The Pulse of Our Congregation December 2007

In this Issue

Looking Ahead

December 2007 Activities

December Bagels & Books

Rabbi's Message: Rabbi Julie Greenberg

Yom Kippur Sermon, 5768
by Rabbi Julie Greenberg

Passing on Values with Ethical Wills

Leyv Ha-Ir ~ Heart of the City Hanukah Party

Xmas Day Kugel and Komedy


Looking Ahead

Our in-house poet, Joel Netsky, will be discussing Biblical Poetry. Sunday, January 13, 11 AM.

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.

c 2007 Roy Shenberg

Love by laptop light
Our eyes glow in a magical spell
Better than moonlight
Is the shine from two minds
By Intel

There are those, I suppose,
Who would warn us
Where's the passion
if we just sit ?
We don't need anyone
to inform us
Our love making skills are e-nor-mous
When we need advice---
we Google it.

Love by laptop light
It's love that's so "today"

You, and your laptop
Me, and my laptop
S'what we techies call:

Love by laptop light
Fingers fly 'cross the keys

You, and your laptop
Me, and my laptop
Dance the hotmail tango
Digitally-- Ole' !

Love by the light of a laptop
I yearn to go back in the day
No e-mail, no cellphones
I'd write you lots of love poems

But without a laptop
What would I say?

Newsletter Design and eMail Marketing:

Ilene Hass
Creative Solutions
for Business Marketing

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

We recently rolled out our first endowment appeal with a beautiful letter written by our past president Karen Zeitz. In the letter, Karen informed us that our donations to the endowment will be matched by a generous donation on a time limited basis. If you did not receive this letter and would like to receive a copy of this letter, please e-mail me at

This appeal gives me an opportunity to unwrap some of my thoughts and feelings about giving to our synagogue. One would think that as President of a synagogue that I would be the most ardent supporter of a fund drive (and after some reflection, I am), but my first reaction to the letter was resistance. Reading the appeal letter provoked in me every negative thought or feeling I've ever had about Leyv Ha-Ir ~ Heart of the City. These negative thoughts include predictions about our inevitable demise, doubts about my presidency, feelings of inadequacy, and anger about lack of support in our community. Ultimately, my doubts come down to a fear of isolation. I worry that I am not sufficiently supported dreaming of a future for this community. This loneliness and fear makes donating to this synagogue a sucker bet.

I think that we as Jews have an extra set of luggage in which we carry our attitudes about money. Over centuries, money has been used as a tool to oppress our people. A brief scan of the internet can turn up anti-semitic criticism of the pay for membership structure of most synagogues. As a community leader, I have great mixed feelings about asking for money, and about our unmet financial needs. As a community member, I wish that the synagogue did not ask so much from me.

You know the conclusion of this letter, because you have heard me say it many times. There is nothing magical about money. Money is simply one of the ways we measure value. If you value what Leyv Ha-Ir does, you should show it with money. If there is a temporal aspect to your values (i.e. if you think we should exist into the future), the endowment is the place you should put your money.

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

  • December 2007 Activities
  • December 1 SATURDAY
    Shabbat Morning Service
    Ethical Society
    10:00 AM

    December 2 SUNDAY
    Bagels and Books
    11:00 AM

    December 2 SUNDAY
    Choir Rehearsal
    6:30 PM
    Contact Beverly

    December 4 TUESDAY
    First Night of Chanukah

    December 5 WEDNESDAY
    Council Meeting
    Ethical Society
    7:00 PM

    December 8 SATURDAY
    Family Chanukah Event
    1919 Chestnut Street, Community Room
    William Penn House
    4:00 PM

    December 9 SUNDAY
    Sprituality Group
    Member's House,
    2:30 PM
    Contact Frann

    December 15 SATURDAY
    Shabbat Morning Service
    Ethical Society
    10:00 AM

    December 16 SUNDAY
    Choir Rehearsal
    Member's Home
    6:30 PM
    Contact Beverly

    December 22 SATURDAY
    Shabbat Morning Service
    10:00 AM

    December 25 TUESDAY
    Kugel and Komedy
    Ethical Society
    12:00 PM
    Contact Beverly

    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 Congregation Leyv Ha-Ir activities for the upcoming two months.
  • December Bagels & Books
  • Not to be missed! Next Bagels & Books! December 2nd, 11 AM, apartment of Joanne Perilstein's It's a time for good food, good story, good discussion--and, of course, good friends.

    Louise Polis (our newest member) will be reading Grace Paley's short-story "Anxiety." It's an intergenerational story (told by an older woman as she peeks out while watering flowers on her windowsill) about how each generation tries to burst out into its own "new system" while still holding onto something from the "old" one. Grace Paley passed away this year in August. She was 86.

    Brunch is served; the cost is $5.00. Bring friends! It is a wonderful way to spend Sunday morning. For more information, call 215-629-1995

  • Rabbi's Message: Rabbi Julie Greenberg
  • Hello Dear Chevre,

    This past week I was called to jury duty. I made arrangements for early morning childcare and made it, bright and early, to the courthouse. In my mind, I cleared out my calendar for the next few weeks, pleased to be doing my civic duty even though it would involve a degree of inconvenience.

    It turned out that the case for which I was being considered was a capital murder trial. A possible outcome for the defendant was life in prison or death. Each potential juror had to decide if he or she could imagine recommending these sentences.

    In the Torah there are 36 capital crimes but rabbinic tradition goes all out to make the death penalty virtually impossible to enact in Jewish law. The Rabbis elevated Torah's life-affirming teachings such as we are all created b'tzelem elohim (in the image of God); they emphasized the commandment Do not kill. They taught "one who destroys a life, it is as though one had destroyed all humankind; whereas one who preserves a life, it is as though one preserved all humanity."

    I sat there on the potential juror's bench, with full intention to participate in the democratic process of trial by jury. But I just don't think taking a life is a solution to anything. I would not be willing to sentence a human being to death. In the end I had to abide by my conscience and step out of that room (along with at least a third of the jury pool.)

    As I left the courthouse, I thought of how God works in mysterious ways: we have biblical heroes whose ancestors were the lowliest of the low: harlots, immigrants, criminals. Destroying a life, even as punishment for a terrible crime, negates all hope for the future. I left that place hoping that something good could come of the accused's life, whether guilty or not.

    Have you had experience with jury duty? Have you wrestled with the question of capital punishment? Let's talk about this.

    All the best,
    Rabbi Julie

  • Yom Kippur Sermon, 5768
    by Rabbi Julie Greenberg
  • Ten days of holy entrance into the New Year: We started with Erev Rosh HaShana. There was a new moon in the sky as Jewish people and friends around the world poured into our houses of worship. The doors out there in front were open and from my place here on the bimah I saw the beautiful sight of people literally streaming in.

    Our Jewish way is not to start a new year by partying, drinking, staying up till midnight. Our way is to take a look at the year that went by, do our best to clean up whatever unfinished business lingers, and move with reflection and intention into the year to come. These Ten Days of Awe are our transition period, book-ended by Rosh HaShanah on one side and by Yom Kippur on the other.

    Within this very traditional set of bookends, the invitation is actually to take some spiritual risks: to open yourself to new learning and new possibilities. I asked you on Rosh HaShana what would it look like to leave our comfort zones, to follow in the footsteps of our biblical ancestors and often our personal ancestors too, who left the lives they knew to follow the call of God? I asked if you'd be willing to look at places of hurt and fear that keep you, keep us, from moving freely forward to heed that call to create a world of shalom, of wholeness and peace.

    I asked if you are willing to grow your inner wisdom because our very survival and the survival of the planet depend upon growing our resources for kindness, co-operation, caring and sharing. These have been the themes of our sermon-conversations during these days; if you missed some of them, make sure we have your e-mail address and we will send them to you in the weeks to come with our lovely e-newsletter.

    So here we are at Yom Kippur going deeper and deeper until we find the take-home message of the season. The heart is open and we are ready. We've done away with the trappings of food and work and fashion on this day so that we can focus on what is most important. So, what is most important?

    Close your eyes and imagine that you are at the end of a very long life. You look back over this long life. What is it you want to remember about your life? What do you want other people to remember after you're gone?

    Now hold on to that. Because that is very important. But the reason you are here in a room with hundreds of other people, rather than sitting home alone thinking that same thought, is that what is important is even bigger than whatever it was you thought of. You are bigger than you think you are, your responsibility is bigger than you think it is, your response-ability (ability to respond) is bigger than you think it is.

    We know that our families and loved ones are important and even that our tribe is important. Maybe there's a human genetic instinct to that end; it's common nature to commit to our own. Therefore Judaism, and other universal religions, stretch that sense of family. Who is your family? God says to Abraham, "I will make of you a great nation and I will bless you and make your name great. I will bless those who bless you and I will curse those who curse you. All the families of the earth will find blessing in you." We learn from this that we are to be part of something good for all the families on the earth.

    Remember the custom at the Passover Seder of taking ten drops of wine from the goblet as we recite the ten plagues ---diminishing our joy because there was so much suffering for the Egyptians as well as for us, during our liberation from Egypt? We know from midrash, that God wept when Pharoah's soldiers died in the red sea. God cares about all the families of the earth.

    (Footnote: If I were an orthodox Jewish teacher, I couldn't make the point I just made in the way I just made it. To take an example from Torah and complement it with an example of a custom from a seder wouldn't be kosher because Torah holds more weight than custom in orthodox tradition. But in Reconstructionism, we draw wisdom from the whole of Jewish civilization, not just from the sacred texts, so I am okay quoting Torah and remembering custom. The point is that through a God perspective, all human beings are precious.)

    In Weinberg's article, she quotes Martin Luther King, speaking about what gets in the way of caring about all of God's creation. He said, "When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism and militarism are incapable of being conquered." (underlining mine)

    This giant triplet, racism, materialism and militarism is toxic to the fundamental Jewish concept of inter-connection. Our central statement of faith, the Shema, lets us know that all is One in God. To separate ourselves out is to exile ourselves from God, to exile ourselves from our own beings. We are part of creation. At special spiritual moments sometimes we become aware of our place in this unity:

    moments of inspiring love,
    of awesome glimpses of nature,
    of moving reconciliations.

    But much of the time, each of us goes around in our unique fragmented universe, now and again suffering from the consequences of fragmentation: loneliness, helplessness, depression, alienation, isolation, poverty of the spirit. Becoming whole means engaging with the whole picture.

    I'll share some brief reflections on the giant triplet but this is really a course of engagement that I hope will play out during this next year of community life.


    We live in a city in which more than 400 people died last year from guns. Most of them were poor black young men, some of them were innocent bystanders and children. If you're afraid to walk down the streets of Jerusalem think about this statistic in our own city.

    There are some understandable reactions to this crisis: That's their problem. They're out of control, they're making really bad choices and there's absolutely nothing I can do about it.

    Or, This is awful and it's terrifying and I'm going to stay as far away from it as possible. Judgement and fear are very human reactions to this terrible situation.

    To give up a piece of our city to generation after generation of psychic and physical violence is to cut off a piece of ourselves. It's unacceptable. Reeling from the violence in this city, Leyv Ha-Ir~Heart of the City president, Michael Meketon, posed a question to a gathering of Jewish community leaders, a few weeks ago. Could the Jewish community organize hundreds of allies to stand with folks in these troubled neighborhoods, re-claiming the streets?

    Weeks after Michael's proposal, the police chief called on ten thousand African-American men to show up to patrol the neighborhoods where so many people are being killed and injured. This idea is now being debated in the media - do they have to be men? Do they have to be African-American? How can we help?

    This crisis is not "theirs" alone. These problems have to do with American history, with education, with economics and with our values. These problems are our problems and Judaism has a lot to say about them, especially about refusing to see the people in these neighborhoods as "other."

    We are all inter-connected in God's wholeness. If God wept when the Egyptians drowned in the Red Sea how do you think God feels about what's happening in Philadelphia? I think God's voice is that part of each of us, reading the headlines, thinking, "I wish I could do something about this."


    We live in a world that runs on greed: on the concept of more, more, more, better, better, better. Advertising makes it impossible to avoid coming into contact with a constant barrage of stuff. The upshot of all this stuff often is a combination of two feelings: overwhelm at having so much stuff to manage and deprivation because there is always more stuff to aquire. We are stuffed with the material things in life and deeply wanting in the spiritual realm.

    Pretty much every individual I speak with these days feels one or both of those feelings: swamped by stuff or "less than" in relation to a perfectionist society that prioritizes things. No one can ever possibly live up to the ideals posed by a thing-oriented world --- you're too fat for the fashions, or you aren't educated enough, or you're in the wrong kind of relationship or the kinds of relationships you are in don't count as valid. We so easily judge ourselves and each other as not good enough.

    Then the consumer economy suggests that you buy more to compensate. You treat yourself to bring yourself up to par but you can never have enough because those material things aren't really what fills up a person's soul. We will never be satisfied if we pay attention only to material culture. Yet it distracts us from the spiritual work of taking care of the whole.

    In Judaism we have a name for prioritizing material things over what really matters. The name is idolatry and idolatry is considered one of the absolute worst defamations of God's name.


    And then there's the matter of racism, of seeing any of God's children as less than Godly. Racism wins the day when we allow ourselves to give up on any part of God's creation. By making it the "other" and dis-owning it, we dis-own a part of our own God-given selves, a part of God's wholeness.

    The truth is that we are all inter-connected and part of the whole. Reality is that we are all made of the same matter: the waters of the earth, the waters of our bodies, the DNA of the chimp, the DNA of human beings, it all comes down to atoms swirling around in empty space and you and me and the trees and the rocks and the bald eagle really aren't so different. But part of modern fragmentation is to say "I'm a this" and "you're a that" and we are completely different.

    Have you ever known someone, or maybe even you yourself wrestled with this, to say "I can't imagine going to Germany. I would never learn the German language. I don't buy German goods." I've heard this many times from people I know and love. I understand the anger and the hurt that is behind decisions like this. But when you make a decision to cut off a group of people just for being members of that group, you are cutting off a piece of your own humanity.

    It's racist that we tolerate a situation in our city in which hundreds of people die each year and thousands are wounded each year by guns. It's racist to condemn Islam or people from Muslim backgrounds in general or people who speak Arabic. We cannot cut people off because of their religion or skin color or background. To cut off another human being, to give up on another human being, is to give up on part of yourself.

    The tug of racism, materialism and militarism in this world is so strong - how in the world can we do the inner work and the outer work to make a difference?

    The message of the holy days, repeated again and again, is teshuvah, tefillah, tzedakah : each word has a cluster of meanings to capture the full resonance in Hebrew:

    Teshuvah: responsiveness, repentence, returning, forgiveness
    Tefillah: truth, prayer
    Tzedakah: making things right, from the root "tzedek," including how we dispose of our wealth

    These holy days invite us to look at the fear, hatred, anger, violence that underlie so much of our society, with fresh eyes. These are symptoms of a society that is fragmented into "us", "them," into "good enough" and "not good enough." The holy days point us back onto a path of seeing ourselves as part of a unity, of being accountable to that unity and of being nourished by the health of the unity.

    Taking to heart this re-direction, in this year to come will you start the conversation at the dinner table by asking, "Have you done any good deeds today?" Will you take stock at night before going to bed by asking "How generous was I today?" "Where did I cultivate compassion or patience with another today?" "Did I take a stand today to make things right for the down trodden?" These holy days direct us back to what is important.

    The prophet Micah said, "What does God require of you but to do justice, to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God." (6:8)

    Yom Kippur is a wake-up call to pay attention to what is important, to the fact that you are part of a whole, you are responsible to the whole and you will be nurtured by the well-being of the whole.

    The tasks are daunting, no doubt, but thank God we are surrounded by an amazing religious civilization, Judaism, to support the walk. Built in to the sacred cycle of the year are times for rest and replenishment, for joyful celebration, for communal grieving and for learning together. You aren't meant to take on the task of healing the whole alone. Rather you are invited to be part of a community responding to its inner needs and joining together to address the world's outer needs. As Weinberg says, "There is no inside, and no outside." We are all part of the whole. Each of us is invited to be an active, alive participant in this whole in the coming year. Shalom.

    [Everyone is invited to read the article by Rabbi Sheila Weinberg, available at our front desk, that is a beautiful extended meditation on the personal and the political. It includes some of the quotes I am sharing with you. Everyone is welcome to take a copy, read it and put it back for the next person to read. This is a text for us to share this week. The article by Sheila Weinberg is "Spiritual Direction: No Inside, No Outside" in Jewish Spiritual Direction, edited by Breitman and Addison, Jewish Lights, 2006.]

  • Passing on Values with Ethical Wills
  • Karen F. Zeitz, Esquire, an attorney specializing in Family Law and Estate Administration, has led seminars helping people write ethical wills, whereby people could pass on their values and beliefs instead of their material goods.

    These seminars have been held at the City Institute branch of the Free Library of Philadelphia, 18th and Locust streets, and sponsored by Congregation Leyv Ha-Ir, of which Zeitz is a member. In her seminars, says Zeitz, "We look at the biblical basis for ethical wills, particularly Jacob's deathbed statement in Genesis. It's not about your money, it's not about your estate, it's about your values. "Basically," says Zeitz, "it's clarifying for yourself what your values are. Some people cannot necessarily articulate what is most important to them." In her seminars, says Zeitz, they would do a values-clarification exercise.

    An ethical will, explains Zeitz, "is a piece of writing, like a will, kind of like a letter to your family and your friends, whoever you want to tell what was important to you." This is not like a regular will, where the deceased passes on money or property; "A will," adds Zeitz, "becomes a legal document at your death. But an ethical will would not be legally binding. It 's not legally binding, it's more morally binding to your family, stating 'How I wish you to live, this is what was important to me, and I want to pass this on to my children.'"

    Another workshop Zeitz would lead is on charitable bequests, where the deceased specifies to which charities he/she would have donations sent to at their passing; "You can also do it in your life," adds Zeitz, "as well as in your will. The workshop will focus on doing it in a will. "It's good for people (such as senior citizens)," Zeitz says, "who are looking into estate planning. At that time in life, it's important for those people, when you want to get your things in order."

  • Leyv Ha-Ir ~ Heart of the City Hanukah Party
  • December 8. 4 PM
    Hanukah Party
    Bring the children!!
    Music, games, food
    1919 Chestnut Street, Community Room
    William Penn House

  • Xmas Day Kugel and Komedy
  • Plan to attend our annual Kugel & Komedy, hosted by our very own stand-up comic, Karen Zeitz, held Tuesday, December 25, noon to ???, at the Ethical Society. There will be jokes, story-telling and music. 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 $10.00 for this entertaining afternoon. As in the past, we ask for some assistance in the kitchen and with clean-up. Bring friends & family.

    :: 215-629-1995