South Valley welcomes its first resident rabbi

Yitzhak Miller gives Congregation Emeth something it has never

– Yitzhak Miller wasn’t always set on being a rabbi. In fact,
not long ago it seemed his goals were far away from the reaches of
MORGAN HILL – Yitzhak Miller wasn’t always set on being a rabbi. In fact, not long ago it seemed his goals were far away from the reaches of faith.

Growing up in the Palo Alto and Santa Cruz areas, Miller earned a Stanford degree and a fitting job for Silicon Valley.

“I was doing international technology management,” Miller said. “But I found myself more drawn to the moral and ethical issues involved instead of to the new technologies.”

When Miller began to realize he wanted something different, he decided to devote his life to seving God and creating bonds between Jewish people. His spritual journey led him to an opportunity to serve the Jewish communities of South Valley through Congregation Emeth.

“I decided instead of building better widgets, I’d spend my time building better people,” Miller said.

And now, after 26 years of serving the Jewish families of South Valley, Congregation Emeth finally has a rabbi who calls the area his home as Miller has signed a two-year contract with Emeth with automatic renewal through 2009, giving Emeth it’s first resident rabbi.

Miller isn’t new to the congregation, though. The 31-year-old has been at Emeth for three years serving as a student rabbi, which is a common practice for small congregations, he said.

“It’s been a good time to get to know one another and make sure it was a good match,” Miller said.

However, until last summer Miller was living in Los Angeles while attending rabbinical school. He made a trip once a week to Morgan Hill for services and then returned to his school for study.

While Miller still makes a journey to Los Angeles every week for rabbincal school, he said his drive is no problem compared to the many other rabbis who mae long journeys from southern California to serve communities all across the country.

“This really is not a bad commute,” he said. “We have people who go from Los Angeles to Alaska, Seattle, Salt Lake City.”

Miller began rabbinical school at Hebrew Union College at both the Los Angeles and Jerusalem campuses and started serving internships in places like Uba City, Lancaster and Aptos. Then he was given the chance to take on the role of serving the Jewish communities of South Valley, and he jumped at the chance. Miller will graduate from rabbincal school next year will split time at Emeth and at Shir Hadash in Los Gatos as an assistant rabbi.

Miller said his experiences as an intern in different areas gives him a good sense of how Emeth can reach out to others.

“I got a lot of different experiences about how the congregation interacts with the community,” Miller said.

Congregation Emeth, which recently made a deal to share space with Cardin Academy, 410 Llagas Ave. in Morgan Hill, had 30 families when Miller first began but since has doubled in size. Miller said it is the only congregation between downtown San Jose and Salinas, making it a challenge to instill a sense of community – but having a home now and a resident rabbi is beginning to change that.

“I think it makes a very significant difference both in and out of the congregation,” Miller said. “To the congregation it means a better sense of community; to the leadership of the congregation it means having a spiritual and programmatic leader who is committed to the community and the long-term future of the congregation; and to the broader community it means having a Jewish presence consistently in town and available.

“They’ve got somebody to reach out,” he said. “And it means having a voice of religious pluralism from the Jewish perspective.”

Congregation Emeth’s vision for the next five years include significant growth to 100 or more families, retaining welcoming nature and significant progress toward a permanent home, said Miller, who hopes to make all of those visions into realities. He said moving to Cardin Academy was the first step toward having a home.

“We moved from renting space at several different locations to making a deal with Cardin Academy to get a home for the foreseeable future,” he said. “That allows us a stepping stone to focus on placing our efforts toward a permanent home. The biggest thing it gives people is a sense of home and a sense of belonging – a sense of stability,”

But not only does Miller’s presence mean good things for Emeth, it means good things Miller as well.

“It’s very intentional for me to be in a congregation that needs to serve broad Jewish needs,” he said. “One of the most sacred values that Judaism holds is that all Jews no matter what their beliefs or traditions are one people. So being in a congregation like Emeth that expects to serve all Jewish needs from South San Jose to Hollister creates an environment that reinforces the concept of people.”

Miller said the Jewish term for “one people” is “Am Echad.”

Miller said the community made staying at Emeth an easy decision.

“It was a combination of the Jewish community, which was made up of an incredible breadth of Jews who honor widely varied traditions but take their traditions very seriously,” he said. “The combination of that and the South Valley community that presents a well-caring environment to many different faiths and traditions.”