OyChicago articles

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

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04/29/2008

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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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04/29/2008

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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 
04/29/2008

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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.

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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. 
04/29/2008

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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 
04/29/2008

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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.

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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.

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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.

The Godfather

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In my interfaith household, raising Jewish children is a done deal. Defining what that means isn't.
04/15/2008

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Alyssa and Joe on their wedding day

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.”

What a load to lay on the new (Catholic) boyfriend. I skipped right through the talk of getting married and jumped right ahead to the babies. And not only was I bringing up our future children, I was asking him to commit to making Jewish babies. I figured I’d be logging onto JDate when I got home.

But Joe surprised me that night. He had already given the topic a lot of thought.

Joseph John Latala III, graduate of St. Raymond’s elementary school and Marquette University, committed to raising a Jewish family.

We got engaged a year later. We participated in interfaith group sessions and a Judaism 101 class. We discussed our plans with a rabbi and priest. We had a beautiful Jew-ish wedding, with a priest on the platform for good measure. Our Ketubah is signed by both Rabbi Sternfield and Father Cimarrusti, and is proudly displayed in our apartment.

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Alyssa and Joe on their honeymoon in Riviera Maya, Mexico

And yet, despite Joe’s sincere affection for lox and kugel, his ability to spout the occasional Yiddish word (that would make any Jewish grandma proud) and his completely unselfish commitment to raise his children in a religion other than his own—I worry.

The fact is, as much as he accepts and even enjoys Judaism, Joe isn’t Jewish.

This became startlingly evident after dinner a few weeks ago, when talk turned to my brother Andy’s upcoming move to San Francisco. Andy expressed sadness that he would not get to spend as much time with his future nieces and nephews. This prompted Joe to say, “Well, I guess that takes him off the shortlist for godfather.”

Had I replied by saying, “I guess you’re right,” the conversation would have ended there. But the thought of my Jewish children having a godfather just felt so wrong. Joe’s totally offhand comment was shocking to me—and suddenly my head was spinning with questions.

Does Joe want our children to go to church with his parents every Easter? Does he know that I want to start special Shabbat traditions with our children? Will he want to have a Christmas tree in our home? Will he make us sing carols?

After fighting about the godfather issue that night for quite awhile, and not coming to any mutually agreeable solution, we let it go for the time being. But the issue hasn’t been forgotten, and it makes me wonder what other expectations each of us have that might be a surprise for the other.

My suggestion to honor the prospective godfather by calling him “super fun uncle” was soundly dismissed. Joe’s idea of asking someone to serve as godfather and then not really telling anyone about it seems a bit silly. We turned to the Internet for ideas, where we stumbled upon a page about the role of the godparent, or Sandek, in Judaism.

As it turns out, Judaism does in fact recognize a godparent, though in a slightly different sense than the traditional Christian godparent. Still, with a little more research, we hope to be able to honor someone in a way that is respectful of both of our religious backgrounds.    

But we realize we may not always be that lucky—no matter how much research we do, we’re unlikely to find a Jewish Christmas carol or a place for Easter in Judaism. Despite our blanket commitment to raise a Jewish family, we still have different ideas about what exactly a Jewish family is, and how our family will fit into that mold.

The more we talk and ask each other questions, the more apparent it becomes that we may have to make our own mold. We fight at times but we try not to take ourselves too seriously. In the name of compromise, Joe asked me if it would be ok if our (future) dog is Catholic. I can’t argue with that.

Despite our dog’s religion, Joe has already made up his mind about her name—Kugel Latala.         

The Culture Club

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Idan Raichel and his band of multi-cultural musicians hit Chicago
04/22/2008

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Growing up in Kfar Saba, Israel, Idan Raichel was attracted to music at a young age. After serving in the Israeli army, he worked as a counselor at a boarding school for immigrants and troubled youth. The school was home to many young Ethiopian Jews who introduced Raichel to Ethiopian folk and pop music. He began frequenting Ethiopian bars in Tel Aviv and soon set out to celebrate his appreciation for different cultures through his music.

Raichel gathered about 70 of his friends from Israel’s music scene to participate in his recordings and make a demo album. While the demo was considered “too ethnic” by some Israeli labels, the group was soon signed and went on to form The Idan Raichel Project—a collaboration between artists whose ages, native languages, ethnicities and level of musical participation varied widely. Raichel is the keyboardist, composer, producer and occasional vocalist of the Project, whose main participants include musicians of Ethiopian, Palestinian, Yemenite, South African and Surinamese descent.

The Idan Raichel Project’s first album went triple platinum in Israel in 2002, and their sophomore release in 2005 went double platinum. The group has performed widely throughout the United States, Israel, Spain, Germany, India and Australia.

The Idan Raichel Project is coming to Chicago in celebration of Israel Solidarity Day, Sunday, May 4, at McCormick Place. Oy!Chicago caught up with Raichel before the big show.

Oy!: How did your musical career begin?
Idan Raichel: I’ve been doing music since I was young. I started out playing the accordion and then I served in the Israeli army as a musician for three years. I performed almost every day for Israeli soldiers. That became a huge experience—doing live shows and playing for a lot of people.

You’ve widely said that you have “no roots.” What do you mean by that and how do you think that has influenced your music?
I was born in Israel and I’m a native Israeli. But in Israel, even after 60 years, you cannot define its food or its culture as one thing because it is all mixed. I have a grandfather from Russia, and if I followed classic Eastern European culture, I would be eating borscht. But I have no roots, and once you don’t have roots, you can feel free to explore many cultures with the curiosity of an outsider. I can take a native Ethiopian sound and mix it with electronic music influenced by Euro pop because no one is labeling me by my background.

Most of your songs are in Hebrew, Amharic and Arabic. How is your music is received in parts of the world unfamiliar with those languages?
People outside of Israel define our music as world music. To us, it’s Israeli. But people, when they are coming to see us, they’re not expecting us to sing in English or for us to translate our songs. We sing them as they are. They are interested in listening to this music as it is.

To what can you attribute the diverse sound of the Project?
When you look at the Project, it’s about all these people mixed together. Most of them—about 90%—are Israeli by definition, but they immigrated from Ethiopia and South America and all over. The youngest is 16 and the eldest is 83. They know that they can give their own input. There can be someone who is with the Project for years but never sings, and then there is a song they feel they can give their own input into. Sometimes we have people who used to sing their own prayers—very traditional prayers—that they passed along and were so open-minded to have them mixed in with mainstream music. I think it’s beautiful to think about Israel in 2008 with those prayers updated and made contemporary.

8 Questions for Rabbi Capers C. Funnye, Jr., black Rabbi, homebody, jazz lover

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04/22/2008

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At Rabbi Capers Funnye's services, gospel is kosher

“I am a Jew, and that breaks through all color and ethnic barriers,” Rabbi Capers C. Funnye, Jr. recently told the New York Times.  The rabbi grew up attending an African Methodist Church and first discovered Judaism as a teenager when he began to feel disconnected with his Methodist faith. Today, he leads the more than 200 members of Beth Shalom B’nai Zaken Ethiopian Hebrew Congregation and is working to encourage Chicago’s Jewish community to accept his predominantly black Southside congregation as one of its own. 

So, whether you are examining your own faith, want to join a congregation where davening might just break into gospel song or are a fellow jazz lover, Rabbi Capers Funnye is a Jew you should know.

1. What did you want to be when you grew up?
At the age of seventeen I dreamed of being a lawyer, like Perry Mason.

2. What do you love about what you do today?
I love meeting people and assisting them in their desire to become Jewish and teaching Torah.

3.  What are you reading?
I am reading The Prophets by Rabbi Abraham J. Heschel.

4. What is your favorite place to eat in Chicago?
I rarely eat out, so I don't really have a favorite place to eat out. I am a homebody.

5. If money and logistical reality played no part, what would you invent?
I would invent a cure for cancer. I lost my father, mother and a brother to this disease.

6. Would you rather have the ability to fly or ability to be invisible?
I think I would rather be invisible. I believe it would be the best way to find out what people are really thinking.

7. If I scrolled through your iPod, what guilty pleasure song would I find?
I am sorry, but I do not own an iPod. But, I do listen to Jazz music.

8. What’s your favorite Jewish thing to do in Chicago—in other words, how do you Jew?
My favorite Jewish thing to do is daven and spend my time studying Jewish literature.

Taking Care of Business, Part 1

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Across the city, Jewish entrepreneurs are succeeding in business
04/15/2008

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Kosher Ham party, Jeremy Bloom (center, front)

Going into business for yourself takes chutzpah. This week, in the first of a two-part series, meet two local Jews—Michael Farah and Jeremy Bloom—who found the inspiration, money and guts to take their big ideas and run with them.

Old-School FroYo? Hell No!

Michael Farah is starting a cultural revolution over on State and Erie—and the cultures are alive!

Popular on the coasts and overseas for years, chilled yogurt is tart, tangy and doesn’t resemble the stuff we all used to enjoy at TCBY. Berry Chill’s healthy, low calorie, low-fat, lactose-free treats contain live active cultures that some say boost metabolism and immune response.

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Michael Farah, yogurt king

Farah first discovered the joys of this healthy upscale treat on a spring break trip to Florence while he was studying in Israel. One of his challenges has been getting locals to embrace the unfamiliar flavor. “We’re working with the best yogurt scientists in the world; Berry Chill is healthier than most yogurt you can buy in the store, but we have to change everyone’s views,” he says. And to do this, Farah is focusing not only on offering the best product possible, but creating a brand and engaging customers.

When Farah left the world of commodities trading after seven years to focus on building his chilled empire, he dedicated himself to creating a unique approach and a business with an upscale feel. “I’m really trying to change the way that retail is done. We’re breaking all of the rules and most people’s first reaction is, 'wow.' We deliver, we have a mobile bar on wheels for events, we’re doing this differently,” he says. The space itself is hip and comfortable, there’s a Berry Chill blog, the store stays open until 4 a.m. on weekends and customers can personalize their experience by voting for the month’s flavors online.

Farah is also out to make people feel good about spending at Berry Chill. All of the bowls and spoons are totally recyclable and the re-loadable payment cards—popular at many restaurants and coffee shops—come with two perks at Berry Chill: a 10% bump to added funds and a 3% donation from every purchase to a charity such as Bright Pink or Gen Art. Customers register their cards online to select the charity.

That warm community feel extends all the way to the toppings. In addition to fruits and cereals, toppings include treats from area shops: granola from Milk & Honey in Wicker Park, pie crust from Pie and candies from Sarah’s Pastries, both in the Gold Coast and—those childhood favorites of Jews from the ‘burbs— smiley face cookies from Leonard’s in Northbrook.

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The cookies have eyes!

Despite living the hectic life of a business owner, 30-year-old Farah is having a great time with this new venture. “It’s fun because I am so passionate about the product,” he says. “I work 20 hours a day and it never ends but I love it. The best thing is that the yogurt and this place just make everyone so happy. We’ve only been open a month and we’ve created a really social atmosphere.”

If Berry Chill isn’t near your stomping grounds, it might be soon. Farah plans to open five more stores in the city this year. Watch for two loop locations to open soon.

Bringing Home the Bacon

Not everyone can—or wants to—quit his day job to start a new venture. Jeremy Bloom came up with his side project while engaging in an activity long-known for inspiring great ideas: drinking.

“It was St. Patrick's Day 2007 and I was eight hours into drinking Guinness pints and Jameson shots at Pint in Wicker Park. I’d made a shirt that said, ‘Irish Chicks Love My Kosher Corned Beef.’ Dozens of random people asked where I bought my shirt and if they could take pictures with me,” says Bloom. During that holiday binge, the phrase “kosher ham” popped into his head.

With the words still kicking around the next morning, Bloom saw an opportunity to use his background in advertising copywriting—and his longtime love of funny t-shirts—to do something creative. He trademarked Kosher Ham, found a designer and dove into the funny t-shirt business. “Wearing a t-shirt is a reflection of your identity and gives every individual the chance to be their own walking billboard… It’s an easy way to make an impact,” Bloom says.

A self-described “guy who does ad sales,” Bloom had been keeping money in his piggy bank to use when inspiration struck. “I knew I'd be hungry with an idea, and instead of convincing a bank or family and friends for the initial backing, I took it upon myself,” he says. Bloom developed the concept for the website, got pricing and opened up a business account with American Apparel. He comes up with ideas for the shirts, works with designers and gets the products printed—and he does it all after-hours.

“It’s pretty awesome starting my own business. On nights and weekends I fill orders, work on the website and work on Kosher Ham’s Facebook page. I have also been teaching myself about search engine optimization.”

So far, business is good. Kosher Ham Ventures LLC became official in May 2007, and today the site offers more than 20 shirts (the logo shirt is the most popular) and the Facebook page boasts almost 300 fans. There are a bunch of new designs in the works and Bloom is planning to start selling onesies, children’s clothing, and maybe even tops for dogs.

Next week, meet Danielle Schultz—and find out about her one-woman revolution to modernize modest clothing options for girls and women. And, have you ever been sitting in your cubicle and thought, hey, I could do this at home in my pajamas? Josh Eisenberg, freelance web designer and writers, shares the ups and downs of life without an office—or a boss.

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.

Writer, Director, Academy Award Winner Ari Sandel Comes to Chicago

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04/15/2008

arisandellarge

Ari Sandel’s 2007 Academy Award-winning “West Bank Story” is a musical comedy about Israelis and Palestinians that takes place between two competing falafel stands in the West Bank. The film, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2005 and has since screened at over 115 festivals worldwide and earned 26 awards, is a humorous, hopeful take on a very serious and controversial subject, and Arab, Jewish and international audiences have overwhelmingly embraced the film and its message.

Throughout his career, Sandel has worked in various sectors of the entertainment industry including television, film and music videos. He created, directed and hosted FX’s comedy segment “The Traveler” on X Show and his most recent project is a feature documentary, “Vince Vaughn’s Wild West Comedy Show,” which hit theaters in February. Sandel has traveled extensively throughout Europe, Asia, South America and the Middle East, where he is very involved with political organizations for peace in the region.

Originally from Calabas, Cal., Sandel studied media arts, receiving a certificate in Middle Eastern studies from the University of Arizona in Tuscon, and earned his directing M.F.A. from the University of Southern California’s School of Cinema-Television.

The writer and director will be the guest speaker at the JUF Young Women's Board Spring Tribute Wednesday, April 30 at the Westin Chicago North Shore.

Oy!Chicago’s Stefanie Pervos spoke with Sandel about his film before his visit to Chicago last November:

Oy!: Why did you make West Bank Story?
Ari Sandel: I wanted to accomplish three things with the movie: (1) I wanted to make a film that would get attention and also make people laugh. (2) I wanted to make a movie that was pro-peace and offered a message of hope. (3) I wanted to address the situation in an even-handed and balanced way so that Jewish and Arab audiences would feel fairly enough represented to let their guard down and laugh with the characters from the “other side.” I thought, if we can make a movie that Israelis will watch and like the Arab characters, and that Arabs will watch and like the Israeli characters, then that will be something valuable.

How do you define your Jewish identity and how did that influence you in making “West Bank Story?”
I’m probably not particularly religious in the sense of following all of the holidays and doing everything I’m supposed to be doing, but no question I consider myself Jewish. My father is from Israel, and my family lives in Israel, so I grew up with that experience and that identity. Did it influence this movie? Certainly. My knowledge of the region is directly related to the fact that I’m Jewish and that my father is from Israel.

Did your Jewish identity hinder your ability to be objective with the film?
No, I don’t think so. I think because I’m Jewish and my father is from Israel I have a very deep understanding of the Israeli perspective. I think because I’m American I have an opportunity to see both sides and to want to learn the perspectives of both sides. I think Americans in general [identify with] people who see themselves as the underdogs and people searching for their own country seeking freedom. There are similar themes in the wishes and dreams of both Jews and Palestinians, and I think that is completely relatable for an American.

With your film, you were trying to convey that peace between Israelis and Arabs can be achieved. Do you think you successfully got that message across?
Honestly I wasn’t trying to make a huge statement about this is the way to solve peace. It’s certainly and obviously not that. I think the goal for me was to create a portrayal of the situation that didn’t leave people feeling down or hopeless or resenting the other side, whatever side that may be, because I feel like that’s what most of the documentaries and news articles do. It’s been very effective in reigniting interest or dialogue amongst people who have told me that they were totally turned off for a long time.

How has your life changed since winning the Academy Award?
It’s been intense. I’ve traveled the world quite a bit now with the movie and shown it all over the place and I’ve had some tremendous opportunities to meet people and to speak about the film. I have a movie now at Fox Studios, which is probably a result of the Oscar, so it’s been great.

What’s next for you?
I have a documentary with Vince Vaughn called the “Vince Vaughn Wild West Comedy Show.” It follows a traveling comedy show that Vince put together with four comics. It’s about traveling America, being a comic and going after your dreams and it’s very funny, it has a lot of heart. I’ll hopefully be shooting my first feature film in the winter. It’s an office comedy—not political.

Do you have any Chicago connections? 
I think Chicago is the best! The first time I’d ever been to Chicago was when I was visiting some friends on the set of “The Break Up,” and I had the greatest time and I ended up going there three times in one summer—twice for Vince Vaughn’s documentary. I think it’s the best and I love it!

Kosher-Style Comforts

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04/15/2008

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 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. I lost touch with people I thought of as best friends, reconnected with old friends and made a lot of new ones. In what seemed like an instant, I went from child to adult, from student to professional, from carefree to neurotic. Oh, and my hair color changed from brown, to red, to somewhere in between (not to mention the horrifying gray hairs that have started popping up).

Kaplan Seder 1932

Family portrait at the seder in 1932

As someone who really doesn’t cope well with change, I look forward to those few things that remain constant in life: Chicago winters will always drag on longer than you can stand, Portillo’s chocolate cake will always make everything better and I will always spend the first night of Passover eating rubbery kosher-style food with about 80 of my closest relatives—my family’s Passover tradition.

While the cast and the characters have evolved throughout the years, the story—at least since I’ve been attending—is always the same. The service itself lasts about seven minutes tops. The youngest generation stutters and stumbles through the description of the seder plate and the four questions in Hebrew and English, Uncle Don recites the Kiddush and we’re on to the gefilte fish. Soon after, the announcement is made that “It’s time for the family update,” during which a representative from each branch of the family comes to the microphone to deliver the latest news, which ranges from remembering those who have passed to celebrating new babies and new fiancés, bu is really just an opportunity to brag. Following the meal, the kids search furiously for the afikomen hoping to claim the totally awesome prize, but I learned at a very young age that no one in my immediate family had ever found the afikomen—and apparently we never would—so eventually I just stopped looking…

As a little girl, I remember the excitement and anticipation I felt every year when I opened the envelope mailed directly to me from whichever family member was coordinating the service containing the small strip of paper revealing my part in the seder that year—although I’m not sure exactly what it was I was anticipating, since for nearly a decade I read the paragraph about the roasted shank bone, the same part my mother read before me and my sister would read after me. I remember practicing that part over and over again, because there was always a certain amount of pressure and expectation. “Don’t mumble,” my mom would always say just before it was my turn. “And stand up straight.”

Kaplan Seder 1957

Family portrait at the seder in 1957

This did not really change as I got older, but rather the expectations changed. First, I graduated to reading one of the Four Questions, and then I become the target of 20 questions, mostly focused on the nice, Jewish (God willing) boy, who may or may not be sitting next to me.

Of course over the years the seder has gone through some changes. The tradition, which originated many generations back, fizzled out after the original members passed away and was picked up again by my Grandpa Earl’s generation, involves my entire extended family on my mom’s side—aunts, uncles, cousins, second cousins, fifth cousins, you name it—all coming together in one place, once a year. The location, which began at a hotel in West Rogers Park, then moved on to Pioneer Court, a banquet hall by the old Sun Times building, now has moved to restaurants or country clubs in the suburbs as the family moved father and father north. It is always held at larger venues, because at its peak, the seder table was filled with 120 or so family members. But as people passed away, went off to college, married into other families and created traditions of their own, or simply became less observant, the numbers inevitably began to dwindle.

I always find myself looking forward to that first seder. For many of us sitting around the table, this is the only time we will see each other all year, and we can hardly recognize our cousins as they grow and change from year to year. Yet we all continue to make a special effort to spend this night together Passover after Passover. Maybe it’s because, in a time when so many people no longer celebrate their traditions, it’s nice to share that connection to Judaism and to a large family, even if its short-lived.

I know that as the years go by, as much as I try to resist it my life will continue to be filled with change and uncertainty. But I hope that I can always count on the fact that, when the time comes, my child will timidly make his or her way to the microphone to read about the roasted shank bone, search unsuccessfully for the afikomen and the tradition of our not-so-traditional seder will continue on with the next generation.

8 Questions for Areif Sless-Kitain, drummer, Chicago Reader Music listings guy, freelance writer

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04/15/2008

Areif Sless-Kitain

Areif Sless-Kitain knows when the show is.

Areif Sless-Kitain, drummer for the local bands Reds and Blue and The I Kong Cult, grew up in Philadelphia and now calls Ukrainian Village home. When he’s not on stage, he can be found working as the music listings editor for the Chicago Reader, writing articles for the Reader and hanging out with his girlfriend Irma and their two new kittens. He also enjoys watching Law and Order.

Oy! caught up with Areif while he was in Philadelphia tracking drums for an album by the band, Relay. So, whether you’re a fan of one of his bands, a person who uses the Reader’s listings, a fellow kitten lover, Areif Sless-Kitain is a Jew you should know!

1. What did you want to be when you grew up?
An adult. I’m still working on it.

2. What do you love about what you do today?
Like, in general? Or this day? Generally, I love Chicago and am pretty stoked that I moved here. I enjoy working at the Reader, and I love being able to see ridiculously talented people performing any day of the week.

3. What are you reading?
I'm making my way through a book called "Natural Disaster" by Al Burian. It’s a collection of his writing for Burn Collector and Punk Planet, among other things.

4. What's your favorite place to eat in Chicago?
Probably Feed, with Lula and Pho 777 running close behind.

5. If money and logistical reality played no part, what would you invent?
Man, I don't know. I'd have to say peace, or a machine that disables guns and weapons.

6. Ability to fly or ability to be invisible?
Do I have to choose? I'd rather fly.

7. If I scrolled through your iPod, what guilty pleasure song would I find?
You may find some Kenny Loggins and/or Michael McDonald - but I don't feel guilty about it.

8. What's your favorite Jewish thing to do in Chicago—in other words, how do you Jew?
I lit the menorah for about half the nights of Chanukah this year and kinda taught the song to my girlfriend. That was pretty Jewy for me. I checked Wikipedia to make sure I was singing the blessing correctly, since I learned it phonetically (I was right!). Besides that, eating bagels and smoked fish is my favorite thing to Jew. Chinese food on Christmas is also pretty rad.

Jew Complete Me

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A Jewish 20-something strives to find love and fame on YouTube reality show
04/15/2008

You Tube Guy

A guy, a girl and a cameraman…Graff (center) on his first date with Sarah.

Boy meets girl. Boy asks girl to send in video describing herself. Boy dates girl on YouTube, where he has the viewing public vote to decide whether boy and girl should continue dating.

So it isn’t exactly the way your grandparents met. But Noah Graff, a Jewish 28-year-old aspiring filmmaker from Bucktown, hopes this is the way he will meet the Jewish girl of his dreams…oh, and become a successful filmmaker in the process.

Almost a decade ago, Graff filmed a documentary following his journey from Chicago to San Francisco on a Greyhound bus, where he met: “a chef from a nudist spa, a 36-year-old bisexual grandfather and a guy who had just gotten out of prison.”

Now, Graff gets a little more personal through his own YouTube reality show, “Jew Complete Me,” which he launched in May of 2007. Hi idea was to solicit Jewish 20- and 30-something women for biographical videos and ask voters to pick a few of their favorites for Graff to go out with.

   

To Graff’s disappointment, he hasn’t had enough entries for voters to choose from. Early on, he received a request from a Jewish cross-dressing man. He politely declined. Several women, he says, have offered to go on a date with him off camera, but he says they clam up at the thought of dating on film. “I’ve learned girls are very cautious about putting themselves up on the Internet,” Graff says. “For all the girls who are cautious, though, it seems there must be some who love the spotlight…girls with real chutzpah.”

Graff did go on dates with three such chutzpah-having women—Sarah, who is not Jewish, Heather, and Jenna, who lives in Madison, Wisc. He posted each of the dates in multi-part episodes on YouTube. For instance, he edited the video of his date with Sarah (see above)—which lasted about four hours in real time—down to 6 1/2 minutes on the site. After being up on the site for a month, the tape of the date had been viewed 1,714 times. Though YouTube viewers have not voted on whether or not he should continue dating out each of the three women, they have commented on the site about whether or not they liked the women and what they thought of Graff.

For many months, Graff pledged not to “cheat on the show,” meaning he planned to stick with the project and only date on camera. After Thanksgiving, though, he gave up on that pledge, as he has discovered he will probably meet more women off camera than on, but he says he still plans to continue the show.

Despite his lackluster success so far, Graff—who was raised a Conservative Jew in the southern suburbs of Olympia Fields—says he’s optimistic that, through word of mouth, Jewish women will submit videos too. He says that eventually he wants to marry a Jewish woman because, “I want to hold onto my Jewish identity and keep that identity going by having Jewish kids.”

To most daters, with the exception of the many aspiring reality television stars, the thought of dating on camera ranks right up there with root canals without Novocaine, but Graff says he finds value in dating on camera and in reviewing himself and his date on videotape following their evening out. “After the date, when I watch myself over and over again, I learn a lot about myself and I realize some of the stupid things I say and I notice my body language and posture,” he says. “For instance, if you play sports and watch the videotape, you get a really good perspective on yourself. You can’t really know how you look until you watch yourself on camera.”

In With the Nu

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How young American Jews are doing Judaism their way
04/15/2008

matisyahu

Matisyahu performs at a Jerusalem club in December 2005. (photo: Brian Hendler/JTA)

The face of American Jewry is changing, thanks in large part to the efforts of this country’s younger members of the tribe, who are finding new ways of expressing their Judaism that don’t always line up with the traditional values of existing Jewish institutions.

Many of today’s young Jews have replaced “congregations” with “communities,” prefer Matisyahu concerts to federation dinners and do not allow Judaism alone to limit or define them. This reinvention of Jewish life has prompted an upsurge in Jewish media on the Internet via magazines, blogs and online communities.

Out with the old…?

“New ideas seem to explode onto the scene in different places at roughly the same time,” says Tahl Raz, president and editor of Jewcy Media. “There is a yearning among young people. Young Jews are interested in figuring out whether this thing means anything to them.”

He says traditional Jewish media (publications produced by Jewish denominations, local communities or federations) is dying and—if he’s right that traditional outlets are producing “irrelevant content in an irrelevant medium”—maybe it should be.

Jewcy, an online ideas-and-culture magazine, launched in November of 2006 and quickly became the most visited Jewish media site in the country. The media group recently received a round of financing to launch its second online version set to roll out in the next few months, which will include more regionally-focused content as well as greater social networking capabilities and event listings.

Online publications and communities like Jewcy have to represent the values of this generation, Raz says. There are still Jews out there who want Jewish media, he says, and smart new leaders are taking over.

Chicago’s NuJews

The idea that Judaism can be expressed as well at a bar as at a temple is more widespread and successful in coastal Jewish communities like New York and L.A., but a few local NuJew pioneers have had success in bringing this movement to the Midwest.

In Chicago, these efforts are largely being spearheaded by Adam Davis, a self-proclaimed Jewish social entrepreneur, who runs the KFAR Jewish Arts Center and authors two blogs, Jewishfringe and 312Jews.

“I’m not sure that it’s a reinvention so much as a reclamation,” Davis says. “The under 40 set generally views the world somewhat differently than their parents. We grew up on MTV, download the exact songs we want to hear, are overwhelmed with marketing messages and media in general. Content is king, community is often virtual and top down messages are viewed with skepticism unless received virally through the social networks that have supplanted institutions.

“Apply that to Jewish life and it could seem like a complete breakdown of communal structures. It’s more of a paradigm shift, and a healthy one. Young Jews are seeking authentic Jewish voices of our generation that resonate with us. And when we’ve found them lacking, we haven’t waited for institutions to develop the answers they weren’t likely to provide—we’ve created them.”

“(This new expression of Judaism) is very user-driven, peer-connected, bottom-up and allows for creativity. That combination seems to threaten some, but it really needs to be supported, nurtured and funded, lest we alienate young Jews at a crucial point in the battle against—not assimilation and intermarriage—but apathy.”

In 2002, Davis coordinated his first KFAR Center event, bringing in Israeli musicians and artists and hosting them at Chicago venues like The Cubby Bear, Crush and Beat Kitchen. He also organizes discussion groups and events through Facebook and his blogs.

“These opportunities are not just ways to bridge into our own community,” he said, “they’re ways to bridge out.” And there are a certain percentage of people, he said, that find their way back to the Jewish community through his efforts.

A nu way to pray

Religious types are also rethinking Judaism. Rabbi Menachem Cohen, who founded the Mitziut Jewish Community in East Rogers Park in 2003, has succeeded in doing Judaism his way—and, as it turns out, his way is really appealing to a lot of people. Mitziut, which comes from the Hebrew word for "reality," is an independent, non-denominational Jewish spiritual community. People from the neighborhood, people of all Jewish backgrounds, and some from non-Jewish backgrounds, come from all over the Chicago area to participate in a welcoming, participatory community.

Throughout the country, more than eighty new emerging spiritual communities like this one have recently come on the scene, and while they vary in terms of mission, culture and nomenclature, they all agree that they will not be labeled as synagogues or congregations.

Cohen does not like to compare Mitziut to a traditional synagogue. A typical Friday night Shabbat service involves 25 to 30 participants sitting in a circle singing, chanting and dancing. The community also offers a meditation drop-in group and a Jewish drum circle which uses drumming as prayer.

“My goal is to find out what does all this mean to us in our day-to-day life, on a mystical and practical level,” Rabbi Cohen said. “I feel that my calling is to be there for people on their spiritual journeys.”

At Oy!, we’re committed to the conversation. Comment below and tell us how you’re living your Jewish, or Jew-ish, life.

Look Alive Comes to Life

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04/15/2008

Paper Arrows is: Joe Goodkin, Jay Marino and Darren Garvey

Paper Arrows is: Joe Goodkin, Jay Marino and Darren Garvey

Joe Goodkin, founder of Chicago-based Quell records, is your regular renaissance guy. In addition to holding down jobs as a paralegal and guitar teacher, he plays in bands, runs a record label and travels to local high schools performing his original folk opera based on Homer’s Odyssey.

Last winter, his band Burn Rome Burn was on hiatus. Goodkin had written a bunch of new material, planning to hit the studio acoustic-style until he teamed up with Jay Marino, co-owner of I.V. Lab Studios in Uptown.

The project took off when they brought in Darren Garvey on drums and keyboards and Jay picked up the bass and mandolin. After what he describes as some crazy fast, guerilla recording, the group had a record that was ready to go.

“I was completely stunned at what I heard coming out of the speakers. What had started as a side project for myself had turned into the best piece of work I'd been a part of, and something I very much wanted people to hear,” Goodkin says.

The record, Look Alive, started to take shape in an attic on the northwest side of the city; the result is very Chicago. “My favorite moment is in the song ‘Again and Again.’ It's live, recorded in one take—the first take, actually. If you listen closely, you can hear the Blue Line train go by in the background, like a ghost, during the second verse.” He distributed about 200 copies, calling the project Paper Arrows. "I liked the idea that these songs, and songs in general, are like arrows that you write and then fire into the air, hoping that they hit the intended targets,” he says of the band’s name.

Goodkin worked with his agent to get it out to record labels and music licensing houses. Despite positive feedback across the board, getting Paper Arrows to market was frustrating. The band had never played a show or sold a record. “The responses we got all went like this: ‘This is really good, but we don't work with bands that aren't already established.’ After a couple months of that, I decided to establish it myself,” Goodkin says.

Last April, way before Radiohead took the same viral marketing approach, he released an email only single. “It was really cool and wound up four or five generations away from my initial email, reaching people in the UK, Russia and Italy. Immediately, my mailing list was bumped up and we got coverage in the Red Eye. For a band just starting out, that was a great way to get our music to people fast and painlessly,” he says.

On the heels of that initial success, Goodkin decided to release the entire CD in a somewhat more traditional way. He formalized a business plan, borrowed against his life insurance policy and Quell Records was born. Look Alive was released in March 2008, complete with a release party at Schuba’s where attendees received a free copy of the CD.

Getting there was a learning process for Goodkin, who had done many things involved with releasing a record in the past, but had never done them all at once. “I was amazed at how many little details there were. When you’re trying to put together a record, set up a business, and book a show, you have to learn to prioritize,” he says. “What surprised me is that the thing you love the most—playing music—is minimized.”

Energized by the release, the band has booked studio time for June and July. “If Look Alive is a quieter record about Chicago winters and loss, then the second record seems like it will be more about recovery and hope,” says Goodkin.

Keep an eye out, Paper Arrows plans to play some shows this summer.

My (Jewish-Interfaith-Lesbian) Wedding

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04/15/2008

Chai Wolfman engagement

The couple relaxing before everyone arrives on the big day

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.

At our wedding, there were those who refused to call it a wedding. Relatives with George W. Bush bumper stickers parked next to friends counting down to the end of his reign. There were Christians, Jews, Buddhists and those embracing their own self-defined spirituality or none at all. Some guests came who only speak the words “lesbian” or “gay” in whispers—and only when they find themselves unable to avoid it altogether—while other friends and family who embrace our relationship wrote heartfelt blessings for us as part of our ceremony.

Mandi and I started dating in college when we were both 20 and quickly became inseparable. After being completely in love for five years, she proposed. We spent two years planning our wedding—partly to take our time and enjoy the process, partly because July 2007 had a good ring to it and partly to give our families time to get used to the idea.

People didn’t know how to respond to our decision to have a wedding. We had to listen to some say they didn’t agree with us. We only received one engagement present. We had to create a ceremony from scratch. We had to figure out how to respond to people who didn’t understand what we meant when we told them we were getting married. We dealt with the traditional drama of who to invite and not to invite. We spent loads of cash. Why were we doing this again?

For all of these reasons and more. Because creating our own ceremony gave me the opportunity to question which Jewish traditions were important to me and had meaning for both of us as an interfaith couple. Because through the entire process of planning and figuring out how to deal with some hard questions we grew more resilient as individuals and stronger as a couple. Because by being open about our love, we let people into our lives and allowed our families to embrace us in a way that didn’t seem possible before.

And because it was FUN! Because roasting s’mores over a bonfire and dancing with your closest friends and relatives in the middle of a meadow on a clear summer night creates the best memories. Because maybe we could help people leave their judgments in the past and open their minds to others who are different from themselves. Because despite everyone’s differences, there was not a dry eye at the end of our ceremony and I will never forget my grandmother hugging me afterward and saying, “You are such a good lesson for all of us.”

I know not everyone is open to learning these lessons. Mandi’s mom did not come to our wedding. She did not acknowledge the invitation we sent. She did not ask us about the preparations or to see the pictures afterward. She still does not see our relationship for what it is. There is no getting around how much that hurts, but there is nothing I can do to change it.

The best I can do is to continue caring about her and focusing on the good things she does bring into my life. We are all human beings, after all. In acknowledging this and being true to ourselves as individuals and as a couple, Mandi and I hope to help others to do the same.

In this small way, we are working together toward the promise we made at the end of our Ketubah: that together we will help build a world filled with peace and love. I cannot think of a better way to do this as an interfaith lesbian couple than to live every day openly, embracing differences and common humanity with kindness and compassion. I know this will not be an easy task, but my experience so far has shown me that facing the challenge is worth it.

One week after the big day, the very same grandmother who once voiced her opposition to gay marriage was excitedly suggesting sperm donors so we can start our family. Really, grandma, one thing at a time.

8 Questions for Steven Rosengard, Project Runway Contestant, Fashion Designer

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04/15/2008

Steven Rosengard

Steven Rosengard: A pencil-wielding Jew to watch

You may recognize Homewood, IL native Steven Rosengard from Bravo’s reality show Project Runway . After a disappointing week-5 elimination involving a white polyester wedding gown, Steven is back home in Lakeview. He spends his days recreating fashions of centuries past as a curatorial assistant at the Museum of Science and Industry and continues to design custom clothing on the side.

So, whether you’re a reality TV addict, a girl looking for a snazzy one-of-a-kind dress or an appreciator of the recreations you see at the museum, Steven Rosengard is a Jew you should know.

1. What did you want to be when you grew up?
When I was four, I wanted to be an artist but I didn’t really know what that meant—I really just wanted to paint and draw. By the time I was 11 I wanted to be a designer, by 21 I wanted to be an interior designer and now that I’m almost 31 I’m back to designer. I don’t know, talk to me when I’m 41 and maybe I will be back to painting full-time.

2. What do you love about what you do today?
I just love working with women who want to, maybe even if only for just one night, look as perfect and great as they always could. I love making that happen.

3. What are you reading?
Christian Dior’s biography, which is really an interesting book. When I’m sewing, I cheat and listen to books on CD—for the third time I’m listening to The Time Traveler’s Wife. The narrators are so great and when you hear the woman’s voice quivering when she’s talking about the relationship and you’re sitting sewing a seam and … well, it becomes very sad sewing.

4. What’s your favorite place to eat in Chicago?
I was just recently at RL and it was just wonderful. It is very cozy and a great time. My favorite for carryout is Joy’s Noodles on Broadway.

5. If money and logistical reality played no part, what would you invent? 
I guess some sort of time traveling device. I’d love to bounce around and see Berlin in between the Wars, Paris in the 1770s, Atlanta circa 1855 and Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood in the 1920s.

6. Would you rather have the ability to fly or ability to be invisible?
Half the time I feel like I’m invisible anyway! And given how long it takes to get to work these days, I’d rather fly than take the bus.

7. If I scrolled through your iPod, what guilty pleasure song would I find?
I’d never show anyone my iPod, are you nuts? Okay, for as cornball as it is, I suppose there are certain elements of one song that are apropos to my certain situation. Ready? “Lucky” by Britney Spears. She’s singing about how people think she’s so lucky because she’s famous and it’s about what will happen when all of that stops. I know that a lot of us going into Project Runway had that fear of what would happen when people quit paying attention to us. This whole situation puts us in a precarious position to stay ahead of the game.

8. What’s your favorite Jewish thing to do in Chicago—in other words, how do you Jew?
I used to really like walking by Sam’s Deli just knowing it was there, but it closed and that kills that. Every year we go to my Auntie Cheryl’s in the old neighborhood for Passover. She has these two fat cats with their bellies dragging on the floor. So the larger, angrier of the two was growling at Auntie Cheryl for food, she got up from the table, went to the fridge, and threw her some sliced ham and sat back at the Seder table without washing her hands. She’s very irreverent.

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