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Avodah Presents:

Speak Torah to Power

Speak Torah to Power is a transformational speaker series, in which top Jewish educators from around the country address the most pressing issues of our time to offer us the Jewish thinking most needed in today’s world. These talks are available below, with discussion guides to support your communities in exploring the connection between activism, service, spirituality, community, and Jewish wisdom in their own lives.

An Accounting of the Soul – Reckoning with Racial Justice in 5781

Shahanna McKinney-Baldon, founder and director of Edot: The Midwest Regional Jewish Diversity Collaborative, speaks on reckoning with systemic racism to strengthen Jewish community as we approach the High Holidays. As Jews around the world take stock of their individual actions through cheshbon hanefesh (an accounting of the soul), she explores how we can apply this concept to racial oppression within the Jewish community, and what it might look like for us to do teshuvah (repair/repentance) on racial injustice.

Racial Justice and the Jewish Community – When Our Tradition Makes us Uncomfortable

Nate Looney, Manager of Racial Justice Initiatives at Avodah, speaks on deepening racial inclusion in the Jewish community. He discusses how he has personally grappled with strains of racism within Jewish text and tradition, and the imperative, particularly in our current moment to reach out and build power and community with Jews of Color.

Taking Action to End Hunger and Create True Food Justice

Rachel Sumekh, Avodah alum and CEO of Swipe Out Hunger, shares how she built a movement to fight hunger on college campuses. Her talk details how universities can support students in accessing meals while advocating for policies that create long-term systemic change. She reflects on the concept of the shmita (sabbatical), and how her year with Avodah, inspired her to take a step back and consider how she can deepen her activism to truly work in solidarity with those most impacted by hunger and more fully center their needs.

A Jewish Call to Climate Action

Rabbi Jennie Rosenn, founder and CEO of Dayenu: A Jewish Call to Climate Justice, speaks on the climate crisis as the existential crisis of our time, deeply intertwined with contemporary social, economic and racial justice issues. She shares a call to create a Jewish movement to combat climate change that is spiritually rooted, multigenerational, and takes bold action.

Moving Beyond Service to Address Systemic Inequalities

Ruth Messinger, the formidable global activist and social justice consultant, shares wisdom from her many years working in movements for social change. She talks about the importance of service – and why it is not enough. In this talk, listeners are encouraged to ask the fundamental question “Why?” in studying the root causes of systemic inequities so that we can learn to effectively advocate and create long term change.

Creating New Narratives of Empathy

Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum tells the story of how it became an essential part of Muslim prayer in one community to be surrounded by the love of gay Jews, and how one straight Imam found himself as a featured speaker at New York’s GLBT Pride parade.

Resilience Through the Practice of Lament

Racial justice activist and rabbinical student, Dr. Koach Frazier, speaks on spiritual resilience through the practice of lament and shows how to use it on our journey to liberation.

Justice In the City

Author, academic, and activist, Rabbi Aryeh Cohen, Ph.D, explores what we owe the economically vulnerable and/or marginalized members of our urban communities.

Breaking the Antisemitism Cycle Through Solidarity

Organizer and educator Dove Kent explores how learning historical stories of non-Jews risking themselves to care for vulnerable Jewish populations might help us to forge a future of solidarity between Jewish and non-Jewish communities today.

Intersectionality as a Jewish Practice

Activist and teacher Yavilah McCoy invites us to consider how experiences of inclusion and exclusion can shape our identities and worldview–and how building Jewish communities that honor these experiences and identities can help in the work of dismantling systems of oppression.

Radical Humanity: Inalienable Dignity and American Public Policy

Rabbi Rachel Timoner teaches the Torah that each life has infinite value, and explores the revolutionary implications of this value for our own Jewish practices, as well as for American public policy at large.

Speak Torah to Power Featured Speakers:

Rabbi Aryeh Cohen, Ph.D.

Rabbi Aryeh Cohen, Ph.D. is Professor of Rabbinic Literature at the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies of the American Jewish University, where he teaches courses in all things Talmud. He is also Rabbi in Residence for Bend the Arc: Jewish Action in Southern California, and a senior fellow of the Shalom Hartman Institute of North America. Additionally, Aryeh is on the editorial board of Tikkun Magazine. Aryeh received his PhD from Brandeis University and his rabbinic ordination from Ziegler. His academic work focuses on the intersection of Talmudic discussions and contemporary issues of justice. He has written two books, Justice in the City: An Argument from the Sources of Rabbinic Judaism (2012) and Rereading Talmud: Gender, Law, and the Poetics of Sugyot (1998). Over the past two years Aryeh has helped organize five major nonviolent direct actions which helped to pass California’s state sanctuary law (SB54) and moved the city of Los Angeles away from any involvement with immigration enforcement. He has been arrested five times for civil disobedience. Aryeh also writes topical essays on domestic social justice issues such as Islamophobia, racism and racial justice, immigration, housing and homelessness, as well as on Israel/Palestine.

Koach Baruch Frazier, Au.D.

Koach Baruch Frazier, Au.D. is a healer and musician who is working towards the day everyone experiences liberation. He spent 14 years helping people reconnect with the world around them through better hearing and the last several years providing love and support through revolutionary listening and spiritual leadership, traveling the country facilitating healing and transformation through music and workshops at the intersection of antisemitism and antiblackness. He earned his undergraduate degree from Saint Louis University and his doctorate from Central Michigan University. Dr. Frazier has served on the boards of the Missouri GSA Network and Central Reform Congregation (CRC), where he was also a cantorial soloist and is a co-convenor of the Tzedek Lab. He currently lives in Philadelphia with his fiance, LaJuana, where he attends the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College. Koach’s heart beats to the rhythm of tikvah, t’shuvah and tzedek.

Dove Kent

Dove Kent has over 15 years of experience in grassroots organizing, political education, and movement building. As the outgoing executive director of Jews for Racial & Economic Justice (JFREJ), 2011 through 2016, Dove supported the organization to triple in size and win game-changing legislative victories for police accountability and worker’s rights through powerful local coalitions. Under Dove’s tenure, JFREJ grew into one of the strongest and most effective progressive Jewish organizations in the country, creating significant culture shifts within the Jewish community, New York and nationally. She has been published in What We Do Now: Standing Up for Your Values in Trump’s America (2017), Towards the “Other America”: Anti-racist Resources for White People Taking Action for Black Lives Matter (2015), Understanding Antisemitism: An Offering To Our Movement (2017), and in the Guardian, Ha’aretz, Tikkun, and the Forward, among many other media outlets. Dove teaches throughout the country and currently resides in Durham, North Carolina.

Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum

Sharon Kleinbaum has been Senior Rabbi of New York City’s Congregation Beth Simchat Torah (CBST) since 1992. Under her leadership, CBST has become an important voice in Judaism, in the world-wide discourse on the nature of religious community, and in the movement to secure basic civil rights for gay people everywhere. Rabbi Kleinbaum’s education and experience cut across all varieties of contemporary Judaism: Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist, and secular activist. She received her ordination from the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in 1990. Raised in a family of social activists, Rabbi Kleinbaum’s own social action career began in college. She led protests against Barnard’s investments in South Africa and against the proliferation of nuclear weapons. As a human rights advocate – for blacks, women, gays and lesbians, immigrants – she has been jailed, arrested, vilified, and lauded.

Headshot of Nate Looney

Nate Looney

Nate Looney is Avodah’s Manager of Racial Justice Initiatives, leading diversity strategies at Avodah with a focus on Jews of Color. He previously served as Avodah’s JOC Recruiter. Nate is the CEO and Owner of Westside Urban Gardens, an urban agricultural company based in Los Angeles, CA. Nate​ is an AJU alum, entrepreneur, strategist, US Army Veteran and Urban Farmer. Nate joined the US Army National Guard in 2003. After bootcamp, Nate relocated to New Orleans where he was both a military police soldier and a full-time college transfer student at Dillard University, an HBCU. Nate was part of rescue efforts during Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and deployed to Iraq in 2008.

Nate decided to leave the Army to finish his college education and begin his gender transition. In 2015, Nate graduated with his B.A. in Business from American Jewish University. He has been featured as a veteran farmer on the “Lydia Celebrates America” program on PBS and LA Fox Morning News. He has been a guest speaker for USDA, Kaiser, FoodTank Summit and Virginia Tech. Nate is a Jeremiah fellow, a Selah alum and is the chair of the LAGLCC Inclusion Taskforce.

Currently, he consults controlled environment agriculture start-ups and speaks publicly about intersectionality and diversity.

Yavilah McCoy

Yavilah McCoy is the CEO of DIMENSIONS Inc. in Boston.  She has spent the past 20 years working extensively in multi-faith communities and partnering specifically with the Jewish community to engage issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion.  Yavilah is an educator, activist, and spiritual teacher.  She is a Jewish woman and a person of color and has designed numerous tools and methods that enable students and educators to be better citizens of the world through exploring differences and reaching for tangible solutions in allied engagement.  Yavilah brings a wealth of wisdom and experience in DEI consulting, non-profit management, philanthropy and engagement to this project and has worked with numerous partners to build strong, healthy organizations with measurable commitments to racial justice, equity and anti-oppression strategies.  Yavilah is a certified trainer for ADL’s World of Difference Institute, National Conference for Community and Justice, and the National Coalition Building Institute. She is a certified coach for the Auburn Theological Seminary Pastoral Training program and is a renowned speaker, educator, and spiritual practitioner.  Yavilah is a pioneer of the Jewish diversity and equity movement and has been an activist and mentor for the empowerment of Jews of Color for most of her life. Yavilah looks forward to utilizing tools she has learned for enhancing the participation of people of color and their allies in broader movement circles to explore deeper opportunities within Jewish institutions for the engagement of Jews of Color.  In celebration of the musical traditions passed down to her from three generations of her African-American Jewish family, Yavilah is also the writer, producer and performer for the Jewish Gospel theatrical production “The Colors of Water.”

Rabbi Rachel Timoner

Rabbi Rachel Timoner is the Senior Rabbi Congregation Beth Elohim in Park Slope, Brooklyn and previously served as Associate Rabbi at Leo Baeck Temple in Los Angeles. She was born in Miami, Florida, received a B.A. from Yale University, and was ordained by Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. From 1991 to 2004 she worked with social justice non-profit organizations. She also served as a leader of Reform CA, a statewide movement of more than 120 rabbis and many lay leaders to serve as a powerful voice for social justice in California, winning protection for 1.5 million undocumented immigrants and more than a billion dollars in affordable housing.

Proudly Funded By:

Special Thanks to Our Promotional Partners:

B'Nai Jeshurun. CBE. Challah for Hunger. Detroit Jews for Justice. Habonim Dror North America. Jewish Women's Foundation of New York. Jews United for Justice. Jews for Racial & Economic Justice. JOIN for Justice. Keshet. Moishe House. NCJW. Religion Action Center of Reform Judaism. Repair the World. T'ruah.