Jewish Besties Alana Haim and Sasha Spielberg Want to Be Your Camp Counselors

The musicians chatted with Hey Alma about their middle school-themed podcast "Free Period" and feeling Jewish "every single second of the day."

The first thing I do on my Zoom call with Sasha Spielberg and Alana Haim is complain about their podcast. “I find it hard to listen to because I want to interject my own stories, but you guys can’t hear me. I just want to be in conversation with you.” Luckily, I get to spend the next hour doing just that as I talk with the musicians, best friends and co-hosts of Free Period about everyone’s favorite topic: seventh grade. It’s the topic that immediately bonded them when they met on tour and prompted their podcast, presented by Cadence13, in which the two mine their and their guests’ most embarrassing childhood memories for the very noble purpose of helping others feel less alone.

Seventh grade was especially significant for Spielberg and Haim because of the Los Angeles natives’ shared Jewish background — it was a booming time for social calendars filled with bar and bat mitzvahs, when everyone was supposedly becoming an “adult” while feeling insecure and uncool.

It’s funny to hear the pair talk about feeling uncool, still, to this day, when they are literal rock stars. Haim is the youngest of the three sisters who makes up the band Haim; she had her big screen debut starring in 2021’s “Licorice Pizza.” And Spielberg, daughter of Steven, has her second studio album under the stage name Buzzy Lee coming out next month. But as they often discuss on the podcast with guests, including many fellow Jews like Rashida Jones, Kate Berlant and Catherine Cohen, the personalities we form around seventh grade are often who we continue to be throughout the rest of our lives.

As we end our Zoom chat, Haim quotes one of her favorite movies to me, saying, “In the words of ‘Almost Famous,’ just make us look cool.” But by the end of our conversation, I’m convinced that it’s actually very cool to be uncool, as long as you have a best friend who sees you and loves you, truly, for who you are.

This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.

On the podcast, you explained that you two “go way back to the shtetl” and became fast friends when you first met. Do you think being Jewish had something to do with that instant bond?

Alana Haim: I think that our biggest common ground was that we both felt like seventh grade was the greatest party scene that we’ve ever had. Like, I have been chasing the high of bat mitzvah season my whole life. I didn’t go to a Jewish school, but I went to a school where all my friends were Jewish. And it was every weekend. If you didn’t have a bat mitzvah or a bar mitzvah to go to, it meant that you weren’t invited to one, and then Monday was like, Inspector Gadget — like, who did not invite me to their bat mitzvah?

Sasha Spielberg: There was no social media, so you had to hear about it. Which was even worse.

And people would wear the giveaway shirts from them.

AH: 100%. Are you kidding me? Like, I would have temporary tattoos. Things are way crazier now. The new fix-ins: eyelash extensions and piercings and shit. It’s wild. We didn’t have that. We had the OG airbrush.

SS: We had henna, photobooths — sepia or black and white.

AH: When I met Sasha, it was like, we really both did have this [same background]. She was one of the only people in my life that I could really divulge deep  into that time. And we also both just have really crazy mem—

SS: Anxiety!

AH: Anxiety and memory. The greatest anxiety, and the greatest memories.

The memory of the anxiety.

AH: Especially with the podcast, I’m unlocking a part of my brain that I haven’t unlocked in a very long time. It is just crazy, the details you remember.

SS: And we use my diary as a starting point with the podcast. I’ll have Alana pick a date between 1998 and 2004 and we’ll just go to the closest entry and see what I was doing. It’s incredible because it’s so unfiltered and raw. Nowadays, I feel like the diaries are published to the world. On TikTok, everyone divulges their darkest or innermost feelings, but there is a performance element inherently because there’s a camera involved. When you have a diary, it’s just you and the walls of your bedroom and a pen or pencil — like, no one’s ever going to see this.

If you were to tell your younger self who was writing that diary that one day you would read it on a podcast for everyone to listen to, would she be like, stop, what are you doing?

SS: I think about this all the time. I almost feel like I’m embarrassing my younger self by doing this, but I think she’d understand.

AH: Oh, she would totally understand.

Courtesy of Alana Haim

Were you also a young diarist, Alana?

AH: Never. I wish that I had a diary. I just have my brain. The thing is, the basis of this whole podcast is that it was such a formative time in life, so I remember every detail. And what’s been so great about doing this podcast is that me and Sasha both have realized how similar our middle school careers were. We did have almost mirrored lives.

I mean, I feel the same way about mine. And I wonder, were we all actually feeling the same way, but we thought everybody else wasn’t? I felt so alone, like nobody else was thinking these things. And then hearing you guys talk, it’s like, oh, so were we all like that.

AH: I think we were all just going through it. You have to also think about the actual timing; when you’re in seventh grade, you start getting hormones. You’re just crazy in your brain. And you don’t understand why.

SS: And looks-wise, I just felt so uncomfortable in my skin. I think I gravitated towards the sort of “mean girls” who were so beautiful. I wanted them to like me so bad. But then I also had my core group of friends who loved me for me. And when Alana and I met, I was like, Oh, I wish we’d had each other in seventh grade.

On the podcast, you talk about the celebrities you looked up to as kids, like Mischa Barton. Did you have any Jewish women that you looked up to?

AH: I mean, Barbra Streisand is like our God, Lord and Savior.

SS: But I got into her later. I feel like it was Natalie Portman [back then] — it was very exciting that she’s Jewish. I remember watching “Garden State” and thinking, Oh my God. But otherwise, my sister Jessica is from my mom’s side, and she is my full sister emotionally, but she’s technically half, so she is not Jewish. I grew up looking up to her because she was 14 years older, and she had it all figured out when I was 13. So she represented this sort of blonde, very classic Hollywood look. I just wanted to look like her, but she didn’t have my face.

AH: Este, my eldest sister, was always, from the jump, obsessed with Barbra Streisand. Watching “Funny Girl” was like my renaissance, because it was like, Oh, she’s funny, and she’s making it OK . I felt, for the first time, Oh, this woman knows me. And it’s OK to be funny, even if there are some bumps in the road. Then I made it my whole personality for the rest of my life. I was like, I’m gonna be “Funny Girl.” I’m gonna be the funny girl because I knew that was my strength.

I didn’t watch “Funny Girl” until I was in my 30s and I was like, oh, this is amazing.

SS: Same. I was going through a break-up with someone who thought I was too funny.

AH: Classic reason for a break-up. You’re too funny.

SS: It gave me so much life. I really want to say it was pivotal for me and my self-acceptance.

Did you grow up feeling like being Jewish was cool?

AH: I thought it was cool. I still think it’s cool. I was very lucky to have a lot of friends that were Jewish. We all knew it was Passover because we all had matzah. We all would band together and be like, we’re eating matzah. Even though we were an “uncool” group, we felt like a cool group because we were all together. We had similar upbringings, and going to bat mitzvahs felt so cool because the people that weren’t Jewish, we could involve them in what we were doing. I mean, I never went to Hebrew school — I always wanted to go to Hebrew school, don’t even get me started, talk to my parents.

I was going to get you started. That’s my next question.

AH: Don’t get me started. My two things in life, if I could go back and change, would be going to Jewish sleepaway camp and going to Hebrew school. Those are my two things in life that I need to unpack in therapy about my parents. But I’ve always been super proud to be Jewish. And I think it also just comes from my parents, who were always very proud to be Jewish. It made me feel like Judaism always revolves around family — I don’t think it’s a secret that I’m heavily involved with my family.

Every Friday night, we had Shabbat dinner, which was — I mean, we’ll probably unpack it on the podcast. But I was so mad because everyone would go out on Fridays, and I couldn’t go out because I had Shabbat. I would beg my parents to take me to the Galleria, where all the cool people would go and make out for the first time. And my parents would be like, Shabbat ends at 10, and we’re not gonna get in the car and drive you to Encino at 10 p.m., sorry. But that’s also some of my fondest memories. Every Friday night was our time for family, and it was great.

SS: Around my bat mitzvah is when I was just so proud to be Jewish. But leading up to it, in terms of temple, I would bring my best friend Layla with me and she and I would just get the giggles. My dad would have to separate us because we would get so giggly and always, of course, during the Mourner’s Kaddish, the worst time you could possibly get the giggles, and my dad would get so infuriated.

I was very bored in Hebrew school — unless there were cute boys, and there was one, but he wasn’t in my class. It wasn’t until I really started studying for my bat mitzvah that I was proud to be Jewish. And then of course, my dad showed me “Schindler’s List,” which was such a pivotal moment for my relationship to Judaism. He had said I had to wait until I had my bat mitzvah to see it. And so there was this switch. Pre-bat mitzvah, I saw temple as like, three hours and boring. And then it turned into something way more spiritual.

Alana, did you ever wish you had the full bat mitzvah experience?

AH: Maybe I’m exaggerating, but I think I literally went to a million bat mitzvahs, so by the fifth one, I could have probably just gone to the bima and be like, Tag me in, coach.

The reason I wanted to go to Hebrew school is because all of my friends that went to Hebrew school would come to school on Mondays and be like, Oh my God, Joshua looked at me, and I think it’s on. I just wanted to make out with somebody so badly, and things were going down at Hebrew school. And for me, things “going down” meant, like, Joshua was looking at me, that’s all I wanted. The same thing with sleepaway camp — my friends would go away for the summer, and they would come back and it would be like, Yeah, you know, me and Sam, we were wearing white on Shabbat, and he sent me a note, and then we made out for the first time. It seemed like all of my friends were just progressing so much quicker than I was.

SS: Hess Kramer.

AH: Oh, I would have loved to go to [Jewish sleepaway camp] Hess Kramer, honestly. That’s where everyone goes. What a time that would have been. But maybe I would have been a different person. The grass is always greener. I could have gone to Jewish sleepaway camp and Joshua, Sam and Benjamin probably wouldn’t have liked me. Maybe I would have had more problems. Not going saved me a lot of grief.

I did have my first kiss at sleepaway camp.

AH: There you go. Way to put salt in the wound.

OK, we need to talk about your AOL screen names. Alana, yours was “I am a Jew”?

AH: It’s I’ma_jew. I’m a Jew.

What was going through your mind?

AH: Why are you so insane, is what you’re asking. And I don’t know. I was just making it abundantly clear that I was Jewish. And I knew that it was going to make people laugh, which was an addictive feeling for me. Talking about Barbra Streisand, I felt like my strength was my humor. Me, Este and Danielle would put on these funny shows for my parents, and if I made them laugh, it felt like I got a gold medal. It felt like an Oscar or something. I knew from a very young age that I love making people laugh.

SS: And I had a screen name, AmIYourRabbi?

AH: So again, we’re the same.

SS: I was also in a band called The Rabbis in ninth grade.

AH: Oh my God, so cool.

SS: Well, it was just me and one other person. We had one band practice.

Courtesy of Sasha Spielberg

You are both now actual rock stars. You are the people that others consider objectively cool. Was there any point in your lives, in your careers, when you suddenly had that turn from feeling like an awkward kid to feeling actually kind of cool?

SS: No, never. When I was 18, I started dating a guy who was cool. And he was in the cool groups of LA and New York. And I felt that maybe boosted me a little bit. But I still felt like he was the cool person, and I was just there. I was only 19 and he was probably 26. And I still felt like a 13-year-old, which I basically was. I think that actually made me feel more uncool, now that I think about it. But no, there was never a turning point where I was like, Oh, I’m cool.

AH: The mantra that my and Sasha’s friendship is based on is “you are the same person that you were in seventh grade, in life.” We have not found one person that feels differently. You kind of never grow out of that. And that’s why those years are so pivotal, because that’s just who you are. Obviously, we grow up a little bit, we have some changes. I don’t have lockers in my house. And I’m not trying to relive those years of my life. But all of those insecurities, they never really go away. All of those heartbreaks, you remember them in great detail. I’m very lucky that I found Sasha, because it was like that light bulb that goes off. I say all the time that Sasha is my puzzle piece. When you find that — I know she’s gonna cry — but when you find that puzzle piece of someone… I’m so lucky and grateful that I have someone like Sasha to divulge in . It’s been a form of healing for both of us — to not feel alone is the greatest feeling on this planet.

SS: I’ve told Alana things I never told another human being, things I would never think to repeat. And the second I do, she’s like, Yep, same. It’s the puzzle piece for us.

Maybe you never start to feel cool, but what changes over time is that you feel more OK and confident in your uncool, weird self. That’s the goal.

SS: I think I’m more confident. Like if my fly’s down, yes, it’s so embarrassing, but I’m able to laugh about it, where in seventh grade, I would have cried about it.

AH: Yeah, you can get over things. And the thing is, I don’t think either of us would have changed anything from our childhood. To go back to those seventh-grade parties where everyone’s playing Spin the Bottle and no one wants to kiss me — would I have loved if someone just saw the beauty in me and kissed me? Yes, I would have loved that. But now, thinking back, it’s like, Oh my god, what a funny story that I can now tell. A big part of why we created this podcast is for younger girls who are going through it now and thinking that they’re alone. We want to be the older sisters to everyone that needs it.

SS: Camp counselors! We will be your camp counselors!

AH: We will be your camp counselors at Hess Kramer, even though I never went. And honestly, after this, I’m gonna call my parents and rehash this. They’ll be like, Really, Alana, you haven’t gotten over this? You’re 31.

31 is 13 backwards, so you should really have your bat mitzvah this year.

AH: I should. I’ve been thinking about it, I honestly have. I’d have to start Hebrew lessons. I could watch YouTube videos. Sasha will be my rabbi.

SS: AmIYourRabbi?

When do you feel most Jewish?

SS & AH in unison: Every single second of the day.

SS: No literally

AH: Every day.

SS: I feel so happy to be Jewish, every second of every day.

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