Ten Minutes With Rabbi Paul Strasko // Rabbi, Musician, Linguist, Cat Lover

By Susan Brandzel

Rabbi Paul Strasko may have only landed on Bainbridge within the past year, but he is already an essential thread in the fabric of the Jewish community at Congregation Kol Shalom. Strasko, who is a jazz musician and a writer in addition to being a rabbi, relocated here from Germany, where he most recently served as a congregational rabbi. He and his wife, Sandra, and their two hairless cats, Kiana and Vassya, have quickly fallen in love with life on the island.

What are you enjoying most about living on Bainbridge Island?

The quiet, the solitude. I love being around nature. There’s a sense of creativity around here because of that. And the level of interaction, education and engagement on the island is very high. At the same time, I’m a 35-minute ferry ride from one of the great cities in America. I go there a minimum of once per week. That balance of having access to both is one of the most amazing things to me.

Do you ever get nervous as a rabbi?

Every single time I lead a service. I’ve had stage fright my entire life. But there’s a balance, because there’s also the adrenaline, the high that comes with it. It’s the best thing I’ve ever done. I think the nervousness also may be because I have learned from such great rabbis and cantors; all of us have a type of imposter complex that we can never measure up. I’m so conscious of how much I don’t know and how much I’ve yet to learn in my life. But the thing that gets me through almost every service is being a jazz musician. I can improvise in almost any situation. If you can improvise, you can get through anything.

How has speaking so many languages fluently come in handy?

Just the other day I had an Israeli parent of a congregant who was much more comfortable talking in Hebrew and French than English. I also lectured often at university in Germany. Lastly, there are many academic sources that are not translated into English.

What advice would you give to kids growing up on Bainbridge?

Do not let living on an island turn your life into an island existence. Travel and volunteer. Get out and be a part of the culture—understand the value of seeing through others’ eyes and others’ values.

What are some of your favorite movies and why?

“The Shawshank Redemption” and “A Beautiful Mind”—I love movies about overcoming impossible obstacles.

Other than their hypoallergenic qualities, what are the benefits to having hairless cats?

The Russian Sphinx has a very unique personality type. They don’t really believe that they’re cats. They act a lot more like dogs. They want to be involved in everything, which, if you’re eating, can be difficult. These are not cats who say, ‘Feed me and I’ll go away the rest of the time.’ These are cats that are with you almost every minute of the +day. It’s tough having a cute moment 25 times a day every day. Their personalities are bigger than a lot of humans I’ve met in my life.

Ten Minutes With Rabbi Paul Strasko Rabbi, Musician, Linguist, Cat Lover