In 2003, Rabbi Benay Lappe planted the first seeds of SVARA: A Traditionally Radical Yeshiva. On June 8th, we gathered our community in joyful celebration to reflect on the past 20 years and collectively support the next 20 years.

In 2003, Rabbi Benay Lappe planted the first seeds of SVARA: A Traditionally Radical Yeshiva. On June 8th, we gathered our community in joyful celebration to reflect on the past 20 years and collectively support the next 20 years.

Thanks to y’all, our very first Shaping Tradition was an unbelievable success! One of our favorite parts of the program was acknowledging the contributions of our very very cohort of Shaping Tradition Honorees, including Rabbi Elliot Kukla, Rabbi Deborah Newbrun, and Dr. Koach Baruch Frazier! You can read more about these phenomenal folks below.

Rabbi Elliot Kukla stands against a lush backdrop of green plants and trees. They are wearing a yellow shirt and leaning against a carved wooden cane. He is smiling toward the camera.

Rabbi Elliot Kukla (he/they) is a rabbi, author, artist, and activist. Elliot has been tending to grief, dying, and becoming (more) ill or disabled since 2007, and has been engaged in justice work since 1996. In 2006, Elliot was the first openly trans person to be ordained by a major Jewish denomination (Hebrew Union College). The following year, they co-founded, which “helps people of all genders to fully access and transform Jewish tradition.”

Rabbi Deborah Newbrun (she/her) creates transformational spaces for Jewish communities rooted in the wisdom of our tradition. As the first openly lesbian Jewish summer camp director, she led Camp Tawonga for 25 years. A catalyzing force in the Jewish Outdoor Food and Environmental Education (JOFEE) movement, Deborah co-authored Spirit In Nature: Teaching Judaism and Ecology on the Trail, founded Get Set Go Community Adventures, and received the prestigious Covenant Award in 2018 for innovative Jewish education.

Deborah has created and led countless Jewish outdoor education programs for Jewish leaders throughout the United States and is known for being an engaging and creative leader, infusing deep spirit into her teachings. As the Co-Founder and Director of SVARA’s Queer Talmud Camps, Deborah is a longtime SVARA champion.

Koach is seated on a gray couch and there are several plants behind him. There is a lamp and some twinkly lights strung in the background. Koach is wearing a dark shirt that says "Baruch Hashem," and they are smiling toward the camera.

Dr. Koach Baruch Frazier (he/they) is many things: an audiologist, a musician, a dismantler of racism, a sonic and spiritual healer, a rabbinical student at Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, and more. Koach brings to SVARA a deep love for tradition and his people, and their learning is guided by a vision of our collective freedom. Koach is a co-founder of Tzedek Lab, and he was honored as an LGBTQ Jewish Hero by Keshet in 2020.

In the early days of the pandemic, Koach put out the call to Black Trans Jews who might be looking for a virtual space to gather and study. In doing so, Black Trans Torah Club was born. Three years later, individuals from around the world are joining in weekly to study Talmud, create community that celebrates the joy of being Black, Trans, and Jewish, and provide space and support for individual and communal grief. Just as SVARA was the first place where Koach felt supported as a queer, trans, Jew, Black Trans Torah Club continues in the tradition of expanding who is invited in and given the tools to shape the future of our tradition.

As a SVARA Fellow, and the founder of Black Trans Torah Club, we are thrilled to honor Koach for the many ways they support individuals within and beyond the SVARA community in realizing a just and healed world.

Host Committee

Part of the magic of Shaping Tradition was our host committee, a team of dedicated SVARA-niks who helped spread the word (and the love!) in anticipation of our spectacular celebration on June 8th. We are so grateful for their partnership to help make this program the gorgeous space it was. Thank you, Host Committee!

Adam and Celia Strauss
Rabbi Adina Allen and Jeff Kasowitz
Al Rosenberg and Mollie Anderson
Angel Alvarez-Mapp and Danielle Natelson
Ayana Morse
Rabbi Becky Silverstein and Naomi Sobel
Rabbi Betsy Forester, Beth Israel Ctr, Madison WI
Dr. Bianca Gonzalez-Lesser and Dr. Emma Gonzalez-Lesser
Chicago Jewish Funerals
Cheryl Lester
Dan Libenson and Beth Niestat
Danny and Wendy Kahn
Debbi Schnitzer Cooper
Rabbi Deborah Newbrun and Rabbi Sue Reinhold
Elaina Marshalek and Rabbi Frankie Sandmel
Eleyna Fugman, TischPDX
Elizabeth Feldman
Rabbi Eric Weiss and Dan Alpert
Idit Klein and Jordan Namerow
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
Ma’ayan and Rabbi Ezra Seligsohn
Marques Hollie
Megan and Paige Goldmarche
Rabbi Melanie and Hope Levav
Dr. Mike Steklof
Sam Grosby and Darla Kashian
Sandy Sussman and Ron Schnur
Sharon and Shimon Cohen Anisfeld
Shelly F. Cohen and Julie Shapiro
Rabbi Zack Wiener

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.

Planning Committee

We are sharing gratitude and love with SVARA’s amazing 20th Anniversary Committee for their brilliant guidance and support in putting together this exciting event:
Rabbi Bryan Mann
Leykn Schmatz
Maggie Kraus
Natalie Boskin
Robin Banerji
Sandy Sussman
Shelly F. Cohen