Staff Spotlight: Michelle Dardashti

Describe briefly what you do and how long have you been at Brown.

I've had the honor of serving as Brown's Rabbi for seven years. My official title is Associate Chaplain for the Jewish Community at Brown University and I'm fortunate to serve alongside three other quite talented Associate Chaplains (ones for the Catholic, Protestant and Muslim Communities) and under the wise guidance of University Chaplain, Reverend Janet Cooper Nelson. In addition to getting to be part of this multifaith team, I'm also a full-time member of a wonderful team at Brown RISD Hillel, where I serve as Rabbi. My positions at Brown and Brown RISD Hillel (which is its own 501c3) are concurrent and contingent and this unique structure--obliging me to both universalist and partcularist portfolios simultaneously--is one for which I'm very grateful; the structure is among the things that most attracted me to the job at Brown and its breadth certainly keeps me on my toes, always learning and growing. I lead (and/or support students in leading) prayer services on Shabbat (Friday nights and Saturdays) and holidays throughout the year, and I work in collaboration with colleagues at Brown RISD Hillel and Chabad of College Hill to ensure that students are able to thrive Jewishly on campus. Students--both those who are Jewish and who are not--come to chat (in one of my offices--Page-Robinson or Hillel--or over walks and/or coffee ;) about things ranging from Jewish history, beliefs and practice to the meaning of life, spiritual direction, advice on their studies and professional pursuits, relationships and more. Faculty and staff come to chat with me as well. I walk with members of the College Hill community through celebrations and losses of all sorts, occasionally officiating at life-cycle events, such as weddings, funerals, baby-namings, memorial services and more. I get to teach and speak in a variety of Jewish and multi-faith campus contexts and to nourish a Judaism—and understanding of religion—that is broad and deep and engaged with the world.

What professional accomplishment are you most proud of?

Professionally, I'm most proud of my work to create and develop the Narrow Bridge Project (NBP). NBP  is an application-based Jewish student cohort experience, which meets to discuss the past, present and future of Jewish peoplehood, Zionism and antisemitism, students' differing definitions of each of these, and how these differences impact their Judaism, activism and life experiences as Jews today. NBP is a radical strategy for addressing a diminishing sense of Jewish interconnectedness, rising bilateral antisemitism and the flammable subjects of Israel and Palestine on campus. NBP is rooted in a belief that positive developments in any of these realms necessitates Jews discussing the relationships of these subjects to one another, together, across divides. 

Name something about you most people don't know.

I grew up singing professionally, throughout North America, with my parents and two older sisters; we were called "A Dash of Dardashti" (can you believe I'm telling you this?) - and yes, people often asked if we were the Jewish von Trapps or Partridge Family. 

If you weren't doing this job, what would you be doing?

In college, I created my own major in "Religion and The Law." I thought I was law-school bound and was interested specifically in mediation law and conflict resolution. (I took the LSAT, applied to law school and then deferred ... and the rest you can ask me over a coffee/walk!) If I hadn't become a rabbi, I think I would be back in Israel-Palestine by now working in the realm of peace and reconciliation.