Rabbi Muller marks 2 special occasions
By LINDA M. LINONIS
The jobs that helped put then-student Franklin W. Muller through the University of California at Berkeley proved to be more than a means to an end — but not the end he had envisioned.
He earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration. Those jobs that funded his college education immersed him in Jewish life and led him to a realization. He worked at his home synagogue of Congregation Beth Israel/Judea in San Francisco, in its music program, at a Hebrew school as a youth adviser and Reform Movement summer retreat and as a camp counselor.
That and the influence of Rabbi Herbert Morris, now deceased, of Congregation Beth Israel/Judea, moved him to change his career path. “I realized where my heart truly lay,” Rabbi Muller said. “He [Rabbi Morris] was my role model and mentor.”
Rabbi Muller is marking two special occasions.
He’s observing the 30th anniversary of his ordination in 1983 at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Cincinnati, which awarded him an honorary doctor of divinity degree in 2008. He received a master of arts degree in Hebrew letters at the Los Angeles campus of Hebrew Union College and began rabbinical studies at HUC in Jerusalem.
Rabbi Muller also is marking his 18th year as the spiritual leader of Congregation Rodef Sholom, where he began serving on Nov. 1, 1995. He explained that in Jewish culture 18 is significant because the 10th and eighth letters in the Hebrew alphabet spell “chai,” which means life.
Though it might be the business world’s loss, Rabbi Muller said he would “do it all again.” He said he made the right choice of what to do with his life.
Before coming to Youngstown, Rabbi Muller served at Temple Emanuel in Roanoke, Va., from 1985-95, and was assistant rabbi at Temple Israel in St. Louis, Mo., from 1983-85.
Rabbi Muller said his style of teaching and preaching is basic. “I try to be myelf on and off the pulpit,” he said. “I want people to see the human side and the rabbinical side.”
His speaking ability was recognized at HUC, where he received the Mrs. Arthur Hayes Sulzberger Prise in Homeletics, given to the senior student for best chapel sermon.
He said although he is not a trained therapist, congregants seek his help with various issues. “I use common sense and Jewish empathy,” he said.
A major element of his ministry involves music. “It’s a big part of what I do and main avenue to brighten the spirit,” Rabbi Muller said. He added music also is important in the Reform movement nationally.
Rabbi Muller plays guitar for services and formed the Shabbatones band. “I wear a lot of hats here,” he said, noting he coordinates music for the organist and soloist.
He also has written many original holiday skits, plays and productions for children and worked with choirs and concert bands to perform liturgical and Jewish folk-rock music.
Rabbi Muller said his goal for all congregants is for each “to grow in Judaism.” To accomplish that, he uses special themes, speakers and family events to create innovative and interesting services and programs.
In worship, he has incorporated yoga and meditation along with traditional services. There’s a mix of English and Hebrew and an effort to appeal to young people.
“People want to grow spiritually as individuals,” he said. He noted being Jewish doesn’t revolve around Israel, the Holocaust or anti-Semitism. “Being Jewish is about being a Jewish human being and spiritual being.”
The rabbi said the challenge of his position is “to keep everyone interested and involved so that they support and be a part of the temple.” He noted that much of what he does at Rodef Sholom he learned from Rabbi Morris. “He moved me so much and a part of him is with me.”
Rabbi Muller also credited his wife, Darlene, with “reminding him of his human side.” He described her as an “ambassador to the congregation” and one who “reaches out to people.”