MILTS

Jeff Aeder, owner of Milt’s Barbecue for the Perplexed, Chicago’s hottest kosher restaurant, isn’t in the kosher restaurant business at all…

Milt’s Barbecue for the Perplexed was named one of the best new restaurants of 2013 by Chicago Magazine, and recently ranked runner-up in Time Out Chicago’s reader contest to find the best new barbecue joint in the city.

But being kosher isn’t the only thing that sets Milt’s apart from other Chicago barbecue places. Owner Jeff Aeder donates all of his hip new restaurant’s profits to charity.

“We just completed our first year,” he said in a recent exclusive interview with Aish.com, “and we donated $50,000 to
community causes.”

“Milt’s was always meant to be about much more than food,” Jeff explains. He yearned to promote Jewish continuity in his urban neighborhood, to create a spot that would be like a fun community center for young people living downtown that hosted speakers and events.

“I feel very Zionistic, I’m a big believer in the importance of Jewish continuity, the beauty of Jewish culture, and the history of the Jews, and also having the world know all the good things we in the Jewish community do for the world. Our goal as Jews is always to make the world a better place.”

The restaurant is named after the seminal work of Jewish philosophy, The Guide for the Perplexed by Maimonides (Rambam), and also for Jeff Aeder’s Uncle Milt, whom Aeder describes as having been “irreverent, funny, and perplexed.” Milt’s hosts daytime speakers and a monthly Jewish discussion group in downtown offices. “We’ve brought in very inspirational speakers,” Jeff says, “and it’s been educational, and also inspiring, encouraging people to do more with their lives.”

No Quit

Doing more with your life could be Jeff Aeder’s motto. “I have no quit,” he explains. Jeff cites Pirkei Avot, a compilation of sayings of great Jewish sages, as a particular influence on his life. If there’s one line in this work that captures Jeff Aeder’s activities in his new city, it might be the word of advice from the famous sage Hillel: “In a place where there are no leaders, strive to be a leader” (Pirkei Avot 2:5).

Jeff quickly became a leader in his new city. During the second Intifada – the period of intense terrorist attacks in Israel that claimed hundreds of lives in the first half of the 2000s – Jeff wanted to help. “The King David Hotel was empty,” he recalls. “I wanted people to see what life was like for people living there, for people to go out to Israel during the Intifada.”

Jeff started recruiting friends, colleagues, business associates and acquaintances to go to Israel with him. He talked to everyone, everywhere, encouraging each person he met to go. “They were guy’s trips,” and he eventually organized six of them, bringing between 10 and 16 men with him each time to visit the Jewish State, staying in the King David Hotel. For many of the participants, this was their first trip to Israel. “Each one,” Jeff notes with pride, “has been back to Israel since.”

“I Didn’t Want the Terrorists to Win”

“The first trip was a tough one – it was in 2002, right during a bleak time in Israel,” Jeff recalls. “But I didn’t want the terrorists to win. I wanted people to realize that we needed to keep on supporting our brothers and our friends, and Israel needed our support financially and otherwise; it needed to realize we hadn’t forgotten them.”

On one trip, in 2003, Jeff arranged for Michael Oren, the noted author, and later Ambassador to the United States, to meet with his group. The night before, a suicide bomber attacked the popular Jerusalem coffee shop Café Hillel. Seven people died, including Dr. David Appelbaum, the head of Emergency Medicine at Shaare Tzedek Hospital, and his daughter, Nava, who were enjoying a rare outing together on what was to be the night before her wedding. “Michael Oren’s office was in same building as that café,” Jeff says. “He came to speak to us the next day. He said he considered not coming, but then decided to carry on. He said that once again we can’t let the people who want to destroy us win.”

Jeff Aeder is a doer and a leader, but he insists that anyone can live with the same kind of bold ambition as he does. “The best way is to ask: How can I give back? Look back at your life, figure out who you are what you’re good at… Find your talent and your passion, and pursue that.”

Even though Jews have been persecuted, he says, “We’ve never hated. We’ve always asked: how can we make the world a better place? We should always be proud of that.”

Yvette Alt Miller is an international speaker on Jewish topics. Her book ‘Angels at the table: a Practical Guide to Celebrating Shabbat’ takes readers through the rituals of Shabbat and more, explaining the full beautiful spectrum of Jewish traditions with warmth and humor.