Naomi Cohen comes from a long line of artists and musicians. This clarinetist-turned-musical theater enthusiast-turned watercolor painter is now pursuing her passion for arts education in the nation’s capital. We sat down with Naomi to talk about the role the arts play in her life, how she’s finding ways to reconnect with her Jewish community, and what she’s looking forward to learning most in the new year.
GatherDC: Hi Naomi! Can you tell me about what brought you to the DC area, and why you’ve stayed?
Naomi: I was born in Colorado, but grew up in Maryland, very close to DC! I’ve spent almost my whole life in Maryland and DC. I’ve always loved the city—there’s no other place like it. For the past few years, I’ve been working at an awesome nonprofit in Adams Morgan called Sitar Arts Center, and am blessed to have found community there.
GatherDC: That’s amazing! Has the arts played a special role in your life before this point?
Naomi: Oh, absolutely! I definitely consider myself super lucky to have been surrounded by art and artists my whole life. My grandma on my mom’s side was a middle school art teacher, my grandpa on my dad’s side embellished every surface he could, both my parents played clarinet and saxophone, my sister (who I taught to draw) is an elementary school art teacher. Honestly I could go on and on and on. As for me, I was—and still am—a huge musical theater kid. I also played the clarinet for a few years and the oboe for several years, earning me the nickname “Weird Oboe Girl.” And I wore that badge proudly.
In all seriousness, the best people I know I met through the arts. I would not be who I am today without the opportunities I had to express different parts of myself and even more importantly, the opportunities I had to play with and learn from my friends and fellow artists.
I’ve recently started experimenting with acrylic and watercolor painting! I have next to no patience, so I’ve found my niche in painting tiny canvases.
GatherDC: Describe your dream day in the DMV from start to finish.
Naomi: First, it’s gotta be one of those beautiful spring days that actually feels like spring—the kind of day where you just want to walk everywhere. That’s the main ingredient for a dream day in the DMV, but there are a few other things that would boost it up: a good run in Rock Creek Park, an oat milk latte, a delicious pastry (preferably from Takoma Beverage Company), time with friends, and then dinner from Mandalay in Silver Spring.
GatherDC: Tell us, do you have any special ways you connect with your Jewish identity or Jewish community?
Naomi: Big question! I grew up in a very proud Jewish household, so it’s just always been a huge part of who I am—I went to services every weekend, was the Sunday School teacher’s pet, went to Jewish sleepaway camp, etc. In the past few years, a good friend of mine started hosting seders for the different holidays, which was a DREAM because I had gotten a little disconnected from the community, and she opened the door for me to come back to it. We have a routine for each Shabbat dinner we do together: when everyone is finally sitting, we’ll make our way through the blessings for the candles, I’ll talk about how the challah needs to be covered because it’ll get jealous of the candles and wine, she’ll lead the group in some sort of thoughtful sharing, and then I’ll say a Shehechiyanu. [Editor’s note: A Shehchiyanu is a prayer said to celebrate special occasions.]
GatherDC: What is something people might be surprised to learn about you?
Naomi: In 2020, I was in the top 6% of listeners for The Prince of Egypt: New Musical Original Cast Recording. Actually…this might not be surprising at all.
GatherDC: We are starting a new year—yay 2022! If you could learn one new skill this year, what would it be and why?
Naomi: I would love to find a calendar/organizational system that works for me. I have a thousand notebooks, a million pens, and I can feel that I’m just on the precipice of figuring it out!
GatherDC: Do you have a Jewish role model? If so, who and why?
Naomi: My friend Josie! She’s the friend I mentioned earlier who started having seders for all of the holidays. She brings people together like no one else I’ve ever known, which is how I know she’s going to be an amazing rabbi one day.
GatherDC: When Jews of DC Gather…
Naomi: …you know there’s going to be good food.
You can follow Naomi on Instagram @na0mi_anna.
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