Rabbinic Reflections

Self-Differentiation, Service, and Success: Rabbi Bennett Miller Reflects on 50 Years as a Reform Rabbi

In rabbinical school I never heard the word self-differentiation. I wish I had! Ten years out from rabbinical school, and the term was mentioned in a lecture. For me, it was an “a-ha” moment. I was now able to describe what defined me as a rabbi, how I looked at my faith, my “calling,” my career, my vision.   

My mentors, my teachers, my counselors had always been strong and determined leaders: I think that is what attracted me to them and why I wanted to emulate their style. But when I discovered that their skills and style were all because they were self-differentiated, that is when I truly learned what it means to be a rabbi.   

I believe that a rabbi must be well self-differentiated in order to be successful. Success is measured not by how others see us, but by how we see ourselves, knowing what we want to be, and how we can become what we want to be. For me, that has been the success of my rabbinical career. I didn’t seek approval, nor love from others. I wanted their respect. I didn’t ask “What do you want me to do?” I asked myself, “What do you see, and what needs to be done?” From there, I created a vision for the future and sought to shape that vision into reality.   

My fifty years in the rabbinate were all based in one congregation, Anshe Emeth Memorial Temple, in New Brunswick, New Jersey. I “served there” as assistant rabbi, acting rabbi, young senior rabbi, leading senior rabbi, mentor senior rabbi, seasoned senior rabbi, “wise” senior rabbi, and now rabbi emeritus. I only had two official titles: assistant rabbi and senior rabbi. The first was to serve the youth and young families of the congregation; the second, was to create vision and develop leadership, teach, and preach, and motivate the congregation to see a bright future.   

As rabbi, I understood that my role was to bring the congregation and its people closer to Am Yisrael. I wanted to help lead them to understand that they (we) are part of the next chapter of the historic story of the Jewish People and its encounter with the Divine, going back in time to our ancestors and through their experience in each and every generation since Abraham responded to the call from God with the single word: Hineni! 

For me, I understood that being a rabbi meant serving a specific congregation, a community, the Jewish People, and all of humanity. I believe that is what makes the rabbinate such a unique calling, and such a challenging career. Mine was certainly filled with challenge, with reward, with fulfillment, and with touching so many lives.   

In addition to my service to congregation and community I was privileged to serve the larger Jewish community through my leadership in ARZA, in national leadership positions, in teaching at HUC-JIR. I was also privileged to help create a dynamic Department of Clinical Pastoral Care at RWJ Barnabas Hospital. How blessed I was to be able to do it all, and how fortunate I was to serve a congregation that understood and supported my determination to do all that I have done.   

My life in the rabbinate has been richly rewarding. I trust that I made a difference in the lives of many. I hope that my contribution to our people’s story adds to the meaning of our story and to the sacred mission that we carry out every day, here, in Israel, and throughout the world.   

I could not have done it all without learning the art of being well self-differentiated. I am grateful to my teachers who showed me the way, gave me the encouragement and strength to discover the me that I wanted to be, and to my students through whom I have seen the true measure of what I have accomplished.  My life as a rabbi—a blessing, an honor, a gift. I will be forever grateful!    

Rabbi Bennett Miller is celebrating 50 years as a Reform rabbi. We look forward to celebrating him and all of the CCAR’s 50-year rabbis when we come together at CCAR Convention 2024.

6 replies on “Self-Differentiation, Service, and Success: Rabbi Bennett Miller Reflects on 50 Years as a Reform Rabbi”

Thank you Bennett for a great lesson in leadership! What you didn’t mention was your enthusiasm and involvement in all areas of your community. Years ago I did puppet programming on a Shabbat at your community and there you were making ‘stuff’, laughing and totally engaged and qvelling! A blessing indeed.

Mazel Tov on 50 incredible years of service to the Jewish people, Reform Judaism, and Eretz Yisrael. So proud of you and happy for you!

Bennett, my friend. Kol Hakavod on Chamishim. They have been Extraordinary years of service to Amcha, the Greater New Brunswick community, and your fellow human beings. Yasher koach on your wisdom and compassion. Your contributions to Medinat Yisrael and youth are legendary. And you did some pretty impressive work in my medinah also. I wish you and Joannie an abundance of healthy and joyful years. Chuck Kroloff

Dear Friend… I cannot comprehend thst we are at this milestone, or that we have known each other for 57 years! A fond memory remains the snowy night when- because of the weather, I had the default honor of speaking at your Installation as the Senior Rabbi at Anshe Emet- having to come up with a sermon at the last minute! Mazal Tov and thanks for your faithful, gifted and creative service to our Movement…😊❤️✡️

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