University News

Dardashti picked to fill rabbi slot

The Conservative chaplain will replace Hillel’s current Orthodox rabbi

By
Senior Staff Writer
Friday, May 10, 2013

Michelle Dardashti has been chosen as the next associate University chaplain for the Jewish Community, according to a Hillel press release.

Dardashti currently serves as director of community engagement at Temple Beth El, a Conservative congregation in Stamford, Conn. She will start her new position at the University this summer, according to the press release.

The search to fill the position began when Rabbi Mordechai Rackover announced in December he would leave the University at the end of this academic year, The Herald previously reported. An Orthodox Jew, Rackover has served as Hillel’s rabbi since the fall of 2008.

Dardashti was chosen from almost 100 applicants for the position, said Harpo Jaeger ’14, one of two students on the search committee. The search committee members, who chose a Conservative rabbi to succeed an Orthodox rabbi, decided early in the process that they “didn’t want the person’s practice to matter” when they made their selection, Jaeger said. “People from all Jewish backgrounds” applied and were strongly considered, Jaeger said. “It wasn’t like by picking someone who wasn’t Orthodox we were ‘trading down.’”

Janet Cooper-Nelson, University chaplain, praised the committee’s selection. “I think (Dardashti is) a wonderful mix of traditional scholarship and very modern, socially engaged understandings of the traditions of Judaism,” Cooper-Nelson said.

Dardashti comes from a diverse background — her father is Iranian, her mother is an American folk singer and she is married to an Australian Jew, according to Hillel’s press release.

With a family “literally from all over the world,” Dardashti “knows many different traditions of Judaism and is not only acquainted with them but really values them,” Cooper-Nelson said.

Dardashti said her perspective fits well with the culture of “openness” at Brown.

“Brown is a place that is interested in melding one’s own personal story with a broader story,” she said.

Emmet Golden-Marx ’13 and Jesse Golden-Marx ’13, student leaders of Hillel’s Reform services, said they are pleased with Dardashti’s appointment.

“The response in the Reform minyan was positive,” said Emmet Golden-Marx. “It sounds like she has a real focus on the community.”

Dardashti said she received two other offers at synagogues, but the “pace of a university” and the “unique opportunity” of serving at Brown made the choice “very clear.”

“College is all about … exploration and learning and wanting to develop oneself,” Dardashti said. “People are certainly eager to grow and learn generally, and my role is helping make Judaism a piece of that.”