Nat’s Number One Son

I’d kinda been waiting around for some confirmation on the rumors, but since no one’s denied them in the last few weeks, I may as well let y’all know that Natalie Portman and her thousand-footed husband, Benjamin Millepied, have named their baby Aleph.

Aleph. Not, as Life in Israel points out, Alf.

For all you Hebrew school dropouts and never-beens, “Aleph” may sound like “Alex” pronounced with a mouthful of socks. However, “Aleph” is the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet (also known as the aleph-bet—isn’t that fun?)

So basically this is the same thing as naming the child “A”. Which is kind of cool, especially if Nat and Ben actually meant this as a tribute to Fonzie (“Ayyyyyy…”)

Or maybe the motive is more esoteric than that. In the mystical practice of Kabbalah, the letter Aleph also corresponds to the number 1 as well as the primordial number that contains all the rest, so perhaps the proud parents are encouraging leadership qualities in the young one.

In any case, most of you know that I am the last person to judge weirdo kid names. All I know is that a bris has NOT been confirmed. Would it be considered ironically hipster of the Portman-Millepieds to give their kid a Jewish name and not invite a mohel? Or simply confusing?

Chew that one over at the Shabbos table and get back to me. Shabbat Shalom!

Eulogy for A Hot Mess

Oh, Amy.

You sexy, filthy thing. You charmed us with your old-school bebop style and sailor-swearing Cockney chatter. You repulsed us with your hideous heroin-skinny limbs and helpless alcoholic pathos. You introduced us to Mr. Donny Hathaway and the term “fuckery.” You were hard-core and brittle as an old bubbe‘s bones; you made the nervous breakdowns of pop tarts like Britney and Demi Lovato look like toddler tantrums.

Most of all, you held us captive, our mouths hanging open, our toes tapping no matter how old or self-righteous, with that voice—that soulful, husky voice that reached deep down and brought heaven and hell together, funneled forth from a 90-pound songbird teetering on F*@# me stilettos.

You were never a nice Jewish girl. Too many tattoos. So much public barfing. But watching you tearfully hugging Mama Winehouse with an armful of Grammy awards, we felt the pride for one of our own. We concentrated on the music, not the shanda. That’s why “Rehab” could pop up ironically in bar mitzvah DJ rotation. No longer.

In terms of creating your own legend, you couldn’t have picked a better time to self-combust: All the great ones died at 27. Jimi, Janis, Jim, Kurt—they all killed themselves through whiskey and needles and pills and playing with guns. Whatever your special recipe for destruction was, you join the pantheon of those who couldn’t handle the fame and fortune and artistic pressure, those who possessed heart-breaking talent but no sense of self-preservation. Welcome to the club.

Though many have recently reveled in the schadenfreude of your stage stumbles and wicked hot messiness, so many of us were rooting for your salvation. To hear that sober album. To maybe watch you marry a nebbishy Jewish businessman who adored you and see the tabloids scurry over how you got fat when you had babies. To cheer when you appeared svelte and mature in 2018 to release a smokin’ comeback that knocked us out all over again.

Instead, for generations to come, your songs will resonate with and be downloaded by every disenfranchised global youth with a penchant for jazz and weed. Your addictions will serve as a morality tale. You will be the poster icon for the ultimate Bad Girl. Whatever you believed came after death—if you ever thought about it at all—you’ll achieve immortality, at least in this current cycle of human civilization. It is in our sick world, I suppose, the zenith of artistic achievement. So congratulations.

We only wish we could have heard more.

The End of An Aural Era

It was shock last week to read about the demise of JDub Records. I mean, this is the label responsible for launching Matisyahu into the limelight! And, of course, a major player in the resurgence of the “it’s-cool-to-be-a-quirky-Jew” movement that arose out of NYC around in the early Y2Ks. Sheesh, there were a heady few years there when Jewish pop culture went practically mainstream with Demi and Ashton rocking Kabbalah bracelets and little goyishe stoner kids in Kansas growing sidelocks.

The JDub boys were the machers (along with and now out-of-print HEEB magazine) in the Jewisphere when I was a wee blogger back in 2004, feasting on the wackalicious sounds of Balkan Beat Box and of course, that Chasidic reggae rapper before he started selling out stadiums.

This was never anyone’s yiddishe mama’s Jewish music: JDub got behind punk rock klezmer with Golem, the Sephardic Judeo-Spanish fly stylings of DeLeon and seriously jamming Afro-Jewish fusion with Sway Machinery and made it COOL. They collected artists who cooked up traditional Jewish music with tablas and wicked beats and rap—which could have all been completely unlistenable or worse, embarrassing parodies. Instead, JDub gave hipsters permission to dance to the accordion.

Jacob Berkman’s Forward article provides a timeline of the fall of the label, which was seeded with money from Jewish philanthropy organizations. What’s really frustrating is that Nice Jewish Boys Aaron Bisman and Jacob Harris did everything a start-up non-profit should do, including switching up business models and diversifying funding sources, but they couldn’t make it work. And judging from Daniel Septimus’ op-ed earlier this week, Jewish philanthropy may be experiencing a shift from cultural projects like JDub and HEEB to those that provide a way to bring religious and ritual components back to the young people.

Maybe that’s a good idea. But it doesn’t sound very danceable.

So does JDub’s death mean the era of the Cool Jew over? Berkman quotes Brandeis University professor and professional American Jewish life ponderer Jonathan Sarna:

“We have moved from a moment when we thought there was a great deal of revival, and people seemed to be moving toward an interest in religion and religiosity. And that moment has passed, and now there is a shift back to the secular…Today, I think a lot of young people [in the JDub demographic] are those who have thrown off religion and not those who have taken it on. And that wasn’t true when JDub began. It suggests a new moment, and a moment I worry about.”

I posed the question to El Yenta Man. He rolled his eyes at me. “Being Jewish has never been cool.”

Right. I forgot. Well, now we can return to the fringe with our weird 12th century Kabbalah punk rock and obtuse senses of humor. And maybe, as Sarna admonishes, get our tushies back to synagogue.

You can still listen to the nachas-worthy artists of JDub at

Musings of A Wannabe Alterkocker, Part Deux*

*Here’s Part One. Knock yourself out. Just don’t wake me up from my nap.

I know I must be old because Twitter gives me diarrhea.

I know all the young people in the Middle East and Europe are starting revolutions 140 characters at a time, but all the tiny tweets and mysterious followers and crippled English and manic self-promotion and those people who shout out every time they’ve completed a new suduko game (you KNOW who you are)—it’s so STRESSFUL. (Speaking of stress, Marcia Fine’s Jean Rubin knows something about it.)

Still, it’s what humans do these days, so I spit a tweet out now and again and then spend a hour reading everyone else’s tweets when I should be doing many, many other things that may produce an actual outcome, such as clean underwear for the family or, say, a book.

Some people are quite good at the Twitter, posting useful info and funny pictures (thanks, @SteveMartinToGo, for the pug in the bikini yesterday) and even finding jobs and promoting themselves into prosperity. So I get that it works, I just haven’t quite gotten the hang of it yet as no one has offered me any money. Here’s to trying.

I’m not the only one who appears to be having a Twitter problem. Jerry Seinfeld—yes, that guy, who got way rich being funny about nothing—began tweeting over the weekend as @Seintime. In five short tweets managed to attract 165,000 followers—and piss off every Jewish bubbe who’s found her way online:

(Screenshot c/o

Another #ReasonIamAnAlterkocker: Holocaust humor, not hilarious so much. Soup Nazi notwithstanding.

@Seintime has not tweeted since. S’okay, dude. Not everyone’s humor translates, y’know?

The main #ReasonIamAnAlterkocker is though I am still three months shy of my 40th birthday, I had the unbelievable unpleasantness of experiencing a barium enema a few weeks ago. It sounds like it’d be bad, right? Drinking that yucky chalky stuff and having someone snap a photo up your bum? When I asked the nurse if I could down the stuff with a beer back, she stopped and put her hand on my shoulder and said, “Oh, HONEY. You don’t DRINK the barium.”

I will be traumatized until I die. My doctor assured me that this was a kinder, gentler alternative to having a colonoscopy—would anyone care to weigh in on that? #ScrewAging

Fortunately, the test did not reveal a tangerine-sized tumor or that I had inadvertently swallowed my son’s ball python, so my doctor had no choice to agree that it’s Twitter that’s causing my stomach issues. “Still,” she said. “You need more followers. I’ll retweet your next post, OK?”

You can follow me at @TypeItLoud.

“Sack Religious” and Other Greetings

A rousing “challa!” to my favorite Eco-Girl and cousin Patricia Dines for turning me to Tuba Loons Kosher Greeting Cards!

Nothing like some offbeat Jewish hilarity to lighten a heavy week—especially when combined with chicken humor (“Altar Cocker”? heheheheh.)

I spent a good portion of the morning chortling over these and wondering when the Tuba Loonies will get busy with a silkscreener: I haven’t found a decent T-shirt of the Week in months. What self-respecting yenta wouldn’t want to sport a “Ms. Shegoss” schmata around town?

If six pages of synagogue silliness gives you a few giggles but you’re still feeling overwhelmed by the alarming state of the world, check out EcoGirl’s latest column about how to keep on keepin’ on with joy.

A restful Shabbos and delightful weekend to all!

The Nest Is Half-Empty

I’m feeling kind of mopey after dropping Yenta Boy off at camp yesterday. I know I shouldn’t be. After all, a three-and-half week reprieve from a pre-adolescent smartmouth who’s obsessed with his hair contains a multitude of positives: No bickering! Half the laundry! Only having to cook for the one child who eats everything! No one stealing the good hair gel I bought at the salon out of my bathroom! A break from the hours of exasperated shrieks, dissonant chords and repetitious pounding as he picks out a new Top 40 song on the piano at 11pm!

Still, I can’t seem to shake the empty feeling. Maybe it’s because this year, instead of bravely holding back tears as we left him in the doorway of his screened-in bunk with his college-aged counselors, he gave me a half-squeeze and took off with his two camp BFFs from last year before I could admonish him to wear sunscreen. Actually, that made me kind of proud—it’s so relieving to see his independence unfurling like one of the giant rhododendron leaves that grows in our backyard.

And it’s not that I feel like he doesn’t need me anymore. The boy can barely open a can of tunafish and still needs to be reminded to look both ways while crossing the street; I’m pretty sure he’s going to require parental guidance well into his 40s. Sure, there was a certain level of neurosis on my part during the packing process (Did you pack the good sneakers? Pack the other pair, too, just in case someone puts toothpaste in them. No, you may NOT bring red Kool-Aid so you can touch up your dye job) but at least I wasn’t the mother shlepping the full-length mirror into the cabin.

Of course, there was the requisite Turning Over of the EpiPen to the nurse, just in case he gets bit by an army of ants and his histamines wig out. El Yenta Man enjoyed standing in line listening to two dozen Jewish parents list their children’s peanut allergies, bedwetting tendencies and the ramifications of skipping ADHD meds because it made him feel like maybe our family is fairly normal, after all.

I guess the boy’s absence in the house reminds me of the uncomfortable truth that our children aren’t really ours. Us mothers spend so much of our time and energy on our kids—they are literally our life’s work. Mothering places an indelible role on our identities, even when our presence isn’t needed on a daily basis. When we release them into the world (even to a place, as EYM pointed out to me, that has constant supervision, no traffic and is probably safer than being at home) there is fear that the worst can happen: Accidents, bad choices, a whole Pandora’s box of horrible possibilities.

My ragged emotions for sure are related to the sadness that a friend of mine lost her 16 year-old daughter last week. She was a smart, gorgeous, hilarious girl whose mother did that amazing motherly dance of protecting and allowing all at once. Still, there was an accident, a bad choice, an inexplicable outcome that no amount of prayer or extra sunscreen could prevent.

The family is fortunate to have an incredible support network as well as a deep spiritual foundation, yet even the most faithful among us would be hard-pressed to unblinkingly accept God’s will on this one. I have visualized feathery tendrils coming from heart to wrap around my friend 2000 miles away, a fierce mother who has made her marriage and three kids her life’s work. I have no words for her, really, other than to remind her that so much is out of our control in this life and that no matter what, she will always be a good mother. My deepest prayers to the Tropio family for calm, grace, peace and love as you move through these difficult times.

The best case scenario is that our children grow up, move out and make new babies that we get to kiss and dress up and worry about all over again. Bittersweet and mostly unfair, this mother thing. No matter how many times we tell them we love them or how many pairs of boxer briefs we write their names in or how hard we try to teach him to trim their nails so they don’t look like they’ve been eating with the other zombies, the fear never really goes away.

But faith is the salve of fear, and though my nest is half-empty, it’s also half-full. So enough hand-wringing for now: There’s a little girl clamoring at the keyboard excited to have her mommy all to herself for a few weeks who wants a pedicure. Neon pink it is, babes.

The Continuing Adventures of Dr. Skip

It’s summer, and most retired people are kvetching about the heat, wondering what’s for dinner or discussing barium enemas. But only one person I know manages to do all three while performing surgery under dire conditions in Africa: My indefatigable dad.

For the last four summers, “Dr. Skip” has treated legions of patients in an undersupplied, uncooperatively-staffed government hospital in Sumbawanga, Tanzania. (Even though he’s a real stickler for professional protocol, the casual moniker was first adopted in Pakistan after the 2006 earthquake both for pronunciation purposes and to keep our very Jewish surname on the down-low.)

But he’s hardly the kind of person that just swoops in, slices out an organ or two and puts on Band-Aid on people—he’s become very attached and involved with his patients. You may recall last year he expressed a tremendous frustration in his blog about the red tape and corruption that prevents people from receiving the most basic health care. After so many glad-handing meetings with local Sumbawanga officials who made empty promises, shlepping his own medical supplies from the States and fighting for support from hospital administration, there was a mutual agreement that his efforts might be best suited elsewhere.

Or in his words, “I managed to make enough waves and piss off enough people that they don’t want me back.”

That didn’t stop him from finding a place that does appreciate and desperately needs an advocate who can wield a pen as well as a scalpel. He arrived last week at a hospital run (and barely financed) by the Catholic Church, which means it’s not free to citizens but has a level of autonomy that will perhaps make it receptive to lasting improvements.

In any case, he’s spending his days providing first-class surgery to those in need and trying to do whatever good he can in a place where clean water is a high living. Leave it Dr. Skip to mix it up by throwing in a bunch of nuns.

I’ll be posting updates here, but be sure to keep up on his blog: He keeps a passionate account of stories and photos that are at once heart-rendering and fascinating—especially if you’re into goiters the size of cats.