OyChicago articles

Books for the Tribe to Bring to the Beach

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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.


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.


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.


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 


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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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.


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 


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.


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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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.

One Tile at a Time

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Adding Sparkle to the Edgewater Community

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Orit Vardi stands in front of Growing 2008, the mural being created under her supervision by 30 youth in the Bricolage program.

Over the past year, while walking or running under the Bryn Mawr underpass at Lake Shore Drive, I’ve admired the sparkling colors and tiles, wondering who was responsible for this gorgeous mural. Then, a few months ago, my friend Orit mentioned that she was hiring teens to create another mural for the Bryn Mawr underpass.

Wait - did they already do one on the north side of the street? Can I help? Will you hire me? She responded accordingly, “Sure, if you’re under 18.”

I got past my disappointment (eventually) and spoke with Orit, about her experience in Avodah: The Jewish Service Corps, her job at Alternatives, and Bricolage, the program responsible for the mosaic murals.

Avodah is sort of like The Real World, sans camera. For one year, seven Jewish young adults live together in an Andersonville apartment and each work at a different nonprofit. They learn about social justice and each other’s Jewish backgrounds and religious practices. Orit explains, “We spent the year learning about different issues in the city, looking at Jewish roots and values, discussing the Jewish outlook on social justice, and talking about how we can bring all of those things together in the work that we do and in the lives that we lead. It’s been a really inspirational year.”

Many of the issues the group learned about during the year - housing, homelessness, environmental justice, incarceration – have directly affected many youth that Orit counsels at Alternatives, where she works in career and employment services. She helps youth ages 16-24 who don’t have many resources at home to prepare for their first jobs, write resumes, research colleges, explore careers, conduct interviews, fill out applications and more.

For 30 fortunate youth, the Bricolage program is their first summer job. Teens under 18 have to go through an extensive application process, including an interview with Orit, who supervises the program.


Hard at work, using mirror tiles to outline large images

In its third summer, the Bricolage program is well under way. I couldn’t believe the progress that had been made since the first tiles were installed on July 2. Only a few weeks prior I had run past and noticed mirror tiles forming simple outlines across the wall. It looked vastly different the other day when I stopped by to check it out.

As I walked up to the site, a car drove by honking at the teens and someone leaned out the window and yelled, “It looks beautiful!” And it does.

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The mural is progressing. Ceramic flowers and butterflies made by community groups fill the center of the wall, forming a community garden.

The theme for this year’s mural is, Growing 2008. The images focus on nature and history in the Edgewater community.  The middle of the mural features a community garden that was literally made by the community. Different community groups, including Heartland Alliance, church groups, book clubs, youth groups, and others made ceramic flowers and butterflies earlier this year that the teens then glazed and included in the mural.


Sculpted leaves jut out of the wall, adding texture and variety to the mural’s community garden.

Another section contains a family tree, featuring a photo wall of past and present community members. Throughout the mural are historic Edgewater buildings, leaves, flowers, animals, and patterns that represent different ethnic groups in Edgewater.


The family tree portion of the mural depicts past and present Edgewater community members.

The two artists leading the process are high school art teachers Tracy Van Duinen and Todd Osborne. They created the design along with the help of the community – condo associations, senior centers, the Edgewater Community Council, individual families and others are all involved in planning and executing the designs along with the youth.

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Artist Tracy Van Duinen touches up some cement before debriefing about the day with the youth apprentices.

Van Duinen explained that this is a way for teens to get involved in their community in a new way. Orit agrees that the youth are definitely feeling a sense of community from the project. The media usually portrays teenagers in a negative light, but during this project, she says, every single day, “you have community members walking by, talking to them and asking them questions, clapping, telling them just how wonderful they are, and how they’re really leaving their print on the community.”


With only a few weeks left, the mural is almost complete. Each purple line in the grid above represents a street in the Edgewater neighborhood.

Besides a sense of pride at their accomplishments, youth are gaining both art skills, professional skills and a sense of community. The project culminates with a huge community event on Saturday, August 9th which the mayor and alderman both plan to attend.

This sense of community and the importance of giving back to the community was a theme in Avodah as well. Orit only worked with one Jewish teen during this past year, but she notes that the Jewish component of her work is expressed through implementing Jewish values instead - looking at Jewish texts and ideologies and reaching a state of equal justice for all. “Judaism is involved even when you’re not at a Jewish organization or working with a Jewish population.”

Stop by and check out the mural at Bryn Mawr under Lake Shore Drive. It’s almost complete, and on a sunny day the light ripples across the tiles bringing the images to life. Last year’s mural, Living 2007, is on the north side of the street; Growing 2008 is on the south.

Going to Elvis’s Chapel

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I had the first Jewish wedding at Graceland


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Brooke and Mike 'can't help falling in love' at Graceland

My first instinct when my Prince Charming asked me to marry him was to head down to City Hall for a no muss/no fuss wedding—at 10:30 a.m. to avoid the lunch rush. When my Mom, with tears in her eyes, asked me if I was not going to have her under the chuppah with me, I realized that I not only wanted her there, I wanted my Judaism there too. Chuppah, Mom and all.

My mother was a single parent and worked very hard to take care of me and my sister after our Dad died. She sent me to Jewish Day School, Jewish camp and on trips to Israel. She made sure that I would have the skills and knowledge to be a strong Jew in a non-Jewish world. So on second thought, no offense David Orr Cook County Clerk, you’re no rabbi. 

I am such a proud, hard core, in your face, I-bring-the-Jew-to-the-table kind of girl, that I don’t know what I was thinking. I take pride in speaking Hebrew, wearing my “Herzl is my Homeboy” t-shirt and knowing my Jewish history. I corrected a tour guide at the Coliseum in Rome who generically claimed slaves built the Coliseum. Oh contraire, JEWISH slaves built the Coliseum. I can’t believe I was going to skip the chuppah. I realized then that I still wanted my wedding to be small and Jewish but I also wanted it to be unique.

Thinking of what was different and Jewish, I first though of Curacao’s synagogue. A quick cruise from Florida, a stop at the synagogue. How lovely. But a residency requirement from Curacao nixed that. Being a CTA fan, I considered renting an El train. Three hours gets you and your guests wherever there is track and you can even have food and drinks! But, ultimately, it was a comment from Patty, the event planner at Graceland, which made up my mind.

Prince Charming—also known as Mike—and I had been to Memphis and were charmed by the city and its close/solid Jewish community. When Patty gave us the price of having a wedding at Graceland she mentioned that it included the minister. When I told Patty I was Jewish and would be using a rabbi she said, “I don’t think we’ve had a Jewish wedding here before.”  Light bulb!  I asked her to check on that and two days later she called to say that if Mike and I chose Graceland, we’d be the first Jewish couple to marry there. In my own little way I was going to be a pioneer.

Because we started planning this July 4 wedding on June 5—that’s four whole weeks!—things started to come together quickly. We had the place (Graceland) and the city (Memphis) but no rabbi, hotel, restaurant, etc. Keeping with our Memphis/Jewish theme we decided to have dinner on a Riverboat on the Mississippi and serve BBQ brisket, cornbread challah, greens, corn and an oh-so-southern Red Velvet cake.

To make the wedding a bit more Elvis-like, we had a Cantor officiate instead of a rabbi—thank you Cantor David Julian for making our wedding more meaningful than I could ask for. And to make it more “us” we made our own chuppah (which was then schlepped from Chicago to Memphis by car—thanks Mom) and ordered blue suede kippot, as is only right at Elvis’s house.

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Blue suede 'kippot'

It wasn't city hall on a Tuesday and I'm glad. It was a great ceremony, blending the best of the unconventional feel we wanted and Jewish traditions that are so important to us. Being the first Jewish couple to wed at Graceland secures for us a special place in history and I couldn't have been more excited to say my "I do" in front of family, God and Elvis.

Brooke Mandrea has been asked 6 times, said yes 4 times, but has only gotten married this once. She is a city girl who rarely ventures north of North Avenue. When she is not being a Jewish pioneer, she works on Overseas Programs and Projects at the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago. Luckily, that is exactly what she would want to do even if she didn't have bills to pay. She is also a voracious reader but only a few pages at a time.

8 Questions for Richard Levy, entrepreneur, native South African, and head tomato of Salad Spinners

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Levy Large

Rich Levy, the head tomato

Even if you don’t personally know Richard Levy, you probably do know his salads. The founding president and CEO of Salad Spinners Corp—or head tomato as he’s most often referred to—invented the business Salad Spinners, a creative salad and sandwich lunch option, seven years ago. Born in Johannesburg, South Africa, and raised in Highland Park, Levy started his career in the food-service industry nearly a decade ago as an analyst in the meat processing and baked goods manufacturing industry in South Africa. Soon after, he headed back to Chicago, where he immersed himself in learning the inner-workings of the restaurant biz. Today, Salad Spinners has four downtown Chicago locations and a catering business. Levy’s business donates money to local (preferably grassroots) philanthropies of his customers’ choosing. In addition to his entrepreneurial prowess, he’s active in Chicago’s young Jewish community and, through his business, does his best to give back to the community. In fact, during Passover, in the spirit of the holiday, Salad Spinners serves up matzoh with each of his salads to accommodate his fellow Jewish patrons.

So whether you’re a fledgling entrepreneur, a U2, Sting, and Springsteen junkie, or you just really like a “big salad,” like Elaine from “Seinfeld,” Richard Levy is a Jew you should know!

1. What did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to own a pet store and/or be a game ranger in Africa where I grew up. It’s like having a larger pet store.

2. What do you love about what you do today?
The independence. Being able to make my guests happy. Being able to create whatever I want and not have to answer to anyone.

3. What are you reading?  
Small Giants by Bo Burlingham.

4. What’s your favorite place to eat in Chicago? 
China Grill or anything by Lettuce Entertain You.

5. If money and logistical reality played no part, what would you invent?
Engines that can run on combustible sewage or garbage.

6. Would you rather have the ability of fly or the ability to be invisible?
Do I really get to choose? OK—fly—because…well let’s just say that I can’t stand walking.

7. If I scrolled through your iPod, what guilty pleasure song would I find?
Lots of Barry Manilow, and Neil Diamond…kidding…seriously don’t print that…I am really into old Eddie Grant, Johnny Clegg, and The Replacements. Also, I function well on a steady diet of U2, Sting, and Springsteen.

8. What’s your favorite Jewish thing to do in Chicago—in other words, how do you Jew?
I hit up the bris and bar/bat mitzvah circuit—lots of lox and bagels for free! Kidding. I think Federation is outstanding in the way they get young Jews to connect from all over Chicagoland. Our JUF Mission to Israel—two buses full—was proof of that.

Following Leah Jones

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One of the city’s most plugged social networkers shares her thoughts

Leah Large

Leah Jones is always plugged in to Jewish life in Chicago

As I write this, Leah Jones is in San Francisco—and pictures from the trip are available now on her Flickr page. She’s enjoying herself, but she’s feeling out of sorts because, though she shared a three bedroom in the city’s Mission neighborhood during the summer of 1996, nothing looks familiar. She hasn’t told me any of this personally. In fact the last time (and first time) we talked was the Friday before her trip to California. The truth is, I don’t know Leah.

Leah Jones is a professional social networker. In her role as a Digital Culture Evangelist at Edelman Public Relations she aspires to boost the digital savvy of every PR professional. She places people on a 1-10 scale—with a 1 being someone whose digital smarts end with Outlook and a 10 being an all out digital geek—and aims to help make each and every one a better digital communicator.

“We want everyone to understand how to make technology work for clients,” she says. In addition to serving as the “sort of wrangler” for EdelmanDigital.com and writing the Friday 5—a weekly email newsletter to the staff with five tips on getting the most from one kind of media such as Facebook, Flickr or Twitter—she travels to other Edelman offices to lead digital bootcamps.

As someone who believes in the power of social networking, but refused to join Facebook until this year (and yes, I heart Facebook. I was wrong) and recently participated in The Modern Letter Project, I was interested in chatting with Leah about how she got into social networking, whether its good for the Jews and where she thinks it’s headed.

When I was a kid, my friend Christina’s family not only had a computer—they had this wacky thing called Prodigy that, as I understood, allowed their computer to talk to other computers. I had a Speak and Spell. Christina was a 10; I was a 1. I wondered where Leah fell on the early technology scale.

“I wasn’t into Prodigy or computers as a kid but my brother was. He is six years older than I am and has been on the web forever. His experience made me comfortable with it,” she says. But she was still an early adopter. Leah’s online life can be traced back to high school. “In 1992-93, there was an Indiana bulletin board on telnet that I would dial into and write bad poetry,” she says.

Like many of us who went to college in the early-mid 1990s, access was an issue. “In college, during my freshman year, we only had one computer lab with internet access and it was only for business students,” Leah says. She graduated from teen angst poetry and then from college, going on to Friendster and ultimately blogging.

She had recently moved to London for a five-month job and was looking for a way to keep up with friends, family and co-workers when she started Leah in Chicago. It was during that stretch that she realized the reach of blogging. “It was the first time I answered an article request that I found on Craig’s List, and Craig—Craig Newmark [the founder of Craig’s List]—left a comment on my blog. That was the first time I was like whoa; anyone can get to this,” she says.

Armed with the knowledge that any old stranger—or worse, boss or parent—can read the personal details of your life, many bloggers struggle with what to share and what to keep to themselves. “I started out very careful because I was working in education; I would say after a year or two I loosened up.”

And when she did, traffic spiked. “The biggest growth in traffic was when I started converting and blogging that experience in December 2004. That’s when I really started reading and commenting on other blogs and building a community,” Leah says.

Today, she’s one of the leaders of the Jewish online community. She has 600 Facebook friends and is a member of 27 groups—many of them are Jewish or Israel related. On Twitter, (the micro-blogging site that allows you to send updates—or tweets—in the form of short, text-based posts) Leah follows 309 people and has 1,383 people following her. On Flickr, she has 153 friends. “I love Flickr and del.icio.us as ways to get to know people. The links people share and the images they choose to share say a lot about them,” she says. 

When she went to Israel last June, Twitter saved her ass. “I was going to a Twitter meet-up and when I got there my host wasn’t there. I sent a Twitter message saying: “ ‘I’m in Tel Aviv without a backup plan’ and someone picked me up.” Pretty cool.

At home, social networking keeps her connected to the Jewish community. “Young Jews in Chicago are doing things. On Facebook, I am a member of every major Chicago Jewish group and I get invited to events all of the time,” Leah says. And it’s not just her. “Last night I was on the bus and these women were talking about Kfar and Facebook. It’s a great way to find out if there’s an event going on, but I want to see groups get out of Facebook a little because it doesn’t give you Google power,” she says. 

“Google is important because for many people, the online experience starts with a Google or Yahoo search. If your group is buried deep in the results (beyond the second or third page) and it is only on Facebook, people will have a much harder time finding you,” says Leah.

Looking ahead, she believes mobility will be increasingly important. “The next big thing might not be Twitter but what Twitter allows you to do—send group texts to get information and find out where people are.” And maybe that’s the appeal--getting to actually see your friends in the flesh. “Or, maybe the next big thing will be more traditional—like Shabbat dinner; getting offline and actually meeting people,” she says. And if you read her blog, you know that’s something Leah herself has been committed to doing this summer.

So, does Leah Jones ever unplug? “I would like to unplug more than I do,” she says.  “For the first time ever, I kept Shabbat when I was in Israel this summer. I had everything off and I was like, ‘Oh, this is what my life used to be like.’ I don’t do it very often, but I have been cutting down—though you can’t tell by the amount of activity I have online.” 

Check out some of Leah’s online activity here:


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Rating: Four Stars

StarStacey StarStacey StarStacey StarStacey


Chalkboard, easily elegant

I must first, in the spirit of full disclosure, out myself as a close personal friend of Chalkboard's owner/chef Gil Langlois and his wife, co-owner Elizabeth Laidlaw. However, I also have to say that it would not exactly behoove me to tick off a bunch of potential readers, so the review is as honest and objective as I can be…grain of salt me all you like.

Gil and Elizabeth have created a gorgeous room, romantic enough to be a great date spot, but not so overt as to be alienating for those of us who are dining with friends or family. The menu is full of carefully crafted dishes, with inspired touches…your childhood favorites made sophisticated with a rich tomato soup paired with a blue cheese grilled cheese sandwich on the side, Kobe beef mini burger appetizer with Nueske bacon, truly spectacular fried chicken.


Redefining the slider.

But there is an easy elegance at play here as well. Starters always include diver sea scallops, caramelized on the outside and succulent within, served with a vanilla aioli, spiced walnuts and sugared kalamata olives. Salads are simple and fresh, and the seared tuna cobb, a simple deconstructed plate with sushi grade tuna surrounded by small accompaniments, crisp bacon, blue cheese, caviar with truffle oil, soft poached egg, cucumber brunoise, diced avocado and roasted grape tomatoes, is a revelation.

For entrees, a gorgeous duck cassoulet, topped with meltingly tender slices of duck breast, and just enough back of the throat heat to prevent it from being too rich. Grilled pork tenderloin is perfectly cooked, sitting on a base of sweet corn relish and topped with a light potato salad with apples and celery, which not only complements the pork, but also somehow cleanses the palate between bites. The bouillabaisse is steeped in tradition, served in a small cast iron pot, and full of whatever the day’s freshest seafood and shellfish are on order, in a well seasoned broth that cries out to be sopped up with the warm-from-the-oven rolls. Gil’s recipes are French-influenced American, with more than a hint of high-end comfort food. No meal here is complete without a side dish of the Macaroni and Cheese, rich with smoked gouda. I’ve had dining companions express a wish to eat their way out of a bathtub full of the stuff.


Making it easy to eat your veggies.

The daily specials on the chalkboard always include the freshest fish dishes, and the chef’s current interests, as well as celebrations of the best local produce. On a recent trip, Gil’s take on surf and turf, a beef osso bucco paired with Alaskan Halibut, served with a celery root puree and crispy fried artichokes. Meltingly tender hanger steak, with a fresh chimichurri sauce was also a standout.

Desserts can be hit or miss, sometimes a delight, sometimes better in theory than in practice, but you will never go wrong if you stick with the whimsical chocolate chip cookie dough egg roll, or the fresh berries with yogurt and honey, both consistently wonderful.

The wine list isn’t massive, but what it lacks in size it makes up for in carefully selected bottles in a range of affordable prices. I recommend you start with a glass of Taltarni, a pink sparker from Australia that is my new favorite quaff, and then let Gil or your server make a recommendation.

They don’t take parties of more than six, affirming my belief that unless a small restaurant has a private room to accommodate them, any party larger than that becomes a liability for the other patrons. It isn’t a place for very young children, unless they have sophisticated palates, but it is a spot I have taken both my grandmother and a romantic hopeful with equal success. Well, dining success at any rate. Gil can guarantee a great meal, but not necessarily a new boyfriend!

As a bonus, Saturday and Sunday afternoon high tea is fun. Be sure to get there early as seating is limited, and the made-to-order scones are worth the trip.

Chalkboard is located at 4343 N. Lincoln Ave.

NOSH of the week:
My go-to canapé these days celebrates fresh flavors and will wow your company with a minimum of effort.

1 small baguette French bread, sliced into rounds about ½ inch thick

1 log softened goat cheese (chevre)

3 T honey

3 large peaches

1 package fresh sage, leaves plucked, and halved lengthwise if large

Blend softened goat cheese with honey until smooth. If you like it sweeter, feel free to add more honey. Spread cheese mixture on bread rounds. Slice peaches and put 2-3 slices on each round. Tuck a leaf of sage between the peach slices and serve.

Experiment with other herbs and fruit….plums and lemon thyme, pears and mint, apricots and basil…hit your local farmer’s market and enjoy!

NOSH food read of the week:
My Life In France, by Julia Child

Taking the Show on the Road

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Dot Dot Dot’s leading man talks fame and family


Adam, jumping for your love

… indicates a continuation, a sign that there’s more to say, more to come. And for Adam Blair and his band Dot Dot Dot, that couldn’t be more true.

From the band’s inception, things moved fast. The Chicago-based power pop-rock band played to 1,300 people at its third show. Within five months Dot Dot Dot landed a spot on Fox’s reality TV competition, The Next Great American Band and released a CD. It’s been nine months since the band’s national television debut, and lead singer Adam Blair says his head is still spinning.

“It’s been hectic and insane. It’s great and I love it, and I thank God every day,” he says. “Without music, I’d be 100% screwed. I can’t type, and I don’t spell so good. It’s the only thing I know how to do, the only thing that ever came naturally to me, that I do well. I didn’t get into music, music got into me.”

And it seems that fans and critics get into Dot Dot Dot. Six thousand bands auditioned for The Next Great American Band, 12 made the cut. For six weeks last fall, Adam and band mates Michael, Stephan, Rose and Lisa took their talent—and their eyeliner—to the west coast, where they lived together in the middle of Hollywood with the other bands, including some Christian rockers, a group of pre-teen boys who often performed shirtless and a couple of indie kids from New York.

From week to week the American Idol-style competition kept the bands on their toes, not always giving them a say in what they played. “Some weeks they gave us an artist and catalog to pick from, some weeks they’d pick for us.”


Rose, Michael, Stephan, Lisa and Adam are ...

Adam and Dot Dot Dot took the challenge of playing songs that weren’t necessarily their style in stride. “I’ve played [a mix of] cover songs and my own music my whole life,” Adam says. “I’ve always had an appreciation for other people’s work. We took whatever they gave us and made it our style even if it didn’t start that way.” One of the songs they covered, Elton John and Bernie Taupin’s “Your Song,” remains in their set list today.

Even though the band’s 5th place finish was impressive and the show catapulted Dot Dot Dot to the national stage, Adam was originally opposed to the band’s participation and isn’t sure he’d choose to participate again if the opportunity presented itself. “It’s a battle of the bands, and music is interpretative. Not competitive.”

Currently, Dot Dot Dot is making the rounds at a number of Chicago’s much-loved summer festivals happily playing for the fans, not the judges. “We like playing festivals in the summer. I’m a huge fan of walking on stage and smelling an elephant ear. We like playing outside. Come say hi.”

I had the good fortune to see their set at Midsommarfest in Andersonville last month, and no matter what style they played, Adam, Lisa, Rose, Stephan, and Michael’s energy was undeniable and contagious. Even Adam’s dad is addicted to the music. He insists on working at the band’s merchandise table any time he sees them perform. “We have people who work the merch table,” Adam says, “but he won’t leave!”

Not that Adam minds having his parents around. In fact, his parents mean so much to him that he had a tribute to them tattooed on his arms: Ima (the Hebrew word for “mom”) is inked on his right arm, and Abba (Hebrew for “dad”) is on his left.

“Mom is the kinda super Jewy one in the family. When I took off my jacket and she could see something was there she said, ‘Oh Jesus Christ! Tell me you tattooed yourself.’ The she started crying because she saw it said “Ima.”

So what comes after the … for Adam and Dot Dot Dot? “We’re recording now and we’re on the road touring at least four nights a week. And you can put the word out that I’m looking for people to join my new band, the Rosh Hasha-na-nas; it’s a Jewish Doo-Wop group.” While I was ready to break into a round of “The Great Pretender” for an impromptu audition, this sounded a little suspect to me. Turns out, Adam was kidding.

Catch Adam and Dot Dot Dot at Taste of Lincoln, Retro on Roscoe, and Market Days this summer, as well as a number of other Midwestern bars and festivals. Their self-titled CD is available on their website as well as iTunes. For a full list upcoming shows or more information about Adam, Lisa, Rose, Michael, and Stephan, check out on their official website  or their MySpace page.

From Miracle Whip to Matzah Balls: My Jewish Culinary Journey

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The author's daughter making hamentaschen

Coming of age in a suburb where salt and pepper were considered exotic spices, I grew up eating corned beef on white bread with Miracle Whip. My parents served eggnog for Chanukah. I had never heard of kugel, kishke or knishes. The thought of chopped liver made my stomach roil. And don’t even get me started on tongue.

When I became active in the Jewish community, this culture gap became embarrassing. On our second date, my now-husband served me an appetizer of chopped herring and I had no idea what it was. Since so much of Jewish life is about food, my milquetoast upbringing made me a woman without a country, a minister without portfolio in the Jewish world.

I now know a number of women who are converting to Judaism, and most of them worry about what kind of Jewish moms they’ll be without family recipes to hand down to their daughters. I feel their pain.

When I graduated from college, all I had in my Jewish recipe file was my grandmother’s date cake studded with bits of Hershey bars. So I was delighted that when Joel and I got engaged, my mom’s Chavurah offered to host a recipe shower to celebrate. Imagine my surprise when members of the Temple Sisterhood proudly presented me with such recipes as Harriet’s baked brie en croute, Jan’s Irish soda bread and Deanna’s authentic spaghetti sauce.

Thankfully, my mother-in-law came through with her noodle kugel recipe, my aunt ponied up her mom’s recipe for poppy seed cookies and my mom valiantly reconstructed my great-aunt’s recipe for chicken soup, which I made for our first Rosh HaShannah as a married couple.

From there, I decided that it was up to me. I bought a Jewish cookbook and started to clip holiday recipes, most from the Chicago Tribune! When our daughter, Jenna, toddled home from pre-school with recipe packets for every Jewish holiday, I tried making them. I bought the Youth Group cookbook, and asked my friends for their recipes.

Then, one Erev Chanukah when Jenna was 4, she asked me when we were making sufganiyot. Not “if,” when. My mouth went dry. Jelly doughnuts? Deep fried? I tried to deflect my little girl’s request with an offer to make latkes from actual potatoes instead of a Manishewicz box. She would not budge, patiently explaining that Israelis made sufganiyot, and so should we. I looked into my child’s earnest eyes and pulled out the canola oil.

The resulting doughnuts—and I use the term loosely—were burnt on the outside, raw on the inside. Jenna declared them delicious. The next day, she announced to her preschool class that her mother was a great Jewish cook who “always” made sufganiyot for Chanukah.

I might not have inherited all the recipes, but it no longer matters. Yes, I make my great-aunt’s chicken soup and my mother-in-law’s kugel for Shabbat, and my grandmother’s chocolate date cake makes an appearance every Sukkot. But it’s Joan Nathan’s hamentaschen for Purim, and an apple cake on Rosh HaShannah from an apple orchard’s cookbook. My cousin Emmi and I created our own flourless chocolate cake for Passover, and Jenna and I have switched to making my friend Aaron’s Sephardic-style latkes for Chanukah. I make cheese blintzes for Shavuot with a recipe I found on the Food Network website. And for any holiday dinner, when in doubt, I make my friend Lisa’s mom’s brisket.

Recently, as Jenna and I were watching Throwdown with Bobby Flay, she said: “Bobby Flay should challenge you to a throwdown. He could never beat your chicken soup.” And I realized that I had arrived.


Linda Cohen is a Diet Coke fanatic who lives in suburbia with her family and two psychotic cats. Linda also is a longtime HIV/AIDS activist who heads up marketing communications for JUF. Her favorite book is The Lone Pilgrim by Laurie Colwin, and she is addicted to “Top Chef” and “Iron Chef America.” She currently is having an affair with Jon Stewart.

8 Questions for Jon Siskel, professional talker, Madonna fan, world traveler

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Jon schleps all over the world for a good story

Jon Siskel gets to travel the world scouting for interesting stories. A partner in Siskel/Jacobs Productions, a Chicago-based television and documentary production company, Siskel currently is in production on a two-hour special for The History Channel, "Voices of 9/11", and is developing a feature documentary about the annual "Louder Than a Bomb" high school team poetry slam competition in Chicago. The company also has produced Head On, a two-hour special for Discovery Channel and Forensics Under Fire, an episode of National Geographic's "Naked Science" series.

So whether you love documentaries, enjoy jumping off of tall things or share an interest in Captain Underpants, Jon Siskel is a Jew you should know!

1. What did you want to be when you grew up?
A stuntman. I used climb everything as a kid... my elementary school, trees, my parents house—I used to jump off all of them, except for the school.

2. What do you love about what you do today?
I get to talk to people for a living and they allow me to tell their stories. I've interviewed Senators, archeologists, a Burmese drug lord and demolition derby drivers...I love my work!

3. What are you reading?
Captain Underpants...to my kids.

4. What’s your favorite place to eat in Chicago?
Hot Chocolate. In the interest of full disclosure, my friend Mindy Segal is the owner and chef...but it really is my favorite place to eat. Try it, you'll love it!!

5. If money and logistical reality played no part, what would you invent?
Peace on Earth...I could say more but why?!

6. Would you rather have the ability of fly or the ability to be invisible?
Fly...The price of gas is crazy.

7. If I scrolled through your iPod, what guilty pleasure song would I find?
Madonna's "Hung Up.” I love everything from punk to country and the Grateful Dead to Miles Davis, but every once and awhile you need a dose of sugar sweet pop music and Madonna is the best.

8. What’s your favorite Jewish thing to do in Chicago—in other words, how do you Jew?
Shabbat dinner at home with my wife Sophia and our two boys, Nathan and Jonah.

In Chicago, the Glass Is Always Half Full

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A summer drinking guide from an expert


Ari helps you think before you drink!

Hello Oy!sters! It’s your friendly neighborhood Jewish bartender, back again with some exciting things to tell you. To me, Chicago summers mean wonderful weather and sizzling hot spots, overflowing with some of the best cocktails to cool you down or pick you up. I have personally scouted the city and only have enough room in this issue for six of the hottest to check out this summer, including spots even native Chicagoans might not know about. Join me for this virtual tour of the best places in the downtown area to kick back and savor the flavor!

The Lux Bar  – 18 E. Bellevue Pl. 
This bar is a great introduction to the Chicago bar scene, residents and visitors alike. I knew when I stepped in through the doors and saddled up at the bar for a drink that this was a neat place to be, any time of the day, outside or in. Now, in terms of cocktails there are many ways to go here. If you want to play it relatively safe I would recommend the Key West Mango Frappe with orange vodka, mango puree and fresh ginger, or perhaps the Fresh Fruit Sling, made with lemon vodka, lemon juice, homemade simple syrup and seasonal fruit. For those willing to go outside their comfort zone, the Ramos Fizz is simply amazing—the drink is crafted with raw egg white and cream and after some vigorous shaking, the cream and egg whites blend giving the cocktail a rich, frothy finish.

This cocktail was made famous by a bartender in New Orleans, who would set up his Gin Fizz station, hire twenty men and have each cocktail shaken for 15 minutes per person and handed down the line to each man until it had been shaken continuously for hours! It’s a fun journey of flavors that everyone should try once.

De La Costa  – 465 E Illinois St. 
This Chicago hot spot is a must-see for anyone looking for a good time. While it’s known primarily for its food and atmosphere, the signature cocktails are surprisingly well-constructed and creative. The selection of cocktails begins with standard bar fare: the cosmopolitan, the Mojito, etc. As I continued down the list I came across something wild and new in the cocktail world that quite possibly may be this summer’s best drink. Called "Poptails," these delicious drinks arrive in squat martini glasses and are garnished with flavored alcoholic popsicles! Try the sensational coco-lime Poptail and enjoy the fun atmosphere all night long.

Nacional 27 – 325 W. Huron St.
This fusion restaurant, known for its eclectic atmosphere and good eats, is often overlooked for its dazzling drinks. National 27 takes cocktails to a whole new level, turning them into meals in a glass! Their drink menu is full of a wide range of white and red wines to enjoy from many parts of the world, but they also boast quite a selection of rums and tequilas to sample alone or mixed. Adam Seger, head bar chef and sommelier, creates many of his own syrups and mixes in-house, including Bloody Marys, Sangria, Tres Leches and Horchata. He even makes his own maraschino cherries. He has won many accolades for his pioneering skills behind the bar, and it shows in his signature drinks. My recommendation, other than wine, would be the Passion Fruit Screwdriver, topped with a beautiful pineapple-vanilla foam garnish.

Cru – 25 E. Delaware St.
While Cru is my main competition for clientele, I cannot deny its history and reputation as one of the premier wine bars in the Gold Coast area, on the corner of Wabash and Delaware. Not only is their wine selection exquisite, but they are also down the street from one of Chicago’s oldest Jewish congregations, Chicago Sinai Congregation. My cousin Evan Moffic is the Assistant rabbi at the reform synagogue, so join the congregation if you need a place to daven in the city at the last minute!

But back to Cru. It’s is the perfect place to relax outside, enjoy a glass of wine, and observe the bustling Michigan Avenue crowds. My recommendations are as follows: for sparking, try the Portuguese Brut Rose, pink in color but full of flavor. For a white wine, either the Chenin Blanc from South Africa, or the more expensive (but well worth it) Chapoutier from the rich Rhone Valley in France. The red to sample here is the sinsky Merlot from Napa. Cru also offers sparkling cider and sake and a very tasty Saketini made with Ketel One and pickled ginger.

Inter-Continental Hotel – 505 N. Michigan Ave.
When trying to decide which beverage depots to share, I had to put at least one hotel bar on the list, and this is one experience you can’t afford to pass up. Alex Rose, a classmate of mine at the Academy and the Assistant Bar Manager at The Bar located in the hotel, can’t stop talking about his establishment’s trip back in time to Chicago’s infamous 1920’s Prohibition Era, décor and all! This might surprise you, but rather than choose a Prohibition drink or one of their many fabulous martinis, I am recommending their semi-secret and ultra-fabulous Cosmopolitan. Guaranteed to be lip-smacking good! Make this one of your stops as you bar hop through the city and you won’t be disappointed.

Cityscape Bar –  Holiday Inn Chicago Mart Plaza • 350 West Mart Center Drive
Finally! This is my personal hidden gem that few Chicagoans know about, and the word is spreading fast! You know how great chefs always say that presentation matters, that we “eat with our eyes first?” Well, this bar nestled atop the Holiday Inn and boasting one of the most gorgeous nighttime skyline views the city has to offer, fits the bill. It offers an amazing cocktail list. If you’re a fan of tea, you’ll love their Pomegranate Rose martini with a rare European rose nectar and a candied lime slice. For spice lovers, the Cajun Spice martini consisting of pepper vodka and pepper-stuffed olives is the drink for you. However, my personal favorite takes me back to when I was a kid in Wisconsin sampling some of the best root beer from the original A&W store. The Root Beer Float Martini is made with Absolute Vodka, root beer schnapps, Godiva Chocolate Liqueur and a Root Beer candy.

Well, I hope you all found this guide to be helpful and are eager to explore. I encourage all of you to not fear the mixed drinkGUYS: DO NOT BE AFRAID OF MIXED DRINKS!!! Break the shackles of alcoholic conformity, take a leap of faith and try something different. Start with what you know you like and work from there.

I know there are plenty of places that I did not cover that would make this list easily, so please feel free to share your favorite drinks and places to toast. As always, I am here to answer any of your questions or give my opinions on favorite cocktail recipes or cool drinking establishments.


Printing Roots

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An exhibition


Liz, contemplating corn and listening to Low.

I draw inspiration from lost roots, genealogy, old urban and farm architecture, residential history, sociological photography, the Midwest at night, resistance fighters, people that get me in the gut, ghosts, and music that settles somewhere between my sternum and abdomen.

These samples of my work are collagraphs—which is my favorite printmaking technique involving mounting materials onto a plate (made of cardboard, metal, etc…) and then (usually) pulling it on a press.


Part Elie Wiesel and part Low’s “Long Division” album. My Mom thinks it looks like a house on fire.


These are a couple of giraffes. You know, just the coat hanger antler things on the tops of their heads. Nothing deep. It's funny because I get the most emotional responses to this one—people think it's about abandonment, or a relationship splitting up.


I was listening to “Extended Play Two” by Broadcast a lot. It was an eyelash-freezing winter, I was hulled up in the house and had the CD on repeat.

This one was inspired by a friend.


I used to love pulling the silk off of the ears of corn with my Mom on the back porch in the summer. I have a deep, deep place in my heart for Midwestern Moms.

Chunk of downtown.


Elie Wiesel walking the streets of the Loop. I would totally buy him a hot dog. Kosher, of course.

Liz Weinstein was bred in Oak Park and buttered in Chicago. She's currently living as a Hausfrau in Germany but still refuses to iron the sheets. Her obsessions include record collecting, WWII memoirs, snapshots and printmaking. She's also a graphic designer.

I Love You ... Your Turn

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Matt was never afraid to say "I love you." 

Second to “It’s not your baby,” it’s the next biggest English phrase that should stir emotion in the recipient. And sure, we’ve all used it and heard it. Some may have used it as a “get out of jail free pass” from the fight over you leering at the girl who just walked by. And we’ve all probably used it at the end of our phone conversations with mommy or daddy even without really thinking about it, more of an involuntary statement that always ends the conversation. Even after all of the nagging and guilt followed by anxiety and rage mommy instills in us, we still say it. And whatever form it takes, we’ve all been too apathetic with our use of the phrase.

We’re at our worst when it comes to finals time, where our focus shifts and priorities in life jumble together with the immediate fear of failure. We hear it in the distant background from our boyfriend/girlfriend while we’re hyper-focused on the impending doom from our Civ Pro exam. We’re just too damn busy to actually hear and pay notice to those words from our loved ones. I’m not saying a good study ethic, hard work and a strong focus in law is bad. But like heroin, hookers and healthy eating, hyper-focus requires moderation and a heavy consideration of the bigger picture. And saying, hearing and meaning the phrase “I love you” is much more important in the bigger picture.

Here’s one example why.

Louie was set to be a major league baseball pitcher. His father, a giant in stature with a deep voice and kind heart, always talked about how Louie’s screwball would take the league. Louie had an advantage over the others from the day he was born. He broke his collarbone during birth, turning his hands facing slightly away from his body instead of facing towards, like most others. During his childhood, Louie’s parents worked with him to solve any situations caused by his birth situation. He was also born with a slightly enlarged heart and other minor difficulties. But regardless of the complications, Louie led a mostly normal to above normal lifestyle as a kid. Obviously, he played baseball, was a good student, had hundreds of friends, was always running around. His complications became solvable situations, and some to his advantage. Like I said, the fact that his hands were turned out gave him an advantage on the ball-field, since his hands were crafted for the elusive pitch that was set to send him to the big leagues.

On an average morning, on an average day, Louie’s mother went to wake him up, as she’d done for years. Unfortunately, Louie didn’t wake up to his mother’s call, nor his mother’s grasps, nor his mother’s cries. The doctors said that his enlarged heart may have pinched on an artery during his sleep, causing him to pass away sometime during the night. His heart may have been just too big for this world to hold. Louie’s professional baseball career ended before it actually started. He was 13. 

There’s not a day that goes by where we say “I love you” to our parents and girlfriends without really thinking about what it means and how the phrase matters. We take love for granted and hardly take the time to explain to another person that we appreciate them for how they’ve affected our lives. We just went through our finals, most of us putting our boyfriends/girlfriends through hell as we tried to fight for our sanity while cramming in as much of the “bundles of sticks” of Property Law as we could. They may have said they love us, they may have tried to kiss us, and we probably returned with evil looks or smelly bodies (I hardly shower during finals week). But finals time, like the holidays, like EVERY day, should be a time where we try our hardest not to take for granted the love that we receive. I’m just as guilty, if not more, than the rest of us.

So, being that I have a public forum:

I love you Mom and Dad, for every waking hour you sat with me as I went from hospital bed to surgery, back to hospital bed and back to surgery. For every tear you may have held back in front of me, your little boy, so I would reflect your strength through some of the hardest times. And even for the times where we disagreed, you allowed me to do that and know that I am free to do so. I love you, brother, for your bull-headish unwavering protection over me. For giving me the comfort in knowing that whatever I’d need, you’d get it for me if I asked. Even for the times that you kicked my ass when I was younger, for you taught me both to stand up for myself and to duck faster than the person throwing the punch.

I love you, friends and family, for being my friends and thus my family. There are never enough words to prove that I love and appreciate you, other than me saying that I love you and appreciate you! True friends emote true feelings and create true memories, and once you realize the value of true memories and true feelings, you’ll understand the need to thank your friends.

Now it’s your turn. Call mommy and say thank you. Tell her you love her. Call dad and tell him you appreciate him and his sacrifices. Hug your cat. Kiss your friends (leave out the tongue). Do what you need to do to show them they are appreciated and loved. No one ever knows the time when we’ll leave this place, and none of us have the opportunity to change death. What we can do, is change the LIFE of others by the words and the emotions we give to them.

Do that. Give your love, respect, admiration, and appreciation to those only you know deserve it.  And though I didn’t know you all that well… I love you, Louie.

This piece originally appeared Chicago Kent Law School’s publication, The Commentator in March, 2007.

Oy!Chicago would like to thank Matt's mom, Roberta, for sharing this story with us and our Oy! readers. Read more about Matt in A Tribute to Matt.

8 Questions for Stereo Sinai, bible beat-makers, activists, pop music fans

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Alan and Miriam, giving biblical verses a new tune.

Miriam Brosseau and Alan Jay Sufrin were making music together long before they started the “Biblegum pop” duo Stereo Sinai, born in celebration of another birth—their rabbi’s son, Gideon. Alan and Miriam teamed up to write a lullaby, taking original Hebrew verses from the book of Judges and mixing them with a synthesized pop arrangement. The single, "Gideon's Song” gave life to the band.

So whether you like the Good Book, have an affinity for Intelligentsia or make a killer soup, Miriam and Alan are Jews you should know!

1.  What did you want to be when you grew up?
Miriam: I went through a couple of the usual phases--architect, marine biologist, Olympic roller-skater. But, ultimately, it was either rabbi or rock star that won out.
Alan: I wanted to be a rabbi first, then a folksinger. Miriam and I are a lot alike.

2.  What do you love about what you do today?
Miriam: I love the whole creative process of songwriting. It’s really magical to see a song through from a few scribbles on a napkin to that first performance. And now, working with biblical texts adds a whole new dimension. It’s exciting.
Alan: Not everyone gets to combine their passions like we do. For me, there’s nothing better than mixing my love of creating pop music with my love of Judaism and environmentalism. And as it turns out, I’m really enjoying the business aspect of things, which I didn’t expect at first. It’s so important in indie pop music to communicate and collaborate as much as possible.

3.  What are you reading?
Miriam:The Omnivore’s Dilemma,” by Michael Pollan. Easily one of the most interesting books I’ve read in a long time. It really makes you think about the way you approach food.
Alan: Isaac Bashevis Singer, “The Collected Stories.” I’m such a Jew nerd.

4.  What's your favorite place to eat in Chicago?
Miriam: Nothing beats Intelligentsia coffee—best in the city by far.
Alan:  That’s easy. Miriam makes some killer soups right at home. …I’m not a shut-in, really.

5.  If money and logistical reality played no part, what would you invent?
Miriam: I’d invent a consequence machine. Every government would be required to have one. They would have to enter a description of what they were about to do, and the machine would list the real-life consequences of that action.  
Alan: Probably some sort of telepathy thing. Finding out how other people think has always been fascinating to me.

6.  Would you rather have the ability to fly or the ability to be invisible?
Miriam: Definitely fly. That’d be a pretty cool stage effect.
Alan: I’d rather be able to fly because, well let’s face it, as a musician, invisibility is exactly the thing I’m trying to avoid.

7.  If I scrolled through your iPod, what guilty pleasure song would I find?
Miriam: “King of Wishful Thinking” by Go West. It’s the first song on the “Pretty Woman” soundtrack and it was the song I tried out with for American Idol. (Shhh…)
Alan: That’s a hard one, because I think you would probably consider almost all the songs on my iPod to be guilty pleasures. I’m an unabashed bubblegum pop fan. But, “Genie in a Bottle.”

8.  What's your favorite Jewish thing to do in Chicago—in other words, how do you Jew?
Miriam: There’s a cool local organization called Kfar that puts on these great art-y, culture-y, Jewish-y events. It’s fun to see other Jewish artists at work and it’s always a totally chill, open environment.
Alan: I’m a part of PACT (Public Action for Change Today). It’s a great social action group that works with Chicago alder-people and state representatives for various causes, such as raising environmental awareness and combating homelessness in Chicago communities. There are a number of caucuses made up of community organizers from different groups of Chicagoans, and I’m one of the Jews in the Jewish Caucus. Oh, and I love singing pop songs from the Torah, of course!  Was that too corny?

A Tribute to Matt

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Matt, accomplishing.

In true Jewish geography fashion, my mom’s best friend Linda introduced me to her other best friend Roberta, who then introduced me to her son, Matt. And though Matt and I never had the chance meet in person, his story—as told through his mother and his own writing—will remain close to my heart forever.

Matthew Louis Lash, a 2007 graduate of Chicago-Kent College of Law, died April 30, 2008 at age 27 after a seven and a half year battle with Ewing’s sarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer. His life, tragically cut short, was everything but a tragedy. Refusing to let his battle with cancer beat down his spirit, he set out to accomplish in just 27 years what most people can only hope to achieve in 70. In the short time Matt spent here in Chicago, he left a lasting mark on the people he met through law school and his Birthright Israel trip, serving as an inspiration to every single person who was fortunate enough to cross his path.

I spoke with his mom Roberta over the phone a little less than two months after Matt passed away. I had expected to hear sadness and grief in her voice; instead I heard only pride and joy. She laughed as she told me all the incredible feats Matt accomplished, all while undergoing chemo and after having his leg amputated, and how he had kept his sense of humor through it all. I think if we had the time, our conversation could have continued well into the night.

Matt was first diagnosed in December of 2000. He had injured his heel, and after it didn’t get better and a cyst formed, his doctors decided he needed surgery. After successfully completing the surgery, they discovered the cancer—a rare, incurable form of bone cancer of which there are only 300 cases per year.  Roberta recalled the exact date and time, Dec. 28 at 2 p.m. “From that point on Matt was on a new course,” she said.

After three months of chemo, Matt opted to have his leg amputated from the knee down, in an effort to prevent the cancer from spreading.

In an essay published along with his obituary in the Detroit Jewish News, his hometown paper, Matt wrote the following, titled What is it Like to Have Your Leg Amputated: 

“It sucks,” he began, but then continued:

“It hurts, but your leg heals…I traveled to Europe for two weeks with buddies. I took my leg off in the middle of a huge parade in Germany and waved it around hundreds of onlookers. I graduated (college at Michigan State University) in five years, three of them involving surgeries and chemo. I walked across the stage. I lived in Spain for a study-abroad program in law school. I used an old pizza box as padding for my leg because I danced literally all night in San Sebastian…I traveled to Israel. I met the most beautiful women in the world there and got shot down by all of them! I also climbed a mountain overlooking Jordan and Syria. I rode a camel. I graduated law school...I stood as best man to watch my brother marry his beautiful bride. I got to hold my new baby niece, Ella, and kiss her chubby face when she was born. So yes, it’s also pretty freaking cool.”

Six months after the surgery Matt should have been okay, but the cancer had spread to his lungs and he was told he had five years tops left to live—he made it seven and a half.

“No one’s going to tell Matt anything,” Roberta said. “They’re not going to tell him he can’t climb a mountain, no one’s going to tell him he can’t graduate law school.”

On his trip to Israel through the Birthright Israel program in Chicago, Matt’s group was set to climb Mount Schlomo, when their tour guide asked him if he would rather wait at the bottom. “’No way,’ he told him, and then beat everyone to the top,” Roberta said, and then he held his leg high in the air. “He really impacted everybody,” she said, noting that they continue to tell his story at every Birthright Israel orientation session.


Matt defying gravity on Mt. Shlomo in Israel

In addition to his travels and studies, Matt also completed an internship for Major League Baseball with Bud Selig in New York and worked for the city district attorney’s office in Los Angeles during this time.

Then, in August of last year, he had another surgery and never fully recovered. When doctors told him he had two weeks to live, Roberta and her husband, Cliff, were fortunate to be able to bring him home.

True to form, he lived for two weeks and one day.

And though he is gone, Matt’s legacy will live on. A group of Matt’s law school friends initiated the Matthew Louis Lash Scholarship Fund at Chicago-Kent College of Law in his memory, which Roberta said she hopes will be awarded to a student facing some kind of health challenge.

His Birthright Israel group has also established a memorial fund in his honor to help support a school they visited together in Kiryat Gat. Each year, Matt participated in the American Cancer Society’s Relay For Life, and his team, Team Chaverim (friends), plans to continue the tradition.

And his voice, sense of humor and witty and optimistic outlook is forever documented through his writing. During law school, Matt wrote essays for Chicago-Kent’s student newspaper,  The Commentator . He had also started writing a book, titled “Cancer Boy,” which incorporated some of those essays, and others, as well as chapters including “Doing It For The Children (masturbating in a cup),” “I Met Jesus When They Took Off My Leg (the amputation)” and “Hi, I Have Cancer and One Leg, Want To Date Me? (about dating and the leg),” using his experiences as both entertainment and a guide for other young adults going through similar experiences.

“This book is not an autobiography,” he writes in the book’s Prologue, titled “Epilogue.” “A great autobiography has a great beginning, a great middle and a great end. My great end has yet to be written.”

And the great end to his book is also ‘yet to be written,’ but Roberta said she is considering having the book finished and published.

“Matt felt moved to write about these things,” she said. “He was on a different level with how he looked at things.”

In honor of Matt, a true Jew You Should Know who lived meaningfully and Jewishly, Oy!Chicago is publishing one of his essays from The Commentator as this week’s Living Jewishly column. Hopefully his words in “I Love You...Your Turn” will touch you as they have touched me and so many others who were fortunate enough to have read them.

Jewish Identity In Service

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Small but growing numbers discover new cultural horizons and deeper commitment to ideals of faith


U.S. Army Armor Company Commander Johnie Bath with his family, his wife, Jamie Adelman, and their twins, Netanya and Nathaniel.

Saying the Shema in Baghdad

Prayer helped U.S. Army Armor Company Commander Johnie Bath through tough times in the Iraqi war zone.

Though limited food options made it hard for him to keep kosher and he wasn’t able to practice the Hebrew that he had been learning back home, he often chanted prayers, particularly the Shema, a Jewish prayer pledging allegiance to God. “My rabbi told me to say the Shema twice a day,” he recalls. “I said it easily twice a day, probably more. Whenever things got a little hairy, it was reassuring to say the Shema and I felt that I was covered just in case.”

Today, Bath feels like his prayers have paid off. His wife, Jamie Adelman, and their 1-year-old twins welcomed Bath home this spring after he completed his one-year deployment in Iraq. A career Army man, Bath, who is currently based with his family in Fort Riley, Kan., joined the military 16 years ago, after graduating from high school. “I was a young, patriotic kid, wanting to find excitement,” he says. “I jumped at the opportunity to go overseas and jump out of airplanes.”

He and Adelman, who married two years ago, settled in Lincolnwood while Bath served in the Illinois National Guard. When he requested active duty status, his first assignment took him to Baghdad, where he helped prepare the Iraqi army for combat.

Before his deployment, however, Bath had accomplished two life-changing events. First, he stood by his wife’s side for the birth of their two children, daughter, Netanya, and son, Nathaniel, who underwent heart surgery as an infant, but is now healthy.

Then, shortly after their birth, in February of 2007, Bath converted to Judaism at Congregation B’nai Tikvah, a Conservative synagogue in Deerfield. Growing up in a small Ohio town, Bath had felt little to no religious attachment to his Christian origins. Longing for a religious identity, he had explored Judaism even before meeting his wife, but dating her solidified his desire to become a Jew by choice.

Today, especially in his dangerous line of work, he finds comfort in his Jewish identity.


Rabbi Maj. Ira S. Ehrenpreis (below) having fun with the guys in his unit after a 100 yd low crawl through a mud ditch. Ehrenpreis would frequently send Jewish care packages to the men in his unit.

Proud to serve

Like Bath, other Chicago-area Jewish troops and chaplains are part of the small Jewish minority of the U.S. Armed Forces who have been serving this country for the past seven years in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The Chicago Jewish community mourned the loss of one local soldier last winter. Cpl. Albert Bitton, a 20-year-old Jewish medic serving his seventh month in Iraq. Bitton was killed in February—along with two other soldiers—in Baghdad when an IED (improvised explosive device) struck their Humvee. He had joined the Army in 2005 after graduating from Ida Crown Jewish Academy in Chicago, with aspirations of receiving the training and financial help to become a surgeon some day. In a letter to his friends, Bitton assured them that he would remain devoted to Judaism while serving his country, pledging to pray each day: “I will always remain a Jew, every step of the way.”

There’s debate over how many Jews serve overseas. While the U.S. Military says that 0.3 percent of personnel are Jewish, the Jewish Community Center Association’s (JCCA) Jewish Welfare Board (JWB) Jewish Chaplains Council maintains that the number is higher—1 percent, which translates to some 8,000 troops, additionally, 29 Jewish chaplains currently are dispersed around the world.

“It’s hard to get an exact count,” says Rabbi Harold L. Robinson, a retired U.S. Navy rear admiral and director of the JWB Jewish Chaplains Council. “The military no longer keeps those kinds of statistics in any reliable way. Jews tend to not necessarily declare their religious identity on official forms, especially if they’re going to the Middle East.”

The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) makes provisions for personnel, including Jews, to observe their faith without interfering with military operations. In the Army, soldiers are permitted to wear yarmulkes (skullcaps) as long as they do not conflict with the wearing of protective headgear, according to Lt. Col. Anne Edgecomb, of the Department of the Army Public Affairs. Beards often worn by religious Jews, however, are unauthorized because they may interfere with gear, said Edgecomb.

In past wars, Jewish troops hid their Jewish identity more often than they do today because anti-Semitism is less of an obstacle in the military than in decades past, according to Rabbi Maj. Ira S. Ehrenpreis, a Jewish chaplain returning from Iraq this summer. Even during the first Gulf War, Jewish soldiers were encouraged to hide their religious identity and write “Protestant B” on their dog tags, an internal code indicating to military chaplains that they were Jewish, according to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. Yet today, the military does nothing to hide the religious identity of any personnel, according to the DOD, and Jews usually reveal their Jewish identity on their dog tags.

Larger military overseas posts offer Shabbat and High Holiday services as well as kosher and vegetarian meal rations. In addition, the Jewish Soldier Foundation and New Jersey-based LaBriute (to your health) Meals have teamed up to provide thousands of kosher meals to Jewish troops overseas.


Recruits celebrate shake their groggers (noisemakers) at a Shabbat service on the holiday of Purim.

Making deals with the Almighty

Last Passover, Ehrenpreis hosted a seder for U.S. army troops in an unlikely place—one of Saddam Hussein’s former palaces in Baghdad.

As the soldiers concluded the seder with a Passover favorite tune, “Echad Mi Yodea,” (Who knows one?), they heard a mortar attack outside the walls of the palace. They turned their faces downward and didn’t move until it was all clear. “We finished with this wonderful feeling, [knowing the significance] of holding the seder in Saddam’s palace,” says Ehrenpreis, one of only three Jewish chaplains currently stationed in Iraq.

Ehrenpreis is a long way from his former life as a special education and Talmud teacher in Far Rockaway, N.Y. An observant Jewish rabbi who later relocated to West Rogers Park with his wife and five children, he joined the chaplaincy in homage to both his religion and his ancestors.

“I thought it was an opportunity for a Kiddush Hashem, (an action that brings honor, respect, and glory to God),” he says. “I wanted to travel the world and introduce myself to thousands of people who have never even spoken to a Jewish person, let alone a rabbi,” he explained. “It’s important to have a Jewish presence in the military because this is the country that my grandparents were able to come to after World War I, escaping the Cossacks, and seeking refuge. My rebbe (rabbi) said that every day we should raise the American flag because we have the privilege of freedom and religion.”

So 13 years ago, Ehrenpreis shaved his beard and the next day entered a New Jersey training center for chaplains with 245 Southern Baptists and other Protestants, five priests, and one Jew—himself. He is the first and only rabbi in the Illinois National Guard, in which he served for three years, and has spent a decade on active duty, twice in Kuwait and once in Iraq.

In the Persian Gulf, the rabbi wears two hats. He and the few other Jewish chaplains in Iraq coordinate religious coverage such as Shabbat services, Jewish holidays, and kosher food. In his second hat, he acts as a battalion chaplain for 500 soldiers, most of them from Louisiana, and none of them Jewish. His soldiers are 40 percent Catholic, 45 percent Protestant, and 15 percent unaffiliated. He acts as a confidant and a spiritual guide for his troops, leading them in prayer at trying times.

“Let’s say they’re going on a dangerous convoy,” he said. “If someone feels particularly anxious and would like a particular prayer, I may give him a hug and then we say that prayer together.”

Ehrenpreis himself was accustomed to praying often in Chicago, but he stepped it up a notch when he arrived in Baghdad. “When I am home in West Rogers Park, I daven (pray) morning, afternoon, and evening,” he says. “Yet, I realized that I was probably doing more davening over here in Baghdad, talking more to the Almighty, making deals: ‘If I come back alive, I promise I will learn one full page of Gemara (Torah commentary).’”


Army Captain Jason Blonstein praying at the Jewish Chapel at West Point.

‘Sacred time’: Fridays from 7-9 p.m.

Basic training at the Great Lakes Naval Recruit Training Command (RTC) is a world that’s regimented and time-controlled. No iPods, no cell phones, no hairstyle choices. Yet, one aspect of life not dictated for soldiers is the freedom to pray and express their religious identity.

Shabbat services—strictly from 7-9 p.m.—is when the Jewish Community Centers of Chicago (JCC) reaches out to Jewish recruits at RTC, the third-largest Navy base in the country, located in Great Lakes, north of Chicago. The volunteer chaplaincy program, a model program for the country started by JCC leaders last year, coordinates rabbis and cantors to lead Shabbat services and sometimes holiday services at the training center.

“Coming to Shabbat services is probably the only opportunity the recruits have in a given week to call each other by their first names, to talk with one another, to share their feelings,” says Rabbi Nina Mizrahi, director of JCC’s Pritzker Center for Jewish Education and coordinator of the chaplaincy program, who also sometimes leads services. “They come at 7 p.m., but at 9’oclock, they’re out of there. They don’t have watches. It’s an incredibly sacred time for them.”

Last year, Rabbi Harold L. Robinson—a retired U.S. Navy rear admiral, and director of the JCC Association’s Jewish Welfare Board (JWB) Jewish Chaplains Council—and representatives of the Navy Chaplain Corps alerted JCC to the need to fill more chaplaincy positions at the RTC. The U.S. Navy has only eight chaplains, but requires 12. And the need for Jewish chaplains is even greater. There hasn’t been a full-time rabbi stationed at Great Lakes since its last military rabbi left the base two years ago. To fill the void, JCC, along with the Chicago Board of Rabbis, worked with the RTC to scout rabbis and some cantors to lead services at the base.

Each week, some 15-35 recruits, primarily Jewish and from a wide range of socioeconomic and Jewish backgrounds, attend Friday night services. “As a Jew [in the Navy], sometimes it’s easy to feel like you’re the only one,” says Lt. Cdr. Joshua Taylor, a former RTC recruit. “The chaplaincy program allows us the opportunity to connect with other Jews and to get a sense of community that might otherwise be lacking.”

While rabbinical styles vary, each Shabbat service includes elements of a prayer service, learning, and an oneg (Shabbat party), and some offer music or other forms of entertainment. On Shabbat, Mizrahi asks those recruits who comfortable enough to introduce themselves and discuss a given topic such as their families back home or a moment in the past week when they appreciated nature.

“You have to create a sense of community in the context of the service,” says Mizrahi. “So they’ll straggle in and sit, and some know each other, but by the end of that time together, we need to have gotten to a place that’s communal—and we do—and that’s what’s extraordinary.”

A West Point bar mitzvah

Jason Blonstein celebrated his bar mitzvah, but not at the age of 13. Rather, his special day arrived years later and far from home—as a 21-year-old recruit at West Point, the New York military academy, where approximately 1.5 percent of the 4,000 students are Jewish. Though he was raised as a Jew in his hometown of Palatine, Blonstein—now an Army captain—engaged in few Jewish rituals growing up. Yet, once he arrived at West Point, Judaism piqued his interest.

“We would go to synagogue a lot of times on Friday nights because our freshman year we couldn’t leave [campus],” he says. “It was a way to socialize and get some food.” He even joined, and later led, the Jewish choir, in part to “to meet girls.”

Yet, there was more involved than grub and girls. “I just don’t think I had a positive Jewish influence when I was younger, but I had those influences around me at West Point,” he says. “I took advantage of the opportunity to learn more about my religion and culture.”

Then, during his junior year at the Academy, Blonstein chose to have a bar mitzvah. He would wake up early in the morning to study Torah with the rabbi on campus. Blonstein’s mother and father—a former Marine—and other family and friends flew to West Point for his ceremony.

After graduating from West Point, he trained on tanks and was commissioned as second lieutenant and then as an armor officer in Fort Knox, Ky. From 2001-2006, he served in Bavaria, Kosovo, and later was deployed to Balad, Iraq, for one year.

Though Blonstein found comfort in his Jewish identity while stationed in Iraq, religion wasn’t the first thing on his mind when lives were on the line. “It becomes more about the guy next to you,” he ssys. “My role as an officer was to try to accomplish the mission and bring back all my soldiers.”

Two years ago, Blonstein left Iraq and moved home to Chicago, where he currently works for an energy company, and plans to volunteer in the Jewish community. He encourages more young Jews to join the military as an alternative to mainstream college education. For Blonstein, serving was a way to say thank you. “Going into the military,” he says, “was a way I could give back to a country that I felt had already given me so much.”

Getting Girls … and Laughs

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Mike, a self-proclaimed walking Jew joke

Like many recent college graduates, Mike Tureff is testing the job market waters with a stint in public relations. But Mike has bigger dreams—he is a budding Chicago comedian. A self-described “open-mike rat,” Mike can be found most nights and weekends performing at venues including The Pressure Café, The Globe, and Cigars and Stripes.

Mike originally turned to comedy in high school with an ulterior motive—to get girls. “I don’t think it’s so much that I realized I was funny as that I realized I wasn’t good looking enough to get girls without being funny,” he says. “If the day ever comes when girls are no longer impressed by my awful, coffee–house jokes, it will be the day I will have to start getting some sun and doing push-ups.”

But it wasn’t until college at Ohio State that he realized he had a real talent for making people laugh. “I started off doing comedy troupe shows in high school and college, but it never really suited my strengths. I’m a terrible actor, I can never remember any lines, and I have a radio face, a radio body and radio clothes. So I started doing stand-up in Columbus and once I got my first paying gig it was a huge moment in my life. Hollywood? Yeah it’s me, Mike, I’ve finally made it...and I’ll take my 20 bucks now.”

His stand up usually centers around what he calls the “banality of daily life.” Part of our interview sounded a bit like one of his hilarious routines…

“I grew up in a little town called Northbrook, Illinois, a North Shore community known for its burgeoning cultural scene and ethnic diversity. And of course by that I mean the exact opposite. I’m pretty sure Inuit’s living in the Arctic Circle met more black guy’s growing up than I did--which was why going to Ohio State was such a wonderful experience for me. I remember walking on to campus on the first day and feeling like I was on the floor of the United Nations."

Influenced by a wide array of comedians—including Zach Galifianakis, Mitch Hedberg, Dave Attell, Brian Regan, and Dave Chappell—his favorite comedian is Louis CK, who is best known for his observational comedy. “He’s a genius, plus he taught me that nobody cares about some kid who can think of funny things to say. People really start laughing—that deep, heart-felt laugh—when you show them how awful your life is.”

Some famous members of the tribe are also on his top ten list. “I’m so jealous of how David Cross and Jon Stewart are able to make politics funny,” Tureff says. “I have a few political jokes but I could never base a whole routine off of how myopic, xenophobic and intolerant republicans are.”

Mike’s self deprecating humor takes full advantage of his status as one of the chosen people. “I’m a walking Jew joke. My existence on earth is a Jew joke. If you searched Wikipedia for ‘What does Dick Cheney laugh about at dinner parties’ there’s a picture of me standing in line at 7-Eleven. I’m convinced that minorities have such an unbelievable leg up in terms of comedy. There’s just an oppressed, conspiratorial mindset that I think any minority has on a given day.”

Unexpected guests at a performance can make or break Mike’s routine. “Oh easily my worst moments are when groups of my friends show up without telling me. It always tilts me because I feel like I have to tell my A material without trying anything unpopular. Not to mention that they heckle me with what can only be described as a hate-crime like ferocity.”

Although Mike loves doing stand up and plans to decide in the near future whether or not he will pursue it full-time, he is still learning to cope with his new found fame. “I despise being told that I ‘had a great show,’” he says. “I’m paranoid about being patronized. Yes, I realize that I’m neurotic, but at least this proves I’m actually Jewish.”

Check out Mike’s next performance at The Globe, in Lakeview on July 7th, just don’t tell him how hilarious he is.

Some Preliminary Thoughts About Loss

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A family vacation covers it all: celebrating and reminiscing, growing up and growing old


The cousins pose with Grandma at her birthday dinner.

Last Memorial Day weekend, 19 of my Jewish relatives gathered in Florida to celebrate two major life cycle events: my grandma’s 80th birthday and my grandparents’ 61st wedding anniversary. We went to Friday night services. We ate Chinese food. We played the longest, most competitive game of Uno ever (I won, of course). We ate cake. Those of us from the Midwest did our best to catch up with the perfect tans of our Floridian cousins. We sat in the hot tub.

And I experienced a mess of emotions: happiness, sadness, guilt, calmness, anxiety… the list could go on.

Surprising my grandma by showing up to her synagogue for Friday night services was great fun, but something felt out of place. The fancy birthday dinner we had for my grandma and her closest friends was a wonderful celebration, but we couldn’t help but notice my grandpa’s absence. For the first time, he wasn’t well enough to leave the nursing home to attend the celebrations.

The only time we were all together was when we crowded into his small room at the nursing home with a happy anniversary cake, but it didn’t feel so much like a party. On the surface, the weekend was about celebrating major events but, for me, it was also about facing the reality of watching the people we love grow older.

I tend to brush off thoughts of death and loss because they make me feel uncomfortable, but that hour in my grandpa’s room brought the subjects to the forefront of my mind in a way I hadn’t prepared for. I thought maybe it was time to finally sit down and think about them.

(blank stare)

I realized then that I don’t know what I think about death and dying, or even how to think about those topics in a constructive way. It is so much easier to simply change the subject—in a conversation with others or just in your head. On the last night of the weekend, while hanging out in the hot tub, my cousins and I quickly transitioned from talking about how depressing our nursing home visit was to the many happy memories we have of our grandparents.


Celebrating our grandparents’ 50th wedding anniversary eleven years ago.

Some of us remembered visiting their home in Racine—where we tried not to get caught in the forbidden living room, ran past the super scary clown painting, watched The Wizard of Oz way too many times and ate the extra pumpkin pie that Grandpa snuck us every Thanksgiving. We remembered who got what color dress from our grandparents’ trip to Hawaii (I got purple), the way that Grandpa said, “Good morning!” to everyone no matter what time of day it was and how cool it was to say that our grandpa worked at a candy shop five minutes away from Sea World.

I had (and still have) mixed emotions reminiscing about someone who is still with us—especially because my grandpa’s exuberance and playfulness shone through during our visit with him. Despite having trouble moving around and communicating clearly, he immediately told my brother to “Sit down!” when we arrived, greeted one cousin with a “Good morning!” (it was the afternoon), and even joked around, answering “too long” when asked if he knew how long he had been married.

I wish I could wrap up all these thoughts with a shiny pink bow, a little humor and some pearls of wisdom. But this is just the beginning of a long process and I have much to figure out about what I think on death and dying. While I am more open to these thoughts than I used to be, I know figuring it out won’t be a quick or linear process. I’m sure I will continue to have mixed emotions and moments when I want to change the subject.

That weekend in Florida reinforced how important family can be in that process and just how much an individual can live on through the people who love him. I know that parts of our grandpa’s personality and optimism will live on within all of us cousins and all I can say for now is: Good morning, friend.

8 Questions for Jennifer Sydel, entrepreneur, jewelry designer, salmon lover

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Jennifer takes a chance on the family business

It sounds like the kind of wish you’d make if you were Aladdin and had found the Genie’s lamp: To get the chance to travel the world and buy one-of-a-kind jewels and exquisite fabrics—and get paid for it. But for third-generation jeweler Jennifer Sydel, living the dream is just part of the job. Growing up in the jewelry business and studying historic costume design at NYU, the 24-year-old honed her skills designing costumes for Broadway shows like Mamma Mia, Wicked, and The Lion King before returning to her native Chicago and opening her own jewelry design studio, JSydel Inc.

So whether you’re looking to jazz up an old family heirloom, are a closet ABBA fan, or love rye bread, Jennifer Sydel is a Jew you should know!

1. What did you want to be when you grew up?
I always wanted to be in the design world. I knew it was either going to be something related to fashion or jewelry. I always wanted to be a fashion designer, and maybe one day I still will be, but I was able to get into the design world first. And I always knew I wanted to be my own boss and open my own business.

2. What do you love about what you do today?
What I love the most is working one-on-one with a client. I love the dialogue that comes from somebody bringing me an heirloom piece or a gem they’ve had in their hands for a long time and saying, “I’d love for you to design something for me.” Half of my designs come from the story my client tells me. Jewelry is so personal. It’s something that only you as the client, and the person who has made it for you, can understand. To recreate an experience in a new place and time is special.

3. What are you reading?
I just finished  Life of Pi , which I loved. A couple of months ago I read a biography of Coco Chanel. I really respect, and kind of idolize, her in a sense. The way she changed the way people thought of her product is interesting. I try to incorporate that mentality into my work as well.

4. What’s your favorite place to eat in Chicago?
I would have to say Brasserie Jo. Their drinks are amazing. And their salmon is to die for. And their mussels, too. I love mussels.

5. If money and logistical reality played no part, what would you invent?
A little chip that you’d implant into your brain or arm that would absorb everything you ever saw in the world. The smells, the colors, the visuals—input from all the senses—would be absorbed into that chip and you could retrieve any memory.

6. Would you rather have the ability to fly or the ability to be invisible?
That’s a really tough one. Fly. I’ve always wanted to be a bird. A little sparrow. To see perspective from different levels would be incredible.

7. If I scrolled through your iPod, what guilty pleasure song would I find?
You would probably find something by Whitney Houston. Bodyguard-era Whitney Houston.

8.What’s your favorite Jewish thing to do in Chicago—in other words, how do you Jew?
I really love going to Manny’s any chance I can possibly get. Having roast beef and matzah ball soup. Or pastrami on rye. My god. I love rye. And I really do enjoy going to synagogue on Friday night. I don’t go all the time, but I sometimes have to go and be alone—I don’t go with anyone else—and think.

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