Periel Aschenbrand is the kind of girl who would cut Hebrew school to go smoke cigarettes in the rabbi’s office. During the George W. Bush administration, she jokingly created T-shirts bearing the slogan “The Only Bush I Trust Is My Own.” The shirts became a hit and their maker went along for the ride, releasing a book of humorous personal essays under the same title.
Aschenbrand’s new book, “On My Knees,” is a memoir detailing her crazy, hilarious Jewish life, from her years at Solomon Schechter to the day she met her now-husband while drunk on arak at a wedding in Israel. There’s also a scene where she meets Philip Roth and imagines what it would be like to have sex with him. In other words, Aschenbrand is not the kind of Nice Jewish Girl you were looking for.
“My mom’s Israeli and my dad’s a New York Jew,” Aschenbrand told the Sisterhood. “My mom put out that being Jewish is part of identity and part of who we were.” Though she doesn’t consider herself religious, Aschenbrand still celebrates holidays and is fluent in Hebrew. For her, connection with Judaism came through language and from regular visits to Israel.
“Language is a way into culture. Teaching me Hebrew and giving me the gift of another language really gave me a connection into another culture. When you grow up bilingual you have another way of understanding the world.” When it comes to Israel, she says, “I always felt like I had something special, this faraway place that was majestic.”
One of the reasons that Aschenbrand has language on the brain is that she’s about to become a first-time parent. She and her husband, Guy, are expecting a son just about any day now, and his imminent arrival has caused the not-really-all-that-reformed-bad-girl to start thinking about how she wants to raise a child. “It’ll be a good mix of anarchy and a normal household,” she says. But it’ll definitely be a bilingual home.
Another issue that comes up when a no-holds-barred writer has a child? Whether he’ll end up in one of her books. Aschenbrand has unflinchingly and unapologetically written about her parents, friends and ex-boyfriends and given details so intimate they’ll make you blush. “I’m not a journalist and I don’t pretend to be a scientist either. If it happens in front of me, it’s fair game.” Perhaps Aschenbrand could go the Amy Sohn route — from sex columnist to author of parenting-themed novels set in Park Slope. Or perhaps motherhood won’t make her any less bawdy and outrageous. Looks like we’ll have to wait for her third book to know for sure.