A faded image of a SVARA-nik learning at a table in the bet midrash. There are colorful learning materials in front of them, and their arms rest on the masechet they are reading from. Turquoise letters read, "Shaping Tradition: Celebrating and supporting SVARA! May 29th, 2024"

On Wednesday, May 29th at 7pm EST / 4pm PST, we’ll be coming together for the second ever Shaping Tradition to celebrate and support SVARA! As we continue to navigate so much ongoing heartbreak, we’re grateful for this opportunity to joyfully come together as a community.

Register for Shaping Tradition here!

Registration is live!

Shaping Tradition is sure to be a stunning celebration of all things SVARA and truly everyone is invited, whether you’ve been learning with us for years or this is your first SVARA gathering.

We are delighted to celebrate the incredible contributions of our honorees Julia Watts Belser and Gwynn Kessler!

Julia Watts Belser is seated in her wheelchair, smiling while wearing a red button down shirt over a black tee, she is wearing a red and black hat. There are pink and red flowers in the background.

Julia Watts Belser (she/her) is a rabbi, scholar, and spiritual teacher, as well as a longtime activist for disability, LGBTQ, and gender justice. She is a professor of Jewish Studies in the Department of Theology and Religious Studies at Georgetown University and core faculty in Georgetown’s Disability Studies Program. Julia is also a proud member of the Communal Loss Adaptation Project (CLAP) Steering Committee. Julia’s work brings ancient Jewish texts into dialogue with disability studies, feminist thought, queer theory, and environmental justice ethics.  She is a cultural historian of rabbinic Jewish literature and a contemporary Jewish feminist theologian who draws disability arts and culture into provocative conversation with Jewish tradition to challenge structural violence, deepen our capacity for social justice, and honor the sacredness of disabled people’s lives. Her latest book, Loving Our Own Bones: Disability Wisdom and the Spiritual Subversiveness of Knowing Ourselves Whole, won a National Jewish Book Award. Julia is an avid wheelchair hiker, a devoted gardener, and a lover of wild places.

Gwynn Kessler smiles at the camera. Brown hair with bits of grey falls at her shoulders, she wears a black tee, and is standing in front of greenery.

Gwynn Kessler (she/her) is Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of Religion at Swarthmore College, where she teaches about and researches rabbinic theology and rabbinic constructions of gender and identity. She received her Ph.D. in Talmud and Rabbinics, with a specialization in Midrash, from the Jewish Theological Seminary. She has taught at the University of North Carolina in Greensboro and the University of Florida in Gainesville. She has also taught at the Harvard Divinity School as a Women’s Studies in Religion Program Research Associate. Gwynn is the author of Conceiving Israel: The Fetus in Rabbinic Narratives (UPenn, 2009), and co-editor with Naomi Koltun-Fromm of A Companion to Late Ancient Jews and Judaism (Wiley Blackwell, 2020). She is currently working on her second monograph that uses queer theory to examine rabbinic constructions of gender and the body. She lives in Mt. Airy, Philadelphia with her partner and two children.

We’re so thrilled that the immensely talented Batya Levine will share a special musical performance for Shaping Tradition, featuring a new song from their forthcoming album!

Batya is a white non-binary person with short curly brown hair. They are standing and singing joyously into a microphone. They are wearing all black clothing with gold necklaces, the Hebrew letter “shin” hangs from one of the necklaces.

Batya Levine (they/them) uses song as a tool for cultivating healing and resilience in their work as a communal song leader, shaliach tzibur (Jewish prayer leader) and cultural organizer. Batya is a co-founder and Director of Programs at Let My People Sing!, and they compose original music made of Ashkenazi yearning, queer heart-medicine, and emunah (faith). 

We are beyond excited that this year’s Shaping Tradition will be joyfully hosted by two incredible SVARA Fellows and chevrutah, Emet and Natalie Boskin!

Host Committee

Part of the magic of Shaping Tradition is our host committee, a team of dedicated folks who help spread the word (and the love!) in anticipation of our spectacular celebration on May 29th. We are so grateful for their partnership to help make this program happen. Thank you, Host Committee!

2024 Host Committee:

Rabbi Adina Allen and Jeff Kasowitz
Angel Alvarez-Mapp and Danielle Natelson
Ayana Morse
Rabbi Ayelet S. Cohen and Rabbi Marc Margolius
Rabbi Becky Silverstein and Naomi Sobel
Dr. Bianca Gonzalez-Lesser and Dr. Emma Gonzalez-Lesser
Dan Libenson and Beth Niestat
Rabbi Deborah Newbrun and Rabbi Sue Reinhold
Jaci and Craig Krandel
Joan E. Neal and David Weisbach
Joanna Ware
Rabbi Josh Whinston and Sarah Raful Whinston
Leykn Schmatz and Maryasha Katz
LilyFish Gomberg
Marques Hollie
Sally Gottesman
Sam Grosby and Darla Kashian
Sandy Sussman and Ron Schnur
Rabbi Tamara Cohen and Maya Orli Cohen

Members of the Host Committee are asked to:

  • Sponsor Shaping Tradition at or above $360

  • Allow SVARA to list your name(s) or organization on the website and in our event materials

  • Provide us with names and emails of at least 10 individuals or families to whom we can send invitations

SVARA is committed to financial accessibility. Please reach out if you would like to join the Host Committee and need to discuss a different level of sponsorship.

Do you have questions? Contact Elli Krandel, our fabulous Development Director.