Journey to Leadership

Posted on September 15, 2019 by Leigh Miller

My journey toward becoming President at Temple Beth-El started with an unlikely trip to Cape May – the Victorian beach community at the southern tip of New Jersey.

My family joined Temple Beth-El just after our children were born. We made good friends with Religious School families, started to attend family services and slowly but surely began to get involved in temple activities. One year, my wife Shari approached me with the idea of joining the sort-of-annual Temple trip to Cape May. The thinking was that in the middle of winter, you could have the opportunity to sequester yourself in mostly deserted Cape May with the rabbi, cantor and educators and a bunch of similarly minded families doing off-site religious activities, holding debates/discussions about what I have started calling the “other questions” while also making time for fun activities – taking hikes, visiting the lighthouse and even going bird watching. While I initially agreed to attend Cape May “for the kids,” these trips made an extraordinary impression on me personally. It was the first time I really had “fun” spending time in a religious setting and was able to finally break down the self-imposed authoritative wall that had prevented me from realizing that clergy were people too!

At the conclusion of each of these Cape May trips, each participant was asked to anonymously provide some comments on how they felt about the weekend. And each time, the only thoughts that came to my mind were that I felt “more Jewish” and “more connected.” Since those days, I’ve become increasingly involved in life at Temple Beth-El – walking through main entrance doors, religious school doors, front office doors, and sanctuary doors, each time with an increasing feeling of belonging and eventually that I might even have something to contribute to the community.

Interestingly, Bella Almeida hit on this exact theme in her speech a couple of months ago when she was accepting her accepting her Brotherhood Youth Person of Honor award. Bella described Temple Beth-El as a place of comfort and how she felt like she was coming home each time she walked through our doors. And this feeling of belonging to a community and coming home to Temple Beth-El is what I want every one of our congregants to share.

Ultimately, the feeling that I have in my heart for Temple Beth-El and the vision that I have in my mind for my presidency is how we can continue to work in our community to help as many as possible feel what I feel and see what I see. In other words, to further explore how our community (inside these walls and outside) see Temple Beth-El as THEIR Promised Land and THEIR Jewish home.

So, what should our home feel like?

  • Home should be a haven from the outside influences of the rest of the world. Notice I didn’t say “oasis,” as I don’t think we’ll find a beach or palm trees or perfection around here. But given the increasing influence of all kinds of anxieties finding ways into our lives, Temple Beth-El should be a place where we can slow down from the rigors of everyday life, running the kids from here to there, and worrying about what is going on at work. I’d love Temple Beth-El to be the place where we can put our phones into our pockets and we demand the time of ourselves to explore the “other questions” of life rather than live by everyone else’s cadence of life.
  • And we should demand this time for ourselves – not just for the kids in Religious School or  Confirmation Academy – but for the benefit of our entire community of all ages. It takes courage to spend our time in different ways, but I challenge everyone (including myself) to explore how we can round ourselves out and create a place which makes us feel “She-le-moot” or in English, “wholeness.”
  • Our temple is already such a vibrant place. Activities, Religious School, adult education, services, and a whirlwind of things that go on all the time here – I find it amazing to drive into the parking lot and see it bustling with cars at unexpected times. But my challenge for all of us is exploring how we can get even more of our membership involved and reaching out to the broader community to become interested in becoming part of what we do here. In other words, how can each of us explore how we can contribute to and sustain this community in our own way?
  • And finally, we should always feel safe and sound in our home. Much of this will come from achieving a feeling of “wholeness” and “comfort” in a place, but some of it needs to be about the security of the house itself. And you should know that we are doing everything we can to ensure our physical facilities at Temple Beth-El are secure, and that we have spent a great deal of effort getting ready to make visible and not-so-visible improvements to keep our community safe and sound, while at the same time maintaining our commitment to being a welcoming congregation. Much more to come on this topic over the next few months!

I am thrilled at the opportunity to serve as president of Temple Beth-El. I hope that I can bring to this responsibility a great deal of humility, seriousness, caring and passion – and hopefully a little bit of humor. And for our congregants, I hope I can deliver a greater sense of “home” for each of you and help you explore the contributions that each of you may be able to make to our sacred work.

Leigh Miller


Originally published in the September-October 2019 issue of the Shofar. For more issues of the Shofar, visit the Shofar archives.