Where Do You Give?

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May 06, 2012 by Sasha  | 

Our next finalist is Julie Wohl from Altoona, PA. Julie has a background in art and Jewish education, and likes to combine the two in her personal and professional life.

WDYG: What is your educational and professional background?

JW: I received my Master’s in Jewish Education from the Jewish Theological Seminary.  I am a professional Jewish educator and a working artist.  I am currently the education director at Brit Shalom Congregation in State College, Pennsylvania, as well as the owner and lead educator at Jewish Learning Thru Art, which is a traveling Creative Arts Beit Midrash.  I bring Jewish/Arts educational programs to congregations, community organizations, and Jewish educator groups.  I’m also an illustrator—I co-created and illustrated Siddur Mah Tov, a family Shabbat prayer book, and I’m the illustrator of Simply Seder, a family Haggadah, both published by Behrman House. 

WDYG: What inspired you to enter our contest?

JW: A friend told me about the contest.  I was extremely excited about it because it doesn’t just combine my two passions (Judaism and art), it asks the questions that I am continuously pursuing with my students: what does art have to do with Jewish learning?  How can we use art to explore important ideas in a deep and meaningful way? I also love that this contest promotes the American Jewish World Service, whose mission is so vitally important.

WDYG: Tell us a little bit about the message you hope to get across through your design.

JW: This painting, entitled “From Home to Home” is a 36”x48” painting done in acrylic and mixed media collage.  The main concepts behind the painting are sustainable development and interrelatedness.  The background is an image of the world interacting with homes on either side as well as a dominant home at its center.  Careful viewers of this painting will find many images to think about and discuss.  Images such as fresh produce and simple foods, sustainable agriculture and skills such as fishing that allow for self-reliance.  Free trade coffee and a Tree of Life can all be found, alongside, or perhaps stemming from, the traditional tzedakah box. Money flows out from the box and floats throughout the painting.  Alongside the tzedakah box is the smart phone, representing the undeniable way that technology has changed and expanded the role of tzedakah in the modern world.  The dove with the oversize olive branch at the top of the world implies a connection between responsible giving and peace.  The text from Deuteronomy, tzedek tzedek tirdof (Justice, Justice, shall you pursue), and it’s informally translated “Pursue Justice—God” connect this work to the higher ideal of Torah. 
The books, representing either knowledge or Torah elicit the concept from Pirkei Avot:  “Ein kemach, ein Torah”—without flour/bread, there is no Torah –conversely, without Torah, there is no bread. 
Knowledge, Torah, Tzedakah, Food, Justice, Sustainability, Global Awareness—they are all inextricably interconnected. 

WDYG: How do you think art can shape or change the way we think and talk about giving?

JW: I believe the arts have an incredible power to be transformative.  This is true whether we are talking about involving people in the creation of art, or we are talking about sharing ideas in a visual way, and giving people a chance to respond to them.  In our increasingly visual culture, the arts continue to be a powerful way to tell a story, share values, and most importantly, allow our “audience” to bring themselves into the conversation, and respond with their core self.  The arts, more than any other media, allow people to feel, to engage on an emotional level, and to react with their gut before their brain.  The act of giving is a fundamentally human act.  It is about recognizing need, and recognizing the humanity of our neighbors.  This is not simply a rational act, but also an emotional one.  Art can push people to rethink their own boundaries, or recognize a new truth.  Art can push conversations, push thinking, and ultimately, inspire people to act (and give) in new ways. 

WDYG: Who is your favorite artist/designer?

JW: When I was younger I was incredibly inspired by the classics—Picasso, Van Gogh and Chagall.  I still maintain a connection to them, but now, I am inspired by so many artists that it is hard to pin down a single one.  I am inspired by artists who use art to share meaningful ideas, who use vibrant colors and big shapes.  The internet is a great equalizer.  I do not have any formal art training, so I gather inspiration from anywhere I can find it.  If I’m looking for inspiration, I’ll Google a topic and search for images, and find amazing artists who I’d never heard of.  I also love children’s book illustrators. 


Sasha Feldstein is a program associate in the education and community engagement department at AJWS, where she manages WhereDoYouGive.org. Aside from wanting to be and play outside all of the time, she is interested in radical reconceptualizations of ancient traditions and in deeply exploring why we give, where we give, how we give and what it means to define giving tzedakah as pursuing justice. Sasha can be reached at sfeldstein@ajws.org.

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