Michael Miller, former synagogue president, attorney, dies at 63

As a young man in Kings Park, N.Y., Michael Patiky Miller picked up a copy of “Gideon’s Trumpet,” a bestselling book recounting the landmark case that established a defendant’s right to counsel. That book inspired him to become a lawyer. Ultimately, however, it was Miller’s own life that served as an inspiration for the broader South Bay Jewish community.

An admired attorney, dedicated family man and long-time leader at Palo Alto’s Congregation Kol Emeth, Miller died May 19 after a long illness while vacationing in Prague. He was 63.

“He was one of the key builders of Kol Emeth,” said Rabbi Emeritus Sheldon Lewis. “He had strong views and a strong personality. Michael was one you could really talk to, and action would follow.”

As a partner with Weinberg, Ziff & Miller, the Sunnyvale resident became prominent in the realm of tax and probate law. One of his singular achievements was serving as chief appellate attorney in California’s leading case on funding living trusts. He was also a founder of the Silicon Valley Bar Association.

But Miller would have been the first to say that family and community came before career.

“Both my parents, especially my father, were so involved in the community here,” remembers daughter Rachel Miller Lazarus. “Everybody knew us, everyone knew my dad.”

Over the years, Miller served as Kol Emeth’s treasurer, congregational president and lawyer. As Lewis recalls, “he had an inborn commitment to the minyan. He was always there. He was one of the key builders of Kol Emeth, but he never ceased being a very willing volunteer. He was called upon frequently to give advice, to share ideas about keeping the synagogue on an even keel.”

Miller also served as regional president of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, helping to strengthen ties among Bay Area Conservative shuls.

“He was a very big man, in size and heart,” said family friend Joyce Hurvitz of Palo Alto. “We spent many Passovers together when our children were young. Judaism was very important to him.”

That was true all his life. Born in 1944, Miller graduated from Rutgers University, earning his law degree from New York University. Before launching his private law practice, Miller enlisted in the army, serving first in Vietnam and later in Ethiopia. He retired with the rank of captain. “He was very proud of having served his country,” Lazarus said.

He met his future wife, Dorothy Denn, on a blind date set up by mutual friends from the local Hillel. “They are both very strong people. Even while they argued they complemented each other,” Lazarus said.

The couple ultimately settled in California in 1975, where they raised their three children. Family came first for Miller. His daughter Rachel remembers her father taking her “on dates” to the symphony. “He took care of me. He was a very involved father. There was the law, the Jewish community and us,” Lazarus said.

Mike and Dottie Miller were indefatigable volunteers for the community. She is a former regional president of Hadassah, the women’s Zionist organization, and now directs the Florence Melton Adult Mini-School for the Albert L. Schultz Jewish Community Center in Palo Alto. Her late husband was a life associate member of Hadassah. He did pro bono work for Chabad as well.

“When you look at the family, you can see him expressed in his children: commitment to family, commitment to community and achieving highly in their work,” Lewis said.

Miller’s daughter Laurie Golubtchik is assistant principal at Yeshiva of Central Queens, while daughter Rachel Lazarus is an attorney, a former Hebrew school teacher and current youth department director at the Atlanta JCC. Son Jonathan Miller is a High Holy Day shofar-blower at Kol Emeth.

Though in ill health in recent years, Miller strove to keep up his legal work and stay connected to loved ones. Lewis kept in touch during the last year as well. “I really admired his spirit,” he said. “He didn’t seem to be in a state of despair. He continued to relish the good things.”

Michael Miller is survived by his wife, Dottie Miller of Sunnyvale; daughters Rachel Lazarus (Jeff) of Atlanta and Lauren Golubtchik (Doran) of Woodmere, N.Y.; son Jonathan Miller (Tamar) of San Francisco; and six grandchildren.

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is a J. staff writer. He retired as news editor in 2020. Dan can be reached at dan@jweekly.com.