OyChicago articles

Books for the Tribe to Bring to the Beach

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07/29/2008

If your brain is turning to mush from too much US Weekly and your eyes are tired from too much online reading, it might be time to hit the beach, or even the couch, with a book! If you’re in the mood for something Jewish, look no further than The Jewish Book Network, an organization of the Jewish Book Council, it sends Jewish authors across the country to promote their work.

Take a look at the council’s hot list for the hot month.

1. If You Awaken Love, by Emunah Elon, translated by David Hazony (Toby Press). In the time between the Six-Day War and Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination, we meet Shlomtzion, who abandoned her religious nationalism and moved to Tel Aviv after her fiancé, Yair, broke off their engagement. She is forced to confront her former life and love when her newly religious daughter becomes engaged to Yair’s son and moves to the West Bank.

2. Camp Camp, by Roger Bennett (Crown). Want to relive the overnight camp experience? The photographs and personal anecdotes included in this collection largely center on Jewish summer camps and the experiences taking place therein, reminding us why summer camp so vivid in our minds.

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3.  Israel Through My Lens , by David Rubinger (Abbeville Press). Master photojournalist David Rubinger documented Israel’s birth and the major events that have occurred in the last 60 years. This telling of his life and career includes some of his most famous photos, the stories behind them as well as some never-before-published works.

4.  Light Fell , by Evan Fallenberg (Soho Press). In this work of fiction, we’re introduced to Joseph, who left his wife and five sons after an affair with a rabbi. After 20 years apart, he invites his sons to spend Shabbat with him in honor of his 50th birthday. As the reunion draws near, Joseph’s sons, ranging from extremely religious to secular, look back on the events that transpired and address their feelings toward their father.

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5.  It’s Only Temporary , by Evan Handler (Riverhead Hardcover). While assessing his life since recovery from leukemia more than 20 years ago, the actor and author addresses the question “How can a person live well with the knowledge that time is limited?” The series of autobiographical stories tell a story of love and transformation.

6.  Sarah’s Key , by Tatiana de Rosnay (St. Martin’s Press). Julia, an American who has lived in Paris for 20 years, is tasked with covering the 60th anniversary of the Vél' d'Hiv'—the 1942 Paris roundups and deportations, where thousands of Jewish families were arrested, held at the Vélodrome d'Hiver outside the city, then transported to Auschwitz—for the American magazine she writes for. Through her research, Julia uncovers information about the deported Jewish occupants of the home she and her husband plan to move into, her husband’s family, France and herself.

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7.  More Than It Hurts You , by Darin Strauss (Dutton Adult). When Josh Goldin’s 8-month-old son, Zack, is hospitalized twice with serious symptoms, Dr. Darlene Stokes tells Child Protective Services that she thinks Josh's wife suffers from Munchausen syndrome—where the afflicted purposely injure their children to get attention. As we follow the Goldins’ battle for child custody, this novel raises issues of parents’ rights and of race as Josh’s belief that ignorance can be a virtue and happiness is a choice are tested.

The Jewish Book Network helps communities locate Jewish authors and heighten awareness of both the books and Jewish culture. Get more information about the Jewish Book Council .

Kosher Wine: It’s Not That Bad

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A lesson on what makes wine kosher and some suggestions for wines you can stomach 
07/29/2008

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Sarah, Oy!’s own kosher wine expert

Kosher wine.

For many of us, those two small words pack a big, sweet, grapey, syrupy, low-alcohol, Manischevitz-endorsed punch. We have memories of tasting it for the first time in elementary school—at synagogue, at Bubbe’s seder, at cousin Bobby’s bar mitzvah—and either loving it (“Yummy, tastes like grape Nerds!”) or loathing it (“Yuck, this stuff tastes like Robitussin!”).

Then something changed. All of a sudden, Jewish teenagers and young adults, tall and short, rural and urban, Reform and Conservative, latke fans and hamentaschen aficionados, found themselves standing in solidarity against one modern-day Haman.

Kosher wine.

My quest for swillable kosher vino started during college when I hosted seders for (almost exclusively) non-Jewish peers. I was hell-bent on showing these folks that there was good kosher (and kosher for Passover at that!) wine to be had. Most of my friends didn’t understand why I was so hung up on the kosher issue. “What’s the big deal?” they’d ask. “Who cares if a rabbi didn’t bless the grapes or whatever, wine is wine.” Or I’d hear, “it’s not like there’s pig’s blood in non-kosher wine, so drink up!”

These are only two examples that show just how misunderstood kosher wine is, and I continue to hear them to this day. So it is with enthusiasm and (a bit of a hangover) that I dispel some common myths about kosher wine, and introduce you to two summer-worthy bottles that friends and I tasted in the spirit of Oy!

Kosher wine starts off just like any other wine. Grapes are inherently kosher, and grapes of many different varietals, from the super bitter Concord grapes that go into the stereotypical Manischevitz wines, to Pinot Grigio, Merlot, Shiraz, Chardonnay, and others, are grown in vineyards across the globe, from the US to Israel, Italy to Australia. But unlike non-kosher wines, there are extra restrictions on what equipment can be used in the winery, who can touch the product and how it can be purified.

Some fast facts:

• All wine production is under strict rabbinical supervision, and observant Jews do all work (many producers employ the ultra-Orthodox for this reason).
• The equipment used to crush, refine and bottle the wines must be rabbinically certified.
• No non-kosher ingredients, including yeasts and other purifying agents, may be used to make kosher wine. This becomes an important distinction because there are times when non-kosher wineries use gelatin, casein, isinglass, and yes, even ox blood, in the fining process.
• No preservatives or artificial coloring may be added to kosher wine.
• All kosher wines are vegetarian, though not all are necessarily vegan (albumin may sometimes be used in the fining process).

From the time the grapes are growing in the vineyard through consumption, kosher wine must be handled exclusively by Jews, otherwise it becomes un-kosher. There is one exception to this: mevushal wine.

Depending on whom you ask, “mevushal” means “cooked,” “boiled,” or “pasteurized.” Mevushal wines used to be heated to 185 degrees Fahreinheit for 22 seconds, but are now usually flash pasteurized. This additional step of flash pasteurization allows the wine to maintain its structure and integrity while still rendering it mevushal. Once a wine is mevushal, it can be handled by anyone, regardless of religious observance, and still be kosher.

So there you have it. Yes, there are a few differences between kosher and non-kosher winemaking processes, but for the most part the kosher wines are simply more naturally produced. Could my friends and I taste the difference? Here’s what we thought of two summery white wines: Galil Mountain 2006 Chardonnay and Bartenura 2007 Pinot Grigio.

First up, the Galil Mountain Chardonnay. It’s from the higher elevations of the Upper Galilee, part of the Galil viticultural area, which is considered the best in Israel. Bright yellow in color, it was fruity on the nose, with hints of apricot. On first sip, it was slightly thick but still a bit soft and tasted of honey and pineapple. Further along we got a slightly effervescent, citrusy kick. We couldn’t agree on whether it was lime or kumquat. There was some definite butter in this chardonnay, and some oak but it was pretty mild. If you drink this wine I hope you like it, because it has a very long finish to it.

All in all, we didn’t dislike it. One of us generally has a strong distaste for Chardonnay, but found this one passable.

The verdict: If you like Chardonnay in general, and don’t mind some sweetness and fruit in your wine, give this a shot.

Now onto the Bartenura Pinot Grigio. Bet you didn’t know they made kosher wine in Italy, did you? According to the bottle, this one hails “from the sunny hillsides of Lombardia,” which is home to Milan and the superswanky Lake Como in the north of Italy. This wine didn’t have much nose or much color to it—“a good Shabbat wine, since you’re not supposed to work on Shabbat, if you spill this you really can wait until the Monday morning dry cleaning run,” a friend said. It was crisper than the Chardonnay, and dry but not overly so. It had a mild tartness to it and definite mineral and vegetal tastes, along with some green apple. Further into the glass it had a slightly astringent alcohol smell, but it didn’t overwhelm us. This had a slightly shorter finish than the Chard and was pretty well balanced.

Of the two wines we tasted, we definitely preferred the Pinot Grigio but that could be because we tend to like drier wines in general.

But I’m proud to say that I managed to find drinkable—even enjoyable—kosher wines with no discernable difference between them and any other moderately priced non-kosher bottles.

So, here’s to summer, L’chaim!

Both wines were purchased at Sam’s Wine and Spirits on Roosevelt Road for under $15 each. For a wider selection of kosher wines, swing by the Binny’s at Clark and Wellington.

Shelf Life: Grandma’s Tchatchkees Come Home

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07/29/2008

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Alyssa with her newest inherited ‘prized possession’ from Grandma

After living in Boca Raton for nearly 30 years, my grandmother has moved back to Chicago. She brought 64 boxes of her most prized possessions with her, from the small kitten-shaped cookie jar to ancient, odorless potpourri satchels. My family, believing that she simply needed reminders of home, helped her unpack these items and find space for them in her cozy, one-bedroom apartment.  After we hung the familiar paintings of Jewish men in the Old Country (there must be at least 10), and got a whiff of Grandma’s signature scent – mothballs and Estee Lauder Azureé - it finally felt like she was home.

Reminders of home, however, were not exactly what she had in mind. No sooner had we unpacked those 64 boxes than Grandma began giving everything away. To me.

I’ve become accustomed to her new greeting each time I come to visit, “Hi, did you eat? Do you like this vase? Take it! It’s an antique!”

This particular vase was gold, with a floral motif. I asked where it came from, hoping to hear that it came with my great-grandmother when she immigrated from Poland, or that she and my grandfather picked it up in Austria when they went to visit his relatives, but instead she told me that friends of hers picked it up somewhere in New Jersey.

I asked, “Then how do you know it’s an antique?”  She waved me off as if my question was ridiculous. After all, if it’s old, it must be an antique.

Since Grandma moved here in February, I’ve picked up a new silver (ish) bracelet, a tiered serving dish that may have been attractive in 1952, a chipped lox and bagel platter, a window crystal, a plastic, neon green bowl and a package of doilies (because a good hostess is never without them – what if the neighbors stop by?). After I returned from a spring trip to Israel, Grandma surprised me with paperweights etched with the image of the Western Wall.  I tried to explain to her that, had I wanted paperweights with the Western Wall on them, I would have purchased them myself.  In Israel.  But she insisted I take them.  After all, they were antiques.

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A good hostess is never without doilies

Part of me cringes as I take home each “antique,” knowing my husband will look at the item and ask me if I ever plan to use it, and where I think I’m going to store it. Even though most of it would be considered junk in other people’s eyes, I can’t bring myself to refuse anything. The items may not have any monetary value, but they’re my grandma’s, and she wants me to have them.

Prior to my last visit to Grandma’s, she called to ask if I had enough picture frames. Even though I said yes, she had a stack waiting for me in the living room, and said that if I wanted any, I could just remove the photos and take the frames.

The frames were falling apart – many had lost their hooks and had been hung on a makeshift string, some had lost their stands and were propped against books – but what interested me more than the frames were the photos inside of them.

One black-and-white photo captured my grandma’s niece, Barbara, laughing at something or some one behind the camera. As I studied it, my grandma told me that Barbara was always smiling, always happy. I never knew that about Barbara, who had been my mom’s dear friend, and who passed away before I was born. Looking at the photo made me smile, too.

An older photo featured a young couple posing with a toddler. “That’s me,” said Grandma, pointing to the baby. “Believe it or not, I wasn’t always this old.”  I was shocked to see my great-grandmother in her 20s; in my mind she was always 98-years-old. Yet here she sat with her young, handsome husband, not quite smiling, but certainly not looking like the old lady I remembered.

I told Grandma that I’d take the frames, as long as she’d give me the photos. “You like those old photos? Look at the albums in the den and take what you like.”

Together we pored over the old photo books. One picture featured my grandfather’s mother, who was killed in Auschwitz. Another showed my (now divorced) mom and dad the night before their wedding. Someone in the room must have said something funny, because the camera caught them looking at each other and laughing. My favorite photo was of my mom at her graduation, with blond hair to her waist and wearing bell-bottoms -- yet looking exactly like me.

I took home four framed pictures, two albums and a magnetic beaded necklace that night. The enthusiasm I demonstrated for the photos likely means there will be a fresh stack waiting for me next time I visit. If it means I also get to hear family stories and spend time with my grandma, I’ll bring home a set of novelty coasters and an “antique” brooch if she wants me to. Looking around my own living room, I’m starting to realize her tchatchkees add a bit of charm to my otherwise Crate and Barrel-filled home. And if someone asks where I got that crazy vase, I can just smile, shrug, and say it’s an antique.

Lanyards and Canoes Hit the Web

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A new social networking site brings back overnight camp 
07/29/2008

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Brad and T.J., two camp lovers making summer memories last all year long


About a month ago, I joined Twitter and became addicted to sending out “tweets” to my friends.  I’ve gone beyond using the mainstream social networking sites like Facebook, My Space, and Youtube, and have begun experimenting with Flickr, del.icio.us LinkedIn, Jewcy, Second Life and Tumblr.  I know I have a “problem,” but I’m not alone.  Social networking sites have been growing at an astounding rate. In fact, according to a recent teleconference I attended on social media, more than 57% of Jews belong to a social network. With more than ½ billion users worldwide, the demand for these sites continues to grow and the potential seems limitless.  

Two locals are hoping to cash in on the phenomenon. About a year ago, T.J. Shanoff and Brad Spirrison created MyCampFriends.com, a site inspired by their mutual love for overnight camp and social networking.

For 15 years, T.J. attended Harand Camp in Wisconsin as a camper, counselor and staff member. He recalls his summers there as some of the “most significant and indelible experiences” he’s ever had. Brad agrees. A camper at Camp Deerhorn, Brad describes camp as a place where he, “learned how to befriend and compete with others and also get up on a pair of water skis.”  They both have always loved camp and were surprised that there really wasn’t a specific space online where they could find other enthusiasts and former bunkmates.

“It struck me that there was no one website dedicated to fellow camp-fans to share their camp-specific memories with their camp friends; hence MyCampFriends.com,” explains T.J. “There are a few other, smaller sites which have come along since then, but we were the first—and, we believe, the most fun and ‘campy.’”

”MyCampFriends.com offers a place online where you will find nobody else but your camp friends and others who cherish the existence of camp,” says Brad. “The fun part is when you get all those people together sharing laughs, memories and visions of things to come.”

So far, the majority of people who have signed on are camp alumni ranging in age anywhere from their early 20’s through their 50’s. Individuals can create their own profile pages, upload their favorite videos and connect with other campers.

But as the site continues to grow and expand, the guys hope to reach out to camps and camp directors with the goal of creating more pages dedicated to individual camps rather than just individual campers. 

Crystalaire Camp has really utilized the site’s tools, say the creators. After decades in one location, Crystalaire recently relocated. The camp director wanted to ensure that alumni would be aware of the change and used its MyCampFriends.com page to spread the word. In the end, Crystalaire was so happy with the outcome that it created a “virtual reunion” page for alumni who are unable to attend the camps annual reunion.

“We feel [Crystalaire] is just scratching the surface of the way we can work with camps to keep their campers and alumni thinking about camp and their camp friends all year round,” says T.J. “Some camps have very extensive profiles with beautiful narratives, pictures and videos. Others have sort of a thumbnail description with limited users. Every camp grows at its own pace.”

As a proud alumnus of camp Bnai Brith Beber, in Mukwonago, WI, I used the camp directory to look up my old stomping grounds. I was excited to see that my camp has a presence on the site, although nowhere near Crystalaire Camp, and it inspired me to reach out to some of my old camp friends who I’d previously stayed in contact with only via Facebook.

In addition to finding my old camp, I also toured some of the sites other features. My favorite was the “ask the camp nurse page.”  The page features a large picture of “Nurse Candy” and her even larger syringe needle at the ready to dispense shots to unwilling campers.

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Scrape your knee during dodgeball? Want to know how to cure that stuffy nose? As MyCampFriends.com’s resident nurse, “Nurse Candy”

T.J. explained that the page is inspired by his own experiences at the nurses’ office.  “I had asthma and allergies like any good Jew at theater camp, so I spent a lot of time with the nurse. It was the only place at camp that was air-conditioned, and they had a TV, which meant I could watch ‘WKRP’ re-runs in 72 degrees while everyone else was playing Capture the Flag in 95 degree heat. Those fools!”

Even though the site is still very new (their membership numbers are in the thousands), the two are thrilled by the positive responses they’ve been getting. “While there is a lot of work to be done, it is satisfying to see how people are responding and we are very anxious to see how this all goes,” says Brad. “We’d love for this to be a full-time gig, or, better yet, something to retire from.”

For now, though, they both continue at day jobs they love. T.J. is employed at The Second City where he has co-written and directed such shows as “Jewsical: The Musical.”  And Brad, who has always been in the internet business, contributes to a number of Web sites and has a weekly column about the internet, innovations and entrepreneurs for The Chicago Sun Times.

But they make plenty of time for social networking, updating content frequently and expanding pages. In fact, Brad hinted that future projects are in the works. “In addition to going deeper in the camp world, we are learning what this demographic wants in other spheres of their life. Don’t be surprised to see a few spin-offs soon.”  To which T.J. added, “Yes, yes, yes!  Stay tuned for our next site later this summer.” 

8 Questions for Caryn Peretz, Director of JUF’s Young Leadership Division, Jewish activist, partygoer

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07/29/2008

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Caryn, leader of the young leaders

Caryn Peretz is not only a professional Jew; she is a philanthropic and social Jew too. As the director of the JUF’s Young Leadership Division (YLD), she plays a key role in developing programs and activities that serve the department’s outreach, leadership development and fundraising goals. She began her Jewish communal career with JUF’s YLD in 2001. A year later, in response to the anti-Israel sentiment on college campuses across the country, Caryn founded the ZAP Israel Advocacy Program, the first city-wide, non-denominational Israel education program for high school students in Chicago. This program was adopted by Shorashim, where Caryn spent four years working as the Director of High School Programs. In her volunteer life, Caryn serves on the executive committee of AIPAC’s Young Leadership Council, and on the Board of Directors of Citypac, Chicago’s bipartisan pro-Israel political action committee

So whether you’re a young Jew looking for ways to get involved in the community, you love rocking out to Israeli music after hours or you too spend your Saturday nights at Hub51, Caryn Peretz is a Jew you should know!

1. What did you want to be when you grew up?
When I was very young, I wanted to work at The Jewel (I think because of the little orange stickers they used to give out). As I grew up, I went through many career changes - I wanted to be an artist, a teacher, and a photographer for National Geographic. Only in college did I discover what I really wanted to do - serve as a Jewish Communal Professional, which I have been doing ever since.

2. What do you love about what you do today?
I love working in the Jewish community. It allows me to turn my life’s passions into a full time job.  I grew up in a household that emphasized a love of Judaism and Israel, and I feel lucky that I still get to spend everyday of my life surrounded by the same values. Any time there are Jews in need, anywhere in the world, JUF rises to the occasion and is there to help. I am proud to work for such an organization, and especially to be part of a Federation that so deeply values young leadership and the next generation’s role within the institution.

3. What are you reading? 
Leadership on the Line - a professional development recommendation from my boss.

4. What’s your favorite place to eat in Chicago? 
This is definitely not a question with just one answer. I need to break this one up into categories.
Casual Fun: Wildfire (best salad in Chicago, and I have many great memories of celebrations with family and friends), and Uncle Julio's Hacienda 
Upscale Fun: Joe's
Late-Night: Tempo 
Workday Lunch: Salad Spinners 

5. If money and logistical reality played no part, what would you invent?
I won't go so far as to say "world peace" (standard beauty pageant answer), but if I could invent a way to have peace in the Middle East and protect Israel, I would do that.

6. Would you rather have the ability of fly or the ability to be invisible?
Invisible for sure! But I would have to be careful not to abuse this power.

7. If I scrolled through your iPod, what guilty pleasure song would I find?
A lot of Israeli and country music. And "We are the World," one of the best songs ever recorded. The Israeli music somehow finds its way out in the later hours of my parties.

8. What’s your favorite Jewish thing to do in Chicago—in other words, how do you Jew?
My favorite Jewish thing to do in Chicago is to be actively involved with organizations that serve the causes I believe in (JUF/YLD, AIPAC, and Citypac). I love attending meaningful and fun events, and meeting people who share my values. On a lighter note, another Jewish activity of late is going to Hub51, where every Jew in Chicago seems to be hanging out on the weekends.

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