Three clergy members have ascended to new pulpits, though none is actually new to the area.
This week, we profile Rabbi Ellie Miller, who has begun as religious leader at Temple B’nai Or, the Reform congregation in Morristown. In the coming weeks, we will introduce readers to Rabbi Renee Edelman, who is serving at the Reform Temple Sha’arey Shalom in Springfield, and Cantor Shana Onigman, who formally becomes cantor at the Conservative Morristown Jewish Center-Beit Yisrael.
Rabbi Ellie Miller has been in her new office at Temple B’nai Or in Morristown less than two weeks and her office is already completely redone and totally organized. (Actually, she admitted, she had unpacked every single book by the end of her first day.)
And while she has moved only a few miles, from Temple Sharey Tefilo-Israel in South Orange, where she served for 16 years as assistant and then associate rabbi, the trip actually covered a great distance. She’s gone from working with a senior rabbi and several cantors to being senior rabbi in a synagogue with one other clergy member — Cantor Galit Dadoun Cohen. Miller has gone from a congregation of 850 families to one with 400. And — perhaps most pronounced for her —she’s moved from Essex to Morris County.
“It’s like Mayberry here,” she said. In addition to a slower pace, she has found that the congregation has a much more hands-on approach than she was used to. “For my first Shabbat, everyone baked,” she exclaimed. “People bake for the oneg!” She said the congregation president casually told her, “I’m going to mulch the synagogue grounds.”
“I said, ‘You’re going to mulch?’ It tells you how involved people are,” Miller said.
Miller succeeds Rabbi Donald Rossoff, who became rabbi emeritus as of July 1 after 25 years at the congregation. He has moved to a congregation in the Chicago area, where he is serving as an interim rabbi. But Miller still has a senior rabbi to turn to if she has questions — her father, Rabbi Bennett Miller, who has served as religious leader at Anshe Emeth Memorial Temple in New Brunswick for more than 40 years.
Ellie Miller graduated from the University of Pittsburgh in 1990 with a BA in communication science and a certificate in Jewish studies. She resisted her father’s encouragements to become a rabbi for years, but finally relented after taking on a pastoral role in a hospital, and realizing how meaningful she found the work. She earned a master of arts in Hebrew literature from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in New York and was ordained in 1999.
She joined Sharey Tefilo-Israel in 1999 as the assistant rabbi and became the associate rabbi in 2001.
Miller loved her work at TSTI “because I had every opportunity to grow and have a full rabbinate, and do things that most assistant or associate rabbis never get to do,” she said. Eventually, however, she sought to move forward, to shape a congregation — in short, to be a senior rabbi.
She loves B’nai Or for its “vibrancy” and its long history in the area. She’s also excited about being part of the Morristown community, where she, her husband Nathan Lynn, and their three children will be moving from West Orange.
Her vision for B’nai Or is that it will continue “as a beacon of light in the community,” she said. “I want to be sure to carry forward its traditions of education, Israel, youth, and innovation,” in the face of what she calls “changing demographics and shifts.” She wants to be sure, she said, “that the next generation feels synagogue life is still important and central and worth being part of.”
She acknowledged that her energy is different from that of Rossoff, whom she knew from working together years ago at URJ Camp Harlam. “We had a really good relationship at camp,” she said. “We did some really creative programs that I still use today.”
She knows there are people at B’nai Or who are looking for change, but she wants to go slowly. “I don’t want to do too much too quickly. I need to figure out which areas need the most attention in the first year and then be really patient and wait,” she said. But mostly, she added, “I’m really psyched to be here!”
She was thrilled when she realized that the cantor emeritus at Sharey Tefilo-Israel, Ted Aronson, had a great friendship with Rossoff’s predecessor, Rabbi David Levy. When she mentioned she’d be heading to B’nai Or, she said, Aronson told her, “Oh that’s the perfect fit for you.”