Raised Catholic in Texas’ bible belt, 35-year-old Michelle Muller now lives in Manhattan and lights candles on Friday nights. She has adopted some of Judaism's universally-appreciated practices and made them her own.
“I have Shabbat with my kids,” says the single mother of three boys, ages 7, 9 and 11. It’s about “taking a moment and honoring this space by making it feel elevated. At the High Holidays, I love how there’s a mindfulness about how I am living my life, what I am going to do next year, and this gratitude for what I've been given.”
Muller’s decision to weave dedicated time into her days to meditate on her life and blessings was hard-earned. When Muller's abusive marriage finally ended five years ago, after a long, three year divorce process, Muller heaved a sigh of relief and found herself not embittered or introverted, but in possession of what she calls “a mindset of big-time gratitude.”
“I’m so lucky to have an opportunity to do this all over again. To get really clear on how I want to live now that I’ve been given a second chance. Everything I do— from the food I eat to how I spend my time. Nothing is haphazard,” she says. Muller wastes no opportunity to consider “how full my life is, and how I appreciate it.”
That fullness is on account of many things: her children, a healthy relationship with a new partner, a thriving professional life as a co-founder of Little Spoon, a fresh, healthy baby food delivery service that launched in 2017. The fullness is also due to her involvement with Repair the World and the Schusterman Family Foundation, unlikely affiliations for someone who grew up Catholic. Muller got to know Schusterman specifically by way of the REALITY experience.
“I was so insanely moved by the calibre of people on my journey. The friendships that grew so super strong and experiencing Israel— the people, the culture, the food,” she says. “Specifically for someone who is in the food business, the quality of clean, healthy food blew my mind. It was so incredible, and I just felt moved by what REALITY was all about.”
Back home, Muller became active in the REALITY alumni community, attending events and programs as much as her schedule would allow. “I felt so honored to be able to on that journey, and any way I could give back,” she says, she would. But she also wanted to give back in other, more regular ways—to help people less fortunate than she and to impart to her kids the importance of so doing. That kind of mitzvah, of volunteering and helping others, is one her parents taught her and her commitment to it redoubled in her post-divorce journey of self-discovery and self-renewal.
Last year, Muller and her partner entered the lottery to run the New York City Marathon as a goal they could reach together. Muller was completing a double digit training-run last spring when she had a revelation.“This is no joke. There’s not many people out there that are successful in setting this goal. Why would I do this and not couple it with some greater good?” she says. She decided to turn her marathon into a fundraiser for Repair the World, which works in neighborhoods she’d be running through in the race. Repair the World also appealed to Muller because it offers ample opportunities for families to volunteer together and for children to get involved and meet people outside their bubble, to interact with those who may face economic, housing or food insecurity.
With the help of some 87 donors, Muller raise more than $5,000 for Repair the World. When she felt daunted on the marathon course by the distance yet to cover, Muller thought of all the people who’d made a contribution to her cause and that motivated her to keep going strong. “I cannot let these people down. They’ve reached into their pocket, at the very least I can get across the finish line for them,” she says. That she did in about five hours.
It was “an epic experience, and being able to give back was amazing icing on the cake for me. It makes me think as I move through my days that you can incorporate charity or giving back in everything that you do,” she says. “It’s a lifestyle. You have to commit to it.”