Community Norms


SVARA envisions a future in which liberatory expressions of Judaism equip individuals and communities to realize a just and healed world. As a learning community, we hold ourselves to a set of community norms to help shape a bet midrash experience that enables each person to be fully present, supported, and nurtured. 

We know that building a culture that is responsive, healing, and connective is not static work. And just as we approach our time in the bet midrash as a space to practice liberatory learning, we know the work of creating a community that is growthful and takes time and practice. We hold the wisdom of bell hooks in our commitment to keep striving: 

The classroom, with all its limitations, remains a location of possibility. In that field of possibility we have the opportunity to labor for freedom, to demand of ourselves and our comrades, an openness of mind and heart that allows us to face reality even as we collectively imagine ways to move beyond boundaries, to transgress. This is education as the practice of freedom.”

Thank you for your partnership in growing this incredible movement, for holding us accountable to our actions, and for your commitment to holding these community norms as they evolve over time.

Rooted in Queerness

We understand our project as queer in our effort to move towards a more just, inclusive and accessible world in which all people are able to live out their most fully human lives by allowing the insights of those on the margins to be brought to bear on the world. 

Queerness is about thinking, living, and learning in radical ways. It is about challenging society’s norms related to gender and sexuality, as well as more broadly challenging the silences and injustices around us, while creating subversive, brave, joyful culture that celebrates who we are. Like Jewish insight, queer insight is drawn from the experience of being on the margins and the wisdom gained from it. We believe that in their creativity, resilience, and radicalism, the Rabbis of the Talmud were queer. The innovators of the Jewish future will be queer. To be deeply Jewish is to be queer.

There are folks in our batei midrash with many different identities, and we are committed to making sure that everyone feels comfortable bringing their most dazzling, embodied, fabulous queer selves into the room. We invite you to bring the full range of your experiences and identities to the learning, something queer folks are rarely invited to do in Jewish community. We also welcome allies, and are grateful for their self-awareness and humility while engaging with queer culture and participating in queer-normative space. We ask that you:

  • share your pronouns and take care to respect the pronouns of everyone in the space
  • don’t ask someone about their identity and experience without their consent
  • honor the names that folks use no matter what
  • share what you’re comfortable with about your identity and honor others’ self-determination as well

Maximizing Access to Learning

Throughout history, the Talmud has been accessible to just 1% of Jews. We believe in expanding the Talmud’s teaching to the other 99%, and we commit to ensuring accessibility in the bet midrash for all people who are seeking to learn. 

All of our online programming includes: 

  • live captioning
  • ample breaks to help reduce screen fatigue
  • low teacher-student ratios
  • materials that are compatible with screen readers

Additionally, as part of our commitment to accessibility, our programs will remain online until the point at which there is a widely distributed vaccine for COVID-19 to help protect our whole community.

When we are in person, we utilize venues that meet or exceed ADA requirements and allow full access to folks who use scooters, wheelchairs, and other mobility tools, and we seek out locations that are easily accessible by public transportation. 

We invite participants to share specific access needs with us in all of our registration processes and do our best to support our learners by designing an environment that works for them.

Examining Oppression & Privilege

As a general rule, we invite each person to reflect on the ways in which we occupy positions of privilege, as opposed to asking those who are in a marginalized group to explain their oppression. These kinds of inquiries may be experienced as intrusive, insensitive, misguided, or hurtful – so be mindful before asking questions. 

If you feel uncomfortable with the way another participant is engaging in the space, reach out to a staff person privately to let them know. The SVARA bet midrash is, in its most powerful moments, a healing space and we ask everyone to treat each other with kindness and love.

Advancing Racial Justice

We strive to be an anti-racist space, which we understand to mean one that is actively working to dismantle white supremacy culture and lift up the voices and insights of Black people, Indigenous people, and People of Color in our community. This year (the academic year of 2020-2021), we are committed to:

  • creating a protocol for addressing racist acts and speech if and when they arise in our programs or through interpersonal interactions in our spaces, 
  • creating a safety and security plan with built-in alternatives to policing that we will put into action when we gather again in person,
  • actively recruiting Black Jews and non-Black Jews of Color in our programs,
  • reviewing and updating our hiring practices to ensure that they are anti-racist and inclusive, and
  • forming an anti-racism working group tasked with assessing and advancing SVARA’s culture, policies, and programming.

Thoughtful Discourse

SVARA is a home for queer and radical Torah, and we are committed to building a culture where we are all students and teachers to each other. We strive to create an environment of mutual respect, where a myriad of voices and perspectives are welcome. 

We believe that words create worlds, and we commit to thoughtful speech with integrity. We invite you to play an active role in manifesting this commitment by:

  • holding a posture of curiosity when you’re encountering something new or uncomfortable
  • listening to understand rather than listening to respond
  • using a “yes, and” framework to add to conversation & learning
  • noticing when you’re talking more than others and thoughtfully choosing where you might offer your voice (take space / make space) 
  • showing respect for the person sharing while challenging the idea being shared
  • striving not to deliberately or inadvertently undermine, disrespect, or dehumanize another person’s identity or experience

Making Space for Accountability and Repair

Inevitably there are moments where we let one another down, misstep, misspeak, hurt others, or get hurt ourselves. This is part of the deal when building community (not to mention when just being human!), and it can get messy. Harm can happen on multiple levels and we are here to nurture a community where it’s okay to own mistakes and work towards repairing them. While we always strive to reach resolutions that lead to an ongoing relationship with SVARA, we reserve the right to restrict people from learning with us for a given period of time, or in some cases indefinitely, as they move through a teshuva process.

Harm from Surfacing Past Events 

  • We welcome you to the bet midrash in your current context, as the person you are today. And we also recognize that each of us brings a personal history to SVARAsome aspects that we’re proud of and some aspects that we wish we could have done differently. Even as we attempt to make SVARA as safe a space as possible, there may be times that the struggles someone else brings to the table will be difficult for you or create an issue for you. If you are triggered by something in another participant’s past, we invite you to reach out to a staff member for support. 

Harm Between Participants in the Present Moment

  • If you experience harm or are concerned you may have harmed someone else, please reach out to a staff member for support. We’re here to listen, to support processes of transformative repair whenever possible, and to remind you all that you’re human and humans make mistakes. We might invite you to engage in a process of teshuva, the Jewish spiritual practice of acknowledging and repairing harm and asking for forgiveness (invented by our oh-so-queer talmudic ancestors!), and are happy to talk you through how that could work. 

Harm Between Participants and SVARA’s Staff, Faculty, or Fairies

  • Our team is committed to embodying the steps of transformative repair that we ask of our community and we take your feedback and trust seriously. We are always open to direct feedback about any ways in which we may have caused or perpetuate harm in our learning spaces. If you experience harm in the bet midrash from a staff member or teacher, and feel that it’s too challenging for whatever reason to engage the person directly, please reach out to Ayana or Becky (our executive director and board chair, respectively) who can help guide you through next steps. You are welcome to request that your feedback be offered to a staff person or teacher anonymously.