Faculty and Staff

Rabbi Benay Lappe Rosh Yeshiva & Founder

Benay Lappe - Talmud Rosh Yeshiva of SVARA (Chicago)

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.

Still from An Unrecognizable Jewish Future: A Queer Talmudic Take

Watch Rabbi Lappe’s ELI Talk: “An Unrecognizable Jewish Future: A Queer Talmudic Take.”
Special thanks to Luke Goetting from Puffinston Presentation Design for creating the slides for Rabbi Lappe’s talk.

Ordained by The Jewish Theological Seminary in 1997, Benay also currently serves as Senior Fellow at the Institute for the Next Jewish Future in Chicago, and as 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. During her tenure as Director of Education at Congregation Beth Simchat Torah, in Manhattan, Benay founded CBST’s Lehrhaus Judaica, which has served over 10,000 students to date. Benay also co-founded the Queer Jewish Think Tank at Congregation Beth Chayim Chadashim, in Los Angeles, which still operates today. 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, was awarded the 2015 Mintz Family Foundation Award for Creative Jewish Education, and is a 2016 recipient of the prestigious Covenant Award for innovative Jewish education. 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.

Rabbi Mónica Gomery Associate Director

Born in Massachusetts and raised by her Venezuelan Eastern European family both in Boston and Caracas, Mónica has worked as a Jewish educator in numerous institutions. This training has led her as far away as an egalitarian synagogue in Chile, and as nearby as her neighborhood shtiebel in Jamaica Plain. She has served as a prison chaplain, working to affirm humanity inside of a deeply dehumanizing system, and as a geriatric chaplain bringing spirit and care to elders in a nursing home. She served for two years as the Program Manager and faculty member of the Boston Teen Beit Midrash, a loving and rigorous learning community for teens. Mónica is the author of two books of poetry, published by YesYes Books and Cooper Dillon Books. She is also on the leadership team of Let My People Sing! which runs transformative Jewish singing retreats. In her role at SVARA, Mónica is fostering new community partnerships, growing our bet midrash programs in Chicago, serving on the Talmud faculty, and expanding programming for our student community.

Laynie Soloman Director of Educational Initiatives

Laynie Soloman is a faculty member and Director of Educational Initiatives at SVARA: A Traditionally Radical Yeshiva, and is concurrently pursuing a Dual M.A. in Talmud/Rabbinics & Jewish Education from the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York City. Laynie has spent several years learning and teaching in various batei midrash (homes for Jewish learning) including Yeshivat Hadar, where they serve as a Shoel U’Meshiv (or, as we like to say at SVARA, a bet midrash fairy) and junior faculty member. They are passionate about facilitating empowering experiences of Jewish learning that uplift the piously irreverent, queer, and subversive spirit of rabbinic text and theology. When not in shul or learning Talmud, you can find Laynie reading about Liberation Theology, collecting comic books, and singing niggunim. Laynie loves combining their love for deep Talmud study and building courageous, radical community in their role at SVARA. In their new role at SVARA, Laynie will be working on expanding our partnerships nationally, expanding curricula, developing our teacher training and distance-learning programs, and serving on the Talmud faculty.

Susan Horowitz Managing Director

Susan has over 20 years of experience as a consultant working with Fortune 500 and non-profit organizations in the area of human and organizational performance, change management, leadership and governance. A native Floridian, she started her career in New York City as a banker and still prefers New York pizza. She has also lived and worked in the San Francisco Bay Area and is pleased to call Chicago and SVARA home. She received her MBA from Tulane University.

Amir Starr Weg Administrative Assistant

Amir's HeadshotAmir moved to Chicago in 2009 after a brief stint hanging out in the Kosher Halal Co-op at Oberlin College. In Summer 2011 he participated in The Adamah Fellowship, a three-month Jewish ecology and leadership program, which nurtured his love of Jewish community, confirmed his interest in Environmental Studies, and gave him a chance to get his hands dirty. In the past few years, Amir has, on and off, worked as an urban farmer, studied Environmental Science at DePaul University, and built Jewish community at Moishe House Rogers Park. Amir has been studying at SVARA since 2013, was SVARA’s 2016 Fellow, and brings insights gained as a SVARA learner to his work.

Deborah Newbrun Retreat Director

Deborah Newbrun - Nature Founder of Get Set Go Community Adventures (San Francisco)Deborah Newbrun is the founder of Get Set Go Community Adventures. Her career as a preeminent Jewish environmental leader spans 30 years, including serving 25 years as the Director of Camp Tawonga and four years as Hazon’s Director in the Bay Area. Additionally, she has served on the faculty of multiple Jewish learning fellowships. Deborah co-authored Spirit In Nature: Teaching Judaism and Ecology on the Trail. Deborah is known for being an engaging and creative leader and infusing deep spirit into her teachings.

 Rabbi Ari Lev Fornari Talmud Faculty

Ari Lev Fornari is the Rabbi at Kol Tzedek Synagogue, a Voice for Justice in West Philadelphia. He is a White, queer, trans person, of Ashkenazi and Italian descent. He does not take for granted those who came before him who made it possible for him to be ordained from the Rabbinical School of Hebrew College in 2014. He is most inspired at the intersections of community, activism, and healing. He loves to farm, cook, bike, meditate and parent his kiddos Zeev Lucca and Naim Niso. 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. Ari Lev hopes to make the wisdom of the Talmud accessible to all who seek it.