In This Issue
Upcoming Events
Message From Spiritual Leader Jessi Roemer
Member Interview
Special Congregational Meeting
Niggun Workshop
December Yahrzeit
New Council Member
Musical Shabbat Service
Leyv Ha-Ir Member Benefit
Tu B' Shevat Shabbat Celebration
ALLIES - A Lively Library in Every School
Rabbi's Kol Nidre Sermon
Listserv Reminders
Looking Ahead

January 26, 2012 - Annual Shabbaton, incorporating a Tu B' Shevat seder, beginning with a Shabbat morning service. Cantor Jessi Roemer leading. See article in main column.

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. 


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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.


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December 2012
Dear Friend of Leyv Ha-Ir ~ Heart of the City,   


'Shalu Shalom Yerushalim, Pray for the peace of Israel.....May those who love you be at peace.' These are the words of Psalm 122 which we recite on Shabbat morning.  Once again, we are reminded of the need to pray for peace, a just and lasting peace.


Soon it will be Hanukkah, a time for marking the transition from darkness to light. We'll bask in the glow of the candles and look forward to a brighter future. Hag Sameach, Happy Holiday to all our readers. 


Thank you,

Bobbi Cohen, Roby Jacobs, and Iris Newman

Your Executive Committee

LHI Calendar December 2012

Saturday,  December 1, 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. 


Sunday,  December 2, 10 AM, Congregational Meeting , Penn Center House Leisure Lounge, 1900 JFK Blvd., 2nd floor, Brief congregational meeting to vote on proposed By-laws changes. Attendees are encouraged to stay for our Niggun Singing Workshop, immediately following. Light snacks will be served. 

Sunday,  December 2
11 AM, Niggun Singing Workshop, Penn Center House Leisure Lounge, 2nd floor, Bring your spirit and your voice! A $10 fee members/guests, $15. See article below for more details. Brunch will be served.

Friday, December 7, 6:30 PM, Friday night home  Shabbat dinner/service Join us for a 45-minute lay-led service, followed by a veggie pot-luck dinner at Laura Jacobs' home just off Rittenhouse Square. Contact Laura at 215-545-3706 or for further information or to RSVP.


Sunday, December 9, 3:00 PM, Women's Rosh Hodesh Group 
Women members and their guests celebrate Hannukah and the old/new Rosh Hodesh group custom. Potluck supper and gift exchange (bring a wrapped gift worth up to $10.) Join us at Roby's. Contact Roby at 215-546-8965 with any questions.  


Monday, December 10, 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, December 14, 7:30 PM, Shabbat/Hanukkah Service  

Join us as we light the 7th candle of Hanukkah and welcome the Sabbath. Spiritual Leader Jessi Roemer and the LHI choir will lead us in the prayers. We'll be at the Ethical Society, 1906 S. Rittenhouse Square, second floor. And of course, we'll be serving latkes!


Sunday, December 16, 11 AM, Ethical Humanist Society J-Street Program1906 S. Rittenhouse Sq., The Ethical Humanist Society of Philadelphia has invited Leyv Ha-Ir members and friends to hear Steve Masters of J-Street speak about "U.S. Leadership in 2013: Advancing Israel's Peace and Security".  J-Street advocates for a two-state resolution of the Israel-Palestinian conflict as the only way to maintain Israel as a Jewish homeland and a democracy consonant with the ideals of its founders. Steve Masters was one of the co-founders of J-Street and has served on its National Advisory Council since its inception. He is also chair of J-Street's Philadelphia local. The program lasts about one hour and is followed by light refreshments and a Q & A with the speaker. The Ethical Humanist Society Platforms are free and open to the public. Voluntary contributions are appreciated, but not required.  


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. 

Shalom From Spiritual Leader Jessi Roemer
Cantor Jessi

Shalom to everyone! We are approaching the darkest time of the year, the time in the Jewish calendar for celebrating light and miracles.


The Hebrew word most often used for 'miracle' is nes. We sing about nissim (miracles) in our Hannukah prayers and songs; we see the word nes on our dreydls. But in the Torah, nes has a different meaning; it translates as "flag" or "flagpole." What is the connection between 'flag' and 'miracle'?


One way to link these different meanings is to use the synonym "sign" for both of them. Flag and miracle - each is a sign of something. Both meanings of nes also relate to the word's Hebrew root nasa, which means "to lift up." [1]


So we can understand how, in the rich history of Hebrew, 'flag' and 'flagpole' also came to mean 'miracle.' But, as always, there is a problem with translation: Even when nes means 'miracle,' the Hebrew nes and the Latin "miracle" do not mean precisely the same thing. In fact, they offer fairly different approaches to God and the world.


"Miracle," in Latin, originally meant a wondrous work of God. Despite the original reference to deity, the word's original meaning focused not on the source of the work but on the reaction of the beholder; the term is rooted in the Latin words for 'to wonder,' 'to be astonished,' 'to smile.'[2] 


The Hebrew word nes, on the other hand, does not focus on the beholder; it points to a physical object that signifies something larger. A flag signifies a group of people; a wondrous act signifies God's power. Thus, nes is not simply an astonishing act that occurs for its own sake -- by definition, nes finds its meaning in something greater, an intention, a larger context of Divine action.


Thinking about this now, I more fully appreciate the play between these two approaches in the famous line from "Lies My Father Told Me," when the little boy asks, "Zayde, do you believe in miracles?" and his grandfather answers: "No. But I rely on them." To simply be awed by random wonders makes little sense in a Jewish context -- for Zayde, "miracles" happen only within the larger, continuous presence of God in the world, a presence on which he depends daily.


Whether we call it God, Spirit, Oneness, Love, Energy ... may we all feel supported by that presence daily. And may it work through us, as we shine our inner light outward, toward tzedek-justice, tikkun olam - healing the world, and gmilut hasadim - acts of lovingkindness. May we all be awake to the little miracles in our lives. Happy Hannukah!


B'shalom, Jessi 

Member Interview - Jay and Donna Butler
Interview by John O. Mason


Donna Butler was born and raised in Philadelphia, "my parents (were) first generation Americans. We lived throughout Northeast Philadelphia. My heart and soul are here in Philly.


Donna was Bat Mitzvah at what is now Shaare Shamayim, on Verree Road in Northeast Philadelphia. "I went to Lower Moreland, we moved to Huntingdon Valley when I graduated sixth grade, but I stayed connected to a lot of friends and family in the Northeast.


Jay grew up in Oxford Circle, in Northeast Philadelphia, and attended Northeast High School; he was Bar Mitzvah at OCJCC. He was married to Donna "by the same rabbi that bar mitzvahed me, Rabbi Ramarowski.  Jay & Donna married in May 1974. They have three children and two grandchildren.  "We lived in Wynnewood for 24 years prior to moving here (to Center City)" recalls Donna.


"We belonged to Main Line Reform Temple," added Donna, "That was the best choice for us when we started having children. We were members for many years. Our children were Bar & Bat Mitzvah there as well as our daughter was confirmed there.  Jay & I were a very active part of the MLRT community and I was also a member of the Board.
Jay and Donna Butler

Jay and Donna Butler


Shortly after we moved into the city, we went to Purim services at a local synagogue that was recommended to us by a long time friend of Jay's.  Donna said, "We didn't feel welcomed (there) or connected, it didn't feel warm and real, and that's what we were looking for, and that's what we really needed." The advantage of Leyv Ha-Ir, she said, was "It's here, it's in our back yard. We were pleasantly surprised" at Leyv Ha-Ir's "combination of religion and spirituality. That was our draw. Everyone could not have been more welcoming and nicer, it was everything we were looking for. It was a community (and) it just felt right." Jay and Donna joined Leyv Ha-Ir after attending High Holy Days for their second time. She considers Leyv Ha-Ir "wonderful people that listen and give you lots of nourishment."


They moved to the Rittenhouse Square area almost 5 years ago and, Jay recalls, "We were walking through the square, and we saw the little sign of Rabbi Julie, and we decided to give it a try. We went to High Holy Day services two or three years ago, and the rest is history. We became members last year."


What Jay likes about Leyv Ha-Ir in addition to the wonderful diverse backgrounds of the members, are some of the programs they have, and I like the wide-openness, they'll try new things, they're not pigeonholed into doing one thing, they're open to new ideas, new discussions, new programs."


Donna likes "having a synagogue that meets your needs, physically and spiritually, and meeting wonderful people and getting to know them and hearing their stories, being endeared to people you don't really know. There's a kinship there, there's a connection."

Your vote is needed! 
Important Bylaws Changes


Gavel Please join us for a short congregational meeting on Sunday, December 2, 10:00 AM at the Penn Center House Leisure Lounge, 1900 JFK Blvd. We will be discussing and voting on changes to our bylaws, primarily about the composition of our Council.  Your voice and your vote are needed.  


The meeting will be immediately followed at 11:00 AM by Jessi Roemer's workshop, Niggun: the Art of Wordless Melody, which will be held at the same location. Your voice is welcome then, also.


Of course you will be fed for this effort.  Thank you.
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, 11:00 AM 
Penn Center House Leisure Lounge
1900 JFK Blvd., 2nd Floor, Philadelphia

$10 per person for members
$15 per person for guests from the larger community
December Yahrzeits

yahrzeit May These Souls be Bound in the Book of Eternal Light:


Bertha Blai

Susan Singer




New Council-at-Large Member

Sandy Brown We welcome Sandy Brown as our newest Council-at-Large member! Sandy has been a member of Leyv Ha-Ir for 10 years, is a member of the Declutterers group and previously was a member of the Retreat/Shabbaton committee. She also celebrated her Simchat Chochmah (Celebration of Wisdom) at a service and reception with our community. Sandy is filling a Council position formerly held by Marsha Hyman, who had to resign for logistical reasons. We thank Marsha for the wonderful work and ideas she brought to Council, and look forward to her continuing organizing of our monthly hone Shabbats and a spring, 2013 fundraiser.


Mazel Tov to Sandy! We are excited about your stepping up to leadership in our community!  

Musical Shabbat Service
Musical Shabbat Service
Another First for Congregation Leyv Ha-Ir


Kiddush prayers following our first musical Shabbat service. At left of photo is Jessi Roemer leading us.


This took place November 16, 2012.

Leyv Ha-Ir Member Benefit

40% Discount at Recon Press


Recon Press    

Please keep in mind that as a member of a Jewish Reconstructionist Movement congregation, you are entitled to a 40% discount on any purchase from the Reconstructionist Press.  You can browse their selection of prayer books and other interesting offerings at the Reconstructionist Press online bookstore.


Tu B' Shevat Shabbat Celebration

Tu B Shevat

Saturday, January 26, 2013


Come celebrate Shabbat and Tu B' Shevat with old and new friends, Saturday, January 26, 2013 at the Penn Center House Leisure Lounge, 1900 JFK Blvd., second floor.


Spiritual Leader Jessi Roemer will lead us in a Shabbat Morning Service followed by a celebration of the New Year of the Trees.


10 AM Shabbat Morning Service

11:15 Coffee Break

11:30 Tu B'Shevat Seder

12:30 Pot-luck veggie lunch


Cost: $10 for members, $15 for guests. All are welcome.
Please register in advance by sending a check to Leyv Ha-Ir at PO Box 15836, Philadelphia, PA 19103 by January 21.

ALLIES - A Lively Library in Every School

Our Tikkun Olam Project


As an affiliate project to POWER, Rodeph Shalom, St. Paul's Church and Leyv Ha-Ir hope to help establish a library at the Spring Garden School. To get started, the school suggested a reading list of books that we may purchase for the students' summer reading. This is an excellent Tikkun Olam project as a "kick-off" in aiding the library. Delight your friends, family and colleagues as a holiday present with the gift of reading given forward to those who need books in their homes and school.


Please donate generously to this wonderful cause by writing a check to Leyv-Ha-Ir, and sending it to P.O. Box 15836, Philadelphia, PA 19103 and write LIBRARY, in the memo line. We are doing this as a congregation so please donate rather than purchasing the books directly. The books will be purchased in bulk as the funds allow. 

Contributions should be received by December 31, 2012.


The principal of Spring Garden School will be speaking to us at our annual MLK service on January 18.


Here is the list of books requested by the school, with the requested number of copies in parenthesis and pricing as listed on  

   * G is for Goat, Paticia Polacco (30) Grade K, $6.99 

   Everyone Cooks Rice, Norah Dooley (30) Grade 1, $6.95 

   Africa, Allan Fowler (30) Grade 2, $20.50 

   The Chalk Box Kid, Clyde Robert (45) Grade 3, $3.99 

   The One in the Middle is the Green Kangaroo, Judy Blume (55)
           Grade 4, $6.99 

   A Friendship for Today, Patricia McKissack (50) Grade 5, $12.31 

   Esperanza Rising, Ryan Pam Munoz (50) Grade 6, $6.99 

   The People Could Fly, Virginia Hamilton (25) Grade 7, $9.99 

   A Single Shard, Linda Sue Park (25) Grade 8, $6.99 


If you wish to learn more about each book, just search for more information.

Thank you,

Susan Thompson & Beverly Hayden, Co-Chairs POWER

Kol Nidre Sermon: Count The Blessings, Not the Problems

by Rabbi Julie Greenberg

Wouldn't our lives be better if we remembered to count our blessings, not our problems? It's a lot more fun to experience gratitude than to experience grievances. Remembering to notice the blessings can be a real challenge.


Just look at the news-----do you see stories saying this mother loved her child well, that teacher made a huge difference in someone's life, so and so nurtured a beloved pet for many years? You do sometimes see these stories, belittled as "human interest" side-bars but the headlines are about all the troubles: murder and war and fraud and fires. Our species has trouble focusing on the blessings.


That's where prayer can be immensely helpful. Wise ones in many traditions know that the human brain has a tendency to look at what isn't going well, to be dis-satisfied. This probably is built into our brains for evolutionary reasons: the people who noticed problems and could be problem solvers probably survived better and passed on their genes more successfully.


But alongside this mechanism of highlighting problems that drives the success of the species, such as it is so far, in surviving, religion has also evolved. Religion is also a function of the human brain. And prayer is an essential part of religion. One major purpose of prayer is to be a corrective that directs our minds back in the direction of what is deeply satisfying in life. Who knows whether we would have survived as a species if we only had the problem-focused abilities without a religious instinct to compensate and balance that tendency? We might have succombed to despair and apathy without religion.


Prayer is a way of shifting our minds gently toward noticing and appreciating the blessings in life, not just the hardship. Isn't it actually amazing that you are here? that you are alive, breathing, thinking, feeling, blood coursing through your veins, you are pulsing with life at this moment? Isn't that an utter miracle?


But the brain's tendency is to notice the hip pain, the upaid bill, the messy kitchen, the relationship you don't have. Prayer helps re-direct our dissatisfied scanning, What matters about prayer is not so much the Who you are praying to, it's the process of prayer. 


You may know the story about a woman immersed in prayer when a friend interrupts and says, "You know, all those prayers don't matter. They aren't going to change a thing in the world." The woman answers, "I know. My prayers won't change the world. It's me who will  change." Prayer does have the power to change consciousness, to alter attitude. I'm not just talking about prayers that are printed in a book; I'm also talking about the prayer that is a thank you, thank you, thank you, breathed throughtout the day, or the "wow, that's awesome!" when you see a beautiful sight.


With the tikkun, or corrective, of applied prayer, another interesting shift happens. Not only does the mind move from dissatisfaction towards satisfaction, the heart also moves from alienation towards compassion.


As long as you're counting your problems, not your blessings, you're likely to say, "Why me? What did I do to deserve this? It shouldn't be so hard." The sense of proportion of what's hard to what's awesome and wonderful is out of balance. What's hard is dominating the mental palate while all the incredible blessings recede into the taken-for-granted background.


It's much harder for some people than for others to achieve a balanced awareness of the blessings and challenges in life. It turns out that trauma disturbs our ability to maintain a balanced awareness. So many of us have suffered one trauma or another or many that we are the walking wounded, some more than others, in being happy. We have to have tremendous patience with each other and with ourselves about this. It's good to look for inspiring role models.


I heard the story of a holocaust survivor who had endured the most horrendous brutalities. This person had been forced on a death march, watched her family and best friend die;  she lost everything she had and everyone she loved.  Yet she managed to live a happy life full of kindness and connection and full of gratitude. How could she possibly have had a  good life after all that?


In trying to answer this question, she suggested this exercise: walk into your home and look at it as a homeless person would. Look at the sofa and the kitchen table, at the gadgets and books and momentos. Look at your kitchen or pantry that has a fully stocked refrigerator and shelves of plenty and view it as a starving person would. Look at your bank account as a refugee would and then ask "Why me?" Why have I been so lucky?


It's very human to ask Why Me? about the grief and pain and hardship but we forget to put it in perspective with the blessings that also surround us.


David Rakoff was a young writer for This American Life who died this year. He faced a long battle with recurring cancer. An interviewer asked him how he could deal with the travails he had to endure. Rakoff replied that it's not fair to take for granted all the ways the dice have been thrown in our favor and then say "why me?" when there is a problem.


An extreme version of this is the 94 year old on his death bed who says "Why me?"


You might not have the question "why me?" about your troubles. You might have the opposite issue. When you really open your eyes to all the suffering around you, when you listen to the stories of what people struggle with, even right here in this community, you might have the opposite reaction to "why me?" You may think "I don't deserve to feel bad because so many people have it worse than me. "


When you look around you see how much struggle and distress there is even in ordinary lives. You may think so many people have it worse than me that it will just be self-pity if I wallow in my own pain.


There is a difference between self-pity and self-compassion.


Do you hear the difference in these two voices?


The first says, "I shouldn't have to go through this. I don't deserve this. Things should be different."


The second says, "This is hard. This hurts." The second is an acknowledgement.


Both these reactions, the why me? and the I don't deserve to complain because others have it worse, are reactions that set you apart from the human condition. You are not more deserving and you are not less deserving than any other human being. Every single one of us has blessings to count and every single one of us has plenty of problems just from being human: we all lose loved ones, we all age, we all have confusing times and sad times, times of emotional and physical pain. We are each part of a human community in facing the problems of being alive.


 Luckily, we have a wonderful resource to draw on: prayer.


Prayer helps lift the mind out of the tendency to count the problems. Prayer is a guide and an opportunity to re-tune the mind toward what is really true at any moment, even moments that feel like hell. Our minds get static-y, like a radio signal that is losing its clarity, and we start feeling down, alone, singled out for hardship or ashamed and unable to compassionately acknowledge our own hardship. Prayer has the potential to tune us back into a clear signal. Prayer can help your resilient spirit align with hope, generosity, and gratitude.


But when we open our eyes and truly count the blessings, there is a new challenge. It becomes apparent that we in this country and in this room are way, way more privileged than many people in the world. Our access to basic survival resources is so much greater than so many people's. Our access to opportunity is astounding, even at times when things aren't going well. It becomes apparent that every single one of us in this room is part of the global one percent.


Tomorrow I will talk more about how we can respond to this challenging understanding. Today, as we find the courage to count the blessings, we have to wake up to the enormous privilege we have and face the moral responsibility that that entails. It is not always easy to see clearly the blessings in our lives or to truly count them because when we do something is demanded of us. It might seem easier to let the conscience slumber, to stay mired in the very real personal hardships of life. Yom Kippur calls us to find joy in counting the blessings AND in acting from that awareness.


As we allow prayer to help us re-contextualize the blessings and the challenges, so that we aren't overly focused on only our problems or overly defended against having our problems, we actually will have more zest for addressing the problems. Because gratitude is an abundance. It fills you up. It makes you feel good. It energizes you to make change where change can happen. Isn't that a paradox, that recognition of what is holy, frees you to make changes in what is not yet holy?


A prayer practice such as coming to these services, or coming regularly throughout the year, can lift you up, re-focus your mind and help you count the blessings rather than the problems.


You may have noticed, if you have occasion to hang out with someone who is swamped with problems and can't see the blessings, it doesn't do any good to say, "but really there are a lot of good things in your life." Instead, it might be possible to help re-balance someone's focus on what is working and good, simply through your presence. You are a prayer for them. That's why we show up for each other at funerals and shiva minyans.


When someone's life is rent by loss, we make a statement just by being there that there is also caring and commitment and goodness in the world. Our lives help each other stay tuned into the blessings and not just the problems. That's why so many people who have experienced loss, also talk about experiencing the deep meaningfulness of human connection, of human responsiveness. There's wisdom in the Jewish way of embracing both joy and sorrow in community.


It's not only for someone else that you can be a prayer. You can be a prayer for yourself. You can just be with your sorrow, your loneliness, your pain. You can be a caring, accepting companion to your self and in doing so you re-open a door to the blessings in life. Counting on yourself to be a steadfast champion and gentle support to your own self is a way of counting your blessings.


The Kol Nidrei prayer that we heard earlier this evening is the ultimate example of self compassion. The prayer is basically acknowledging that we are human, that we will make mistakes and not always be able to keep our commitments to ourselves and to others and that that's the best we can do. This release from failure allows us to think big and bold, to take on commitments that might be too far a reach but at least you will pour forth the effort. The intention of Kol Nidrei is to support your engagement with life.


In my life, as I count my blessings on this day, I truly count this community as high among them. It is such an honor to stand here in this room, beside my amazing colleage Jessi Roemer, facing you beautiful people. May this be a year filled with an abundance of goodness for each one of you and for the world. May each one of us be written into the Book of Life. And let us say, Amen.

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