SVARA Faculty

Rabbi Benay Lappe

Founder and Rosh Yeshiva
An award-winning educator specializing in the application of queer theory to Talmud study, Rabbi Lappe 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, The Wexner Institute, and Milken Community High School, where she was the founding faculty adviser to the school’s Gay-Straight Alliance, the first to be established at a Jewish day school. During her tenure as Director of Education at Congregation Beth Simchat Torah, in Manhattan, Rabbi Lappe founded CBST’s Lehrhaus Judaica, which has served over 10,000 students to date. Rabbi Lappe also cofounded the Queer Jewish Think Tank at Congregation Beth Chayim Chadashim, in Los Angeles.

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Rabbi Lappe currently serves as Director of Education and Senior Fellow at the Institute for the Next Jewish Future in Chicago, and is an Associate at CLAL—The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership, where, upon ordination, she was appointed by The Righteous Persons Foundation to be its first Spielberg Fellow. Ordained by The Jewish Theological Seminary in 1997, Rabbi Lappe was named to The Forward’s 2014 Most Inspiring Rabbis list, and Jewrotica’s Sexiest Rabbis of 2013 list.

Rabbi Lappe’s writings have appeared in Shma: A Journal of Jewish Responsibility, eCLAL: An Online Journal of Religion, Public Life and Culture, The Book of Jewish Sacred Practices: CLAL’s Guide to Everyday and Holiday Rituals and Blessings, Lesbian Rabbis: The First Generation,Torah Queeries, among others.

While learning and teaching Talmud are her greatest passion, Rabbi Lappe is also a licensed pilot, shoemaker, and patent-holding inventor.

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


David Frankel

Hebrew Instructor
David is1374068_10100289396718670_514257227_n a native of Ohio and came to Chicago in 2012 as a PhD student in the History of Judaism at the University of Chicago Divinity School.  Since his arrival, David has been a part of the SVARA community as a student in the S&M Bet Midrash and in Nitza’s Attic.

David has been actively involved in Queer-minded Jewish spaces for nearly 15 years beginning in 2001 when he and his family joined the Chevrei Tikvah LGBT Havurah in Cleveland.  David has also been a member and a community Hebrew teacher for “The Little Minyan” in Columbus.  These days, David can be found davening with Mishkan Chicago.

David has taught university-level courses including “An Introduction to the Hebrew Bible” (Ohio State University) and “Introductory Qur’anic Arabic” (University of Chicago).  David’s research areas include comparative Semitic linguistics, the histories of Judaism and Islam, and Judeo-Arabic literature.


Ari Lev Fornari

Talmud & Mindfulness
Ari Lev Fornari - Talmud & Mindfulness Rabbi and Director of Boston-Area Jewish Education Program (Boston)Ari Lev Fornari is the Director of the Boston-Area Jewish Education Program and works part time as a prison chaplain. He was ordained from the Rabbinical School of Hebrew College. Ari Lev currently calls Boston home, although he is originally from New York and has spent some years living in San Francisco. He loves to farm, cook, bike, meditate and parent his 1 year-old Zeev Lucca. He considers Talmud study one of his spiritual practices. Ari Lev is deeply committed to the creation and embodiment of Torat Hayyim, a living tradition. This requires that our lives be deeply informed by ancient wisdom and practices, and that Jewish tradition learn and grow from our insights and lived experiences.


Lizzi Heydemann

Davening Guru 
Lizzi Heydemann - Davening Founder of Mishkan (Chicago)Lizzi Heydemann catalyzed the founding of Mishkan Chicago in September of 2011. She graduated with Honors from Stanford University, and was ordained by the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies in Los Angeles in 2010. Her first job out of school was as the first Revson Rabbinic Fellow at IKAR in Los Angeles. Mishkan contains the DNA of IKAR in Los Angeles, B’nai Jeshurun in New York, and the ecstatic, musical and meditative Jewish tradition that emerged out of South America to give rise to that approach here in the States.

Selected for the Covenant Foundation’s Pomegranate Award in 2013 for promising early-career educators, Lizzi was a 2013 ROI Fellow, and was in the 2012 cohort of CLAL’s Rabbis Without Borders fellowship.  Lizzi was on Jewrotica’s Sexiest Rabbis of 2013 list, was named one of Chicago’s 36 Under 36 by OyChicago, and one of the Top 20 Real Rabbis by myjewishlearning.org, both in 2012.