Rabbi Michelle Dardashti from Brown RISD Hillel accepted the position of Senior Rabbi at Kane Street Synagogue in Brooklyn, NY and will start her role later this summer.
Since July 2013, Rabbi Dardashti has served as Associate University Chaplain for the Jewish Community, according to an email announcement on March 10 from Rabbi Josh Bolton, executive director at Brown RISD Hillel.
“I’m over the moon, and it’s bittersweet,” Dardashti said about her departure.
Dardashti’s parents live in New York along with many of her other family members. Her husband’s work is also based in New York, though the couple currently live in Providence. “That’s how much I’ve loved my job. We haven’t wanted to leave Providence despite all of that,” Dardashti said.
But when the opportunity of Senior Rabbi came to her, she was “shocked at how right it felt,” Dardashti said.
Because some Brown students head to Brooklyn after graduation, Dardashti anticipates that her relationships with many alumni members from the University will “continue to flourish.”
Chaplain of the University Janet Cooper Nelson agreed. “I smile to think of the many Brunonians who live in Brooklyn and expect (that) they and she will feel right at home as they discover one another in this new landscape,” she wrote in an email to The Herald.
Cooper Nelson added that Dardashti embodies the aspirations of what modern female religious leaders can be. She has a deep commitment to “build a more just world,” she wrote.
In partnership with students, Dardashti helped shape a number of initiatives that critically explored antisemitism, activism, Jewish peoplehood and the American Jewish relationship to Israel, Rabbi Bolton wrote in the announcement.
These programs have included the Hillel Initiative for Racial Awareness and Justice as well as the Narrow Bridge Project, which is a student cohort that meets to discuss Jewish peoplehood, Zionism and antisemitism, Dardashti said.
Dardashti said her motivation for the Narrow Bridge Project stemmed from grappling with the challenges of the Gaza-Israel wars and polarization surrounding views on antisemitism. She felt that nationwide political polarization was mirrored in the Jewish community.
“I developed it in response as a place that could sort of hold a lot of a mess (and) … a lot of the pain that students were enduring,” Dardashti said.
The project has allowed Jewish people with very different politics to come together, argue and learn from one another, Dardashti said. “It makes them smarter, more compassionate (and) more relational activists,” Dardashti added.
Dardashti applauded the willingness of Brown RISD Hillel students to be “immersed in a diverse, pluralistic Jewish community” and to learn from one another.
“I love the fact that at my services and at Shabbat dinners, you find students around the table who maybe wouldn't ever have found themselves in the same synagogue or around the same tables otherwise, even if they lived in the same city,” Dardashti said.
In his sophomore year, Isaac Sonnenfeldt ’22.5 signed up for the Narrow Bridge Project and found it an incredibly rewarding experience. After completing the project, he helped Dardashti to further develop it by providing new research and co-authoring a guidebook, he wrote in an email to The Herald.
Dardashti “brought a commitment to all the causes she is passionate about … Dardashti has been the main person who has kept me connected over the past four years and has allowed me to connect with my Jewish identity in a way like never before,” Sonnenfeldt wrote. “I will definitely miss her beaming smile and her signature greeting of yelling my name every time she would spot me at Hillel,” he added.
Hannah Gelman ’22 worked closely with Dardashti during her sophomore year as the Rosh Chodesh Women’s Group co-coordinator and this past fall on a fellowship project. “Rabbi Dardashti is full of energy and light,” Gelman wrote in an email to The Herald. “She is constantly excited about whatever is going on around her, which makes the students who interact with her feel the same.”
“Rabbi Dardashti’s legacy of joy, compassion and wisdom will live on long after she is gone,” Gelman added.
In 2020, Dardashti received the Campus Life Staff Excellence Award, and during her tenure, Brown RISD Hillel was recognized by Hillel International with both the “Best Place to Work” and “Outstanding Campus” awards, Bolton wrote in the announcement.
“She brought a prophetic voice to our campus community,” Bolton wrote in an email to The Herald. “She guided all of us toward shaping a better world, one where we can learn across similarity and also difference … We are all looking forward to her continued success and spiritual leadership in her next chapter.”