Join us for an opportunity in this uncertain time to draw on the traditions of our people that were born out of moments of crash and uncertainty. We meet daily to ground in our practice of learning & studying in community, digging into a chunk of mishnah (y’all remember, Torah 2.0!) from Masechet Avot (also known as “Pirkei Avot,” the ‘Chapters of our Ancestors’) each day with SVARA Faculty, Fellows & your Queer Talmud comrades. **No prior Hebrew experience or learning necessary to participate!**
Whether you can join every day, once a week—we can’t wait to learn with you!
Access note: SVARA’s Daily Drop-in Mishnah Collective is live-captioned.
Get to know the teachers & staff who are helping to nurture and hold this daily practice space! Want to meet with someone from our team to explore the mishnah, to get some learning support, or to connect one-on-one? Write to [email protected], or sign up for Open Fairy Hours at this link!
Ren Finkel | Mishnah Collective Coordinator (they/them) is a multimedia artist, community organizer, and student at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in Philadelphia. They’re in a long distance relationship with Pittsburgh, where they majored in Photojournalism, first learned about anti-capitalism, and were brought back to Jewish practice. They are deeply committed to healing work and restorative justice.
After a summer at Queer Talmud Camp, studying ancestral Jewish text has become the heart of their spiritual practice. They tend to study Talmud with a 2:1 ratio of respect to irreverence. In their spare time they like to make Sefaria source sheets, specifically about how gay certain Talmudic Rabbis are, specifically Rabbi Yochanan and Reish Lakish–and all they need is one line of Berakhot to prove that Rabbi Gamliel was a twink who believed in disability justice. They are incredibly excited to be working on the Mishna Collective, and hope that the text may provide us with a semblance of sense and solice in such uncertain times.
Becky Silverstein | SVARA Fellow (he/him) believes in the power of community, Torah, and silliness in transforming the world. He is passionate about creating and participating in spaces that celebrate queer lives and are explicitly anti-racist. Becky is the founder and rabbi of Beyn Kodesh l’Chol, an emergent Jewish project in Jamaica Plain, MA. Becky loves most things SVARA learning, is a SVARA Fellow, and is chair of SVARA’s Board of Directors. He also chairs the board The Jewish Studio Project, and sits on Keshet’s board, where he is the chair of the Racial Justice Team. Becky finds joy in being a dad, working out, and connecting with loved ones. He grew up in Great Neck, New York, holds a B.S. in Engineering from Smith College and Rabbinic Ordination from the Rabbinical School of Hebrew College. Becky lives in Jamaica Plain, MA with his spouse, Naomi, and their kiddo, Edie Gefen. (SVARA Fellow, Cohort 1)
Benay Lappe | SVARA Faculty, Rosh Yeshiva(she/her) is the Founder and Rosh Yeshiva of SVARA. Ordained by The Jewish Theological Seminary in 1997, Benay is an award-winning educator specializing in the application of queer theory to Talmud study. Benay was named to Jewrotica’s Sexiest Rabbis List of 2013 (and is a little embarrassed about that but also a little tickled), The Forward’s 2014 List of Most Inspiring Rabbis, is a Joshua Venture Fellow, a recipient of the prestigious 2016 Covenant Award for excellence and innovation in Jewish education, and was named to The Forward’s 2018 list of Sexiest Jewish Intellectuals Alive (and is both tickled and embarrassed again, and also more sheepish about the intellectual part than the sexy part). While learning and teaching Talmud are her greatest passions, Benay is also a licensed pilot, shoemaker, and patent-holding inventor. Queer Talmud Camp is Benay’s Happy Place and the highlight of her year! (SVARA Faculty, Rosh Yeshiva)
Elaina Marshalek | SVARA Fellow (she/her) loves to color code her daf (page of Talmud) in full rainbow. She is hungry to help uncover the Torah and wisdom that y’all SVARA-niks carry and is excited to be back at camp! Elaina was born, raised, schooled, and still resides in the Bay Area, Ohlone territory. She has a background in math, forestry, and organizational transformation, and currently works as Director of Strategy for UCSF Health. She is excited to continue experimenting with “lay teaching” with SVARA and to support the rad, vibrant learning community at her home and beyond.
Frankie Sandmel | SVARA Fellow (they/them) is an educator, community organizer, and rabbinical student in Boston, MA. They are originally from the Chicago area where they learned to love teaching, Talmud, and teaching Talmud while working and studying at SVARA and the Jewish Enrichment Center. Now on their way to becoming a rabbi, Frankie continues to teach students of all ages, to organize the Jewish community towards justice, and to bake cookies whenever possible.
Jhos Singer | SVARA Fellow (he/him) is a professional Jewish educator, community and congregational leader, writer, and speaker. He is an out transman, a parent, spouse, mixologist and skillful home chef. He relishes his time spent in Jewish text study, hiking, and facilitating spiritual experiences for his flock and students. His credentials include Maggidic ordination by fire, smoke, song, stick,and sea conferred by Rabbi Gershon Winkler in 2002, and just to be safe, he holds an MA in Jewish Studies from the Graduate Theological Union in Berkelely, CA (2012). He is stupid in love with Head Fairy Julie Batz, to whom he is gratefully married.
Laynie Soloman | SVARA Faculty, Dir. of National Learning (they/them) has spent several years learning and teaching in various batei midrash (homes for Jewish learning) and served as an adjunct faculty member with Hadar. Laynie is completing a Dual M.A. in Talmud/Rabbinic Literature & Jewish Education from the Jewish Theological Seminary and holds a B.A. in Religious Studies from Goucher College. They love facilitating experiences of Jewish learning that uplift the piously irreverent, queer, and subversive spirit of rabbinic text and theology, and they have taught and lectured on these topics in various community spaces, campuses, and in academic settings. When not in shul or learning Talmud, you can find Laynie reading about liberation theology, collecting comic books, and singing nigunim.
Mónica Gomery | SVARA Faculty (she/her) is SVARA’s Associate Director of National Learning and a member of the Talmud faculty. Mónica is passionate about supporting people who have been denied access to, disconnected from, and marginalized by 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 so honored and grateful to get to do this work at the first-ever queer yeshiva in history! Mónica was ordained by the Rabbinical School of Hebrew College in 2017, and has served as a prison chaplain, a geriatric chaplain, and an educator and prayer leader at numerous organizations, including at Kol Tzedek Synagogue in West Philadelphia where she serves as the Music Director. Mónica is a native Spanish speaker whose Ashkenazi Venezuelan family lives in Caracas and Boston. She is also a published poet, and a member of the founding leadership team of Let My People Sing!
Noah Westreich | SVARA Fellow (he/him) is a rabbinical student at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in New York. He serves as the student rabbi at Kolot Chayeinu/Voices of Our Lives in Brooklyn, where he lives. He has served as student rabbi in El Centro, CA, on the border with Mexico, and as youth director at Temple Micah in Washington, DC. Noah came to Queer Talmud Camp in Summer 2015 and has been hooked on SVARA—and the Talmud—ever since.