David Ellenson Cause of Death: A Tribute to the Reform Leader and Scholar

David Ellenson Cause of Death
David Ellenson Cause of Death

David Ellenson, 76, died on December 7, 2023, as the former president and chancellor emeritus of the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR).

He was a well-known rabbi, scholar, and educator who made an indelible mark on the Reform movement and the Jewish world. In this post, we will look at some of his life and career highlights, as well as the circumstances of his funeral and memorial service.

Early Life and Education

David Ellenson was born on June 25, 1947, in Brookline, Massachusetts, and grew up in Newport News, Virginia, in an Orthodox Jewish household. In 1964-65, he was the student body president of Newport News High School.

He received his B.A. from the College of William and Mary in 1969 and then went on to study rabbinics at HUC-JIR, where he was ordained in 1977. In 1972, he received an M.A. in religious studies from the University of Virginia, and in 1981, he received a Ph.D. from Columbia University.

Academic and Rabbinic Career

Ellenson joined the HUC-JIR faculty in 1979 and was promoted to professor of Jewish religious thought in 1988. From 1981 until 1997, he was the director of the Louchheim School of Judaic Studies at the University of Southern California, and he also taught at UCLA, the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

He was a fellow of the Jerusalem Shalom Hartman Institute, the Hebrew University Institute of Advanced Studies, and the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies.

David Ellenson Cause of Death

Ellenson was a prolific writer and editor who wrote or edited seven books as well as over 300 articles and reviews on topics ranging from the development of Orthodox Judaism in Germany to legal writings on conversion in Israel and the Diaspora, the relationship between religion and state in Israel, the history of the Reform movement, and American Jewish life.

He also wrote for scholarly and popular journals and newspapers, including the Journal of Jewish Studies, the Journal of Modern Jewish Studies, the Journal of the American Academy of Religion, the Los Angeles Times, and the New York Times.

Ellenson succeeded Rabbi Sheldon Zimmerman as the eighth president of HUC-JIR in 2001. He served as chancellor for 12 years before stepping down in 2013 to become chancellor emeritus. During his presidency, he was in charge of the academic, financial, and administrative operations of HUC-JIR’s four campuses in Cincinnati, Los Angeles, New York, and Jerusalem.

He also established several innovative programs and projects, including electronic classrooms that linked students and faculty across campuses, the Center for the Study of Ethics and Contemporary Moral Problems, the Center for Jewish Education and Leadership, and the Center for the Study of the Holocaust and Genocide.

Ellenson was generally regarded and admired as a reform movement leader and a bridge-builder between different streams of Judaism and other faiths. President George W. Bush named him to the delegation that would accompany him to Jerusalem in 2008 to mark the 60th anniversary of the State of Israel.

He was also honored with the National Jewish Book Award, the Maurice N. Eisendrath Bearer of Light Award, the Simon Greenberg Award for Lifetime Achievement in Jewish Education, and the Bernard Revel Memorial Award. In 2009, Newsweek called him one of the 50 most prominent rabbis.

Personal Life and Family

Ellenson married Rabbi Jacqueline Koch Ellenson, former director of the Women’s Rabbinic Network and chair of the Hadassah Foundation. They were the parents of six children and 14 grandchildren.

Ellenson was recognized for his friendliness, kindness, and modesty, as well as his passions for music, literature, and athletics. He was a kind husband, father, grandfather, and friend who cared deeply about his family and his community.

David Ellenson Cause of Death and Funeral

Ellenson passed away on December 7, 2023, following a long fight with cancer. His loved ones were all around him at his New York residence. On December 10, 2023, his funeral was place at the Stephen Wise Free Synagogue in Manhattan, where he was a member.

Rabbi Ammiel Hirsch, the synagogue’s senior rabbi, and Rabbi Aaron Panken, the president of HUC-JIR, officiated during the event. His wife, children, coworkers, and friends presented eulogies, sharing their memories and appreciation for his life and legacy.

Hundreds of people, including dignitaries, rabbis, scholars, students, and lay leaders from numerous Jewish organizations and institutions, attended the funeral. For those who were unable to attend in person, the funeral was also live-streamed online.

Ellenson was laid to rest next to his parents, Samuel and Ruth Ellenson, in Mount Hebron Cemetery in Flushing, Queens. His burial was marked by a modest stone etched with his name, dates, and a Psalm verse: “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want” (Psalm 23:1).

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Memorial Service and Legacy

On December 12, 2023, a memorial service for Ellenson was held at the HUC-JIR campus in New York, where he had taught and served for many years. Rabbi David Adelson, the campus dean, and Rabbi Andrea Weiss, the provost of HUC-JIR, led the ceremony.

Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism; Rabbi Jonah Pesner, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism; Rabbi Angela Buchdahl, senior rabbi of Central Synagogue; and Rabbi David Wolpe, senior rabbi of Sinai Temple, were among those who spoke.

Musical performances from HUC-JIR cantorial students and teachers were also included in the service, as was a video tribute to Ellenson’s life and work.

His family, students, coworkers, publications, articles, and acts will carry on Ellenson’s memory and legacy. He will be remembered as a visionary and a scholar, as a leader and a teacher, as a mentor and a friend, as a rabbi, and as a man of integrity. Everyone who knew him and drew inspiration from him will miss him. May the bond of life bind up his soul.

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