Chicago Bears punter Adam Podlesh is coming off a successful season, he is newly married with his first child on the way. All good things worthy of a celebration and last Thursday he had a chance to enjoy himself at Old Orchard Mall.
Podlesh was the featured speaker at the Great Jewish Family Festival last week as an estimated 2,200 people arrived on the mall’s west side to celebrate the holiday of Lag B’Omer and have some fun on a sun baked Thursday afternoon. Other guests of the Lubavitch Chabad of Illinois sponsored program included Skokie Mayor George Van Dusen and U.S. Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky.
Podlesh, who played his first four years for the Jacksonville Jaguars, came to Chicago in 2011 and put up some solid statistics for the Bears. He made some fans along the way and this was a chance to meet them, especially those who share his religious beliefs.
“I’m new to the Chicago area,” Podlesh said. “This is my first real offseason here. Being Jewish I wanted to take part in the community. I did the same in Jacksonville. The Jewish community in Chicago is obviously a lot bigger than it is in northern Florida so I get a kick out of being involved and representing the Jewish community and taking part of it.”
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Podlesh, a Reform Jew, was inducted into the Rochester Jewish Hall of Fame. In a sport not known for having many Jewish players, Podlesh is now one of two Chicago Bears with a Jewish background, joining teammate Gabe Carimi, who spoke at last year’s festival.
Podlesh and Carimi have formed a friendship given their religious background. “We didn’t prick our hands or anything like that. We do have a little bit of a kinship. Obviously being part of a vast minority in the locker room,” the punter said. “It’s cool to see a couple of guys of the Jewish faith playing for the Chicago Bears.”
In a state that has sent such political figures such as Abner Mikva, Sidney Yates and Rahm Emanuel to Capitol Hill, right now Schakowsky stands as the only Jewish representative in Congress. She was able to make a joke out of that Thursday with Podlesh standing next to her.
“The Chicago Bears do better than the Illinois delegation,” the Congresswoman deadpanned.
Everyone was trying to have fun at the festival held on Lag B’Omer, a Jewish celebration of pride. Many Lag B’Omer celebrations are capped off with a bonfire at the end of the evening. This one was no exception.
“People weren’t leaving,” noted Rabbi Daniel Moscowitz on how the celebration went on for hours. “It was really remarkable.”
It is the 28th year of the festival, but the second year of celebrating Lag B’Omer. Previous festivals had been held on Sunday, but the decision was made to move it Thursday this year so the holiday could be commemorated on the exact day on the calendar.
It was another mark in the evolution of the annual party.
“Last year we upgraded completely and it became the Greater Jewish Family Festival,” Moscowitz said. “It’s a festival that symbolizes both unity and education. Most importantly it is a joyous festival and we should all enjoy the theme of being Jewish.”
Unlike last year, when a downpour came during the party, Mother Nature cooperated and the participants had the chance to go into about 30 booths and jump around, play miniature golf and do some climbing among other attractions.
By having the festival on a weekday, the organizers were forced to eschew a parade that had been part of the fun for the previous but would have been too difficult to pull off according to Moscowitz because of weekday traffic. In 2013 and 2014, Lag B’ Omer hits on a Sunday and thus the parade is scheduled to return.
The city was fine with the event on a weekday which eased parking issues.
“I like the venue because everybody gets a chance to come and go. Everybody gets to socialize,” Van Dusen said. “The weekends are the most difficult because that is when the shopping center is the busiest.”
For Shlomit Hoch of Skokie, this was her second year of going to the festival and she brought her five-year-old daughter Ori. They do it in a fun way with reasonable prices. They have a lot of entertainment for the kids and I like being part of the community.”
She hopes Ori would take home some things as well as having a good time. “I hope she begins to understand the traditions and the fun part of it.”
Michelle Ramot has lived in Skokie for 14 years. She wants to celebrate Lag B’Omer and have some fun and that is why she came to Old Orchard on this day. “This is the only way to celebrate the holiday,” Ramot said. “We don’t live in Israel and we need to celebrate the holiday and feel the atmosphere.”