When Grace and Michael Miller made aliyah to unite with their three sons living here since post high school days, they were 54 and 60 years old, respectively. Looking back at the past 15 years, it is clear that they continue to meet their friend’s definition of “happy immigrants” – and not just for family reasons. Both were fortunate enough to find satisfying outlets for their skill sets. Michael worked a full day, continuing to teach math in English in a Jerusalem high school and college for ten years. Grace obtained a certificate in art therapy. Subsequently, she used her artistic and teaching skills to run hobby classes in her Jerusalem home, which she still does, though virtually right now – with a little help from Zoom.
Though the Millers did not meet until Grace (née Perlman) was 20 and Michael 26, their early lives moved on parallel tracks, with Michael forging a few years ahead. Both were born in Philadelphia, attended public school (where Grace majored in art) and afternoon Hebrew school. While their families shared a Conservative Jewish affiliation, Grace’s family had a strictly Orthodox home.
“Growing up in Philadelphia when there were almost no Orthodox Jews, my parents joined Har Zion Temple, a very traditional Conservative synagogue, when they married in 1948,” Grace explains, adding, “I certainly attribute who I am today, my love of Yiddishkeit, my Zionism and my work in Jewish education to its rabbis and teachers.”
Both studied at Temple University to qualify as high school teachers, with Michael graduating in math and history and obtaining a masters’ degree in education in 1966. Each of them received BHL (bachelor of Hebrew letters) degrees from Gratz College during their studies. Michael then taught math in public school for six years. Grace majored in sociology, but expanded her curriculum by attending courses at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts.
Grace’s first visit to Israel in 1967 right after the Six Day War was a turning point, after which the 16-year-old “dreamed of making Israel her home.” Michael’s initial trip was in 1969, to Ulpan Akiva, Netanya. In 1970, the couple were both counselors at Camp Ramah, but their relationship only began when they met again at a 1972 camp. When both volunteered in Israel for several months in 1973-74 following the Yom Kippur war, they met often. Michael worked at newly established Moshav Ramot with a dairy herd, and was honored by Maariv as “the ideal volunteer.”
After some months at a Jerusalem ulpan, he ran a summer program for Ramah in Israel. Meanwhile, Grace stayed at Kibbutz Alumim, where she cooked, helped out generally and set up a workshop in an unused bomb shelter, “where the young women could come and be together in a creative, therapeutic environment.”
After their 1975 marriage, the Millers spent many summers at Camp Ramah working in different capacities, and their children became regular campers there. They also spent two sabbaticals in Israel leading various programs. As for religion, “We remained affiliated with the Conservative movement, always being religiously observant, until 1994,” Michael explains, “We moved to suburban Lower Merion then and joined a thriving Orthodox synagogue with an outstanding rabbi and rebbetzin, Rabbi Levene and his dear wife Choni, and truly amazing friends.”
Grace taught Hebrew and Jewish studies for 32 years at Akiba Hebrew Academy in Philadelphia, where she was program coordinator for many years. In 1999. after many years of service, Michael took early retirement from the public school system and taught in a Jewish day school until they left America.
Their sons Shalom and Benjamin, who came to Israel after high school to learn in yeshiva or college, do the army and became rabbis, ultimately married and remained here. When 19-year-old Yoni announced in 2004 that he was following suit and staying in Israel, the Millers decided to make aliyah, too. Accordingly, on July 13, 2005 they landed at Ben-Gurion on a Nefesh B’Nefesh flight, welcomed by their three sons; daughter-in-law Batya; and eldest granddaughter, Tiferet Rachel.
In Jerusalem, Michael was offered two jobs as a math teacher and worked concurrently at Machon Lev and Ramah High School for almost a decade. Grace returned to art pursuits, graphic design and calligraphy, including writing ketubot (marriage contracts).
“One of my most significant accomplishments,” Grace confides, was becoming a scribe during their 1983-84 sabbatical, like her grandfather before her. She began writing a Purim megillah (scroll of Esther), but abandoned the task. When their oldest son, Shalom, also became a scribe, he immediately completed the scroll Grace had started “when he was four years old in Jerusalem.”
Another circle was completed in 2008, when Grace's 90 year-old mother made aliyah and, overjoyed, the Millers welcomed Bubby Perlman to their home.
For 14 years, Grace has taught paper cutting to two groups of women, 60 to 95 years old, who meet weekly in her apartment. “They’ve become a support group,” she explains. “One woman describes them as the sisters she never had.” Nowadays Michael spends his days learning Daf Yomi, attends many shiurim, and is an active member of the Beit Yosef synagogue.
“We have a great sense of gratitude to Hashem for the opportunity to live in Israel. We are deeply proud of our three sons and three wonderful daughters [-in-law], all making contributions to Israeli society,” the Millers say. Until COVID-19, spending time with them and helping out with the 13 Sabra grandchildren was their “most precious time.” All live nearby in Israel.
"This is our greatest blessing and we don’t take it for granted for a moment."