Susan Kristol gets to the root of her work, connecting her Judaism to her background teaching Latin and Greek literature at the University of Pennsylvania and Brandeis University.
This 68-year-old from McLean said she was raised as a Reform Jew, but became a Conservative Jew because she felt more rooted in the Jewish tradition and liked the Conservative focus on worship.
“I don’t want to criticize anyone’s choice of what stream of Judaism they’re in. The reason is that I spent a lot of my life learning how to teach and read ancient Greek and Latin literature. So I was an expert in this whole part of the ancient world, but not in the world of Judaism, which was coterminous with it.”
Now retired, Kristol teaches adult education classes on biblical topics at her synagogue, Congregation Olam Tikvah in Fairfax, and studies biblical Hebrew.
When Kristol attended a Reform synagogue in New York as a child, many temples didn’t teach Hebrew. “I didn’t even know the Hebrew alphabet even though I’d gone to Sunday school from kindergarten through the 10th grade confirmation.
“I felt that was a huge lack and I wasn’t well enough connected with the Jewish people. So that’s another thing, since I’m a language person, the challenge of learning biblical Hebrew, learning the 2 ½ hour prayer service — that was a pleasant challenge for me.”
A Harvard University Ph.D. in classical philology, Kristol loved the opportunity to introduce students to great literature that was written 3,000 years ago.
“People tend to feel like if it’s not modern, it’s not good, or it’s primitive in some way. But the poems that were composed by Homer are just as sophisticated as any great novel you may read in the 21st century. People had the same dilemmas back then that we have today.”
Her recent synagogue classes have focused on the Book of Esther and the Book of Psalms with an attendance of 30 to 60 people.
Kristol and her husband, Bill, a Republican political commentator and fierce Trump critic, moved from Boston to Northern Virginia in 1985. Bill Kristol got a job as a special assistant in the federal government. Susan took time off to be a stay-at-home mom. They have three married children in their 30s and seven grandchildren.
She has taken on several leadership roles in the community. She served on the board of the Washington Chamber Society, the Madeira School and Gesher Jewish Day School. She is the 2020-2022 board president of Pozez Jewish Community Center of Northern Virginia and has served on the Olam Tikvah board. This is her third year serving on the board of the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington. She is also recognized as a Lion of Judah, the Federation world’s honor for women who $5,000 or more to a local Federation’s annual campaign.
The organizations that do a lot of good in the community might not be able to raise sufficient funds on their own without being part of the Federation umbrella,” she said. “It does incredible work to support all kinds of institutions like the day schools or Jewish summer camps, organizations for group homes and JSSA.”
To a younger generation, Kristol said, “the Federation is a way to connect your love of Judaism and love of culture with a lot of very smart, motivated Jewish people that don’t necessarily live in your immediate neighborhood.”
Jewish causes are not her only interest. Kristol has volunteered in first and second grade classes in Title I Fairfax County Public Schools.
Her son enlisted in the Marine Corps and served in Afghanistan. “I found this wonderful group called Marine Parents for family members that want to connect with each other. Eventually I was managing a group that served meals to seriously injured Marines coming back from Afghanistan to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.”
Of Northern Virginia’s Jewish community, she says: “Geographically, from Alexandria all the way up to Loudoun County, it’s hard to have real cohesion.”
Developing leadership and encouraging more youthful involvement will make it more cohesive, she said.
Correction, July 8, 2022, 7:20 a.m. The type of Lion of Judah giving circle that Susan Kristol belongs to was corrected.