Judith's Java
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Oct 23, 2014 -- 7:51pm

Rebbitzen Erica Brief died suddenly while on a cruise in the southwest Pacific. She was married 57 years to Rabbi Neil Brief, Rabbi Emeritus of Ezra Habonim/Niles Township Jewish Congregation, Skokie. Since retiring from the pulpit, the Briefs often took cruises during which they acted as Rabbi and Rebbitzen to their seafaring congregants. Being Rabbi and Rebbitzen was especially important this time because they were at sea during the Jewish high holidays.

Erica Brief was a lady, mother, grandmother, teacher and leader. A rabbi’s wife always takes a large role in congregational matters; Erica expanded her role far beyond blessing the challah at Ezra Habonim/Niles Township’s Sisterhood meetings. Here’s her story.

Erica Brief was born in Mannheim, Germany in 1934, a year after Hitler had been appointed Chancellor, and after the Reichstag fire, Fuerher. Already Jews had been stripped of all professional titles and banned from attending state schools. Her family left Germany four years later and settled in Memphis, Tennessee. She even spoke with a slight drawl. But Erica doesn’t remember her German childhood. The Nazis, she said, ”stole” those memories.

She married Rabbi Brief, and they came to Skokie shortly before the abortive Neo-Nazi march. That thrust both of them into the limelight…and they stayed there. In 1976, candidate Jimmy Carter spoke at the congregation to record-breaking crowds. After that most candidates for local and national elections, all parties, made time to speak or worship at Ezra Habonim/Niles Township. Erica was an educator and taught for over 35 years. She was honored for her work.

Personal story: My brother had cancer and I found out that it had spread just before class. I called; Erica answered. She gave me the advice that kept me teaching and later helped me deal with my brother’s disease, and death.

Erica was ill, but after a successful operation had recovered. Death at sea came quickly; no way to save her. Farewell and thank you, Erica for your life well lived. You’ll be missed.

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Oct 15, 2014 -- 10:00pm

An interview I did over 15 years ago has come back to haunt. The interviewee noted that many infectious disease specialists dread the day when someone gets off the plane “from the old country” carrying a contagious, deadly disease. Let’s face it: It’s a matter of time before someone with Ebola gets off at O’Hare, claims baggage and heads for our neighborhoods.

The Ebola virus originated in Africa, but cases have been found in Spain--now here. Temperatures will be taken at O’Hare upon arrival of all passengers who boarded flights in West Africa. But Ebola has an incubation period as long as 21 days, meaning not all carriers will be caught.

There are parallels between Ebola and the medieval Bubonic Plague. Like the Plague, Ebola can be confused with a sinus infection or flu. Thomas Eric Duncan, the man who died of Ebola in Dallas, went for treatment at the Texas Health Presbyterian E.R. but was sent home with flu and sinus medication. By the time he was admitted to that hospital it was too late to save him.

Like the Plague, Ebola will travel, and thanks to air travel it will spread faster than its medieval cousin. Banning travel from West Africa won’t stop it. No one knew Duncan was sick until after he arrived in Dallas. The Plague started out in Genoa, Italy and three years later sickened Sweden.

Don’t blame people of African or Spanish descent. They’re not responsible. That type of fear led to mass killings of Jews in the German states during the plague years. Massacres didn’t stop Bubonic Plague…and blaming innocents won’t stop Ebola.

Preparedness is the best weapon in our anti-Ebola arsenal. Let’s demand hospitals have decent isolation facilities and know how to protect their personnel from infection. Let’s demand medical personnel take every onset of “a bug” seriously. Practice good person hygiene; get a Flu shot. Don’t panic. Fear also kills. Good health to us all.

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Oct 08, 2014 -- 10:38pm

Friday night at 9 often finds my husband, cat, java and I gathered in front of our flat-screen watching Real Time with Bill Maher. We laugh at the jokes and the jabs, hiss at the right wing idiots, and enjoy “New Rules”. But last week we were horrified. Guest Sam Harris flatly stated that all Muslims ascribed to a doctrine of hate. When guest Ben Affleck protested, Maher flat out called Islam a “mother lode” of hate. Enter bigotry disguised as political thought.

 Don’t get me wrong. I hope the members of ISIS, Al Qaeda, and Hamas “go where the goblins go” quickly. But what does that have to do with the nice Muslim family living down the street?

Sam Harris asserted that female oppression is deeply rooted in Islam.

I’ve visited the Mosque near our home. Most of the women are respected professionals and business women, not chattel.  True, women and men sit separately. They do the same thing at the Orthodox synagogue four blocks away.

The invectives flew fast and furiously, but I’m not going to refute each. Both Maher and Harris asserted they’re atheists. Were their attacks against Islam a way of asserting their atheism?

Alas, Maher and Harris justified hate instead. They gave viewers in Cook County and throughout America justification to hate their Muslim neighbors. Fear of terrorism is the legacy of 911. It’s why we put up with TSA searches every time we board a plane. Maybe it also makes it all right to hate certain groups.

Let’s get real. Terrorists twist anything in order to achieve their goals. They come in all sizes, shapes and colors. Remember the Baader/Meinhoff gang? The Irish Republican Army?

Hates an acid. It destroys the hater along with the innocents blamed for terrorist action. It sometimes brings on genocide. We didn’t need to bring this genie out of the bottle. Hate the terrorists, not their ethnic, racial or religious group. Shame on you Bill and Sam.

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Oct 01, 2014 -- 10:03pm

Scams happen every day, but rarely make the headlines. Many scams go unreported. Who wants to admit they were played for a fool? But scams can lead to mayhem. The scams cited here didn’t work, but they probably did somewhere. Take heed.

My husband and I took a walk last weekend. As we passed our neighbor’s house, he asked us if we could talk.  He stared at my husband, clearly confused, then asked, “Did you have a stroke?” Taken aback, my husband answered, “No. I’m fine.” Our neighbor explained that a young man came to his house, said he was our son and that his father, “Mr. __” had suffered a stroke and was in the local hospital. He then explained his car needed a tow and he needed $20 to get it towed and get him to the hospital. My neighbor refused but felt badly that he might have kept a son from his ailing father.

We explained that our son lives in a distant city and that we visited him last weekend. Further, my husband is training for the Chicago Marathon and feeling great. The only thing our neighbor did was deny a scammer some easy loot.

That started me thinking. A few weeks ago a young man wanted to come in to assess my home’s “eco-worthiness.” I don’t invite strangers inside. About two years ago a young woman rang my doorbell at 7:30 in the morning looking for “Bridgette.” When I told her no one by that name lives on our block, she asked to come in and look it up. I refused. She went to the next house. They also refused.

These were both scams, and being downright un-neighborly I saved myself from being robbed—and worse.  Better to say no, than to be robbed or possibly attacked, knowing that you were played for a fool.

My advice: don’t open the door. Scammers are never welcome.

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Sep 25, 2014 -- 9:57pm

Dr. John Nicolosi, Nico for short, has an artist’s soul. Even as a child he loved to paint and draw. Born in Rockford, Nico’s now a Chicago treasure. But his story isn’t the typical starving artist makes good tale; a chance encounter with Lady Luck. It’s much better than that.

Nico, a practicing dental surgeon, has always kept painting—and at a professional level. Soon celebrities started coming to him to do their portraits. The late Rue McClanahan was among the first. Later, Madonna approached Nico to paint her daughter’s portrait; Lucie Arnaz did likewise.

Nico’s reputation grew. People magazine dubbed him “artist to the stars.” That’s no spin. Nico’s subjects include President Obama, Hillary Clinton, Frank and Barbara Sinatra and Lamb Chop. He has painted the scenery for the Oscars, Golden Globe awards and the Cannes Film Festival.

When Rue McClanahan’s foundation asked Nico for a contribution, Nico donated a painting. That painting raised a hefty amount when auctioned. Charities flocked to his door for his donations ever since…and Nico never refuses a good cause.

Lately, Nico has been involved in Chicago causes. Last summer he painted a bench in honor of the Cubs hall of famers, including Ernie Banks. The bench will reside in Wrigley Field. Currently, Nico is working to help the Chicago Pet Project raise money for their homeless animal shelter. In fact, he’s hosting an al-pacca. The two are getting along famously. Nico even cooks meals for his furry guest.

Nico also designs hand cancelled envelopes for the U.S. Postal Service to commemorate historical events and anniversaries. These include envelopes marking the 50th anniversary of To Kill a Mockingbird, with author Harper Lee attending, American Graffiti with Cindy Williams, and Carousel, with Shirley Jones unveiling the envelope. He’s also designed envelopes honoring General Patton; Verdine White (Earth Wind and Fire) David McCallum, and soon Tippi Hedrin.

Nico believes God gave him talent and he must use his gift to help others. That’s Nico’s gift to God…and all of us.

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Sep 18, 2014 -- 10:10pm

Say Chicago and images of cigar-smoking politicians and gangsters with tommy guns come to mind. It didn’t matter where I was. Mention Chicago and someone would ask how the gangsters were doing. Poet Carl Sandberg put a lyrical gloss on it. Chicago was the “city of the broad shoulders,” and “hog butcher to the world.”

These images persisted. But times have changed. The stockyards are no more; U.S. Steel’s South Works is now a park surrounded by housing. West Madison Street has morphed into a fashionable neighborhood.  Grimy, decaying factories have been rehabbed into luxury condominiums.

Most astounding is the growth of Chicago’s and Cook County’s cultural scene. The Chicago Symphony Orchestra is among the world’s great orchestras. It’s opening its 123rd season with a stellar performance of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony. Chicago’s Lyric Opera which began as a “good” company, (but not as good as New York’s Metropolitan Opera), now takes a back seat to no one. Their 60th season opens with a new production of Mozart’s Don Giovanni.

Chicago’s Art Institute hosts art exhibitions from around the world as well as its own collection of everything from ancient and medieval art to modern masterpieces. The Planetarium brings the heavens to generations of school children, but also has hands on exhibits for the pre-school crowd. Beluga whales happily swim at Chicago’s aquarium. It’s still exciting to go through the World War II Nazi U505 submarine at the Museum of Science and Industry or the jewel collection at the Field Museum.

Lincoln Park and Brookfield zoos sport animals from around the world, as well as great petting zoos. Many a child has learned up close and personal by visiting our zoos.

Lake Michigan shimmers. Beautiful parks stretch along the lakefront from Wisconsin to Indiana. Drinking water from Lake Michigan is better than most bottled varieties. There’s no more beautiful sight in the world than approaching Chicago at night from the air.

How true: Each time I roam Chicago is calling me home.

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