OyChicago articles

8 Questions for Allyson Holleb, master accessorizer, boy band-lover and corned beef-eater

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Allyson's got a brand new bag

Traveling to New York or Paris to snag what will become the handbag of a Chicagoan’s dreams is one of Allyson Holleb’s favorite things to do. Her obsession with nabbing that perfect find helped her transition from shopper to shop owner. Today, Holleb stocks her own store, Bess & Loie, with hip bags and accessories for men and women.

So, whether you’re a girl with a purse obsession, a guy looking for a new tie or a fellow fan of Manny’s, Allyson Holleb is a Jew you should know!

1. What did you want to be when you grew up?
I used to play grocery store in my parent’s basement and pretend I was a sales clerk, so perhaps retail was always in my blood.

2. What do you love about what you do today?
I love the people aspect. I get to talk to new and different people everyday. I have wonderful customers who have become amazing friends!

3. What are you reading?
I can’t believe I am actually reading something, but I am reading Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessi.

4. What is your favorite place to eat in Chicago?
Without a doubt, Avec.

5. If money and logistical reality played no part, what would you invent? 
A better public transportation system for Chicago, which would, in turn, help the environment. I was lucky enough to get to live in Paris and in New York where the train system covers a lot more ground.

6. Would you rather have the ability to fly or to be invisible? 
I would rather be able to fly; if you are hovering above everyone else you are almost invisible. Also, being able to fly would take care of my whole public transportation problem.

7. If I scrolled through your iPod, what guilty pleasure song would I find? 
I have a weakness for Boy Bands, especially the Backstreet Boys.

8. What is your favorite Jewish thing to do in Chicago—in other words how do you Jew? 
I love going to Manny’s Deli with my Grandpa for corned beef sandwiches!

8 Questions for Chaviva Edwards, Oy!’s 300th Facebook member, super-blogger, shul-hopper

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Chaviva may be on the CTA at this very minute

Chaviva Edwards is a super-blogger with a really long commute. The Buena Park dweller takes the CTA down to the University of Chicago where she works as an assistant to Nobel Prize winners and other big thinkers in the economics department. Originally from Nebraska, the 24-year-old is a lifelong fan of Chicago, but will head east this fall to start her graduate work in Judaic studies at the University of Connecticut.

So, whether you’re a fellow tea-drinker or a fan of her Jewish blog: Just Call Me Chaviva, her weight loss blog: Fat Miss America, or the blog she helped launch and still contributes to, Jews by Choice, Chaviva Edwards is a Jew you should know!

1. What did you want to be when you grew up?
My mom kept this elementary school book and every year I said I wanted to be an artist.Then in middle school I met this girl who was amazing; she could draw anything and I decided I wasn’t good enough. But I write now and I think that poetry is sort of my transition between art and writing.

2. What do you love about what you do today?
Blogging has connected me to people all over the world. It gives me an interesting perspective on who I am as a Jew and it’s amazing how connected the Jewish bloggers are. I never thought that by becoming a professional blogger I could have an impact on other people and meet people from so many different backgrounds.

3. What are you reading?
Salonica, City of Ghosts: Christians, Muslims and Jews 1430-1950 by Mark Mazower. I bought it a year ago and picked it back up recently. Salonica was a sort of a hotbed of Judaism where people spoke Ladino. Then the Holocaust pretty much wiped out the people and the language. I’m just kind of fascinated by the idea of Jews in Greece.

4. What’s your favorite place to eat in Chicago?
I love Eleven City Diner. People hear the word “diner” and think it’s all greasy food or something, but it’s a classy diner. It’s owned by a young guy and modeled after old Jewish diners but you might find something like latkes with a pork sandwich on the menu.

5. If money and logistical reality played no part, what would you invent?
I would totally invent a teleportation device. Through blogging, I know people all over the world, but there are so many people I have known for years and have never met in person.

6. Would you rather have the ability to fly or to be invisible?
I think fly—and then I wouldn’t need a teleportation device! Also, there’s something about being invisible seems dishonest I guess.

7.If I scrolled through your iPod, what guilty pleasure song would I find?
“Jolene” by Dolly Parton. I lived the first ten years of my life in the Ozarks and grew up listening to country music.

8. What’s your favorite Jewish thing to do in Chicago—in other words, how do you Jew?
I’ve been doing a lot of shul hopping lately. I also spend a lot of time at Argo Tea on north Broadway doing personal Torah study and I have met a lot random Jews that way. I swear, every other time I go in there I meet Jews. I don’t know if they notice what I am doing or smell me out or what but I dig it.

Audience Participation

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Hana’s Suitcase breaks the fourth wall 


A glimpse into Hana's world

A single light illuminates a plain, solitary suitcase, creating what will be the last solitary moment of the Chicago Children’s Theatre production of Hana’s Suitcase.

Emil Sher’s adaptation of Karen Levine’s book records the real life experiences of a Czechoslovakian family’s life under Nazi occupation, a history that might have been lost were it not for the efforts of Japanese school children sixty years later, and half a world away.

The mysterious suitcase arrives at the Tokyo Holocaust Educational Resource Center and along with their teacher, students attempt to discover its owner, Hana Brady, and tell her story. In telling her story, they also tell the story of one and a half million Jewish children who perished during the Holocaust.

As they set out to find the answers, their teacher stresses the importance of the task and prepares them for what might lie ahead: “Stories can die if there is no one to tell them…If Hana’s story ends in ways that leave us terribly upset, sadder than sad, we must find a way out of the sadness. Agreed?”   

And, as the audience, we do agree, because under the direction of Sean Graney, Hana’s Suitcase also becomes our story, our experience. We watch as the students learn about Hana, but we are also, by design, watching each other.


The set is sparse and the audience is arranged on either side of the stage. Large projection screens are positioned above the audience and the action continuously surrounds the seating area. Even as we watch the performers we are watching the audience situated along the opposite side of the space, a living backdrop, mirror and critic.

I typically hate this sort of arrangement. Having spent years plagued by the ever-present stage fright and insecurities of a young actor, I am now more than happy to watch from the shadows. The idea that a good number of people might be watching my reactions is usually enough to stifle any true emotion a performance might illicit. I am a truly ugly crier.

But I cried through Hana’s Suitcase, and so did a number of folks opposite me. We laughed at times, or sighed, and people hugged their children closer to them and kids crawled into their parents’ laps.

It’s impossible to watch this production as an individual, because as much as the play is the story of Hana Brady, it is also a conversation about community and our responsibility to one another: to remember the past and to tell these histories to each other and to our children.

Although Hana’s Suitcase is a children’s production, it is not easy to watch. Some of the imagery is haunting, even terrifying, and the inhumanities—the concentration camps, the murders—are never glossed over. Characters die, if not in front of us, than just out of sight, and even harder to watch are the reactions of those left behind. Watching Hana walk bravely towards the gas chamber is one of the most harrowing, horrifying things I have seen on stage.

And that is perhaps the greatest strength of this production. The audience, both children and adults, is asked to be brave. We must live these events, as hard as they may be, and then, as the Japanese students have done, tell and retell these stories so that they may not be forgotten: “Stories can die if there is no one to tell them.”  

With this production, Chicago Children’s Theatre has given Hana Brady’s story new life, and with its retelling, our commitment to community and remembrance is renewed as well.

Running now through May 11. Tickets 

Brother's Keeper (And Sometimes Face-Sitter)

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My three-year-old wanted a doggy; he got a brother. 


Lisa's family

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, and an astonishing repertoire of loud and incredibly rude noises. He is my Lenny Bruce of babies.

Zachariah (I’m still not sure whether I completely like the name) is a good baby, serene, easily soothed. I think he will be a kind child, self-aware and humorous. I also think he will be an early smile-er. As I look into his eyes, I wonder who he will be in a life that is now separate from mine, and I wonder what he will see.

Ezra, our silly, sunny, generous-hearted three-year-old whom we love more than life itself, simultaneously loves the baby calling him “the smartest baby, most beautiful baby in the world” (this, he must have gotten from my mother), and wants to get rid of him. “I have an idea,” Ezra suggests with great optimism and hope. “How about we go to the hospital tomorrow and the doctor will put the baby back in your tummy.”

Most of the time, though, he wants to play with the baby—“his” baby—jump over him and generally mess with him (run his cheek over the baby’s soft baby head, tickle his little baby feet, put a bag of avocados on his little squished-in baby face). Ezra croons to the baby in a high-pitched singsong voice, and wants to know what the baby is thinking, what he is looking at and when he can eat potato chips. Poor long-suffering baby.

In spare moments between nursing, changing diapers and pulling the older one off the younger one, I wonder whether there are any good statistics out there on the number of infants, say per 100,000, who are accidentally blinded, crushed or loved to death each year by older siblings.

My husband and I decided to have children for reasons that were oceans away from reality. By the time we got married, at age 37, children, babies, diapers, pre-school—all that was an abstraction to us. We knew what we would have to give up (basically our lives as we knew them); we had no idea what we would get in exchange. And what you get in exchange is something no one can explain. Perhaps, one day when it was too late, we rationalized, we would regret not having them. We were sure that we would regret not having grandchildren. I wanted someone to name after my father, to keep his memory alive. In part, I think that my husband felt that because he was already giving up his life as he knew it to get married, he might as well go whole hog.

And we have. And it has been a complete and utter joy and pleasure. Although we are woken up at an obscenely early hour just about every morning. Although we have curtailed just about every pursuit and activity that we once defined ourselves by. Although, we are on the verge of selling our house in the city and moving to the suburbs. Although. Although, Although… And yet. These boys have made mensches out of us. We are kinder, more patient, closer. Our lives are deeper and hold more love and meaning. We are a family.

Six months or so ago, when we told Ezra that he would have a little brother or sister, he was adamant: “No baby. Doggy!”  Now, he says we should buy the baby (and perhaps him, also) a doggy. Progress.

Taking Care of Business, Part 2

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Two more Jewish entrepreneurs who are succeeding in business 


Spring fashions at Kayla's Blessing

Last week, Oy! introduced you to one man with the beginnings of a chilled yogurt empire and another with a fast-growing t-shirt business. This week, meet Danielle Schultz, a woman out to help modest ladies stay fashionable and Josh Eisenberg, a freelance web designer and writer making the internet a more interesting place.

Putting the Mod in Modest
When Danielle Schultz decided to drop her skimpy tops and jeans to start dressing more modestly, she was confronted with racks and racks of a harsh reality—ugly, matronly clothes that looked nothing like what other girls her age were wearing.

The 27-year-old Skokie native and Ida Crown grad didn’t always care about covering up. “I used to dress in a way that didn’t make my family happy—pants, tank tops, lower cut shirts,” she says.

Schultz felt a shift toward modesty in her community about a year after she graduated from high school—many of her friends returned from a year in Israel showing less flesh than before they left. But making the change isn’t just a matter of replacing a few articles of clothing.

“When I decided to start dressing modestly, I had to throw away most of my wardrobe. It was a big transition, but the change I felt was tremendous. The way people, especially guys, treated me was shocking. Instead of being judged for my body, I was being judged for who I was. It was so crazy to me that I got such a huge response,” Schultz says.

And she wanted other women to feel that boost of self-confidence as well—without having to sacrifice their personal style—so she went to college and majored in fashion merchandising and minored in fashion design. “My plan all along was to open the store, I kind of had tunnel vision,” she says. In 2006, Shultz opened Kayla's Blessing on Chicago's far northwest side. Named after her high-style great-grandmother, the store caters to girls and women (Jewish, Christian, Muslim and unaffiliated) who go to Schultz (in person and online) to fulfill their long skirt-high fashion needs.


Danielle displays the future of modest style

While there are different standards for modesty, Schultz follows these general guidelines: no pants, skirts that cover knees when you’re sitting down and shirts that cover elbows and collarbones. “It’s not like I want to wear a potato sack every day and people want to wear what everyone else is wearing—we really are the future of modest clothing,” she says.

Schultz carries specifically chosen pieces from collections you’d see at any department store. Her clothes are hip, in style and not just for people with a religious reason to cover up.

“There is a need for this kind of store,” says Schultz. “There are a lot of people who, not because of religion but because of common sense, believe that teenage girls shouldn’t look like hookers and that you shouldn’t have your chest hanging out in the office.” But, Schultz believes going modest is a personal decision. “I did this for myself and I don’t think anyone should change for other people or because their religion says so. Good things come from doing what you yourself think is right.”  

Mastering the Web
Josh Eisenberg arrived at Columbia College from Wheaton to study fiction writing—he lasted two weeks and three days. “I knew it was horribly wrong,” he says. But there he was in Chicago with an apartment and a job at a restaurant.


Josh might be thinking about E.B. White

He had started designing websites in high school—his first effort involved Jennifer Aniston as the repeating background and was, as Eisenberg says, terribly lame. Luckily, age and experience won out over celebrity worship. He stepped up his design skills, stuck with life in the city and started freelancing as a web designer and writer.

Keeping with his love for writing, he also contributes articles to his own blog, Berg With Fries as well as to Jargon Chicago and book reviews—in print and on YouTube—to UR Chicago. Check out his latest review, brought to you by the letter "E."


About a year ago, Eisenberg partnered with graphic designer and friend Byron Flitsch to create the successful web, print and audio/visual design business, Boys From Jupiter. “I’d been doing freelance web design stuff but thought I’d be able to do more with a partner. We talked about teaming up and sending work to each other, but it really came from us hanging out and realizing we could work together,” Eisenberg says.

After deciding to team up, they had to come up with a name. “We were sitting around for weeks thinking about robots and other horrible names. Then Byron remembered a schoolyard chant: ‘Boys are from Jupiter because they are stupider and girls are from Mars because they are superstars.’ I was working on a site for a yoga studio and the client told me that Jupiter is the planet of money and prosperity. It just made sense,” he says.

Today, the boys have both been able to quit their night jobs and have worked on print and online projects with a wide variety of businesses including Lovely BakeshopFivefold Ink and Serendipity Theater. But working independently isn’t for everyone. “The biggest challenge is motivating yourself. I often have to leave the house to make that happen. Even if you don’t have anything to do, you always have things to do—update the site, look for new clients ... we have to work when there’s not any work,” Eisenberg says.

But the payoff is pretty great. “One thing I like about web design in general is the immediacy of it. I can design a site and put it up tod ay and hundreds of people can see it tonight. It’s not every medium that can you see what people do and what the end result is. I like that sense of creating something people can enjoy,” he says.

Do you know Jews running local businesses? Leave a comment or drop us a note and let us know what you and your entrepreneurial pals are up to.

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