Meet the RabBi

Rabbi Mordecai Miller

“I don’t know if I’ll make it to Heaven, but it sure is nice living next door,” Rabbi Miller is fond of saying. We can tell he loves living in Santa Rosa and serving as Rabbi of Congregation Beth Ami. In fact, when asked what advice he would give a new young rabbi, Rabbi Miller says, “You’ve got to be in love with your congregation.” And he is. And the feeling is mutual.

Growing up as an “RK” (rabbi’s kid) in Durban, South Africa, wasn’t that easy, but after earning his BA in philosophy and Hebrew at the University of Natal, Mordecai Miller returned to the US and, with the encouragement of his father, enrolled in Hebrew Union College. Since his father, Rabbi Meyer Miller, was a Reform Rabbi, Mordecai gravitated toward that branch of Judaism. He wasn’t entirely certain of his path, since his other great loves were mathematics and music. A leave of absence convinced him that he had left his true calling behind, and luckily the seminary took him back. This was fortuitous personally as well as career-wise because his future wife, Susan, was working at the school. They were introduced by mutual friends and have been together ever since.

A seminary professor required that the students become familiar with traditional liturgy as well as Reform, to understand the range of Jewish custom. Following his professor’s edict to daven the traditional prayers daily for a month, Mordecai fell in love with traditional liturgy. By the time he graduated with a BHL and MAHL and was ordained, he realized that his spiritual home was in Conservative Judaism. He was thrilled to secure a position as assistant Rabbi at a Conservative congregation in St. Paul, Minnesota, where he served happily for seven years. There followed ten years in Canton, Ohio, and twenty-one years in St. Louis, Missouri.

His excellent Hebrew came from an early childhood visit to his mother’s family in Israel. That foundation was cemented by the fact that his parents spoke to each other in Hebrew when they didn’t want him to understand. When they realized he understood every word, they switched to Yiddish, and now he knows Yiddish very well, too.

As a teen, he’d read the Bible on the long bus rides to school. Later, at HUC, he learned Talmud and Midrash, studies which he enjoys to this day.

While the duties of a rabbi are many and varied, Rabbi Miller feels his chief task is to bring comfort into people’s lives. Another very important aspect of the job is connecting people to the deeper meaning of life and to our divine Creator, and making tradition alive and relevant for people.

What was the first thing he loved about Beth Ami? The MiSheberach envelopes. It’s a custom here to place envelopes in back of the sanctuary, addressed to those who are ill in the congregation. Congregants pick up these envelopes after services, add a personal note, and mail them. This custom “made Beth Ami seem like such a caring congregation. And I haven’t been disappointed.”

Rabbi Miller finds something spiritual about the area, with its hills, ocean, and magnificent views. “It has a wildness to it.” He frequently finds himself saying the verse, “mah gadlu ma’asecha Adonai, koolam b’chochmah aseeta. How manifold are Your works, oh Adonai, with wisdom You created them all.”

Among the things Rabbi Miller enjoys at Beth Ami are the spirited, participatory davening, the wonderful Shabbat potlucks and dinners—“they hold the community together”—and the many different types of people all working together.

Rabbi Miller and his wife, Susan Miller, shep nachas from the fact that both their children are involved in Jewish life. Their daughter Sarah, living here in Santa Rosa with her son, Miles, is USY regional director. Their son, Micah, living in LA with his wife, April (Aviva), studies at the Ziegler Rabbinical School. Micah hopes to become the third-generation Rabbi Miller.

In his free time, Rabbi Miller enjoys studying Jewish texts, reading, singing, playing the clarinet, cooking, and baking. Visitors and members passing by his open office door love hearing him practicing clarinet in anticipation of jammin’ with the band at Friday night dinners.

Beth Ami appreciates Rabbi Miller’s warm, welcoming, and inclusive manner; his appreciation of the people around him; and his emphasis on respectful communication. Oh, and his jokes.

A guy goes into a restaurant and says to the waiter, “I’d like a chicken sandwich.” The waiter replies, “Sir, I’m afraid we’re out of chicken.” The guy says, “Well, in that case, I’d like a turkey sandwich.” The waiter responds, “Sir, if we had any turkey, you would have had a chicken sandwich.”

–by Esther Baruch

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A brief description of the committees and their roles follows:


Religious Practices

In conjunction with the Rabbi, determines the schedule and other details pertaining to the religious services and practices at Beth Ami. Encourage and develop higher levels of participation and skill in all matters of religious observance at the synagogue and in the home. Assists the Rabbi in implementing decisions of halacha and liturgy. Function of Religious Practices Committee
Chair Lee Feinstein

Sub Committee: Cemetery Committee
Supervises arrangements for members needs.

Subcommittee: Kitchen Committee
Encourages the use of the synagogue kitchen by and for congregants. Ensures that all users of the committee are familiar with synagogue policies regarding Kashrut, safety, hygiene and security. Seeks to establish a vibrant culinary community and provide rich and varied feasts for onegs, Kiddush luncheons, and other synagogue events.


Youth and Education

Creates and implements new classes and programs that encourage participation in Jewish learning.. Develops the schedules, engages the instructors, produces the publicity, and assumes all responsibility for the creation of new programs. Advises the Board and Staff on matters of program generation and execution.

Subcommittee: Nursery School
Works with the Nursery School director to develop, implement, and support school programs and activities.

Subcommittee: Religious School
Works with the Religious School Director to develop and support Religious School programs and activities

Subcommittee: Youth Activities Committee
Works with Youth Advisors to support youth programs and activities

Subcommittee: Adult Education
Works with Rabbi and staff to develop ongoing study courses, lectures and guest speakers


Welcomes new members to the synagogue, and acquaints them with various aspects of synagogue programs. Encourages unaffiliated Jews to consider joining the synagogue. Seeks out inactive members to renew their interest and participation in synagogue life. Interviews members who have recently left the synagogue, and discusses their comments with the Board. Advises the Board on policies that may impact the attraction and retention of members.

Subcommittee: Welcoming Committee
May supplement the Board as greeters at Shabbat services. May provide a table with information for visitors to our synagogue. Assures that visitors are noticed, introduced, and made to feel at home. Follows up, where possible, with visitors.

Subcommittee: Chavurah
Actively engages congregants (who wish to be included) in existing Chaverot, and creates new Chaverot as members request. Communicates guidelines for choosing a Chavurah. Reviews existing guidelines for membership and programming, and makes suggestions as appropriate.

Subcommittee: Chesed Committee
Supervises the well being synagogue members in times of need and difficulty. May visit the sick, visit the physically and socially challenged, and may assist and comfort in times of bereavement, family illness, or other need.

Budget and Finance

Oversees and reports on the fiscal health of the congregation. The Committee reviews the monthly balance sheets, profit and loss statement and the department detail reports, reviews the draft budget compiled and prepared by Executive Director and makes recommendations to the board. The budget and finance committee also works with the bookkeeper and CBA office staff on maintaining proper accounting procedure.

Capital Campaign
Organizes fundraising for capital improvements and their associated finances.

Fund Raising, Development, and Special Events

Responsible for organizing and coordinating activities to generate revenue for operation and endowment, consistent with the values of the synagogue. Supervises the Gift Shop

Fundraising and Special Events Committee
Plans and organizes special events designed for community building and fundraising.

Subcommittee: Gift Shop
Stocks and supervises the gift shop.

Israel Affairs Committee

The Israel Affairs Committee has a CLEAR mission to:
Communicate with the community regarding Israel-related and Masorti issues,
Learn more about current affairs related to Israel, including the Masorti movement,
Educate the community about Israel, including the Masorti movement,
Act positively to provide a love of the Jewish State and
React in response to political anti-Semitism.

Building and Grounds

Responsible for the maintenance and upkeep of synagogue-owned buildings and grounds, Advises the Board on matters of insurance coverage, renovations, repairs, possible economies in utility usage, and long term capital improvements. Supervises renovations and construction projects.

Subcommittee : Aesthetics and Décor
Supervises the décor of the synagogue.

Subcommittee : Security
Supervises security issues for the synagogue.

Social Action

Develops programs to further the commitment to the entire extended Jewish Community, and to Israel. Organizes social and political action consistent with our Jewish values. Develops positive relations with the general community

Personnel Committee

Establishes policies for employment at CBA: provides leadership in hiring and terminating employees, including Rabbi and Executive Director; establishes vehicles and timetables for annual reviews of all employees; creates and updates employee handbook.

Leadership Development/ Board Operations

Develops and administers training programs for synagogue leadership roles. Supervises Board Trainings for new Board members. Monitors compliance with current By-Laws, and recommends By-Laws changes when appropriate. Functions as the parliamentarian at Board meetings. Acts as the Nominating Committee for elections.

Communications Committee

Supervises the synagogue web page. Makes suggestions for web page changes, and supervises their implementation. Develops, as appropriate, suggestions for on line resources and on line learning. Supervises the Cyber Shul and the Shofar. Assists other committees and organizers in carrying out their publicity for CBA events, both to the Sonoma County Jewish Community, and the General Community.

Subcommittee: Web guru

Library Committee

Oversees the operation of the library. Encourages appropriate use of the library. Supervises the use of library supplies and materials, including computer and on-line sources. Supervises the recruiting and training of volunteer staff. Advises the Board on all issues relating to the library

Friedman Center

Friedman Center Board Chair: Bill Friedman

Guides and Checklists for Organizing Events

To help events or programs run smoothly, the office now has a Program and Event Planning Guide.
CBA Program and Event Planning Guide
CBA Publicity Guidelines
CBA Cleanup Guidelines
CBA Equipment Use Guidelines
CBA set-up form

Guidelines for using the kitchen