30 years experience: Retiring Rabbi reflects on time in Birmingham, issues facing America


Rabbi Jonathan Miller is retiring from Alabama’s largest and oldest Jewish synagogue.

ABC 33/40 sat down with Miller as he reflects on his 30 years of leadership in Birmingham.

He says he didn’t know he’d be here for the majority of his career.

“The interview was done and I was offered the job, I decided I would take it for 5 years,” said Miller. “I thought I would be here 5 years and I really spent the rest of my active career here and loved it.”

Miller grew as a leader in that time.

“I always felt like a fish out of water, which is a good thing for a religious leader,” said Miller. “Leadership does not come from within. It comes from without.”

Miller sees division in the world, and also here in Birmingham, but he wants people to see, there’s much more than unties us than divides us.

“I’m not striving for unity, I’m striving for community,” said Miller. “They are two different things. Community means you and I can be different but we can appreciate each other’s differences. That’s what I see is really missing in the world at large today.”

One example is the protest in Charlottesville.

“As a Jew I was horrified,” said Miller. “Has it really come to this? Now 75 years after the holocaust?”

When it comes to confederate statues, Miller questions keeping something that is hurtful to people who feel oppressed by them.

“The confederate statues is the issue of the day,” said Miller. “That issue will come. That issue will go. I think ultimately we have a spiritual problem and that is to be able to appreciate humanity of people different from us.”

Miller's next step is moving to D.C., where his children live.

“We're going to establish our lives up there but our hearts will always be down here,” said Miller.

As for the next leader here at temple Emanu-El, Rabbi Miller says they'll find the right person and the transition will offer opportunity to grow.

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