Inaugural Charge to Rabbi David Ellenson
Chair, Board of Governors
October 13, 2002
Rabbi David Ellenson:
At this milestone in the history of our beloved Hebrew Union College-Jewish
Institute of Religion, we call upon you to lead us - just as Moses
called upon Joshua in the passage of the Torah that we have just
read, and as generations of our people have called upon successive
generations throughout the millennia. For we are a people of calling:
called to serve God, and called to serve humanity.
Our founders - Isaac Mayer Wise and Stephen Wise - were surely
called as well, as were the generations of teachers, scholars, and
lay leaders who supported and advised them. That is why we have
come here today: to affirm our call and to call upon you - to service
on behalf of our College-Institute, the Reform Movement, and klal
The future lies ahead of all of us - full of promise and potential.
But dreams alone are not enough. As Theodore Herzl taught us, "If
you will it, it is not a dream." To realize our dreams, we need
a Moses, a Joshua, or a Wise: a visionary leader who will act affirmatively
to shape the future.
We take seriously the transforming possibility that we are divinely
intended - that we are part of a cosmic plan beyond our ken. God
has called upon us to be part of this moment in Jewish history.
This moment presents us with great challenges, as well as great
Someone once said that we are the "nevertheless" people, so I say
to you - "nevertheless," we believe that the world is fated for greatness.
- At this moment, Jews in Europe and Latin America are facing
a resurgence of anti-Semitism that we thought would never recur
in our lifetime.
- At this moment, the State of Israel is beleaguered, but has
our unflagging support and commitment as it struggles for a future
blessed with peace and security.
- And at this moment, here in America, we are still reeling from
the impact of September 11th and the threat of renewed terror
and a war in Iraq. And yet, at this same moment, we Jews in North
America are possessed of unprecedented resources, security, and
confidence to realize a golden age of Jewish spiritual and cultural
Isaac Mayer Wise saw our destiny embedded in our Bible, and borrowed
it for our College logo: "Haboker or" - "Dawn appeared."
For we Jews aspire always for the promise of the dawn, and an end
to the night - an end to times of oppression and evil. All of us
gathered here today share this dream - to hasten the dawn for which
our people's visionaries have always hoped.
In guiding us toward this dream, we look to you and the great
gifts that you bring to your Presidency of the College-Institute:
We take comfort in knowing that these gifts of knowledge and character
will be a source of strength and inspiration to all of us in the years
- Your renowned scholarship in Jewish history, ethics, and religious thought
- Your inspiring teaching and mentorship of generations of students
- Your love for the people and land of Israel and your idealism and activism on behalf of the Zionist dream
- Your devotion to pluralism and klal Yisrael
- Your commitment to the Reform Movement and its unique capacity
to guarantee authentic Jewish continuity in a world of increasing
regard for individual freedom and personal conscience
- And your warmth, compassion, and integrity, which animate all
As the leader of this internationally recognized university and
seminary, you will be called upon to sustain its academic excellence,
distinguished faculty, a ccomplished alumni, and gifted students.
As our President, you will be called upon to serve as a leader
of world Jewry.
At this moment, as I charge you with the privilege and responsibility
of leading our beloved College-Institute, let all who are present
here today pledge to be your partners in building our Jewish future.
For this inauguration calls upon us, even as we call upon you, to
guarantee a bold tomorrow, when dawn will come.
By the authority vested in me as Chair of the Board of Governors,
it is my privilege and joy to formally install you as the eighth
President of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion and
to publicly charge you on this day of your Inauguration:
May God bless you and your dear family as you embark on this new chapter
in your lives. May God grant you the wisdom and strength to fulfill
your aspirations and dreams. And may God bless your leadership of
Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, so that Jewish
learning and leadership, in service to God and to the world, will
flourish as a source of light among the nations for the generations
- To sustain "shalshelet ha-kabbalah" - the chain of Jewish
learning and teaching, from generation to generation
- To preserve Judaism's sacred texts, values and history to ensure
- To promote the living interpretation of Judaism through a dynamic
engagement with contemporary life and liberal thought
- And to inspire us all to build a better world where ignorance
and injustice are eradicated, and justice and understanding prevail.