(April 12, 2015)–I’ve written Chicago Carless since June 2005. My blog began as a look at life in Chicago–especially downtown Chicago–through the newcomer eyes of a non-driving, expatriate New Yorker. I’m a former urban planner, and there’s a lot of big-city boosterism on here. This blog is also where I’ve chronicled years of hopes, self-doubts, bad dates, good boyfriends, ADHD foibles, coffee roundtables, and endless tries to answer the question why I left New York in the first place.
It’s also the place where I blogged my way through my Jewish conversion process, keeping a close record of how “Doyle” became a fine Jewish name, which explains how this became a blog about both Judaism and urbanism.
Wait a minute, why is this a blog about Judaism and urbanism together?
Well really, it’s a blog about my life. I moved to Chicago in 2003 not knowing how to drive, and used my urban planning grad-school skills to examine things about Chicago that people who grew up here might miss noticing or take for granted. In fact, that’s my original blog masthead below: “Chicago Carless: The Life and Times of a Former New Yorker Living in Downtown Chicago”. I kept my Chicago/urban focus for the first five years of this blog, and made a name for myself in the local blogosphere.
In 2010, I began an unexpected Jewish conversion journey that changed my life–in about every way imaginable, and for the better. For a few years after, I blogged primarily about Judaism and my Jewish journey. However, I honor where I’ve come from and where I’ve been, so I decided to keep my blog title and URL, and maintain my older urbanism content together with my newer Jewish content.
Then in 2013, I decided to let my blog fully embrace all of who I am. And that happens to be someone who celebrates his Jewish journey and who also happens to love cities, public transit, and oddly enough Disneyland, too. (That’s in Anaheim, folks.)
The most important part is that I’m happy you’re here. You are welcome to pick and choose what has meaning to you on my blog and what doesn’t. You don’t need to travel by subway to explore my Jewish content. Nor do you have to be Jewish to explore my urban content. While you’re here, I do hope you drop me an email or social message to say hi and tell me about you.
My Pre-Jewish Journey
I was once called a “born-again Chicagoan” by Centerstage Chicago for my deep love of the Windy City. I’m a native New Yorker, but I always say the only New Yorkers who don’t love Chicago are the ones who haven’t been here yet. In 2003, I fell deeply in love with Chicago and after several attempts to stop flying here every two weeks, finally decided to make Chicago my home.
I spent my first six months here in Wrigleyville watching my cat get freaked out by phantom crowd noise from Wrigley Field, a year-and-a-half in Logan Square unsuccessfully trying not to get mugged, and five years downtown in the architecturally historic yet socially infamous Marina City. My partner, Ryan, and I now live on the lakefront in Edgewater, a far North Side neighborhood whose steadfast commitment to local residents makes it very easy to love.
Over the years, my blog and I have waded loudly into Chicago controversies regarding social justice in the public realm, including:
- Helping win the removal of ill-conceived homeland security cameras installed atop Millennium Park’s Crown Fountain;
- Getting Macy’s to replace erroneous wayfinding signage carelessly designed and installed throughout their flagship State Street store;
- Widening the debate on neighborhood noise in downtown Chicago;
- Supporting the Chicago Children’s Museum’s planned move to Grant Park;
- Giving my fellow Chicagoans an insider’s perspective on Marina City’s Gary Kimmel scandal;
- Motivating the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless to monitor the Chicago Transit Authority’s 2008 holiday crackdown on homeless riders; and
- Coverage of alleged price-gouging by Chicago’s Intelligentsia Coffee–including a guest spot on the nationally acclaimed LGBT news-and-features podcast, Feast of Fun.
In 2009, I also scribed Chicagosphere, the blog-roundup column of the Chicago Tribune’s ChicagoNow blog network (those posts now live on Chicago Carless, here.) My examination of substandard conditions for rank-and-file bloggers at ChicagoNow during my tenure there (“The Past Imperfect of ChicagoNow“) remains the most-discussed topic ever on Chicago’s homegrown headline news site, Windy Citizen. I’ve also served as a contributing blogger to Huffington Post Chicago, the regional news-and-features blog, Gapers Block, and until its premature demise in 2010, the Kenneth Cole “Awearness” Blog.
I honed my sense of urban social justice studying urban planning at Hunter College/CUNY in New York, and serving for four years on the central staff of the New York City Transit Riders Council, two of them as associate director. I sharpened my strategic media skills at Chicago’s grassroots Community Media Workshop, and am an occasional contributor to the Workshop’s annual Chicagoland media guide, Getting On the Air, Online & into Print.
I put my media chops to use for several years in Chicago through strategy work, blogging, and online outreach for community groups, nonprofits, and labor unions in Chicago and at the national level as a consultant and working with social justice-oriented boutique PR firms. During Election 2006, I received public accolades from the AFL-CIO and Roseanne Barr for my grassroots video interviews shot for the groundbreaking video blog, 7 Days @ Minimum Wage. The project, conceived by Washington, DC-based progressive PR firm Massey Media–with my heart-rending “Jessica” interview as its centerpiece (part one, part two)–helped win minimum wage increases in Arizona, Colorado, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, and Ohio.
My blog has been featured numerous times for coverage of civic and social-justice issues by local and national media including Romenesko, Jay Rosen, the Chicago Reader‘s Michael Miner, the Chicago Tribune (which called me a “Newsmaker of the Week” in September 2006), the Chicago Sun-Times, Chicago Magazine, Time Out Chicago, the Detroit News, NBC 5 Chicago, Chicago Public Radio, WBBM Newsradio, the WVON Cliff Kelley Show, the former Chi-Town Daily News, Centerstage Chicago, Gapers Block, Chicagoist, and Rich Miller’s Capital Fax Blog.
My Jewish Journey
In 2010 something happened that changed me and, ultimately, the focus of my blog. I began a journey of conversion to Judaism, and sealed the deal in 2011. As I asked in my conversion essay, how many different ways are there to write that you’ve fallen in love with something that you never knew that you’ve always been? This blog has since chronicled much of my attempt to find out. For the record, I’m the rare Reform Jew who likes to swim in the traditional end of the mitzvah pool. But I also live my life with one foot in status quo synagogue-affiliated Jewish life and one foot in the post-denominational “No one else decides my Jewish legitimacy but me” world. Which, I think, is how conscious Jewish living should be.
Over the past three years that I have been writing about Judaism and my Jewish journey, I have been honored to receive numerous emails from around the world from Jews-by-choice and those on or considering their own Jewish journeys. Those emails have been among the greatest blessings of my writing this blog, and I am happy to connect and compare life notes, offer encouragement, or lend an ear. I am also the co-founder of Chicago’s Jew-by-choice discussion group, the Ruth Roundtable, which was used as a model for a sister group in Washington, DC in 2013.
Michael is my given name, and Micha’el Benami is my Hebrew name.
I’m a member of Edgewater’s Emanuel Congregation. Our synagogue is awesome (except, like all synagogues, when it’s not). Stop by and say hi. As of June 25, 2014, I can no longer stand behind my former endorsement of what is now my former congregation. See here and here.
In fall 2013, I began and paused rabbinical school.
I currently work for sister economic-development organizations: as Manager of Economic Development Initiatives for the Alliance on Regional Development, focusing on Chicago’s tri-state region; and as Program Manager for the Chicago Central Area Committee, focusing on downtown Chicago. Learn more on my Linkedin profile.
My trajectory after Chicago points directly towards Los Angeles. I have a dream of being able to visit Disneyland someday without needing to get on a plane to do so. In 2015, my New York City family found me again after 20 years of total estrangement. Chicago is ending. My hometown is beginning again. I’m moving back to the Big Apple to be with them. They make me feel like the luckiest man in the world.
Of course the future, as Natasha Bedingfield sang, is unwritten…
Michael Benami Doyle