Lesbian Reform Rabbi Leads Student Life At Milken Community High School

I interrupt my fascination with the Lingerie Football League Friday afternoon to bring this important news update on Rabbi Heather Miller.

She grew up in a Unitarian home. Her mom is Jewish. Her dad is Unitarian.

She learned about Judaism at Milken. She tweets. She is engaged (found this out through the obituaries in the Jewish Journal). She is a subject of the following profile in The Jewish Week of New York:

When Heather Miller was little, she desperately wanted to be a Jewish American Princess.

In her Los Angeles elementary school, the term was not a slur, but a moniker proudly embraced by the cool girls who wore Guess denim jackets with lace trim. But Miller’s family couldn’t keep up economically with the “princesses,” and–perhaps more damning–her father was Unitarian.

“People would always say, you’re not really a Jewish American Princess, you’re not really one of us,” Miller, now 27, recalls.

One Friday night, Miller’s grandmother came over for Shabbat dinner and discovered the little girl in tears.

“She said, ‘Let me tell you something. My father, your zeyde, was a Cohen, which means he was a priest in the old temple. Which means he was Jewish royalty. So you’re Jewish royalty, which is like being a Jewish princess.'”

“If my grandma hadn’t said that, I don’t know if I’d be Jewish today,” Miller says, adding, “I realized I was authentically Jewish, and whatever anyone else said was their problem.”

Today, Miller may not be a Jewish princess, but she’s training to be the next best thing: a rabbi. In her fourth year at the Reform movement’s Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in New York, she is one of a small, but hardly insignificant, cohort of rabbinical students from interfaith homes. These future Jewish leaders are uniquely positioned to deal with interfaith families, who represent a growing percentage of the total Jewish community. Sensitive to the concerns of families with only one Jewish parent, they nonetheless have no illusions about the challenges intermarried couples–and their children–face.

…Like Crossley, Miller began her formal Jewish education at 13, the age many kids cash their bar/bat mitzvah checks and bid farewell to Jewish learning. A school shooting spurred Miller’s mother to pull the future rabbi out of public school and enroll her at Stephen Wise, a pluralistic Jewish day school where she received a full scholarship.

“I loved it, I really loved it,” Miller says. “I got straight A’s in Judaica classes. I loved the intellectual search for trying to figure out the ethical thing to do in any situation.”

Like Crossley, Miller sees both sides of intermarriage.

Although at times she felt “less than fully anything,” her dual background gave her an appreciation for diversity.

“One of the great things about growing up interfaith was that every time we celebrated any tradition at all, someone was always explaining it,” she says. “I really got a sense of people articulating their own religious traditions and the meaning of religion in their lives.”

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see Amazon.com). My work has been covered in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and on 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (Alexander90210.com).
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