OyChicago articles

‘The 188th Crybaby Brigade’

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A not-so-tough Jewish Chicago comedian joins the IDF

The 188th Crybaby Brigade photo 1

Many Jewish kids have Hebrew school teachers who make Israel come alive inside their classrooms.

Joel Chasnoff, originally from Evanston and now a Jewish comedian, was one such Jewish student. At Solomon Schechter Jewish Day School, back in the second grade, his Israeli teacher, Ruti, helped forge Chasnoff’s early connection to Israel. “Ruti would sit us down and have us read Israeli newspapers and sound out the words,” he recalled. “It just made feel connected to this other place. It made me feel like I belonged there even though I had never been.”

But unlike most Jewish kids, Chasnoff took it one step further. He credits his Jewish classroom experience with helping inspire him to join the Israeli Army years later.

The 188th Crybaby Brigade photo 2

Chasnoff a week into basic training

His new book, “The 188th Crybaby Brigade: A Skinny Jewish Kid from Chicago Fights Hezbollah,” (Simon and Schuster), due out Feb. 9, documents his time in a combat unit in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) as a tank gunner in the Armored Corps. His unit was responsible for defending Israel’s north, including the Golan Heights and the Syrian border. His service in 1997-1998 included two months of Basic Training, two months of Tank School, three months of Advanced Warfare Training, followed by a tour of duty.

“It’s not a typical army story,” said Chasnoff, who these days is pursuing comedy in New York City and living in the Bronx with his Israeli wife and three children, 8-year-old twins girls and a 2-year-old daughter. “It’s about Jewish identity, it’s about a father/son relationship, it’s about the way Judaism is changing and how the Israel that we mythologize isn’t the real Israel.”

During his army stint, Chasnoff kept journals chronicling his army experience. “I had little notebooks that I kept in my pocket, and would write even if it was just one sentence a day,” he said. “I was ‘Twittering’ before there was ‘Twitter.’”

From the beginning, Chasnoff had strong Jewish roots. As a standup comedian, he isn’t a comedian who just happens to be Jewish. Indeed, his entire act examines his own Jewish experience, a very positive and loving one. Growing up in Evanston, he had a Conservative Jewish upbringing complete with a kosher household, Jewish summer camp, and Shabbat dinners with his parents and two younger brothers, where they “refrained from watching television, unless there was a Cubs game on.”

Despite his love for all things Jewish and for Israel, Chasnoff hadn’t always considered himself the ideal candidate for the Israeli army. He refers to himself as a short, skinny guy who isn’t exactly the warrior-type. In the eighth grade, he admits he was the only kid cut from the Solomon Schechter basketball team, “a humiliating experience made all the more shameful by the fact that I’d been cut not just from a sports team, but from a Jewish sports team,” he writes in his book.

But at age 23, despite his lack of athletic prowess, Chasnoff decided to put his comedy career on hold and join the IDF. He had his reasons—besides his inspiration from his second grade teacher. As a teen, he traveled to Israel several times, including at age 13 with his family. Then, at 17, he returned to Israel. “The Israeli soldiers were so much like us, Jewish, a lot of them from the same countries we originally came from, and yet they were so much cooler than we were,” he said. “They had guns, they were doing these mighty things that Jews were not supposed to do and that the Jews I grew up with never did. The idea of Jews that were powerful and didn’t take crap from anyone was so appealing to a 17-year-old boy, who was kind of small and skinny and short and wanted to be powerful himself.”

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Chasnoff, at age 9, meeting his first Israeli soldier during his first trip to Israel

Oh yeah, and there was a girl. He met a Yemenite-Persian Israeli named Dorit at the end of college. Their relationship was growing more serious and Chasnoff knew that if he and Dorit stayed together, they would likely one day live in Israel. Since every Israeli gets drafted, he couldn’t fathom living in Israel as a “freeloader…without paying my dues” by serving the country himself.

In the army, Chasnoff was considered a lone soldier because his parents lived outside of Israel. He was also five years older than most of his comrades, who had joined the army right out of high school. He was assigned as his platoon’s soldier-in-chief, responsible for keeping track of every soldier in the platoon.

The title of his book, “The 188th Crybaby Brigade,” stems from Basic Training when, at one time, half of his platoon was in the infirmary with fake excuses and injuries—sprained ankles, stomachaches, headaches, anything—to get out of hiking, guard duty, and kitchen work. In response to their delinquency, their officer lined up the platoon and asked, ‘Who are you? Are you a platoon of Israel Defense Force combat soldiers? Or is this just Platoon Two, Company B of the One-hundred-eighty-eighth Crybaby Brigade?’

“The title represents the whole conflict of my experience of both fulfilling a lifelong dream to be one of those heroes yet, [at the same time his comrades] were nothing like the Israeli soldiers I wanted to emulate as a kid,” Chasnoff said.

In retrospect, Chasnoff is grateful that he joined the IDF because, at the end of the day, he simply loves Israel. “On just a physical land level, I love being in a place where I know my history happened. When you’re on Masada, that revolt actually happened there…I know I have something in common with just about everyone in Israel. When I get off the plane in Israel, I just feel like I’m home.”

“The 188th Crybaby Brigade” will be available on Tuesday, Feb. 9. For more information on Joel Chasnoff and to learn about his upcoming speaking engagements in Chicago, visit  www.joelchasnoff.com .

‘The Millionaire Matchmaker’ kicks off a new season and doles out some dating advice

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‘The Millionaire Matchmaker’ photo

Have you been missing that certain special someone over the last few months? No, not your soul mate. I’m talking about Patti Stanger, the bold Los Angeles Jewish matchmaker who stars in her own reality show called “The Millionaire Matchmaker.”

After a long hiatus, the wait is over for the show—and maybe for your soul mate too.

The third season of “The Millionaire Matchmaker” recently premiered on Bravo. If you haven’t seen the show, chances are you aren’t a 20- or 30-something woman. On each episode, Stanger sets up two clients, millionaires or sometimes a millionairess, with potential matches. She advises her clients and their possible matches before they meet, which usually includes makeover suggestions.

Sometimes she even sends over a therapist. For instance, Stanger sets up many “Peter Pan” type men, as she calls them, who are interested in women, often Hollywood models or actresses, 20 years their junior. That search for the unobtainable, she says, is keeping them single.

For singles without the benefit of Stanger’s personalized matchmaking services, she has also recently written a book entitled “Become Your Own Matchmaker: 8 Easy Steps for Attracting Your Perfect Mate” (Atria) with Lisa Johnson Mandell. In the relationship guide, Stanger offers candid advice to teach single women to empower themselves and clear the path for your perfect match. She says that those who follow her formula will find themselves in a committed, monogamous relationship with Mr. Right in less than a year.

Stanger comes from a long family history of matchmaking. Both her grandmother and mother used to fix up couples through their local synagogue. Following in their matchmaking footsteps, Stanger matched up her first couple at a seventh grade dance in her hometown of Short Hills, New Jersey, and has been pairing people off ever since.

‘The Millionaire Matchmaker’ photo 2

Patti schmoozes with her staff.

The only person Stanger couldn’t seem to match up was herself. Part of her motivation for entering the business was that she “wanted to find out what I was doing wrong” after umpteen bad dates and failed relationships with Mr. Wrongs. But she finally met her match six years ago after one of the matchmakers on her staff introduced her to an eligible bachelor. Last year, he and Stanger got engaged.

Recently, Oy!’s Cindy Sher interviewed “The Millionaire Matchmaker” over the phone about what to expect on the new season of the show, some dating tips, and how Stanger finally found her own beshert.

Oy!Chicago: Who was the first couple you ever introduced?
Patti Stanger: In the seventh grade, I made my first match at Christ Church Dance. All the Jewish girls went to Christ Church Dance in Short Hills, New Jersey, to find their boyfriends and my best friend met her boyfriend that way because I introduced them. It was because the boys weren’t talking to the girls. And then, after that, I always ended up doing it for everybody else, introducing people.

You are a third generation matchmaker. Both your mother and grandmother were also matchmakers. Why did they become matchmakers?
They did it for the temple because my mom was the first divorcè in New Jersey in her community and she was embarrassed so my grandmother got her married again. When divorce became commonplace, my grandmother was the hookup. They didn’t do it for money, they just did it for love.

Why did you start fixing up millionaires?
I worked for Great Expectations (a dating service) for eight years as the director of marketing. I specialized in difficult clients and they were the rich ones. So when I came to LA during the Clinton administration, the whole millionaire thing was happening. I was doing this really to get out of credit card debt, but I also had a regular job. And then it just took off and had a mind of its own. I never realized how many millionaires there were in LA and Silicon Valley until I opened my business.

They say matching people up is one of the biggest mitzvahs. Doesn’t setting people up make you feel happy?
It’s a lot of work. If I could take the time to enjoy it, I would. It’s not what you see on camera. It’s very time consuming. We have them for a year to 14 months in our service. They can be quite temperamental. At the end of the day, I deserve all the riches in heaven.

What can we expect from the new season?
The new season has a lot more millionairesses, a lot more gay dating. There’s green dating, people who own green (environmentally-conscious) businesses. There’s an engagement on this season, Slade and Gretchen come on from “The Real Housewives of Orange County”—I actually help fix them up, Shauna comes on from last season and so does Zagros. It’s going to be very different. There are a lot of matches this season and there are a lot of tips. We realize that the viewer loves tips.

So can you give us some dating tips?
We’re giving away sex without monogamy. That’s the number one problem. It [stems from] the sixties and burning our bras, but then you want him to open the car door. You’re giving him mixed messages—you’re making money and picking up the check and then you want him to marry you. Why would he buy the house in this economy if the rent is free? He’s buying something that’s depreciated.

And if he falls away, he’s not your guy. He’s passive-aggressive and wants the woman to chase him or he met somebody else. You know who is the marrying kind from the moment you meet him, the one asking the right questions and showing up every week consistently… We know the good guys from the bad guys. We just fall in love with bad guys.

What is your advice to Jewish singles looking for the one?
I’m not a fan of marrying a girl and converting her, I’m going to tell you right now. Unless she really wants to embrace Judaism, you’re just using that as a weapon to get your bar mitzvah and your bris. Unless the person loves the whole Jewish experience of keeping Shabbos or keeping kosher or going to temple on High Holy Days, why force it down someone’s throat because she won’t allow the Christmas tree in.

…Girls are waiting for Peter Pans, so my philosophy is that if Peter Pan does not turn into your Jewish husband or doesn’t show up, would it be so awful if you married a spiritual person who is not Jewish?

Can you give us some dos and don’ts for the first date?
Have a two-drink maximum no matter what you’re drinking and don’t mix alcohol. Show up on time. Be responsible. Always bring $100 cash stash in your wallet. If it’s a blind date or an online date, you always meet them out. He should not be coming to your house. Next, don’t talk about the exes, religion, or politics and stay on neutral subjects. Don’t ask if he wants to get married and don’t ask him how much money he has in the bank and don’t let him ask you that either. Change the subject.

How do you feel about internet dating, sites like JDate?
I’m in business with JDate. I have a website called P.S. XOXO (Sparks Network owns P.S. XOXO and also owns JDate), which is for everybody, not just for Jews. But I think JDate is great. It teaches you to meet people in your own neighborhood and it teaches you to meet people that you would never normally meet. But you can’t put all your eggs into one basket. You still have to get out in public and meet people on the fly and go to parties and events and sign up for charity work and do your hobbies and interests because you can’t put everything all online.

Do you think 20 and 30-somethings aren’t as good at meeting our matches as our parents’ generation?
You have higher expectations. And when you have higher expectations because you’re making money too, you wait longer for the right one. In my generation, they got married out of necessity and didn’t expect the violins and bells and whistles as much.

Mazel tov on your engagement. How did you meet?
One of my matchmakers on staff fixed me up after I had a bad break up. I was really in a bad place and I couldn’t meet a nice guy. She said, ‘I know this guy that’s really nice, he’s not a millionaire but he’s super nice. How about going out with him?’ I met him and he was cute and all, but I didn’t think he was the guy... Then all my friends wanted to date him because he was eligible and handsome and I was like, ‘No, he’s mine. Back off.’ It took me a while to figure out that I liked him.

Watch the new season of “The Millionaire Matchmaker” on Bravo at 9 p.m. on Tuesdays.

Jewish Federation collecting for Haitian earthquake relief

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Jewish Federation collecting for Haitian earthquake relief photo 2

Photo credit: Matthew Marek/American Red Cross

In the wake of the catastrophic earthquake that has devastated Haiti, the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago has opened an emergency mailbox to funnel humanitarian aid to the impoverished island nation.

Individuals can contribute online, by phone at 312.444.2869, or by mail: Jewish Federation Haitian Earthquake Relief Fund, c/o Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago, 30 S. Wells St., Room 3023, Chicago, IL 60606.

100% of collected donations for will go directly to support non-sectarian needs on the ground; the Jewish Federation will absorb all administrative costs.

The majority of funds will be distributed through the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), with its proud 95-year history of providing compassionate, effective emergency relief to the non-Jewish world. A significant part of the balance will be advanced to IsraAID, the coordinating body of Israeli charities devoted to global relief work.

“In supporting JDC and IsraAID, we are not only helping the Haitian people,” said Steve Nasatir, President of the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago. “We also are spotlighting the Jewish people and Israel in a part of the world that might not otherwise be positively exposed to the compassion of Jewish people and the Jewish State.”

In addition, Lee Miller, chairman, and Steven Dishler, director of Internation Affairs, of JUF's Jewish Community Relations Council have sent a letter of concern and support to The Hon. Lesly Conde, Consul General of Haiti.

The Jewish Federation has a long and distinguished track record of providing timely, non-sectarian relief in the wake of disasters throughout the U.S. and worldwide. In recent years, the institution has funneled aid to those affected by floods in the Midwest, wildfires in Southern California, earthquakes and tsunamis in Southern Asia, Hurricanes Katrina and Rita on the Gulf coast, and the September 11 terror attack.

“The Federation is proud that the Jewish community counts on us as its central address for meeting human needs of all kinds, and trusts us to serve as the conduit for their generosity,” Nasatir said.

Mortgage banker turned ‘Rugelach Man’ bakes up success in new venture

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Mortgage banker turned ‘Rugelach Man’ photo 1

Raspberry rugelach

When I think of the Jewish pastry rugelach, I usually picture my late, silver-haired Russian Jewish grandma—or at least someone’s Jewish grandma—flattening dough with her rolling pin in her cozy kitchen. But Leon Greenberg, a low-key, middle-aged guy from Great Neck, Long Island, doesn’t look or act anything like my grandma. He dubs himself “The Rugelach Man,” and makes rugelach as delicious as that of any grandmother I know.

This summer, Greenberg, a Chicago transplant, launched his internet-based business called “The Rugelach Man”—www.TheRugelachMan.com—creating kosher-style rugelach for the public. Business is going better than he expected, and Greenberg surpassed his year-end sales goal in September. Thanks, in large part, to a Chicago Tribune article that ran about him just before Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish holiday rush was particularly hectic. “I thought I would collapse,” he said, “I was drinking Red Bull after Red Bull to stay awake.”

Red Bull comes in handy because Greenberg often rents out industrial Chicago kitchens overnight (from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m.) to cut costs. Although he’s a one-man show, during the holidays, he got a little help from some chef friends to meet the large demand for his pastries. The rugelach costs $22 for just over a pound, and Greenberg sells approximately 25-30 pounds a week.

Facebook has boosted business for Greenberg. His fan page boasts more than 1,100 fans and some 30% of his sales come from Facebook traffic. Next, he will publish a poll on the site, asking fans to weigh in on how they pronounce “rugelach”—with a short or long “u” sound.

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The Rugelach Man at work.

No matter how you say it, rugelach is a traditional Jewish Eastern European pastry that means “little twist” in Yiddish. Baking rugelach is a labor-intensive process, according to Greenberg, compared to, say, chocolate chip cookies, in which the ingredients are cheaper and take a fraction of the time to bake.

Greenberg’s rugelach involves many steps. First, he whips up the dairy-based dough with cream cheese and butter. Then, he lets the dough chill and firm up. Once hard, he rolls the dough thin, like strudel. Next, he spreads out the filling, a blend of sugars, spices, cinnamon, chopped walnuts, and raisins, combined with either apricot (the traditional rugelach filling), chocolate, cinnamon sugar, or raspberry flavor. Finally, he rolls up the dough and freezes it.

Greenberg wasn’t always “The Rugelach Man.” In his former life, he was a mortgage banker, but got out of the business due to burnout. As Greenberg searched for a new path, his girlfriend encouraged him to follow his true passion and go to cooking school.

Mortgage banker turned ‘Rugelach Man’ photo 3

Cooking is in Greenberg’s blood. “My mother was a fantastic cook. My sister and I would watch her in the kitchen pick things up over the years—including rugelach,” he recalls. Then, in college, instead of going out to eat, he would invite friends over for special occasions, where he would prepare big vats of spaghetti and meatballs and brisket. On Jewish holidays, instead of going to Hillel, his Jewish friends would celebrate at his place over his special holiday meals.

A few years ago, heeding his girlfriend’s advice, he enrolled in a fulltime culinary program at Chicago’s Kendall College and, simultaneously, got a part-time job as a caterer. On the side, he would make rugelach for his family, including his three children, ages 16, 10, and 8. His kids love “The Rugelach Man” shtick and help him brainstorm new flavors of the pastry, including cookies and cream, banana chocolate chip, and apples and honey, which Greenberg will debut next Rosh Hashanah.

And what does his mother, the person who taught him how to make rugelach, think of his new venture? “She thought I was crazy at first,” Greenberg said, “but she thinks it’s really something now that it’s taken off.”
For more information, visit  www.therugelachman.com .

2010 the Year for Netw-OY-rking!

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2010 the New Year for Netw-OY-rking! photo

I run a job strategy and networking group for young Jewish professionals.  At our last meeting, I found out that most of the group had made New Year’s Resolutions to do more networking.  It is a great idea, as over half of jobs out there seem to be coming through networking.  Most studies show that less than 10% come from sitting at home and applying online.  But hold on employed readers, this article is still relevant for you.  Any accomplished professional will tell you it is a good idea to keep your network going while you still have a job, because quite frankly you never know.  Happy New Year Netw-OY-rkers!  This is networking 101.

The simplest way to understand networking is to look at the word.  “net” and “work.”  Put them together and you get “network.”  It can be a noun, as in, “I have a large network.”  It can be verb, as in, “I am going out to network this evening.”  It can also be a descriptor, as in, “I am going to a networking event.”  No matter how you use the word, it all comes back to the same thing.  Throwing out a net and getting it to work for you, and at least one other person.  There are three components to knowing you are having success:  you have a net (a way to capture more contacts), the net works (meaningful connections are taking place), and there is mutual benefit for you and the person(s) you catch in this net.

It seems simple on paper, but for many of us networking is pretty scary.  It makes our stomachs churn when we picture a room full of 500 people in suits toting business cards and reciting elevator pitches.  That is just one type of networking— but it is not the only type.  If your stomach does a somersault every time someone mentions the words “networking event,” my advice, don’t always force yourself to  go.  It is perfectly practical, productive, and acceptable to build a network in a lower key manor.  Maybe you just e-mail a few friends and family members and ask them who they might know in a particular field of interest to you.  Most of us already have family and social networks.  Yes, if you have friends and family, you already have a network, so relax. 

Why should you network professionally though?  What’s the point, you have a job, you show up daily, and you get paid.  What more do you need?  Maybe you don’t have a job now and everyone is telling you to network.  And you wonder, “why do I waste time with this?  I should be spending my energy applying for jobs, working on my resume, etc.”  Before you go completely negative on networking though, consider this:  Why do you have a social network?  In other words, why do you have friends?  It is because when Saturday night rolls around, and you want to go out to dinner, it’s nice to have company. It is because when it is your birthday and you have a party, it’s nice having someone there to sing to you.

Are you catching on?  A professional network is great when you are at work and you have a project to complete and you need some help.  Sure you can go to your boss.  Would it not be more impressive to reach out to your network and see who might have some advice, a connection, or a tool that could help you finish the job easier and faster?  These connections will also come in handy if find yourself on the job search again.  These are the people who connect you to people who connect you to other people who maybe e looking for someone with exactly your skill set.

Are you still not convinced?  Think about how you got your last 3 jobs.  Now ask 3 friends how they got their last 3 jobs.  I’ll bet you my job, that the majority of the time, networking had something to do with landing those jobs.  If 60% of jobs are filled before they even get posted online, how do you think most people are finding out about them?  Networking is the key.

How does one get started with this networking business?

1. Throw out the net and capture new contacts.
2. Make the net work by asking for a 1 on 1, face to face meeting with these contacts.
3. Make a profit from the catch by treating the meeting like an informational interview.
4. Maintain the network by keeping up with those already in your network and going to places that you enjoy to continue to meet more.  A good networker finds a place they love to be already, such as professional association, a social club, or even a synagogue.  As new members join these groups the network automatically grows.

For more details on networking visit www.ParnossahWorksChicago.org and www.JUF.org for more info on networking and networking events in the Jewish community.  For contacts outside the Jewish World there are thousands of associations, chambers of commerce and groups that are having events and meetings every day.  Resolve to make 2010 the year of your network.

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