Getting Personal: Alan Cook

Each week, we offer an email Q&A with a local personality. Today, Paul Wood chats with 42-year-old Champaign resident Alan Cook, the new rabbi at Sinai Temple in Champaign.

What time do you typically get up? What do you do the first hour of the morning?

I am usually up by about 6:45 a.m. I get ready for work and help to get my children (7 and 4) ready for school.

What do you consider your greatest achievement or accomplishment?

It may sound cliche, but I am very proud of how my children are growing up as generally polite, moral and ethical young people. I hope that through my educational work, I've helped other people bring up their children in a similar manner.

What do you regard as your most treasured possession?

Of all my possessions, my family is the most precious. If you are asking about material possessions, I can't think of anything that has the same level of importance to me.

Do you have a guilty pleasure and what is it?

There are certain "trashy" TV shows that I enjoy watching when I just want to relax. My biggest guilty pleasure, however, is that I love Nabisco Easy Cheese. This is pasteurized cheese in an aerosol can. It horrifies my wife, who grew up in Wisconsin and knows what real cheese is, but it's a comfort food for me.

What book are you reading now? What is your favorite book ever?

Right now I'm between books since I don't have much time for reading as I get ready for the Jewish High Holidays. My favorite book of all time is "To Kill a Mockingbird."

Where on Earth are you dying to go? Why?

I always enjoy visiting Israel and can't wait to get back there. But I'm curious to visit the Far East: China, Japan, Thailand, etc. I am fascinated by their food and culture.

Tell me about your favorite pet.

We haven't had many pets, mostly frogs and fish. Our kids are currently negotiating for a dog.

What's your favorite sports team?

Northwestern Wildcats football. I'm not big on professional sports, but I attended Northwestern as an undergrad and rooted for the football team during some pretty lean years.

What would you order for your last meal?

Probably some combination of my favorite cuisines: a little sushi, some Chinese, maybe a steak. Definitely I'd wash it all down with a Coca-Cola made with real sugar in a glass bottle.

If you could be reincarnated after you die, what would you like to come back as?

I've had a pretty good run as me. There are some things I'd like the chance to correct here or there, but I don't need to live anyone else's life.

Who are your favorite musicians and why?

The Beatles; Crosby, Stills and Nash (and Young); Peter, Paul and Mary; and The Weavers. All were/are able to attach social messages to their music and have a beautiful way with harmonies.

What's the happiest memory of your life?

Three-way tie between my wedding day and the births of my two children.

If you could host a dinner party with any three living people in the world, whom would you invite? What would you serve?

Barack Obama, the Dalai Lama and Pete Seeger. I imagine that I'd have to serve something vegetarian in deference to His Holiness' dietary practices.

Which historical figure do you admire the most and why?

While there are many brave and important historical figures whose stories resonate with me, I am particularly taken with the stories of individuals who take a stand and don't necessarily make it into the annals of history — those who staged sit-ins during the civil rights movement in our country or those who resisted the Nazis during the Holocaust or the students in Tiananmen Square.

What personality trait do you most hate in other people? Most hate in yourself?

I try my best not to judge others. As for myself, I wish that I could be calmer and slower to anger.

What's your best piece of advice?

From my favorite film of all time, the original 1977 "Muppet Movie": "Life's like a movie, write your own ending ." I take it to mean that we control our own destinies, that only we can determine whether we are happy or sad in a given situation.

What was your first job and how much did you make an hour?

My first job was copying software for a company that wrote programs for inventorying institutional janitorial supplies. I did it after school for a year or two in high school and made minimum wage. I also spent part of high school working as a cashier at a grocery store.

What was a pivotal decision in your career and how did you arrive at that decision?

I had spent about four years in elementary education when I decided I wanted to be a rabbi. In some ways, it was not too major a shift, since the word "rabbi" literally means "teacher." But it took some rethinking of what my life path would look like. I had been working in the Jewish community and decided that I wanted to commit myself more fully to its future.

Do you have any regrets in your life? What are they?

Like everyone, there are moments when I wonder what might have happened had I made some different choices, but I am happy with where I am at this point in my life and try to live without regrets.

How do you handle a stressful situation?

Not always as well as I might like, I'm afraid. But part of growing as a human being is recognizing that this is an area where I can improve. I try to get myself out of the heat of the moment and relax.

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