Praying out of a suitcase

I gave this D’var Torah (sermon) at Windy City Minyan on April 21, 2017 — my last minyan as an official member of the steering committee. Read on for my thoughts on what this group has meant to me over the last six years.


If you’ve ever come to Windy City Minyan a little early, or stayed until the end to help clean up, you may have noticed a unique prop – a special suitcase. This suitcase contains everything we need to make our minyan possible, items like siddurim, kippot, a Kiddush cup, plates, napkins, signs, dry erase markers, painters tape, and doorstoppers. Wherever our minyan takes place, this suitcase comes with us; and in the weeks between minyans, it lives in the apartment of one of our generous committee members.

It’s sort of a like a community-in-a-box, a community on wheels. Instant minyan, just add singing.

This week’s Torah portion, Shemini, describes Moses, Aaron, and Aaron’s sons and their burnt offering to God. We also learn about the laws of keeping kosher – verse after verse of which animals we can and cannot eat. But it was the Haftarah portion for Shemini that most reminded me of our little third Friday of the month gatherings.

The Haftarah portion comes from Second Samuel and describes David transporting the Ark from place to place. Chapter 6, verses 3-5: “They loaded the Ark of God onto a new cart and conveyed it from the house of Abinadab, which was on the hill; and Abinadab’s sons, Uzza and Ahio, guided the new cart. They conveyed it from Abinadab’s house on the hill, Uzza walking alongside the Ark of God and Ahio walking in front of the Ark. Meanwhile, David and all the House of Israel danced before the Lord to the sound of all kinds of cypress wood instruments, with lyres, harps, timbrels, sistrums, and cymbals.”

Over the course of the Haftarah, the Ark is moved from place to place, and David hopes that it will soon have a permanent home in Jerusalem.

This Haftarah portion – and being a regular at Windy City Minyan – makes me think about the location of a community and if location even matters.

Many synagogues and other religious institutions are well-known for beautifully designed sanctuaries, lovingly named for the families who donated thousands of dollars to create such spaces. I work at one such synagogue, and prospective congregants marvel at the grandeur of the sanctuary and chapel. To me, a spiritual community is about so much more than a physical space. It’s about the people, the melodies, the food, the schmoozing, the networking. The smiles, the laughter, the friendships, and please oh please can some of you seriously start dating each other already?

This month, we celebrate the sixth “minyan-niversary” of Windy City Minyan. I am honored to have been there from the beginning as one of the minyan’s co-founders, and I am so proud to see it continue to be so successful today. I am sad to step down from my role as one of the minyan’s steering committee members, but I am so incredibly happy to know that this little girl in my tummy soon will be born into a world where Windy City Minyan exists.

In our Torah portion, in Leviticus chapter 11, after God describes the animals we can and cannot eat (for the record, some of the impure animals mentioned in the portion are moles, mice, great lizards of every variety, geckos, land crocodiles, and chameleons), God says: “For I the Lord am your God: you shall sanctify yourselves and be holy, for I am holy.”

To me, this minyan has meant holiness.

It’s odd, because for those of us on the steering committee, the work that we put into this minyan doesn’t always feel very holy. We paid the room rental for tonight’s minyan. We made sure we had enough yards of tablecloth on our tablecloth roll. What’s the menu for tonight? Did we run out of garbage bags at last month’s minyan? Did someone find a host for next month’s service? Who can lead Kabbalat Shabbat? This minyan has taught me more than I ever thought I’d know about marketing, social media, room rental contracts, Shabbat worship melodies, other Jewish organizations, apartment layouts, acoustics, and logistics.

But at least for me, when I leave these gatherings on the third Friday of every month, I’m on such a high. My feet hurt, I usually have had only cookies for dinner, and I had to cut short my pre-Shabbat nap, but I could stay here with a smile on my face all night long (much to the chagrin of my husband, Adam).

Our group has brought together people from all walks of life, from all Jewish backgrounds, from all parts of the world, a range of ages. For a few hours on a Friday night, we transform a party room, or a living room, or even that one time we met in an art gallery, into a kehilah kedosha, a holy community. Our voices come together in song, we learn from one another in our Divrei Torah and Shabbat Nuggets, and we celebrate the magic of Shabbat together.

Next month, the suitcase will travel to a new location (and if you’re willing to let that location be your living room, please talk to one of the committee members!), just like David’s Ark moved from place to place in our Haftarah. Will Windy City Minyan ever have a permanent home, as David hopes the Ark will have in Jerusalem? Probably not a permanent physical home; but definitely a permanent spiritual home that lives within all of us in this room.

I’m sad my committee involvement is coming to an end, less time with all of you hanging up welcome signs, passing out siddurim, and creating Facebook events, but I’ll definitely come back to visit often with the youngest and cutest little davener coming along with me. Because I hope Windy City Minyan and other groups like ours will continue to flourish for her and for all future generations.

I would like to thank our many past and present Windy City Minyan steering committee members for making this minyan what it is today – Lani Schrank, Seth Schrank, Anne Robbin, David Schwartz, Adam Davis, Devorah Matkowsky, Benjamin Singer, Heidi Simons, Stefanie Groner, Rebecca Resnick, Talia Schlamowitz, Melanie Axelrod, Nathan Redisch, Ariel Katz, Marisa Briefman, Joey Becker, and Richard Brener.

L’hitraot – see you soon! – and Shabbat Shalom.

Revealing our baby’s name … Just kidding!

As Adam and I get approach the expected arrival of our little one (coming soon to a hospital near you), we’re often asked about what baby names we’re considering. We have a few names that we like, and about a million that we don’t like, but I think it’s more fun to share our joke names.

Joke name #1: Katie Penny Margaret Goldfarb — aka “KPMG,” where Adam works. Think he’d get a raise for this?

Joke name #2: First name: Eliza. Two middle names: “Ann Peggy.” (Any Hamilton fans out there?)

Don’t worry, folks, we’ll let you know what the “real” name is eventually!

Thanks for all the well wishes.

Target Express

Have you noticed that around the city of Chicago — and I assume cities all over the country — these Target Express stores are popping up?

There’s one in my neighborhood and another one coming soon. Great! Wow! Exciting! A Target within walking distance!

But … hold your excitement.

For me, the joy of going to Target is knowing that they will have literally ANYTHING I need. New purse? Check. Lipstick? Of course. Maternity clothes? Definitely!

But these Target Express stores are not Target. They are mini-marts with Target-like supplies. They are imposters.

Why in the world would you go to a Target and know that they probably won’t have whatever it is you’re looking for? If all you needed was whatever-brand-of-toilet-paper-they-happen-to-carry, you might as well go to Walgreens or a gas station. If you weren’t sure that you could go one-stop shopping for thank you notes, an office clock, a party dress, leggings, laundry detergent, ice cream, apples, and yogurt, what’s the point?


Car twins

mazda-cx5-4I spend a lot of time in the car, commuting 18 miles each way to and from work. The drive can often be a bit monotonous, as I mostly take the same route day in and day out. Naturally, during these rides, I can get excited by little things.

Of all of the exciting things that might happen on my commute, one of my favorites is when I drive by my “car twin.”

Hey, look! I’m in a red Mazda CX5! You’re in a red Mazda CX5! We’re CAR TWINS! It’s like we planned it or something!  We should totally take a picture together.

But, sadly, we’re driving by each other at quick speeds with only possibly one second for even a shared glance. But boy do I reach for those shared glances. A knowing smile, a kind wave, a point to her car followed by a quick point to mine.

So next time you pass me on the road randomly waving at a stranger, you’ll know why.

Gadgets and gizmos

I’m lucky to be a part of several formal and informal professional networking groups. One such group, a group of synagogue communications professionals, met a few weeks ago. The topic: Gadgets and gizmos we use at work to help us do our jobs better.

We spoke about Doodle (scheduling meetings), Canva (graphic design), HootSuite (scheduling social media posts), If This Then That (connecting your various apps to each other), Evernote (note taking), Sign-Up Genius (sign-up forms), and many others. We had a great time comparing notes on these great apps and websites.

It made me think: What are people using in their personal lives that are great gizmos and gadgets that you’d like to recommend?

Comment here or on Facebook for a fun discussion!

Parking lot sign

I’ve seen this parking lot sign twice, chuckling to myself each time:


Sign reads: “10 MPH. Caution: Cars backing out.”

Cars are backing out of spots in this parking lot, so be cautious.

Ohhh … is that how parking lots work??

(And by the way, some of these cars will probably not be backing out, based on the way they are parked. Maybe the sign be updated to say: “Caution: Cars backing out. And also maybe pulling forward if they pulled through the lot. So basically, parking lot cautionary rules apply.”)

If the world was like an airline…

Adam and I had a great trip to Israel, with a bit of an extra-long, unplanned detour in Turkey. The ups and downs of our flights to and from Tel Aviv reminded me that airlines and airports are very special places, where people tolerate much more than they would in the real world.

If the world was like an airline…


“Hey Sam, I know we called our lunch for 1 p.m. and it’s 1:10 p.m. now. You’re probably already at the restaurant but I just wanted to let you know that I won’t actually be there until 2 p.m.”

“Sorry, I meant 3 p.m.”

“Actually, make that 4 p.m. You’ll still be there, right?”

“Never mind, so sorry to do this but I actually have to cancel. Maybe we can try again tomorrow?”


“I know you’re on the way to our meeting at Corner Bakery in Skokie that is scheduled for 10 minutes from now, but I’m going to need to move our meeting to Panera … in Iowa City. See you there!”


“Welcome to the doctor’s office waiting room. We understand that you will be here with us for the next three to seven hours. Unfortunately, we will not be able to provide you with any of the following: WiFi, couches, two chairs next to each other, outlets. Instead, we are happy to provide you with limited food for purchase and an unlimited amount of hard, cold floor to sit on.”


“We are so sorry for our delay in calling your number here at the DMV, causing you to be here for several hours. As a slight consolation, here’s a voucher for the Dunkin Donuts next door, please grab yourself a donut on us (if they accept the voucher … which they might not). Bon appetit!”


Luckily, we made it home safely, and of course we appreciate everything airlines do to keep their passengers safe. For now, I’ll just be grateful that for the most part, the rest of the world does not operate on this kind of system.

The case for gift cards — still true today!

Thanks to Facebook Memories, I was reminded that exactly five years ago today, I wrote about my favorite gift: Gift cards. Since this post still rings true today, I thought I’d re-post it as a reminder for those of you doing last-minute holiday shopping for your loved ones.

The case for gift cards
Originally posted Dec. 21, 2011

Dear Reader,

If you should ever have to give me a gift for any reason — be it Chanukah, my birthday, perhaps an anniversary, or maybe even a very futuristic Mother’s Day — I hereby henceforth declare my written permission for you to purchase for me a gift card.

Here’s the part where you gasp. A gift card?! What an impersonal gift! But I’ll repeat: You have been granted my official permission (is anyone out there a notary?) to get me a gift card and call it a day. And yes, believe it or not, this can even apply to boyfriends and mothers.

When it comes to gifts, I can see how I may be difficult to shop for. I’m usually at least a season behind the rest of the fashion world (I just bought my first sweater poncho and I’m still not sure how I feel about it), I’m pretty particular about jewelry (I like silver but I’m not a huge fan of gold), and I like dollars but I don’t like any scents (haha, get it?). For whatever reason you’re buying me a gift, I am so grateful, and the last thing I would want to do would be to stress you out.

A gift card to one of my favorite stores (or really any store! I can find something anywhere!) is a nice way to put your gift to good use. As my personal shopping budget comes up a bit shy of the million-dollar mark, these gift cards come in handy to update my closet with the best fashion of 2009 or that iPod-pulverizing blender I’ve been wanting.

I do understand, though, the need for wanting to make a gift more “personal.” A gift card may be construed as cold or lacking in creativity. But if you’re feeling a bit of “gift card giving blah,” here are a few ways to make a gift card gift shine a bit more like you.

Be creative in your choice of gift card store. Maybe you’ve heard that I like scarves (it’s true!) and you have a favorite scarf store. I’d love to try a new store, and a gift card is a wonderful incentive.

Pair the gift card with a related gift. My mom often used to get people a gift card to Blockbuster along with a couple packs of popcorn, and I thought it was the cutest thing. What about a gift card to Old Navy on top of a fun pair of mittens? Or a gift card to a sports store with a nice water bottle?

Wrap the gift card in a big box. It’s fun to unwrap a piano-sized box shrouded in paper reminiscent of the 4th of July. It’s even more fun to find a little box inside of a big box. Make me work for the gift card. Heck, send me on a scavenger hunt around the neighborhood to make me find the gift card.

Write me a poem. You can include a thoughtful, creative card with your gift! Make a collage of pictures and memories of us. Scrape up your sonnet-writing skills or write about how I’m Lively, Interesting, and Active. Your creativity in the card is worth more than the gift.

So, use this guide to the gift card when thinking about what to get me or other people. Happy Chanukah, happy birthday, happy anniversary, happy Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, and happy Wednesday!

What makes a “good” White Elephant gift?

white-elephant-gift-clipart-1“Should we keep these mugs that the Mazda dealership sent us with their logo?” I ask.

“Maybe — they might make a good White Elephant gift for my office,” Adam said.

Blog readers, I am here to ask you / vent about this: What exactly makes for a “good” White Elephant gift?

Back up. Around the holidays, many offices / groups of friends / families hold some kind of gift exchange. Instead of a more traditional (and religiously exclusive!) “Secret Santa,” some groups hold a “White Elephant” exchange. As far as I understand, the rules of this game are that people are supposed to bring a gift from their house or buy an inexpensive gift from the store that would make for a funny or random present.

Adam loves these exchanges and goes around all year looking at items as potential gifts. Mazda mugs! Mixing bowls with a drawing of ducks! The lamp from an old Aladdin Genie costume! People are going to love this!

I do not understand how to play this game.

These items are literally junk. Are we just playing a game of “pass around the junk from one person to another”? Is this assuming that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure? Because I finished tidying my house according to my celebrity tidying icon, and I’m not interested in accumulating items that other people think are tossable.

When it comes to junk, what makes one item a “good” White Elephant gift and another a “bad” one? Is it the humor involved?

The other piece of the White Elephant game is that you often do not know who will be receiving the gift in the end, whether people choose from wrapped gifts based on an assigned number, or people “steal” gifts, or a crazy set of laws that look straight outta the Gemara. If I knew who my intended recipient would be, I’d buy or find an amazing perfect gift that reminds that person of our friendship and a joke we once shared or a known love of ducks on mixing bowls. But the gift receiver is basically a stranger, which makes humor and personalization impossible.

The last thing I want to do is get a dorky gift that says something about me … but it’s hard to know how to avoid that.

So, dear friends, tell me: What guidelines do you use when selecting these gifts, and do you find this game enjoyable?

In the meantime, I’ll be off searching my closets for … oh boy, I’m so bad at this game I can’t even make something up to be funny here … an unopened pack of napkins with Disney princesses?