Friday, August 26, 2016

Traveling in Chicago - The Chicago Cultural Center

One of the little known but great things about Chicago is the abundance of art and culture that’s free and accessible to the public. We took advantage at one of those places by seeing two art exhibits at the Chicago Cultural Center Completed in 1897, the building served as the main branch of the Chicago Public Library until 1991. You can enter the building on either 78 East Washington or 78 East Randolph St or through its Pedway entrance.

There are many free concerts, art exhibits, and other cultural events at the Chicago Cultural Center and the building itself is beautiful and well worth a visit. Free tours of the Cultural Center are given Wednesday through Saturday at 1:15PM. 

Free lunch time concerts are given year round on Mondays and Wednesdays at 12:15. I’ve attended several of them where I’d see many people coming from work to enjoy the concerts on their lunch hours.

Since we had been in the Cultural Center many times before, we went to see the art exhibits before going to Millennial Park. Most of the art exhibits are there for a few months. Unfortunately, the exhibit the works of Carlos Rolon/Dzine closed on July 31st. The exhibit Under the Pleasure Dome by Phyllis Bramson is there until August 28th. Ms. Bramson’s fertile imagination is something to see. She synthesized the ideas and images of Asian art, Freudian concepts, and her own imagination into very colorful paintings, collages, and other artifacts. Her works are quite unique.

Carlos Rolon/Dzine is also a very imaginative artist. From Puerto Rico, he draws on his origins in his work. He has created flower arrangements, sculpture, and murals in addition to paintings. His work is also unique and worth seeing. Look for it in other museums and galleries.

The Chicago Cultural Center is open every day. Check the website for hours. You’ll be happy that you stopped by.


Thursday, August 18, 2016

Traveling in Chicago- The Swedish American Museum

America is a country of immigrants. Sometimes it’s good to remember the immigration story of a group that came a few generations ago before all the current strife. It's easy to do that in Chicago, a city of museums, many of which are ethnic ones. Before going on a trip to Scandinavia, we thought we’d get ourselves ready by taking a trip to the Swedish American Museum It was well worth the trip. This museum tells the story of Swedish immigration to America, but in a sense, it’s the story of all immigration to America.
Located at 5211 North Clark Street, The Swedish American Museum is located in the heart of Andersonville, the neighborhood that used to be a focal point of the Swedish-American community in Chicago the majority of whom emigrated in the late 1800’s. Although the Swedish community is now dispersed throughout the Chicago area, this neighborhood still has several Swedish restaurants, cafes, and stores.
on the corner of an Andersonville street near the museum

We started our visit to the museum by going to the third floor to see The Brunk Children’s Museum of Immigration. This exhibit is great for children between the ages of four and nine. It has several interactive areas complete with costumes the children can wear while they pretend to be Swedish immigrants to Chicago. The museum also has  a simulation of a Swedish cottage and a farm as well and areas where children are invited to draw pictures. One part of the exhibit we enjoyed was an exchange of letters between Chicago middle school students and students from a middle school in a small Swedish town. I was so impressed with the English written by the Swedish students that I asked the museum guides if the students had written the letters in English themselves or had them translated. I was assured that the students had written the letters in English.

On the second floor of the museum is the main exhibit for adults. The visitor is directed to the entrance where the exhibit starts. It shows all the steps that Swedish people had to take before emigrating from there. The rest of the exhibit highlights some of the community’s history after it came to Chicago as well as pointing out some prominent Chicagoans of Swedish descent.

diorama of a Swedish man leaving for America

example of Swedish cabinetry

Swedish handicrafts

During the summer, the Swedish American Museum offers walking tours of Andersonville on the last Thursday of each month. We’ll have to do that sometime soon as well.

If you want to add to your museum experience, have dinner afterwards at Tre Kronor, our favorite Swedish restaurant located at 3258 W. Foster, just a few minutes' drive from the Museum. It will definitely complete the experience.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

When Muslim and Jewish Women Meet - Finding Common Ground

I have always felt that if people can meet across national, ethnic and religious lines, the barriers can be broken one dialogue at a time. So I was happy to introduce my daughter, an Orthodox Jew, to a friend who’s a Muslim.

We offered her some coffee or tea that she declined. She had just had something to drink after exhausting herself searching for a comfortable pair of shoes. Quickly the discussion turned to something that can unite all women – the difficulty women have finding comfortable shoes. Especially if one’s foot is wide or narrow as opposed to average, finding a comfortable pair of walking shoes that actually fit properly can entail an expedition to numerous shoe stores, often in vain.

My friend wanted a pair of comfortable shoes for her pilgrimage to Mecca. My daughter walks to and from religious services every week on Shabbat (Sabbath). If there is any area of common ground, it's definitely the ordeal it is to find the right shoes for the purpose of walking on this Earth.

When I went shoe shopping myself, I thought of them as I wore out every shoe salesperson in the store. After trying on about 40 pairs of shoes, I finally found a pair settling on something not perfect but comfortable.

My husband waited for me in the front of the store looking extremely bored. This is something I didn’t think would ever happen to us. When he planned to retire, I told him it was fine with me on the condition that he would never ask to go shopping with me. As an anti-shopper, he has always been very happy to comply with that condition but that day we were in the process of doing several different errands. Why did I think for a second that shoe shopping would be a quick stop? I should have known better.

“What do you think?” my husband asked. “Why aren’t women’s shoes more lasting?”

The answer was obvious. Most designers of women’s shoes are either sadists or misogynists or both. What man would walk a mile in these moccasins?


Do these shoes befit any religious pilgrimage? I wouldn’t even wear them to walk around the supermarket.

 When Hillary Clinton won the Democratic nomination for President, they shattered the glass ceiling. "When there's no ceiling, the sky's the limit," she said in her acceptance speech.

Thank heavens, we American women have finally achieved that milestone albeit after at least 20 other countries around the world. Now that we have, maybe we can focus on the ground again and the shoes women are forced to wear to walk on it. If we’re going to walk beside our men instead of lagging far behind them, we’re going to need more comfortable shoes to do it in. After all, how are we supposed to hold up Half the Sky in shoes like these?

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Another Look At String Theory - Revisiting Ways to Extend Assistance to People

 There are many ways to say it. “Give someone a fish and he eats for a day. Teach him how to fish and he has food for the rest of his life.”

“Not a handout but a leg up.”

Being vertically challenged – I’m 5’ tall- I’ve had a problem for a while. I have overhead fans with lights attached to them in several rooms in my apartment and if they weren’t on when I turned the switch, I had a few choices: I could stand on a chair and reach for the string wobbling as I got to it. I could do without the light. If my husband was home, I could ask him to turn the lights or the fan on or off for me. Not being able to do something as simple as turning the light on or off both infuriated me and reminded me of what disabled people experience sometimes on an hourly basis. Either do without or be dependent. Often there are simple devices that can solve the problem. Microwaves with the controls in Braille, voice-activated computers, and telephone connections for the hearing impaired are a few that come to mind. 

Finally, we decided to solve my problem. We bought extensions for the chains on the overhead fans and lights. Now I can turn them on or off all by myself. Wow! The feeling of independence feels so liberating that I find myself turning lights on and off just because I can. Why didn’t I think of that before?

In a way, this is a metaphor for the issues that I depicted in my book Breaking the Fall. In the book, Sherry, a Chicago therapist, works with people who face problems for which they seek her help. Often systemic problems in our society place obstacles to their healing. These people seek help so that they can live their lives as independently as possible. Sherry has to help her clients unravel their problems and find the solutions and understandings that will help them overcome the obstacles that they face. Many of the obstacles are ones that society places in their path and that threaten their lives and sometimes their very survival. Will Sherry be able to help them or will her own problems engulf her? That’s for the reader to discover by reading Breaking the Fall. It can be bought as a paperback on Amazon or read on a Kindle or a Nook.

All people are searching for is the string to pull that can unravel the problems. Usually it’s more complicated than a single string but being able to unravel any part of a problem helps and sometimes leads to solving another piece of it.

In the meantime, I’m going to turn out the light when I leave this room. It feels so good to be able to do it all by myself.


Thursday, July 28, 2016

Playing the Woman's Card and Proud Of It

In 1970, after graduating from college, I took my resume around to many employment agents. They all admired it and gushed, “You have such a wonderful resume for one so young. How many words per minute do you type?”

A few of them threw in this advice: “Enroll at Katie Gibbs. It’ll only take a year. Many girls move up from secretaries to management.”

My male friends did not have similar experiences. NOW had an action at the time where they’d send women and then men with similar qualifications to employment agencies and then they’d compare notes. Their experiences were very different. I remember giving NOW a list of all the employment agents who asked me what my typing speed was so they could investigate those agents.

I attended consciousness-raising sessions and learned that I wasn’t the only young woman who was asked by employment agents about my typing speed. FROM THE PERSONAL TO THE POLITICAL, the most misinterpreted slogan in political history. What it meant was yes, it happened to me. It also happened to hundreds of others. Maybe it’s a political problem demanding a political solution. Thus the personal became political. Nevertheless, it also remained personal. I remember how angry and frustrated I felt. It’s part of my story.

Many younger women who grew up after the women’s movement don’t remember those bad old days. They take it for granted that women can be accepted at medical school and law school, become engineers and CEO’s of companies, Senators and Congresswomen. And yes, even President of the United States. Yes we’re behind many other nations in that regard- England, Germany, Israel, Costa Rica, Chile, Argentina, and Brazil just to name a few countries that have had women heads of state. Nevertheless, maybe America is finally catching up and it's a momentous step for us. Yes, America has come a long way and I hope a longer way by electing Hillary in November. 

When Hillary Clinton was nominated by the Democratic Party  to be their nominee for President of the United States, I felt a lump in my throat. Then I felt a rush. Hillary has worked all her life for women to get equal pay for equal work, for women’s right to choose, for child care that will level the playing field for all women regardless of economic class. We can continue to call those issues “women’s issues” if we want, but they affect everyone in our society. If we want to continue to improve economic justice in our country, they’re vital issues.

Maybe those bad old days are on the way to becoming a moment frozen in history but maybe not. This may not be the case if Donald Trump and the Republicans win and turn back the clock on women’s right to choose, funding for childcare, equal pay for equal work, and many other issues. I'll hope for the best. Then I’ll do what I can to help get out the vote for Hillary and other Democrats. We’ve come this far and it would be tragic to get turned around now.  

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Traveling to America - It Doesn't Seem Like the Country I Know Anymore

My grandmother came to America with her family in 1905. She was only eight years old at the time, but remembered this major event for the rest of her life and told me about it repeatedly until she passed away at the age of 86. Theodore Roosevelt was President then and my Grandma always spoke about what a great man he was and how her father-my great-grandfather- respected him. They were always grateful to the United States for taking them in.

How transformative it must have been for my relatives after fleeing the anti-Semitism and pogroms of Russia to sail into Liberty Island and see the Lady gleaming in the harbor, her poem by Emma Lazarus inscribed on the statue’s base welcoming them into America, a country of freedom and opportunity.
The last few lines of “The New Colossus” which Emma Lazarus wrote in 1883 are well known.

….Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

Unless you're a Native American Indian, you’ve come to America from another country or your ancestors have – maybe your parents came or maybe in your case, it was many generations back. Maybe your relatives came very unwillingly as slaves or indentured servants but regardless, they came from another place and made America their home. We are a country of immigrants and it is a major source of our strength.

Admittedly, America hasn’t always unanimously welcomed every wave of immigration. In the 1850’s, the Know Nothings nominated former President Fillmore as their standard bearer to fight against the tides of Irish Catholic immigration. In the 1920’s, the Asian Exclusion Act of 1924 was passed and the Immigration Act of 1924 was passed as well establishing yearly quotas for immigrants from each country. During World War II shiploads of Jewish refugees were turned away. In more recent times, we’ve made it difficult for Mexicans and other Central Americans who’ve come here from poverty and violence desperately trying to survive. I’m not proud of any of these moments in our history.

Rather, I like to think of the America that has managed better than almost any other country on Earth to form a nation out of all the many peoples who have come seeking  here refuge and/or better opportunities. From 1880-1920 America received 20 million immigrants. Their descendants are now Americans. 

When I see people subscribing to the racism and xenophobia espoused by Donald Trump, I feel blessed that neither my grandmother nor mother is alive to see him receive the nomination of one of our major political parties. We have done so much better and we should continue to do so much better. I pray that we find a way out of this wilderness of hatred and listen to our better angels. I know that we Americans can.
The Statue of Liberty - May she continue to be the beacon of freedom and hospitality to the world.


Thursday, July 14, 2016

Traveling in Chicago and Finding a Message of Peace

Few people visiting Chicago these days are looking for peaceful messages and I wouldn’t tell people to come here in search of any. With the recent murder of police officers in Dallas and the all too often murder of African-Americans at the hands of police, many of us are searching for peace. Fortunately for those of  us who live in the Chicago area there is one place to visit where we can find tranquility – the Baha’i House of Worship in Wilmette.

When we lived in Haifa, Israel in the early 1970’s, we could look through the back window of our apartment and see the Baha’i Shrine. The shrine itself was beautiful and its gardens were a rare sanctuary of peace in a world often torn apart by violence. I felt fortunate then to be able to see it from my window and envision a world in which inter-ethnic harmony was a possibility although a very distant one.

the Baha'i Shrine in Haifa
I can no longer see the Baha’i Shrine from my window, but I can drive a few miles and visit the Bahai House of Worship in Wilmette just north of Evanston along Lake Michigan. I think the building is even more beautiful than the one I remember in Haifa. Entry into the house of worship, the gardens, and the visitor center are free to the public. No wonder Victor Danilov lists it under religious museums in Chicago’s Museums, A Complete Guide to the City’s Cultural Attractions. 
the Baha'i Shrine in Wilmette, Illinois

The Bahai’s main belief is in the oneness of humanity and in the development of relationships among individuals, communities, and institutions that reflect that. Attainment of peace is their goal. They believe that all religions are one in a continuing progression of learning throughout the centuries. That’s a very small thumbnail sketch of their belief system. To explore it further, you can go to their website

In the Visitor Center

Indeed, the Baha’i have attained peace in the style of the building and in the visitor center where you can learn more about this religious group and its belief system. The real attraction for me is the gardens. Walking through them is a walk through tranquility itself. The entire shrine is surrounded by gardens that are beautifully manicured and painstakingly cultivated. For that alone, it is worth the visit. Do go there while everything is in bloom. It’s a massage for the soul. 

one view of the gardens at the Bahai shrine in Wilmette