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Nehirim Queer Jewish Student Retreat 2015

Come get your Queer Jew on at Nehirim’¬≠¬≠s Queer Jewish Student Retreat!


February 13-15, 2015

Join 80‚ÄĒ100 LGBTQ Jewish students, plus friends and ¬≠¬≠¬≠¬†allies, for a weekend of fun, learning, connection, and Judaism. Registration is live and a sample schedule available below – more updated 2015 to come. Email if you are interested in being a student retreat chair (help organize this year’s programs).

WHEN? ­­­ Friday to Sunday, February 13-15, 2015

WHO? ­­­  We expect between 80-100 LGBTQ Jewish students, plus allies, from across the religious-ideological spectrum and with a wide variety of gender and sexual orientation identities. ­­­ This retreat is limited to active or recently graduated (within two-three months) students under the age of 30 only.

PARTICIPATE:­­­ Directed by volunteers, this Retreat is largely community-led and teaching opportunities are available. What would you like to teach or share?­­­ Email us at to get in touch.

HOW MUCH? ­­­ $130 is the Student Rate.

WHERE?¬≠¬≠¬≠¬†The Retreat is taking place at Boston University Hillel (213 Bay State Road) in Boston, MA . Free housing with students will be available ¬≠¬≠¬≠‚ÄĒ please bring your own sleeping bag and be prepared to sleep on the floor!


Register Now!

We are working hard at finalizing the 2015 schedule – check out these workshops that will be offered:

For You Know the Heart of a Stranger (Joy Ladin)

Life at the Intersection of Jewish and Queer Identities. That quote is from the parshah, which simultaneously gives lots of laws that assume heteronormative identities, but also insists that Jews stay actively in touch with our experience of being different in the land of Egypt, and draw on our experiences of estrangement, marginality, vulnerability in order to make Jewish community what it should be. I plan to draw on my personal experiences as a trans person, and what I have learned from speaking to Jewish communities about Jewish and trans identities, to explore what it means to “know the heart of a stranger” by virtue of being queer. I want to reflect on how the Torah teaches us to value the understanding that comes from our queerness, and challenges us to create communities that are enriched by queer perspectives. I expect this will lay the ground for a discussion of the real-life difficulties of openly living queer Jewish identities.

The Essential Nature of Activism in the Twenty-First Century and The Struggles Ahead for LGBTQ Activists (Joyce Kauffman)

Attorney Kauffman will discuss the importance of activism and coalition for today’s LGBTQ activist community, drawing on her history of almost forty-five years as an activist in the LGBTQ movement, the Anti-War Movement, and the Women’s Movement.  She will share her journey as a lesbian mother and how that experience has impacted her life and career choices, including her decision to go to law school at the age of 40.  Finally, Attorney Kauffman will speak about what she sees as the important struggles our community faces as we move forward.

Using Organizing Tools to Make Change on Campus (Kathryn Macias)

This workshop is intended for those working to create change on campus. In this workshop you will learn basic skills of relational organizing including the ins and outs of identifying the change makers on campus and the importance of storytelling in change work. You will walk away from this session with tangible next steps for your change work and a critical lens to use on campus.

Women Who Love Women in Rabbinic Literature (Isabel)

When Jews talk about homosexuality and Jewish law, we nearly always focus on the male experience because of the biblical verse, “You shall not lie down with a male, as with a woman: this is an abomination.” Although sex between women is not discussed in the Torah, since at least the 3rd century CE rabbis have recognized the existence of women who love women in Jewish communities and debated their place in Jewish life. In this class, we will examine the development of laws prohibiting marriage and sex between women and discuss our relationship to these texts. Ultimately, this class will lay the groundwork for reclaiming rabbinic images of women who love women in ways that allow modern queer Jewish women form our own Jewish, queer, and female identities. You do not need any background in Jewish text study to engage in this material.

Coming Out Confused (Taan Shapiro)

Taan will bring you on their journey of coming out numerous times to their parents, personal confusion, and ultimate acceptance of self through art, a child and love.  Sometimes where acceptance comes from is the least expected places

What’s Queer About the Torah? (Rabbi Toba Spitzer)

Biblical prohibitions on gay sex are well known, but is that all the Torah – and its commentators – have to say on the topic?¬† In this workshop we’ll study some of the queerer aspects of Torah and rabbinic interpretations, and see what these texts suggest for a Jewish approach to GLBTQ issues.

CRASH (Rabbi Benay Lappe)

Every tradition comes into being for one and only one reason: to answer life‚Äôs big questions, and it does so by means of a “master story.” But, claims Rabbi Benay Lappe, every master story will ultimately and eventually…crash. This is something Queer people know a lot about. In this deeply Queer and provocative talk, Rabbi Lappe lays out a roadmap for navigating the current “crash” in Jewish life and argues that it is the Queer folk‚ÄĒand those on the margins of the Jewish community for whatever reason‚ÄĒwho will be the ‚Äúplayers‚ÄĚ in the next Jewish future, and outlines the curriculum that will equip them to become those players.

The Soul Descends: Mystical Night Nigguns of the Baal Shem (Matti Kovler)
The Nigguns, in the Hassidic tradition, are generally humming tunes sung without words. The Hassidic Jews believe that words limit and define, but the niggun is capable of affecting the soul directly.‚Äč
Making Your Story a Powerful Narrative (Ethan Sobel)
Each of us is unique, as is our coming out stories. Come learn how to use your story to empower others to come out and feel safe among LGBTQ and allied communities. Ethan will share some of his own techniques and help you to grow your sharing abilities.

2014 Schedule (2015 tbd) 

Friday, February 13th
3:00-5:00  Registration & Snacks
5:00           Opening Program & Shabbat Candle Lighting
6:15           Friday Night Services with BU
-Reform (with music and instruments)
-Conservative (egalitarian, no instruments)
-Orthodox (mechitza)
7:00         Shabbat Dinner
8:30 Evening Program
10:00     Mishpacha Groups

Saturday, February 14th
10:00         Saturday Morning Services with BU
-Conservative (egalitarian)
-Orthodox (mechitza)
-11:30 Meditation
– Chill out Space
12:00         Kiddush & Lunch
12:40-1:40 Workshop Session One
-Using Organizing Tools to Make Change on Campus (Kathryn Macias)
-The Essential Nature of Activism in the Twenty-First Century & the Struggles Ahead (Joyce Kauffman)
-What’s Queer About the Torah (Rabbi Toba)
1:50-2:50   Workshop Session Two
 -Women Who Love Women in Rabbinic Literature (Isabel)
-Outed With Love (Jimmy Mack)
-Sharing Your Story (Ethan)
3:00-4:00   Workshop Session Three
-Coming Out Confused (Taan Shapiro)
-Safe Zone Training (BU LGBTQ Center)
-Being Out in the Workplace (Jeremy Burton)
4:00-5:00   Michpacha Groups
5:00-6:00   Dinner
6:15            Havdalah and Dancing
6:35-7:00   Break
7:00-8:50   CRASH (Rabbi Benay Lappe)   
9:00-11:00 Evening Program

Sunday, February 15th   
10:00         Brunch is Served
10:30         Keynote Address (For You Know the Heart of a Stranger- Dr. Joy Ladin)
11:45        Closing Program/ Reflection Time
1:00          Adios!


Register Now!


Directors: ­­­ ­­­ Email me at to become a student leader for this event.

Rachel Stein, Director of Student Programming & Registrar

Rachel Stein is a passionate Jewish life educator and excited to return to Nehirim. In 2013, she co-chaired the Nehirim Student Retreat at Boston University. She has spent time working at the University of Michigan Hillel and Hazon. She is a graduate of The George Washington University where she studied psychology and explored the nation’s capital. In her junior year, Rachel traveled most of Israel while studying at the University of Haifa. She is currently pursuing her Master in Social Work at Fordham University. She resides in New York City.


Alissa Platcow, Student Chair

Alissa Platcow is a senior at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and a double major in Vocal Jazz and Judaic Studies.  At UMass, she co-directs an all female a cappella group, S#arp Attitude, and is very involved in the Jewish community.  She has served as the president of many organizations under the UMass Hillel including LGBTJew and Koach, the conservative group on campus.  After graduation, Alissa hopes to pursue a career as a rabbi.


Jeremy Ginsberg, Student Chair

Jeremy Ginsberg is a third year at the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) where he is pursuing two B.A’s in History and in Global Studies. During his time at UCSB Jeremy is apart of many different organizations on campus. He has also served as, Co-Chair and Co-Founder of UCSB’s first LGBTQ Jewish Club (Kehset), a Founding Brother and Vice President of UCSB’s Zeta Beta Tau Gamma Xi colony, Vice President of Communications at Santa Barbara Hillel, and President of American Students for Israel at UCSB. In his almost nonexistent spare time Jeremy enjoys playing the flute, graphic design, photography and fixing computers.




Rabbi Toba Spitzer

Rabbi Toba Spitzer, a native of the Washington D.C. area and a 1997graduate of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College (RRC) in Philadelphia, has served Congregation Dorshei Tzedek in West Newton, Massachusetts since 1997.¬† She is a Past President of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association, serving from March 2007 through March 2009, and currently serves on the Executive Board of the Massachusetts Board of Rabbis.¬† As the first openly gay or lesbian leader of a national rabbinic organization, she was included in the ‚ÄúForward 50‚ÄĚ and Newsweek‚Äôs ‚ÄúTop 50 Rabbis in America.‚ÄĚ



Professor Joy Ladin

Joy Ladin’s return to Yeshiva University as a woman after receiving tenure as a man made her the first openly transgender employee of an Orthodox Jewish institution and made page-3 news in the New York Post. Her memoir of gender transition, Through the Door of Life: A Jewish Journey Between Genders, was a finalist for a 2012 National Jewish Book Award, and winner of a Forward Fives award, and she was named to the 2012 Forward 50 list of influential or courageous American Jews. She is also the author of six books of poetry, including Psalmsand Lambda Literary Award finalist Transmigration; her seventh collection, Impersonation, is due out in 2015. She holds the David and Ruth Gottesman Chair in English at Yeshiva University. Her work has been recognized with a Fulbright Scholarship and an American Council of Learned Societies research fellowship. She has spoken about gender identity issues around the country, and was featured on NPR’s ‚ÄúOn Being‚ÄĚ with Krista Tippett and other NPR programs. Sheserves on the Board of Keshet, a national organization devoted to full inclusion of LGTBQ Jews in the Jewish world.


Jeremy Burton

Jeremy Burton is the Executive Director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston, Israel and around the world. Through advocacy, organizing, service and partnerships, JCRC pursues social justice, ensures a vibrant Jewish community, and builds a network of support for Israel. Jeremy is currently a board member of Keshet, working for the full inclusion of LGBT Jews in Jewish life, and on the advisory board of Eshel, dedicated to creating understanding and support for LGBT people in traditional Jewish communities.


Joyce Kauffman

Joyce Kauffman is a 1992 graduate of Northeastern University School of Law and a 1981 graduate of Lesley University, with a Master’s degree in Counseling Psychology. She is a trained Mediator and Collaborative Lawyer. Her practice focuses exclusively on family law, with an emphasis on issues impacting the LGBT community. On brief in Adoption of Tammy, the Massachusetts case that secured the right for same-sex couples to adopt, Attorney Kauffman also represented the first lesbian couple in Massachusetts to obtain a birth certificate without benefit of adoption upon the birth of their child, conceived through IVF using the eggs of one of the women but born to the other woman. She has represented a number of families who have successfully obtained three-parent adoptions. Since Goodridge and the beginning of same-sex marriage in Massachusetts, Attorney Kauffman has represented a number of individuals in same-sex divorces.


Rabbi Benay Lappe

Rabbi Benay Lappe is the Founder and Rosh Yeshiva of SVARA, a traditionally radical yeshiva based in Chicago. Ordained by The Jewish Theological Seminary in 1997, she was the first openly lesbian Conservative rabbi.¬† Rabbi Lappe also currently serves as Director of Education and Senior Fellow at the Institute for the Next Jewish Future in Chicago, and as an Associate at CLAL‚ÄĒThe National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership. 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, American Jewish University, The Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, The Graduate Theological Union‚Äôs 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‚Äôs Gay-Straight Alliance, the first to be established at a Jewish day school.During her tenure as Director of Education at Congregation Beth Simchat Torah, in Manhattan, Rabbi Lappe founded CBST‚Äôs Lehrhaus Judaica, which has served over 10,000 students to date. Rabbi Lappe also cofounded the Queer Jewish Think Tank at Congregation Beth Chayim Chadashim, in Los Angeles, which still operates today.Rabbi Lappe‚Äôs writings have appeared in Shma: A Journal of Jewish Responsibility, eCLAL: An Online Journal of Religion, Public Life and Culture, The Book of Jewish Sacred Practices: CLAL‚Äôs Guide to Everyday and Holiday Rituals and Blessings, Lesbian Rabbis: The First Generation, Torah Queeries, among others.Rabbi Lappe was named to The Forward‚Äôs 2014 list of Most Inspiring Rabbis, and Jewrotica‚Äôs Sexiest Rabbis of 2013. While learning and teaching Talmud are her greatest passions, Rabbi Lappe is also a licensed pilot, shoemaker, and patent-holding inventor.


Jimmy Mack

When Jimmy Mack discovered he was HIV positive, it was February 14,¬†1987, and an HIV diagnosis was essentially a death sentence. So instead of going to a doctor for treatment, he dived into a different kind of medicine: cocaine and alcohol. His journey out of addiction was difficult, but Jimmy has now been clean and sober¬†since 1992¬†(23 years) ‚ÄĒ and he‚Äôs got an undetectable viral load to boot. He is now happily partnered with an HIV positive¬†man, and he‚Äôs OK with everyone knowing he‚Äôs HIV positive. ‚ÄúI think that someone needs to be out there saying, ‚ÄėLook, I‚Äôm HIV positive. I have a full-time job. I volunteer as an emergency medical technician.’‚ÄĚ Jimmy says. ‚ÄúToday you can live a long, healthy, normal life with this disease. There‚Äôs so much hope.‚ÄĚ Jimmy¬†graduated¬†from Boston University from the School of Managment in 1980 and is excited to be speaking at his alma mater!


Ethan Sobel, Nehirim Communications

Ethan Sobel is extremely excited to oversee Nehirim’s communications department. He holds a M.S. in Public Relations from Boston University and received his B.B.A in Finance and Sport Management from the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Ethan’s involvement in LGBTQ Jewish activism began as the Director of Student Programming & Development Associate for Nehirim while a graduate student.¬†He has directed two Nehirim retreats, and worked as Retreat Manager for four. Ethan is the Director of Student Activities at Boston University Hillel and also a speaker and educator for Parents, Families, and Friends of Gays and Lesbians (PFLAG). He currently resides in Cambridge, MA.


Kathryn Macias

Kathryn Mac√≠as (Muh-SEE-us) is a queer with chutzpah. She came to Keshet as a JOIN for Justice Fellow all the way from Athens, GA. While in Athens, she earned a Bachelor‚Äôs of Arts in Communication Studies, minor in Religion, and Certificate in Leadership and Service from the University of Georgia.It was during her time in college that she discovered and cultivated her passion for social justice work at the intersection of religious and queer identity. Kathryn served as the Executive Director of the LGBT Resource Center‚Äôs Programming Board, co-led the University‚Äôs first LGBTQ Awareness alternative break trip, and served as the lead organizer in the Gender Advocacy Campaign. She describes her work through the Gender Advocacy Campaign as one of her proudest achievements as it resulted in the addition of ‚Äúgender identity‚ÄĚ to the University‚Äôs Non-Discrimination Anti-Harassment policy. While in college, Kathryn also interned with SOJOURN, the Southern Jewish Resource Network for Gender and Sexual Diversity, where she developed LGBTQ inclusion Train-the-Trainer curricula and secured a grant for youth suicide prevention. Kathryn brings her experience, commitment to justice, and chutzpah to the work at Keshet as the Boston Community Organizer.


Isabel is a junior history major at Yale University and she is very involved in both the Jewish and Queer communities. She is the social coordinator of the Yale LGBT coop, on the board of the queer women’s social group, and the president of¬†Me, Who?,¬†a group dedicated to exploring gender, identity, and sexuality in Judaism. She was also the torah reading coordinator and treasurer of the Yale Orthodox minyan and identifies as a member of the halachic egalitarian movement. Isabel is passionate about finding ways for Queer Jews to live halachically observant lives and helping halachically observant communities embrace Queer Jews


Taan Shapiro

Taan Shapiro is a trans, Jewish, queer single parent who navigates the world with peace and love.  Taan identifies as genderqueer, happily occupying a middle space or male and female and neither male nor female.  They are Jewish attending weekly Shabbat services and Sunday Unitarian Church services.  Taan is a birth parent to an incredible, sweet, fun smart two-year old.  Professionally, Taan is a teacher.  Taan first came out publicly to friends and family at age 18.  Now 15 years later, Taan is not only happy and comfortable with who they are, Taan moves about educating and spreading the word that to find and be oneself brings true happiness.



Matti Kovler

Matti Kovler is a Russian-born Israeli composer who has had commissions from Carnegie Hall, Tanglewood and the Israeli Phil. In his spare time Matti runs JMT, a volunteer-run multimedia production company dedicated to extending Jewish Musical Theater beyond fiddler-on-the-roof. So far JMT has produced over thirty original works. Spanning from traditional to experimental, these works have been seen at venues ranging from Boston’s MFA to the Underground Collector (a thousand sq. meter art-loft in Moscow). Matti is now at work on a collaboration with Theodor Tezhik (Cirque Du Soleil) on the opera The Seekers of Light. Featuring musicians from Iran and Israel, in December 2014 excerpts from the opera were premiered at the Museum of Fine Arts in front of a rotating crowd of 2500 people.


Suzie Schwartz Jacobson

Suzie is currently a rabbinical student at Hebrew College. Prior to rabbinical school, Suzie received a MA from the University of Chicago Divinity School, a BA from the Jewish Theological Seminary and a BA from Columbia University. Suzie has been a dedicated Jewish educator and curriculum writer in synagogues, camps and youth groups all over the US. She is currently the Religious School and Family Education Director at Temple Beth Zion in Brookline, MA and the Rabbinic Intern and Educator at Temple Israel in Boston, MA. Over many years, Suzie has been an active volunteer and consultant for Keshet, a grassroots organization dedicated to creating a fully inclusive Jewish community for GLBTQ Jews. Suzie is passionate about Torah, Jewish creativity, social justice, inclusion of LGBTQ Jews and most importantly, her wife JoJo.



The Nehirim Student Retreat is an immersion weekend of community, spirituality, and connection for LGBTQ”ňÜJewish students and allies. It features a full program of”ňÜShabbat services, workshops, learning opportunities, social programs, and teachers from a diverse range of religious, gender/sexuality, and geographical backgrounds. Nehirim is an independent nonprofit organization founded in 2003, that has been nationally recognized by the Slingshot Fund as one of the fifty most innovative Jewish organizations in the country.

Questions? Email us at! Also, connect with us on Facebook.

We are co-sponsored by Boston University Hillel.