Join SVARA as we offer up daily learning to support your spiritual preparation this Elul in Mishnah Collective: Days of AWE-some Edition! We’ll explore a section of the Mishnah (Torah 2.0!) that addresses questions of teshuva (restoration)—where it comes from and how it works. We’re partnering with Synagogues Rising this season to bring y’all a group of rad new guest teachers alongside Mishnah Collective regulars. Mishnah Collective: Days of AWE-some will meet Sunday through Friday throughout Elul (August 8th-September 3rd), and selectively in Tishrei on September 12th-14th and September 23rd-26th.
Access note: SVARA’s Daily Drop-in Mishnah Collective is live-captioned. No prior Hebrew experience or learning necessary to participate! Please note that all SVARA programming, including Mishnah Collective, is for folks 18 and up.
Synagogues Rising is a new network of synagogues across the U.S. that integrates justice and spiritual practice at the heart of their mission, and are experimenting with models and frameworks for acting on a vision of liberation for all. Our guest teachers come to us from several of Synagogue Rising’s member congregations, which include Congregation T’chiyah in Detroit, Kol Tzedek Synagogue in Philadelphia, Hineinu: The Baltimore Justice Shtiebl, Kadima Reconstructionist Community in Seattle, Kehilla Community Synagogue in Oakland, New Synagogue Project in DC, and Kolot Chayeinu in Brooklyn.
Whether you can join every day, once a week—we can’t wait to learn with you!
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 Fairy Hours at this link! Have any questions about Mishnah Collective? Contact Ren, the Mishnah Collective Coordinator, at [email protected]
Noah Westreich (he/him) | SVARA Fellow. Noah is a rabbinical student at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. Prior to studying for the rabbinate, he worked and lived in Washington, DC and Jackson, MS, where he served the Jewish communities of those regions. In DC, he also served specialty coffee and developed a yoga practice. Originally from Montclair, NJ, Noah has always had a thirst for world languages and as such has become a competent speaker of Spanish, German, and Hebrew. He graduated from Macalester College with a degree in Sociology; his senior thesis explored the sociolinguistic theory of Hebrew education in American Jewry.
Rabbi Gray Myrseth (they/them) | SVARA Fellow. Gray works as School Director at Kehilla Community Synagogue in Oakland. Gray was ordained by Hebrew College of Newton, MA in June 2017 and has worked as a Jewish educator and congregational leader, an LGBTQ inclusion trainer and consultant, and a chaplain with a focus on the spiritual care of elders. When not at work, Gray can be found studying Talmud, walking their excellent dogs, and reading everything from poetry to YA fantasy.
Kendra Watkins (they/them) | SVARA Fellow. Kendra is a connector of people and seeks to be a truth-teller and generous human. Through their love of our people, Kendra works to strengthen the relationships of Jews of Color across the Midwest and beyond, by weaving the past, present and future Toraitic tissue between and through us. Kendra’s deep insight, quick wit and compassionate accountability is a gift to the beit midrash anywhere, but especially the Kollel. They currently live in the best and Blackest city in the country, Detroit, Michigan, on Anishinaabe land, where they are building community with Detroit Jews for Justice and nourishing all of us through their liberatory Torah and lots of potlucks. This bio was lovingly prepared by their chevruta, Koach Baruch (KB) Frasier.
Rabbi Mónica Gomery (she/her) | SVARA Faculty. Mónica 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!
Rabbi Ari Lev Fornari (he/they) | SVARA 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.
Naomi Weintraub (they/them) is an anarchist diasporic Jew of Eastern European lineage, based in Maryland. Naomi is a multimedia artist and loves creating work for Jewish community and ritual. In addition, they work as a Teaching Artist, and Judaics teacher. When not teaching, Naomi enjoys learning yiddish, and making art.
Ren Finkel (they/them) is a multimedia artist, community organizer, and student at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in Philadelphia. They’re a part of the Pittsburgh diaspora, 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 Mishnah Collective and hope that the text may provide us with a semblance of sense and solace in such uncertain times.
Rabbi Becky Silverstein (he/him) | SVARA Fellow. Becky 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)
Rabbi Benay Lappe (she/her) | SVARA Faculty, Rosh Yeshiva. Benay 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 (she/her) | SVARA Fellow. Elaina 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 (they/them) | SVARA Fellow. Frankie 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.
Maggid Jhos Singer (he/him) | SVARA Fellow. Jhos 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 (they/them) | SVARA Faculty. 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.