Oak Park Temple recreates old Maxwell Street neighborhood for annual benefit

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By Evan O'Brien

Content Manager

Provided by Oak Park Temple

As part of Oak Park Temple's bi-annual auction, the temple will recreate the old Chicago neighborhood of Maxwell Street, the bustling intersection of ethnic cultures known for shops, pushcarts, food vendors, and the birth of the Chicago Blues. The auction, known as "Maxwell Street to the Gold Coast: Rags to Riches," will benefit Oak Park Temple and Glasser Preschool.

"This event is a wonderful opportunity for Jewish people from all around the Chicago area—and people of all ethnic backgrounds and faiths—to reminisce about this important chapter in the history of the city and its culture, while benefiting our preschool and our community at large," said Rabbi Max Weiss of Oak Park Temple. "There will be food, live music, and fun all combined in a unique atmosphere intended to turn back the clock to Old Maxwell Street."

Attendees of the auction can bid on such items as a brand new football signed by Chicago Bears Linebacker Brian Urlacher, being "Guest Chef for a Day" at the soon-to-be-closing Charlie Trotter's, being "Page for a Day" to State Senator Dan Harmon, a tour of the Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio for 16 people, as well as a wide range of artwork, jewelry, hotel and travel buys, toys, personal fitness, and much more. The evening will be capped off with a raffle of two round-trip tickets to any U.S. destination where Southwest Airlines flies, with no blackout dates.

As attendees participate in both a live auction and a silent auction, they will wind their way through the community hall of Oak Park Temple, which will be rebuilt with clothing racks, pushcarts, fake storefronts, and other reminders of the bygone era of Old Maxwell Street. Food and drink will include old favorites from that period, including the renowned Romanian Karnatzlack (a spicy burger), salmon patties, sweet and sour meat balls, many deli delights and side dishes, and of course the ever popular Maxwell Street Polish. The environment is being recreated by Dan George, a local set designer and member of Oak Park Temple.

"We're attempting to bring back to life not just the sights of Maxwell Street, but the sounds, feels, and flavors of the environment," says George. "It will be a fun time for everyone who joins us!"

Oak Park Temple traces its roots back to this area, where it was known as Washington Boulevard Temple on Chicago's west side before moving to Oak Park in 1957. Other interesting facts about Maxwell Street include:*

  • The clarinetist and band leader Benny Goodman was born in 1909 near the Maxwell Street neighborhood and spent most of his youth there.
  • The famous direct-sales entrepreneur, Ron Popeil, began his career as a street vendor at the Maxwell Street Market.
  • The Maxwell Street Police Station, at Maxwell and Morgan Streets, was "Hill Street Station" in the 1980s television series, Hill Street Blues.
  • Maxwell Street was featured in the 1980 film, The Blues Brothers, in which it was portrayed as a thriving ethnically African-American community. The scene opens with John Lee Hooker playing his song Boom Boom on the street before the film's stars, John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd enter a restaurant owned and operated by Aretha Franklin looking for Matt "Guitar" Murphy" and "Blue Lou" Lou Marini.

(*Source: Wikipedia.)

Tickets for "Maxwell Street to the Gold Coast: Rags to Riches" are $40 for individuals and $75 for couples, and they can be purchased online at auction.oakparktemple.com or by calling the Oak Park Temple office at 708-386-3937.

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