You Should Know… Stephanie Kruskol

Stephanie Kruskol. Photo by Theresa Pewal Artist Portaits

Orrin Konheim

Stephanie Kruskol, 36, is a classically trained vocal musician who works as a solo performer, voice teacher and piano teacher. She is a member of Adat Reyim in Springfield where she is active in the choir. As the congregation does not have a permanent cantor, she has often had a leading role in services.

Raised in New Hampshire by a Puerto Rican mother and a Jewish father, she converted to Judaism 15 years ago.

How does Adat Reyim fit in with what you prefer musically?

One of the things that drew me to Adat Reyim was seeing that they had two separate musical ensembles. A lot of congregations either only have a folk group or they combine both folk and traditional into one group. I love and enjoy folk music and have participated in some of the folk-based services here, but my comfort zone is in the choral tradition and it’s what makes me feel more spiritually connected.

As a conservatory-trained musician, do you have any insight on the fact that a lot of classical music is inherently Christian? Does Judaism have much of a stamp on the classical world at all?

That’s actually something I feel very passionately about. A lot of the work that I get is singing Christian music, including secular environments, like singing a lot of Bach. Most of Bach’s music is sacred even if it’s performed at a concert hall. I was part of a concert in Baltimore where we performed the work of Salomone Rossi. He was an Italian composer from the Renaissance and he was Jewish.

If you’ve only ever heard Renaissance Christian music, you might not know what language it‘s in, but if you listen carefully, it’s in Hebrew.

The problem is, because of systemic oppression, a lot of it got lost. And also the difference in traditions: The Christians started writing music down more commonly and earlier than Jewish musicians. But there’s an incredible wealth of choral Jewish traditions that I really love doing and I’d love to get more involved in.

I’ve always assumed that Judaism was challenged by the fact that a lot of worship has less emphasis on reading sheet music or learning music.

There’s a lot of disagreement about what should be in the context of worship, because there’s a wealth of fully notated, really grand-sounding choral music in the Jewish liturgy, and a lot of it was by 19th century composers who would take an oral melody and write it down and set harmonies.

So the stuff exists. But there’s some resistance, that I can empathize with, that people don’t want to listen to a concert when they’re at a service worshipping. But there are some people who feel very transported and that’s what wakes them up.

What was your conversion process like?

I grew up in an interfaith home — my father’s side of the family is Jewish — and although I was raised in another faith, my Jewish heritage was always celebrated. It wasn’t just a footnote about distant ancestry, it was something that was still part of my upbringing culturally, and we celebrated Jewish holidays as a family.

So when I finally took classes in order to convert and affirm that pride in my heritage, I was already familiar with a lot of what we were required to know. It just confirmed what I knew was true for a very long time.

You recently introduced a Puerto Rican cooking workshop at Adat Reyim. Why cooking?

A lot of the cuisine is Passover friendly. The stuff that doesn’t have pork. There are so many vegetables that are Passover-friendly starches. After a while, I had an idea about introducing people to Puerto Rican cuisine. ■

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