When Michelle Fisher was as an undergraduate studying chemistry, the then assistant director of Princeton Hillel told her she would make a great rabbi someday. Fisher rolled on the floor with laughter.
Today, Rabbi Fisher is still laughing, joyfully heading into her eighth year as executive director of MIT Hillel, a move that brought her back to the same campus where she once studied as a graduate student. “The mothership was calling me home,” she said.
Fisher’s goal for her students is that they leave MIT being able to see the personal lives they will live and the professional work they will do through a Jewish lens. “We strive to create big question thinkers, caring leaders, and creative innovators able to see complexity, beyond the black and white solutions suggested by many of life’s hard questions.” From classes on the ethics of science and engineering to a unique ConnecTech program that brings together Jewish students from MIT and Technion in Haifa for a year-long peoplehood curriculum, Fisher and her staff use students’ own interests and passions to inspire deeper thinking and Jewish engagement.
Aware of those students’ heavy work-loads and busy schedules, Fisher and her team last year sought to double the attendance at campus Shabbat dinners. “Teaching students the need for down-time, for relaxation, particularly within a pluralistic, community setting, became a priority.” MIT Hillel was successful beyond its own hopes: So many students began turning out for Shabbat that they maxed out the room’s occupancy. Fearing a fire code violation, they were forced to find a bigger space.
None of this comes as a surprise to Evan Olin, an MIT senior.
“Hillel helped me develop my Jewish identity at MIT. I never thought I would be involved at all in Jewish life on campus, but after meeting and spending time with some of the staff members through Birthright, ConnecTech, etc., I realized that Hillel can provide a way to weave Judaism into my existing life on campus.”
Fisher is inspired every day by student stories like Olin’s: “These students will one day be the leaders in industry and academia, and we get to influence their Jewish identities and growth. What an honor!”