partnership push

Hebrew College partners on national fellowship with Interfaith America

The program will bring in 26 students from 19 schools

The Miller Center of Hebrew College, the institution’s project to build relationships with different religious groups, is expanding its Building Interfaith Leadership Initiative (BILI) fellowship to the national level with a new partnership with Interfaith America. 

The revamped program, now called the BILI Launchpad Fellowship and running August through April 2023, includes 26 undergraduate college students and 12 mentors from across the country who will work through a curriculum that helps build relationships across different faiths. Nineteen universities are represented in the fellowship, including Georgetown University, Stanford University, and the University of North Florida.

“Hebrew College is a pluralistic Jewish institution, so our commitment to engaging people from different walks of life…grows from that commitment to internal, or intra-Jewish, pluralism,” Rabbi Or Rose, director of the Miller Center, told eJewishPhilanthropy. “Recognizing that we need to honor both similarity and difference, and to try and create a society in which people are able to agree or disagree, and learn and journey together and see what is possible in terms of work for the greater good.”

BILI started in 2017 as the Boston Interfaith Leadership Initiative after conversations between Hebrew College and local universities kept coming back to the need for more collaboration in interfaith work.

“Boston obviously has a density of academic institutions, doing wonderful work in their different campuses, and developing religious leaders and leaders across the board,” said Rev. Tom Reid, associate director of the Miller Center. “But they weren’t necessarily…having opportunities to connect with other institutions, the other students in the area. So we created this fellowship.”

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the fellowship became more regional as the Miller Center partnered with Interfaith America’s Faith in the Vaccine ambassador program, which trained students to do COVID-19 vaccine outreach to minority groups in culturally sensitive ways. Out of that relationship grew a reinvention of the BILI program, as Interfaith America’s national reach to various interfaith nonprofits and universities would help support the fellowship on a larger scale.

Students are already participating in programming, which includes online workshops and a trip to Washington, D.C., but in some ways, the new initiative is still in flux: the curriculum will be adjusted as the Miller Center learns from the experiences of the national fellows and integrates Interfaith America’s material into its own.

“We will be co-developing the programming based somewhat off of what has existed in BILI, and then also the tools, resources, curricula and vision that the interfaith America partners are bringing,” Reid said. “It’ll help improve and expand our program as we go forward to the sort of pilot co-design year that we’re embarking on.”

But to make a dent in interfaith relations outside of the fellowship itself, the Miller Center is also putting the material from the BILI program online for free. The resource portal is organized into different units to help educators facilitate dialogue, but the material is designed to be used independently as well.

“We’ve always been very open and open source, and this isn’t as much about proprietary information, or [that] we have secrets that we have to keep close to our chest,” Reid said. “It’s always been about the work…about shaping people to be better leaders and better human beings in a pluralist society.”

Rose added that the BILI Online portal helps address the need for more curricula in interfaith work: “The field of interfaith studies, including leadership development, is still very much in its infancy, which is to say, we are building the bridge as we cross it.”

The Miller Center’s partnership with Interfaith America has a personal element for Rose, as he has been friends with Interfaith America’s Muslim-American founder Eboo Patel for nearly 20 years. And in those intervening years, Rose has become more driven to address interfaith work.

“It feels urgent to me to try and create such a program in a time of heightened polarization in this country and elsewhere in the world,” Rose said. “We want to try and play a constructive role in raising up a new generation of interreligious, cross-cultural leaders that are dedicated to trying to work together.”