Shining a spotlight on Laura Miller’s international recognition

by | Oct 3, 2014 | Other News

Laura Miller embraces BatGalim Shaer after giving away her Lion of Judah pin.

Laura Miller embraces BatGalim Shaer after giving away her Lion of Judah pin.

by Laine Mednick Rutherford

Laura Miller is most comfortable working behind the scenes, changing lives in the Tidewater Jewish community, throughout the United States and around the world.

She’d prefer to be out of the spotlight, but is aware that can’t always happen, as was the case last month at the Jewish Federations of North America’s International Lion of Judah Conference (ILOJC) in Manhattan.

In addition to being a part of the delegation from the Lion’s Division of the United Jewish Federation of Tidewater attending the conference, Miller knew she’d been named a 2014 recipient of the prestigious Kipnis-Wilson/Friedland Award.

She was humbled to be recognized as a leader who has had a significant impact in the community and beyond, who leaves a legacy for future generations, and who has motivated other women to take an active role in philanthropy and in the community.

She prepared herself for the attention she would get, along with other honorees, at the closing dinner of the ILOJC on Tuesday, Sept. 9.

What Miller hadn’t planned on, though, was being singled out during the dinner for her spontaneous act of kindness earlier that day.

Just before lunch, in a room filled with 1,400 female phi lanthropi st s, Jerry Silverman, president and CEO of JFNA, was concluding his presentation to the group.

Unexpectedly, he invited two special guests to the stage: Ofir and BatGalim Shaer, the parents of Gilad Shaer, one of the teenagers kidnapped and murdered by Hamas terrorists in June.

“This was a real surprise for us, and it came after we’d already heard a lot of very powerful speakers,” says Miller.

“The father told some amazing stories about what this young man had done in his very short life. Quietly, his wife stood by his side, hardly moving at all, until at one point the father started to break down, and then she just reached out and grabbed his arm to support him.

“All I could think was that we can’t bring her son back, but we have to let her and all Israelis know that we are with them. The first thing I did was text my sons one simple line, ‘I love you guys and I’m so proud of you,’” says Miller.

“Then I took off my necklace that had my Lion of Judah pin on it. I said, ‘I’ll be back,’ to my friends seated next to me, and I ran down the center aisle, and I got down to the front just as they were coming off of the stage.”

What happened next was a demonstration of Miller’s generosity of spirit, and her lack of attention-seeking behavior. She embraced BatGalim Shaer warmly and, without asking permission, pinned her gold Lion of Judah on the woman’s dress. As quickly as Miller approached the stage, she left. Shaer had no time to ask Miller’s name, or thank her.

Miller felt good about what she’d done; she’d shown support for another woman, another mother, and she didn’t need accolades or applause.

But there was no avoiding the spotlight, when during the dinner, Miller was asked to rise. Embarrassed to be the focus of everyone in the room, Miller reluctantly stood as the announcer recounted what had happened earlier in the day.

BatGalim Shaer had insisted that she meet and thank the petite blonde woman who had given up her Lion pin in a statement of friendship and support. She walked to the back of the room where Miller and her friends sat. The two women hugged, and they agreed to see each other the next time Miller went to Israel.

The next day, Miller told her husband Jerry about her experience at the Conference.

“What she did was spontaneous, but it doesn’t surprise me,” says Jerry, president of the Tidewater Jewish Foundation and active in many other Jewish organizations as well.

“She’s just very generous and giving. She’s a great lady.”

Laura and Jerry Miller have been married for 33 years, and their sons, Eric and Bill, also are involved in Tidewater’s Jewish community. Jerry Miller says he has witnessed time and again Laura’s dedication to the community, her devotion to Judaism and her willingness to go out of her comfort zone in order to get things done.

“I think a lot about one of the first big projects Laura worked on—the To Life book for the Holocaust Commission,” he says. “She spent countless hours on it, and really pushed it through to its completion. I realized then just how hard and good of a worker she is, how quietly she does it, and caring she is. I’m impressed by what she did at the Conference, and think she’s very deserving of the award she got. I’m proud of her.”

Laura Miller is passionate about ensuring that the Tidewater Jewish community is as cohesive and as strong as possible. She applies lessons she has learned, and continues to learn, from some of the most well-respected rabbis and teachers in contemporary Judaism.

“My first teacher, Rabbi Arnold Resnicoff, taught me the idea that every year, you try to do more than the year before, and so that’s what I try to do,” says Miller.

Another of Miller’s teachers, Rabbi Brad Hirschfield, asked, “What’s going to be your next big thing?”

Miller thinks about that question often, and was inspired to consider it in depth after hearing a Rosh Hashanah sermon at a synagogue in Annapolis, Md.

“The rabbi talked about dreaming big and praying big,” she says. “I realized that you have to pray to make a difference, and so I’m going to dream and hope and pray big.

”I dream of the day that we can have one thriving Jewish community day school and when it would be the rare Jewish family that didn’t belong to the JCC,” says Miller.

My greatest wish would be for our community to come together and support Jewish life on the Sandler Family Campus, which was the vision of our community leaders when our campus was constructed.”

Considering her past and present community involvement, Miller will be working diligently—behind the scenes— to make this dream come true.

Currently, Laura Miller is a board member of the United Jewish Federation of Tidewater, Hebrew Academy and the Holocaust Commission. She serves on the boards of the Friends of the Jewish Chapel at the U.S. Naval Academy, home to the Miller Chapel, and the Sandler Center for the Performing Arts, home to the Miller Studio Theater.

Nationally, Miller is on the board of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) where she is associate chair of the Israel Immigrant Sub-Committee, and an active member of the Israel and Government Affairs committees.

She is a past chair of the UJFT Women’s Cabinet and the UJFT Israel and Overseas committee, and a former member of UJFT’s Allocations and Strategic Planning Committee and the board of the Jewish Family Service of Tidewater.

Miller served as vice president of Temple Emanuel, where she started a daily Minyan, and is an active member of Temple Israel.

Laura Miller has a legion of fans in Tidewater, and beyond.