The Pulse of Our Congregation December 2006

In this Issue

Looking Ahead

December 2006 Activities

Suggestions for Chanukah Gifts? Save Darfur Campaign Store Items

Message from Rabbi

Sibyl Cohen: December 6, 1928 - November 1, 2006

Tikkun Olam Environmental Initiative


Shabbos Walk In The Park??

Xmas Day Kugel and Komedy



Looking Ahead

Here are a few upcoming events you might consider participating in:

Annual Martin Luther King Service... A night to remember!
Where? Ethical Society
When? Friday, January 12, 2007 at 7:30 pm

Stay tuned to join the Martin Luther King volunteer event on Monday, January 15, 2007. We may reconnect with "Books Through Bars" and offer a Center City based opportunity to box up requested books for prison inmates.

Bagels & Books
Where? Joanne's Apartment
When? Sunday, January 21, 2007 at 11:00 am
Brunch included, $5.00

Marking Life Cycle Events

Making a financial contribution to Congregation Leyv Ha-Ir is a great way to mark special life events, simchas, yahrzeits, etc. We are happy to send an acknowledgement of your contribution to a designee of your choice. Contributions can be sent to our regular P.O. Box address, or contact Evy Simon, at 215-561-7474 or, if you'd like to have an acknowledgement card sent.

Thank you.

Sibyl's Song
A poem, by Roy Shenberg

Sibyl Cohen
was a friend of ours
Sybil Cohen
left a gift to us,

A soul brimmed full-up with the juices of life
A gift of wise words she gave with

She said:
"Do good, avoid evil."
"Do good, avoid evil."

There will be no sequel to this teacher of people
She left us with a burning flame
A courage to show
Kindness and committment.

We stand up and proclaim
The wisdom of her name
In our hearts with us still

Newsletter Design:

Ilene Hass
Creative Solutions
for Business Marketing

Dear Friends of Leyv Ha-Ir ~ Heart of the City,

Barry Nove, is the new Director of Development for the Jewish Reconstructionist Federation (JRF), our parent organization. Rabbi Julie and I heard him speak at the JRF convention. In doing so we kept a promise that we made to you at the annual meeting to begin learning about planned giving.

Mostly what I learned is that I'm glad Barry Nove works for the JRF. With tax consequences and structural issues, you should talk to Barry. He's a nice man. You should also talk to your Estates Lawyer.

I know a little more about our values at Leyv Ha-Ir than I know about planned giving. I know that our synagogue is different from other synagogues for many reasons. We have egalitarian, democratic values. These values mean that our worship is participatory. Each voice is heard. Everyone's sprituality is real. Everyone is welcomed in our door.

Planned giving is how we say that these values matter and that they should endure forever. Please remember Leyv Ha-Ir ~ Heart of the City in your will. As little as I know about planned giving, I discovered that I know even less about charitable annuities. Barry says that the tax burden when making withdrawals on some retirement investments is so significant that you may be better off rolling them over into annuities which support you during your lifetime and donate the residue to Leyv Ha-Ir. Once again, talk to Barry and your lawyer about charitable annuities.

Finally, we should all give money to JRF. As President of Leyv Ha-Ir, I've come to value the support of our Federation. If we all make donations, it makes a difference.

Michael Meketon, President
Leyv Ha-Ir ~ Heart of the City

  • December 2006 Activities
    Shabbat Service
    Ethical Society
    10:00 AM
    Lay Led

    Council Meeting
    Ethical Society
    7:00 PM

    Kabbalat Shabbat Service
    Ethical Society
    7:30 PM
    Rabbi Julie

    1st Candle Hanukah

    Shabbat Service
    Ethical Society
    10:00 AM
    Lay Led

    Family Torah Group
    (See paragraph below)

    Beginning Hebrew
    Ethical Society
    7:00 PM
    Rabbi Julie

    Shabbat Service
    10:00 AM
    Lay Led

    Kugel & Comedy
    Ethical Society
    12:30 - 4:00 PM
    M. Schlanger

    Mark your calendar!!
    December 29th dinner dance sponsored by the Ethical Society in their building. It is $25 a person and features a talented jazz quartet called "The Half of It." Let me know of your interest by writing Beverly at It is a nice way to support our friends at E.S.

    Leyv Ha-Ir~Heart of the City's Family Torah Group is meeting this month, December 17, 10AM at a house in Fairmount area. The program is for 2 - 5 year-olds; it includes Jewish song, movement, stories, games, values in a lively, fun context. Parents love it! Children love it! If you'd like to join, give us a call: 215-763-4977 or e-mail

    As part of the Kehillah of Center City we are invited to attend all of the events that are sponsored by the Kehillah and our larger community:

    To learn more about these events, check out the link to Center City Kehillah.

    Click here for a complete look at activities for the upcoming two months.
  • Suggestions for Chanukah Gifts? Save Darfur Campaign Store Items
  • Our Tikkun Olam Committee recommends items from, which has wonderful gifts for any occasion. With Chanukah approaching, how about easily ordering wristbands or a t-shirt from their online store? Their gifts not only include “Not On Our Watch – Save Darfur” wristbands (10 for $15), but also T-Shirts, Hats, and Posters sponsored by The Committee on Conscience of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. For example, wearing your wristband and sharing them with friends will help others become aware of the crisis in Darfur and demonstrate your commitment to ending the suffering there.

    You can email them at

    Link directly to their online store
  • Message from Rabbi
  • Dear Chevre,

    As you read this message I hope you will have fond memories of recent feasting and thanksgiving. We all have so much to be thankful for. Which is why Judaism encourages a constant litany of blessings throughout the day and throughout the year. Every time we eat food or see something amazing or even go to the bathroom, there’s a blessing of appreciation.

    Speaking of appreciation, there’s something that I appreciate immensely that I’d like to share with you. I’ve been marveling at how Jewish community is a web of life that includes passings, new arrivals, growing, learning. Jewish community celebrates the entire life cycle, weaving together the times of joy, the times of loss. At our Rabbi-led Friday night service last month we had a baby naming, we celebrated the work of ORT activists around the world, we said good-bye to a beloved member who died a few weeks ago. Joy, sorrow, good work, beautiful song and prayer ... it’s all part of life together.

    I am sad when I think of a Jewish community that lacks representation in the various age cohorts. We need young people coming up! We need elders to share the wisdom! We need everyone in between because Jewish community by definition is multi-generational. We all inspire and guide one another

    I feel so grateful for the elders in my Jewish community who have let me into their lives: I have a sense of what it means to turn 60 (still a decade away for me) because I have seen intimately the people who walk before me; I have a sense of what it means to lose parents because I have been privileged to witness and support people who have lived through that terrible loss before me. Younger people have told me many times that seeing how I’ve made a family, seeing how I’ve balanced work and home, has opened up possibilities for them. If the original generation of Jews had just kept it to themselves, we wouldn’t be here today. We’re here because Judaism is about the generations, l’dor v’dor, interconnecting. Each generation has its own needs and opens up opportunities for others to care and learn in new ways.

    As we move toward the light of Hanukkah, I am thinking about how Leyv Ha-Ir~Heart of the City can be a place that includes all ages and stages. On Friday, Dec. 15, we’ll all have a chance to meet our Family Torah group leader, Jessi Roemer. She is leading a once-a-month Family Torah Time for 2 – 6 year olds in Center City for Leyv Ha-Ir (next meeting Sunday, Dec. 17) and she’ll be leading songs at our Friday night service so that the whole community can meet her. Come celebrate Hanukkah at the heart of the city!

    Rabbi Julie

  • Sibyl Cohen: December 6, 1928 - November 1, 2006
  • Rabbi Julie Greenberg's Eulogy

    We are here to mourn the loss and celebrate the life of Dr. Sibyl Cohen, a magnificent human being, treasured in the course of her life as a daughter, sister, wife, mother, mother-in-law, grandmother, student, teacher, colleague, congregant, activist and friend.

    Sibyl was with us for all too short a time yet her radiance touched every single one of us.

    Her grandparents immigrated through the Port of Philadelphia with her mother, Min Schwartz. Sibyl lived in Philadelphia her whole life, although she was well traveled. Astoundingly she made lifelong friends in elementary and middle school and was still having reunions with her middle school mates in her seventies. Ruth Zager and Sibyl knew each other from early childhood when their families summered together in the Poconos at the ILGWU union retreat and were life-long friends, sisters.

    She attended the U. of P. becoming one of the first women to graduate from the Wharton School at a time when women still couldn’t enter the library. Somehow she was able to accomplish rigorous academic work and was accepted at the U. of P. Law School but chose to marry Henry B. Cohen, Hank, instead. She had met him on a blind date.

    The fruits of that union were three very beloved children. Sibyl planned to have three children, three years apart. At the age of 23 she launched her plan with the birth of Larry, followed three years later by Janet and three years later by Liz. She did it. Her three children felt special, secure, always loved and had unquestioning support. Sibyl adored Larry, Janet and Liz.

    She stayed home until the youngest child was in kindergarten. During that time she got involved in Great Books. Inspired by Great Books and by her friend, Ruth, Sibyl remembered that she loved the life of the mind and the world of ideas. So she returned to school for her doctorate in philosophy from the U. of P. She worked on aesthetics, the study of beauty, writing a dissertation on aesthetics, intentionality and phenomenology that was reprinted in Polish.

    Sibyl taught at La Salle and Rutgers-Camden as an adjunct professor. She taught Logic, Intro to Philosophy, Business Ethics, Medical Ethics, and worked on inter-disciplinary courses on Freedom and Justice.

    At the age of 56 she lost her husband and entered a new phase of life as a single woman. She had been a devoted wife and had appreciated the riches of traditional Jewish community. But she felt that the orthodox Judaism she had married into didn’t recognize her as an equal participant. In later life she was able to reconnect with spirituality and religion in a way that did work for her and eventually found a wonderful home in Congregation Leyv Ha-Ir~Heart of the City. We loved Sibyl and Sibyl loved us back by being intimately involved in every aspect of community life. After her sudden death, members were in shock, devastated, and had to re-direct their impulse to call Sibyl.

    But it wasn’t just Leyv Ha-Ir~Heart of the City that benefited from Sibyl’s activism and caring. Sibyl was a member of dozens of organizations and she was a primary mover and shaker in many of them. She was central and beloved to many communities. She was a passionate political activist – I’m sure she would think that one of the best ways to honor her memory will be to vote on Tuesday. She helped organize the Center City Kehillah ... she loved her Great Books. This gathering today is a powerhouse of testimony to Sibyl Cohen’s involvement and engagement. Her network of friends was astounding. She was always introducing us to each other.

    Sibyl also somehow managed to swim regularly and do yoga-in-a chair. She had a great life.

    At the core of this life was her family. She was crazy about her five grandchildren – I heard many doting stories about these dear people: Cameron, Maya, Thomas, Dylan and Avery. Each one was amazing and precious to her. She basked in their growth and development. She included her children-in-law as her own as well.

    I’ll share some words from each of her children and I’m sure they’ll also speak for themselves during this time of mourning.

    Larry told me, “My mother could have done anything. She was smart, good-looking, courageous, perceptive. She chose to be a mother and she ended up doing it all. She always found something good to say about people. She helped you figure things out about yourself rather than telling you. She knew you had to be ready. She was one of the wisest people I know.”

    Selections from a beautiful piece by Liz, “She was my mentor, model, closest friend. She taught me beauty ... She was a pragmatist philosopher – for her, ideas were as real as wildflowers and as fun to discover. Sibyl was actively in the midst of a spiritual journey from which I was hoping to learn so much. She leave this earth having touched the lives of countless people, having taught, befriended, mothered and loved so many.”

    And finally, Janet, summed it up in eloquent simplicity, “I love my mother. She’s not here. It’s so sad.”

    We say good-bye today to a philosopher, feminist, intellectual, activist Jewish mother. We lost her way too soon but she would have been glad to go when she was still independent, quick, smart, involved. Sibyl knew that she could die at any moment – she was aware of her medical fragility in her later years. And yet she lived every single minute fully up to the very end. That is the way she would have wanted it.

    The loss of Sibyl Cohen is a huge loss for so many of us and especially for her beloved family. She was truly a lamed vavnik, one of the thirty-six hidden compassionate ones in each generation sent to help heal the world. Sibyl’s joyful vitality and passionate engagement with life will be with us for years to come. We lost her too soon, but we will remember her forever. May the memory of Sibyl Cohen be for a blessing.

  • Tikkun Olam Environmental Initiative
  • The Tikkun Olam committee will be submitting a motion in council on December 6 that Leyv Ha-ir join the JRF/COEJL Hanukkah Climate Change Initiative. This is a nationwide campaign to engage the entire Jewish community in awareness, advocacy, and action to conserve energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.The centerpiece of this program is to take immediate action by changing to energy efficient, cost effective compact fluourescent light (CFL) bulbs. We encourage members to come to that meeting to show support for the measure.

    Learn more at the JRF Web Site
  • Latkepalooza!
  • Hanukkah sizzles at the Gershman Y's 4th annual celebration of the latke! Join us for gourmet latkes prepared by the chefs of many Center City restaurants, including Old Original Bookbinders, Estia and chefs of the Starr Restaurant Organization. Enjoy entertainment and special activities for the kids. $12 adults/$8 children 6 - 12.

    DATE: Sunday, December 10, 2006
    Time: 2:00 PM to 4:00 PM
    PLACE: The Gershman Y 401 S. Broad St. Philadelphia 19147

    Find out More!
  • Shabbos Walk In The Park??
  • Are you interested in a Second Saturday Shabbos in the Park? Susan Budenstein is looking for like minded people who find G-D in nature. She invites you to a new kind of Shabbos service – a walk in Wissahickon Park. We will meet at the Valley Green Inn. The 3 mile walk is beautiful and next the the Wissahickon Creek. Walk at your own pace. We will have an informal brunch at Bruno's Restaurant (Approximately $6.00 per person) and a lay led 45 minute discussion about the week's parsha. Snow and rain cancel.

    Please e-mail Susan at for directions or car pool.

  • Xmas Day Kugel and Komedy
  • Plan to attend our annual Kugel & Komedy, held Monday, December 25, 12:30-4 PM, at the Ethical Society. There will be jokes, story-telling and music, followed by a contest and prizes. Lunch will be served and, if possible, bake a kugel to bring with you. Please call our voice mail, 215-629-1995, with your reservation and let us know if you are supplying some kugel.

    The cost is $8.00 for this entertaining afternoon. As in the past, we ask for some assisstance in the kitchen and with clean-up. Bring friends & family.

  • RADICAL AMAZEMENT: Rosh HaShana 5767
  • Rabbi Julie Greenberg's Rosh HaShana Day 5767 Sermon

    I am so glad to be here with you for these holy services. I spoke last night about the meaning of Home, of coming home, and of how each one of us has different experiences of what home means. During these hours of prayer and song and study and silence, we forge home together, here. Each of us rides up over the small inconveniences of a psalm that doesn’t speak to you or a song that isn’t your traditional melody, and we craft something above and beyond each one of us, something glorious and beautiful.

    In thinking about what message I wanted to share with you today, I knew I could speak about the middle east or about poverty or about Darfur. There are so many pressing issues. But I decided to talk about something much closer to home, something that maybe is the wellspring of all positive action in the world.

    Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel spoke of “radical amazement” as the Jewish approach to life. By radical amazement he meant our human capacity to experience awe, wonder, flashes of insight, “aha” moments,” the art of finding meaning in life, all these as signs of God’s presence. Here we are really just a fragile species clinging to a rock called earth that is spinning in a vast universe of space filled mostly with emptiness, cold and dark. If you look at us from a cosmic perspective we don’t have too much going for us. Yet we are created as humans with enormous capacity to find meaning and to engage with others.

    We manage like William Faulkner’s character to find a way to say YES! to life. In our Jewish tradition, God puts before us the blessing and the curse and we are commanded to choose life.

    Sometimes what gets in the way of saying YES to life is the gunk of past mistakes, failed relationships, despair about how wrong the world is going. That’s why this New Year gives us a chance to do a cleansing of the soul, to release the accrual of suffering from the past so that we can go forward fresher and free-er. With the communal support of the congregation, each individual is bolstered to look directly at the reality of your life and to make good choices.

    We are in fact co-creators with God of our lives. We’re each born with parameters determined by reality such as our historical era, our genetics, our particular family situation. But we get to create our own lives within that framework. This is why Rosh HaShana is celebrated on the anniversary of the sixth day of creation, because it was only on that day that God had human partners; until then the work of creation could not be celebrated.

    Many of you are familiar with the mystical teaching that the Torah given to the Jewish people consists of black letters written on white space. The black letters give us the text that we read in every synagogue around the world. These are our stories and myths and guiding wisdom. But there’s still all the white space. The white space is there for us to fill with the Torah of our own lives. The choices we make become part of the evolving story of Judaism.

    Revelation was not a thing that happened way back then at Sinai but rather an on-going process that invites our full participation. We continue to write the text of Torah with our own lives. Your self discovery, your generosity, your acts of caring and peace-making become a legacy for the future.

    The invitation at this season is to show up, to raise the consciousness another notch, to pay attention and be aware, to step into radical amazement. What do you want for your life? How do you choose to handle your yearnings and disappointments, your dreams and desires? How do you deal with the reality of your life?

    In this world it’s so easy to feel disengaged, discouraged. Whatever it is you long for– a lover, the Phillies to make the play-offs, a child, health, wealth, peace, – may elude you and yet we are called again and again into relationship, into presence, with Self, with each other, with God. We are called to stay present, to stay awake, even through all the changes of life. Our liturgy says, “Awake, awake, O Ye Slumberers.”

    This summer I picked up a book in the library kind of randomly because it was about a topic I knew nothing about. Chaos by James Gleick. He was describing the history of chaos theory. A few decades ago scientists started noticing that there were certain systems with large apparent patterns but with complete local un-predictability. Weather is an example. There are large consistent patterns of weather – the seasons come and go and yet it’s very difficult to predict with perfect accuracy exactly what the weather will be on a particular day in a particular place. The same is true for economic swings – everyone knows there are business cycles, there are predictable patterns of inflation and employment but it’s very hard to predict accurately what will actually happen in the economy.

    So scientists began investigating what looked like chaos. And they found a very interesting thing. Very small unpredictable inputs could have huge impacts. In traditional science there is a fairly linear expectation and anything outside of predictable cause and effect is considered noise and tossed aside. Chaos theorists got interested in the noise. They are interested in small, random changes that have huge effects.

    They called this the Butterfly Effect: when a butterfly flutters its wings in China it can set into motion an accumulation of small changes that result in large differences across the world, say in the weather system of New York.

    Each one of us is capable of creating butterfly effects. We do a good deed and we don’t know exactly what the upshot is. We can’t possibly predict the effect of our small, random act on the huge systems of the world. And yet tiny inputs can have huge unforeseen results. Our acts of kindness and of consciousness don’t need to feel hugely consequential in the moment; we may think what we do doesn’t matter, but actually what we do can matter way more than we might ever believe in the moment.

    Radical amazement can lead to radical empowerment. I’d like to share with you the words of Marianne Williamson who was a speechwriter for Nelson Mandela. He spoke these words in his inaugural address in South Africa:

    Our greatest fear is not that we are inadequate, but that we are powerful beyond measure.

    It is our light, not our darkness, that frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, handsome, talented and fabulous?

    Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God.

    Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you.

    We were born to make manifest the glory of God within us. It is not just in some; it is in everyone.

    And, as we let our own light shine, we consciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

    An individual acting locally doesn’t always see the huge pattern. In the face of not-knowing, the challenge is to stay humble about not-knowing and yet to say Yes, to choose life. This is the paradox of these High Holy Days: to understand that we are but dust in an awesome universe and at the same time to act powerfully in the name of life.

    The New Year in Jewish tradition opens the door to startling new possibilities. The themes of creation and renewal permeate all of our sacred texts at this season. They invite us to look anew at the potential in our lives.

    Rabbi Heschel grounded his discussion of radical amazement in an understanding that practicing Judaism is a discipline, a spiritual path, that helps attune each of us to the wisdom and possibilities around us. He wasn’t talking about woo woo flights of ecstatic God connection. He was talking about daily awareness and attunement, a spiritual practice of marking holy time and holy occasions, Shabbat and the sacred cycle of the year, of paying attention to the ups and downs of people’s lives through celebrating simchas and joining with mourners, of paying attention to making the world right through hands-on social justice work. He was talking about the kinds of presence that we have in a congregation; the community becomes a base for caring connection among ourselves and for acts of rightness in the world.

    For Heschel ritual engagement supported ethical engagement. He was a passionate opponent of the Vietnam War because an attitude of radical amazement simply wasn’t compatible with bombing innocent human beings, or with defoliating a land.

    I started by talking about the foundation of positive action in the world, a sense of the incredible majesty of life on earth that Heschel called radical amazement. But I will end by talking about why it is important to be on this journey with fellow travelers. No human being can sustain radical amazement on their own indefinitely. We all have our high times and our low times. We have our times of joy and abundance and our times of doubt and deficit.

    So it’s important to join together to support the fragile flutter of butterfly wings as we each manifest our vision of choosing life, for ourselves, for each other and for all of human kind.

    Welcome to the New Year, 5767. May it be a year of blessing and peace for all.

    :: 215-629-1995