Avodah Presents:

Speak Torah to Power
Collage of Speak Torah to Power Speakers. Top row: Shahanna McKinney Baldon, Nate Looney, Rachel Sumekh. Bottom Row: Rabbi Jennie Rosenn, Ruth Messinger, Jamie Margolin.

Speak Torah to Power is a transformational speaker series, in which diverse 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. Issues range from the climate crisis and food insecurity to racial justice, creating change within our political systems, and more.

Now in its third year, Speak Torah to Power features incredible leaders including: Shahanna McKinney-Baldon, Founder and Director of Edot: The Midwest Regional Jewish Diversity Collaborative; Nate Looney, Avodah’s Manager of Racial Justice Initiatives and a U.S. Army veteran with a background in urban farming; Founder and CEO of Swipe out Hunger (and Avodah alum!) Rachel Sumekh, who credits her intersectional lens to being raised by her Jewish Iranian immigrant parents; Rabbi Jennie Rosenn, the founder and CEO of Dayenu: A Jewish Call to Climate Action; Jamie Margolin, a Latinx Jewish teen climate activist and author; and the inimitable Ruth W. Messinger, former CEO of American Jewish World Service (AJWS), who also served in New York City political office for 20 years. Previous speakers include Yavilah McCoy, Dove Kent, Rabbi Aryeh Cohen, Dr. Koach Frazier, Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum, and Rabbi Rachel Timoner. You can read more about our speakers at the bottom of this page. We encourage you to watch and share these talks with your Jewish community to strengthen our Jewish commitment to social justice.

For our latest installment of the “Speak Torah to Power” talk series, we have an interactive curriculum and discussion guide, which combine the videos with text, activities, and opportunities for action. These guides were designed with a college audience in mind, but can be adapted for use for high school students and adults. In addition, we have individual discussion guides, as well as three workshops, which combine clips from their videos into interactive sessions from our past two seasons. Click here to download any or all of our Speak Torah to Power curriculum and discussion guides.

Speak Torah to Power is proudly funded by UJA-Federation of New York.

An Accounting of the Soul for the Jewish New Year

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.

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.

Ending Hunger on College Campuses and Creating and True Food Equity

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.

Creating Lasting Change for a More Just World

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.

Speaking Youth to Power: Using our Voices to Create Real Climate Solutions

Jamie Margolin, the founder of Zero Hour, an international youth climate justice movement, speaks on the deep meaning of Tikkun Olam, repairing the world, and what it means in relationship to healing our planet. The 18-year-old international climate activist discusses how she led the very first Youth Climate March and how other young people (and all people) can make an impact to address our climate crisis.

“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:

Shahanna McKinney Baldon holding a Torah during a march.

Shahanna McKinney-Baldon

Shahanna McKinney-Baldon is the founder and director of the Edot Midwest Regional Jewish Diversity Collaborative. A longtime educator in Jewish and public school settings and an active Jewish diversity advocate and thought leader for over 20 years, Shahanna brings past experience serving in a range of organizational leadership roles that have focused on diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice in schools and communities. She comes from a large Midwest US African American and Ashkenazi family with Seminole, Cherokee, Blackfoot, and Sephardi heritage.

Nate Looney

Nate Looney is the Manager of Racial Justice Initiatives at Avodah, a Jewish social justice organization. He is a veteran of the US Army National Guard, having served in rescue efforts during Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and was deployed to Iraq in 2008. He left the Army to finish his college education and begin his gender transition. Nate Looney graduated with his B.A. in Business from American Jewish University in 2015 and is the CEO and Owner of Westside Urban Gardens, an urban agricultural company based in Los Angeles, CA. He has been featured on PBS and LA Fox Morning News, and has been a guest speaker for the USDA, Kaiser Permanente, FoodTank Summit and Virginia Tech. Nate is a Jeremiah fellow, a Selah alum, and is the chair of the LAGLCC Inclusion Taskforce. In addition to his role at Avodah, Nate Looney consults controlled environment agriculture start-ups and is a speaker on issues of intersectionality and diversity.

Headshot of Rachel Sumekh

Rachel Sumekh

Rachel Sumekh is the Founder & CEO of Swipe Out Hunger. The organization is the leading nonprofit in addressing hunger amongst college students. Her work has been recognized by The Obama White House and landed her on Forbes’ 30 Under 30 list. Rachel Sumekh is an alumna of the Avodah Jewish Service Corps. She grew up in San Fernando Valley region of California and was raised by Iranian Jewish immigrants to whom she credits her intersectional perspective.

Headshot of Rabbi Jennie Rosenn

Rabbi Jennie Rosenn

Rabbi Jennie Rosenn has spent more than two decades leading Jewish non-profit organizations, advocating for social change and creating dynamic new initiatives at the heart of the Jewish social justice movement. She is the founder and CEO of Dayenu: A Jewish Call to Climate Action, a new organization mobilizing the Jewish community to confront the climate crisis with spiritual audacity and bold political action. 

Rabbi Rosenn previously served as vice president for community engagement at HIAS, where she built a robust Jewish movement responding to the global refugee crisis and as a director at the Nathan Cummings Foundation. She is a founding board member of Avodah, a Wexner Graduate Fellow, and has been named twice to the Forward’s “50 Most Influential Jews in America.”

Headshot of Ruth Messinger

Ruth W. Messinger

Ruth W. Messinger is a global leader on issues of race/racism, voting rights, gender, immigration and the environment, and teaches civic engagement and organizing. She works as a social justice consultant and served for 18 years as CEO of American Jewish World Service, an international human rights and development organization. She continues as that organization’s Global Ambassador. 

Ruth W. Messenger had a twenty-year career in public service in New York City, as a City Council member and Manhattan Borough President. She was named one of the 10 most inspiring women religious leaders by The Huffington Post; the sixth most influential Jew in the world by The Jerusalem Post; and was listed annually on The Forward’s “Forward 50” for nearly a decade.

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.

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.