The culture at SVARA is part of what makes us so special. The learning in the bet midrash is super rigorous, but the atmosphere is warm, supportive, and empowering. We’re serious about our learning, but the vibe is joyful, loving, and fun. We’re in love with the tradition and treat it with profound respect, admiration, and pride. And our attitude toward every student, trust, comes straight from Talmud’s notion of svara—the belief that God imbued every human being with moral insight equivalent to the Torah itself which, refined by learning, authorizes and obligates every one of us to make the world a better place and to make the Jewish tradition a better and better path to getting there.
We see the Talmud as a manual of courageous, compassionate, and often disruptive innovation, and believe that the mandate to follow its blueprint was never meant to end, and continues to this day. We see our job as raising the gedolim, the “great ones,” of the next generation (if we don’t, who will?), and treat every learner as a future Talmud teacher who must master every text in order to teach it—well—to their students. Our goal, therefore, is to equip every SVARA-nik with the confidence, courage, and expertise to be a player in the Jewish tradition. And to create bet midrash-centered communities where all Jews, and all people who want to learn, can enter—and be transformed by—the Jewish tradition’s conversation about how to be a human being.
We’re queer-normative space, but we understand queerness to be not just about gender and sexuality, but about any profound experience of otherness that gives you insight that you share with the world—whether that otherness has to do with gender, sexuality, or any of a thousand other things. [That means you’re queer, too!] But in case you were wondering: we’re about 50% gay, 50% straight…and 100% queer.
At SVARA, you can’t pay to learn. We won’t even take your money if you offer it. Until you’ve learned in the bet midrash. Every new student receives the learning without cost, thanks to the generosity of someone who came before them, who learned at SVARA, and found it so valuable that they wanted someone else to have that same experience. And if that new student finds the learning was valuable to them, they give to whatever extent they are able and is meaningful to them, to make it possible for another student to learn. While we receive funding from a handful of Jewish foundations and partner organizations, the majority of our support comes from SVARA-niks who pay it forward in this way to make the learning free for students who come after them. At SVARA we call this chesed, loving generosity, and for us it’s part of the spiritual practice of the bet midrash. It’s what has supported Talmud learning in yeshivot like SVARA for the last 2,000 years and we think it’s a pretty good system.