About the class:

We will be learning about one of my favorite periods in Jewish history – the Middle Ages. This is when the most dramatic developments in Jewish history and religious thought occurred. These changes were in large part, responses to events that occurred in the rest of the Western world. We will study how world events influenced Jewish customs and how Jews adopted to their larger environments. We will ask questions such as “who wrote the Hebrew Bible” and why? We will meet some of our ancient prophets; explore their common characteristics; look at the historical events that shaped their existence, and why and how they acquired leadership roles.

Shalom Aleichem—peace be upon you! (This form of greeting is traditional among Jewsthroughout the world as well asa common greeting by Muslims (as-salamu elaikum) and also often appears in Christian liturgy. It is meant to greet both the body and the spirit.)

Teacher: Bella Zuzel

And now, a bit about my personal history. I am the product of a ‘mixed’ marriage. My father was a “Galitzianer”, a term referring to Jews in the southern region of Poland. They were considered more emotional and spontaneous and were highly influenced by the advent of Hasidism. My mother, on the other hand, was a Litvak. Litvaks have their roots in Lithuania and considered themselves to be much more educated and intellectual and mistakenly looked down on the Galitzianer. So, if you’re a Star Trek fan, my dad was a Romulan and my mom was a Vulcan.

We were typical wandering Jews. I was born in Poland and as a one year old, we moved to Israel in order to be reunited with my father’s family. At the prospect of better economic and educational opportunities, we emigrated from Israel to the US when I was about 7 years old. At home, there was more of a focus on Yiddishkeit, or cultivating a sense of Jewishness to our lives rather than pious behavior. To that end I speak the languages that were spoken at home: Russian, Yiddish and Hebrew. But now, English is my most proficient language (although sometimes I revert to speaking yet another language called Brooklynese...)

I moved to Philadelphia to pursue a Master’s Degree in Jewish Education. During the long journey of rediscovering my Jewish heritage, I realized that there was indeed a seat at the Jewish table for me, one that included the joy and love for Judaism that had escaped me for many years. My newfound understanding was that Judaism can only survive and thrive in an inclusive and pluralistic environment. A Judaism that embraces all Jews, no matter their hue or background, affords people the means to find their voices so that they can speak of their heritage with joy, pride and confidence.

I look forward to accompanying the fourth graders of Folkshul on their own path of Jewish discovery where their curiosity is nurtured and their creativity is encouraged to flourish.

Sample Class Notes:

This coming Sunday, we will be celebrating Tu B'Shevat which literally means the 15th of the Hebrew month of Shevat.  Tu B'Shevat used to indicate the new year for trees.  It started out as a tax day. Taxes were calculated based on the number of tree rings which would indicate how old the tree was used to gauge an estimate of how much fruit or nuts it would produce. A percentage of that determination was assessed as a tax.  As Jews became less of an agrarian society, Tu B'Shevat transformed into more of a celebration of trees and their transition from season to season. We will be celebrating with a little repast of the seven species that are indigenous to Israel. They include the following fruits and grains: wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives and dates. Please let me know if any of your children have allergies or are adverse to eating any of these foods.  I can make appropriate substitutions.  This little meal has an order to it similar to the order of a Passover Seder.   It follows the order of the seasons in which these fruits and grains are produced and harvested.


We spent the morning rehearsing our little Chanukah skit. Along with the third grade, the kids will form a live Chanukah menorah and then each student will be a candle onto themselves and share with us what her or his light is going to shine on. Since Chanukah candles come in different colors, each of our living candles have chosen a favorite color to dress up as. It would be helpful if you could remind them of that commitment come Sunday morning.

The celebration of Chanukah evolves around the rededication of the Temple after it had been looted and Hellenized by the Romans. Going fast forward to 70 CE we learn of the final destruction of the second Temple period which essentially brings us to the end of Biblical Judaism. The people of Israel find themselves without their central place of worship, their governing structure and their place of communal meeting. The analogy was made to a single school with all of the students in one building. What would happen if that school was somehow destroyed? The response was that the students would need to break up and regroup into smaller classes and find smaller buildings to learn in.

That’s exactly what happened to the practice of Judaism! Temple Judaism (a.k.a. Biblical Judaism) metamorphosed into a decentralized society where the home and the local community became the focal point of all activity—both religious and civic. The advent of Rabbinic Judaism emphasized the rededication of the home and the local community as the central place of community activity. The Biblical based ritual of hanging a mezuzah (Hebrew for doorpost) on the door was used to consecrate the home in its new found role. I conducted a little show and tell and showed the kids what a mezuzah looks like a—the casing along with the parchment that is rolled up inside.

Just a reminder that this Sunday will be the Folkshul celebration of Chanukah which will include a program and, of course, a party! Additionally there will also be a drive conducted to help the people of Dominica which was devastated by Hurricane Maria a few months ago. There will be a collection of much-needed food and supplies as the people in Dominica struggle to rebuild. Please do sign up and bring your contributions with you on Sunday Sign Up Here.

Spread the word! Please feel free to Invite friends and family  to join in the fun and pitch in to help. Share far and wide.