Meet the Team

Benay Lappe (she/her) – Faculty

Ordained by The Jewish Theological Seminary in 1997, Benay founded SVARA in 2003. An award-winning educator specializing in the application of queer theory to Talmud study, Benay has served on the faculties of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Temple University, The University of Judaism, The Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, The Graduate Theological Union’s Center for Jewish Studies at UC-Berkeley, and The Wexner Institute. She also currently serves as Senior Fellow at the Institute for the Next Jewish Future in Chicago.

Benay was named to Jewrotica’s Sexiest Rabbis List of 2013 (and is a little embarrassed about this but also a little bit proud), The Forward’s 2014 List of Most Inspiring Rabbis, is a Joshua Venture Fellow, and in 2016 received the prestigious Covenant Award for innovative Jewish education. She was named to The Forward’s 2018 list of “Sexiest Jewish Intellectuals Alive” (and is both embarrassed again, and also more sheepish about the intellectual part than the sexy part), and was recently named to the 2020 Forward 50 list of most influential American Jews (she was #10, and is grateful that her name starts with a “b” because it was in alphabetical order). While learning and teaching Talmud are her greatest passions, Rabbi Lappe is also a licensed pilot, shoemaker, and patent-holding inventor.

Watch Rabbi Lappe’s ELI Talk or TEDx Talk, or read some of her essays.

Laynie Soloman (they/them) – 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.

Amir Weg (he/him) – Fairy

Amir is a Fellow in the SVARA Teaching Kollel. He has been a student of Talmud and a SAVARA-nik since 2013. He joined the staff in 2017, and serves as SVARA’s Learning Coordinator. In addition to teaching Talmud, he runs workshops in Hebrew/Aramaic grammar at Queer Talmud Camp and other programs. Outside of the bet midrash, he spends his time listening to podcasts, watering his numerous house plants, and cooking Shabbat dinners.

Jessica Belasco (she/her) – Fairy

Jess is in her fourth year of rabbinical study at the Jewish Theological Seminary, where she is focusing on midrash and pastoral care, and is a Wexner Graduate Fellow. On her path to rabbinical school, Jess studied in Jerusalem for three years, as well as at Yeshivat Hadar in New York. Her interests include using Jewish sources to facilitate honest conversations about human and spiritual experience and developing disability-informed readings of Jewish text.

Olivia Devorah Tucker (they/them) – Program Coordinator

Olivia fell in love with Talmud when the local Moishe House asked them to lead a Unicorn themed Shabbat. They couldn’t resist the deep dive into Judaism’s supernatural creatures and have never resurfaced – the books on Jewish myth, magic, and mysticism never make it back to the bookshelf! Olivia sees recovering our ancestral knowledge of angels, demons, dreams interpretation, and the many witchy practices peppered throughout the Talmud, both as exciting gateways to ancient texts and powerful lenses for viewing and healing the world in unconventional ways. 

A lifelong Pittsburgher (Shawnee land), they take part in vibrant theatre and leftist Jewish organizing, play tabletop role-playing games, collect queer sci-fi comic books, and bake challah inspired by the weekly Torah portion (“All Challahs Are Beautiful”). They always have their eye out for a machmir Bechdel-Wallace Test pass, especially when it comes to Talmud. Olivia puts trans in translation and the femme in ephemera. Stay hydrated!