Michelle Dardashti, 42, ‘radical pluralist’ rabbi


Rabbi Michelle Dardashti, the first non-Orthodox Iranian-American pulpit rabbi in the United States, became rabbi at Kane Street Synagogue in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn beginning in June 2022. A self-described “radical pluralist,” she has been supporting the journeys of Jews of all ages and stages, building a community of Jews in their 20s-40s, launching a Rosh Chodesh group that features artistic, literary and contemplative engagement with the new month, and experimenting with a Renewal-style Friday night service called “Kivun.” Before Kane Street, she served as the associate university chaplain at Brown University and the rabbi of Brown RISD Hillel, where she created initiatives for Jews of mixed identity, interfaith justice dinners, the Hillel Initiative on Racial Awareness and Justice and The Narrow Bridge Project, a dialogue group for students seeking to “reach across divides” on Israel. Dardashti lives in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn.

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How does your Jewish identity or experience influence your work?

As the proud daughter of an American folk singer and teacher and an Iranian-born cantor, I was raised on a brand of Judaism that is multicultural, meta-denominational, musical and global. I’ve been shaped by both my Eastern European and Persian ancestors. I learned so much in the big, suburban, Ashkenazi Conservative synagogues where my father served as hazzan. But it was the Judaism of my home, where my American mom and Iranian dad literally sang in harmony, that stirred my soul and shaped the leader I am today.

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My father’s mother, Hoori Edna, came from the ancient Persian capital city of Shushan, where the Purim story unfolds, and when she and my grandfather moved to Israel in the 1960s, they built an Iranian synagogue in Rishon Lezion, called Beit Knesset Shushan Habirah. As a kid, I loved sitting in the small balcony section for women with my savta [grandmother] and learning the different melodies, rhythms and accents I heard in prayer there. But back in the USA, I also loved visiting my mom’s parents in Florida, where “shul” was a day at the pool or playing folk songs on guitar.

Who is your New York Jewish hero?

My mom, Sheila Dardashti. She grew up in Queens and went to LaGuardia High School. She has a master’s in special education and taught in that field for the majority of her career. Throughout her life, however, she’s used music to teach the story of peoples’ striving for freedom, justice and better lives for themselves and those around them.

What’s a fun/surprising fact about you?

Starting at age 6, I sang and performed as part of my family singing troupe, “A Dash of Dardashti.” We weren’t exactly The Partridge Family, but we hit Jewish festivals, synagogues and residential communities throughout North America during winter and summer breaks and sang in 12 different languages. My parents’ passions for Jewish community and storytelling through music came alive for me when we were on stage.

Do you have a favorite inspiring quote?

“A person must traverse a very very narrow bridge… and the most important thing is that they are not afraid.” — Rabbi Nachman of Breslov

What is your favorite place to eat Jewish food in New York?

My parents’ home in Westchester! It’s a mix of Persian (my dad has become quite the tahdig-maker in his retirement) and American (my mom’s cranberry sauce chicken is divine).

How can people follow you online?

Check out Kane Street’s Instagram and Facebook, or sign up for our weekly newsletter, Kane Street Connections.

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