Hebrew College will be closed on Monday, January 21 in observance of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

Boston Interfaith Leadership Initiative (BILI)

A Fellowship Program for Undergraduate Students


The Miller Center for Interreligious Learning & Leadership of Hebrew College

Partner Institutions

Bentley University,Boston University, Brown University, Harvard University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Northeastern University, Tufts University, Wellesley College


The Boston Interfaith Leadership Initiative (BILI) program is designed for outstanding undergraduate students with a demonstrated commitment to interreligious and cross-cultural engagement on their respective campuses. This fellowship provides participants with the opportunity to engage with peers from other schools in, a structured program of dialogue, study, and leadership development.

BILI has been an amazing capstone to my interfaith experience on campus, and has allowed me to explore and expand what it means to participate in interfaith spaces, as well as how to actively create them for others. It has been so rewarding to learn from the other fellows about what they are doing on their campuses, and I have been consistently inspired by the sensitivity, drive and creativity of the entire cohort — I am so excited to see what these connections lead to in the future!

– Miriam Israel, senior, Tufts University, International Relations and Arabic

Program Goals

  • Train fellows in the theory and practice of interreligious leadership, using best practices from participating schools and leading intellectuals and practitioners
  • Provide interreligious student leaders with a wider network of colleagues and mentors
  • Assist fellows in planning meaningful programming for the wider undergraduate student community of New England
  • Encourage participants to continue to serve as interreligious leaders on their campuses and beyond
  • Develop greater collegiality among religious and spiritual life professionals on local campuses

Program Structure

  • Opening Fellowship Orientation (Sunday afternoon, September 16, 2018, at Hebrew College)
  • Six In-person Meetings (Tuesday evenings, 6-9pm at Boston University’s Marsh Chapel)
    • October 9, 2018
    • November 13, 2018
    • December 4, 2018
    • January 22, 2019
    • February 12, 2019
    • April 2, 2019
  • Two Conference Calls
  • Winter Community Event (at Brown University)
  • Spring Community Retreat (Saturday evening, Sunday, February 23-24, 2019, at the Walker Center for Ecumenical Exchange)
  • 2 Blog Posts or 1 Podcast (with a partner)

Content Areas

  • Interreligious Literacy (with a focus on leadership models and challenges)
  • Intersectional Identity Formation
  • Facilitation of Courageous Conversations
  • Coalition Building
  • Program Design & Implementation
  • Public Voice: Speaking & Writing on Religion

Learning Modalities

  • Professional Presentations
  • Scenarios & Case Studies
  • Peer Presentations (texts, objects, memories)
  • Group Discussion
  • Reflective Exercises
  • Committee Work (for winter and spring programs)


This fellowship program is open to outstanding undergraduate leaders from the participating schools with a passion for interreligious and cross-cultural engagement. Religious and spiritual life professionals from the participating schools will nominate 2-3 students. Each student must fill out a brief application form. The Miller Center staff will make final selections of all fellows. Cohorts range in size from 14-16 fellows.

Participant Expectations

Each participant will actively engage in all of the activities listed above. There will be brief readings to be completed in advance of each in-person meeting. In addition, each participant will also be expected to write two blog posts (750 words, fall and spring) or a podcast (5-15 minutes) on a topic relevant to the fellowship experience as well as contribute to the planning & implementation of the fall and spring student events.

Fellowship Stipends

Each participant will receive a $250 stipend upon completion of the program, submission of blog posts, and a brief exit interview and written evaluation with the fellowship coordinator.

Fellowship Steering Committee

  • Imam Khalil Abdur-Rashid, Muslim Chaplain, Harvard University
  • Rev. Kirstin Boswell-Ford, Chaplain to the Institute & Director, Office of Religious Life, MIT
  • Dr. Jessica Chicka, University Chaplain for International Students, Boston University
  • Dr. Celene Ibrahim, Muslim Chaplain, Tufts University
  • Mr. Alexander Levering Kern, Executive Director, Center for Spirituality, Dialogue, and Service, Northeastern University
  • Rev. Gregory W. McGonigle, University Chaplain, Tufts University
  • Rev. Janet Cooper Nelson, Chaplain of the University, Brown University
  • Rev. Dr. Robin Olson, Director, Spiritual Life, Bentley University
  • Rabbi Or Rose, Director, Miller Center for Interreligious Learning & Leadership, Hebrew College
  • Rev. Dr. Tiffany Steinwert, Dean of Religious and Spiritual Life, Wellesley College
  • Rev. Dr. Charlene Zuill, Spiritual Life Coordinator, Boston University School of Theology

Program Staff

  • Mr. Tom Reid, BILI Coordinator & Community Engagement Associate, Miller Center, Hebrew College
  • Rabbi Or Rose, Director, Miller Center, Hebrew College
  • Rev. Soren M. Hessler, Associate Director, Miller Center, Hebrew College
  • Ms. Jessica Chicka, University Chaplain for International Students, Boston University
  • Ms. Phoebe Oler, BILI Almuni/ae Liaison
  • Ms. Marilyn Stern, Administrator, Miller Center, Hebrew College

How to Apply

The 2018-2019 application is now available here.

Application deadline: Contact Tom Reid, BILI Coordinator & Community Engagement Associate, Miller Center, Hebrew College: tom.reid@hebrewcollege.edu

Meet BILI Recipients

2017-2018 BILI Fellowship Recipients


My name is Amitai Abouzaglo — I was born in Dallas, Texas to a Costa Rican mother and a Moroccan-Israeli father. I grew up in an insular Jewish community, attending religious day school through the week and community synagogues and centers on the weekend. In those spaces I made my first friends. In those spaces I first considered my own strangeness. Those narrow spaces cultivated within me an undaunted love for people. I came to my current engagements with peacebuilding movements in Israel/Palestine and interfaith community building in accord with this love. I think abstractly: in the clouds of thought-formulation I am attached to realities of unfettered equality. Yet the clouds, I have found out, expand and thin out. The consistently grounding feature of my life is referencing that engulfing love emanating from my original narrow community. Bringing those particular (local/familiar) elements and eccentricities together with the universal conceptions of common brotherhood and sisterhood (international/other) is what I care most deeply about.

I am from Kashmir Valley. I am a sophomore at Wellesley College, studying Economics and Political science. I want to work to innovate and better the education system overall and want to help create a peaceful environment in Kashmir. Education could be made a force to unite people, cultures and nations for a peaceful and sustainable future (UWC mission). Given the current state of affairs, creating a strong understanding, awareness and tolerance of each other’s values is essential and need of the hour. I feel honoured that I have been given a chance to be a part of this fellowship. I look forward to broadening my understanding of other cultures and religions though this fellowship. I love badminton, volleyball and rock climbing. And I love to smile.

Celine was born in New York City in 1999 and is a French, Swiss and American student. She graduated from the Lycée Français de New York in 2017 and is now studying at Wellesley College. She is a practicing Roman Catholic and was an Interfaith Youth Fellow at the Interfaith Center in NY. For the past four years, she has been deepening her understanding of different faiths and actively working towards creating a more accepting society for everyone. She was part of a program called My Faith Your Faith, which bring together teens from different faiths and encourages dialogue, engages students to participate in religious traditions, reflect on the problems surrounding faith in society and creates a better understanding of other faiths. In the future, she wants to help build bridges between people of different religions, especially in this divisive time and combat the stigmas that surround different faiths.

Anna Del Castillo is a senior studying International Relations and Colonialism studies at Tufts University. She is a Mississippi native and engages diversity as a member of the Bridge to Liberal Arts Success (BLAST) program at Tufts. She is the student body Vice President, an organizer of the Tufts Indigenous Peoples Day movement, a Career Fellow, a Synaptic Scholar through the Institute of Global Leadership, a representative on the Undergraduate Admissions and Financial Aid Committee, and a member of the Interfaith Student Council. Anna is the lead ambassador for the Andrew Goodman Vote Everywhere team and because of her civic engagement work was invited to speak at the National Civic Leadership Summit in New York, was featured on National Public Radio (NPR) and in the Christian Science Monitor, and serves as a Harvard Institute of Politics National Campaign Ambassador. Anna is passionate about pursuing social justice and currently interns for Centro Presente, an organization focused on immigrant and worker rights.

Oelmis “Emi” Fermin is an undergraduate student at Boston University majoring in Middle Eastern and North African Studies. Born and raised in Miami, Florida, to immigrants from the Dominican Republic, Emi grew up speaking Spanish along with learning the cultural traditions of the nation such as dancing bachata, merengue, salsa, and playing baseball. Although raised in a Catholic household, Emi converted to Islam after fasting during Ramadan. Emi began his Studies at Florida International University as Theatre and English Major before transferring to BU. Aside from speaking English and Spanish Emi also speaks Italian and is learning Arabic, hoping to be fluent in the language. Upon graduation Emi hopes to join the Peace Corps and help make the world a better place. Emi also serves as a Marsh Associate at Boston University’s Marsh Chapel. With a great interest in interfaith relations, Emi hopes to encourage positive interfaith dialogue and collaboration to promote a more unified community in the greater Boston area.

Alden Fossett is a freshman at Harvard College, interested in studying philosophy or history of art and architecture. He is a part of dual degree Master’s program with Berklee College of Music, also in Boston, where he intends to study songwriting and music business. Originally from Los Angeles, California, Alden was raised attending Second Baptist Church and now considers himself to be a non-denominational Protestant. He became interested in interfaith work because he is very passionate about bringing the conversation of spiritual/religious/ethical traditions to a secular college campus, that, as of now, seems to be “allergic” to those discussions. He is also interested in how to facilitate and grow spiritual/religious/ethical life for the LGBTQ+ community and making them feel welcome in interfaith discussions.

Miriam Israel is a senior at Tufts University studying International Relations and Arabic. She is from the D.C. area and attended Jewish day school for many years where she learned about the importance of religious diversity and debate. Outside of academics she is involved with Tufts Hillel, serves as a Head Delegate for the Model United Nations team, volunteers as a tour guide and is on a traditional Indian dance team. She has spent significant time studying and living abroad in Muslim-majority countries and loves being exposed to different faith traditions. The study of language is also very important to her, particularly in the context of interfaith dialogue because it provides a way to connect with new people and gain a deeper understanding of their belief systems. She is very excited to be a part of BILI this year and can’t wait to work with and get to know the rest of the fellows!

Hello! My name is Ann-Marie Lee, but my friends call me Annie! I’m a sophomore and Community Health and Religion double major at Tufts University, originally from Roseland, New Jersey. On campus, I run the Conversation, Action, Faith, Education (CAFE) interfaith student group, and am a core leader of both the Buddhist Mindfulness Sangha and Tufts Progressive Alliance; I’m also a devoted and motivated member of Tufts Labor Coalition and the Left Unity Project at Tufts. The common theme I pursue is that of justice through interfaith collaboration – my motto is that whenever you have two people working together, you have interfaith work. Bringing together people of different backgrounds and ideologies to achieve fairness and opportunity for self-determination is one of the greatest challenges we face today, not just in Boston but across communities all over. I’m excited to be a part of BILI, and can’t wait to sow some seeds of change!

Emmanuel Nicolella is a queer Latinx Syncretic Humanist and Existentialist born in Barranquilla, Colombia in the evening hours of August 10, 1995. They are currently in their 5th and final year as a biochemistry major and sociology minor at Northeastern University. Emmanuel is also a painter and a poet and believes in the revelational synergy of science, art, and the study of human society and culture as quintessential to the human experience. They are a member of the leadership of various extracurricular activities on campus including Northeastern’s Interfaith Council, the Onyx Informer, an online publication by and for students of marginalized identities, and SAID (Students Against Institutional Discrimination), a campus organization that works to end institutional injustice at Northeastern and its surrounding communities. They are passionate about many things, and thus have little to no clue what they’ll actually be doing after graduation.

Maritt Nowak is a senior at Boston University studying international relations at the Pardee School of Global Studies and minoring in religion. She’s originally from St. Louis, Missouri, but loves the opportunity to be living and studying in Boston with other students from around the world. Maritt grew up attending Catholic school, but spends her time today between interdenominational Protestant worship and studying Islam. Her passion for interfaith was sparked at a Shabbat service during her freshman year and she’s been exploring the landscape of religious diversity on campus ever since. Although she is unsure what her future in faith will be, she enjoys the supportive community and spiritual fulfillment she’s found working at Marsh Chapel as an undergraduate associate. She hopes BILI will be an opportunity to be in contact with more opportunities for interfaith engagement, as she believes the best way to learn about who you are is to see yourself in others.

Phoebe Oler is a junior at Boston University studying Biological Anthropology. She is a Marsh Associate for Boston University’s Marsh Chapel, where she leads congregation, engages with the community, and contemplates her faith. She is also a member of the Marsh Chapel Choir, singing first soprano because she loves singing high notes. Phoebe grew up singing in an Episcopal Church in Greenwich, Connecticut. She continued singing throughout high-school in a secular setting. Phoebe found her faith again at Marsh Chapel her freshman year, where she feels strongly connected to the Methodist tradition. However, she still considers herself undecided on her spiritual journey.

Katie Owens is a third year student at Northeastern studying Behavioral neuroscience. She is a leader of Northeastern’s Interfaith Council and truly believes in its mission to promote understanding, respect and friendship between people of different backgrounds. Katie is also apart if Intervarsity Multiethnic Christian fellowship and has enjoyed the space to explorer identity in Christ, particularly as a part Latina woman. After college her tentative plan is to be a doctor for underserved populations in the US or abroad. She believes that our conceptions of what life could look like is nothing compared to what God has for us, so she continues to embrace uncertainty and live one step at a time. She hails from the beautiful Southern California, she loves to walk long distances, ice cream, birkenstocks and musical theatre- oh and Jesus, she loves Jesus.

Hello! My name is Sanjana Thakur. I grew up in Mumbai, India, with my parents, sister, grandparents, and a succession of tortoises, cats, and dogs. When I was fourteen, my family moved to Dubai. That’s where I graduated high school – in an international school surrounded by peers from over eighty countries. It was a wonderful experience that exposed me to different cultures, religions, perspectives, and beliefs, and it prepared me well for where I am now. I am currently a sophomore at Wellesley College double majoring in Anthropology and English with a concentration in Creative Writing. I am part of the editing team for two magazines on campus and a member of Darshana, the Hindu organisation. I am also a research assistant for a professor in the Anthropology department. Here are some fun facts about me: I skype my dog and cat at least once a week, my name means ‘gentle’ in Sanskrit, and I burnt myself with a firecracker on Diwali when I was five so now I am terrified of fire. Through the BILI Fellowship, I hope to participate in cross-cultural, interfaith conversations with people from varied backgrounds and gain insight into the role that religion plays in the world today.