Meet the Team: Staff Bios

Amir Weg – Yeshiva Administrator, Fairy (he/him) moved to Chicago in 2009 after a brief stint hanging out in the Kosher Halal Co-op at Oberlin College. In Summer 2011 he participated in The Adamah Fellowship, a three-month Jewish ecology and leadership program, which nurtured his love of Jewish community, confirmed his interest in Environmental Studies, and gave him a chance to get his hands dirty. In the past few years, Amir has, on and off, worked as an urban farmer, studied Environmental Science at DePaul University, and built Jewish community at Moishe House Rogers Park. Amir has been studying at SVARA since 2013, was SVARA’s 2016 Fellow, and brings insights gained as a SVARA learner to his work.

Ari Lev Fornari – Bet Midrash Faculty (he/him) is 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. Ari Lev has been learning with SVARA since 2005 and considers Talmud study one of his spiritual practices. He also loves to farm, cook, bike, meditate, swim and parent his kiddos Zeev Lucca and Naim Niso.  

Ayana Morse – Executive Director (she/her) is the Executive Director of SVARA. She is a community builder and change agent, with over 15 years of experience in non-profit management, Jewish education and community building. Her work focuses on sustainable organizational growth, designing authentic community experiences, and developing meaningful access points to Jewish culture and tradition.  Prior to joining SVARA, Ayana served as the Executive Director of the Silverlake Independent JCC, where she was instrumental in revitalizing Jewish life on the east side of Los Angeles. She holds a BA in education from Prescott College, was a participant in LA Boost’s fellowship for small business owners and was a Leadership Southern CA Fellow through the LA Chamber of Commerce. She lives with her husband, Josh, and their three kids in Northampton, MA.

Batya Levine – Music Leader (she/her) is a Jewish educator, ritual leader, facilitator, and musician. She leads spirited prayer and song in a variety of communities, including Rising Song Institute, Linke Fligl, Isabella Freedman, SVARA, and The New Synagogue Project. She is a co-founder and organizer of Let My People Sing!, a national gathering that brings together a diversity of Jewish cultural and ethnic music for the sake of learning, sharing and creating liberatory singing space. Though voice is her primary instrument, she loves playing percussion (on drums as well as on nearby tables, walls or shtenders). She writes original music and will be releasing her first album this winter! Coming from a long lineage of Jewish musicians, Batya is dedicated to using music as a tool for building resilience and interconnection on individual and communal levels. She is also an avid lover of pond swims, living room dance parties, and puns. Check out her music at www.batyalevine.com.

Becky Silverstein – Head Fairy (he/him) 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 express their full selves. Becky is curator of The JP Open Sukkah, and convener of Beyn Kodesh l’Chol, a Jewish communal project in Jamaica Plain, MA.  Becky serves as the chair of the boards of SVARA and The Jewish Studio Project, and sits on the Keshet’s board. He also serves as the Rabbi-in-Residence for Keshet’s LGBTQ Teen and Ally Shabbatonim. 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 is a lifelong NY Mets fan, has no problem rooting for the Red Sox (unless they are playing the Mets), and resides in Jamaica Plain, with his spouse, Naomi.

Benay Lappe – Rosh Yeshiva, Bet Midrash Faculty (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!

Bronwen Mullin – Fairy (she/her) (ord. 2017, MA Midrash JTS, BA in Theater and Religious Studies, Sarah Lawrence College) is the Rabbinic Artist-In-Residence at Town & Village Synagogue and the Jewish Theological Seminary. She is a playwright, composer, and performance artist. Her Hebrew/Aramaic opera “Chalom” based on the 9th chapter of Masechet Berakhot, appeared in the 2012 International NYC Fringe Festival. Bronwen is currently developing her 2nd full-scale opera, “Bat Yiftach: A Tragic Punk Opera” thanks to a JTS Seeds of Innovation and Myers Family grant. Bronwen is also an inaugural fellow with the Rising Song Institute. She is the founder of the Artists’ Beit Midrash at T&V as well as the director of their Center for Conversion to Judaism. Bronwen’s favorite art form to work in is Judaism.

Chloe (זיסל) Piazza – Fairy (she/they) is a PhD student at UC Berkeley. They study Talmud, Yiddish literature, and queer theory. Their research has gone in many directions, including looking at queer time and inheritance in the Talmud and in Yiddish women’s poetry, and exploring the history of Jewish and Yiddish burlesque and minstrelsy while simultaneously creating a Jewish drag act. Chloe is a Yiddish translator of radical feminist and communist texts and teaches beginning Yiddish at the Workmen’s Circle. They are currently working on a project to compile resources for more accessible and less offensive Yiddish language teaching.

Deborah Newbrun – Queer Talmud Camp Director (she/her) Deborah’s career as a preeminent Jewish environmental leader spans 30 years, including 25 years as Director of Camp Tawonga and four years as Hazon’s Director in the Bay Area. Additionally, she has served on the faculty of multiple Jewish learning fellowships. Deborah co-authored Spirit In Nature/Teaching Judaism and Ecology on the Trail. Deborah is known for being an engaging and creative leader, infusing deep spirit into her teachings, and is a recipient of the prestigious 2018 Covenant Award for excellence and innovation in Jewish education. She serves on the Board of Keshet, a national organization that works for full LGBTQ equality and inclusion in Jewish life.

Dev Noily – Fairy (they/them) comes from an Ashkenazi Jewish family with roots in Eastern Europe and Israel/Palestine. Their current projects include Jews On Ohlone Land, growing Jewish participation in the Shuumi Land Tax as a form of teshuva and buiding relationship with local Indigenous community; and 700 Benches: Queer Talmud for Everyone, a SVARA-inspired beit midrash. Dev serves as Senior Rabbi at Kehilla Community Synagogue in Oakland, California, Ohlone territory of Huchiun.

Earnest Vener – Fairy (he/they) is a trans Jewish educator in the Boston area. He teaches 2nd and 3rd grade at Temple Beth Shalom. Earnest is passionate about Jewish storytelling, talmud study, and mentorship. Earnest received an M.A. in Jewish Studies at the Graduate Theological Union and a B.A. in Near Eastern Studies at UC Berkeley. Prior to moving East, Earnest ran an outdoor Jewish religious school in the Oakland Redwoods. Earnest is recently engaged to Emma Price and they enjoy snuggling with their two cats, studying Torah, playing board games, and working to build a more equitable world.

Elaina Marshalek – Fairy (she/her) loves studying Talmud, and likes to color code her daf in full rainbow. She recently returned from studying for a year at Yeshivat Hadar in New York, where she taught Talmud out of her living room in Brooklyn. She is excited to continue experimenting with “lay teaching” with SVARA, and to help support the vibrant learning community in her forever home of the Bay Area. When she’s not studying, Elaina works as Director of Strategy for UCSF Health.

Frankie Sandmel- Fairy (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.

Gray Myrseth – Fairy (they/them) works as Director of Youth Programs at Kehilla Community Synagogue in Oakland, and is one of the co-leaders of 700 Benches, a SVARA-method beit midrash based at Kehilla. Gray was ordained as a rabbi by Hebrew College of Newton, MA in June 2017 and has served 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 dog, and reading everything from poetry to YA fantasy.

Hayley Goldstein – Fairy (she/her) is the Rabbi of Base Ithaca, which facilitates #shabbosmagic and Jewish learning in a home-based pluralistic environment for Cornell students. Hayley grew up outside of Minneapolis, MN,  received a BA in Religious Studies from Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado and Rabbinic Ordination at Hebrew College Rabbinical School in Newton, MA. As a member of the first SVARA Teaching Kollel, Hayley is honored to have run several batei midrash in Israel and in Boston. Her favorite teaching moment is when two hevrutot high five one another in support of their learning. Hayley can be found learning/teaching Talmud, preparing chicken for shabbos, singing complex niggunim, or ushering in the Sabbath by cleaning the house to the music of Usher.

James Evans – SVARA Team, Program Manager & Operations (he/him) is SVARA’s Program Operations Manager. He has been a Chicago resident since the fall of 2012 and has been an active SVARA learner since 2016.  He attended Florida State University, where he studied Political Science and French. As an Eagle Scout, his personal motto is “Always be prepared!”  When not working on making sure you have the most AMAZING learning environment, he can often be found with his nose in a sci-fi/fantasy book or cooking a delicious meal with friends.

Jhos Singer – Fairy (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.

Julie Batz – Head Fairy (she/her) 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.

Koach Baruch Frazier- Music Leader (he/they), Au.D. is a healer and musician who is working towards the day everyone experiences liberation. He spent 14 years helping people reconnect with the world around them through better hearing, and the last several years providing love and support through revolutionary listening and spiritual leadership, traveling the country facilitating healing and transformation through music, and workshops at the intersection of antisemitism and antiblackness. Koach is a co-convenor of the Tzedek Lab and a student at Reconstructionist Rabbinical College. He currently lives in Philadelphia with his fiance, LaJuana, where his heart beats to the rhythm of tikvah, t’shuvah, and tzedek.

Laynie Soloman – Director of National Learning, Bet Midrash Faculty (they/them) is the Director of National Learning and a faculty member at SVARA: A Traditionally Radical Yeshiva. They have spent several years learning and teaching in various batei midrash (homes for Jewish learning), including at Hadar, an egalitarian yeshiva in New York City, where they currently serve as an adjunct faculty member. 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 niggunim.

Lauren Tuchman – Fairy (she/her) received rabbinic ordination from the Jewish Theological Seminary in 2018 and is, as far as she is aware, the first blind woman in the world to enter the rabbinate. A sought after speaker, spiritual leader and educator, Rabbi Tuchman has taught at numerous synagogues and other Jewish venues throughout North America and was named to the Jewish Week’s 36 under 36 for her innovative leadership concerning inclusion of Jews with disabilities in all aspects of Jewish life.

Marsha Attie – Music (she/her) has been serving Congregation Emanu-El since 1998. She is a composer and recording artist. Her music can be found in songbooks, camps, synagogues, and Jewish music compilations around the country. Marsha was ordained as a cantor from the Academy of Jewish Religion, California, where she earned a master’s degree in Sacred Music. She has also earned a Master of Fine Arts in Dance/Movement Therapy from UCLA. Marsha is interested in the intersection of prayer and the arts and strives to integrate a variety of creative modalities into her spiritual and creative life. She is also a filmmaker and some of her award-winning music videos can be found on YouTube. 

Micah Buck-Yael – Fairy (he/him) serves as the Coordinator of Community Chaplaincy with the Jewish Family & Children’s Service, where he works to provide personalized support and meaningful connection for individuals throughout the St. Louis Jewish community. He educates and advocates throughout the community on issues of justice, access, and welcome for the full spectrum of human diversity. He is particularly passionate about work for racial justice, disability justice, and LGBTQ justice. He holds an MA in Talmud and Rabbinic Literature and Rabbinic ordination from the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York.

Mónica Gomery – SVARA Team, Associate Director of National Learning, Bet Midrash 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 – Fairy & Production Assistant (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.

SAM Luckey – Fairy (they/them) is a queer and genderqueer rabbinical student at Hebrew College. In 2013 SAM and Talya Husbands-Hankin co-founded Glitter Kehilla, a community of younger adults of all genders and sexualities doing Jewish and being fabulous. As part of SAM’s rabbinic internship last year at Kehilla Community Synagogue, they also started the monthly ‘Liturgically Traditional, Radically Inclusive’ Kabbalat Shabbat service and SAM helped to launch Kehilla’s initiative for racial justice and de-centering whiteness, the Belonging and Allyship Project. Before starting rabbinical school, SAM was a professional circus performer for over a decade, and they continue to spend several hours a week upside down, in increasingly unlikely handstand positions.

Sara Lynn Newberger – Fairy (she/her) (BS, University of Illinois; MA, Brandeis University, Hornstein Program in Jewish Communal Service and Education; Jerusalem Fellow) Sara Lynn remembers receiving her first chumash (Hebrew bible) in 3rd grade – and thus was born a love of studying Torah.  Born in Chicago, she landed in St. Paul in 1989 where she came to work at the Talmud Torah of St. Paul Day School because the mission and vision resonated with her soul. At TTSP she has had many jobs. Her favorite is what she is doing now, exploring Jewish texts, customs, values and ideas with students. Sara Lynn is currently the director of TTSP’s Hineni: Adult Jewish Learning and Contemplative Practices. She believes passionately in the importance of Jewish learning and the impact it can have on people’s lives. Sara Lynn is honored to be a part of the second cohort of the SAVARA Teaching Kollel.  When not working, Sara Lynn enjoys cooking, visiting with friends, singing, and being outdoors. Sara Lynn is married to Barbie Levine and is Savta to Ruby.