Having served the Jewish community as Director of Community Building for the Jewish Federation of Cincinnati for 20 years, Barb Miller retired this past December. Miller’s portfolio included overseeing the Planning & Allocations (P&A) Committee, leading the Israel Center, building relationships with Jewish agencies and congregations, as well as coordinating the Jewish Federation’s board.
“Barb was visionary and innovative,” said Shep Englander, Federation CEO. “She was incredibly creative and strategic—and passionate about the Jewish community of Cincinnati. Even more than that, she knew how to make things work, knew how to connect people, and was willing to roll up her sleeves and get things done.”
“She was a force,” said Sherri Symson, who began volunteering as a member of the P&A committee and is now Vice President of Planning & Allocations. “I still remember my first time meeting Barb. She came into a site visit, and the course of the meeting changed. We got to the meat of the issue immediately. She knew the history, identified what we need to talk about, and changed the meeting for the good.”
Developing Leaders: ‘She built us up’
“Barb’s legacy is in developing leaders in our community,” Symson said. “She took a lot of people who were moderately
engaged and brought them in. Her ability to engage and grow volunteers—and make them feel like they have a place at the table—is incredible.”
The broad scope of Miller’s work included planning for the Jewish Federation’s executive committee and board meetings. She was also responsible for board succession planning.
“Barb was really good at identifying people who would make good board members and how they could best engage in the board, and then tapping into their skill sets,” said Suzette Fisher, Federation Past President.
Her passion for developing board members extended beyond the Federation. Miller recently helped launch the Federation’s first Board Leadership Development Program, through which the organization shares best practices on building strong and effective boards with six participating agencies.
That passion extends to professionals as well. Miller initiated the Monaco Jewish Nonprofit Leadership Institute—a professional development program for Jewish communal professionals from 22 local agencies.
“Barb can leave knowing that the volunteers and professionals in our community will continue her work, and that she empowered the next generation of leaders,” Symson said. “She built us up, making us feel appreciated, teaching us, and equipping us with the knowledge. And she made involvement accessible. I learned so much from her.”
Planning for Our Future: ‘Barb was phenomenal’
Planning and visioning for the Cincinnati Jewish community was among the most significant work Miller accomplished. She helped lead the Cincinnati 2020 initiative, a community-wide collaboration that transformed Jewish Cincinnati over the last ten years.
“Barb was phenomenal in helping to develop a way to both evaluate agencies and partner with them,” said Fisher, who in her role as Vice President of Planning & Allocations, worked with Miller to reimagine the Federation’s process to allocate Annual Campaign funds to Jewish organizations.
Where previously, a small group of people made decisions on how to distribute campaign dollars, now more than 100 volunteers spend 650 hours over six months to evaluate each request and ensure funding aligns with community priorities.
“The visits became more meaningful as they transformed from surface evaluations to deep substantive exploration of whether the program achieved the goals it set out to achieve and met the needs of the community,” Fisher said. “It was a bold change, and none of it could have happened without Barb’s attention to detail, her listening skills, her dedication to both volunteer and agency, and her passionate belief that things could always be better.”
In addition to maximizing the impact of donations, the new allocations process helped connect organizations and ensure the work they were doing supported community priorities.
“Because Barb was involved in the evaluation of all agencies, she had a bird’s eye view of how the pieces could work together and how they could collaborate, be more efficient, and take away duplication of services,” Fisher said.
Nurturing Connections with Israel
Miller was passionate about nurturing connections with Israel and spearheaded several successful and collaborative community-wide programs to support that effort. In 2008, she created the Israel at 60 celebration, bringing Israeli singer-songwriter Idan Raichel to Fountain Square; more than 5,000 community members attended. Again in 2018, she helped create Israel at 70, a yearlong celebration of Israel’s founding.
This past year, under Miller’s leadership, the Jewish Federation and Mayerson JCC invited Jewish Cincinnati to begin difficult conversations about Israel through the We Need to Talk initiative. It brought Israeli author Yossi Klein Halevi to Cincinnati and engaged more than 500 people in a community read.
She also helped launch The Jewish Foundation of Cincinnati’s Israel travel grant programs, which have sent thousands of high school- and college-aged students to Israel.
One of Miller’s most notable projects included the first-ever Congregation and Community Mission to Israel in 2016. It was her brainchild: she invented, coordinated, and then managed the trip, which resulted in more than 500 community members visiting Israel together.
“In her big planning capacity, she always had visionary ideas,” said Marcie Bachrach, Vice President of Israel & Overseas. “Barb put her heart and soul into the mission to Israel. She fostered a community feeling and broke down a lot of boundaries—bringing in all the congregations and working with our community rabbis in a way that hadn’t been done in a very long time.”
Although she was passionate about Israel travel, Miller also saw the value of creating connections to Israel here in Cincinnati; she did that through her supervision of the Chaverim M’Israel (young emissaries from Israel) and Shaliach (community emissary from Israel) programs, and the Partnership2Gether exchange program with Netanya, Israel.
“We will miss Barb,” said Danielle V. Minson, Chief Development Officer and Managing Director. “When a person with such vision and passion, and such deep relationships with our community organizations, leaves, there is a big gap to fill. On behalf of our entire community, we are so thankful for her hard work and commitment these twenty years.”