Yeshiva Faculty

SVARA’s Yeshiva Faculty teach for, and represent, the yeshiva, teaching and facilitating bet midrash learning, online and in-person. To teach in SVARA’s method is to hold a radically new lens through which to view the Talmud, the pedagogy of Talmud teaching, the bet midrash setting, the teacher-student relationship, the role of learning in building a liberatory future—and the Jewish tradition itself. We believe that the best facilitators of SVARA’s person-shaping method are those who are the best learners in it, those who are willing, with openness and vulnerability, to make their learning transparent while they teach. Through this approach, we upend the educational power dynamics of all-too-many conventional educational settings, both Jewish and non-Jewish alike, centering the experience of the learner, and transforming the bet midrash environment to one of critical pedagogy, clear methodology, rigor, love, and empowerment.

Meet with SVARA Faculty

Meet SVARA’s Faculty

Rabbi Benay Lappe (she/her), President & Rosh Yeshiva

Ordained by The Jewish Theological Seminary in 1997, Benay founded SVARA in 2003. An award-winning educator specializing in the application of queer theory to Talmud study, Benay has served on the faculties of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Temple University, The University of Judaism, The Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, The Graduate Theological Union’s Center for Jewish Studies at UC-Berkeley, and The Wexner Institute. She also currently serves as Senior Fellow at the Institute for the Next Jewish Future in Chicago.

Benay was named to Jewrotica’s Sexiest Rabbis List of 2013 (and is a little embarrassed about this but also a little bit proud), The Forward’s 2014 List of Most Inspiring Rabbis, is a Joshua Venture Fellow, and in 2016 received the prestigious Covenant Award for innovative Jewish education. She was named to The Forward’s 2018 list of “Sexiest Jewish Intellectuals Alive” (and is both embarrassed again, and also more sheepish about the intellectual part than the sexy part), and was recently named to the 2020 Forward 50 list of most influential American Jews (she was #10, and is grateful that her name starts with a “b” because it was in alphabetical order). While learning and teaching Talmud are her greatest passions, Rabbi Lappe is also a licensed pilot, shoemaker, and patent-holding inventor.

Watch Rabbi Lappe’s ELI Talk or TEDx Talk, or read some of her essays.

Laynie Soloman (they/them), Associate Rosh Yeshiva

Laynie is a passionate teacher of Jewish text and thought, and they believe deeply in the power of Talmud study as a healing and liberatory spiritual practice. They love facilitating Jewish learning that uplifts the piously irreverent, queer, and subversive spirit of rabbinic text and theology. Laynie holds a M.A. in Jewish Education from The Jewish Theological Seminary, is a Schusterman Fellow (Cohort 5), and received the Covenant Foundation’s 2020 Pomegranate Prize for Emerging Jewish Educators. Laynie is an Ashkenazi third generation Philadelphian, and when they’re not learning Talmud, you can find Laynie reading about liberation theology, collecting comic books, and singing nigunim.

 Rabbi Ari Lev Fornari (he/him), Faculty

Ari Lev is the Rabbi at Kol Tzedek Synagogue, a Voice for Justice in West Philadelphia. He is a White, queer, trans person, of Ashkenazi and Italian descent. He does not take for granted those who came before him who made it possible for him to be ordained from the Rabbinical School of Hebrew College in 2014. He is most inspired at the intersections of community, activism, and healing. He loves to farm, cook, bike, meditate and parent his kiddos Zeev Lucca and Naim Niso. He considers Talmud study one of his spiritual practices. Ari Lev is deeply committed to the creation and embodiment of Torat Hayyim, a living tradition. This requires that our lives be deeply informed by ancient wisdom and practices and that Jewish tradition learn and grow from our insights and lived experiences. Ari Lev hopes to make the wisdom of the Talmud accessible to all who seek it.

Rabbi Becky Silverstein (he/him), Faculty

Rabbi Becky Silverstein believes in the power of community, Torah, and silliness in transforming the world. He strives to build a Jewish community and world that encourages and allows everyone to live a life that reflects their inherent divinity / dignity. Becky is a Schusterman Fellow, and co-initiator of the Trans Halakha Project. He currently serves as the chair of the boards of SVARA and the Jewish Studio Project. Becky grew up in New York, holds a B.S. in Engineering from Smith College and Rabbinic Ordination from the Rabbinical School of Hebrew College. Becky resides in Jamaica Plain, MA, with his spouse, Naomi Sobel, and kiddo, Edie Gefen, for whom he makes pancakes or waffles almost every Sunday morning.

Rabbi Bronwen Mullin (she/her), Faculty

Rabbi Bronwen Mullin (ord. 2017, MA Midrash JTS, BA in Theater and Religious Studies, Sarah Lawrence College) is the rabbi of Carov, an independent mishkan with a mission in Jersey City, and was the first-ever appointed Rabbinic Artist-in-Residence of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America. She is the co-founder of Meta-Phys Ed with performance artist/director Jesse Freedman. Rabbi Bronwen has held teaching positions at JTS, The Schechter Institute in Jerusalem, The Academy of Jewish Religion in New York, Art Kibbutz New York (where she also served as Artistic Director), the Romemu Yeshiva, the JCC of Manhattan, and the 14th Street Y.
Selected works include: “Chalom: A Dream Opera” (Hebrew/Aramaic, International Fringe Festival/FringeNYC 2012); “Bat Yiftach: A Tragic Punk Opera” (English/Hebrew, The Kreischer Mansion 2016) and “Ca’asi Revaya: Nigunim For A Raging Heart” (album release Winter 2022). She is deeply proud
and humbled at the same time to be on the faculty of SVARA where she gets to practice fully her most beloved art form—radical Judaism.

Rabbi Elliot Kukla (he/they), Faculty

Image Description: A white, non-binary person, with short brown hair and facial hair, wearing blue jeans, a dark yellow t-shirt, a flax-colored linen short-sleeved button down short and rectangular olive-colored glasses, holding a brown wooden cane, stands in front of shadows and trees. He is smiling and looking directly into the camera.Elliot Kukla is a rabbi, chaplain, author, artist, and activist. His writing appears in many places including The Forward, The Body is Not an Apology, and regularly in The New York Times and Sunday Review. He was the first openly transgender rabbi ordained by a denomination in Judaism, Hebrew Union College in Los Angeles, in 2006. Elliot was a rabbi at the Bay Area Jewish Healing Center from 2008 to 2021 where he co-directed Kol Hanshama, the multiple award-winning volunteer spiritual care hospice program (in collaboration with the San Francisco Campus for Jewish Living). He is currently the founder and director of the Communal Loss and Adaption Project (a project of SVARA). He is a visual artist with Sins Invalid, the political arts and education group that helped create the Disability Justice movement in the early 2000s, and he is active with a number of other BIPOC led Disability Justice groups. He lives on Oholone Land (otherwise known as Oakland, CA) with his partner, their kid, chosen family, two Boston Terriers, a cat named Turkey, and a few hundred house plants.

Julie Batz (she/her), Faculty

Julie Batz is a spiritual leader and educator serving the Bay Area Jewish community. Together, she and Maggid Jhos Singer are the Congregational Leaders of Chochmat HaLev, a center for Jewish spirituality in Berkeley where in addition to co-designing and leading engaging, musical, and inspiring services, she provides pastoral counseling, teaches adult education classes, mentors musical service leaders, and officiates congregants’ lifecycle events. In addition to her congregational work, Julie’s bnei mitzvah training and facilitation practice serves independent Jewish families, offering them the opportunity to (re)connect Jewishly in their families and the larger Jewish community. She extends particular welcome those who have felt themselves in the margins: families new to Jewish ritual, kids with learning differences, multi-faith families, queer families, and families of all configurations.

Rabbi Mónica Gomery (she/her), Faculty

Rabbi Mónica Gomery (she/her) grew up in a Venezuelan Ashkenazi household both in Boston and Caracas, and now lives on Lenni Lenape land in Philadelphia. She received ordination from the Rabbinical School of Hebrew College in 2017. Mónica is passionate about supporting people who have been denied access to ancient and ancestral spiritual traditions to claim these traditions as a resource for empowerment and transformation in their lives and in the world. She is honored and grateful to get to do this work at the first-ever queer yeshiva in history! Mónica has served as a prison chaplain, a geriatric chaplain, and an educator and prayer leader at numerous Jewish institutions and organizations, including at Kol Tzedek Synagogue in Philly where she serves as Rabbi and Music Director. She is the author of two books of poetry, and a co-founder of Let My People Sing!