In This Issue
Upcoming Events
Jessi Roemer
Niggun Workshop
Special Congregational Meeting
Machzor Bookplate Donations
November Yahrzeit
Lost & Found
Rabbi's Erev Rosh HaShana Sermon
Listserv Reminders
Looking Ahead

December 2, 2012 -  

Brief congregational meeting to approve changes to our bylaws, immediately followed by  

Cantor Jessi Roemer's workshop on Niggun Singing:  What is it, How did it begin? The audience will be singing along.


December 14, 2012 - Annual Chanukah Service with latkes, of course.


January 26, 2012 - Annual Shabbaton, incorporating a Tu B'Shavat seder, beginning with a Shabbat morning service. Cantor Jessi Roemer leading.


Marking Lifecycle Events

Please remember Congregation Leyv Ha-Ir~Heart of the City when you have any occasion to send a greeting card to someone. 


While we are happy to receive contributions in any amount, for a minimum $10 contribution we will gladly send one of Marci Fleet's lovely art cards created for this purpose to the recipient of your choice.


Make a donation to your congregation and honor someone you care about at the same time. It might be a note of sympathy, a message of congratulations, get well, or a shout-out on a happy occasion. Sue Frank will gladly send along either one of Marci's cards, or one she will customize one based on your suggestions. Sue will also compose a note that carries your thought to the recipient.


Please use the 
contribution form on our website, which contains the mailing address for your contribution, PO Box 15836, Philadelphia PA 19103. You can also

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November 2012
Dear Friends of Leyv Ha-Ir ~ Heart of the City,  


As you know there's a very important election on November 6. In addition to the Presidential election, there's a US Senate race in Pennsylvania and others. VOTE! Voting is a right that many fought and died for and shouldn't be taken lightly. As Jews we haven't always had a say in our future, so that right is even more valuable to us here in the US. VOTING is one of the best ways to exercise that right. Rides to the polls are available. PLEASE VOTE!


Also coming is Thanksgiving on November 22. It is thought that the Pilgrims were inspired by our harvest holiday of Sukkot. In any event, thankfulness is an important part of the Jewish religion. A great many prayers start "Blessed are You." This phrase is interpreted to read, "Thanked are You..." and some people try to say this blessing 100 times a day. Meals start with thanking the Lord for bringing forth bread and end with thanking Her for providing the meal. Even if we don't give thanks 100 times on the 22nd, let's not be distracted by the turkey and the football games from remembering that it is a day truly for Thanksgiving.

Thank you,

Bobbi Cohen, Roby Jacobs, and Iris Newman

Your Executive Committee

LHI Calendar November 2012

Saturday,  November 3, 10 AM, Shabbat Morning Service 

Join us at the Ethical Society, 1906 S. Rittenhouse Square, for a lay-led service and discussion of the Torah portion. Stay and schmooze at our veggie potluck lunch. This shabbat has been designated as an InterFaithways Shabbat and we encourage all interfaith families to attend.


Friday, November 9, 6:30 PM, Friday night home dinner/service  Join us for a 45-minute lay-led service, followed by a veggie pot-luck dinner at Michael Meketon's home in South Philadelphia. Call 215-569-1995 for further information.


Monday, November 12, 7:00 PM, Council Meeting All members are invited to our Council meeting at Pat Wisch's home in Center City. Call 215-629-1995 for further information.   


Friday, November 16, 7:30 PM, Kabbalat Shabbat Service  

Bring in Shabbat with community and musical prayer! Join us for an all-musical Friday night service Nov 16, 7:30 p.m. at the Ethical Society on Rittenhouse Square. Guided by Jessi Roemer, the Leyv Ha'Ir Choir, and master musician Loren Gildar, we will sing our way into a spirited and soulful  Shabbat! We will also be honoring new LHI ~ HOC members at this service. Bring your voice, your spirit, and your friends!


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.


Take a complete look at Congregation Leyv Ha-Ir upcoming activities. 

Jessi Roemer - Our Spiritual Leader
Cantor Jessi
Cantor Jessi

As Rabbi Julie is on her well-earned sabbatical (until next August), we are delighted to have Jessi Roemer lead our services. Jessi is unique in following in the footsteps of her late mother, Sue Roemer,  who was a cantor in the Washington, DC, area.  She has been our choir director for five years and our High Holy Day cantor for four years. 


Jessi is also a writer, guitarist, and composer. She has performed in Philadelphia, New York, Seattle, Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, and Washington, D.C. Her original settings of Jewish liturgy have been featured in the D.C. Jewish Folk Arts Festival and the Shalshelet Festival of New Jewish Liturgical Music.  Jessi is currently a candidate for ordination in the ALEPH cantorial program of the Renewal Movement. She lives in West Philadelphia with her husband and two small children.


DRASH / SERMON - October 26, 2012


Shabbat Shalom.


This week's parshah begins with God telling Avram: "Lech lecha -- Go out  -- m'artzecha (from your land) u'mimoladetcha (from your birthplace) u'mi beit avicha (and from the house of your ancestors) ..."


Not just, "Leave home." Or, the way I get my kids out the door: "We're leaving. Get in the car." God is very thorough about the meaning here, and says it in three different ways - leave your land, your birthplace, and your father's house - making it abundantly clear that it is time for Avram not only to leave home but to break with his past.


Not just Avram -- his entire family, and all his servants, have to go with him. Sarai, his wife, must also leave her family and her native land of Ur. Some historical scholarship suggests that in leaving, Sarai had to abandon the moon-worshipping religion with which she likely grew up - the religion practiced in Ur. So she must not only leave her family, but give up her entire worldview and way of life to follow her husband's God, whose edicts, so far, have only been transmitted through her husband.




Thinking of Sarai, I comfort myself that at least the moon didn't abandon her on her journey. I imagine her slipping outside of her tent in the middle of the night, while Avram sleeps, to pay her secret respects to the God of her ancestors.


So God tells Avram in no uncertain terms that it's time to scoot, and Avram turns around and says to all of his people, "We're leaving. Get in the car." And they do. Remarkably.


Not that they have any idea where they're going. Nobody plans trips in the Bible - have you ever noticed that no one ever gets out the map and says, 'Let's go visit the Nile, and I think the best route is through that sand dune'? No. They travel a lot more like we do in this decade - they saddle up and take off, except they have God as their GPS.


So Avram, Sarai, and their cohort wander down into Egypt, where they make a rookie mistake: out of fear, they decide to mask their identities. But their identity-masking wreaks so much havoc that they eventually get spat back out of there. They make other bad decisions: Sarai and Hagar act like jealous children towards each other; Sarai abuses her power over Hagar by treating her badly; Avram is complicit.


This journey of theirs is not unlike the path of a young adult, stumbling her way out of her parents' house and into the world, making some good decisions and some really bad ones.


If I had to pick a theme for this week's Torah portion, I'd say it had to do with the self-actualization that comes from leaving home and growing up.


Until now, the characters of Bereshit have been pretty one dimensional - eternally simple, like Adam and Eve, good or wicked like Cain and Abel, obedient like Noah. But in this portion, the human actors - Avram, Sarai, and Hagar - seem most explicitly to be engaged in a process of leaving and return, growth and maturation. The process is muddled, and painful. Two of the characters, and God, are re-named in the process. And in the end, they are all rewarded with the promise of a long legacy of descendants.


I think of humanity at our moment in time, and wonder where we fit into the trajectory of this story. Take just our country, for example: No one, but no one in this country, has not been separated in some way from her land, her birthplace, or the land of her people. The vast majority of us living here came from somewhere else not too long ago, on the scale of things. And the people who were here first have had the land of their ancestors taken right out from under them.


As a country, and as a species, we wander through elections and world affairs without a roadmap, without a GPS. Or rather, with many different GPSes - we can't seem to agree on one common one. We make immature mistakes and disastrous decisions - a lot of them. We allow our true identities to be masked - by money, by conformism, by fear. We deal harshly with the people for whom we are responsible, and with the planet in our care.


And, we do incredible things - we heal each other; we feed, house, and educate each other; we lift ourselves and others up by creating art and music, we hold tenaciously to our capacity to love and help each other; we try to care for our planet.


So if we, too, are immature, wandering adults like Sarai and Avram before they became Sarah and Avraham, the question arises: "Is all of our bumbling - as a country, as a species - part of our road to self-actualization? Will we, too, eventually grow up and be rewarded with a long and lasting human legacy?"


Here's the kicker: The answer to that question can only come from each of us, in every new moment, about our individual selves; it only comes when we ask: "Is what I'm doing right now bringing me closer to becoming my fullest self? If not, how might I make it so?"


When we internalize and practice this asking, and re-asking - when we focus on how to make it so, only then might we be able to begin to fathom our collective course. May you all be blessed this Shabbat with well-deserved rest, and may we all continue on the path toward our fullest selves.

Special Niggun Workshop with Jessi
December 2 - Please plan to attend

The Hasidim said that the highest praise to G-d is silence - but not just any silence; the silence that immediately follows spirited, soulful song. To saturate the walls with the vibrations of holy singing - that is the aim of the niggun.

In this workshop, we will sing! We will explore the practice of entering the niggun. We will look at the history and intent of this practice, and we will consider to what extent these 'wordless' melodies are actually 'wordless.' Bring your spirit, your voice, and the niggunim from your life!
Brunch will be served.

Sunday, December 2
Penn Center House Leisure Lounge
1900 JFK Blvd., 2nd Floor, Philadelphia
11:00 AM
$10 per person for members
$15 per person for guests from the larger community
Special Meeting to Approve Bylaws Changes
Just before Jessi's Niggun Workshop

At May's Annual Meeting, requests were made to make a few changes to our bylaws.  These changes have worked their way through a committee, led by Donna Butler, to Council and now need your approval.  A separate email will go out to you with the changes.

On Sunday, December 2, please plan to come to the Penn Center House Leisure Lounge at 10:00 am for a brief discussion and vote to hopefully approve these changes.  Of course you will be fed for this effort.  Thank you.
A POWER Video with Rabbi Julie
Power Logo

POWER is a local faith-based community organizing group that includes about 35 congregations from across socio-economic, cultural, religious and neighborhood lines. We are the local Philadelphia chapter of a national organization called PICO. Through interfaith relationships we hope to make lasting, effective change in our community. Please view the video below to see Rabbi Julie and other inspiring POWER leaders.



The Library Launch, a program designed to establish a functional library at Spring Garden Elementary School, was held at Rodeph Shalom on Oct. 23. Levy-Ha-Ir and St. Paul's Baptist Church co-sponsored the event as part of POWER's ALLIES (A Library In Every School) project. Twenty five people gathered to hear Laureal Robinson, principal of Spring Garden Elementary School,  speak about the current status of the library and future volunteer needs. Principal Robinson was very enthusiastic about our participation and encouraged all to sign up for future activities.
One major activity is fund-raising and grant writing. Approximately $10,000 is needed to pay for scannable library books.  Other volunteer activities include donating regular books (on a book list) for the school's summer reading program, volunteering to help with the annual Scholastic book fair, sorting and cataloging old and new books, helping to staff the library once it opens (as there are only funds for a part-time librarian), planning the Grand Opening and working on advocacy projects involving school libraries.


We are hoping that many LHI congregants will be able to participate.  Please contact Susan Thompson, or Bev Hayden,, to sign up or get more information.

POWER Economic Justice Forums
POWER Economic Justice Forums
Machzor Bookplate Donations

A good way to remember or honor someone is by having a book plate put in a machzor (High Holy Day prayerbook) This year, these were donated:


In Memory of

  • Michael, Pyotr and Rochel Spiegel by Maruschia  (Maria) Mackey
  • Samuel and Ellen Zilka, Haron and Tobwa Zilkha, Georg and Nannette Fass, Gerald Freeman, and all Holocaust victims by Diane Zilka   
  • Albert H. Sands, Morris & Lena Sendrowitz, Elizabeth & Jules Jacobs by Leslie Sands
  • Morris & Tillie Lieberman (2) by Lindsey & Shana Lieberman
  • Milton & Beatrice Young, Carole Halin by Patricia Goldentyer
  • Harold Ash by John Mason
  • Edwin Polish by Rhoda Polish

In Honor of

  • Granddaughter Sienna Hope Jacobs by Mona Jacobs-Small
  • Eight great-grand children and another on the way by Lillian Resnick
  • Roby Jacobs by Iris Newman
  • Michael & Phyllis Rubenstein (2) by Cara & Rafi Cohen   

Check your LHI mailing next August for the opportunity to donate some yourself.

November Yahrzeit

yahrzeit May This Soul be Bound in the Book of Eternal Light:


Sibyl Cohen


A glorious Sukkot service was held, thanks to Sue Frank, hostess, and Jessi Roemer, our cantor and spiritual leader.

Fourteen members and friends attended despite the inclement weather. 

Lost & Found
Found at Yom Kippur 


A pair of Steve Madden sunglasses was found at the Yom Kippur registration desk. If these are yours or those of your guest please reply by email to Roby Jacobs.  

Rosh HaShana Sermon 2012:  Holland?

Rosh Hashanah Kiddish Table
Rosh Hashanah Kiddish Table
by Rabbi Julie Greenberg

I'd like to open with a poem, adapted to our purposes today, called Welcome to Holland. The original poem is by Emily Perl Kingsley.


When you launch into life, it's like planning a fabulous vacation trip---to Italy. You buy a bunch of guide books and make your wonderful plans. The Coliseum. The Michelangelo David. The gondolas in Venice. You may learn some handy phrases in Italian and study a bit of Italian history. It's all very exciting. After months of eager anticipation, the day finally arrives. You pack your bags and off you go.


Several hours later the plane lands. The stewardess comes in and says "Welcome to Holland."


"Holland?" you say. "What do you mean Holland? I signed up for Italy! I'm supposed to be in Italy. All my life I've dreamed of going to Italy."


But  there's been a change in the flight plan. They've landed in Holland and there you must stay. The important thing is that they haven't taken you to a horrible, filthy place full of pestilence, famine and disease. It's just a different place.


So you must go out and buy new guide books. And you must learn a whole new language. And you will meet a whole new group of people you would never have met.


It's just a different place. But after you've there for a while and you catch your breath, you look around...and you begin to notice that Holland has windmills....and Holland has tulips. Holland even has Rembrandts.


But many people you know are coming and going from Italy and they're all bragging about what a wonderful time they had there. And for the rest of your life you might say, "Yes, that's where I thought I was going." The sadness of never seeing Italy may never go away. But....if you spend your life mourning the fact that you didn't get to Italy, you may never be free to enjoy the very special, the very lovely things......about Holland.



That is pretty much what happened to our biblical ancestors, although I don't think they quite made it to Holland.


Early on, God promises Abraham, our earliest Jewish ancestor, you're going to a land that I will show you and I will make you a great nation and your descendants will fill the earth for as far as you can see and my blessing will flow through you for the good of all people. (I love that last part, that blessing will flow through Abraham's family for all the people on earth.)


But the very next thing that happens is that Abraham and Sarah face infertility. It is completely unclear to them, how they can possibly populate the earth with their descendants and have God's blessing flow through them to all peoples, when they can't even have one child. Furthermore, instead of journeying in the direction of  their promised land, Israel, because of a famine, they are required to travel far away to Egypt. 


Nothing that they imagined, or felt they were promised, seemed to be happening.


It was sort of like they were promised Italy but ended up in Holland, or worse. It's like the title of Rabbi Alan Lew's book This is Real and You are Completely Unprepared.


Isn't this what life is about? You expect one thing but something else unfolds.


I bet every single one of us in this room has experienced twists and turns in our journey of life that we couldn't possibly have imagined. Some of those twists were probably devastating, others inspiring. I can't tell you how many people have told me "I never expected this." Just last week, a sixty-something bride-to-be told me, as we planned her wedding, "I never expected this."  A widow, bowled over by the strength of her grief at losing her husband of 67 years, even though she knew he was dying,  told me "I never expected this." Regularly when we receive a difficult diagnoses we say, "I never expected this."


This seems to be a common reaction at vitally happy moments and at terribly sorrowful moments.  Some twists probably tempted you to give up, or blame others, or carry bitterness with you. Other twists may have made you feel superior to others or self-righteous like you did it right and your luck and hard work make you superior.


These holy days give us a chance to pause and notice that we are all on this human journey of the unexpected. When you see that we are all in it together, doesn't a layer of shame and blame and even grief drop away? It's not just you who would never have imagined what is required to live a life. 


Maybe even a well of compassion for yourself and for others rises up. This trip called life is a mighty challenging trip. Just as you get used to one terrain or one stage, things shift and all of a sudden there's a new landscape and you have a different set of capabilities and limitations. You sometimes suddenly discover you're in Holland and not Italy.


Our mission is to learn how to handle the journey, whatever it may be, and still be humans to be proud of. What happens when you're on a journey that you never expected to turn out this way? Can you handle this journey by being a mensch? Can you be a decent human being even through trial and tribulation and when you fail at that can you get back up, make amends and try again?


The Torah stories about our ancestors are not models of perfect people living perfect lives. Far from it. They make many, many mistakes, but just as a toddler takes a few shaky steps and goes bump and then gets back up again and again, our ancestors do not give up. Even in the midst of their own challenges, Abraham and Sarah manage to be considerate of others, inviting weary travelers into their home, treating them with kindness.  Jacob has a rocky start in life filled with deceit and trauma but by the end of his life he is pouring out blessings for his children. Even if you come from a hard place, even if you're having a hard time, your life can be a blessing.


We, like our ancestors, learn to say, "Okay, here I am. I didn't think it would be exactly this way. I never thought I'd feel this lonely or sad or hurt. But how can I do the best I can now that I am here? What resources and supports will help me go forward? What gifts can I share despite my own pain?"


In our lives, sometimes we have to live with realities we would not create if we were directing the show.  A fundamental, unpleasant truth is that we don't direct the entire show. The trouble is it's hard for us to figure out what parts we can direct and what parts we just have to live with. We spend a lifetime figuring out the parameters of what we can change and what we have to accept.


There are times in my life when I've looked at the world and seen an injustice such as discrimination against gays and lesbians in the Jewish world, and I've worked hard to make changes. I feel a lot of satisfaction that the world did change and is changing because of the efforts of myself and many others.


There are other times when I've looked at the world and seen something that looked to me like it had potential, maybe a new relationship for instance, but reality didn't align the way I would like it to, the other person had other ideas or wanted something different from what I wanted and we couldn't come to a place of mutual contentment. Sometimes the bravest thing would be to let it go but there are times when I've lingered trying to make changes where change isn't really an option.


It's hard to know when to surrender in acceptance and when to engage to make change.


One half of spiritual growth is about surrendering to reality. Believe it or not, like it or not, you are not totally in control! It is not all up to you !  You are a little piece of a big, big picture. There are things beyond your control that are true:


But while it is true that  we don't direct the entire show, we have a gigantically important part in the drama of our own lives.  Hand - in- hand with the reality to which we have to surrender, we are completely empowered to be the authors of our hopes and dreams, our character, our deeds. As the main character in your own life, your options and your decisions are as dramatic as Abraham and Sarah's were back then. We are writing the Torah of our lives.


Right now in the early moments of this New Year, we hold it all: we hold the past that has already happened and can't be changed; we hold our power, limited as it is, vast as it is, to change the future. Right here in this precious balance of accepting what needs to be accepted and changing what can be changed, we walk together on the journey of humanity.


What a lot to hold! There isn't a God up in heaven who is going to tell us what to do. We are entrusted with freedom to figure out how to live this one earthly life. I find that deeply comforting and respectful and at the same time terrifying. The need to surrender, the need to act. The human challenge to figure out how to be a mensch through it all.


 One of the resources Judaism gives us for this challenge is this holy time together. We stake out time for reflection and re-fueling during these days of transition into the New Year. There are no short cuts or easy templates for knowing "What do I need to accept and what can I change and how can I know the difference?" The only person who can come to these answers for you is you but you are not in it alone.


 This holy time gives each of us a fresh start in living graciously, living mencschliechtly, with whatever must be accepted and whatever must be changed. With some spacious time for reflection, we get to make choices about where acceptance or change are called for in our own lives. To switch medications or not? To keep job hunting in your field or to train for something different? To stay in this relationship or not? This time of soul searching for clarity and intention is a rich and fruitful holy time.


These ten days between Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur are dedicated to your inner work. We are here to support that inner work by surrounding it with song and prayer and community, by valuing your inner life and its impact on the significant journey you are on. We trust that as you clarify your direction for this new year, all of existence will benefit through the ripple from your menschlekeit, just as Abraham's choices became a blessing for all humankind.


There is a poem by Rumi in which a chick pea is sizzlng in a stew and this chick pea looks up at the cook and says, please please get me out of here. The chef looks down and says, oh dear chick pea, you are going to be just fine. You are becoming part of a delectable dish.


As our impurities are sizzled off ---- our confusion, our arrogance, our apathy-- in the demanding stew of life, we can each experience the blessing of being part of a delectable dish, being part of the human community. The way you deal with being on the journey you did not expect, with sizzling in a stew you never wanted to be in, defines your life.


Let's step into 5773 full of both humility and courage.


On the journey that includes so much that we didn't expect, let's hope we find plenty of compassion for ourselves and for others. May this be a year of human connection and caring. Welcome to Holland, welcome to this wonderful new year. Shana Tovah.

Leyv Ha-Ir Listserv Reminders
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Contact Beverly or Bobbi if there are questions about the listserv.