Episode 16: With Cousin Alex (On Family, Being Jewish, Divorce, Building Community, Suitcases and Learning How to Listen and Just Be)

Alex and Watson.

To Listen, while browsing, click the link below.


Let’s start with Betty.

Betty is Nana Betty to Alex. Aunt Betty to Jonah. She is 94. How did Betty become such a lovely person?

via the Jamestown, RI Press. Soprano McKenzie Gardner, a 16-year-old Narragansett High School student, is accompanied by Betty Greenstein during a rendition of “Music Weaves a Magic Spell.” Greenstein performed the same song during her audition for The Juilliard School in the 1940s. Photos by Andrea von Hohenleiten

The Lessers. Betty was the youngest of three. Betty is Alex’s grandmother and Jonah’s great Aunt. She is 94. Helen (Jonah’s grandmother) was the middle child. Betty was seven years younger than Helen.

The family moved from Manhattan to the Bronx in 1918, due to the pandemic of 1918. The Bronx was considered the countryside in 1918.



Alex grew up in the Washington, D.C. area. Her mom grew up in Knoxville, Tennessee with a bigoted father. Her dad grew up near Syracuse, New York. When they got together, Alex’s mom practiced Judaism with Alex’s dad. For the Jewish high holidays, they went to Georgetown (ironically a Jesuit school).

Later, Alex went with her Dad and Betty and Eddie (grandparents) to a reformed Jewish congregation in Fairfax, Virginia. The rabbit would say, “Shalom, Y’all!”

As a teen, Alex rebelled by hanging out with her Christian youth group friends. Falls Church had very few Jewish people. Alex felt othered at times.


Alex’s Parents Got Divorced When She Was 10

Alex’s parents started going to counseling when she was 7 or 8. They separated. She developed severe anxiety. They divorced when she was 10 and she went back-and-forth from Mom’s to Dad’s home on a daily basis. Alex went to a family therapist.

“I went to school everyday with a suitcase because I went every other day to each parent’s home.”

Witnessing Parents Arguing

Alex’s experience of parents divorcing was right in front of her, unlike Jonah’s experience (before he was old enough to make a memory).

Alex was made to be the messenger sometimes, communicating from one parent to the other. After Alex’s bat mitzvah things got better. As a teenager, Alex used their tactics against each other (as teenagers usually do).


Jonah Asks for Tips on How to Raise an Only Child

Jonah asks Alex about advice for supporting RH’s development as an only child. Alex was always comfortable with older people. Sometimes she wanted to hang out with her friend’s parents.

Alex’s husband, Justin, is training to be a psychologist. They talk about the future and how they will raise a child. If all goes well, they’ll probably only have one.


Alex got a Master’s in Public Policy and Public Health. Alex loves Northampton and would love to raise a child there. Alex studied dance and choreography at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio. She wanted to keep dancing and learn how to think. Alex was interested in community organizing and the arts. She worked at Jacob’s Pillow, a destination for modern dance. People should major in fact-checking. Jonah worries that people would commit suicide if they graduated with a fact-checking degree then had to withstand the Trump Administration’s onslaught.


Learning How to Listen and Calming the Mind

Alex and Justin met in 2009 at Yoga teacher training. They practiced reflective listening. Jonah talks about how listening is complicated with a toddler.

As an only child, Alex had to learn how to share the mic.

“A wandering mind is an unhappy mind.”

Neuroscience, compassion and the wandering mind. It takes practice to keep coming back…to the now.


Alex’s Work: Public Health Consulting

Alex is a public affairs specialist. She reviews press releases, writes articles, social media, etc. for a company in the Department of Defense.

Alex never expected to be working in this capacity. She thought she would be working at the state or local level on food insecurity, homelessness or recidivism. She hopes to get back to those issues in her career.

Dance and yoga to arts and community organizing to now consulting on public health. She believes in finding health and balance within oneself, rather than being prescribed by medical system.

The military health system is the only single-payer healthcare system that the U.S. has.

It’s hard to get addicted to Kale! Sugar and its impact on our bodies.


Living in DC: Capitol Riots

Alex limits her news intake to a short news flash in the morning and around dinner. Alex uses Twitter for work, but doesn’t stay on it.

Political chaos: Insurrection at the Capitol. Odd trucks parked downtown.

Alex uses Instagram. She gets lost. Mostly dog pictures.

Watson is a Maltese-Yorkie. He is 12 Years Old

This is not Watson. Watson is at the top of this page. But this is a Maltese-Yorkie puppy.

Nana Betty will tell Alex, “Watson is not a child. He is not a baby.”

Finding Balance and Boundaries: Work and Family and Parenting

Alex’s mom is double Alex’s age: 66 and 33. When they talk, Alex’s mom has an agenda for the conversation. Alex’s husband, Justin, was the oldest child. His parents treated him like an adult from a younger age.

Other Thoughts:

The tension around judging your own productivity on an hourly or daily basis.

Thinking about how we view each day: A day of possibility or swimming through the wreckage of yesterday.

Thanks to Bill Frisell for unknowingly providing his solo guitar for interludes throughout the conversation.

Thanks for listening to Jonah Asks.

As always, please share, subscribe and rate the podcast as you see fit.

Stay Safe. We’re all in this thing together.



Jonah Hall makes Jonah Asks, a podcast about being human. Conversation-interviews with friends and friends of friends about how to live on Earth in 2020.