Robert S. Leib, Senior Rabbi
The synagogue is the primary portal to institutional Jewish life. It is also, I very much believe, the principal gateway to establishing deep connections and meaningful relationships between and among one another. Little wonder, then, that we refer to ourselves as Beit Am the "House of the People," for it within the warm, comforting and familiar embrace of the Molish Sanctuary, the Temple Beth Torah Chapel, the Klein Chapel, the Rabbi Harold B. and Elise Waintrup Religious School, the Temple Beth Torah School of Early Learning, the Rovinsky Family Youth Lounge and the Strick Auditorium – the more prominent, public places on our Suzan and Allan Fox Campus - that we learn to define and refine our personal covenant with God and each other. For Judaism, ultimately, is a relational commitment. Peoplehood stands at the very center, the very heart of this glorious and magnificent enterprise that we call, "Judaism." I invite you - whether as a congregant, visitor or potential member - to join with us as we delve as far and as deep as we can into the very nature of what we constitute as a people; to try and understand our core being, our very essence, our most essential selves. Here, at Beth Am, we admittedly indulge in rich cultural norms; we aspire to impressive educational standards for all regardless of physical or cognitive ability; we ascribe to the fundamental tenets of a dynamic, relevant and contemporary Progressive Jewish faith; we embrace a remarkable and unique heritage that transcends biblical landscapes and rabbinic mandates, poetic inscriptions and philosophical interpretations. We are all that and yet so much more!
Stand with us at Sinai - shoulder to shoulder, heart to heart, and hand in hand - and dare to dream of a better and brighter tomorrow for all of God's creatures... "Faith doesn't mean living with certainty. Faith is the courage to live with uncertainty, knowing that God is with us on that tough but necessary journey to a world that honors life and treasures peace." (Rabbi Dr. Jonathan Sacks.)
You might say that it was bashert – meant to be - that I came to these blessed shores and have served as the Senior Rabbi of this congregation since 2004. Born and raised in Cape Town, South Africa, I graduated from the University of Cape Town in 1980 and began five-year, post-graduate rabbinic studies at the Leo Baeck College in London in 1981. The academic year 1983-84 took me to New York’s Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, where I met my future wife Randy (a board-certified music therapist) while teaching at Central Synagogue. We were married there on August 11,1985. Following my ordination in 1986, I returned to my home congregation and served as an Assistant Rabbi at Temple Israel, the Cape Town Progressive Jewish Congregation until 1989. As a conscientious objector to serving in apartheid South Africa's defense forces, I had no other alternative but to leave the country. I participated in a most unusual series of “interviews” that included faxes, long-distance phone calls and video-taped answers to questions posed by Old York Road Temple-Beth Am search committee. It was meant to be! Together with Randy and our infant daughter, Hayley, I left South Africa and became Assistant Rabbi at Beth Am, working alongside Rabbi Harold B. Waintrup z”l. None of us could have imagined that this would be the beginning of a long relationship; together we will celebrate 25 years at this congregation in 2014. These years have been full of many special events shared with my Temple family. They include the birth of two more daughters, Ilana and Aviva. I became a naturalized American citizen on January 12, 1994, though I continue to carry a strong foreign accent and can never forget my homeland. It will be my honor to lead a congregational trip to South Africa in November, 2014! These 25 years have included singing the “Star Spangled Banner” together when I became a naturalized American citizen in 1994. I was made a "Fellow" of Leo Baeck College in July 2011, marking 25 years in the rabbinate. I look forward to many more!
It is my honor to serve as a member of the Board of Rabbis of Greater Philadelphia and as co-chair of the Diversity Advisory Committee for the Lower Moreland Township School Board. I am a member of the Central Conference of American Rabbis and the Association of Reform Zionists of America. I am a graduate of the Rabbinic Leadership Program of the Institute for Jewish Spirituality and former chair of the Old York Road Interfaith Ministerium.
Shoshanah Tornberg, Rabbi ~ Educator
Zeh ha-yom asah Adonai, nagilah v’nism’cha bo. . . This is the day that the Holy One has made, let us not squander its miraculousness.
When the Israelites crossed the Sea of Reeds from slavery to freedom, they were filled with wonder at the miracle before them—all of them but two named Reuven and Shimon. They two, alone, failed to look up at the walls of water towering on either side of their path. Instead, they looked only at their feet, complaining of the muck and likening it to the mud pits of Egypt. They did not look up, and so, for them, the miracle of the Exodus never happened.
Every day is an opportunity for noticing, acknowledging and feeling gratitude for the blessings and miracles all around us—from the birth of a child to the rebirth of spring; from the poignant insights that come to us in the last of our days to the delight of a new friendship.
Judaism offers us tools and opportunities to name these blessings and to reap their riches. We come to realize them through the act of gratitude and through rituals that can render even our most mundane moments as touched by holiness. A wise soul once taught: Jewish living is no guarantee of a life free of suffering, but it is a guarantee of a life full of meaning. Even in a jaded and cynical age—an age in which we bring a healthy and appropriate skepticism to daily life—Jewish life and community functions as a window into what is possible both spiritually and practically in our broken world.
The possibilities that our teachings and traditions offer for finding meaning in our time on earth and for building a foundation of meaning for those who care for our world after us—these are what drive my commitment to Judaism and my commitment to serving the Jewish people.
I was raised by Reform Jewish educators. I grew up in two very different regions: Kansas City, MO, and then Toronto, ON. Along with over a decade of Reform Jewish camping and my spiritual and teen leadership training through NFTY, my family’s synagogue involvement and Jewish affiliations gave me a tapestry from which to weave my own sense of Torah and Jewish meaning—a project I believe to be the main aim of adult Jewish life!
My path to the rabbinate had stops and starts as I worked to figure out the adult I was becoming. To my circuitous route I brought years of teaching religious school and engaging in community programs, justice work and prayer. In the year 2000 I entered rabbinical school at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, where I studied for the rabbinate and also received a Master of Arts in Jewish Education. I was ordained in 2006.
Since my ordination, I have had the privilege of learning from so many colleagues and lay leaders. I served as an assistant rabbi for three years at Congregation Beth Emeth in Albany, NY. I then served as Rabbi-Educator at Congregation B’nai Israel in Sacramento, CA. I have been honored and blessed to have been welcomed into the Philadelphia area Jewish community since 2012, where I served as Director of Education at Congregation Or Ami (Lafayette Hill) until July of 2017.
I am excited to collaborate with teachers, parents, students, leaders and colleagues at Beth Am to envision a learning community in which every learner knows they matter and understands that Judaism and Torah are their gifts to receive, hold and transform.
Not only am I entering this “house of the people,” but I am happy to bring with me a growing family: I married Dr. David Fryer, a professor of Women’s and Gender Studies at Drexel, and a lifelong Philadelphian, in the spring of 2017. Between us we have four terrific children: Elie, Ruthie, Elijah and Ezra.
Additionally, I am a member of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, the Women’s Rabbinic Network and the Association for Reform Jewish Educators. I am also a member of the Philadelphia Board of Rabbis and an active participant in many programs and development opportunities offered by the Jewish Learning Venture.
I want to offer a call to all learners and all families: Our educational and leadership team see you as a partner in the work of making meaning and finding (identifying! acknowledging!) blessings for you and yours. Yours is the journey that charts our path. We aim to create a community in which we all remember to look up at the waves on either side of the Sea!
Elena Zarkh, Cantor
I was born and raised in St. Petersburg, Russia, but the Philadelphia area has been my home since 1985 and my husband, Serge Goldberg and I now live in Maple Glen. He is s a personal trainer, but like many people, even I find it tough to make the time to work out every day. But I try!
I received my secular education majoring in voice and choir conducting in St. Petersburg, where my family was instrumental in keeping the family deeply connected to our Jewish roots. One of those connections was Jewish music and Yiddish folk songs, beautifully sung by my grandmother and mother during every family gathering and holiday celebration. When my family immigrated to the United States in 1979, we re-connected with my grandfather’s side of the family that left Russia many years earlier and I found myself in Los Angeles! But the West Coast was not for me, and I ended up in New York City which turned out to be a blessing, because New York is the location of the only Reform Cantorial School in the country. So it was not by chance that just after two years, I was accepted to Hebrew Union College- School of Sacred Music, where I learned the music, history and traditions of our people. Four years later, in 1985, I was invested as Cantor and took my first full-time position in a congregation, sharing the bimah with Rabbi Harold B. Waintrup z”l. After 25 years, the School granted me an honorary Doctor of Sacred Music and that year I celebrated with the congregation and led a group to visit my homeland. Now, 29 years later, I still am energized through my work, teaching children and adults alike, spreading my love and knowledge of Jewish music. From the Shabbat experience with the pre-school children to Bar-Bat Mitzvah students, from the children’s and adult choirs, to the Klezmer and the T’fillah bands, adult education classes to Talent shows and Purim Shpiels, I work to bring the highest degree of professionalism to all that I do. I hope my love and passion for Jewish music, shows through my voice and on my face.
I am involved in many different aspects of congregational life as well as in the broader Jewish community, having served as chair of the Delaware Valley Cantor’s Council and am a member of the American Conference of Cantors and the Women Cantor’s Network. I love the opportunity to sing with my colleagues from different denominations and stay connected to my “extended family,” Philadelphia’s large Russian Jewish community.
For me the words of Peter Yarrow precisely express how I feel about Jewish music.
“When people sing together, community is created. Together we rejoice, we celebrate, we mourn and we comfort each other. Through music, we reach each other’s hearts and souls. Music allows us to find a connection.”