About the class:

Welcome to 6th grade, “History of the Modern Jews”. I am so thrilled to be teaching my fourth year of history at Folkshul!

Through the secular Jewish lens, we will explore how history has shaped our society, country, and Israel throughout the decades. Students will examine leaders and innovators who have made special contributions along the way focusing on topics such as: the immigrant experience, the labor and Kibbutz movements, women’s history, the arts, film, music, sports, the sciences, civil rights, and much more!

We will explore these topics through engaging discussions, creative projects, unique speakers, films, music, games, and historic archival footage. As we are active participants in our modern history, I hope to promote curiosity in subjects that students would not typically be exposed to in public/private school, maybe even generating interest in a future Bar/Bat Mitzvah project. Most of all, I hope to engage students in group activities, critical thought, and interactive learning, by building a safe and supportive, learning and social community within our class.

Teacher: Amy Castleberry

A little about my background. I received my master’s degree in American Studies from The University of Alabama where I previously taught Hebrew school for three years, and was very active in campus Jewish life. I also received my teaching and youth leadership certifications locally from JCHS of Gratz College. Previously, I have worked in education in different realms including classroom, museum, and non-profit education.

Jewish education has always been a special priority for me. By exploring a range of values and teachings, I seek to engage students in one of the most important Jewish lessons, “to question.” Examining complex issues, analyzing topics critically, while leaving room for open and creative dialogue we can equip children with the necessary skills to be critical, thoughtful, and independent thinkers.

Sample Class Notes:

2 weeks ago we delved into the history of Jewish comedy, exploring some of the legendary comics, films, and sketches that have made us laugh for decades.

During the first half of the 20th century Vaudeville allowed Jewish immigrants and first generation American Jews to confront their insecurities of assimilation through comedy, dance, and song. By creating their own narratives and character tropes these performers contributed a selection of identifiable identities based on our shared history and culture. These now "iconic" representations drew from eclectic attitudes of Jews from different socio-economic, generational, and professional backgrounds.    


One of the most successful performers of the era was Fanny Brice. She paved the way for women in comedy, a genre that was traditionally reserved for men. She entertained internationally to critical acclaim for 40 years. Without the talent and contributions of Fanny, many other iconic female performers like Barbara Streisand, who portrayed Fanny and won the Oscar for her performance, may not have been inspired to pursue their talents. 

In class we watched and analyzed some classic comedy clips throughout history including, The Marx Brothers, with Groucho’s iconic mirror dance, Barbara Streisand in "Funny Girl,” as well as Mel Brooks’ “History Of The World,” Larry David, and some classic SNL sketches. It was important to discuss what makes us laugh? Why? What is it about the expression or commentary on our shared Jewish history and culture that makes us laugh? What is Jewish comedy? And why are there so many Jewish comedians?  We enjoyed a thoughtful discussion and certainly had a lot of laughs.

This past weekend our MLK Day of Service celebration was a great success, and an event that is very close to my heart. After an enlightening assembly where Director, Jennifer Kolodner detailed Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s history and activism, we enjoyed singing classic Folkshul tunes and Freedom Songs with Art which were highlights of the 1960s Civil Rights Movement.

In class we took time to read and discuss a selection from “Going South: Jewish Women in the Civil Rights Movement.” It was important to hear the personal stories of young freedom fighters, educators, and activists, and discuss “What’s Jewish about Justice?” Of course, the historic touchstones of enslavement, expulsion from our homelands, individual and institutional anti-Semitism, and The Holocaust, are unifying reasons why Jews felt called to social justice efforts. Many of the young women in the book were survivors, or children of Holocaust survivors. Thus, the rallying cry, “Never Again” called them to action. But it’s important to remember the other values that call us as Jews to activism. These include: Tzedakah (Charitable giving and doing), Tikkun Olam (Repairing the World), G'milut Hasadim (acts of loving kindness) and Tzedek (Justice). Historically, Jews have been routinely active in social justice efforts, which we have discussed at length in class. From the American Labor Movement, to Socialist movements abroad, The Civil Rights Movement, Women’s Movement, the LGBTQ movements, Poverty, and and many other causes throughout history have inspired Jews to create long term change.

I stressed to the 6th grade class that these examples are not just stories from history, but serve to inspire passionate action to help find solutions to causes that speak to their hearts, especially in the years leading up to their Bar/Bat Mitzvah ceremony and service projects. Some of the causes 6th Grade feels passionate about in their communities are:

-Animal Rights

-The Environment

-Ending Food Insecurity  

One of the causes which has inspired Folkshul community member, Arden Kolodner, is his passion for reading and literacy. His project is to help collect and contribute library books to Philadelphia schools, and is a perfect example of passion in action. 6th grade has routinely expressed their love and passion for reading and getting lost in their favorite stories. Along with the rest of the Folkshul Community, 6th Grade helped Arden with his project by collecting and labeling books for a local Philadelphia school. It was so inspiring to see the next generation carrying out Dr. King’s commitment to community and activism in ways that are meaningful to them. 

Thanks for a great day of service!