Visiting Springfield, Illinois: The Land of Lincoln and other Americana

People have preconceived notions and prejudices that prevent them from seeing cool places and interesting things in life. I grew up in Illinois. Back in the day, at least, all the public schools brought their students around 8th grade to Springfield, Illinois – the place where Abraham Lincoln lived in the only home he ever bought, practiced law, ran for office and eventually was buried. But I went to a private school that was more concerned with us reciting La Marseilles in perfect French, than seeing a Presidential library and museum in our own state. Later, when I moved south of the Mason-Dixon Line, I saw many battlefields of the Civil War. They’re extremely popular. But for some reason, people don’t talk about visiting Springfield . . . and they’re really missing out.

Getting there: I took a very modestly priced Amtrak from Chicago’s Union Station. Chicago is a big train hub, so you’re likely to be at the beginning of a long haul trip, with classic sleeper cars, full service dining cars with freshly made food, observation decks, ladies’ lounges. Along the way, you see what others ignorantly refer to as “flyover country,” including the funny stadium for the Frontier League Joliet Slammers. Another way you can go: drive or ride. The famous Route 66 goes right through the center of town.

Where to stay: High atop “Aristocracy Hill” sits an inn — Inn at 835 — that used to serve as apartments for movers and shakers and indeed, still features long-term residences for them. After all, Springfield is Illinois’ capital; legislators from here have gone far up the political ladder. The place was conceived and designed over 100 years ago by a high-society florist. It’s still very grand! Rooms are very spacious, some with a butler’s pantry filled with books, Jacuzzi with heat lamp, four-poster bed, gorgeous antiques. Wine and cheese is left out for guests downstairs, but they bring cookies in a basket to your door at night. They provide a free shuttle from the Amtrak station until 8:30 pm.

What to do: See how Lincoln and his family actually lived at the Lincoln Home, a national historic site. He expanded the premises as his success and prosperity grew. The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum is simply outstanding! I started out at its fantastic gift shop. The museum’s permanent exhibit takes you through life-sized recreations of his log cabin home, his law office, and political ascent. Walk through the whispering gallery of political sniping from both ends of the spectrum – just like elections today! – and nasty gossip against Mary Todd Lincoln. Feel yourself attending the play at Ford’s Theater. We all know how it ends . . . but I wasn’t prepared for the stunning majesty of the darkened recreation of the closed casket in the Representatives Hall in Springfield’s Old State Capitol. Today, we are reminded that Lincoln’s catafalque was lent by Congress for Justice Scalia’s funeral.

Of course, there’s no substitute for the real thing. President Lincoln is buried at Oak Ridge Cemetery. Also in town is his law office, which had a business-friendly location by the courthouse and right on what is now Route 66.

Edwards Place is the oldest remaining structure in Springfield. The Edwards were Illinois’ most powerful political family, with one serving as the first Governor when Illinois became a state after serving as Kentucky’s Chief Justice on the Court of Appeals. Illinois was originally settled mostly by Kentuckians and this family crossed the Ohio River with their slaves. Another Edwards was the first person born in Illinois to graduate from Yale. Their home is beautifully restored, with many interesting archeological finds.

Art and architecture enthusiasts will be fascinated with the Dana-Thomas house, an early example of Frank Lloyd Wright’s design. At the time, Wright was young and not as well known enough to totally impose his will upon homeowners, but he managed to ink some covenants. The lady of the house had enough money and social clout to include some of her Art Nouveau era preferences, so the fusion here is one-of-a-kind.

Springfield has a cute, thriving main street. There are several quality antique stores; Abe’s Old Hat has several rooms, each with its own specialty and vibe. Check out such Americana finds like feed sacks upcycled into men’s ties and cornbread scented candles.

A small town has got to consider itself sweet with two independently owned candy stores, both with Depression-era origins. Pease’s is older by a tad; their specialty is chocolates made to look like actual designer shoes! Del’s Popcorn Shop is now located next to the Lincoln-Herndon law office, with a real old-timey feel inside. They have all kinds of flavors of freshly popped corn, which feels like the perfect snack to crunch on in Illinois, plus it makes an inexpensive souvenir gift.

Where to eat: Obed & Isaac’s Microbrewery & Eatery is located in a rehabbed historic home, owned by direct descendants of neighbors of Abraham Lincoln. They brew the freshest beer in town and also have excellent locally made, fruit forward cider. Their growlers are so cute, with tributes to Lincoln and Route 66, I happily paid for plastic boxes and checked luggage to bring some cider home. They’ve got a real gastropub thing going, with highly flavorful offerings like spicy cheesy soup, an old family recipe for 15 spice chili and Scotch eggs.

D’Arcy’s Pint is an Irish pub that’s enormously popular. They serve bar food as well as the famous Springfield Horseshoe. Lots of cities have a beloved big sandwich, this is theirs. It’s generally slices of thick Texas toast, topped with meat, French fries and cheese sauce. You can get veggies or hotdogs on it . . . even Midwestern walleye!

American Harvest Eatery is a new restaurant little bit up the road from the state capital building, so it’s not quite run over by lobbyists yet. While still finding its footing when I was there, they have an admirable concept: using the foodstuffs of Illinois to re-create comfort food favorites.

I saw a Quonset in the middle of nowhere and wondered how it could be a restaurant. Well, Charlie Parker’s Diner is world-famous and has been featured on the Food Network many times! It’s a fun, 50’s party atmosphere with that kind of classic menu.

Anecdotally, I wondered in the land of farms if things like heirloom tomatoes, etc., were popular. It turns out, not so much: commercial agriculture earnings are so crucial, people aren’t playing around with specialized, small-yield crops here.

Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln life-like figures at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum Photo by Tamar Alexia Fleishman, Esq.

Figures of the famous Lincoln-Douglas debate at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum Photo by Tamar Alexia Fleishman, Esq.

Recreation of the scene at Ford’s Theater at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum Photo by Tamar Alexia Fleishman, Esq.

President Abraham Lincoln’s tomb Photo by Tamar Alexia Fleishman, Esq.


Israel emerges as campaign issue ahead of voting in three big Jewish states

Israel has prominently emerged as a presidential campaign issue ahead of critical primary contests in five states on Tuesday, three of which – Ohio, Illinois and Florida – have substantial Jewish communities.

Israel was the subject of a heated exchange in the Republican debate last week in Miami, with front-runner Donald Trump hammered by his opponents for saying he would be a neutral broker of Israeli-Palestinian peace. Trump has defended his position as essential to achieving a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians, but his three remaining rivals for the Republican nomination said they would stand with Israel and that no peace agreement is possible.

“The policy Donald has outlined, I don’t know if he realizes, is an anti-Israeli policy,” Marco Rubio, the Florida senator who desperately needs a win in his home-state primary, said at the debate. “Maybe that’s not your intent, but here’s why it is an anti-Israeli policy: There is no peace deal possible with the Palestinians at this moment.”

The real-estate magnate parried the criticism by noting his love for Israel and his daughter Ivanka Trump, who converted to Judaism when she married Jared Kushner, the scion of another real-estate family. Trump said there was no one “on this stage that’s more pro-Israel than I am,” citing his role as grand marshal of the 2004 Salute to Israel Parade in New York, which prompted some laughter in the audience. And he defended his promise of neutrality, saying it was essential to achieving a peace deal.

“If I go in, I’ll say I’m pro-Israel and I’ve told that to everybody and anybody that would listen,” Trump said. “But I would like to at least have the other side think I’m somewhat neutral as to them, so that we can maybe get a deal done.”

The Israel discussion was the most expansive one on the subject in any Republican debate this season, and it continued even after the debate concluded. Rubio’s campaign sent an email blast immediately after with the subject line “Trump Is No Ally to Israel.” The next day, surrounded by prominent Jewish backers — including Adam Hasner, a close colleague of Rubio when they were both in the Florida Legislature, and Dan Senor, a veteran of the George W. Bush administration — Rubio took aim at Trump in an appearance at a West Palm Beach synagogue.

“We are electing the next commander-in-chief, and when the one leading in the polls will not take sides, imagine if he were president?” Rubio said Friday at Temple Beth El.

“For people in the Orthodox community, and more broadly in the pro-Israel community, who have a view they are unhappy with the Obama administration because Obama’s approach has been more neutral, Trump talking in those terms is not reassuring,” said Nathan Diament, the Washington director for the Orthodox Union.

On Sunday, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, also needing a win in his home state on Tuesday, notably pivoted on a key Israel-related issue, saying on the Fox News Network that he now favors suspending the Iran nuclear deal. Until now Kasich, like Trump, has said the deal is a bad one, but that he would first consult with experts before suspending it. Kasich said his mind was changed by Iran’s recent ballistic missile tests.

Ted Cruz, the last of the four remaining contenders for the Republican nod, took his pro-Israel message to voters through social media, a campaign official told JTA, reminding them of his pro-Israel activism in the Senate. Cruz’s Jewish surrogates have appealed to Jewish voters whose names they compiled from synagogue membership lists and made appearances at Jewish voter events in South Florida.

Hillary Clinton, the front-runner in the Democratic race, has also been reaching out to Jewish voters ahead of the Florida primary. But her message has emphasized not so much her differences with Bernie Sanders, the Independent Jewish senator from Vermont who has mounted an unexpectedly tough challenge for the nomination, but to the threat Trump poses to Israel.

Sarah Bard, Clinton’s national Jewish outreach director, said Trump’s incendiary rhetoric had helped their efforts to mobilize campaign volunteers.

“Where we had a hard time pushing volunteers out the door, he does make our job easier,” Bard said.

Clinton has been leading in Florida polls, but after last week’s upset in Michigan, she is leaving nothing to chance. Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Fla., a Clinton supporter and the top Democrat on the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, held a conference call Monday with hundreds of rabbis across the country. Rep. Steve Israel, D-N.Y., is speaking Monday with Jewish students at Florida Atlantic University on Clinton’s behalf. And Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., held a call Sunday with Jewish leaders organized by the Clinton campaign.

Another Clinton surrogate, Robert Wexler, a former congressman from Florida, in a weekend Op-Ed in the state’s Sun-Sentinel newspaper, warned that neither Sanders nor Trump has the understanding necessary to handle the Middle East, though he didn’t name either candidate.

No candidate understands “the nuances and sensitivities of the Middle East as well as the former secretary of state,” Wexler wrote. “Just look at the statements we’ve heard in the campaign as of late, with one candidate saying he’d be ‘neutral’ concerning Israel and another calling to ‘normalize’ relations with Iran. Both positions are naive, betraying a lack of understanding in general and about the Middle East in particular.”

Sanders has called for the normalization of ties with Iran in the wake of the Iran nuclear deal reached last year.

Deutch said in his pitches to Jewish voters, he contrasts Trump’s “neutrality” with Clinton’s record.

“After hearing the comments that Donald Trump has made, I have found that, with Secretary Clinton’s strong support for Israel, her very clear position that the United States, both during speeches and in debates, that the United States will stand with Israel, they found these very reassuring,” he said.

Trump does have Jewish backers. Philanthropist Jacob “Hank” Sopher ran a full-page ad in the Miami Herald on Sunday calling for Jewish support for Trump, calling him “a man of integrity, a friend of the Jewish people, a friend of Israel.”

Jewish platform raises political dough for Cruz

UPDATED 11:54 a.m.

A group of Orthodox Jews supporting Ted Cruz for president have launched a 24-hour campaign to raise $1 million for Cruz's campaign on the day of crucial primary contests in Florida, Ohio, Illinois, Missouri and North Carolina.

The campaign “Million For Ted” was posted on the popular fundraising website, a non-partisan corporation that serves as a crowdfunding platform for non-profit charitable campaigns. The goal is to raise at least $250,000 from members of the Orthodox Jewish community sympathetic to the conservative policies of the Texas Senator, which will then be matched 75 percent by the Wilks family. “It’s all or nothing, if we don’t reach one million, all donations will be returned,” a message posted on the site read.

The organization hosting the campaign is called Reigniting the Promise, a super PAC in support of Cruz. 

The fundraising platform appears to be a for-profit business that takes a 2.9% cut of funds raised, which is legal under campaign finance laws, according to Paul S. Ryan Paul, deputy executive director of the Campaign Legal Center. Hecht told Jewish Insider that no service fee will be charged if the goal is not met by midnight (CT)

“Charidy is a bipartisan website. We are not officially endorsing. We are hosting this campaign,” Moshe Hecht, a chief fundraising specialist at Charidy, told Jewish Insider. “There are some Jewish people behind the scenes who want to promote this to the Orthodox community because they feel the community should support Ted Cruz.”

Hecht said that while certain people in the company may have contributed to Cruz's campaign, this campaign is not an endorsement, adding that this is the first political campaign out of 600 campaigns that the site has hosted so far.

The campaign raised $15,000 in the first half hour (1:30 p.m. ET).

Illinois MERS patient ‘not infectious’; Florida patient released

An Illinois man who had tested positive for antibodies to the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome virus in his blood is no longer infectious, state health officials said on Monday.

The case in Illinois was the first direct transmission of the MERS virus on U.S. soil. The two prior cases earlier in the month were both “imported” cases of MERS, brought to the United States by infected travelers from the Middle East, the epicenter of the MERS outbreak.

Florida officials said separately the second patient infected with MERS has now been released from the hospital in Orlando.

Since it was first identified in 2012, MERS has infected more than 500 patients in Saudi Arabia alone. It kills about 30 percent of the people it infects. The virus causes fever, body aches, cough and sometimes deadly pneumonia.

How MERS is transmitted from person to person is not well understood, but most cases have occurred through close physical contact with an infected person or animal, such as a camel, which is thought to be a reservoir for the virus.

In the case of the Illinois man, U.S. health officials relied on blood tests for signs that he had been infected. The tests showed his immune system had fought off a MERS infection.

The man, who had mild, cold-like symptoms, had two business meetings with the first MERS patient to reach U.S. soil before he sought treatment at a hospital in Munster, Indiana.

The man did not test positive for active infection through sensitive tests of samples from his respiratory tract.

Illinois health officials say a second round of test results from oral and nasal swabs show the Illinois man “is not infectious,” Dr LaMar Hasbrouck, director of the Illinois Department of Public Health, said in a statement.

“What this means is, although the resident was infected at one time, if he sneezes or coughs, the virus is not in his nose or mouth and therefore cannot be spread to others,” Hasbrouck said.

Health officials will continue to follow up with the Illinois man and anyone with whom he had close contact. So far, family members who had close contact with the Illinois resident have all tested negative, but will continue to be monitored.

In Florida, the Orlando hospital treating the second U.S. MERS patient said he was discharged on Sunday evening.

The state health department said the man's family members and all 20 hospital workers and doctors who were exposed to him have tested negative for the virus. Hospital workers may be cleared to return to work as early as this week.

Reporting by Julie Steenhuysen; Additional reporting by Barbara Liston in Orlando; editing by G Crosse and Nick Zieminski

Illinois lawmakers begin considering approval of same-sex marriage

Illinois lawmakers began considering a measure on Wednesday that would make President Barack Obama's home state the 10th in the nation to legalize gay marriage.

Supporters and opponents furiously lobbied lawmakers as a leading sponsor of the proposal pressed for a quick vote in the state Senate. The “lame duck” session is the final meeting before a newly elected legislature takes office later in January.

Buoyed by November election referendum victories in Maryland, Maine and Washington state, supporters of gay marriage want to make Illinois the first Midwestern legislature to approve it. Iowa's Supreme Court legalized it in 2009.

If approved, Illinois would be the second most populous state to allow gay marriage after New York.

Democrats hold a majority in both chambers of the Illinois legislature. But as in Maryland, Washington state and New York, a few Republican votes may be needed to pass a bill in Illinois.

State Republican party chairman Pat Brady was making calls to Republican lawmakers in support of gay marriage, legislative sources said, which could help win some votes for the measure.

Obama, a former Illinois state senator, publicly endorsed gay marriage in Illinois over the weekend, a rare occasion when he has weighed in on a state matter.

On the other side of the issue, Chicago Cardinal Francis George sent a letter to Catholic parishes saying same sex marriage undermined the “natural family” between a man and a woman.

“The state has no power to create something that nature itself tells us is impossible,” he wrote. The letter, signed by George and six auxiliary bishops, urges Catholics to reach out to their state legislators.

Last week, Senate President John Cullerton's said through a spokeswoman that he was confident of the votes to pass gay marriage.


But a move on Wednesday to speed consideration of the proposal in the Senate narrowly failed, 28 to 24.

It was not clear if the procedural vote was an indication that the proposal was short of the votes needed to pass or if some lawmakers simply wanted to take more time for debate. The Illinois House will convene later in the week.

Even if Illinois lawmakers fail to approve gay marriage before a new legislature takes office, there is a reasonable chance of passage later in the year because Democrats gained seats in the November election and will have super-majorities in both chambers.

In June, 2011, Illinois legalized civil unions, which grant some of the rights of marriage to same-sex partners. But gay rights activists said that did not go far enough.

All prominent Democrats in Illinois have endorsed gay marriage, including Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Governor Pat Quinn.

A key issue to be resolved is whether Illinois should allow religious groups the option of declining to perform same-sex marriages. New York granted such an exception in 2011 in order to secure the votes to legalize gay marriage there.

A bill introduced in the Illinois House offers such a religious exemption.

Last week, at least 260 Illinois Jewish and Protestant leaders published a letter supporting same-sex marriage.

“There can be no justification for the law treating people differently on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity,” the letter said.

A survey of Illinois voters by Democratic firm Public Policy Polling late last year found 47 percent would allow gay marriage, 42 percent opposed and 11 percent not sure.

The poll of 500 Illinois voters from Nov. 26 to 28 had a margin of error of 4.4 percent.

In addition to the three states which voted in November to legalize gay marriage, six others allow it – Iowa, Massachusetts, Vermont, New York, Connecticut and New Hampshire, plus the District of Columbia.

Additional reporting by Mary Wisniewski; Writing by Greg McCune; Editing by Todd Eastham

Illinois congressional candidate denies Holocaust

A candidate from Illinois for the U.S. House of Representatives called the Holocaust “nothing more than an international extortion racket by the Jews.”

Arthur Jones, a former member of the Nationalist Socialist Party, made the comments in an interview Wednesday with a local news site, the Oak Lawn Patch.

Jones, a 64-year-old insurance salesman and Vietnam War veteran, is seeking the Republican nomination to face incumbent Rep. Daniel Lipinski (D-Ill.) in the 3rd Congressional District, which encompasses the southern suburbs of Chicago. The primary is set for March 20.

“It’s the blackest lie in history,” Jones said of the Holocaust. “Millions of dollars are being made by Jews telling this tale of woe and misfortune in books, movies, plays and TV. The more survivors, the more lies that are told.”

In addition to his past party affiliation, Jones regularly organizes family-friendly neo-Nazi events scheduled to coincide with Adolf Hitler’s birthday.

Jones indicated that he is mounting his third run for Congress because of Lipinski’s connections to the pro-Israel lobby AIPAC.

In Illinois, faceoff between Jewish candidates seen as bellwether for Dems

A suburban Chicago congressional primary featuring two Jewish candidates is being cast by political observers as a test of the Democratic Party’s direction.

The race’s two highest profile candidates are Brad Schneider, who enjoys establishment support and has strong ties to the organized Jewish community, and Ilya Sheyman, a 25-year-old progressive activist who has proven to be a whiz at small-donor fundraising.

In addition to the race’s generational aspect—Schneider, 50, is twice the age of Sheyman—observers see the primary as a bellwether for Democrats as they head into the 2012 elections: Will the party tack left or try to hold closer to the center?

David Catanese, Politico’s campaign blogger, last week cast the choice for Democrats this way: “Go with their heart—the young, idealistic and more progressive Sheyman—or play safer with their head in supporting Schneider, who arguably could attract more independent and unaffiliated support by showcasing his business background.”

Each candidate seems to embrace the templates: Schneider emphasizes his business savvy as an MBA who heads a successful business consultancy. Sheyman touts his career with, a netroots advocacy group that represents the Democratic Party’s left flank, and as a community organizer.

Neither candidate is shy about advertising his Jewishness. Sheyman’s releases routinely describe him as “a Jewish immigrant from the former Soviet Union.” Schneider’s official biography lists his leadership in four Jewish groups. In an interview, Schneider recalls his “romantic” first date with his wife: watching a seminal 1988 Israeli-Palestinian debate on “Nightline.”

The candidates also are aggressively “pro” on the two issues that have mattered most to Jewish political organizers in the district: abortion rights and Israel.

Marcia Balonick, the executive director of JACPAC, the 10th District-based Joint Action Committee for Political Affairs, explains why her group is withholding an endorsement for now.

“We follow a criteria that we put in place 30 years ago,” she said. “If there’s a crowded primary and two candidates give us papers that are good for our issues, we don’t endorse.”

That’s the case with Schneider and Sheyman, said Balonick, whose group gives only to candidates who support abortion rights and are pro-Israel.

Schneider’s campaign website does not elaborate on his Israel views beyond a single sentence: “Leading the pursuit for real security and peace in the Middle East.”

Schneider, however, has deep roots in the Jewish community. He is involved with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and the Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago, and is a member of the American Jewish Committee’s Chicago region executive committee.

Schneider, who has lived in Israel, played down foreign policy in an interview, saying the emphasis should be on jobs, education and the social safety net.

“We can’t call ourselves a great country if we aren’t taking care of the most vulnerable among us,” he told JTA.

Sheyman in an interview has a similar emphasis.

“Through hard work and support from the community and government, we were able to create a good life,” he said. “This is slipping away for families across our community.”

He also notes his own Jewish organizational connection: The Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society assisted his family, which arrived in 1991.

Sheyman’s website articulates his position on Israel in great detail. The only issue on his “issues” page that features a link to a separate PDF statement is the section on Israel.

In the three-page document, titled “Standing Up for Israel,” Sheyman calls for an active U.S. involvement in brokering peace—language that suggests a familiarity with the stances of dovish Israel groups—while insisting that a “final status agreement must come from direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority,” mirroring Israel’s insistence that Palestinians return to the negotiating table.

Democrats see the 10th District as a likely pickup in 2012, principally because post-census redistricting has made the district—which includes a mix of wealthy suburbs and struggling towns north of Chicago—more Democratic than it was in 2010.

Mark Kirk, a moderate Republican, represented the 10th for a decade, winning close elections in a district with a substantial Jewish population by being a leader on pro-Israel issues while trending more to the center on social issues such as abortion and health care.

Kirk relinquished the seat in 2010 for a successful Senate run and was succeeded by Rep. Robert Dold (R-Ill.), narrowly defeating a Democratic opponent by 2 percentage points . in last year’s GOP sweep. Dold, however, has disappointed those who had hoped he would maintain Kirk’s tradition of moderation.

Insiders say that although Dold has assiduously courted the Jewish community, the death knell for his prospects of winning broad Jewish support came last month when he voted for the Protect Life Act—a measure that is anathema to abortion rights supporters.

Democrats are feeling good about their prospects in the race even 12 months ahead of the election.

Lauren Beth Gash, chairwoman of the 10th Congressional District Democrats, says she tells voters not to worry too much about which candidate is likeliest to best Dold.

“Whoever wins the primary has a better chance of beating Dold,” she said.

Schneider and Sheyman have been joined in the race by John Tree, an Air Force Reserves colonel who declared last week. Tree has just started fundraising, so his strength among donors is not yet clear. Tree is not Jewish, although his wife is, and he has made much of his cooperation with Israel when he served in the Middle East as an Air Force logistics chief. His campaign has said that he has visited Israel at least a dozen times.

Schneider leads Sheyman overall in fundraising, with more than $400,000 on hand against Sheyman’s $140,000, according to Federal Election Commission returns. Sheyman, however, has surged in the most recent quarter while Schneider has stalled.

“The third quarter was tougher,” Schneider acknowledged.

Much of Sheyman’s income is from $10 to $15 online donations, a reflection of his roots as a community organizer and in the movement, said his spokeswoman, Joanna Klonsky.

“People are hungry for a progressive candidate,” she said.

Schneider had entered the race as a favorite who had close ties to the Democratic establishment, particularly to Melissa Bean, a former congresswoman from the neighboring 8th District. He recently gained the endorsement of Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), the U.S. House of Representatives minority whip.

Sheyman has the endorsement of the House Progressive Caucus co-chairmen, Reps. Raul Grijalva (D-Ill.) and Keith Ellison (D-Minn.). He also has the backing of Reps. Danny Davis and Jesse Jackson Jr., who both represent Chicago in Congress.

Schneider and his supporters refer obliquely to Sheyman’s youth.

“I’m old enough to know that the first answer you think of to a problem is in the right direction—but you have to dig deeper,” Schneider said.

Steve Sheffey, a veteran pro-Israel and Democratic activist, says he is backing Schneider because of his experience.

“Ilya is a nice guy, I like a lot of the positions he takes, he’s done a great job in his grass-roots campaign,” Sheffey said. “But Brad has a better shot against Dold. He can say, ‘I’m pro-Israel, I’m a businessman, I have a family.’ ”

Not that Sheyman is not pro-Israel, Sheffey is quick to add: “What Ilya has said about Israel seems to be good, but Brad has the depth of experience.”

Sheyman was in Israel for the first time in March, at a reunion with relatives who had made aliyah. The most striking impression, he said, was the Jewish Quarter in Jerusalem’s Old City, which he said was extraordinary for its newness.

“It embodies thousands of years of history, but it is new because under Jordanian rule, most of it burned down,” he said.

Gash, the district’s party chairwoman, said she has talked to donors who prioritize Israel as an issue, and they believe Sheyman walks the walk.

“Some of them who were not with him in the beginning are with him now,” she said.

Emanuel sworn in to lead Chicago

Rahm Emanuel was sworn in as the first Jewish mayor of Chicago.

Emanuel, the former White House chief of staff, took the oath of office on Monday. He was elected mayor of the country’s third-largest city in February after sitting mayor Richard Daley declined to seek a seventh term in office.

Emanuel, 51, also worked in the Clinton White House and is a former congressman from Chicago’s North Side. A Hebrew speaker, Emanuel is the son of an Israeli doctor who moved to the United States in the 1950s.

Emanuel faced a residency challenge during the campaign because he did not live in Chicago for a full year before the election, but his candidacy was upheld by the Illinois Supreme Court.

He now faces the formidable task of helping the city pull out of serious financial difficulties, including a 2011 budget deficit of more than $500 million.

Asked about her son’s status as the city’s first Jewish mayor, Emanuel’s mother, Marsha, told the Chicago Sun-Times, “It is awesome, my dear, unexplainable. This is an honor for the people; an honor for us; an honor for the whole culture.”

Rahm Emanuel, Obama’s pick for Chief of Staff, is tough, direct and wedded to his roots

President-elect Barack Obama’s pick of Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.) will put a tough, proven political operator at the center of a new Administration.

It also raises the profile of a Chicago Jewish family firmly rooted in the worlds of Hollywood, medicine, politics…and Judaism.

Emanuel (Hebrew: רם עמנואל) was born in Chicago, Illinois. His father, the Jerusalem-born Benjamin M. Emanuel, is a pediatrician and former member of the Irgun, the Zionist pre-State military group in Palestine. His mother, Martha Smulevitz, worked as an X-ray technician and was the daughter of a local union organizer. She became a civil rights activist. 

Emanuel’s older brother, Ezekiel, is a noted oncologist and bioethicist, and his brother, Ari, is a talent agent in Los Angeles and inspired Jeremy Piven’s character Ari Gold on the HBO series Entourage.  

Emanuel himself is also the inspiration for the character Josh Lyman on The West Wing. He also has a younger sister named Shoshanna, 14 years his junior.

When his family lived in Chicago, he attended Bernard Zell Anshe Emet Day School, a Jewish day school. After his family moved to Wilmette, he attended public school: Romona School, Wilmette Junior High School, and New Trier High School.

Emanuel was encouraged by his mother to take ballet lessons as a boy and is a graduate of the Evanston School of Ballet. He won a scholarship to the Joffrey Ballet but turned it down to attend Sarah Lawrence College, a liberal arts school with a strong dance program.

He graduated from college in 1981, and went on to receive a master’s degree in Speech and Communication from Northwestern University in 1985.

While still a student at Sarah Lawrence, he joined the congressional campaign of David Robinson of Chicago.

His father, a pediatrician still practicing near Chicago, immigrated to the United States from Israel and spoke Hebrew with his son, when Emanuel was a boy. Emanuel volunteered as a civilian volunteer in the Israel Defense Forces during the 1991 Gulf War, serving in one of Israel’s northern bases, rust-proofing brakes.

Emanuel’s wife Amy Rule, a graduate of the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania converted to Judaism shortly before her wedding. They are members of Anshe Shalom, a modern Orthodox congregation in Chicago. They have three children, son Zacharias and daughters Ilana and Leah. The children attend Bernard Zell Anshe Emet Day School, in the Lakeview neighborhood of Chicago, Emanuel’s own alma mater, where his wife, Amy, frequently volunteers. Rabbi Asher Lopatin of Anshe Sholom B’nai Israel Congregation, is quoted as saying: “It’s a very involved Jewish family”; “Amy was one of the teachers for a class for children during the High Holidays two years ago.” Emanuel has said of his Judaism: “I am proud of my heritage and treasure the values it has taught me.” Emanuel’s family lives on the North Side of Chicago, in the North Center neighborhood.

Emanuel trains for and participates in triathlons.

From work earlier in his career, Emanuel considers Mayor Richard M. Daley, Senator Paul Simon and President Bill Clinton to be his professional mentors. He considers his personal mentors to be his father and mother.

Bradley Whitford’s character Josh Lyman on NBC television series The West Wing is said to be based on Emanuel, who made a cameo appearance at the same restaurant as Josh Lyman in the 7th season episode “The Wedding.”

The Jewish Journal profiled the then-freshman congressman in 2003:

The subject of Monday afternoon’s Democratic caucus meeting was crucial: On the eve of President Bush’s release of his economic stimulus package, how could House Democrats make the public case that their package was better?

By the end of the two-hour meeting, the more than 175 Democratic members gathered in the stuffy, but regal meeting room of the Canon Office Building were getting restless. Members stirred and chatted, while colleagues took turns making comments. But when freshman Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.) approached the microphone, members quieted down and listened.

Emanuel, a longtime aide to former President Bill Clinton, formulated the argument with the clarity of a Washington pro: “The Republican program is all about the stock market, and the Democratic program is all about the job market.”

“A few minutes later at the press conference, that phrase came up several times,” fellow Illinois Rep. Jan Schakowsky said.

The next day, several news stories on the Democrat’s plan featured Emanuel’s line. Emanuel hadn’t even been sworn in yet, and he already was making an impact.

“There’s an acknowledgment since the last election that the Democrats need to draw a distinction between themselves and the Republicans, and Rahm is really experienced at doing just that,” Schakowsky said.

With 20 years of experience in national politics, Emanuel, 43, who took the oath of office Tuesday, along with his 434 colleagues in the 108th Congress, is far from your ordinary freshman.

For many Democrats, with their party in the minority in both houses of Congress, the arrival of this Jewish rising star on Capitol Hill comes not a moment too soon. After winning the congressional seat left open when Rod Blagojevich stepped down to run a successful campaign for governor, Emanuel steps into the Washington spotlight as the only new Jewish member of the House of Representatives.

His father, a pediatrician still practicing near Chicago, immigrated to the United States from Israel and spoke Hebrew with his son, when Emanuel was a boy. Emanuel, whose first name, Rahm, means “high” or “lofty” in Hebrew, and his wife, Amy, are active members of a modern Orthodox congregation, Anshe Shalom B’nai Israel, in Chicago.

Members of Chicago’s Jewish community say Emanuel’s wife, who converted to Judaism around the same time as her wedding, is heavily involved with the Bernard Zell Anshe Emet Day School in Lakeview, Ill.

The couple send their 6-year-old son, Zacharias, and 3-year-old daughter, Ilana, to the Conservative Jewish day school that Emanuel attended as a child. The family also includes 2-year-old Leah.

“Amy was one of the teachers for a class for children during the High Holidays two years ago,” said Rabbi Asher Lopatin of Anshe Shalom. “It’s a very involved Jewish family.”

Emanuel said of his Judaism: “I am proud of my heritage and treasure the values it has taught me.” Like a true politician, he added: “Throughout my life, I have also had the privilege of knowing, working with and now representing people of all backgrounds and have learned a great deal from them and their various heritages as well. Hopefully, I will bring all of these experiences to this job.”

Emanuel traces his political start from his days at Sarah Lawrence College, when he joined the congressional campaign of David Robinson of Chicago. Swiftly moving up the ranks of the Democratic Party in the Midwest, he went on to fundraise and direct a number of successful Illinois campaigns, before assuming a larger national role with the Democratic Party’s fundraising apparatus.

In 1991, he was drafted to join the nascent Clinton campaign in Little Rock. Toughness and good political instincts earned him Clinton’s respect at the beginning of his relationship with the president.

As a top aide on the 1992 presidential campaign at age 32, Emanuel sparred with then-Gov. Clinton over the campaign schedule, urging the candidate to focus heavily on fundraising, rather than campaigning in New Hampshire, former Clinton colleagues said. Clinton acquiesced, eschewing the New Hampshire trail for much of late 1991 in favor of feverish fundraisers. Emanuel’s gambit paid off, with the money providing a crucial cushion as the negative attacks hit Clinton hard later on.

“It was that million dollars that really allowed the campaign to withstand the storm we had to ride out in New Hampshire” over Clinton’s alleged relationship with Gennifer Flowers and the controversy over his draft during the Vietnam War, said Richard Mintz, a Washington public relations consultant, who worked with Emanuel on the campaign.

Emanuel’s knowledge of the top donors in the country, his rapport with the heavily Jewish donor community and his sheer chutzpah made the difference, as Clinton amassed a then-unheard-of $72 million, said those involved with the campaign.

“He schmoozed many, many millions all over the country, including money from traditional Democratic Party givers, who are disproportionately Jewish, and new Democratic givers,” said Steve Rabinowitz, a political and public relations consultant in Washington, who worked with the White House throughout the Clinton administration.

Later, as a top White House aide, Emanuel’s take-no-prisoners attitude — he earned the nickname “Rahm-bo” — won him respect and enemies among co-workers, as well as political foes. In a story that has become part of Washington lore, Emanuel mailed a rotting fish to a former co-worker after the two parted ways. But longtime friends of Emanuel insisted the once-hard-charging staffer has mellowed.

“He kids me about it. He says, ‘You like the old me better,’ and I kind of do,” said Bettylu Saltzman, who worked with Emanuel on the staff of former Sen. Paul Simon (D-Ill.).

“He is very self-effacing, and that’s what makes him tolerable,” Mintz joked.

“Maybe it is a Chicago sport, where politics is a contact sport, but people have fun doing it,” said former colleague John Podesta, who was Clinton’s chief of staff.

Running for the House last year, Emanuel got his first glimpse of politics as a candidate, and faced an immediate test. A nasty primary battle included a rare public case of anti-Semitism, when the president of the Polish American Congress, Ed Moskal, who was supporting candidate Nancy Kaszak, claimed that Emanuel was an Israeli citizen and served in the Israeli army. Moskal also called Emanuel a “millionaire carpetbagger who knows nothing” about “our heritage.”

Emanuel had served a noncombat stint as a volunteer in the Israeli army during the Gulf War, but he never held Israeli citizenship. Emanuel responded coolly, supporters said, bringing a coalition of Chicago clergy together to denounce the incident.

“One of the proudest moments of my life was seeing people of my district from all backgrounds demonstrate our common values by coming together in response to this obvious attempt to divide them,” Emanuel said.

As a member of Congress, Emanuel is expected to push for centrist Democratic positions on economics, trade and the war on terror. During the congressional campaign, he indicated his support of President Bush’s position on Iraq but said he believed the president needed to better articulate his position to the American people.

On domestic issues, such as health care, on which Rahm focused much of his campaign, he will be a vocal member of the Democratic opposition. Saying his interest in health care was inspired by his father, a pediatrician, Rahm said he is “determined to help make health care affordable and available for all Americans.”

A defining moment for Emanuel during his White House stint was an event that touched his political sensibilities and his personal ties to Israel: the 1993 Rose Garden signing ceremony after the Oslo accord between Israel and the Palestinians. Rahm directed the details of the ceremony, down to the choreography of the famous handshake between Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat.

“It was an emotional moment for him,” Mintz said. “He’d like nothing more than to participate in another peace agreement signing.”

These days, however, Emanuel is not optimistic about the chance of a Palestinian state arising from the current ruin.

“If you were to say up front, ‘We’re creating a state and then we’re negotiating the details,'” he told CNBC last summer, “not only would you be rewarding terrorism, you would be rewarding all the corruption that goes with it.”

Rage Becomes Power in Writer’s Hands

"I still write a lot from anger," playwright Mark Medoff said. "I’ve wanted to flagellate the world."

Medoff, 61, is the author of the smoldering plays "When You Comin’ Back, Red Ryder?" "Children of a Lesser God" and "Road to a Revolution," now at Deaf West Theatre. His intense work often rails against a world he perceives as rife with violence, racism and sexism. Several childhood memories fuel the rage, he revealed during a telephone interview from his New Mexico ranch.

As a boy, he sensed his family lived in a small Illinois town because his Jewish physician father couldn’t find work anyplace else. During summers at a Jewish camp in Georgia, Medoff said bigotry was as palpable as "a compression in the air." After the family relocated to Florida, he learned that his father had to beg an official to grant him a medical license because the Jewish quota was filled. "My father cried in front of this man," the author said bitterly. "I saw him turned away from door after door. All of that has long been boiling in me."

No wonder Medoff’s work rants against every kind of injustice. A shabbily dressed Vietnam veteran spurs the action in "Red Ryder," about violence and American values in the ’60s. A paraplegic Jewish veteran spews bigotry in "Stumps." A deaf woman refuses to be patronized in "Children of a Lesser God," which won Medoff a Tony and was made into an Oscar-winning film.

Now comes "Road to a Revolution," in which three generations of women (some hearing, some not), face off against the backdrop of the 1988 uprising of deaf students at Gallaudet University. It’s the fifth play Medoff has written for actress Phyllis Frelich; his goal, as usual, is incendiary.

"In ‘Children,’ there is a revolt by a deaf woman against her hearing husband," he said. "In ‘Road,’ the revolt leads to a kind of detente between the deaf students and the hearing board and, by extension, between hearing culture and deaf culture."

Medoff, ironically, didn’t rebel against the jock culture of his Miami Beach high school. A star athlete, he remained a closet writer lest he be considered effeminate, he said. He wasn’t above some smug assumptions of his own, however. "I had this clichéd vision of the deaf as those people who sold the little alphabet cards at airports," he admitted.

In the late 1970s, when colleagues told him about an amazing deaf actress named Phyllis Frelich, he thought, "Everyone was overcompensating because she was this poor, handicapped individual."

Yet hours after he had met Frelich, Medoff was so impressed that he announced he was going to write a play for her.

Frelich smiled politely. "I thought to myself, ‘Yeah, sure,’" she told The Journalin sign language, speaking through her hearing husband, Bob Steinberg, a set designer. Surprisingly, Medoff came through. "But we hated the play," Frelich said. "The main character was just so furious about her deafness."

Undaunted, Medoff affably tore the pages to shreds in front of the couple and invited them to work on a new play at his New Mexico state university theater department. Frelich and Steinberg accepted the offer.

"We bought an old, rusty Ford van for $600, loaded up the kids and drove out West," Steinberg recalled. By the end of the semester, the trio had created the drama that would help put deaf theater on the map.

"Road" began when Medoff was glued to the television news of the Gallaudet uprising in 1988. When the deaf college’s board elected yet another hearing president, enraged students protested and succeeded in reversing the decision. The appointment of Gallaudet’s first deaf president became the cornerstone of the deaf civil rights movement. It was Medoff’s kind of story.

He initially envisioned a film (he wrote the screenplays of "Clara’s Heart" and "City of Joy"), but was rejected at every studio in town. In one meeting, a young executive told Medoff, "There’s already been a deaf movie." The disgusted author eventually decided to develop the story as a play.

It’s not just a piece about deaf people, he insists. While the play focuses on the Gallaudet uprising, the character of Edna (Frelich), who is initially timid, reminds Medoff of his father, hat in hand, in the Florida state official’s office. "She is like all my relatives who were afraid of their own shadow, afraid to offend, to present their positions as Jews," he said. "But the play is universal. It could be about the Latino experience or any other experience, because everyone feels isolated and the need to rebel at some point in their lives."

For tickets to the show, which runs through May 27, call (818) 762-2773 or 762-2782 (TTY).