An ambassador, two bestselling authors of baseball and Wall Street, Susie from ‘Curb’ to headline dinner season

The JUF Trades, Industries & Professions Division (TIP) dinner season runs May 3 to June 5.Here are the sequence of speakers and dinners:

JUF Medical Professionals (including Physicians & Surgeons, Dental and Professional Health Divisions) & Educators Division Dinner on Thursday, May 3 at the Hilton Chicago: Ambassador Dennis Ross, a Middle East adviser to five presidents and co-chair of the Jewish People Policy Institute. For more information, e-mail or call (312) 444-2826.

JUF Suburban Professionals Division Dinner (including the Foods & Hospitality, High Tech and Wholesalers, Retailers and Manufacturers Division) on Wednesday, May 9 at the Westin Northshore in Wheeling: with guest speaker, Susie Essman, stand-up comedian, actress, writer, producer, and co-star of HBO's Curb Your Enthusiasm. For more information, e-mail or call (312) 444-2826.

JUF Marketing & Media, Financial Services (including Accountants, Insurance & HR Professionals) and Real Estate & Building Trades Divisions on Thursday, May 31 at the Hyatt Regency Chicago: Andrew Ross Sorkin, author of Too Big to Fail, financial columnist for The New York Times, founder and co-editor-at-large of the Dealbook, and co-host of CNBC's Squawk Box. For more information, e-mail or 312-357-4826.

JUF Government Agencies & Lawyers Division Dinner on Wednesday, June 5 at the Hyatt Regency Chicago: Michael Lewis, a journalist and bestselling author of the books Moneyball, Boomerang, The Blind Side, The Big Short, and Liar's Poker. For more information, e-mail or call (312) 444-2833.

These dinners are generously underwritten by many individuals and businesses including a grant from the Manfred & Fern Steinfeld Campaign Events Fund. A personally meaningful gift to the 2012 JUF Annual Campaign is required to attend. For more information, contact TIP at

What follows are an interview with Ambassador Dennis Ross and an interview with comedian Susie Essman.

Ambassador Dennis Ross discusses promoting the Jewish people and the resiliency of the Israeli people

Amb Ross

A Middle East adviser to five presidents, Ambassador Dennis Ross recently stepped down as Special Assistant to President Obama as well as National Security Council Senior Director for the Central Region from 2009-2011. For more than 12 years, he played a leading role in shaping U.S. involvement in the Middle East peace process and dealing directly with the parties in negotiations.

He is the author of several books on the peace process, most recently Myths, Illusions, and Peace: Finding a New Direction for America in the Middle East, co-authored with peace process expert David Makovsky.

Ross recently resumed his role as co-chair of the Jerusalem-based Jewish People Policy Institute (JPPI), an independent think tank whose mission is to ensure the continuity of the Jewish people and of Jewish civilization. The organization, which receives an annual allocation from the Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago, develops policies on issues of concern to world Jewry.

JUF News: Sometimes we don't do the best PR in the Jewish community. What can Jewish citizens do to help promote the Jewish people and Israel?

Ambassador Dennis Ross: The first thing is to become aware, to understand Jewish demographic trends, and understand what's happening in terms of Jewish identity. Jewish education is critical and how to do more to support positive Jewish experiences like Birthright, for example, are useful. They have proven themselves effective.

What do we do about the cycle of hate against the Jewish people that is taught to young children in many countries around the world?

We need to expose it. The way to deal with irrational and often times mythological hate…is through education and countering it with facts and showing it to be driven by irrational, mindless approaches.

If you were still advising the president, what would you recommend he do to protect the Israeli people against potential nuclear weapons in Iran?

We need to build the kind of pressure we have been building. Historically, we've seen the Iranian regime change behavior when it is subject to the right kind of pressures. Now, Iran is isolated diplomatically and the balance of power has shifted against it. It's [suffering] the worst economic powers it has ever suffered before. Iran needs to understand that if it brings its behavior into compliance with international obligations, then it can have a very different kind of future. If it doesn't, it will continue to pay the price.

Are you optimistic about the future of the Israeli people?

Israel has demonstrated that it's a country that's not only dynamic, but resilient. Israel has been able to cope over the years with an extraordinary set of challenges and hopefully that will continue to be the case.

~Cindy Sher

Susie Essman talks "Curb Your Enthusiasm" and the influence of her Jewish background

Susie X

Comedian Susie Essman has been in the stand-up world for over two decades, first appearing on Comedy Central back in 1992. But Essman's greatest success has come from acting on HBO's hit show, Curb Your Enthusiasm. As Susie Greene, Essman entertains with witty, outrageous lines, most of which include expletives and none of which can be printed.

In addition to performing stand-up and acting on television, Essman has authored a book, entitled What Would Susie Say?: Bull**** Wisdom About Love, Life and Comedy.

Susie Essman will be the featured speaker at the JUF Suburban Professionals, Foods & Hospitality, High Tech and Wholesalers, Retailers & Manufacturers Divisions Dinner Wednesday, May 9 at the Westin Chicago North Shore in Wheeling. In advance of her speaking engagement, Essman sat down for a phone interview with JUF News.

JUF News: Your character on Curb Your Enthusiasm probably says more curse words than the average teenager. What's it like to play such an in-your-face, outspoken woman as Susie Greene?

Susie Essman: It's very cathartic. It's very, very therapeutic. It's some primal scream therapy. . .  I don't really behave like that in real life, unless I'm pushed. It's really fun to play such an angry, over-the-top character. . . On a day that I have done a screaming or yelling scene, I always go back to the hotel [in L.A., where the show is filmed] and I'm so relaxed. My muscles are relaxed, because I vented.  And no one gets hurt - that's the beauty of it. And I get paid.

I never thought that this is what my life would end up being, but so be it.

What's interesting about the show is that it's not quite scripted like most television shows. What's it like being on a show that is mostly improvised?

I love it. I love not having to memorize lines. It's not free-for-all improvisation-there's a very detailed outline. We know what each scene is about, what has happen to in each scene and where it's going. The only thing that's not written is the dialogue.

It's incredibly creative, fun and different. It's more like what my stand up is. I love it. We just really have as a blast. Larry [David] gets the giggles every time I scream at him, so he always ruins all my best takes.

How and when did you realize you would be well-suited for comedy?

I always wanted to be an actress, when I was a kid. I wanted to be a comedic actress. I wanted to be like Carol Burnett.

I never thought of doing stand-up. I never knew anything about it.  It wasn't a world that I was familiar with. When I was in my mid-20s, my friends forced me to get on stage. I had never been in a comedy club… After a few times on stage, I realized it was what I was born to do.

So I came upon it accidentally. You can't make plans. My grandmother used to say, I think it was a Yiddish proverb, "You make plans, and God laughs."

Your grandparents were Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe. How did that background affect your life, and has that also played out in any way in your comedy?

My paternal grandmother, Millie Essman, was the funniest person I knew. She had a typical immigrant story… she had a very hard life… But she was always funny. She saw everything through the prism of humor. 

In her final years, she was at a nursing home and had severe dementia, and she didn't know who I was. . .  But I would go visit her, and the nurses would tell me that she kept them laughing all day long.

It was very poignant to me, because I felt like she had really lost everythingher memory, her dignity, everything was goneexcept for her sense of humor. That was the one thing she held on to, until the day she died. That had a big influence on me.

What kind of a role does Judaism play in your life, both personally and professionally?

I wasn't raised religiously at all. But there is an incredible legacy of Jewish comedians in this country. The history of stand-up comedy, in particular, is very heavily Jewish. Those are the people that influenced me when I was starting. Growing up, what I heard in my house was Mel Brooks, Woody Allen, Alan King, so many great comedians that my parents loved. . .

I think there's something about Judaism itself that lends itself to comedy. The nature of it, to be a religious person, is to study and question. . . Comedians always look at everything and question it - they don't accept the status quo. So in Judaism, the way you become a learned religious person lends itself to a comedic brain.

~Karina Grudnikov

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