Zusia: The Bet Midrash

Come join us for transformative, communal, inclusive and affirming learning that opens doorways in both the mind and the heart.

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,” is currently offering in-person and online options.

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

Please contact Katy Ormiston with any questions: programs@orshalom.ca.

Spring 2024

In person at Or Shalom, Wednesdays 7-8:30, April 24 – June 5

Register here

Rabbi Hannah’s final Zusia offering as Senior Rabbi of Or Shalom will be a generative,
experiential class, an open-ended creative process engaging our felt, intuitive responses to the
weekly themes of the Omer, selections from the weekly Torah cycle, visual images, melody –
and their inter-textuality. After orientation to the practice, opportunity will be offered to class
members to select texts and images for our consideration.
Questions about this practice, new to Or Shalom, can be addressed to Rabbi Hannah directly at

Winter 2024

Join Charles Kaplan to explore this middle eastern musical mode, familiar to Jews all over the world. Called Hijaz in Sephardic and Mizrachi communities, Freygish in the Yiddish and Klezmer world, and Ahava Raba in Jewish prayer melody, it is a cultural Rosetta Stone! Come to listen, learn, and sing. With the help of a guitar to demonstrate the scale, and accompany us while we sing. We’ll also listen to a few magnificent recordings of songs that use the hijaz/ahava raba/freygish mode. After completing this class, participants will be able to recognize (and correctly sing!) melodies in this mode that they hear in the synagogue and at Jewish musical events.

Charles Kaplan is recently retired from a 45+ year-long day job as a child psychologist, and he intends to devote the next stage of life to further developing his life-long love of music. Jewish World Music has filled his ears and neshama since the Aleph Alliance for Jewish Renewal introduced him the distinctive sounds of Hebrew prayer melodies (nusach) and to the intoxicating mix of scales, rhythms, instruments, languages, and singing styles of the Jewish diaspora. Charles is a davener and a lover of liturgical poetry (piyyutim), as well as folk songs from across the Jewish diaspora. He plays the guitar and the oud, as well as various percussion instruments, and he’s started learning to play the hurdy gurdy.

Tuesdays, January 23 & 30, 7-9pm at Or Shalom

Many people have a mixed experience with mathematics, recognizing in it the potential for something fascinating and even spiritually meaningful, while also sometimes feeling judged or alienated by their school mathematics education. In this three-session course, we will find our way into a new relationship with mathematics through Jewish spirituality, both by learning about mathematical ideas within our spiritual tradition, and by using techniques of Jewish study and reflective practice to renew our own histories with mathematics.

All are welcome—in particular, all levels of experience and comfort with mathematics are welcome, from enthusiasts and experts to those who shudder at the memory of long division.

Facilitated by Sophie Morin

Sophie Morin (formerly MacDonald) is a mathematician and educator by training, and an active member of the Jewish community at Or Shalom and beyond. In the academic world, she has taught mathematics, physics, statistics, and academic writing to students from elementary school to graduate school. She currently teaches at UBC and Corpus Christi College. In the Jewish world, she is a frequent participant in several local Torah study groups and an occasional shlichat tzibbur at Or Shalom, as well as the Vice Chair of JQT (Jewish Queer & Trans) Vancouver, and a member of SVARA Yeshiva’s Teshuva-Writing Collective.

Tuesdays, Feb 13, 20 & 27, 7-9pm at Or Shalom

Fall 2023

A weekly lunchtime meeting, one psalm a week. Join Matthew Gindin and dive deep into the text of the most popular book of poetry ever written!

 Explore the language, ethics, theology and mysticism of King David’s masterpiece with the help of centuries of Rabbinic insights!

This course will focus on Psalms as a window into Jewish wisdom and a guide for daily living.

Weekly, on Mondays 12-12:45 on Zoom; 9 sessions starting Oct 16


Oct 16
Oct 23
Oct 30
Nov 6
Nov 13
Nov 20
Nov 27
Dec 4
Dec 11

Past Courses

Spring 2023

Cohen, Dylan and Simon all wrestled with God and Torah in their songs in very different ways. In this course we will explore them in their roles as sage, prophet and modern Jew, by listening to an analyzing a selection of their songs together. Three Tuesdays, 7-9pm, April 18- May 2 on-site at Zusia: The Bet Midrash.

Register on eventbrite

Winter 2023





The foundational modern Tarot deck is infused with symbolism from the Kabbalah, and Jewish mystics like Rachel Pollack continue to develop Tarot today as a path to the unfolding of the soul’s journey.

Join Tarot reader and Jewitch contemplative Alycia Jane-Fridkin on an experiential trip through the meanings and practice of Jewish Tarot reading today for both oneself and others.

Class Dates: Weekly on Tuesdays, January 10, 2023-January 31, 2023

Details Here

Fall 2022

All is God.

What does this mean for our lives? Drawing on the work of Jewish mystics both pre-modern and contemporary, we will divide our time between text study and meditation practice. Sources will include classical Kabbalah, Hasidic mystics, Spinoza, Hillel Zeitlin and contemporary thinkers like Arthur Green and Jay Michaelson. We will also delve into applications of nonduality in the ethics of gender with Joy Ladin and other queer theorists as well as explore the rich insights of nonduality towards our place in the earth ecology.

A six week deep dive into the theory and practice of radical Jewish nondualism.

Details Here

Spring 2022 

The Book of Ruth is a tale of outsiders who find their way in; women on the margins; unconventional family; obstacles to legacy; and the delicacy of becoming Jewish. It is an intimate story with dynastic ramifications. And it is, from a bunch of vantage points, very queer.

Join Rabbi Irwin Keller for 4 sessions of Zoom study on the Book of Ruth, leading us right up to Shavuot, when we traditionally read this book as a community. Expect text study, midrash, linguistic nerdiness, feminist manifesti, a queer eye, and even some Yiddish poetry. You will need to have on hand the Book of Ruth in print or on line (here’s a link), and please have read through it before the first session. (Don’t worry, it’s 4 short chapters.)

Dates: Tuesdays – April 26, May 3, May 10, May 17

Time: 7-9 pm


Winter 2022 

Needing a little magic in your life? Travel alongside Matthew Gindin in a 6-week exploration of magic in Jewish thought, practice, and history. We’ll sojourn among 5th-century Merkavah mystics, medieval “practical Kabbalists”, and Jewish esotericists, plus look at the influence of the Kabbalah and Jewish magic on European as well as global occult thought and practice. Finally, we’ll examine 20th-century Jewish magical entertainment and the renewal of Jewish magical practices in Jewish shamanism, witchcraft, and priestess movements.


What’s with all the different denominations?

Who and what have been the drivers behind the evolution of modern Judaism?

How did we get from the Hasidic movement to Jewish Renewal today?

When did this all go down?!

Every Tuesday evening this January and February from 7 to 9 pm, come explore these questions and more with Matthew Gindin, who will lead us through the creation of modern Judaism, from the last great flowering of premodern Judaism in the Hasidic movement until the multi-denominational spectrum of global Judaism today.

This course will be taught via Zoom.


Keep your heart, mind, and practice active during these chilly winter months with Or Shalom’s Virtual Bet Midrash and connect deeply with spiritual community from the warmth and comfort of your own sanctuary.

Voyage into Exodus is an 11-week all-genders parsha study from the perspective of Torah’s resonance in these moments of our lived lives. Each class will include reading for depth from the weekly portion, the offer of a reflection, and our writings that emerge. Torah calls to us: “Ayeka?” “Where are you?” Come as you are (this space is for everyone – queer- and trans-affirming), and come to discover!

Instructors: Dael Adams Segal and Rabbi Hannah Dresner

Dates: Tuesdays, Dec. 21 – March 1 | 7-9 pm

Jesus: History’s Most Controversial Jew 

As Rabbi David Zaslow, a talmid of Reb Zalman, pointed out in his book Jesus: First Century Jew, Time Magazine has called “re-judaizing Jesus” one of “Ten Ideas That Are Changing The World.”

Why is that?

In this 3-week in-person course, join Matthew Gindin for a study of the very Jewish nature of Jesus’ life, teachings, and early community. As we approach the winter holiday season, we’ll explore Martin Buber’s claim that “a great place belongs to him in Israel’s history of faith”, and examine how looking at his life through Jewish eyes can clarify much about the most controversial Jew who ever lived.

Additional dates: Tuesdays December 7 & 14, from 7 to 9 pm


Fall 2021 Courses Offered

Mouth of The Donkey: Reimagining Biblical Animals

Animals are everywhere in Torah. Snakes and ravens share meals with people; donkeys and sheep work alongside us; eagles and lions inspire us; locusts warn us. How should we read their stories? What can they teach us about ecology, spirituality, and ethics? Reb Laura will lead us in the study of Torah’s great animal stories. Together, we’ll go deeper into some ideas from her recently published book, Mouth of the Donkey.

Instructor: Rabbi Laura Duhan-Kaplan
Prerequisite: None
Dates: Wednesdays, Oct. 27-Nov. 17
Time: 7-9 p.m.
Investment: Members $72; Non-Members $144

This course is offered with a hybrid delivery: participate in person at Or Shalom, or attend via Zoom.

Rabbi Laura Duhan-Kaplan is director of inter-religious studies and professor studies at The Vancouver School of Theology, and Rabbi Emerita of Or Shalom.

If students would like to purchase a copy of Reb Laura’s book, print and digital options are available here. There will also be print copies available for purchase at the class.

Fire in the Bones: Hearing the Prophets Today

The literature of the prophets may be unique in world history. For centuries the scribes of ancient Israel faithfully recorded the blistering anti-establishment poetry of the prophets, preserving their critiques of themselves and their rulers. In this class we will look at who the prophets were, what their lives were like, what they said, and the urgent and timely message they have for us today both as Jews and as world citizens.

Instructor: Matthew Gindin
Prerequisite: None
Dates: Tuesdays, Oct. 5-26
Time: 7-9 p.m.
Investment: Members $72; Non-Members $144

This course is offered with a hybrid delivery: participate in person at Or Shalom, or attend via Zoom.

Matthew Gindin is master teacher at Or Shalom and has been teaching Jewish history, philosophy and contemplative traditions in a wide variety of settings since 2004.

Spring 2021 Courses Offered

Seven Weeks To Rebirth: Sefirat HaOmer Through Art and Contemplation

We’ve all been through a lot; this wilderness sojourn has been long and bewildering. How might we like to prepare ourselves to re-emerge from the chrysalis of this extraordinary time and take on new butterfly shapes? Join Rabbi Hannah Dresener for a dive into spiritual learning, art process and personal inquiry. We will mark the omer weeks by exploring the sefirotic quality associated with each week, mining it for its personal resonance. Every class will be centered on art making in the virtual studio we will create together. Give yourself the gift of seven safe and spacious opportunities to dream into possibility.

Instructor: Rabbi Hannah Dresner, MFA
Prerequisite: None
Dates: Tuesdays, March 30 to May 11
Time: 7-9 PM
Investment: Members $105; Non members $172

Consider a Tree – The Way of Martin Buber

Martin Buber was one of the greatest Jewish activists and thinkers of the 20th century. “I and Thou”, one of his many writings, is considered a masterpiece of existentialism and a key text for psychotherapy and practitioners of conflict resolution and many other forms of dialogue. In this four week class we will dive into “I and Thou” to unlock its full potential as Buber intended it: as a manual for the transformation of consciousness and our relationship to life itself. Classes will consist of readings and group meditation exercises.

Instructor: Matthew Gindin
Prerequisite: None
Dates: Tuesdays, May 25 to June 15
Time: 7-9 PM
Investment: Members $60; Non-Members $98

Winter 2021 Courses Offered

Speaking of Health: Jewish Wisdom On Caring For Self and Others

Join us for a four week course on facets of health and healing from a Jewish perspective. The course will be led by Matthew Gindin and feature fascinating guest speakers in an interview format. Topics include:

Jan 12 – Jewish Views of Healing
Jan 19 – Living In The Body
Jan 26 – Medical Ethics within the Jewish tradition, with guest speaker Rabbi Elyse Seidner-Joseph
Feb 2 – Healing The Mind within the Jewish tradition, with guest speaker Estelle Frankel.

Speaking of Health Course Overview:

Instructor: Matthew Gindin, with guests Rabbi Elyse Seidner-Joseph and Estelle Frankel.
Prerequisite: None
Dates: Tuesdays, January 12 – February 2, 2021
Time: 7-9 PM
Investment: Members $60 Non-Members $98

Speaking of Health Guest Speaker Bios:

A dear friend and chevruta study partner of Rabbi Hannah, Rabbi Elyse Seidner-Joseph is a retired/disabled gastroenterologist and community rabbi. A graduate of Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, she also completed a residency and fellowship at Columbia before joining a suburban Philadelphia practice. She is also a Juliard trained, consummate pianist. Rabbi Elyse was ordained by ALEPH in 2013, and she teaches Jewish Bio-Ethics in the ordination program. She serves on the Chester County Hospital’s Pastoral Care and Ethics Committees.

Estelle Frankel is a practicing psychotherapist, author, spiritual director and popular public speaker. In her private practice in Albany, Ca. she works with individuals and couples providing brief and long-term psychotherapy and spiritual mentoring. Estelle is also a seasoned teacher of Jewish mysticism and meditation who offers workshops on the intersection of psychology and spirituality, Kabbalah and healing, and Musar, Mindfulness and Positive Psychology. Estelle is the author of two books: Sacred Therapy: Jewish Spiritual Teachings on Emotional Healing & Inner Wholeness, a groundbreaking book on the intersection of Kabbalah and depth psychology, and The Wisdom of Not Knowing: Discovering a Life of Wonder by Embracing Uncertainty, a guide to overcoming fears of the unknown and embracing uncertainty.

All Israel’s Children: Reconsidering Patrilineal Descent

People can be joined to Israel by birth or by choice. Who, though, is a born Jew? Opinions on this have shifted over the last four thousand years of the Jewish journey, and today this is a vexed topic. Must one have a Jewish mother, as Talmudic tradition came to assert, or does a Jewish father also make one Jewish? Join Rabbi SaraLeya Schley for a historically and legally informed exploration of this issue.

Instructor: Rabbi SaraLeya Schley
Prerequisite: None
Dates: Tuesdays, February 9 – March 2, 2021
Time: 7-9 PM
Investment: Free to Or Shalom Members (or by donation); Non-Members $98

Rabbi SaraLeya Schley is a colleague of Rabbi Hannah’s as one of the six rabbis who have been ordained by the Integral Halachah Institute of the Jewish Renewal movement as dayanim (adjudicators of Jewish law from a Renewal perspective). As such, she is deeply committed to a 21st century halachic process and to sustaining commitment to traditional Jewish practice.

In 2019 she was designated a Senior Rabbinic Fellow by the prestigious Shalom Hartman Institute, and since 2003, she has served as spiritual leader to several communities in California and Washington including Chochmat HaLev in Berkeley, from 2008-2014. Prior to rabbinic ordination, Rabbi Schely practiced as an Ob-Gyn for 36 years.

She has three married adult children and is savta to three, including one grandchild in Vancouver! With family in Vancouver, Rabbi SaraLeya has joined Or Shalom on numerous Shabbatot, and now we welcome her to teach in an important area of her scholarship.

Registration is now closed.

Zusia Courses Offered in the Fall of 2020

Spinoza: Jewish Philosophy In The Time of Covid-19

Spinoza was among the most fearless of philosophers. He formed his thought both in tension with, and inspired by, his Jewish background. His vision of personal and communal ethics is as countercultural today as it was in the 17th century, and is still provoking revolutionary thought and action. In this 4 week online class we will look at Spinoza’s potent insights on joy, human flourishing and freedom, democracy, and community and how these can offer us guidance during our current moment of overlapping crises.

Matthew Gindin, Or Shalom’s Master Teacher, is a long time student of Spinoza’s thought. He has published articles on Spinoza in ​The Forward a​nd ​Science and Philosophy ​and has written a free online commentary on the first two books of Spinoza’s ​Ethics.

Instructor: Matthew Gindin
Prerequisite: None:
Dates: Tuesdays, November 3 – November 24, 2020
Time: 7-9 PM
Investment: Members $60; Non-Members $98

Return to the Place: The Wisdom of Sefer Yetzirah

Sefer Yetzirah is an ancient and foundational work of Jewish mysticism. This brief and cryptic book imagines letters as the building blocks of the universe, focusing our attention on the components of space, time, and soul and the elements of air, fire, and water. Its goal is to allow adepts to contemplate, and even partake in, the Divine creative process. In this series, we will explore sections from the book closely as well as use images from the text to meditate and reflect on our own spiritual experience. ​In the worldview of the Sefer Yetzirah, we and all things are part of the One, and all we need to do is remember and return.

This course will consist of a series of three pre-recorded video lessons with downloadable text, online chevruta work in study assigned groups, and a final (4th) session that is an interactive webinar with Rabbi Hammer.

Pre-recorded lessons can be viewed at your leisure. Chevrutas will meet online each Tuesday evening at the regular Zusia class time (7pm PST). On the final Tuesday, our session with Rabbi Hammer.

Purchase options:
Return to the Place (Ben Yehuda Press)
Return to the Place (Amazon.ca)

Rabbi Jill Hammer, PhD, is the Director of Spiritual Education at the Academy for Jewish Religion, and the co-founder of the Kohenet Hebrew Priestess Institute. Her most recent book is titled ​Return to the Place: The Magic, Meditation, and Mystery of Sefer Yetzirah​.
She is also the author of ​Sisters at Sinai: New Tales of Biblical Women​, ​The Jewish Book of Days: A Companion for all Seasons,​ ​The Hebrew Priestess: Ancient and New Visions of Jewish Women’s Spiritual Leadership ​(with Taya Shere), ​Siddur haKohanot: A Hebrew Priestess Prayerbook​ (with Taya Shere) and ​The Book of Earth and Other Mysteries​.

Instructor: Rabbi Jill Hammer, PhD
Prerequisite: None:
Dates: Tuesdays, November 3 – November 24, 2020
Time: 7-9 PM
Investment: Members $60; Non-Members $98