Social media helped Julie Wohl build an interconnected and multi-faceted career.
A painter of many subjects, she has established web-based marketing platforms for her works completed or planned on commission. As an educator, she found her new job at Congregation Shaarey Zedek through Facebook.
And there’s much more.
Wohl, who grew up in Michigan and recently returned after studies and professional commitments outside the state, brings a focus on Judaism throughout her working life. Most recently, she immersed herself in Chanukah artistry on her own and Chanukah programming as director of Youth and Family Learning at the synagogue.
“I get inspiration from Jewish tradition and the natural world,” says Wohl, 37. “I create very bright and vibrant works of art that are about shapes, color and space. The themes are connected to Judaism and Jewish traditions, home and family and images from nature.”
Her menorah images, painted in a home studio, are whimsical and colorful, and they become more joyful when joined with dreidels and hearts. They can be seen and purchased in different formats, including fine-art prints and greeting cards on her website, juliewohl.com, plus her Facebook and Etsy pages.
Workshops also have entered into her career.
“I created a business called Jewish Learning Thru Art,” she explains. “I would run communal artmaking workshops in synagogues around the country. Sometimes, my workshops led into conversations about art, and sometimes, my art led to the creation of workshops. Teaching art has helped me sell art, and art has helped me find more places to do workshops.”
Books are important, too.
“I’ve written and illustrated a Shabbat family siddur, which is used around the country and promoted me as an educator and artist,” she says. “I also illustrated a family Haggadah.”
Raised in Reform traditions and moving into a Conservative lifestyle, Wohl has collaborated with Rabbi Lauren Kurland for A Family Shabbat Prayer Book in Reform and Conservative editions. Simply Seder: A Passover Haggadah was edited by Dena Neusner. The teacher-artist also illustrated Families Like You and Me by Rabbi Jason Bonder to delve into ideas of caring for each other and our environment.
Growing up in West Bloomfield, Wohl says she became very interested in religion while attending West Bloomfield High School. She got involved with youth groups, including BBYO and USY, and went on to join Hillel at Michigan State University, where she majored in sociology.
Work placed her in religious camps and schools. At the Jewish Community Center, she was assigned to an inclusion program. Later, she was a Judaic and arts teacher at Camp Ramah in the Berkshires. While in college, she taught religious school at Kehilat Israel in East Lansing. In New York, she had assignments at Temple Emanu-El and the Stephen Wise Free Synagogue.
“I was always just a few steps ahead of my students because I was learning,” says Wohl, who had her bat mitzvah at Temple Kol Ami. “I wanted to learn more so I could teach more and decided to go to the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York for a master’s degree in Jewish education.”
Wohl worked as the education director of Oheb Shalom Congregation in South Orange, N.J., and religious school director at Congregation Brit Shalom in State College, Pa. Her husband, Joshua, a rabbi, is completing his contract in Pennsylvania while she establishes herself and their two sons — Sam, 11, and Micah, 7 — in Oak Park.
“My mother, Harriet Schwartz, and my grandmother, Mollie Berkowitz, were both artists, and there always were art supplies around the house,” recalls Wohl, who mostly works with acrylics on canvas but also uses cut papers to enhance her designs. “I always was drawing, but since taking a summer painting class in high school, I have not stopped painting.”
Although she had planned on becoming a social worker, Wohl changed her mind after an internship at the Agency for Jewish Education in Bloomfield Hills, where she assisted with special education programs.
Wohl’s first instance of combining art and teaching was for her master’s thesis as she took adult stories from the Talmud and turned them into children’s stories.
“My husband, who also is from Michigan, and I decided moving back to the area would be the right move for our family,” she says. “I’m in transition but continuing to explore art and being creative. I’m looking forward to finding other creatives to share learning and working experiences.”