Rabbi honored for connecting clergy on Peninsula

Rabbi Jay Miller is more than just an innovator. Now he’s an award-winner, too.

A non-pulpit rabbi on the Peninsula, Miller recently received the San Mateo County and Beyond Award from the county’s Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

Rabbi Jay Miller

From a long list of nominees — one apiece submitted by the mayors of each of San Mateo’s 21 cities — Miller and Ruben Barrales were selected by a committee as the two winners of the award.

Miller is the creator and executive director of the Peninsula Clergy Network, an interactive network of all clergy on the Peninsula. When he started PCN as a database in 2002, it was an initiative that no other rabbi or religious leader anywhere in the country had undertaken.

Now it includes 350 churches and congregations and 440 members, leading to increased interaction between religious leaders of all faiths, civic leaders and their communities.

Barrales in 1992 became the first Latino ever elected to the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors, going on to serve two terms. More recently, he was the Bush administration’s director of the Office of Intergovernmental Affairs for five years.

 Miller and Barrales were honored May 20 at the Hispanic chamber’s second annual Mayor’s Diversity Celebration Awards dinner in Redwood City. They each received a plaque and official proclamations from a handful of elected officials, including Reps. Anna Eshoo and Jackie Speier and state Assembly member Ira Ruskin.

“Rabbi Jay Miller is doing a phenomenal job … encouraging and promoting collaboration and understanding of other cultures,” said Jorge Jaramillo, president of the San Mateo Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. “This model of clergy and community leaders working together as a whole is very unique and very admirable.”

At the dinner, the chamber also honored one person from each of the county’s 21 cities. That diverse list ranged from a woman tribal chief of the Ohlone Coastanoan Indians to an entrepreneur organizing health services for the area’s underprivileged.

The award for Miller validated all of the hard work he has been doing since December 2001, when the Peninsula Community Found-ation hired him to organize a dialogue on the topic of religious tolerance. That evolved into a full-time job

for Miller, as he went on to start what became the Peninsula Clergy Network.

“We are the only region in the country that has a database of every clergy and every congregation, and that is the key — because we have a communication vehicle to bring people together,” Miller said of his efforts.

As the PCN’s executive director, Miller does not advocate or seek religious solutions to civic and secular issues. Instead, his organization provides the framework for fostering awareness, understanding and engagement.

“I knocked on a lot of doors and had coffee with a lot of people so they’d understand we were their organization and not an organization created around an agenda,” he said.

The PCN organizes dialogues among clergy, but it is also a communal resource. Health officials rely on the PCN to get out news of how to prepare and respond to a disaster, and PCN conducts diversity training for city and school officials.

Miller moved to the Bay Area in 1997. He has worked at Peninsula Temple Sholom in Burlingame, Congregation  Rodef Sholom in San Rafael and Congregation Shir Ami in Castro Valley, and also at the Bureau of Jewish Education.

Now Miller has become known for his work bridging the gap between faith communities and the general community. Leaders in places as far away as Westchester County, N.Y., and even Shanghai, China, have called upon him for guidance.

 “For the first three years that I did this, people looked at me like they had no idea what I was talking about,” Miller said. “Now they say, ‘Fantastic. We should always have that.’ And they’re right.”

Stacey Palevsky

Stacey Palevsky is a former J. staff writer.