly misidentified as some sort of chemical compound.

Adam Daniel Miller photo_th

If there’s one thing I do in abundance, it’s make fun of myself. I have to in order to survive. It’s a defense mechanism as well as a way of life for me. Even without being prompted, the self-deprecation I have towards myself is always there, but only because I love who I am. When someone tells me I’m funny, I instinctively say it’s because of the face. It’s always good for at least one laugh.

From role model to criminal photo 2_th

When I finished rabbinical school, I moved to Chicago to be a second Rabbi-in-Residence at the Chicagoland Jewish High School.

Happy Valenstein's Day photo_th

My grandmother, Row Row, called me the other day and began our conversation with, "I am mad at you." Now there are few things in this world that I am sure about and one of those is that my Row Row could never be mad at me. I responded, "Row Row what did I do?"

Secrets to a happy Jewish marriage photo_th

The Hebrew word for love is “ahava,” from the root hey vet, which means to give. To love, put simply, you must give. How much do you think the divorce rate would plummet if all engaged couples knew the connection between these two words?

A Token of Remembrance photo_th

Most families have an heirloom that someday will serve as a prized possession to the person that inherits it. For me, this treasure, a simple silver coin, is undoubtedly the most important thing I own, a token that reminds me of my grandfather, Conrad.

Dan Horwitz photo_th

In this week's portion, Yitro, we find Moses (and the Israelites) being greeted by Moses's father-in-law Yitro (aka Jethro) after the Israelites managed to fight off the armies of the nation of Amalek. Yitro greets Moses, bringing along Moses's wife and two sons. After telling his father-in-law all that God had done for the Israelites in Egypt, Yitro rejoices, praises God, and offers up a sacrifice.

Jewish enough for ya? photo_th

What makes something Jewish? Who owns the labeling rights to call something Jewish enough? If I go to a service, how do I know if I am experiencing something authentically Jewish? It’s a question that I grapple with. I have a non-Jewish spouse, and when we have kids, we have committed that together we will raise them Jewish. It’s important to me that they are raised “Jewish enough.”

Baby-friendly Judaism photo_th

This year, instead of throwing together a list of resolutions I'd promptly forget or break, I made a handy "13 Goals for 2013" list, which I've plastered all over my house and lodged deeply into my brain (and my blog). One of my ambitions in 2013 is to find ways to incorporate Judaism into Colin's life in baby-friendly ways.

Chanukah: At Home and Abroad photo_th

Every day coming home from work, I walk through the Christkindl market, that bastion of holiday cheer and wonder. Above the glittering lights, the mingling aromas of German food and mulled wine, the general buzz of effervescent cheer stands a steel menorah, courtesy of Chabad.

‘Let there be light’ photo_th

I'm an early riser and always have been. Even as a teen, and now in my not-so-teen years, when people my age relish sleeping through breakfast, my circadian rhythms are less like my peers and more like my 89-year-old grandpa, who grabs his morning coffee and paper at dawn every day.

Glasnost! photo_th

In 1987, I was 17 years old. I got on a bus in Cleveland with many of my friends from school, synagogue, camp, and my youth group. We were bound for Washington D.C., to send Mr. Gorbachev a message: We, the Jews of the United States, stood with the Jews of the Soviet Union. We wanted them to stop being refuseniks… and start being olim to Israel or immigrants to America.

Dan Horwitz photo_th

This week’s portion begins with Jacob preparing to see his brother Esau after 20+ years apart. As you’ll recall, after stealing Isaac’s blessing intended for Esau, Jacob fled in order to avoid Esau’s wrath. Now, a few wives, a dozen children, and massive amounts of property later, Jacob finally has to deal with his past, as he learns that Esau is coming towards his camp with 400 men (seemingly to attack).

Holiday Traditions x photo_th

I always feel like Hanukkah sneaks up on us. With all of the hooplah surrounding Christmas—the decorations, the commercials, the transformed radio stations devoted to playing Christmas music round the clock—it's easy to see how Hanukkah and it's eight twinkling lights can get lost in the shuffle.

Adam Daniel Miller photo_th

Welcome, welcome, welcome. Yes, welcome to my blog…again! For you see, this is not the first time I have treated my oh so attractive readers with such generosity that is currently happening and is about to follow. I gave you a great six mini blogs for the price of one deal before and feel you deserve the privilege yet again. I'm like a Groupon. Or perhaps, a Jewpon if you will. And oh, I will.

Living Jewishly: A Snapshot of a Generation photo_th

In a Jewish world obsessed with continuity, the millennial generation is an enigma. Age-old norms that defined what it means to be Jewish don't seem to fit. Yet "being Jewish" often is seen as cooler and more accepted than ever. The public-affairs television show "Sanctuary," which first aired on Nov. 18 on ABC7-Channel 7 and now you can watch it below, examines every angle of this generation. On the program, millennials look closely at themselves and, in the process, reveal a deep commitment to a Judaism rooted in tradition and community, but lived in ways that often challenge 20th century structures and lifestyles.

Ashley Kolpak photo_th

A couple of weeks ago, I attended a great event celebrating the launch of Living Jewishly, a newly published collection of essays curated by this blog's founding editor, Stefanie Bregman. It was a nice opportunity to mix, mingle and give some thought to how I in fact, "live Jewishly."

Cheers! Chicago: Wisdom From Heschel on a Thursday Eve photo_th

As I was rushing up the stairs to religious school one Thursday afternoon to prepare my lessons for my fourth grade class, one of my friends and fellow religious school teachers, Miron, sticks out his hand and places a folded piece of paper in it remarking as he walked away, “Just read it.”

Dan Horwitz photo_th

At the beginning of this week’s portion, Vayera, we find God visiting Abraham to check on him after his recent circumcision (which at age 99, was likely taking its toll physically). Modeling for us the Jewish value of bikkur cholim – visiting those who are ill – you’d think that Abraham would have been flattered that God was stopping by to hang out for a bit.

Ashley Kolpak photo_th

One of the conditions of my host stay was seemingly simple: only kosher food allowed in the house. Easy enough, right? However, France is a land filled with delicious traif and endless combinations of milk and meat, and to be honest, I’d never kept kosher before.

Ari Moffic Silver_th

In case you were not part of the millions of viewers cracking up at these videos, earlier this year YouTube became flooded with vignettes depicting people's interpretations of "things people say," including those about Jewish attitude and behavior in everyday life. Everyone from Jewish girls to Jewish mothers to even things Christians say to Jews, "Do you like bagels? Do you speak Hebrew? Is Tiger Woods Jewish? You don't look Jewish."

REWIND: A thought for Simchat Torah photo_th

Few things "scroll" anymore, but many things used to. Take audio recordings. The ones that came with sound already on them were almost always discs: 78s, 45s, LPs, CDs, and the short-lived mini-discs. But if you wanted to record your own sound you had to use a reel-to-reel machine.

Dan Horwitz photo_th

We’ve reached the final portion of the Torah – V’zot HaBeracha. On the holiday of Simchat Torah, Monday night and Tuesday, we read this portion, and immediately following, we read a section of the portion of Bereshit – the first portion of the Torah – in order to symbolize the never ending nature of our learning.

Adam Daniel Miller photo_th

The dumbest thing I do every year is to complain about hunger in the immediate hours after the sun goes down on the night of Kol Nidre. For whatever reason, those first hours always seem much tougher than the final ones.

Appropriate attire at synagogue? photo_th

I was going to write about my Top 10 list for fall clothes and accessories and discuss some of the amazing, plush leather handbags, etc., that are on my radar. But, after attending High Holiday services, I thought it appropriate to switch gears. For both Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services, I couldn’t help but notice the completely inappropriate attire of the tween females in attendance.

Cheryl Jacobs photo 2_th

Other than during college, I’ve only ever gone to synagogue with my parents, aunt and uncle and cousins on the High Holidays. When the holidays appeared early on the calendar, and the weather was nice, we’d drive to my aunt and uncle’s house and walk the rest of the way to services. There’s something about walking to synagogue for the High Holidays with family that makes for great conversation, bonding and reflection on the past year.

Ashley Kolpak photo_th

Looking in the mirror, I almost didn’t recognize myself. Dressed in black skirt down to my ankles and a long-sleeve black shirt, just a little light blush on my cheeks, I was definitely sporting a new look. I felt subdued, perhaps even a little out of uniform without my usual skinny jeans and fall sweater. I don’t often go to synagogue, but today I was making my first-ever outing to a Modern Orthodox shul with my French hosts.

Cindy Sher 2_th

You ready for a clean slate? We Jews are lucky to get a chance to start over every fall as the shofar sounds a wake up call in each of our lives. With the changing leaves, the crispness in the air, and new Justin Bieber Trapper Keepers in the back-to-school aisle comes a promise for a fresh start in 5773.

Lauren Schmidt photo_th

A few weeks ago, my mom was discussing our Rosh Hashanah plans with my nana. Somehow, in their conversation, my nana made a comment when referring to services that was something along the lines of, “it’s the same thing every year.” Although this comment grew to be something we teased her about, it led me to really think about the statement. Are the High Holidays truly the same every year?

Paul Wieder_th

First, let me clarify that the word in the title is not “mohel” or some version thereof. A “mohel” is a person who performs a brit milah (circumcision). No, the word in question comes from a different Hebrew root altogether, “mochel,” and means “forgive.”

Andy Kirschner thumbnail

I was in synagogue recently and inserted into the service was the special blessing for the Hebrew month of ElulElul is the last month of the Hebrew calendar which means it's only a matter of another lunar cycle before we kick off the Jewish New Year with Rosh Hashanah and deny ourselves 25 hours' worth of food and drink on Yom Kippur.

Dan Horwitz photo_th

In this week's portion, Ki Tavo, Moses continues his speech to the Israelites by highlighting a pretty horrific list of curses that the Israelites will be subject to if they don’t follow the proper path (read: the Torah’s laws) once they enter the Promised Land. Juxtaposed with the curses are a number of blessings that they will receive if they do remain true to the Torah’s teachings.

Living Jewishly: A Snapshot of a Generation photo_th

We wanted to let you know about a very exciting new book: Living Jewishly: A Snapshot of a Generation, a collection of personal essays and memoirs from Jewish 20- and 30-somethings from across the country. Edited by Oy!Chicago blogger-in-chief Stefanie Pervos Bregman, the anthology features many of your favorite past and present, Oy! bloggers.

All Mine photo_th

Years ago, I had a contentious interaction that I will never forget. It was with a man who was involved in the Jewish community. He was speaking to a group of us who gathered monthly to discuss Jewish culture, issues, and traditions. He asked all the people who donated money to charity to raise their hands. He then asked us to again, by a show of hands, identify if we had donated to Jewish charities.

Dan Horwitz photo_th

In this week's portion, Moses continues his speech to the Israelites and emphasizes their potential rewards and punishments for following the commandments. Moses shares that the Promised Land is one that is flowing with milk and honey (from dates – not bees – a common misconception!), and that "when you have eaten your fill, give thanks to the Divine…" [Deuteronomy 8:10]

Holy moments in the holy land photo_th

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

Back at Jewish Camp for a Day photo_th

As our bus pulled up to the Jewish Agency camp in Odessa, Ukraine, I was bursting with excitement. Having been a proud camper for over 10 years, I know the impact it can have on one's life and I was dying to see what Jewish camp was like in Ukraine.

How was it? And Other Complicated Questions. photo_th

The questions mount as I reconnect with family and friends, after three and a half months in India. This is a second round homecoming, I spent the majority of 2010-11 teaching and traveling in Asia; but I'm finding the questions more difficult to answer this time around.

My journey as an interfaith leader photo_th

Not long ago, I was sitting right where you are…no, I am not a child prodigy that graduated from college at age 12, I just look like it! I was graduating from college, at age 22, where religion had been a MAJOR part of my experience.

Dan Horwitz photo_th

In this week's portion, Pinchas, we find a unique stand taken for women's rights. The five daughters of a man named Zelophechad (try learning to spell that as a child!) approached the Israelite leadership and shared that their father had passed away without leaving any sons.

Adam Daniel Miller photo_th

Chanuka, Chanukah, Chanukkah, Hanukah, Hannukah and my personal favorite, Cha-noo-kah. The list goes on and on but I only have so much time here. As you can see, there is not as much care put into the spelling of this holiday because, contrary to popular belief, this holiday is not nearly as important as a multitude of others.

Stefanie Pervos Bregman photo_th

Recently, while on a girls' trip to Orlando with my mom and sister, we pulled out the vintage 1998 Disney World park passes that in true Disney fashion, magically still had two days left on them. So we put on our mouse ears and ventured back in time to the Magic Kingdom and Epcot.

Dan Horwitz photo_th

In this week’s portion, Shlach Lecha, Moses sends 12 spies (one from each tribe) into the Promised Land in order to scope it out. After 40 days, the spies return and share that the land is indeed flowing with milk and honey.

Inter-something family photo_th

As the Jewish half of our relationship I am responsible for building the Jewish foundation of our home. My partner Mandi is completely on board but she doesn't have the experience or knowledge base to know where to start. She grew up in a Catholic family, and now embraces a deep sense of spirituality and belief in God, but does not practice a religion. Since I grew up in a Reform Jewish household, we are clearly an interfaith family, right?

The heirs of intermarriage photo_th

How will the heirs of intermarriage change Judaism? Can you be "Jewish and" rather than "Jewish or"? Can the Jewish world handle "half-Jewish?" Is being "half-Jewish no big deal anymore? These questions and others were posited by Rabbi Adam Chalom, dean for North America of the International Institute for Secular Humanistic Judaism, during his kick-off presentation at a three-day colloquium titled, "Half-Jewish?—the Heirs of Intermarriage."

Dan Horwitz photo_th

In this week’s double Torah portion, where we complete the Book of Leviticus by reading the portions of both Behar and Bechukotai, we are immediately introduced to the concept of the land resting.

Saying Chai to the 18-year-old bar mitzvah photo_th

When I was 13, I knew nothing. In fact, when it was 13 minutes ago I knew nothing. Even more in fact, when I started writing this sentence, I had no idea how it would triangle fish button. See? Knew nothing. The point is that when it came to my own bar mitzvah, I wasn’t aware enough to appreciate it for what it was.

Taking Out The Trash photo_th

What do you get when you place 500 young Jewish leaders together for a five day intensive seminar at a hotel tucked away in the historic hills of Jerusalem? While my mother would have loved the answer to this question be me leaving with a pretty Jewish girlfriend, in actuality I departed Masa Israel's 2012 Building Future Leadership (BFL) seminar with a vision, plan, and the tools essential for transforming a seemingly unreachable objective of positively altering Israel's ecological landscape into a tangible reality.

USY logo_th

Along with being a fabulously handsome Oy! Chicago blogger, I am also the youth advisor for a USY (United Synagogue Youth) chapter here in Chicago.

Dan Horwitz photo_th

This week's Torah portion is Shemini – or is it? In Israel, they actually are already on the next portion. The reason for this is that outside of Israel, in traditional communities, the Passover holiday lasts for 8 days, while in Israel it only lasts for 7 days.

A hero’s story photo_th

When I was in junior high, my family hosted a woman in our home who was in town for a weekend speaking engagement. She was in her 70s at the time, blonde, and wore tailored skirt suits. Warm and gentle, yet strong, she reminded me of my grandmothers.

Stop with the just hooking up already photo_th

I need to rant a little this month…and I know this might come off controversial to some…but I’m really upset with my fellow 20- and 30- something single Jews— particularly of the male persuasion— who troll around Jewish dating sites looking for girls to hook up with and not date.

What happens in Vegas…Part II photo_th

It has been over a week since my return from TribeFest 2012 in Las Vegas and I am still in shock. I have not fully processed my experience, and to be honest, I am not sure I ever will.

What happens at TribeFest… photo_th

I'm writing this post fresh off the plane from a trip to Vegas. And despite how the old saying goes, this time, I hope what happened in Vegas won't stay there.

The Wandering Chicagoans photo_th

There is a new generation of wandering Jews. We are the child immigrants who came to the U.S. from the Soviet Union during Operation Exodus. We went to Shalom Sunday at the JCC, we and took ballet classes at Ballet Russe, we wore hand-me-downs from our American "volunteer families."

My views on Jews and tattoos photo_th

I recently learned that there are more divorces today then tattoo removals. I'm assuming that’s a fact. And while both are supposed to be permanent, the tattoo ironically seems to be the one that sticks around till death do you part. Well, let's just say till death.

Marcy Nehorai photo 4_th

A baal teshuva is a term often used to refer to Orthodox Jews who did not grow up religiously observant and became religious later on in life. Literally, it means "master of return"; returning to who we really are, on an essential level.

Cindy Sher 2_th

At a recent family dinner, my 6-year-old nephew said the words that perhaps every 6-year-old kid has said at some point in their young lives. "It's not fair," he objected.

My dance journey in Israel photo_th

I didn't start panicking until I had boarded my El Al flight from JFK to Tel Aviv and fully realized that I was about to leave my home for five months. A concerned flight attendant noticed my anxiety and asked me where I was heading.

Pocketing the past photo_th

Why do we go to Israel? What exactly is it that draws us there? On the airplane, somewhere between Madrid and Tel Aviv, these were the questions I penned in my journal. For the next ten days, I tried my best to write every new word, every smell, and every question. For some I expected answers, and for others, I thought it best to watch and wonder.

Before you register for birthright... photo_th

During the last three years, Shorashim, in partnership with JUF, has expanded its regular Israel trip programming reach to young adults with special needs.


Is enough enough yet? We have seen booksmoviessongs (this one's NSFW, but it was the first one that came up)… magazinesT-shirtspuppets… even plays.

An exercise in symbiosis photo_th

My father-in-law died last week. He was 76 and had been suffering from the effects of cancer since August. His doctors had told him he had more than a year, and he was hoping to stick around until after my husband and I had kids.

Just give photo_th

A couple of years ago I read the book 29 Gifts and I still think about the book to this day. It's the true story of Cami Walker, a 30-something newlywed, diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, who was feeling sorry for herself. Amidst Walker's depression, a medicine woman recommends that Walker give away a gift each day for a month as a way to get outside of her own headspace.


I thought about the flickers of light that were brought into our lives and what I would dedicate each candle to this Chanukah. So, in no particular order, here is my Lights of Chanukah 2011 candle lighting ceremony.


I've been thinking about the Wall. No, not the Pink Floyd album. And not the security barrier that prevents terrorists from infiltrating Israel.

Reflections from a visit to an Israeli Post Office photo_th

His eyes were warm and for some reason following me as I walked through the metal detector. I turned and somehow found myself in conversation abstractly and he was saying something to me and it felt as if i had come into the conversation midway helter skelter.

A Philanthropic Birthday-Take Two photo_th

So I'm totally afraid of being that annoying mommy writer who only writes about her kids and then I looked at the last few things I've written and found that I already am that person. How did this happen? I have so many other things to talk about. Don't I?

What do Jews do on Christmas photo_th

So my first idea for a blog post was a list of Christmas songs and carols written by Jews. But it turns out that subject has been very, very well- documented. (I did compile a list from these sources, and tacked it on to the bottom of this post, if you are curious.)

Holiday Traditions photo2x_th

I LOVE the holiday season. I love the festive feeling you get when you're making your Thanksgiving menu or listening to holiday music when out running errands. I love the smell of turkey roasting in the oven and of the latkes my dad would fry every year in our garage (because heaven forbid the smell permeates our home - you know that never comes out).

Blair Chavis_th

I had a Blackberry on death row after getting the battery wet and needed a new phone desperately. I'd been waiting for countless months until the new iPhone came out. But, I contemplated buying an iPhone with trepidation, because I've killed nearly every phone I've owned with water, by way of sewer grate, washing machine and the list goes on.

GA logo 2011_th

Let’s be honest, I don’t usually use this space for anything other than my matchmaking musings, but I’m in the middle of participating in Do The Write Thing (DTWT), a three-day program held during the Jewish Federations of North America’s (JFNA) annual General Assembly (GA), which gathers young editors, writers and multimedia specialists for workshops on mainstream and Jewish journalism.

Cindy Sher 2_th

I recently read my 3-year-old nephew one of my favorite books from my childhood—as much a treat for me as for him. The book, appropriate to dig up in time for Jewish Book Month this month, is a cherished Yiddish folktale called It Could Always Be Worse, by author Margot Zemach, about a poor shtetl man who thinks life can’t get any harder than living in a tiny one-room hut with his wife and many children.

Jane Charney_th

Schmoozing is part of my job description. I go to breakfasts, lunches, dinners and events in between to meet people. I build coalitions. I form new relationships and maintain existing ones.

Best (theoretical) NBA stories for the Holy Land photo_th

With the NBA lockout looking more likely, The Great Rabbino decided to look at who we would want to see in Israel (besides Jordan Farmar). Which NBA players would be the most intriguing stories and where should they go play.

Paul Wieder_th

First off, the word is “kvell”— one syllable, like “swell.” Second, there is one expression, “to kvell,” and another, “to schep nachas”; one does not “kvell nachas.” Good, good… Now we are ready to learn how to tell people that, as the Torah puts it, they have found favor in our eyes.

Cindy Sher 2_th

Recently, I was walking down the streets of downtown Chicago, reveling in one of those perfect balmy afternoons when, out of nowhere, a strange man grabbed me from behind.

More Than Pink and Teal photo_th

In the United States, we’re often presented with two different views of cancer. Last month, the Chicago skyline was lit up teal, for ovarian cancer awareness; this month, it’s impossible to avoid the color pink. The other public face is that of the celebrity who recently passed away: yesterday, we lost Steve Jobs, founder of Apple and creator of nearly every gadget you hold dear, to pancreatic cancer.

Jewish Community Heroes 2011 photo_th

The Jewish Community Heroes campaign promotes the people in our community who make tikkun olam a guiding element of their everyday lives. This year's Oy!Chicago (and JUF) nominee is local networker Shalom Klein, who has helped find jobs for nearly 100 Chicagoans this year. Learn more about all the good work Shalom Klein does for the community and vote for him and the other Chicago nominees here up to once a day.

Reset buttons for the New Year photo_th

The farm owners were busy making roasted tomatoes and canning salsa. Everything smelled fresh and tasted delicious. It was our annual trip to the farm in southwest Wisconsin. In our first 24 hours there, we picked apples and plums and raspberries and grapes and tomatoes and ate them right there next to the plants and trees.

An Israeli wedding photo_th

Despite being in Israel more times than I can count, I had never been to an Israeli wedding until this past week when my boyfriend’s best friend was married. There isn’t one typical kind of wedding in Israel—every wedding reflects the couple’s religious values and familial influences. And this one was different than any of the 53 (I’m serious) other weddings that I have been to.

Blair Chavis_th

It’s been a difficult and busy couple of months, with an intense work schedule and a death in the family after long-term illness. Without boring you or falling into shameless self-indulgence, I’m merely a bit tired.

Cindy Sher 2_th

When I was a freshman in high school, a fellow Jewish kid in my class—a guy with a tendency to tease tall girls like me—approached me at the start of the school year and gave me a great big hug.

The L’Chaim heard round the world photo_th

Every culture has its own version of it. As long as there have been alcoholic beverages, there have been toasts. To me, a toast is a sign of etiquette and respect, a display of goodwill. Sometimes, simply raising one’s glass can say more about a person than words.

The kindness of strangers photo_th

I never had a bat mitzvah. Growing up, I did not belong to a synagogue. My family did nothing religiously organized. I married into a heavily community-affiliated Jewish family. I was married in their synagogue. My husband’s father was eulogized there. My children had their namings there and have attended the temple’s preschool.

Answering the question, “How was it?” photo_th

One of the most difficult questions to answer is one of the simplest: How was it? How was school? How was your date? How was your trip? How was the movie? “It was great!” “It was ok.” “It was awesome” “I liked it.” Those answers don’t tell you much, but everyone uses them!

My birth story photo_th

Twenty-seven days ago, Tanya Ester Avigyle came into this world, alert and alive, looking wide-eyed at me while I stared at her in disbelief, gasping, “oh my God, oh my God” on repeat for what felt like forever.


Add Andy Dick to the list of celebrities who feel perfectly free to toss around anti-Semitic slurs as cavalierly as if they were commenting on the weather. He just called Howard Stern a “miserly… money-grubbing Jew” with a “big, fat, hook nose.” I’m not sure how I feel defending Howard Stern in a war of words, but these comments are over the line.


After two weeks at my new job at the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington, I was sent to Israel for a training conference, but was lucky enough to get a few extra days to tour around on my own. I have always been infatuated with the beauty of Israel and the rich connection of the land and people to the history of the Jews.


It’s been two decades since my bat mitzvah. How did that happen? It feels like yesterday, well maybe not yesterday, but last week for sure, when I was up on the pulpit chanting the Torah portion in my poofy floral dress.

Please send tequila photo_th

Hi. My name is Karen Flayhart, I’m 37 years old, and I’m at camp. If hell exists, camp would be my version of it. My first Jewish camp experience began this Sunday when I arrived at camp with my husband—who is teaching at the camp the next two weeks—and our two and a half year old daughter. Unlike her mother, she loves camp.

Paul Wieder_th

Any longstanding institution— from countries to heroes, from The White House to Coca-Cola— is going to be the subject of popular speculation and, ultimately, myths. Religions, including Judaism, are no exception.

Marcy Nehorai photo 3_th

My mind is wrested, entangled, and unsure of how to fit this one together with the rest of my inner philosophy and understanding of the world.

Take that Target photo_th

What is the daily inner work of the contemporary Jew? How do we, as the Passover Seder demands of us, become liberated human beings?

You know you just got back from Israel if photo_th

I’m used to the jetlag by now. After all, I’ve traveled to Israel four times over the past 18 months, each trip about a couple of weeks.

Joplin Jews photo_thx

Look closely at the photo and you will see the only room left standing in Paul’s house, where he and his family survived the deadly twister that tore much of Joplin, Missouri apart, was just a closet.

Cindy Sher 2_th

I love graduation season. That might surprise you considering most people dread attending graduations—the bleachers, the sweat, the boredom, the caps. But work with me here.

Finding our place in the Jewish community photo_th

A little while ago, my brother wrote a provocative article assessing the current climate of young Jewish leaders. You can read the full article here. I was thoroughly impressed with his commentary on young Jewish leaders and our generation’s declining Jewish engagement.

Ten more ways to help your future family photo_th

Board meetings may not be the stuff of epic sagas, but I’ve got an important and exciting announcement for you Oy!sters about something that happened last night. The Chicago Center for Jewish Genetic Disorders has just been authorized to expand its testing panel from nine disorders to 19.

The life of a working mommy photo_th

My toddler son said “Oyoyoy” the other day. My inner Jewish mother kvelled. Not only was Ben starting to talk, he was starting to talk Jewish!

Jane Charney_th

With the exception of a brief fellowship at an Indianapolis newspaper, my entire—albeit not too long—career has been as a professional Jew. That’s altogether different from being a Jewish person who is also a professional.

A new twist on feeding the hungry photo_th

Until today, I had always thought of soup kitchens as gloomy establishments where the impoverished stand in line for hours to receive food rations in a method similar to the one employed in Oliver Twist.

Israel education 2.0 photo_th

One of the reasons I love working at Shorashim is that I get to work on cool projects in addition to Taglit-Birthright Israel. One of them is called Classroom to Classroom: an initiative to help Hebrew high school classrooms and religious schools make their Israel curriculums more innovative using social media.

The challenge of the third generation photo 2_th

“Zachor”—The Hebrew word meaning “remember,” has evolved throughout Jewish history, and has rightfully become somewhat of a commandment and challenge to generations of Jews living after the Holocaust.

USY logo_th

If you polled the average American, I bet you that 75% or more would be able to tell you what the YMCA is and what the acronym represents. The Young Men Christian’s Association, better known for its notorious headline for the Village People’s greatest hit, is probably the most visible nonprofit organization that has existed for almost 160 years.

Exodus from Egypt photo_th

The recent revolution in Egypt shook me to the core. For weeks, I was glued to Al-Jazeera’s live blog of the events, and I even joined Twitter to be able to follow those on the ground. Aside from being interested in politics and history, this revolution captured my attention because I spent the fall semester of 2010 living and studying in Cairo.

Kidding around on Passover photo_th

Happy Passover from the Oy! team! If these cuties make you smile, please share this video with family and friends.

My great uncle photo_th

When people hear the word "gangster" they immediately conjure up images of characters in the television show The Sopranos or in movies such as The Godfather or Goodfellas. So imagine my surprise when I found out as a young adult that my sweet, lovely Nonna had a brother who was in the Jewish mafia. 

Sam and Erica Weisz photo_th

Our parents counted out eight crisp singles. We are now ready for our trip, but are hoping not to need the eight bucks. Erica and I have officially been hired as mitzvah messengers, shaliach mitzvah, in hopes of returning home safe, in one piece.

Who’s a master now photo_th

On March 27 I graduated with a Master of Arts in Jewish Professional Studies—MAJPS for short—from the Spertus Institute in Chicago. It’s a mouthful to say, so instead I’ve taken to telling people I’m now a “master” Jewish professional.

Paul Wieder_th

In today’s lesson, we will learn how to kvetch properly. These are Yiddish adjectives with which we can correctly complain. We will learn the words to accurately describe how we are disappointed by life, people, politics, entertainment, food and the world around us.

Jewish community leadership statement on Jerusalem bombing photo_th

I was in the kitchen, dreaming absentmindedly while washing meat dishes, when I heard it. An explosion, ricocheting solidly from within.

“No team like the Jewish people” photo_th

There is definitely power in numbers. We may be a small TRIBE, but when we band together there’s no stopping us.  Last week, 1,200 Jews from across North America overwhelmed Las Vegas (is that even possible?) for the Jewish Federation of North America’s TRIBEFEST conference.

Cheers! Chicago: For Richer or Purim photo_th

Ah, the Hebrew month of Adar. Adar is quite the month, with its most notable celebration being the holiday of Purim, commemorating the deliverance of the Jewish people in ancient Persia from an annihilation plot by Haman, the Wicked One.

My Council of Moms photo_th

Last night I heard Bruce Feiler speak at the annual JUF Non-Profit dinner about his latest book, The Council of Dads. The book has a beautiful premise; when Feiler was unsure about the future of his health, he called upon friends to serve as part of a “council” to mentor his young daughters in case of his death.

Tribefest a hit photo_th

“Connect, explore and celebrate” was the tagline for Tribefest 2011 held this week in this desert gambling town.

Life lessons learned while turtle racing photo_th

I have found the newest cool place to hang out on weekends.  It involves good times, lots of people, and animals!  I know you’re probably thinking ____ but it’s not.  I’m talking about turtle racing!

Boppin to a Jewish beat photo_th

I was driving home with my 18-month-old, both of us bopping to the Oy Baby CD that recently appeared in my mailbox thanks to the PJ Library. Ben was too young to understand what he was hearing (Hebrew music made kid-friendly), but something about the music had him hooked; after each song ended, he said “more,” his little brain not understanding why the fun had to end.

Marcy Nehorai photo_th

It breaks my heart that I cannot explain it, because it is unexplainable. Like God, just so beyond that it can't be contained in words.

A day in the life photo_th

As I look back at my recent sojourn in Israel, one day stands out. As an experienced traveler to Israel and a madricha (group leader) on a Taglit-Birthright Israel trip, I hoped for a new perspective, and that’s exactly what I go that day as it perfectly summed up the past, present and future of Israel and clarified my personal connection to the Jewish State.

Happy Valenstein's Day photo_th

About a decade ago, I went to a synagogue where someone had passed out red, photocopied cards that said something like: “Rabbi Valenstein wishes you a Happy Valenstein’s Day.”

Paul Wieder_th

In our last edition, I listed as many Yiddish insults as I could, to illustrate the amazing precision with which Yiddish is able to find fault. To balance that, this time we will look at the many ways Yiddish has to say something nice about someone…

Alyssa Latala_th

When I was a kid, and spending a Friday night at synagogue was equivalent to sitting through a math lesson, it was traditional for us youngsters to politely excuse ourselves during the Rabbi’s sermon. We’d lounge in the bathroom or the hallway, dramatically proclaiming our boredom and wondering why our parents made us go.

Et Tu B’shvat? photo_th

For all those trees, past present and future that I’ve neglected to hug. Thank you for this paper in my somewhat-recycled notebook. Thank you for the apple I just ate and the rain-soaked branches that stretch outside my window. Not to mention the whole taking carbon dioxide and water in and churning out more oxygen for me to breathe thing.

Paul Wieder_th

Too many lists of Yiddish insults define almost all of them similarly. But the true genius of a Yiddish insult is in its specificity— how, exactly, is the person being insulted? With Yiddish, one may be quite precise in one’s put-downs. Remember, the sharper the knife, the deeper the cut.

Farewell to Grandpa photo_th

When I visited Grandpa one afternoon in August, soon after he moved into the nursing home this summer, I walked in and introduced myself as “one of Sol's grandchildren.”  His roommate said, “Oh, one of the 42, huh?”   I laughed and said, “well, 32...but who's counting?”

When life gives you eggplant photo_th

Even before my graduation from Michigan State University this past spring, it was clear to me and to those in my graduating class that we would be entering the most difficult job market (save for those poor ’09 grads) in recent years.  With many of my friends planning to move away from Michigan after graduation, I knew I too, would most likely end up a Detroit native living in a foreign land.

Miracles Happen Every Day photo_th

Last year was my most memorable Chanukah ever. My water broke on the first night and two and a half (loooonnnngg) hours later Violet and Autumn were born. It was a miracle on a night celebrating miracles.

Andy Kirschner thumbnail

Happy Chanukah, Oy! Readers!  For me, this marks my 12th Oy post and first anniversary Blogging for Oy!Chicago.  It has been great being an Oy! blogger, a website made possible by the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago.  This post is dedicated to the good folks who fundraise to make possible Oy!Chicago and a whole lot more.

Hannukah grinch photo_th

It’s outrageous to wake up on the morning of December 3, having only had two days of below 30 degree weather and one light dusting of snow, and realize that tonight is already the third night of Hanukkah…craziness, right?!

Looking for friends in Jewish places photo_th

When I first started writing about this search in online essays, between the rageful comments from the angry mob came a number of suggestions that I should try religious institutions to find my next best friend. Plenty of people said they made their closest friends in church group. A coworker tells me she met her besties at bible study.

Cindy Sher 2_th

My family rang in the Jewish new year at a friend’s home. After we chanted the blessings and before we sat down to eat our meal, the host asked each of the guests to take turns saying what we were most thankful for in the past year.

Finding community photo 3_th

At the end of August, I went on a five-day, all expenses paid trip to Reston, Virginia. I stayed at a very nice Hyatt, hung out with over 100 other college students/recent graduates, ate a ton of delicious food, and…

Why there is a kernel of Russianness in me photo_th

This year marks the 20th anniversary of Operation Exodus, a massive effort by the North American Jewish community to rescue and resettle more than 1 million Soviet Jews. Chicago welcomed more than 30,000 Russian-speakers.

From JUF to MOM photo_th

Next week I am voluntarily walking away from the most Jewish part of my life – my job as Senior Program Specialist at the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago. Never mind that my job title gives little indication of what work I actually do. In this building, there are lots of Jews and a few non-Jews doing good work for people in need of support, basic needs, a Jewish connection.

Abby Sher photo_th

I’ve always wanted to belong. To the Girl Scouts. The band. The cool kids who wore CB ski jackets and made out by the gazebo. In college it was the improv troupe, the choir, sometimes Hillel House. More often, the cool kids who drank wine coolers and espresso and tried to reinvent Plato by the bike racks.

Sukkot photo_th

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.

Rosh Hashanah dinner for two photo_th

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.

Things my Jewish grandma says part 2 photo 1_th

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.

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

“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.

Blair Chavis_th

While the Chavis family is one of Eastern European descent, my sister and I have a running joke in which we affectionately refer to ourselves as The Sisters Chavez—a wordplay on the novel called The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. The joke, however, has nothing to do with the novel. I am, if nothing else, an English major nerd at heart.

Dave Matthews Band vs Yom Kippur photo_th

Not since Sandy Koufax agonized over whether or not to pitch the World Series, has a choice this big been put before the Jewish people.  Yom Kippur 5771:  Should a Jew go to synagogue or to the Dave Matthews Band concert at Wrigley Field?

Things my Jewish grandma says photo_th

Grandma Sally is 90 years old.  She has accrued a lifetime’s worth of wisdom, which she is only to happy to share in the form of unsolicited advice.  Truth be told, what she says oftentimes makes sense.  She simply has an unintentionally funny way of getting her point across.  Here are just a few of Grandma Sally’s pearls of wisdom...

Oy!Chicago 1_th

Are you a Jewish 20 or 30something with a story to tell? Do you want to be part of a collection of voices that together tell the unique story of our generation?

Eight months photo_th

Eight months can go by in a flash. As an adult, each birthday seems to come more quickly than the one before, even though they are 12 months apart, every time. Couples are engaged for an average of one full year before their wedding. Pregnancy is (generally) 40 weeks, or about nine months. I’ve been working at my job for an eight month stretch ten times over, but it often seems like just yesterday that I started.

Tales of a Rabbi’s Kid photo_th

I’m an RK.  That’s right.  My dad is a rabbi which makes me a “Rabbi’s Kid,” or an RK, as we like to call ourselves.  I didn’t always like having this as part of my identity (but I’ve since changed my mind).  The response I’ve always received when people learn this about me is fascinating.  When it first comes up, people look at you a little differently.

Defining the difference photo_th

Exactly a year ago, I couldn’t have been doing anything more opposite than what I’m doing today. You see, right now I’m sitting in my office in downtown Chicago, finishing up my lunch and typing away at my computer. One year ago, I was sitting by a campfire in a Bedouin tent in southern Israel.

My Shabbat dinner dream team photo_th

Here’s a question to pose to people around your Shabbat dinner table this Friday night: If you could invite anyone for Shabbat dinner, living or dead, who would it be?

Blair Chavis_th

As for many Chicagoans in their mid-20s, for me, this past spring and early summer has meant two things: weddings and moving…and, well, more weddings. While moving is a time when one must decide which memories to hold onto, weddings are a time to make new ones.

Sydney Bucksbaum photo_th

This past quarter, I decided to take a religion class—well, I didn’t decide so much as I have to take a religion course before I graduate—and I was presented with two options. I could take Introduction to Buddhism…or Introduction to Judaism.

Finding faith photo 3_th

For many people, religion is something you’re born into. You are brought to Sunday School, maybe to youth group, and from there you either stick with it or diverge. But if you’ve gone religion shopping, you’re not alone.

Austria photo_th

Recently my family received our second payout from the Austrian government.  There, in the form of a check, and a nominal one at that, was the government’s way of making amends for allowing the Nazis to confiscate the property of its citizens.

Rachel Friedman_th

I am a professional Jew.  I mean a Jewish professional.  Or both.  I have spent the past three and a half years working for Jewish communal organizations that do incredible work to help members of the community locally and overseas.  And while this sort of work isn’t for everyone, it has been a natural fit for me.

David Reinwald_th

"So, are you a Cubs or a Sox fan?"
"No comment," I quickly and jokingly replied during my interview at Temple Anshe Sholom of Olympia Fields, the largest synagogue of only a small handful in Chicago's south suburbs.I moved back to Chicago in 2008 to be closer to my family, becoming the cantor at TAS, and a north suburbanite working in foreign territory!

Navigating the path from Miss to Mrs. photo_th

On the very cold night of January 25 at 9pm, outside the Planetarium overlooking an unobstructed view of the Chicago skyline, a sweet, handsome young man got down on one knee and proposed to his shocked and freezing girlfriend.

Erin Jones photo 2_th

When I became a Jew, the first thing I did was join my synagogue. It was an easy decision, socially if not always financially. I’d already been attending Emanuel Congregation for three years. It was my Jewish community, and joining, I felt, was as much a part of my Jewish identity as finding the perfect mezuzah or complaining about matzah on Passover.

Cheers! Chicago: The Passover edition photo_th

We are approaching the time of year when families come together around the table to celebrate our freedom and the receiving of the Ten Commandments from Mount Sinai. To celebrate this milestone, we are instructed by our rabbis and sages of old to congregate, pray, recline and rejoice. We also set aside a cup of—you guessed it, what else?—wine for Elijah the prophet, to facilitate the coming of the Messiah.

Next year in Jerusalem? Why wait? photo_th

The other night I was out and someone said to me, “Hey, you’re the Birthright girl.” So I started talking to him and it turns out he went on a Shorashim trip a couple of years ago. His friend though, hadn’t participated yet. I asked him if he was applying for this summer and he said, “No, this isn’t a good time for me. I need to do an internship and take some classes.”

Karen Flayhart_th

Off the top of my head, here’s…
The stuff they don’t tell you in any intro-to-Judaism class about being a Jew:
1. No matter how accepting your family is of your religious choice, you are now different.

Why I made aliyah photo_th

Are you crazy? Why would you ever move here? What's better Israel or the USA?
These are the usual questions I encounter on a daily basis.

Learning to channel passion photo_th

I’m a mentor in the Write On For Israel program, which means that one Sunday a month I hear things like “I’m a lifelong Zionist” from juniors in high school. I want to respond with, “You’re 16!!!”

Andy Kirschner thumbnail

For many of us that were born and raised in America, particularly in areas that have significant Jewish populations, we aren’t readily faced with overt, in-your-face anti-Semitism. So you can imagine how taken aback I was the other day when the following took place:

Cindy Sher 2_th

Next year, I will celebrate my tenth anniversary at JUF News—the monthly magazine produced by JUF—my first and only job after college. Who says people of my generation can’t commit?! My career at the magazine started in the summer of 2000, mere weeks after tossing my graduation cap in the air and embarking on life on my own. At that time, the world was beginning to turn topsy-turvy, just before the latest intifada in Israel erupted.

Why JUF? Part II photo_th

In order to best express why I do what I do as the Director of JUF’s Young Leadership Division (YLD), I want to share the experience I had this summer on the National Campaign Chair and Directors Mission to Israel, a mission comprised of 100 professionals and volunteers from across the country.

Why JUF? photo_th

I was 25 years old and so green I sat there in my bare naked cubicle that first day at the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago waiting – 5:00, 5:21, 5:37 – waiting for my boss to “dismiss” me. She never did. And I’m still here 15 years later.

A simpler recipe for Friday night photo_th

As the holiday season is really all about food, I thought it would be funny if I attempted to cook a traditional Shabbat dinner for my boyfriend Mike and wrote a blog post making fun of my inevitable failure. Lucky for me (and for Mike), this isn’t a story of failure at all.

Joining the Jewish party photo_th

During my pregnancy, despite not knowing whether we were having a boy or a girl by any scientific means, I always knew that there was a boy in there.  And because I just ”knew” the baby was a boy, I started planning his bris months before he was born.

Modern couple draws from old text photo_th

For a recent article I wrote for Triblocal, I interviewed a Jewish couple living in Highland Park that is about as nontraditional as it gets. The two met later in life after previous marriages, already had their own children and are now enjoying their marriage of only about five years. The husband is an African American male who converted to Judaism in his 30s; the wife was born Jewish and scarcely identified with her roots. Together, they’ve found Judaism in perhaps an unusual place—a comic book.

Sharna Marcus_th

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.)

Celebrating Rosh Hashanah in the woods photo_th

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.

Jacey Bader_th

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.

Marcy Felsenthal photo 2_th

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.

Real World...Moishe House photo_th

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.

Marcy Felsenthal photo 2_th

The word god in today’s culture brings about a skeptical, corny aftertaste. I say this not because I don’t believe in Him. Oh baby, I do. But I don’t believe in the god that people talk about when they try to allude to His Existence. My God is a Jiving, Loving, Free spirited, All Powerful, Hilarious, Hopeful, Helpful, Beautiful, Energetic, Quantum Physics Genius. My God delights in hip hop, romantic conversations, and good coffee.

Sarah Follmer th

Five days ago, an as-yet-unidentified assailant walked into a gay community center in Tel Aviv and indiscriminately opened fire, killing two young Jews and wounding nearly a dozen others.

Blair Chavis_th

In a recent article for Triblocal, I interviewed Riverwoods resident and professional videographer Dan Gelfond about his experiences as an interviewer for Steven Spielberg’s Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation.

Rachel Friedman_th2

I hate water.  I don’t love drinking it, I’m not a swimmer – not even to cool off while sunbathing – and as my college roommates can attest, I went through a phase where the shower and I were basically frenemies, interacting only when absolutely necessary.

Karen Flayhart_th

Annoyingly, the timing of my conversion coincided with Charlotte’s on Sex on the City, leaving my friends all wondering why the hell my conversion process was taking so long when Charlotte managed to convert in 3 episodes. (For the record: it generally takes one full calendar year.)

Marcy Felsenthal_th

Any moment now, it’s going to ring. I’m watching my phone. My body is preparing itself to receive two words emphatically digitally shrieked from the confines of a New Jersey suburban home: “I’m engaged!!!”

Apathy and Political Ploys photo_th

I was minding my own business in the courtyard on the corner of Monroe and Wells, trying to enjoy my Mexicali salad and a little sunshine, when I was interrupted. Not by the usual culprits like a colleague, a pigeon, or some guy selling Streetwise. I was interrupted by a voice inside my own head. It happened to be speaking in a booming baritone and didn’t give two shits about serenity or spring greens.

On Turning 40 photo_th

We were born during the summer of ’69. Woodstock, man on the moon, the whole bit. That year, Golda Meir became Prime Minister of Israel, the world first strolled down Sesame Street, and new homes on Main Street averaged $15,550.

Breaking the Cycle photo_th

I often feel like a walking contradiction. I went to a theater camp for six years and was president of my BBYO council in high school, but am now terrified of even opening my mouth in a business meeting with more than three other people.

“I have to live with a booyyyy?!” photo_th

You know that episode of “Friends” where Monica’s about to move in with Chandler? When she turns to Rachel and with a look on her face that says both I-can’t-wait-to-live-with-the-person-I-love and I-can’t-believe-I’m-going-to-live-with-this-slob-who’s-going-to-leave-the-toilet-seat-up, whines “I have to live with a booyyyyy!?”
I get it now.


I have a friend who claims that hell is being a teenage girl. I beg to differ: hell is being a pre-teen girl. Seeing photos of my chubby, pubescent self still makes me flinch, and bra-shopping still gives me flashbacks. What could be worse than the junior high years, when you didn’t fit in and nothing fit? The answer is: having a REUNION of your junior high school class.

Emma's Birth_th

When it came time to deliver, my Ethiopian neighbors used to squat, yelp, yelp some more, and pop out those little babies. Then and only then would they call for an ambulance. At least, that’s what Benny the security guard told me, and he should know. He witnessed it five times.


I am writing this at the risk of being brushed off as a crazy cat person. I have the best cats in the world. They are the most snuggly, loudest purring, most playful, greet-you-at-the-door-every-time-it-opens kittens. Mr. Pants and Cocoa Bean grace the wallpaper on my computer. I have a picture of them on my office bulletin board and my refrigerator at home. But they are not framed photographs. You have to draw the line somewhere.


Witless Protection isn’t my kind of movie. Normally, I’d have skipped it all together, but I went to see it opening weekend. It‘s the story of a small town bungling sheriff who mistakenly thinks he’s witnessing a kidnapping. The “kidnappers” are FBI agents assigned to escort a woman to court to testify against a big corporation, but later turn out to be on the “take.” They’re working for the bad guy corporate executives and our clumsy sheriff ends up a hero. It stars Larry the Cable Guy as the sheriff, Jenny McCarthy as his girl friend, and…Skip Jacobs, a.k.a. my dad, as featured extra #12. He’s a movie star…well, sort of.


Some of you may be wondering what I’m doing here in Living Jewishly. After all, I’m the self-proclaimed Food Jew, and this the Passover edition, and why the heck aren’t I over in NOSH where I belong, giving you sage advice on the perfect charoset or moderating the age-old floaters vs. sinkers Matzo Ball debate? I joke around about being Jew-ish, think that bacon should be its own food group, and openly admit that not only have I never been to Israel, it falls way down on my list of places I want to visit, after Morocco, Spain, Ireland and China, past Portugal and South Africa, even beyond places I want to go to for a second time like Italy. I’m reasonably certain I’ll get there, and I even genuinely believe I’ll be moved and transformed by the experience, its just, well, I sort of want to see Prague first.


I must begin with a confession: Like a moth to a flame, I am drawn to All Things Goyish. I have an unnatural affection for English country gardens, high tea and Shakespeare. I shop at Talbot’s. I love the mansions in Lake Forest. And I subscribe to Martha Stewart Living magazine.


At her big sister’s funeral, 6-year-old Ava searched for coins to throw in the baptismal font so she could make a wish. It was the only moment of the entire event that could pass for normal. In the front of the church lay the body of Ava’s sister, a beautiful 17-year-old girl—a girl who only days beforehand had been full of life, promise and no small measure of piss and vinegar. One minute she was preparing to audition for college music scholarships and getting ready for her senior prom, and the next she was in a box.


On March 9th, we usher in the holiday of Purim. It's another great example of that ancient wisdom, "They tried to kill us. We survived. Let's eat."
That makes this an opportune time to look back on what we've been doing the past few months and give it a high five. What have I been up to? Traveling around North America telling jokes. I'm not a stand-up comedian. I just play one on book tour.


Eight months pregnant with our first child, I traded in the keys of our cool Evanston loft for a Skokie bi-level. It’s practical, it’s convenient and it’s so unimaginative I sometimes turn into my neighbors’ driveway instead of my own. Her violin students knock on our door. His leaves fall on our neglected lawn. The old Jew across the street dies. A new one moves in.


For years, my breasts had one great superpower: the ability to attract men faster than the speed of light in a singles bar. In a couple of weeks, my supersized breasts will have different superpowers: the ability to feed a crying infant faster than a speeding bullet, repelling men and women at the sight.


In May of 2006, I graduated from college and prepared to enter The Real World. I’d been readying myself mentally for months like most of my peers. After a quick trip to Israel, I came home and started my first job at a big PR firm in June. By August, I was living in a one-bedroom apartment in Lakeview. I was self sufficient, spending weekends with friends, exploring over 21 life in the city, and in the throes of a wonderful, exciting new relationship. I was following “my plan.”  I thought I was all set, and that I was a real adult...


When the men were gone and she could no longer think of the word for the thing she used to light cigarettes, my grandmother, Barbara Russakoff—Bubba to those who loved her most—gave up, wrote a note, and overdosed on anti-depressants and applesauce. And it didn't work.


Even though by the age of 13 I had stopped believing in Jesus, I still went all-out every year to celebrate Christmas. I searched endlessly for the perfect tree, decorated my condo until it looked like a red and green bomb had exploded, and baked for days. I conveniently ignored the guilty feeling that I was going to hell for dispensing the holiday’s religious significance and instead focusing solely on the commercial aspects.


This month is the 25th anniversary of the day I started my first real job. That first day of work was blistering cold, like today. I was wearing a suit with a skirt—no pants for women allowed, then—and I remember making my way across the bridge over the steaming Chicago River, trying to suck it up and act like a tough commuter.


A few years ago, I took the greatest risk of my life. I packed up my apartment in D.C., said goodbye to my friends and a great job, and moved to Cincinnati to be with my boyfriend, a Rabbinical student at HUC. The gamble paid off: two weeks after my move, he popped the question. After having dated for a little over five years, the engagement came as less than a surprise and more as a relief to our friends and family. (The relief on the side of my friends who were afraid they would have to carry out their threats and wind up in jail.)


I coerced my dear friend “Irving” into writing a story with me about how he used to be my bully. I told him he had to get off his lawyerly ass and write something creative about himself being an asshole a long, long time ago. That’s exactly what I told him.


They may not have taught you this in Hebrew School, but the number forty is the gematria, the mystical numerological value, for the Hebrew word for “asshole.”  I know this because I’m a former asshole myself. She moved to my town for the start of junior year. And so began my serial transgression of our sacred commandments.


My apartment is littered with post-its and print-outs bearing the words Hineni: Here I am and an X. Because, bizarre as it may seem, I sometimes forget it.


Gilana Alpert had a way with music. She played guitar like it was an extension of her hands rather than a separate instrument. As she led Friday-night Reform services at Indiana University Hillel, she brought music into the service that made the sanctuary feel empty for me when the guitar wasn’t there. A striking redhead, Gilana made me – a newbie to the world of Jewish practice – feel welcomed and accepted.


In February of 2007, I took a bus to the Old State Capitol in Springfield, to witness Senator Obama formally kick-off his campaign in the spot where President Lincoln once spoke of a house divided.  In front of me stood a handsome woman with perfect hair and a fur coat (who unknowingly blocked the bitter wind). Behind me was a man in a service station uniform who smelled of motor oil and long hours.


I have spent most of my political life on the fence, being pulled in various directions by teachers, friends and family. In high school, I worked on a campaign to nominate my local Democratic state representative for Governor. I was also part of a conservative group that supported a Republican candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives. Having grown up in north suburban Chicago - which felt like a liberal haven - I seek to patch together my own political quilt, consistent with my upbringing, experiences and values.

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Growing up, I didn’t really think anything of the way my socks were put away, each pair bundled together into a perfect ball, arranged in rainbow order (yes, people wore colored socks back then) in my top drawer. In my closet, clothes were arranged by season and color and every hanger and seam faced the same direction.

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Nothing could prepare me for last year: living with a 1L. For those not familiar with the term 1L, lucky you. You have never had the pleasure of being the partner of a first year law student. Yep, my partner is studying to be a partner. (That is definitely going to get confusing.)

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Having my face smacked with a decomposing alewife when I was five put my blossoming relationship with fish on the wrong foot. The north shore beach where the family frolicked was littered with the stinky things. And while I eventually learned to steer clear of the bullies who used the rotting fish as weapons, from that moment on, a day at the beach no longer was a day at the beach.


Only once have I been asked if I killed Jesus.
The girl, a ninth-grade peer of mine at the time, with chutzpah enough to ask me this question, hailed from a small, Jew-free Minnesotan town. When I mentioned in passing to her that I was Jewish, the next words out of her mouth were, “Didn’t the Jews kill Christ?”

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This is what I did today—on a Thursday. I went to the pool. I went to the park, I played cars. My 3-year-old little boy and I pretended that we were firefighters (the baby got to drive the truck). I watched so much Bob the Builder that the theme song has become my internal soundtrack (I am humming it as I write). I changed so many diapers I’m beginning to think that everyone should wear them (great for people on the go!). I met my mother for lunch. Last June, nearly three months after my younger son was born, I took a nose dive off the career map. I left my job, and I am now on permanent maternity leave.


I recently returned from a JUF Mission to Israel, which was great. But this story isn’t about The Wall, the Dead Sea, or the falafel, although they all deserve a shout-out. I’d extended my trip and decided to go up north to the Golan region with Melanie, a new friend I met on the Mission. We were going to Kfar Blum, a hotel on a kibbutz, where we could go white water rafting, hiking and biking. After this hectic trip, I just wanted to sit, but I pretended to be all athletic-y as the arrangements were made.


My father waited 34 years to tell me the news. "Bazer," the surname he passed down to me, and which I've long cherished for its uniqueness, its slight air of mystery and its "Z," is, it turns out, hardly innocuous, and even less mysterious.
Dad: Son, I have something to tell you about your name.
Me: OK.
Dad: It means 'angry person' in Yiddish. I wanted to tell you now so that ... son, what are you doing? I'm just telling you the truth. Put me down. Please! Stop! No!!!!!!!!!!!!


My father's last memory of his father Aaron was in 1937, dad was five. Aaron's car was parked and running outside of the house. In the front seat was my grandfather's new bride, Bessie. My father came running outside of the house to the car. Aaron crouched down to my father, gave him a five dollar bill and said, "Sonny, someday you'll understand." Aaron drove away and my father never saw or heard from him again.


“Why are you writing about that? People always think being a triplet is interesting and cool. But it’s not.”

That encouraging morsel of cheer came from my brother Daniel when I called to ask whether I was allowed to use his real name in this article. “I concur,” echoed my brother Max a few minutes later.


It is windy but ass-melting hot the day Benny and I tie the knot under a Kemper Lakes weeping willow. Cantor Jeff sweats buckets as he sings Yhiyeh Tov. Rabbi Eleanor dashes to rescue the ketubah as it blows toward the water. And the chuppah corners fly off the poles nine times during our short ceremony.


After living in Boca Raton for nearly 30 years, my grandmother has moved back to Chicago. She brought 64 boxes of her most prized possessions with her, from the small kitten-shaped cookie jar to ancient, odorless potpourri satchels. My family, believing that she simply needed reminders of home, helped her unpack these items and find space for them in her cozy, one-bedroom apartment.

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My first instinct when my Prince Charming asked me to marry him was to head down to City Hall for a no muss/no fuss wedding—at 10:30 a.m. to avoid the lunch rush. When my Mom, with tears in her eyes, asked me if I was not going to have her under the chuppah with me, I realized that I not only wanted her there, I wanted my Judaism there too. Chuppah, Mom and all.


Coming of age in a suburb where salt and pepper were considered exotic spices, I grew up eating corned beef on white bread with Miracle Whip. My parents served eggnog for Chanukah. I had never heard of kugel, kishke or knishes. The thought of chopped liver made my stomach roil. And don’t even get me started on tongue. When I became active in the Jewish community, this culture gap became embarrassing.


Second to “It’s not your baby,” it’s the next biggest English phrase that should stir emotion in the recipient. And sure, we’ve all used it and heard it. Some may have used it as a “get out of jail free pass” from the fight over you leering at the girl who just walked by. And we’ve all probably used it at the end of our phone conversations with mommy or daddy even without really thinking about it, more of an involuntary statement that always ends the conversation.


Surprising my grandma by showing up to her synagogue for Friday night services was great fun, but something felt out of place. The fancy birthday dinner we had for my grandma and her closest friends was a wonderful celebration, but we couldn’t help but notice my grandpa’s absence. For the first time, he wasn’t well enough to leave the nursing home to attend the celebrations.


My dear friend Aaron has finally fallen in love. He is a 39-year old Chicagoan; she’s an editor in Tel Aviv with strong sabra roots. He’s asking me for advice. Some days I want to tell him marriages between Americans and Israelis should be outlawed. Other days I want to say, follow your heart—just don’t expect it to be easy.


My grandmother always had an uncanny way with words, but even I was not anticipating her remark after shuffling through my high school prom pictures.“You look beautiful, honey, but he doesn’t look very Jewish.”


Unlike most Jewish holidays with their “must do or not do”  restrictions, and themes of being hated, slaughtered or narrowly escaping, Shavuot has some bright features: It's the day that the Torah was given to us, it marks the beginning of the summer, it’s an agricultural holiday that celebrates the harvest—we get to eat delicious dairy food and indulge ourselves with cheesecakes and quiches. And, with the beautiful story of Megilat Ruth (Ruth’s scroll) setting the theme of loving kindness, it’s a pretty great holiday.


A very wise Miss Teen USA contestant once tried to explain why so few American students are able to locate states and/or countries on a map. Although I give her points for trying (“such as with the Iraq”), she wasn’t really able to illuminate the issue terribly clearly… But still, the initial question resonated with me.


People generally have nice things to say about me. They call me sweet and friendly… I’ve even heard “you’re just a doll” more than once, but I didn’t let it go to my head, because that’s not what dolls do.


I’ve known people who can boil something huge down to a single, explicit moment: The moment they realized what they wanted. The moment they fell in love. The moment they knew they believed in something. The moment that changed life as they knew it.


I finally broke down and joined JDate. After months of looking at the first page of people who matched my criteria—as many as you can see without joining—I decided to take the next step. I mean, the lady who’d be the horseradish to my gefilte fish could be right could be waiting for me right at the top of page two.


Maybe you keep kosher, or your coworkers do, or your best friend does. Maybe you'd like to grab a bite to eat before a show, or invite that cute guy in the adjacent cubicle out for dinner—or just eat lunch. 


I was standing at noon exactly. It was 8 p.m. in Israel. No one was there to stand with me. It was the loneliest and the weirdest “standing” I have ever experienced. The siren didn’t come from somewhere close.


My sometimes-combative relationship with food started during The Great Squash-Off of 1985. I was eight, my friend Bevin was over for dinner, and we were told we had to try to the squash. This was the first time in my life my dad insisted I eat something I didn’t want.

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It is 3:45a.m., and after what seems like 54 feedings in the last 24 hours, we are both wide-awake. At three weeks old, he is a funny little thing, very new and tender with a Mohawk of spiky dark hair.


We had been dating for six months when I decided it was time for Joe and I to have “the talk.”  We sat on his couch for a long time, going through the familiar pattern of “What’s wrong?” and “Nothing” and silence before I was able to spit it out. “I want to raise my children Jewish.”


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Change is possible. When I first came out to my grandmother, she told me that she was okay with it, but didn’t agree with gay marriage. Several years later, this same grandmother actually hosted our wedding at her home.

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Since I left the security blanket of college about two years ago, my life has been full of change. I moved back home to the suburbs and got my first real job, and when I could no longer stand the suburbs, I moved out to Lincoln Park and started a new job. I went from in a relationship, to single, to in a relationship, both in real life and on my Facebook profile.



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