Inaugural Charge to Rabbi David Ellenson

Tuesday, October 1, 2002

Burton Lehman
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 Yisrael. 

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 hopes.

  • 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 growth.

Someone once said that we are the "nevertheless" people, so I say to you - "nevertheless," we believe that the world is fated for greatness. 

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:

  • 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 your endeavors.

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 to come. 

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:

  • 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 Jewish survival 
  • 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.

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 come.


Founded in 1875, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion is North America's leading institution of higher Jewish education and the academic, spiritual, and professional leadership development center of Reform Judaism. HUC-JIR educates men and women for service to North American and world Jewry as rabbis, cantors, educators, and nonprofit management professionals, and offers graduate programs to scholars and clergy of all faiths. With centers of learning in Cincinnati, Jerusalem, Los Angeles, and New York, HUC-JIR's scholarly resources comprise the renowned Klau Library, The Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives, research institutes and centers, and academic publications. In partnership with the Union for Reform Judaism and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, HUC-JIR sustains the Reform Movement's congregations and professional and lay leaders. HUC-JIR's campuses invite the community to cultural and educational programs illuminating Jewish heritage and fostering interfaith and multiethnic understanding. www.huc.edu