Below, you'll find the most recent posts for this class. This class blog allows our teachers to post a recap of the lesson notes for each week. Additionally, they can post notices about upcoming events.

Posted by folkshul on Sunday, November 5, 2017 - 6:10pm
Sunday, February 11, 2018 - 12:44pm

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!



Posted by glusmanpennock on Saturday, October 8, 2016 - 11:58pm
Saturday, October 8, 2016 - 11:58pm

Greetings 6th Grade families!

Last Sunday we began our lesson talking about community and what is important for a community both secular and religious to thrive. The activity correlated with our examination of shtetl community life in Eastern Europe and discussion of clips from the classic musical, “Fiddler on the Roof.” Fiddler not only told the story of the Ashkenzai Jewish experience in an accessible and emotional way, but exposed the rest of America to the folklore and cultural traditions of Jewish people. We discussed the origins of many of these Jewish traditions seen throughout the film, and compared them to our secular traditions today, and how future generations of secular Jews have not only carried on some of these traditions, but also, reinvented and evolved them to suit the needs of our modern families. To get us in the holiday spirit, students were kind enough to share a few of their favorite family and Folkshul traditions, and I even caught a few people humming the tune to "Tradition" on the way out of class.

Towards the end of class we also learned about the life and examined the works of iconic modernist painter Marc Chagall and examined his images of fiddlers and shtetl life.

Wishing everyone a Chag Sameach and a Sweet New Year! See everyone next class!



Posted by glusmanpennock on Friday, September 23, 2016 - 10:42pm
Friday, September 23, 2016 - 10:42pm

Greetings 6th Grade Families


Welcome to another exciting year of Folkshul!


Last week we welcomed everyone back from summer vacation, made our introductions, and discussed our classroom rules, procedures, and curriculum for the year. In 6th Grade we will be learning about "History of the Modern Jews" examining immigration, the arts, sports, politics, the sciences, women's history, civil rights/social justice, pop culture, and the role Jewish people have played throughout history in unique and profound ways during the 19th and 20th centuries. 


While we didn't dive too much into content our first session, we did go over our Word of the Week, "Shalom." Shalom in Hebrew has three beautiful meanings: Peace, Hello, and Goodbye. 


We discussed the uniqueness of language and the decision to resurrect Hebrew, a once considered "dead language" when Israel was given statehood. Our conversation grew organically and we talked about what it meant to seek peace, where Shalom appears in our Jewish secular lives, the characteristics of leaders and figures who have sought peace throughout history, and the challenging duality within human nature that journey can present.


We also sang songs with the themes of Shalom and peace during music with Art


I am very impressed with the curiosity and engagement of the class on just our first day and am looking forward to a great year! If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me, but I feel energized and excited for a great year!


Best wishes,


Posted by glusmanpennock on Friday, September 23, 2016 - 10:41pm
Friday, September 23, 2016 - 10:42pm


Greetings 6th Grade,

Thank you so much to everyone who came out to participate in our first ever Sustainability Fair! I was so impressed with our student presenters who took the time to thoughtfully engage parents and community members on our "Composting" topic. They answered questions about the project and shared our week long data and  findings with the community. We had a lot of positive feedback and hopefully will continue to evolve the program so that we may continue to support our school wide commitment to sustainability in all forms. 



There's just one more session to go! I can't believe the year has flown by so quickly! We welcome everyone to attend our final day, this Sunday, to enjoy the graduation and "moving up ceremony," as well as ice cream treats "Sundae Sundays." 


It was such a joy and pleasure to share so many wonderful lessons, discussions, activities, and celebrations with your children this year. All of them utilized their individual talents to make valuable contributions to our classroom and encouraged one another throughout the year. I also was so pleased to get to know your families individually outside of the classroom during potlucks, holiday events, and the New York Trip. I greatly appreciate your communication and support throughout the school year. 


Special thanks to my classroom assistant Lauren Woolf, classroom parent Jen Goren, Amichai Shdaimah for his Kibbutz presentation, sustainability mentor Jeffrey Levine, Director Mindy Blatt, and Assistant Director Rachel Smith. We couldn't have done it with without your constant support. 


Please continue to encourage learning in all forms over the summer, while enjoying family time. It will be back to the classroom before you know it!    


Thank you again for all of your support throughout the year, and best wishes for a safe and enjoyable summer vacation.


All the best,




Greetings Parents,

Hope everyone enjoyed our Passover Seder celebration last week. I always love the events that demonstrate the intergenerational quality of the Folkshul community. 


The kids have been working hard all year to become familiar with sustainability issues. Our sustainability project, which included composting and recording the total class weight at the end of one week, was a wonderful hands on way to learn about food waste. We determined that each family averaged 1lb of compost per family member at the end of the week! We will present this data including the total weight of the Folkshul's composting contributions at the upcoming sustainability fair. Thank you for your participation and to Leah and Miller who did a wonderful job of sharing the class list of "modern plagues." 


Looking forward to our upcoming trip to New York's Lower East Side on May 1. Updated Itinerary to follow.


See everyone Sunday!





Greetings 6th Grade!


We had a wonderful class last week and it's always a treat when we can bring parents or community members in to offer interesting perspectives on our lessons. We were lucky to have one of our parent's, Ami Shadaima, speak about his experiences growing up on a Kibbutz in Israel! Ami touched on the values of community, cooperation, working together, equality, and his happy memories from that time. It was wonderful to have him join us and answer questions from the class. 


Looking forward to our upcoming community Passover Seder and hope everyone is gearing up for our NYC trip less than a month away.  


Have a great week!


Posted by glusmanpennock on Friday, March 18, 2016 - 10:36pm
Friday, March 18, 2016 - 10:36pm


Last week we explored the Kibbutz movement and it's longevity throughout history in both Israel and the United States. We had an engaging discussion on the concept of Utopias, socialism, shared communities, and how these ideals influenced the groundwork for the creation of kibbutzim. With a commitment to cooperation, community, equality, and social justice, kibbutz members put their shared Jewish values into action, living them out on a daily basis. 


Rallied by an immigrant, pioneer spirit, many young idealistic Jews recognized the opportunity to live off the land, and establish a democratic, socially and economically independent society, predating the foundation of the state of Israel. 


Throughout history, kibbutzim have gone through many transitions to accommodate changing values, ideas of ownership, and eventually privatization. 

Today, there is an emphasis on business, innovative technology, appealing to tourism, and even the creation of urban kibbutzim, all the while emphasizing a commitment to communal living and work spaces.


Many students in class recognized the kibbutz model and value system as the foundation for their American Jewish summer camp experiences. Additionally, we discussed opportunities for volunteer service on kibbutzim as well as travel and educational opportunities.      


After watching video tours of different kibbutzim examples, and viewing pictures, everyone participated in a project, designing their own kibbutz, with individual landscapes, ideologies, and value systems.


This week we will enjoy our festive Purim carnival! And next week, we welcome Mr. Shdaimah, to help wrap up our lesson by discussing his upbringing on a Kibbutz in Israel. 


Hope everyone had an enjoyable week!



Posted by glusmanpennock on Friday, March 18, 2016 - 10:35pm
Friday, March 18, 2016 - 10:35pm

Greetings 6th grade!


Last week we had an enthusiastic conversation about our WOW, Nobel Prize winner and legendary physicist, Albert Einstein, and his tremendous contributions to science, research, and education. We also touched on his local connection by way of his research at Princeton University.  


We've also been diving into the political and social history of Zionism and exploring how leaders of the movement, the rise of anti-semitism, and world events lead to the establishment of Israel in 1948. Exploring the importance of community, identity, and the rise of secular Judaism guided a lively debate. 


Looking ahead in the coming weeks, please note the Purim Carnival has changed locations. We will now be meeting at Willow Grove Commons and Woodard Kingsley Gym at 10:15 on March 20th. Please see Mindy's email for details. 


Additionally, this is the last call for trip payments for our New York Lower East Side tour on May 1. Please bring all checks and payment on Sunday to be included. 


Have a fantastic weekend!


Posted by glusmanpennock on Saturday, February 20, 2016 - 11:06am
Saturday, February 20, 2016 - 11:06am

Greetings parents and friends!


Last week we really delved deep into the arts! From the history of Tin Pan Alley lyricists, to the culture shaping contributions of composers like Irving Berlin and George and Ira Gershwin, to the rich history of Broadway musicals, it's hard to find an area of the performing arts that Jews did not have an effect on. 


Irving Berlin, a Russian born Jew who survived the pogroms, is often noted for bringing religion into the mainstream and making it popular culture. Who would have thought "White Christmas," was written by a Jew? By making the most important religious holiday for Christians an American secular event, he chose to focus on assimilation with images of sleigh-bells and snow, instead of religious iconography. Alternatively, he brought religion back into the mainstream with "God Bless America," but also focused on the immigrant experience that so many Jews identified with, rallying around patriotism.  


We also listened to songs and watched clips from iconic Broadway shows that, at first glance, are not identifiably Jewish. Gershwin's "Porgy and Bess," for instance, pays tribute to the klezmer and traditional religious melodies he grew up with in synagogue. "It Ain't Necessarily So" and "Summertime" are great examples of the tune sung when someone is called to the torah


To close out the day, we were lucky to have Art serenade us during music and kick up our heels with some traditional folk dancing.    


Please stay tuned for New York trip info and cost estimations, we are finalizing plans.




Posted by glusmanpennock on Saturday, February 6, 2016 - 2:30pm
Saturday, February 6, 2016 - 2:30pm

Last week we celebrated Tu B'Shevat by discussing the secular history of the celebration, current environmental issues, sustainability, and the principle of "Bal Tashchit" (Do Not destroy/waste).  


At Folkshul, we are committed to sustainability by acting conscientiously to make our community more green. Additionally we recognize the importance of staying informed on current issues while examining them through a secular Jewish lens.  


After a thoughtful conversation about where the food we eat comes from, we read two very interesting articles on Europe's plans for achieving "zero food waste" in the coming years, while also getting rid of plastic containers and shopping bags which are wasteful and harmful to the environment. Shifting their public's social consciousness, many countries in Europe are attempting to pass legislation which would monetarily fine grocery stores for wasting or destroying usable food. As a result, businesses are partnering with non-profits (some Jewish) to get produce to those in need and end food insecurity.  We had a fantastic discussion and towards the end of class students worked creatively in teams to create "PSAs," to educate their classmates and present potential solutions to these current issues.


We are all looking forward to Souper Sunday on Feb 7 and hope to see you there! 


Best wishes, 


Posted by glusmanpennock on Thursday, January 14, 2016 - 11:24pm
Thursday, January 14, 2016 - 11:24pm

Greetings 6th Grade!

We continued our entertainment unit by exploring Vaudeville and the notable Jewish performers who graced the stage. 


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.    


As a class we discussed the differences between "American-Jews" and "Jewish-Americans" and the implications and histories of those terms. We also analyzed clips of classic vaudeville performances.


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, and entertained internationally for 40 years. Without the talent and success of Fanny, many other iconic female comedians and performers would not have been inspired to pursue their talents. 


In class we watched some clips of Fanny's legendary performances on the stage  and in film. We also looked at Barbara Streisand, a multi talented performer who drew inspiration from Fanny's career, and an iconic singer who played Fanny in "Funny Girl" and won the Oscar for her performance.


Up next will include an examination of Tin Pan Alley and successful Jews in the music industry. From Irving Berlin to George Gershwin we will have a lot of material to enjoy. 


Next Sunday we will honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr at 10AM  through our yearly multigenerational and interactive programming. Parents and friends welcomed to attend. 


We are also in the midst of planning our yearly New York trip. Stay tuned for details. 

Posted by glusmanpennock on Friday, January 8, 2016 - 11:35am
Friday, January 8, 2016 - 11:35am


It's nice to be back into the swing of things after the holiday break. Hope everyone enjoyed some quality family time and made enjoyable memories. 


This week 6th grade got creative, painting and customizing their ceramic bowls for our upcoming "Souper Sunday" event.


We also had a great music session with Art and the 5th grade. 


Our lesson focused on the rich history of the Yiddish theater and the pervasive Jewish influence in the arts. Between 1890 and 1940 at least a dozen Yiddish Theater companies thrived in New York, and many theater houses were owned by Jewish businessmen. Two of the most celebrated figures of the theater, Boris and Bessie Thomashevsky, brought a diverse selection of productions to the stage ranging from Shakespeare, to Uncle Tom's Cabin, and Oscar Wilde all with a Jewish interpretation. 


Many of the shows appealed to all different types of immigrant audiences because of their shared experiences assimilating into American culture.They identified with the unifying themes and values of pursuing the American Dream while maintaining their cultural traditions and honoring the family through hard work. A predecessor of Broadway, The Yiddish Theater gave creative Jews an opportunity to lead an artistic life and perpetuate the rich traditions of their ancestors through oral history.