The SVARA Teaching Kollel: Constructing a “Place” of Learning, Teaching, and Transformation

June 25th, 2021

The words in the image on the left—among them “community,” “supportive,” “Talmud,” “queer,” “learning,” “teaching,” and “practice”—are a distillation of SVARA’s Teaching Kollel, a two-year, cohort-based learning and teacher training fellowship. The word cloud was created by SVARA, which asked the Teaching Fellows to share their hopes and expectations for the Kollel experience and the community they would build together. At the center is “place”—not really itself a descriptor of the Kollel, but rather a container for the evocative concepts that surround it in the word cloud and follow it in the text that generated the graphic. As they shared with each other, Fellows wish the Kollel to be:

  • A place to experiment
  • A place to have fun
  • A place to build skills and confidence
  • A place of growth and stretch
  • A place to be held in learning
  • A place of reciprocity
  • A place of friendship
  • A place where I (we) can frolic in text
  • A place to develop long term relationships with colleagues
  • A place of deep curiosity and co-nerding
  • A place where each of us can bring questions, doubts, challenges to think about together
  • A place to support each other in cultivating/practicing liberatory pedagogy and support/hold one another accountable in that practice
  • A place where each of us can show up as exactly who we are, and that will be enough

There is a particular poignancy in the prominence of “place” in these aspirations given that, like nearly all such programs, the Teaching Kollel became entirely virtual with the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic. While SVARA did offer some pre-pandemic online programming, one of the unique impacts of its signature programs has long been the opportunity for participants to gather together with so many queer co-learners, often for the first time ever, and the joyous energy that created. This cohort of the Teaching Kollel experienced this in their Year One retreat and anticipated the same for Year Two. Having this opportunity taken away so unexpectedly was a profound disruption and disappointment.

In 2018, SVARA received funding along with nine other educator training programs from the Jim Joseph Foundation to create professional development opportunities. As part of the evaluation work for the initiative, Rosov Consulting is producing a series of case studies of the peak moments–some form of intensive, residential, or retreat component–of each program. This case study explores the aspirations and goals of SVARA’s Teaching Kollel, a two-year, cohort-based learning and teaching fellowship.

The SVARA Teaching Kollel: Constructing a ‘Place’ of Learning, Teaching, and Transformation,” Rosov Consulting, June 2021