Citation of Honorary Degree of Doctor of Humane Letters at the Commencement Program of the College of William and Mary, by Sandra Day O'Connor, William and Mary Chancellor and Retired Supreme Court Justice, to Rabbi David Ellenson, Ph.D., President of Heb

Thursday, May 1, 2008

David Harry Ellenson, rabbi and scholar, teacher and leader, you have made an indelible mark on Judaic studies and American higher education in your thirty-year career. As the president of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, whose campuses may be found in New York, Cincinnati, Los Angeles, and Jerusalem, your leadership in Reform Judaism has impressive reach and inspiring force. 

Born in Brookline, Massachusetts, and raised in Newport News, Virginia, you traveled at first just the few short miles to Williamsburg to earn a bachelor's degree in history from the College of William and Mary. You then went west, to earn your master's at the University of Virginia, and from there to New York, and Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion and Columbia University, completing your doctoral studies at Columbia in 1981. 

Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion would become your home for the better part of the next three decades. You have been a member of its faculty since 1979, and for many years also held the post of director of the Jerome H. Lochheim School of Judaic Studies. You are the Anna Grancell Professor of Jewish Religious Thought and hold the Gus Waterman Herrman Presidential Chair. 

These ties reflect but do not encompass the breadth of your impact on your institution and on Judaic studies. You have published and spoken on a stunning range of issues in modern Jewish history, ethics, and thought; your articles, reviews, and books number in the hundreds. In 2006, your book After Emancipation: Jewish Religions Responses to Modernity won a National Jewish Book Award. Your pride in this honor was doubtless heightened by having one of your fellow honorees your own daughter, Ruth Andrew Ellenson. 

You have sought, in the words of your inaugural address as president of Hebrew Union College, what "animates the souls" of men and women in their infinite variety. You have celebrated the history of Jews in America and around the world, and proclaimed their contributions and aspirations with, always, a view of what all humankind, across all religions, holds in common. You speak of traditions, reverently; of faith, powerfully; of understanding, hopefully; and of human goodness, always. 

David Harry Ellenson, your abiding faith, your deep intellectual curiosity, and your dauntless commitment to the greater good fulfill your alma mater's best hopes for its graduates. On this, the 39th anniversary of your own graduation from the College of William and Mary, we are proud to honor you. By virtue of the authority vested in me by the Board of Visitors and the Ancient Royal Charter of The College of William and Mary in Virginia, I hereby confer upon you the degree of Doctor of Humane Letters, Honoris Causa.

Founded in 1875, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion is North America's first 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.