Painting A Path Into Judaism

At JOI we always like to point out that there are as many pathways into Jewish life as there are people to walk those paths. A recent New York Times article tells of Max Miller, an artist mourning the loss of his father by reciting the prayer for mourning — the Kaddish — at synagogues all over the country. Painting each synagogue he visits, as a symbol of his grief, he gradually reconnects with his Jewish roots. The story is instructive in terms of the community’s approach to welcoming strangers: “…in some places, he has felt distinctly unwelcome. An Orthodox rabbi in a Midtown synagogue was afraid that Mr. Miller was a terrorist… Mr. Miller was too stung to paint the shul.” Most of his other experiences proved to be far more positive. Unfortunately, it only takes one such negative reaction to turn away an unaffiliated person just as he or she trying to establish a connection to the community. It’s something we must always keep in mind.


  1. I’m sure it was by mistake, but your reporting of this most interesting man left the impression that he was made to feel uncomfortable by the Orthodox. In it’s context, the Times article stated thusly:

    “To his surprise, Mr. Miller has found that he feels most comfortable in Orthodox congregations, like the Bialystoker Synagogue on the Lower East Side. And in some places, he has felt distinctly unwelcome. An Orthodox rabbi in a Midtown synagogue was afraid that Mr. Miller was a terrorist, and angrily demanded that he erase the digital photographs he had taken as studies for a painting. The rabbi later apologized, but Mr. Miller was too stung to paint that shul.”

    Thus, Miller has actually felt more at home in the Orthodox shuls he visited than in other synagogues, and only one such rabbi, who later apologized, was suspicious of him - notably, his suspicions were aroused by Miller taking digital photos w/o explaining what he was doing.

    I agree wholeheartedly with your closing comments. We must always judge others favorably, lest we turn a fellow Jew away unwittingly. Nice article.

    Comment by marc — May 9, 2005 @ 1:44 pm

  2. I came across this today. The rabbi at that shul was young and arrogant. I did ask to take photographs. His arrogance got in the way. Rabbi’s have flaws like everyone else.My other experinces were warm , gracious and helpful

    Comment by Max Miller — October 18, 2005 @ 12:59 pm

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