They are leading and creating organizations and businesses of all kinds, responding to humanitarian crises, writing novels, educating at all levels, creating works of art, and so much more! In celebration of Pardes’s 50th, we are highlighting 50 standout alumni whose accomplishments exemplify the rich texture of the Pardes community worldwide.
Laynie Soloman is a Torah-lover, a teacher, and a lifelong yeshiva student. They currently serve as the Associate Rosh Yeshiva at SVARA: A Traditionally Radical Yeshiva, where they teach Talmud and co-founded the Trans Halakha Project.
SHARE A PARDES MEMORY.
I remember first walking into the Beit Midrash on my first day at Pardes, and feeling a sense of awe and delight (albeit a bit overwhelmed, too!) at the many, many, many books – almost all of which I did not know how to use or interact with. Just finding the book I was looking for felt like a huge accomplishment.
WHAT ARE YOU MOST PROUD OF IN YOUR WORK?
I am most proud of my students! It is such a tremendous gift to have the opportunity to learn with and from queer and trans Jews who have – in many cases – been denied access to Torah as they/we create opportunities to learn Talmud in deep, rigorous, joyful ways that center accessibility and queerness.
HOW DOES PARDES CONTINUE TO AFFECT YOU TODAY?
I recently celebrated my 10-year “gemara-versary” (marking one decade of having learned gemara). Pardes was the first place I ever learned Talmud – a text and practice that has changed my life and animated so much of my Avodah. Pardes was one of the first places where I had the opportunity to practice deeply loving my tradition, and where I felt the sweetness of learning and living Torah.
WHAT WAS YOUR FAVORITE CLASS AT PARDES?
I loved any and every opportunity to learn with Rabbi Rahel Berkovits, especially in our Talmud class. Rahel’s fierce presence and capacity to hold each of us – and the Talmud – in our fullness gave me a model for what honest teaching could look like, which is something I strive for every day in my own teaching.
IF YOU COULD HAVE ANY SHABBAT GUEST, WHO WOULD IT BE?
I’d love to have a Shabbos meal with Rebbe Nachman, whose teachings have been so grounding to me in cultivating resilience and appreciating true liberatory joy while navigating a world full of suffering and oppression. I would want to ask him about his experience praying, about what real challenges he faced in finding sparks of goodness, and how he thinks his teachings can and can’t speak to the world we’re living in now.