Rabbi Josh Wohl may be in Terp Nation now, but he’s not ready to change allegiances. He’s a Wolverine through and through. He cuts the tension, though, noting, “I’m not anti-Maryland. Ohio State and Michigan State are worse.”
The new rabbi at Congregation Kol Shalom in Annapolis, Wohl, 38, is getting to know this growing community of 150 families. He gives sermons peppered with personal stories and jokes and he’s readying for the start of Hebrew school this fall, and, of course, the High Holidays.
A Detroit native, Wohl grew up in a traditional Conservative Jewish household and recalls the Shabbat dinners of his youth fondly. The sports bug hit hard in high school and he went all in for basketball and other competitive teams. Even in rabbinical school at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York, he and a few rabbis-to-be would take on future lawyers at Columbia School of Law in rough-and-tumble basketball games.
These days, as rabbi and father to two sons, ages 12 and 8, he doesn’t get as much court time as he used to, but, at 6 feet, “I am probably one of the only rabbis who is able to dunk the basketball,” he brags.
And give him a ball and a hoop and he’s on. There’s a basketball net in the synagogue’s parking lot and he’s raring to take on the kids in games of horse or three on three. “I don’t go easy either,” he warns.
Before moving to Severna Park in Anne Arundel County, Wohl led a similarly sized congregation in Altoona, Pa. The difference: Altoona is a railroad town and people were looking to move away. At Kol Shalom he sees plenty of opportunity for growth as younger Jewish families move to the Annapolis area.
With 55 students in the Hebrew school and a nature-based preschool that has 20 youngsters, Kol Shalom is on an upswing.
Wohl credits retiring Rabbi Philip Pohl for laying the foundation for what he describes as “a strong learning community.” The weekly Bible study session attracts about 17 or 18 regular attendees and Wohl sees other opportunities to involve families and children in Jewish learning activities. His wife, Julie, is a Jewish educator and artist.
Israel advocacy is an area that he wants to emphasize. Earlier this month, he drove up Route 50 to attend the AIPAC National Rabbinic Symposium — something his proximity to Washington allows for now. He also wants to build stronger relationships with churches in the area through sharing social justice work, particularly in areas of affordable housing, addiction and mental health.
And, he also plays a mean game of mixed doubles tennis and is looking for some partners.