Sometimes it is impolite to define a man by what he does for a living; but that is not the case with Rabbi Sheldon Miller, say his friends and co-workers. Miller, who was the head of the Orthodox Union’s ParnossahWorks program, died in his Teaneck home Friday of a heart attack. He was 55.
As the director of ParnossahWorks, Miller was charged with finding jobs for out-of-work Jews. The OU started the program two years ago, according to OU Executive Vice President Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Weinreb, but it didn’t really get off the ground until Miller took the helm a year ago.
"From the time he came here, he really clicked in two major ways," Weinreb told The Standard. "First, he was part of the team here. He just fit in. Everyone liked him, and he was able to connect to people very quickly. Then, as a professional, he was just remarkably proficient at his work, and this was the kind of work you can really measure."
In the past year, Miller placed some ’15 Jews in the New York metropolitan area in white-collar jobs ranging from computer work to retail, said Weinreb. He also helped hundreds of others with their job searches through dozens of workshops that he gave in the New York area.
‘The biggest mitzvah possible is to help put people on their feet," said Weinreb. "Multiply that by family size, and there are more than 1,000 people that he closely impacted."
And that, said Dr. Steven Katz, is what made Miller most happy.
Katz said that he knew Miller since the two were students at Yeshiva University in the late 1960s and early 1970s. They both moved to Teaneck 30 years ago and joined Cong. Bnai Yeshurun. For the past year, Katz, a member of ParnossahWorks’ lay leadership, spoke with Miller several times a day.
"He was an exceptionally caring individual," said Katz. "Tuesday night, he came up to me in shul and he called me by a nickname. ‘Reb Simcha,’ he said, ‘we just placed the ’15th person in a job. I have such joy in being able to be helpful.’ That was genuine."
Katz said that he had the chance to watch Miller run an employment workshop at Bnai Yeshurun several months ago.
"About 50 people came in, and they were despondent. It was not a happy group," he recalled. "But after Shelly got up and did his thing, they were a lively group. He brought them to life. That was Shelly. He always looked for the good in people."
Katz said that Miller was a peacemaker in his role as vice president of Bnai Yeshurun. "If there was ever an argument between one individual and another, Shelly would go to person A and try to change his mind about person B," he said.
Miller earned a BA from Yeshiva University in 1971, and rabbinic ordination and a master’s degree in history from Yeshiva University in 1974. An adjunct assistant professor at the Y.U.’s Sy Syms School of Business, he earned an MBA and a master’s degree in Public Affairs and Health Administration from New York University.
"People die suddenly, and we obviously wonder why," said Weinreb. "But it is not for us to ask. It is for us to deal with and to try to react in a positive and meaningful way, which is what his family is doing, and what we are doing here at OU. It is just a shock to us all."
Miller is survived by his wife, Mara, three children, Rachel, Daniel, and Elisheva, a son-in-law, Marc Hecht, and twin grandsons.