Julie Warwick tells the tale of two brothers who lived on opposite sides of a hill (and if this is not exactly the way it happened, it should have):
Their father was a successful wheat farmer and, before he died, he divided his farm, giving a portion to each son. The younger of the two was outgoing and gregarious, so he got married and had a family, while his older brother was more of a studious, stay-at-home type and remained a bachelor. Waking up in the middle of the night, the older brother thought, “I have so much just for myself, while my brother has a whole family to support.” So, he got up and carried as much wheat as he could over the hill to his brother’s farm.
A short while later, the younger brother sat up in his bed and said to himself, “I have all I need, and a whole family to help me with my labor, but my poor brother is all alone.” So he took a large bundle of wheat over the hill to his brother’s farm and left it there. This went on for a few nights, each one missing the other as they crept from farm to farm delivering the wheat, until one night when the two brothers awoke at exactly the same time and bumped into one another on their way.
King Solomon had been watching all this go on, and when the two brothers met, he showed himself as well. Inspired by the acts of love and kindness that the brothers showed for each other, he declared that he would build his temple on the very spot where they had met—and that was the great Temple of Jerusalem.
Warwick says she got her version of this folk tale from a picture book, Two Brothers: A Legend of Jerusalem by Neil Waldman. At her library performances she lets the audience know where her stories came from, not only to give credit where it is due, but to encourage the parents to take the books home and read them to their kids.
“I tell the parents who come to the event, ‘this is a great book—take it out from the library, read it to your child,’” she says, “because I want the kids to know that there are books that they can read. Then I say, ‘I’m going to tell it because I am a storyteller and storytellers tell stories using their mouth and their body’ and I don’t hold the book.”
Julie Warwick is Seattle’s own Jewish storyteller—a former preschool teacher with a background in music education (she got her Bachelors of Music Education from the Indiana University School of Music in 1987), Warwick began telling long before she got her first booking in a local library, under the auspices of Nextbook, in 2003.
“I used to work at Temple B’nai Torah and I instituted a storytime there every Friday,” she says. “When my job was terminated I decided that, ‘You know. I’m really good at doing that and kids really like what I do.’”
Uncertain where her next job was coming from, Warwick approached Michele Yanow, the local Nextbook fellow, with the idea of doing storytimes at local libraries. Warwick says Michele suggested that she become a storyteller instead and a new career was born.
In her first year Warwick was booked into 11 area libraries under the Nextbook banner, as well as a week of storytelling at Soundbridge, the Seattle Symphony’s musical Discovery Center at Benaroya Hall. While performing there, Warwick was contacted by a woman who had seen her perform and booked her to be a part of her daughter’s elementary school multi-cultural fair.
“In my storytelling I sing and tell stories and also do Israeli dancing,” she says. “Things just kind of took off from there.”
In addition to picture books by authors like Waldman and Daniel J. Swartz’s Bim and Bom—A Shabbat Tale, which she calls her “signature story,” Warwick says she gets a lot of her material from the anthologies of New York storyteller Penina Schramm.
“There’s a lot of Jewish folktales out there,” says Warwick. “It’s easy to find things to do. I try to pick stories that have some kind of message to them. I like to tell stories that have meaning to me, too.”
Warwick says she had two main reasons for deciding to be a Jewish storyteller in particular.
“The world is so messed up and people are scared of Jews—people are scared of other people, not just of Jews,” she says. “They’re scared of what they don’t know. I decided if I can teach just a little bit of my culture, then perhaps I could promote some understanding and maybe there’d be a little peace in the world.”
Her other reason is a desire to preserve the oral tradition of a generation that no longer lives close to an extended family of grandparents and great grandparents.
“My children are living in Seattle with no family. They are not hearing stories like I used to hear stories,” Julie says. “There are a lot of people like that around Seattle. What I am hoping to do is tell stories of people’s lives so we don’t lose those stories. If I keep on telling them, then the kids will tell their kids. I feel that it’s really important to keep telling stories and have them be specifically Jewish stories.”
So, what constitutes a Jewish story? That, she says, is a good question.
“It’s had to set down exactly what Jewish storytelling would be. Typical stories about holidays would be Jewish stories. Stories from Chelm are really fun Jewish stories. Stories of Jewish people’s lives,” she says, “rabbinic stories, Hassidic stories.”
Becoming a Jewish storyteller has given Julie a way to combine different aspects of her life toge