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Chicagoans light the night for Gilad Shalit

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Chicagoans light the night for Gilad Shalit photo 

The mood in Chicago's Daley Plaza was bittersweet June 23, as some 500 Chicagoans gathered to show support for captive Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.

The crowd was somber, noting Shalit's years in captivity, but also prayerful for his safe return to his family.

The candlelight vigil Light the Night for Gilad Shalit was held on the eve of the fifth anniversary of Shalit's abduction from Israel by the terrorist group Hamas. On June 25, 2006, Shalit—then a 19-year-old soldier in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF)—was attacked while guarding a place called Kerem Shalom (Vineyard of Peace), one of half a dozen border crossings between Israel and Gaza. Contrary to international law and all standards of decency, the kidnapped soldier also has been held virtually incommunicado, with no right of visitation by any humanitarian body.

In his opening remarks, Oren Dekalo, Vice Chair for the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Jewish United Fund of Metropolitan Chicago (JCRC), thanked the crowd for attending and asked everyone to contemplate all Gilad has missed out on in the past five years.

"I'd like us to take a moment and pause," he said. "Consider some of the life events we've either experienced ourselves or shared with others over the last five years—birthdays, weddings, graduation ceremonies, children being born. Even some of the more mundane parts of life— trips taken, movies seen, books read. The world has changed greatly in its last five years. It is truly a different place than back in 2006. It is now half a decade later and Gilad is still captive. Let us pause and think about what it must be like for Gilad and his family to miss out on the past five years."

The Honorable Orli Gil, consul general of Israel to the Midwest, asked vigil participants to put themselves in the place of Shalit and his family. "Mothers in Israel and everywhere can relate with Aviva Shalit," she said. "Imagine yourselves in a cell alone for a day, a month, a year. It's cold in the winter and almost unbearably hot in the summer. Gilad has remained in the same place."

Gil also explained why his freedom is so important to the state of Israel. "Every soldier leaves behind a mother and father. Gilad has become the symbolic son for all Israelis. We all feel the pain of his family, because all Jews are responsible for one another," she said. "Let us hope the Shalit family is strengthened tonight by the solidarity from Chicago."

"It is a great honor for me to be part of this very moving get together," said The Honorable Graham Paul, Consul General of France speaking on behalf of his country. "Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit is also a French citizen," he said. "Our message today is that we will not forget Gilad Shalit and we will continue to fight for his immediate liberation. Our resolve remains stronger than ever. Our message today is that Gilad Shlait must be released unconditionally."

Dekalo read a message from Gilad's father Noam Shalit asking the Jewish community of Chicago to continue asserting pressure for Gilad's release. (Watch a video message from Noam Shalit)

Alderman Debra Silverstein (50th ward) also addressed the gathering. "It is humbling to be surrounded by so many people who came here for such a worthy cause," she said. "My prayer is next year we come together to celebrate his return."

The evening included a prayer for the safety of captive soldiers led by Rabbi Carl Wolkin, president of the Chicago Board of Rabbis, a poem read by Betsy Katz from the American Jewish Committee, and a powerful rendition of Oseh Shalom sung by the Shireinu Choir from Anshe Emet Synagogue.

The vigil was attended by community members of all ages. Tamara Cohen, a student at Ida Crown Jewish Academy, in Chicago, attended the vigil with friends. "I came here because I feel it is really important," she said. "Every day at school we say a special prayer for Shalit and I feel really connected to him and to Israel."

Shiva Bradley is from Chicago, but lived in Israel for 18 years. Though she worries about whether Gilad is still alive, she came to rally because she is, "a supporter of all Israeli things, and definitely this."

Michael Szanto was there to show solidarity with Shalit. "We need to rescue him from his captivity. His treatment is horrible and it's an act of terrorism and we need to stand up to the extremist just like we did in World War II," Szanto said.

Yunit, a 9-year-old student at Chicago Jewish Day School attended the vigil with her father. "I'm here to support Gilad Shalit and his family," she said. Aton, 11, summed it up best with, "I just want this guy free. "

Steve Dishler, director of International Affairs of JUF's Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC), concluded the nights program by asking everyone to "continue showing your compassion for Gilad by talking about Gilad to family and friends," he said. "And by urging your member of Congress to sponsor House Resolution 317, introduced this week through JUF's urging by Rep. Dold of Illinois and Rep. Ackerman of New York."

View the full resolution and send a letter to your member of Congress.

The candlelight vigil was sponsored by JUF's Jewish Community Relations Council with JUF's Young Leadership Division, Consulate General of Israel to the Midwest, AIPAC, the American Jewish Committee, the Anti-Defamation League, Chicago Board of Rabbis, Friends of the IDF, and Israel Bonds. 

8 Questions for David Grossman, Freshii Prez, sports lover, healthy eater

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8 Questions for David Grossman photo 

For Chicago native David Grossman, it’s all about fresh, convenient and healthy food, which is exactly what his restaurant Freshii embodies. Grossman is the president of Freshii and has opened numerous locations in the Chicago area as well as in 12 other cities including Los Angeles, Toronto and Dubai. Grossman is confident that Freshii is here for the long haul because he has extensive experience in the restaurant industry and knows that choosing to eat healthy food with no preservatives, no grease fat fryers and no open flame is not a fad people are just trying out for a while, but a lifestyle.

So whether you love healthy eats, have dreams of being an MLB ump or want to travel to India, David Grossman is a Jew You Should Know!

1. What is your favorite blog or website?
I am not really the blogging type, but CNN is my default page, it’s where I get my news and sports.

2. If time and money were limitless, where would you travel to?
I have done some traveling in the past, but I would like to go to India. I love the food, the architecture and the history.

3. If a movie was played about your life, who would play you?
Some very handsome man, that’s for sure. I would go with George Clooney.

4. If you could have a meal with any two people, dead or alive, famous or not, who would it be?
My dad and Jim Morrison, because he wrote a great book titled “No one gets out of here alive.”

5. What is your idea of the perfect day?
Wake up and have breakfast with the family, then go golfing with my three closest friends and get a hole in one—Have some beer with my friends after golf, go to dinner with my family and my extended family, and then come home and have some quality time with the wife.

6. What do you love about what you do?
I love that every day is something different—there is always a problem, or an obstacle to overcome and it is my job to deal with it and fix it. I also love teaching my interns and employees and watching them learn and grow as people as well as within the business.

7. What job would you have had if not the one you have now?
I would want to be an MLB umpire or an announcer for the NBA, MLB, or NFL.

8. What is your favorite Jewish thing to do in Chicago?
Going to the Eleven City Diner and getting the Big Macher with diet Dr. Brown black cherry soda. 

Why I Decided to Run a Half Marathon on Sunday

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(When I Have Never Even Watched a 5k)

Why I Decided to Run a Half Marathon on Sunday photo 1 

Noa has a sunny disposition to match her bouncy, blond ringlets which is partly why I didn’t catch the signs of her deteriorating health. My eyes flew wide open in mid-May when she had an acute asthma episode and turned some scary shades of blue.

Breathing takes on new meaning after watching your 6-year old pull her oxygen tank through the hospital corridors. She pretended it was her dog. She named it Moxie.

My daughter spent four days at Lutheran General with a partially collapsed right lung and IV steroids, sunny disposition fully intact. She licked cherry popsicles around the clock, played Crazy Eights bedside with volunteers named Jenny, and cried just once, only a little, when her IV was removed.

Unlike Noa, I don’t have a sunny disposition (particularly when sleep deprived). But I, too, know asthma. And I, too, am resilient.

I was the kid with sissy, snotty asthmatic lungs and an inhaler. In seventh grade gym class, you could find me schlepping around the track at the back of the pack thinking, Wow, this really sucks. And suck it would to die from respiratory failure at age 12 wearing a school-issued, polyester, pinstriped onesie that snapped at the shoulders. On particularly bad days, I’d go home and my lung doctor dad would pound on my chest to dislodge any residual mucus.

In short, I hated running.

For over three decades, I hated running. So for over 30 years, I did not run, not even for the train. (Except the one time I did. And fractured my left cuboid.)

But – as with many things in life – needs change, tastes evolve, lungs mature. In November of 2009, I started running the streets of Skokie each night after tucking my girls into bed. I was in search of solitude and serenity and running fit my working mom schedule. A colleague with four kids ran a marathon in a skirt. A pair of size 8 lime-trimmed New Balance called out to me from Marshall’s clearance racks. Desperation, inspiration, an amazing shoe sale . . . the next thing you know, I’ve taken up running in the dead of Chicago winter.

With running, I found I could open the door, put one foot in front of the other, and be done 30 minutes later. I didn’t need anything; just my shoes and my thoughts. Whatever I was stressing or swearing about as I laced up those shoes dissipated by the time I got home. I could go further every day. And I could breathe.

I knew what my breath looked like when it was five below zero. I knew what my neighbors watched on their flat screen TVs. Even better, I knew when Orion appeared in the sky. I knew that Devonshire smelled like laundry detergent on Sunday mornings. How far I’d gone or how fast I’d run, I had no idea – but with sweat-drenched shirts in the bitter cold, a Chicago winter has never passed more quickly.

In February of 2010, I ran for the first (and last) time on a treadmill, like a hamster on a wheel going nowhere quickly. I became fixated on the numbers in red, measuring calories, heart rate, speed, converting kilometers to miles and back again, wondering if my ass would expand exponentially the moment I stopped.

I had reached that critical juncture, as with any new love, when it was time to define the nature of the relationship. Do I let myself be wooed by fartleks, Turkey Trots, and negative splits – concepts that two months ago were not a part of my vocabulary? Do I become obsessed with the anatomy of a leg? Do I start frequenting running stores and online forums and buying Garmin gadgets that yesterday I didn’t know existed? Or do I run for the sheer pleasure, because I can?

As I wrote that month in my journal, I look forward to my first spring as a runner (am I a runner?), running in the forest preserve, watching the streams thaw. I look forward to feeling asphalt turn to dirt turn to sand beneath my feet, as I run past dog beaches, sand castles, cloud formations, shades of Lake blue Michigan. With a collegial nod of my head, I’ll acknowledge my fellow runners. (Am I a runner?) Will I ever run in a pack with a number on my chest feeding my ego? Or do I just step outside, take a deep breath, and feel the earth move under my feet.  

For the next year, I stuck with my carefree, sporadic, solo runs. I knew the exhilaration of seeing a deer on the path at dusk. Nature, solitude, and wellness. That was enough.

You’re probably expecting me to say it was the challenge of Noa’s asthma that prompted me to undertake the challenge of a half marathon. To show her that a person with asthma (like her and like me) can learn to manage it, breathe, and run free. That you can be a mom and a professional and a strong active woman who knows she is not perfect, who knows nothing is perfect, who knows the world is beautiful, who knows she is beautiful as she runs.

That’s the version of the story that I will play in my head during the final few miles on Sunday, when I’m at the back of the pack thinking, Wow, this really sucks. That’s the version I’ll be telling Noa when I cross the finish line.

But the truth is in February of 2011 I had my own health scare. Room-spinning vertigo followed by a brain MRI. “You have a brain lesion and need to see a neurologist,” said Dr. Stern. A long, scary wait, followed by a positive prognosis. Collective sigh.

In short, I registered for the North Shore Half Marathon because I didn’t have a brain tumor. I had excess energy that needed to be redirected. 13.1 miles with throngs of spectators should do it.

I don’t think of it as a race. I think of it as my first group run. Everyone asks me my pace and I still don’t know. Yes, I traded in cotton for wicking and developed a fondness for organic pomegranate passion energy chews. I’ve subscribed to Runner’s World, watched Chariots of Fire, read Born to Run, and yes, I even want a Nike Sports Watch GPS for my birthday. But on Sunday I’ll be lining up at the back of the pack and my goal is just to finish.

Yesterday I drove the course in Highland Park. In short, I’m so fucked. But tickled to discover the final two miles take me directly past the house I lived in during my angstiest teen years and the high school I so loathed. If I’m still vertical, I imagine I’ll feel triumphant.

This one is for Noa, Moxie, and Emma. Rachel. Sarah and Brett. And the pediatric staff at Lutheran General (especially Aunt Dr. Karen)! 

Why I Decided to Run a Half Marathon on Sunday photo 2 

Postscript: Dana at the 6/12 finish line with her two daughters – still vertical, slightly nauseous, feeling triumphant. 

Why are eating disorders among Jewish women on the rise?

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Why are eating disorders photo 

“Eating disorders provide opportunity to excel, which is so important in the Jewish community.” Stated Adrienne Ressler— eating disorders and body image specialist for the Renfrew Center— in her opening remarks at a recent conference in Chicago: “Food, Body Image, and Eating Disorders in the Jewish Community.” More than 35 women participated in the half-day seminar from a variety of professional backgrounds including, mental health professionals, educators and rabbis.

The rise  

In recent years, according to Ressler and other professionals at The Renfrew Center, a pioneer foundation in eating disorder treatment, there’s been a 500 percent increase in the number of women in the United States who they treat that identify as Jewish. Though no one denomination attributes to the rise, the number of Orthodox women admitted to the center grew so much in recent years that they recently launched a separate program to accommodate observant Jewish women.

Adult women  

Another unexpected trend— the number of adult women seeking treatment. In 2001, 10 percent of the Renfrew Center’s clientele were over age 35, today that number is closer to 27 percent. Ressler explains, “this is because many young girls don’t get help that they need at a young age [so they] have problems throughout life that don’t get addressed until adulthood.” Ressler’s research examines the relationship between mothers and daughters and how this special bond can influence body image and even perpetuate the cycle of eating disorder from mother to daughter. “It is important to understand what is going on with adult women and how it is affecting the home and their children,” she said. “It’s L'dor v'dor or generation to generation— disordered eating is passed down.”

Eating disorders in Israel  

Marjorie C. Feinson, another speaker at the conference and the principal investigator in the first community study of disordered eating and domestic abuse among women in Israel, shared findings from her study.

Feinson interviewed 501 Jewish women in Israel from all different backgrounds and found that 15.2 percent of the total population in that country has an eating disorder of some kind. She broke the numbers down further by religious denomination and found that whether a woman was secular or Orthodox, the percentages stayed basically the same.

While the study has yet to be duplicated in the United States, Feinson believes that, “other studies show that it’s somewhere between 12-17 percent, so the rates are very similar whether you are a Jewish woman in Israel or the United States.”

Feinson’s research suggests food culture in Israel is a major culprit, especially among the observant. “There are 18 religious holidays not including Shabbat that involve food preparation in Israel and with Shabbat preparations starting as early as Wednesday,” said Feinson. “Women who suffer, have no escape from the kitchen.” In one interview she conducted, an Ultra Orthodox woman told Feinson, “that her bulimia starts at Chanukah each year when she has to bake the Sufganiyah. She’d binge and purge the jelly donuts and it would take her five or six months to break the cycle. When she told her husband that it was no longer healthy for her to bake the treats for him and their six sons, he responded, ‘what kind of Jewish mother are you not to bake for Chanukah?’

But there’s hope  

Still the conference ended on a hopeful note. Ressler concluded by highlighting the number of resources for support and recovery within our Jewish community. She also suggested the importance of “strong female role models, our religious and cultural traditions, and a rich heritage of generational connections and rituals, which can be used for healing.”

If you or someone you know is suffering from an eating disorder, resources are available. Contact the Renfrew Center or the Jewish Healing Network

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