Cohort Bios and Emails

daph ben david (they/them) is an anarchist diasporic Jew of Eastern European and Arab lineage, born and raised on unceded Kanien’kehá:ka and Anishnaabe territory, so-called Montreal, Quebec. Working as a substitute teacher in the public education system, and an educator with Jewish teens, getting to learn with and from youth is their favourite thing. They love Talmud as a portal through language and non-linear Jewish time, and hold a deep reverence for when learning manifests as holy grief. When not teaching, you can find daph wandering in the forest or running around as a stage manager.

Esther Mack (she/her) loves studying books of all kinds. Although she didn’t know it at the time, she first fell in love with talmud by applying hermeneutics to the Harry Potter books. Many years later, Esther reconnected with the magic of gemara when she came across a SVARA magnet on someone’s refrigerator. She is committed to using the study of Jewish texts and traditions to support local and global movements for liberation. In the great Jewish tradition of diasporism, Esther has lived in over 10 cities on two separate continents; she currently lives on occupied land of the Occaneechi Band of the Saponi Nation in Durham, North Carolina, with her rescue dog.

Jorge Sánchez (he/him) was born in Hialeah, a suburb of Miami, Florida, on Tequesta land. He has spent most of his adult life writing poetry and teaching English, helping students own the transformative potential of reading and writing. Jorge discovered the beauty of Talmud in 2016 at a One Night Stand and has been learning with SVARA ever since. When Jorge is not learning Talmud, teaching or writing, he is usually kayaking or outdoors-ing in Chicago on Potawatomi land where he lives with his spouse, Elizabeth Wetmore, and their son.

Kendra Watkins (they/them) is a connector of people and seeks to be a truth-teller and generous human. Through their love of our people, Kendra works to strengthen the relationships of Jews of Color across the Midwest and beyond, by weaving the past, present and future Toraitic tissue between and through us. Kendra’s deep insight, quick wit and compassionate accountability is a gift to the beit midrash anywhere, but especially the Kollel. They currently live in the best and Blackest city in the country, Detroit, Michigan, on Anishinaabe land, where they are building community with Detroit Jews for Justice and nourishing all of us through their liberatory Torah and lots of potlucks. (This bio was lovingly prepared by their chevruta, Koach.)

Koach Baruch (KB) Frazier (he/they), Au.D., brings healing, Torah, and music to the movement and to the beit midrash. An experienced facilitator, educator, and spiritual leader, Koach has taught on the intersections of racism, antisemitism, and white supremacy across the country as a co-founder of Tzedek Lab and lifts up the Torah we all carry in us through Black Trans Torah Club. Koach brings a deep love for tradition and his people to the Kollel, and their learning is guided by a vision of our collective freedom. Koach lives and gardens with their beloved, LaJuana, in Philadelphia on Lenni-Lenape, where he is a rabbinical student at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College. (This bio was lovingly prepared by his chevruta, Kendra.)

Lonnie Kleinman (she/her) is a rising fifth year student at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College. Originally from Tohomo O’odham land, aka Tucson, AZ, Lonnie is a queer, fat femme. Before moving to Philadelphia, on Lenape Land, Lonnie organized Jewish communities throughout the Southern United States in their journeys to build power and equity for all peoples. She is passionate about relational organizing and pastoral care in dreaming a future together. She loves gathering inspiration for dreaming and living out this world through Talmud study, especially as exemplified in the holy connections of hevruta study. She’s an avid plant mom, rock climber, and embroidery maker. 

Maayan Belding-Zidon (she/her) is a rabbinical student at Schechter in Jerusalem. Born and raised on the lands of the Wappinger people in Hyde Park, NY, she has degrees in Modern Middle East Studies (Yale 2013), Talmud and community management (Machon Schechter 2020), and teaching English as a foreign language (Levinsky College 2017). Since moving to Israel in 2016, she has worked at a Bedouin elementary school, as a community coordinator for Masorti communities in Tel Aviv and Rehovot, and as an educator for Jewish young adults doing service in Israel. She lives in Rishon LeZion with her wife, Ronnie, and their three cats.

Olivia Devorah Tucker (they/them) 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!

Xava De Cordova is a disabled, Sefradi, Mizraxi trans woman and co-host of the world’s first Queer Talmud podcast, “Xai, how are you?”. She is a long-time SVARA-style Talmud learner who got her start as a teacher by creating Beit Midrash Behind Bars, an organization that facilitated Jewish learning opportunities for incarcerated people in Washington State. She is also the co-founder of Shel Maala, an online-first queer yeshiva , which she co-founded with SVARA fellow with Binya Koatz. She lives in Providence, RI, where she regularly produces Jewish ritual theatre (or did, before the pandemic) and does her best to steward the radical tradition she’s been blessed to inherit.