Chancellor Schwartz Shares Her Thoughts on the Passing of Rabbi David Ellenson (z”l)

Like so many in the community, I am heartbroken to learn of the death of Rabbi David Ellenson (z”l). Dr. Ellenson served as president and Chancellor Emeritus of Hebrew Union College – Jewish institute of Religion. He had the special ability to be both a profound scholar and an exceptional institutional leader. Internationally recognized for his scholarly work in the areas of Jewish religious thought, ethics, and modern Jewish history, he was also known for his devotion to sustaining HUC-JIR’s excellence.  

JTS was honored to work closely with Rabbi Ellenson throughout the years. Three successive JTS chancellors were blessed to call him both a colleague and a friend.  

I knew him as a true “Ohev Yisrael” and a staunch adherent of religious pluralism who believed in the power of each variety of Judaism to bring more people closer to God, Torah, and the people Israel. With his prodigious intellect, incisive thinking, and, most of all, his love for the Jewish people in all its variety, he inspired all those he encountered.  

As so many can attest, he was a marvelous human being, a trusted friend, and a wise counselor. I personally grew from every conversation I had with him, whether about our shared interests in 19th-century Wissenschaft scholarship, American Judaism, the future of American Jewry, or the unique challenges of institutional leadership.   

Chancellor Emeritus Eisen, who worked closely with Rabbi Ellenson, recalled that “David Ellenson was one of the wisest, kindest and most loving human beings I have known. It was a great privilege to be his friend—a privilege shared by so many in the Jewish world—and a special pleasure to have his companionship as I led JTS at the same time as he led HUC. There are not enough candles on all our hanukiyyot to make up for the light that has just left our world. Truly a man whose memory, like his life, is for blessing.” 

“I am deeply saddened by President Ellenson’s sudden death,” said Chancellor Emeritus Schorsch who also knew Rabbi Ellenson well. “I mourn along with the multitudes that he touched. He was a dear friend, an outstanding leader, and a tireless scholar.”   

Rabbi Ellenson received an honorary doctorate from JTS in 2014, a day that now holds added meaning in our community.