SVARA Is One of Those Spaces

by Marques Hollie, Board Member, Scholar in Residence

Maggid Marques Hollie is spotlit while they speak at the virtual event, Shaping Tradition. They are smiling and wearing a light gray blazer. Several team members from SVARA can be seen in the gallery view, all of whom are smiling widely.

Last week, we gathered in joyful community for Shaping Tradition, a first-of-its-kind virtual celebration to reflect upon twenty years of SVARA. This event brought together more than 300 folks who have dazzlingly different connections to SVARA: folks who learned with Benay in our very first Chicago bet midrash; folks who spent two years diving into pedagogy and facilitation as fellows in our Teaching Kollel; folks who experienced the liberatory space of Queer Talmud Camp; and folks who had never been in a SVARA space before. Together we clapped up the incredible contributions of our very first cohort of SVARA honorees and collectively reflected on what our gorgeous queer Talmud community has seeded over the last two decades.

One of the highlights of Shaping Tradition was learning from longtime SVARA-nik Maggid Marques Hollie, a theatre artist, storyteller, classically trained musician, and ritualist. Over the years, Marques has blessed us with so much Torah, so much guidance, and so much expansive thinking about what SVARA can be. Marques is a member of our board of directors and most recently served as our Scholar in Residence, and last week they shared a little bit about how they first came to SVARA. No one tells that story better than Marques, so we encourage you to ask him about it sometime (spolier alert: it involved learning his alef-bet on the plane ride to his very first Queer Talmud Camp). In the meantime, we wanted to share Marques’ beautiful words about the impact of SVARA, and the need for all of us to support the future of our growth however we can.


SVARA’s mission is to empower queer and trans people to expand Torah and tradition through the spiritual practice of Talmud study. This evening we have seen some incredible examples of this mission being put into action as we have celebrated our amazing honorees: Dr. Koach Baruch Frazier, Rabbi Elliot Kukla, and Rabbi Deborah Newbrun.

Every day we are faced with news of escalating anti-gay and anti-trans legislation around the United States and throughout the world. And though one in ten U.S. Jewish adults identify as part of the LGBTQ+ community, philanthropic giving is not following these demographics. In 2020, only 23 cents of every $100 of foundation giving supported LGBTQ+ causes. 

This is a moment where we have to gather our strength, to push forward more strongly than ever, by lifting up our queer and trans community, and supporting spaces that are built by us and with us. 

SVARA is one of those spaces. 

SVARA has brought together tens of thousands of individuals over the past 20 years in intersectional community. We are queer Jews, disabled Jews, Jews of Color, Jews by Choice, Jews of all ages, Jews from all corners of the world. By accessing the tools laid out in the Talmud by the early rabbis, we are unlocking a guidebook to radical change-making for our world today. By empowering queer and trans Jews as shapers of tradition, we are opening up pathways that expand our understanding of what’s possible forevermore. 

In order to continue nurturing our vision for an expanded Jewish tradition and a just, healed world, we need support from people like you – people that believe in and want to manifest this future with us.

Support for SVARA ensures that our learning spaces can continue to prioritize financial accessibility. Through our sliding scale tuition model, learners pay what they can, without shame or fear of rejection. Last year, we subsidized approximately $350,000 in tuition fees and we heard from countless people that not having to choose between spiritual and physical nourishment was an incredible gift.

Support for SVARA ensures that our staff can work in an environment that affirms and celebrates their full selves while providing equitable pay and benefits – sadly, not something queer folks can take for granted in any sector of work.

Support for SVARA ensures ongoing investment in the future of Jewish education and thought leadership. SVARA learners and fellows work and teach in Jewish day schools, community centers, synagogues, and camps. They are bringing their own SVARA torah to these contexts, breaking down cisgender-heternormative white supremacist cultures in new ways every day. It is through each of them that our tradition will continue to expand and it is through SVARA that they have gained the tools and language to push this change forward.

SVARA has been fortunate to receive philanthropic support from the wider Jewish community, and we are incredibly grateful for the individuals and institutions who have invested in our growth, allowing us to reach this moment in our history. As we look toward our future, we need to expand these circles of support. We need investment from individuals like you who believe in and are committed to our work and the vision of Judaism that we hold central to what we do. A future where queer and trans folks not only have access to the knowledge and wisdom of our ancestors, but the tools handed down for centuries to shape and create the future of our tradition.

Will you join me in supporting SVARA’s next 20 years of shaping the future of our tradition by making a donation? 

If you are an ally, I’m asking if you will join SVARA in creating space for those who have never been given the support they need to thrive and grow in our Jewish community. I’m asking if you will invest in a Judaism that welcomes all voices in the continued evolution of our practice and tradition.

If you are part of our queer community, I’m asking if you will join me in investing in us, in our future.

Thank you for celebrating 20 years of SVARA. Thank you for your generous support, monetary and otherwise, today and every day, to make this incredible community, this vision and dream for our future, a reality.


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