Ooh, baby, baby: Jewish inspiration via a newborn sabra

There must be some sort of Jewish baby boom happening right now. Or at least it feels like there is in my insular world. There’s been an upswing of birth announcements in our Lifecycles section, and while I personally will not be having children for quite some time (I’ve yet to successfully raise a houseplant), I’m in awe of all my friends who’ve recently welcomed children into their lives.

One of the new mothers you already know, from reading her columns in j. — copy editor Rachel Leibold and her husband, Dieter, had baby Levi four months back. When Rachel visited the office last week, I could not stop myself from giggling with delight at her adorable cherubic son, with dimpled arms and flushed apple cheeks.

Within the last six months, on the other side of the world in Jerusalem, two more boys were born to old friends.

My dear friend Amittai Steindler and his wife, Jules, made aliyah last year and had baby Yaakov just two weeks ago. I met Amittai when we were both still teenagers; last summer, I attended his wedding in Los Angeles. While I can’t coo with their new child, I see photo updates and learn about his progress through the magic of social networking.

On Facebook, I also get to see my friend Elaina and her husband Ian Estreicher’s new baby boy, Chayim, also living in Israel. There are photo albums and life-changing status updates that make even my most momentous days feel so comparatively insignificant.

Elaina is the woman I’ve known the longest out of the new parent bunch, so it’s particularly remarkable for me to see her in this new role as mommy. When we were growing up, our families attended the same synagogue and participated in the same chavurah.

Elaina was always the cool older sister, and I was quite jealous of her brother, Mark, because he got to have a sister who showed him weird new music and brought him along to concerts. I’m sure they had their share of tiffs, but from an outsider’s perspective they seemed to have the tightest of bonds.

Though Mark and Elaina now live worlds apart (she in Jerusalem, he in Oakland), that closeness remains. On the eve of baby Chayim’s birth, Mark, a solo musician known as Mark E. Deutsch, created a song cycle to be played during the labor process.

“Since my sister and her family live so far away there is some intimacy and interaction which we just can’t transcend,” said Mark, who has remained a close friend of mine throughout the years. “The recording was my best try for now.”

The cycle, “Song for the Sabra,” was created by using a synthesizer keyboard, flute, plastic toys that mimic baby sounds, and Mark’s distinctive, throaty vocals. One song, “Hineh,” is a short blessing that includes stretched-out syllables recreating a Lamaze breathing effect. The lyrics of “Hineh” translate to “behold, the little sabra, amen.”

It’s a sweet tune, and Elaina’s husband told Mark he  put the CD on repeat in the hospital room.

Another song Mark created for the project, “Nil’mad L’dabeir” (“we’ll learn to speak”), was meant intentionally to highlight Mark’s somewhat limited Hebrew skills. “I figured it would come across as baby talk,” Mark said. “I like the idea that somehow the kid and I are in it together when it comes to learning Hebrew, though undoubtedly he will obtain more sophistication with the language in a few years than I will ever achieve.”

I asked Mark, a usually secular songwriter, if this may be the dawn of a new Jewish-tinged musical era for him — turns out, it’s something that he’s been ruminating for quite some time.

“In recent years, I’ve been thinking more and more about integrating Judaism into my music — trying to make authentic connections between my heritage and my cultural moment.”

I may have faltered and dawdled through my personal Jewish education, but my friends have created new additions to our culture; and their children have a clean slate in our world. I think Mark is on the right track — teaching through music. All it took was a new baby in the family, ripe for learning.

Emily Savage lives in San Francisco. She can be reached at emily@jweekly.com.