Meet Jewish Person of the Week Benna Kessler
Where did you grow up?
Durham, North Carolina
What did you do Jewish growing up?
My family was very involved in our local synagogue. We observed Shabbat weekly, and the holidays, and I went to Hebrew school three times a week. When I got older I tutored b’nai mitzvah students and as a senior in high school I taught Hebrew school to a bunch of third graders who have now graduated college- YIKES! I also grew up speaking Yiddish, and every year I would attend Yidish Vokh, a week-long immersion retreat, which was my favorite week of the year!
Where did you go to school?
I attended the University of Chicago as an undergrad, and got my Master’s in Social Work at the University of Michigan.
What do you do for work?
I am a licensed clinical social worker, currently working as the Director of Resident Engagement at The Selfhelp Home– a Jewish retirement community in Uptown. I plan and coordinate the activity programming for the Independent and Assisted Living residents.
What do you do Jewish now?
I’m a Builder at Mishkan. I teach a beginner’s Yiddish class with the Chicago Workers Circle and Chicago YIVO. And at my job, I lead a Yiddish music group, where we learn about and listen to Yiddish songs with a different theme each week.
What is your favorite way to spend shabbat?
Dinner at home with friends and, in pre-COVID times, services at Mishkan. On Saturday I like to read, go for walks, catch up with my sister, and take a shabes shlof (nap)!
Top three things on your Chicago bucket list?
Three things I think everyone should do are: take a water taxi down the river, explore the Morton Arboretum, and stare in awe at the lake on a clear, blue day.
Three things I haven’t done yet that I want to do are: eat at Ever and Next, go kayaking in the Skokie Lagoons, and visit the Chicago History Museum.
What is your favorite Jewish Chicago event?
In pre-pandemic times, and hopefully again in the future, Friday night services with Mishkan.
What do you do for fun/to relax?
I like to read, watch TV, bake, and play games- especially word games.
What’s your go-to self-care?
Watching funny YouTube videos and reading Buzzfeed listicles that make me laugh.
How has that changed during COVID?
I started baking a lot after binging the entirety of The Great British Baking Show during the first months of quarantine.
How do you stay motivated during the Pandemic?
By planning my next travel adventure for when it’s safe to do so.
Favorite takeout spot during the Pandemic?
The Gundis Kurdish Kitchen. Their Kurdish breakfast is incredible!
What was the best song from your Bar/Bat Mitzvah days?
I think I’ve blocked most of those parties from my memory, but I seem to remember “Cotton-Eye Joe” being very popular…
What is the best piece of wisdom you’ve received from your (or any) Jewish Mother?
Always bring a sweater.
If you could get a meal with any famous Jewish person (living or not), who would it be and why?
Nicole Krauss! She wrote one of my favorite books- “The History of Love.” I’ve read it 8 or 9 times and the ending makes me cry every time!
When the Tribe Gathers… redn mir yidish!
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