Faculty and Staff

Rabbi Benay Lappe Founder & Rosh Yeshiva

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.

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 (that was fun), and is a 2016 Covenant Award recipient.

Rabbi Mónica Gomery Associate Director & Talmud Faculty

Mónica is thrilled to move to Chicago to join the SVARA team as 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. For the past two years, she has served as 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 forthcoming books of poetry from YesYes Books and Cooper Dillon Press. She is also on the leadership team of Let My People Sing! which runs transformative Jewish singing retreats. In her new role at SVARA, Mónica will be 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 & Talmud Faculty

Laynie is thrilled to join the SVARA team as the incoming Director of Educational Initiatives and member of the Talmud faculty. Laynie will serve in this position on a part-time basis while living in New York City, completing a Dual M.A. in Talmud/Rabbinics and Jewish Education at the Jewish Theological Seminary, and serving as the Shoel u’Meshiv (or as we like to say at SVARA, bet midrash fairy) and student teaching at Yeshivat Hadar. A passionate teacher and student of Jewish text and thought, Laynie is bringing to SVARA experience as an educator in a wide array of settings, including schools, congregations, retreats, and camps, along with several years of full-time study in various batei midrash. Laynie is so looking forward to combining their love for deep Talmud study and building courageous, radical community in this 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 organization 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 & Bet Midrash Coordinator

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 is thrilled to be facilitating learning for so many other students.

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.