In With the Nu

Stefanie Pervos Bregman

Adventures of a Jewish 20-something, by Stefanie Pervos Bregman

In with the nu

265 days of winter

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Photo by Aaron B. Cohen

I have been staring at a blank page on my computer screen thinking about what to write for this post for some time now. This is likely due to the fact that for the past month or so, the only thoughts that are coming to mind are "It's too damn cold" and "OMG it's snowing…again."  Ah, the joys of wintertime in Chicago.

There is a new reality show on Bravo called "100 Days of Summer," featuring young, trendy and successful Chicagoans, who only have 100 days to live out their dreams and achieve their goals thanks to Chicago's long, miserable winters. Whether or not you like the show and its portrayal of our city, this concept is intriguing. 

This time of year tends to be a bit slower paced for those of us Chicago 20- and 30-somethings. The holidays are over and the weather forces us to hibernate more than we'd like. This begs the question:  Are we Chicagoans doomed to put our lives on hold during the other 265 days of the year?

I think not.

I've been feeling particularly blah, cold and uninspired this week, but instead of caving in to my instinct to put on sweatpants and slippers, curl up on the couch with my dog, watch marathons of bad reality television and order takeout all day long, I'm trying to focus my energy away from the 'blahs' and onto something positiveto face these next few months from a fresh perspective. 

Here are some ideas I've come up with for coping with the wintertime blues and making the best of those other 265 days:

Get back into healthy habits-As cliché as it is to join a gym and start eating healthy at the beginning of a new year, I'm doing just that. I don't know about all of you, but I have a lot of weddings to attend in 2014 (and I mean a lot) not to mention a 30th birthday a few months away, so I'm using this time to work out more and eat healthier so I just feel better going into this year. It's a challenge dragging yourself to the gym when it's still dark out when you wake up and dark again once you leave the office, but hey, the tougher the challenge the greater the reward, right?

Get creative in the kitchen-I'm no great chef, or any kind of chef at all really, but my husband and I have found ourselves wanting to leave the comforts of our cozy house less and less in this weather and spending more time cooking in our own kitchen. Obviously, we eat healthier and save money this way too, so it's a win all around.

Reconnect with friends and family-The best way to ensure you do leave the house and cure that cabin fever (when you can without risk of frostbite, of course)? Make plans. Get dinner dates on the calendar with friends, bring some bagels over to your Bubbe's house, or just grab a drink with your buddies. While you're at it, do something active or creativebowling is a great wintertime activity or take an art or cooking class. We all need some human interaction every now and then-just bundle up and go.

Get organized-This is a good time to hunker down and really focus at work, or make that scrapbook of photos from your European vacation you've been meaning to tackle. On those days when we are stuck at home, use that time to be productive-I've been meaning to clean out my closet for months and a second polar vortex seems like just the time to do it. Why wait for springtime to get stuck inside cleaning?

Do good-Once you clean out that closet, donate your old clothes. Or if you've been thinking about volunteering to help people in need, now is the time to get started. Check out JUF's TOV Volunteer network for opportunities to give back and bring some warmth back into your life and the lives of others.

Hopefully some of these ideas will make the long stretch of cold and snow ahead of us a little less daunting and depressingand for those really brutal weather days, there's absolutely nothing wrong with cozying up on the couch with someone you love, a full DVR or a good book and some delicious takeout.

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Photo by Christine Sierocki Lupella

What do you do to make the most of these 265 days of winter? Share your ideas below and stay warm out there!

Daydreaming

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Right now, I am sitting at my desk, responding to emails and going about my day. But my mind is somewhere elsenavigating through cobblestone streets, exploring palaces and castles, climbing towers, eating goulash and dumplings, sipping wine in a café, tracing Jewish history…

I'm just back from a trip through Europe with my husband Mike. It was a dream trip for us that we had been planning for years and now that it's over it feels like it was a dream. I'm having a hard time getting back to realityand jetlag is only partly to blame.

During college, I studied abroad in Spain and spent six months overseas, traveling from country to country and absorbing each new culture in a way that only a 20-year-old without a care in the world can do. I look back on that time with fondness and marvel at how adventurous I was. It's an experience that makes up the essence of who I am and one that I'm grateful to have had.

But that was a decade ago, and I was anxious about going back.

Back then, my friends and I would show up in a new city guidebook in hand, and play it by ear. Aside from where we were staying, we didn't plan our next move. It didn't matterwe always had the best time.

This trip was different. I'm older, maybe a little wiser and definitely more neurotic now. With this being Mike's first trip to Europe and having limited time in each city, I didn't want to miss a thing.  So we had a plan, and an ambitious one at thatthree cities in 10 days.

Mike had long hoped to visit the cities where his maternal grandparents were born and lived until they each fled during the war to Shanghai, where they met. His grandfather was born in Berlin and his grandmother in Viennaplaces I had not yet visitedso we decided to visit those two cities with a stop in Prague, which  had been one of my favorite cities during my time studying abroad.

Thanks to Mike's family records and with the help of the Jewish archives in Berlin, we were able to locate and visit the original building where Mike's grandpa was born, the synagogue (now community center) where he celebrated his bar mitzvah and the Berlin Zoo, where he hid during his last nights in Berlin before leaving for Shanghai. And in Vienna, we visited the building where Mike's grandmother lived with her family, and another building where they owned a store. It was surreal, standing in those places, picturing their lives there and realizing how much had been taken away from them. Even though I never had the chance to meet Mike's grandparents, I felt close to them in those moments. How remarkable to experience so much history and emotion, just a few subway stops from our hotel.

In addition to tracing Mike's roots, we saw and experienced everything these cities offered, exploring their rich and fraught Jewish histories, eating and drinking everything in sight, and most importantly, going on this amazing adventure together.

As I write these words, I realize I cannot sum up this trip in one post. I'm still processing it allstill dreaming.

The power of the silver lining

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Photo by Christine Sierocki Lupella

I have never been good at seeing the silver lining in the clouds, making lemons into lemonade, seeing the glass half fullit's just not in my nature.

But of late I have seen the importance of finding strength in the darkest of times. I have seen that people can be kind, and just how powerful a little bit of goodness can be.

My dear friend Jamie was planning a wedding, teaching preschool and looking for a house while juggling tutoring, teaching dance and babysitting when the unimaginable happened. The day after her 29th birthdayjust three months before her weddingshe was diagnosed with breast cancer.

Last week, just days after her wedding and on the day of her first chemo treatment, Jamie shared her story by posting a beautifully written and remarkably candid account of her past few months online (read it here). The response was overwhelming. It reflected her strength, love and positivity throughout what has been both the happiest and most difficult period of her life, and that touched people in such a significant way. It's a testament to the power of social media just how quickly her story spread throughout her networkshundreds of people were liking, sharing and commenting on Jamie's story, offering kind words of encouragement and support.

But they also wanted to help.  A friend had created blue bracelets (Jamie's favorite color) that read "J-Strong," which were distributed to close friends and family to wear in support and solidarity with Jamie. The day of her first chemo treatment, we all posted photos and messages with our J-Strong bracelets, showing our #Jstrong love. As word spread and more people learned about the "J-Strong" braceletsthey wanted in.

In response, on Friday Jamie's close friends created a personal fundraising site where each person who donated above a certain amount would receive a J-Strong bracelet, and the proceeds would go toward Jamie's overwhelming medical expenses.  Again, the response was astounding.

Within less than 24 hours, we surpassed our goal; just days later we are nearing our increased goal, now doubled from that first day. I have no doubt we will surpass it.

The amount of support and well wishes has truly made an impact on JamieI can literally see and feel her spirits being lifted.  

Here at JUF, we always talk about the power of collective giving. That every giftno matter how smallis important and that we can do so much more together than we can do alone.

Obviously, Jamie's situation (for lack of a better word) sucks. She has a long, hard road ahead. But she is fortunate to have an incredible support system.

Each day, I try to take a lesson from my beautiful friend's bookto see that strength comes from finding the positive even in the worst situations and that unless we look for the silver lining in life, we are totally missing out.

Adventures of a Jewish (soon to no longer be) 20-something

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This month I turned the big 2-9. As a colleague pointed out, as far as birthdays go, 29 is a lot like 59…the practice before the big show. And as another colleague so kindly pointed out, I'm very quickly aging out of the 20-something range reflected in the name and theme of this blog.

It's not so much that I'm dreading getting older, or turning 30I actually look forward to entering the next stage of my life as a 30-something. And I don't think I look or feel particularly oldI'm just not sure when the people around me started getting so young.

A BuzzFeed article made the rounds earlier this week titled 30 signs you're almost 30. It featured "signs" such as baby pictures replacing drunken photos on Facebook, leaving bars because they are too loud or crowded, thinking about getting a dog (already did that one!), buying shoes based on comfort (totally) and being at parties where friends have brought their children (yup). A good two dozen of my friends shared this article on Facebook, and a few people shared it directly with me, (I guess it made them think of me? Oy.) all basically affirming that the themes of the article reflect definite truths in our own lives.

I'm not exactly sure when this transition to almost 30dom happens, but it hits all of us at some point or anotherwe can't party like we used to, eating late night gives us heartburn, loud places are annoying. For me, I guess this started when I was 25, as evidenced by this blog post I wrote for Oy!Chicago back in 2009: 25 going on 75.

My husband turned 30 earlier this year, and in between weddings, showers and bachelor/bachelorette parties we have also been attending a lot of 30th birthday parties. They are fun, but we're usually home by 10:30. And then there's the fact that my friends are starting to move out of the city and back to the burbs we grew up in to start raising their families.

In my work studying young Jews, I lumped Jewish 20- and 30-somethings into the same category. But now that I find myself smack dab in the middle, at the crossroad of neither 20-something nor 30-something, I'm thinking about the differences between the two.

I think the reason we are lumped together in this two-decade long demographic is because between being 20 and 40, each individual can be at such different points in his or her lifethere are 22-year-olds married with a baby and 35-year-olds still navigating the dating word. And it's all great.

For me, my 20s have included some of the more stressful and most amazing times of my life. I graduated college, established my career, met my husband, got married, and somewhere in there, grew up somewhat.

I can only imagine what my 30s will bring.

There’s still time: Nominate a Jew we should know!

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I'm so proud and feel so fortunate to be a part of Chicago's young Jewish communityit's such a vibrant and diverse place with so many opportunities for involvement and so many amazing people doing incredibly amazing things.

With this in mind, last summer we launched Double Chai in the Chi: Chicago's first annual Jewish 36 under 36 list, and saw firsthand the great work young Jews are doing in Chicagothey are truly making a difference in all kinds of innovative ways.

A joint project of Oy!Chicago (www.oychicago.com) and JUF's Young Leadership Division (YLD), last year's inaugural list showcased that Chicago is full of young Jewish leaders, humanitarians, educators and social activists striving to make the world a better place.

Nominations are now underway for Chicago's second annual Jewish 36 under 36 list and we at JUF News and Oy!Chicago are super excited about this initiative and we want to make sure you all know about it!

I think what I like most about the 36 under 36 list is that it gives us a moment to reflect on all the great work and even greater people we have right here in our own community. With so much work to be done, we seldom stop to recognize the amazing people who make things happen and who are changing our world for the better.  When we step back and look at last year's list, it's clear that the future of Chicago's Jewish community is in good hands, and I know this year's list will be no exception.

We are still accepting nominations through Tuesday, May 28, so I encourage all of you to think about who you want to see on this list and nominate away!

Call for nominations for Chicago's second annual Jewish 36 under 36 list!  
We want YOU, the young leaders, humanitarians, educators, social activists, and movers and shakers of Chicago to be part of Double Chai in the Chi: Chicago's second annual Jewish 36 under 36 list.

Presented by YLD and Oy!Chicago, this venture will shine a spotlight on the faces of Chicago's Jewish future and recognize the amazing contributions of our generation.

What we're looking for: 
People who are making a difference through their work, who give back in their free time, are entrepreneurs, innovators, leaders within the Jewish community, or just Jews we should know.

Nominate an extraordinary Jew you know to be a part of Chicago's second annual Jewish 36 under 36 list. Winners will be announced and profiled July 16 on Oy!Chicago and highlighted at YLD's WYLD party on August 8.

 How to apply: 
To submit your nomination, please complete the application form and email it to DoubleChai@oychicago.com by noon on Tuesday, May 28.

For updates and to find out how you can be the first to see who makes the list, sign up to be a JUF Superstar and "like" YLD on Facebook.

Don’t undersell it, baby!

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Have you seen that new Dove commercial floating around YouTube? After seeing it shared several times through social media this week, and reading all the differing reactions to it, I decided it was worth a watch.

The video begins by asking several women to describe themselves to a forensic artist who creates a sketch of them on the spot based on their own description. Then, we find out that the women spent a few minutes getting to know another person-a stranger. That stranger then describes them to the forensic artist and the sketches are compared.

The results are remarkable, but not surprising.

I suppose we would expect that these women would be their own harshest critics, highlighting their personal insecurities. This definitely showed in the first set of sketchesthey seemed more like unhappy caricatures than portraits to me. But what I found most significant, was how much more accurate the second sketches werethat someone who is essentially a stranger could capture their essence, beauty and light, so much more clearly than they could describe themselves after spending just a few minutes with them.

Obviously, this highlights the fact that women, and probably men too, are self-conscious about their looks. But this isn't a post about that. Rather, this video got me thinking about why it is that we undersell ourselves.

I'm completely guilty of this as well. About a month ago, I had the privilege of participating in a daylong seminar with The OpEd project. I think they describe themselves best, so here is a bit from their mission as listed on their website: "The OpEd Project's mission is to increase the range of voices and quality of ideas we hear in the world.  A starting goal is to increase the number of women thought leaders in key commentary forums to a tipping point."

According to their data, 15 percent of the voices being heard through influential platforms like opinion pieces, television pundits and in congress are women. So they focus on empowering women to claim and embrace their expertise and speak up.

The first exercise we did that day seemed easy enough, but proved to be quite challenging in the end. Each of us was tasked with determining one thing on which we were the expert in the room and selling the group on why.

Truthfully, I thought I had it in the bag. I was definitely the only expert in the room on connecting with Jewish 20- and 30-somethings. I am the editor of anthology on the topic and I run a blog for that demographic. But when it came to my turn, even though I knew for certain I was the expert and I work in communications and branding, I still undersold myself, failing until the third try to mention the most impressive recommendation the book had received, which really trumped everything else I had to offer. 

And what was even crazierevery single successful, intelligent woman in that room undersold themselves.

The rest of the session was incredibly eye-opening and inspiring and if you're interested in learning the most effective way to share your opinions and make an impact, I highly recommend checking The OpEd Project out. I think we all left that day owning our expertise more than when we first walked in.

I took away so much from the session, but was left with this nagging question that I hope you'll help me answer: Why do we undersell ourselves?

I think we all need to make a conscious effort to stop selling ourselves short and embrace who we are and what we have to offer.

A new kind of resolution

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When I was in junior high, I had my life figured out: I would get married on a sunny May afternoon, just months before my 25th birthday. Having established my career as a hard hitting reporter, I would change paths to work from home as a magazine columnist after I had my first child at 27. Second kid at 30 and smooth sailing from there. It may have been a bit more detailed (such as which Chicago suburb we would reside in), but you get the general idea.

And it seemed a great blueprint—until I turned 24 and realized I was nowhere near ready to get married. And when I did get married a few years later on my 27th birthday, having my first child then seemed laughable. 

Since today is Dec. 31, a day as well known for goal and resolution setting as it is for champagne and glittery outfits, I started thinking about the goals I’ve set for myself, how I’m measuring up, and where I want to go from here. 

In 2011, I accomplished two major life goals: I got married and bought a house.
In 2012, I got a dog and published a book. These were pretty big ones as well.

In 2013, I’ll turn 29, leaving me just a year before my naïve teenage girl plan was supposed to end. I wish I could ask 13-year-old me, what happens after 30?

Nearly every day, I make resolutions for my day to day life. Get up earlier, eat healthier, spend more time with family, be a better listener, worry less. Sometimes, I even make deals with myself: If I get through this crazy week, I promise I will work out every day next week. Sometimes I keep these deals, but most often I do not. I think we all do this kind of daily self-reflection and correction to some extent—and we should probably do it more often and take it more seriously.

But this New Year’s Eve, I think I’d like to take a different approach. I want to take this as an opportunity to take a step back, and reflect on my big picture resolution. I guess, when I really look at it, teenage Stefanie wasn’t too far off—she just wanted to grow up a little too quickly for 20-something Stefanie’s taste. And even though I didn’t follow my plan to a tee, fortunately for me, all the pieces in my life have fallen into place, and the life I have for myself is even better than the one I could have predicted.

I guess all these years later, looking back at what I thought I wanted for myself, I’ve realized that while having goals and aspirations is incredibly important, having a detailed plan is just plain silly. Now more than ever, it’s evident that we live in a world with so many moving parts, so much unpredictability and so much we can’t control. This may sound cliché, but with so much tragedy around us, I’ve been struggling with how to really live my life, without worrying about what might happen. So I’m making that my big picture resolution for 2013—care to join me? 

Wishing you all a happy, healthy start to 2013!

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