November 21, 2018

HUC names Rabbi David Ellenson interim president following death of Rabbi Aaron Panken

Rabbi David Ellenson, chancellor emeritus of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR), has been appointed interim president of HUC-JIR, following the sudden death on May 5 of former HUC-JIR President Rabbi Aaron Panken at the age of 53.

“Rabbi Aaron Panken will be remembered for his leadership, skills, visions, judgment, and ability to inspire and move others to action,” Ellenson said in a May 14 HUC-JIR statement announcing his appointment. “I am confident that his dreams for HUC-JIR will yet be realized through the foundations he constructed and the visions he has bequeathed us. These dreams and visions will constitute his unforgettable monument, as we secure his enduring legacy.”

The HUC-JIR board of governors appointed Ellenson to lead HUC-JIR, the Reform movement’s flagship seminary, with campuses in Los Angeles, Cincinnati, New York and Jerusalem.

“We are grateful to Rabbi Ellenson for his experienced leadership and commitment to HUC-JIR as we mourn the untimely loss of Rabbi Aaron Panken,” HUC-JIR Board of Governors Chair Andrew Berger said. “Rabbi Ellenson’s deep knowledge of our institution and great devotion to our sacred mission will carry us forward.”

Panken died in a plane crash in upstate New York. His colleagues and students remembered him as a dedicated leader and devoted friend, who exhibited a combination of learnedness, adventurousness and sense of humor.

Ellenson served as the president of HUC-JIR for 12 years, from 2001-2013.

In 2014, Panken succeeded Ellenson.

Ellenson, who was raised in an Orthodox household and joined the HUC-JIR faculty in 1979, is just concluding his tenure as director of the Schusterman Center for Israel Studies at Brandeis University. At Brandeis he teaches courses on “Who is a Jew? Jewish Status and Identity in Israel and America.”

He received his bachelor’s degree from the College of William and Mary; was ordained as a rabbi by HUC-JIR and received his Ph.D. from Columbia University.