alissa miller

What Superpower Would You Like?
Abiding Lessons from my Internship at Or Ami
By Rabbi Alissa Forrest Miller

Recently at a meeting, we were asked to share one of our superpowers as part of the introductions. Without much time to think, I responded, “My superpower is to get people to say yes to a job, volunteer position or participation in a program.” After explaining to numerous people how it’s never through guilt or a hard sale, I realized that I learned this valuable skill during my three years as an intern at Congregation Or Ami (2004-2007).  

I originally signed on for a one year internship. Toward the end of that year, Rabbi Kipnes and I were in one of our regular mentorship meetings, when we began discussing ways in which Or Ami could revamp the teen programs. I began to brainstorm and vision with him. By the end of that meeting, he asked me if I would come back for a second year to help lead those efforts in addition to starting a monthly Shabbat morning minyan and revitalizing the LoMPTY youth group. 

Rabbi Kipnes let me know that he wasn’t going to tell me how to do it. Instead, he gave me the authority and space to try my new ideas. Rabbi Kipnes was present as a thought partner and mentor, always helping me reflect both on the programs and services I was leading and creating, and also on my growth as a leader. He and the Or Ami community empowered me and had faith in me at a time in my rabbinical studies when I was developing my confidence as a future leader. By the end of my second year, when I told myself that it was now time for me to try something else, he once again played to my strengths and interests. Knowing where I wanted (and needed) to grow, he once again created an opportunity I couldn’t refuse. Looking back, I see how both Or Ami and I benefited from how the clergy and community give us interns sufficient space, real authority and exciting opportunities. 

Two years ago, I was in Washington, DC at the Religious Action Center’s L’Taken seminar at the same time as the Or Ami delegation. There I met many of the current LoMPTY board members. It was fun for me to tell them about the time when a few teens and I revamped LoMPTY; it was exciting for them to share with me how they are now one of the strongest youth groups in the region. I felt proud of how much each of us– the Or Ami teen programs and I– grew as a result of my saying “yes” to those additional years as an intern. 

Throughout my tenure as a rabbi at Temple Isaiah in Lafayette, CA, I have continually used this model of partnership as a way to cultivate new leaders, retain valuable teachers, and persuade participation in a program.  It is a superpower that has strengthened my leadership and our community.

alissa miller

Rabbi Alissa Miller is rabbi at Temple Isaiah in Lafayette, CA. There she oversees their vibrant programs for youth, teens and young families, directing Noar Night (their teen school) and Camp Kefli, and coordinates Kulanu, their “youth group style” family programs and PARTI, their PARenting Teens of Isaiah programs.  In 2017 she received the Covenant Foundation’s Pomegranate Prize as a rising leader in the field of Jewish education. As an education intern and then Rabbinic intern at Congregation Or Ami, Rabbi Miller revamped the youth program (creating Temple Teen Night), revitalized an almost non-existent LoMPTY youth group, and transformed the community in many other ways. In addition, she is married to Dan Miller and has two children- Leo and Jake.