OyChicago articles

A Little Taste of Israel

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A serious falafel craving leads me to Highland Park
01/27/2009

Oy42Nosh

How they schwarma in Israel

After arriving home from a 10-day visit to Israel on January 2, I declared to all who would listen that I would never eat falafel again. Fewer than three weeks later, while thumbing through a coupon book, I saw an ad for Mizrahi Grill, and was overcome with a craving for deep-fried chickpea balls. I grabbed my husband, ripped out the coupon and headed to Highland Park.

Mizrahi Grill is a Kosher meat restaurant tucked into a large strip mall but, despite the generic exterior, the restaurant was inviting, packed with families, and had a casual, boisterous atmosphere. The menu, handwritten on a chalkboard, offered classic Israeli dishes. We placed our order at the counter, where I tried to understand the line cooks’ Hebrew conversation, and waited for a table to open up.

Once we were seated, a waiter brought over three small tasting dishes, a beet salad, turnips and garlic chips, my second reminder (after the Hebrew) of my recent stay in Israel, where endless salads streamed out of the kitchen and onto my table, whether or not I wanted them. The extra dishes were a nice touch in a place that felt like a fast-food joint.

We started with the white bean soup, one of a rotating list of homemade soups. It was quite hearty, with lots of veggies, and the portion was very big (for $4, I suppose I should have known it would be a lot of soup). My bowl needed just a little help in the salt and pepper department, but was otherwise pretty good.

The appetizer combo came next, with eight falafel balls, four cigars and two kubeh. Clearly Israeli appetizer combos don’t vary much from their American counterparts—the only difference being the particular items that get a trip to the deep fryer. The cigars (rolled, stuffed and fried phyllo dough) were crispy, and the filling was tasty, though we couldn’t really identify what it was. The kubeh (fried dough filled with ground beef and pine nuts) were very aromatic, taking me back to the spice merchants of Machane Yehuda, Jerusalem’s bustling, colorful outdoor market.

The falafels were a very appetizing golden brown, perfectly crisped on the outside, soft on the inside. They were a bit blander than the many, many falafels I enjoyed while strolling down Ben Yehuda Street, but the texture and crunch were perfect. Joe ate five before I even finished one.

I finished off my meal with a huge plate of hummus and pita, while Joe raved about his schwarma sandwich. The enormous pita was stuffed to the brim with turkey and lamb meat, plus an array of toppings including pickles, Israeli salad, tahini and chips (French fries), just like I remembered. The sandwich was a bit pricy at $8, but seemingly well worth it.

The pita, baked on site, was soft, chewy and delicious. The enormous plate of hummus, topped with olive oil, a dollop of tahini and herbs, plus about eight small pitas was $6. While the portion was generous, the hummus itself lacked zing.

Several meat dishes round out the menu, including various kabobs, skirt steak, a mixed grill and schnitzel. Sandwiches range from $6-$12, and entrees, with choice of two salads and a side dish, run from $15-$25. The entrée pricing seems a bit steep, but the portions are easily large enough to share.

We left the restaurant happy and very full, Joe still marveling about the French fries inside of his sandwich, while I chattered about all of the things I did on my trip (again). On the ride home, I found the coupon in my jacket pocket. Forgetting to use it seems like perfect excuse to feed my next Israeli food craving–I definitely want to try that schwarma!

Oy! Put That Nipple Away!

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The superpowers that come with being a mom 
01/27/2009

Oy42LJ

Karen, getting some Mom-practice in thanks to her friend — a REAL supermom juggling her career, two kids both under age 2, and her husband — a Rabbi

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.

It’s a bit disturbing to realize that my breasts are on the verge of becoming human kryptonite, about to become objects of disdain rather than lust. And it’s something that I am grasping to understand.

It’s completely ironic that, while our society readily accepts visuals of women’s breasts on magazine covers and in movies, when it comes to breastfeeding, the opposite is true. We’ll stare at Pamela Anderson’s cleavage on Baywatch, but if she was breastfeeding, we’d probably look everywhere but — at her eyes, the ceiling — as she was nursing her child.

And there are people who are down-right outraged at the prospect of a woman breastfeeding in public. After all, it wasn’t that long ago that formula companies and doctors had “civilized society” convinced that breastfeeding was archaic. My own mother, who bottle fed both my sister and me, isn’t completely down with the idea of me breastfeeding.

Countless numbers of women have received spiteful remarks from strangers (men and women) while breastfeeding in public, some women even asked to leave malls, restaurants, and libraries. Women are often “encouraged” to breastfeed in ‘nursing lounge areas’ located in the women’s bathroom. Think about this: would you eat your lunch in the bathroom?

So, apparently, when feeding my child, my breasts should have the superpower of being invisible too.

With that said, I can understand why many people are uncomfortable when a woman breastfeeds in public view. Let’s face it: we’re not talking about legs or an elbow here. We’re talking about a nipple, which — except maybe for porn stars and Janet Jackson — is a private part of a woman’s body. Or, at least it was for me until it suddenly, upon achieving milk-bearing capacity, became “communal property”.

‘Caring individuals’ — who I like to refer to as Breast Nazis — believe that they have the right to publically denounce any woman who does not breastfeed because, in their minds, she is harming her child, and therefore society.

More than one of my friends has been reduced to tears by vicious comments made by Breast Nazis about how they are ‘bad mothers’ for choosing not to breast feed. Not that it is anyone’s business, but many women have problems with breastfeeding that cannot be resolved, leaving them to feel as if somehow they are inadequate mothers. These comments just rub salt into open wounds. The most outrageous example I can think of happened when my friend Jen adopted her son. A Breast Nazi insisted that, if Jen truly cared about her son, Jen would employ “certain techniques” to develop the capacity to breastfeed him.

I’d like to employ some techniques of my own on these so-called ‘concerned citizens.’

All I know is this: women’s breasts are both functional and sexual, and until recently, society has only emphasized the latter role, and even then, preferring to inundate the public with unrealistic, plastic versions of what women’s breasts should be. So can we really expect total acceptance of a natural act, when society accepts nothing natural about our bodies?

And, while I’m sure I will catch hell for this remark (I already have from some friends), there are — in my opinion — some instances where breastfeeding perhaps isn’t appropriate. For example:

During a friend’s wedding, as she and her Beshert exchanged vows underneath the chuppah, I heard a loud slurping noise, like someone polishing off a Big Gulp. Curious, I — along with many others — turned my head to the left to see one of the guests nursing her one-year-old son (no privacy shield or blanket either). I found this completely disrespectful: to my friend whose wedding should have been the center of attention, to the sanctity of the ceremony, and to my own eyes which I thought I would have to gouge out at the sight. (I should mention, this woman — who I knew well — was very “militant” about her right to breastfeed, thus I suspect her motivations went beyond mere necessity.)

When I relayed this story to another friend, she rose in defense of the woman, asking me “So, she should have missed the ceremony?”

Without hesitation, I replied “Yes, she should have.” And then I started to think about it. I don’t know how I would answer her question now.

I expect that, as I begin breastfeeding, I will encounter disapproving glances and remarks. And, despite my belief it’s a women’s right to breastfeed however she chooses, I will most likely be very private about it, keeping my breasts out of public view. Maybe I’ll eat these words later, but I still need to relate to my breasts as a sexual — if also purposeful — part of my body. I might be a mom, married, and in my 30s, but I that doesn’t mean I want to surrender the super-power of feeling attractive.

Of course, I’m looking forward to acquiring other superpowers that come with being a mom. Like the power of being able to fold fitted bed sheets into a neat square. I’ve always wondered how my mom did that.

You’ve Got Your Mother’s Eyes … But What Else?

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What you need to know about getting tested for Jewish genetic disorders 
01/27/2009

Oy42Feature1

No matter who your partner is, it’s important to get yourself tested for genetic disorders

It’s easy to look in the mirror and see your aunt Sophie’s hair or your uncle Archie’s nose. But there are other traits you could have inherited from your family that may not be so obvious — luckily, there’s lots of information available about Jewish genetic disorders and tests to help you figure out what you might be dealing with. Getting tested is an important part of taking care of your health, and is especially important if you are considering having children.

You’ve probably heard of Tay-Sachs disease, an enzyme deficiency which results in progressive brain deterioration and shortened lifespan. And perhaps you’re also familiar with cystic fibrosis, which causes the body to produce thick, sticky mucus that causes problems in the digestive system and lungs. But there are at least 11 Jewish genetic disorders for which testing is available.

Why You Should Get Tested

Getting tested is important even if you don’t have a family history. These disorders are recessive, so in order to have an affected child, both parents must be carriers. There could be a long history of carriers in your family that no one knows about, because so far, none of these carriers have had children with other carriers. And carriers are healthy, so the only way to find out if you are one, before having an affected child, is to be tested.

If your parents were tested back in the 1970s, that’s great. But, like most technologies from the 1970s, genetic testing has come a long, long way. Most of today’s tests have only been available for 10-15 years.

And having a non-Ashkenazi  partner won’t get you out of it either. Whether your partner is Sephardic, a convert, or just not Jewish, there is still a risk of having a child with one of these disorders. Individuals without Ashkenazi ancestry can be carriers, though it is less likely. If you’re the ethnically Ashkenazi partner in a mixed relationship, you should consider getting tested first. Then, if you’re a carrier, your partner can get screened for all the possible mutations that could cause that particular disorder.

Oy42Feature2

Want to know more? Schedule a counseling session with a genetic counselor

Take Control

Despite her best intentions, your doctor might not tell you about these tests. She may not know you’re planning on starting a family soon, or that you’re Ashkenazi. But having this information before you start trying to conceive allows you to have the widest range of reproductive options. Be proactive and ask your doctor for genetic testing. Be aware, however, that:

-  Screening is very expensive, usually between $3,000-$4,000! And your insurance company may not cover this testing in full, if at all.

-  Screening entails just a simple blood test. After your screening, be sure to keep your results so that you know what you were tested for in case new tests become available.

-  Not all communities offer affordable screening options — but you’re in luck! You can get screened in Chicago through the JUF. Through a grant from the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago, you can get screened by the Chicago Center for Jewish Genetic Disorders for only $90. Visit the Center for upcoming screening dates and program information.

The Chicago Center for Jewish Genetic Disorders is a cooperative effort of the Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago and Children’s Memorial Hospital. The Center is a support foundation of the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago and is funded in part by the Michael Reese Health Trust.

Rachel Sacks is the Community Outreach Coordinator for the Chicago Center for Jewish Genetic Disorders, which provides public and professional education about Jewish genetic disorders and genetic mutations associated with hereditary cancers. Read more about the Center at  www.jewishgeneticscenter.org .

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