Zusia: The Bet Midrash

Open yourself to exploration at Vancouver’s Spiritual Playground

Or Shalom’s new house of study is your chance to deeply engage in Jewish history, text, and custom. Open to the community at large, Zusia is an invitation to profound learning in a liberal context – non-dogmatic, egalitarian, and inclusive. Zusia is serious but playful study and is for all learners who are interested in examining the multi-faceted nature of Torah and Jewish culture. 

Each course is taught by an instructor with specialized knowledge and a passion for expressive and deep thought. Our bet midrash, literally “house of learning,” takes place at Or Shalom Synagogue in East Van. On a given night, more than one circle of study runs at once, to give a true sense of a school buzzing with activity and discussion. At the beginning and end of each class, students from all courses join together for meditation or singing. 

Did you know? You’ll receive a charitable donation receipt for course fees.

Registration for 2019-20 courses coming soon.

Zusia Courses 2018-19. Click for course info and registration.


Zusia runs over three trimesters, beginning October 2018 and ending June 2019. Please see each course description for details on suggested prerequisites or required materials. Registration closes one week prior to the beginning of the first class. Download the full course catalogue (includes instructor bios).

Trail of Text: 3,400 Years of Jewish History Through Our Great Books

This three-part course goes back to the beginning (b’reishit) and traces Jewish history from ancient Israel through the creation of the Jewish diaspora and up to the modern period. We will anchor our narrative and discussions in a piece of text from the time periods, which we will read and discuss together Bet Midrash style.

Instructor: Matthew Gindin
Prerequisites: No prerequisites or background. Course runs over three trimesters; students may enrol for all three or one.
Materials: None; notes will be provided.
Cost: Students enrolling for a bundle of all 3 courses receive an $80 discount. For individual course registrations, see below.

Trail of Text Part I: From Mesopotamia and Back

The period spanning from Abraham’s arrival in Canaan from Mesopotamia (modern day Iraq) through the creation of the Babylonian Talmud as a result of exile from Israel (also in modern day Iraq). The rise and fall of ancient Israel and the creation of the Hebrew Bible, Mishna, and Talmud, as well as the birth of Christianity, Islam, and Rabbinic Judaism.

Dates: Tuesdays, Oct. 9 to Dec. 4
Time: 7-9 p.m.
Cost: $180

Trail of Text Part II: The Rise of Jewish Philosophy and Mysticism, and the Creation of the Global Jewish Diaspora

The rich period of the development of Jewish theology and law as we know it, as well as the development of diverse Jewish cultures in many parts of the world. The era of Rashi and Maimonides and the birth of Kabbalah, as well as the standardization of Jewish law and the bold and shocking mysticism of the Zohar.

Dates: Tuesdays, Jan. 8 to March 12
Time: 7-9 p.m.
Cost: $200

Trail of Text Part III: The Creation of the Kaleidosope of Modern Judaism

The period of the split of pre-modern Orthodoxy into Hasidic and non-Hasidic Orthodoxy; the Maskilim (Jewish Enlightenment); the Reform movement; Zionists, Jewish Socialists, and others which underlie the rich tapestry of “Judaisms” in the modern world. The era in which Jewish radicals and intellectuals helped build the modern world, Yiddish civilization was largely destroyed, and the state of Israel was built.

Dates: Tuesdays, March 26 to June 4
Time: 7-9 p.m.
Cost: $200

Nine Psalms for Shabbat Morning

The cycle of nine psalms in our Sabbath morning pesukei dezimra begins with our wonder at the natural world. It then takes us from the Torah and mitzvot that connect us to that world, to deeply personal and universal human fears and concerns, to God’s saving power, to our history as the people of Israel, to the joy of Shabbat, and finally returns us to the overwhelming nature of God’s creation and the power of God’s order.  We will study seven of these psalms: Psalms 19, 34, 90, 135 and 136, and 92 and 93. 

Instructor: John Fuerst
Prerequisites: None
Materials: A siddur with the full cycle in the traditional order will be useful to bring. Course handouts will include each psalm in Hebrew and in contrasting English translations.
Dates: Tuesdays, Oct. 9 to Nov. 6
Time: 7-9 p.m.
Cost: $100

Hasidic Texts on Prayer

Favourite texts on the nature of prayer, its purpose, and its effect on human consciousness. Through class discussion and multi-level chevruta-paired study in Hebrew or English (or both), we’ll unpack teachings on “breaking through” the words of liturgy, allowing the soul to “sing for herself,” praying for the health of God, and the power of a broken heart. Each class will include primary source study, questions for deepening, and collaborative integration of the material into our own experience. 

Instructor: Rabbi Hannah Dresner
Prerequisites: None
Dates: Tuesdays, Nov. 13 to Dec. 4
Time: 7-9 p.m.
Cost: $100

Dignity Beyond Death

This course will cover the history of the Chevra Kadisha (the Holy Society), the holy task of tahara (the ritual which purifies the body), and the meaning of tahor (purity). The instructor will share her experience of the past 30 years with the Chevra Kadisha and students will study the prayers said during and after the tahara, the history of the ritual, and discuss some unusual situations as well as what happens to the soul of the met. The course will also include a demonstration of the tahara.

Instructor: Sheryl Sorokin
Prerequisites: None
Materials: All reading will be provided by the instructor.
Dates: Tuesdays, Jan. 8 to Feb. 5
Time: 7-9 p.m.
Cost: $100

Jewish Stories: A Writing Workshop with Award-Winning Author Karen X. Tulchinsky

Do you have family stories you’ve always wanted to write about, but don’t know where to start or how to finish? Whether you are writing memoir, or taking family memories and turning the stories into fiction, there are creative writing techniques that will help you start and finish your project. Through lessons, discussion, and in-class writing exercises, learn basic creative writing skills, such as developing story,  an ear for dialogue, writing action, and creating lifelike characters.

Instructor: Karen X. Tulchinsky
Prerequisites: None
Materials: Bring a notebook and pen for in-class writing exercises.
Dates: Tuesdays, Feb. 19 to March 19
Time: 7-9 p.m.
Cost: $100

Passover Prep

This class will prepare us for innovative, learned, and deep Seder evenings. Chevruta-paired text study will focus on the Haggadah, commentaries on the Hagaddah, potential supplementary texts, and teachings on the themes of Pesach. The course will include an egalitarian sharing of best Seder strategies, and will build the beginning of a loose-leaf resource book for future reference. Finally, attention will be paid to Sefirat haOmer, introducing some thoughts on numbering seven weeks of days, and brainstorming creative ways to enter mindful practice during that period, beginning on the second day of Passover.

Instructor: Rabbi Hannah Dresner
Prerequisites: None
Materials: Please bring a loose-leaf binder.
Dates: Tuesdays, April 2 to April 23
Time: 7-9 p.m.
Cost: $80

Fasting, Rain, and Three Magicians: Magic in the Talmud

Although witchcraft was forbidden in Leviticus/Vayikra, magic was widely practiced in the late Second Temple period. The rabbis of the Talmud believed that magic was real and legitimate when performed by sages who used the power of Torah. This course will explore the lives and magical abilities of three famous Talmudic magicians: Honi HaMa’agel, Nachtimon ben Gurion and Nachum Ish Gamzu. We will also learn something about the efficacy of fasting and wonder about how publicly demanding of God we can be.

Instructor: Rabbi Susan Shamash
Prerequisites: Ability to decode the Hebrew alphabet an asset.
Dates: Tuesdays, May 7 to June 4
Time: 7-9 p.m.
Cost: $100

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