Hello, my name is Stephanie Klemons. I am currently in the Tony award-winning Broadway musical In The Heights. I became a Bat Mitzvah at TRT back in ’95. I remember in Hebrew High (after becoming Bat Mitzvah, I decided to stay on board and continue my Jewish education there at the temple), Rabbi Weber took us to Camp Kutz.
One night we sang this kitchy song that went something like this, “Wherever you go, there’s always someone Jewish, you’re never alone when you say you’re a Jew, so when you’re not home and you’re somewhere kind of newish, the odds are don’t look far, ‘cuz they’re Jewish too”. We all sang along and kind of joked and laughed, but I didn’t realize at the time how true these words would be. Fast forward to 2007, I’ve just turned 24 and I am beginning my journey as an original cast member with In the Heights, we are opening soon off-broadway for a “pre-broadway” run. Eleven girls share a dressing room downstairs and Passover is rolling around. Karen Olivo (now Tony award winning for her role this past season as Anita in West Side Story…Jewish by marraige) is asking me questions about which Matzoh I prefer, Mandy Gonzalez (newly cast as Elphaba in Wicked on Broadway…half Jewish, half Mexican) is asking me if I could record Eliahu for her to sing as we all (Andrea Burns…half Jewish, half venezuelan, Rosie Lani Feidelman… half Jewish, half Hawaiin, Seth Stewart… half Black, half Jewish) are planning a mini-seder down in our tiny dressing room. You may be as surprised as I was to learn that approximately 1/3 of the cast and creative team (director, Tommy Kail and playwright Quiara Hudes are also each half-jewish) That song was RIGHT! In the most unassuming places there are Jews and better yet, Jews practicing Judaism. Best part was my Jewish education was paying off; I led prayers learned from Mrs. Cohen, stories told by Mrs. Klein recipes from Mrs. Zeitz. The tradition was born, and later that year when we moved to Broadway, it would continue.
Last fall, it was impossible for any of us to get off for Rosh Hashannah since we have two shows on Saturdays (we were off for Yom Kippur however, and this year and in past years when we do have off some cast members come home with me, taking a road-trip out of NYC to join our TRT services). We banded together and did some planning, Mandy make her Grandmother’s Raisin Challah from scratch (she was both nervous and enthused at this undertaking), Rosie would bring dessert and I decided that I would put together a prayer service. We bought apples and honey and we set out for the pier on Saturday evening after our matinee. We read, sang and joined our voices together as friends, co-workers and Jews. I taught them new things and they helped me continue my traditions. After I heard from Andrea that her four year-old son Hudson, who was celebrating Rosh Hashannah for the first time couldn’t stop singing “l’shanah tovah tikatevu” all week and said he, “wants to do Rosh Hashannah again!”. In the 3 years we’ve been praying and celebrating the Jewish holidays together we’ve welcomed many Jews-by-proxy and family members to come and celebrate together. Without my education at TRT and without trips like Camp Kutz, I may not have been able to throw together a service for my friends, or even have known where to begin. It’s through TRT’s strong foundation that I possess Jewish knowledge and know where to look even when I don’t know all the answers; this isn’t limited to writing a prayer service. Even now as some of us in the original cast have gone our separate ways, joining other shows such as West Side Story and Wicked, we still meet to celebrate the High Holy days, Pesach, and Channukah. We call ourselves “Broadway’s Jew Crew” and as I type this I am getting a text from Mandy that reads, “So, we doing Passover at my new digs? April 3rd at the Gershwin??