Tributes in Honor of Rabbi David Ellenson z”l

Welcome to a space filled with love and cherished memories dedicated to Rabbi David Ellenson z”l. Read a selection of heartfelt tributes below from family, friends, and students that illuminate the impact of Rabbi Ellenson's wisdom, kindness, and profound teachings on our lives.

David Ellenson

A selection of excerpts from memories that have been shared:


I can think of no rabbi in our time who did that more than David Ellenson. When in his presence, we always wanted to soak up his wisdom, and when we left his presence, we always wanted to model his qualities: his compassion, his humility his warmth and his ability to teach the values of our tradition in a meaningful and positive way….History will show that David made a real difference in the Reform Jewish community and beyond. May the legacy he leaves behind be a source of blessing to all who knew and loved him. Sending love and hugs to Jackie and all the family.

— Rabbi Sally Priesand ’72, First Woman Rabbi Ordained in North America



“The Central Conference of American Rabbis mourns the death of our beloved rabbi, teacher, and friend, David Ellenson, former President and Chancellor Emeritus of our Hebrew Union College–Jewish Institute of Religion. David was a mensch of the highest order who imparted wisdom and kindness in addition to sharing his voluminous knowledge and scholarship. He was also a devoted and generous member of the CCAR….David’s death on the eve of Chanukah reminds us of the light he brought into the lives of CCAR rabbis, HUC-JIR, the Reform Movement and the Jewish people. David was at heart a teacher, and he taught not only academics, but showed us a model of how to live with integrity and kindness.”

Rabbi Erica Asch, President,
Rabbi Hara Person, Chief Executive

Central Conference of American Rabbis



“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.

Dr. Shuly Rubin Schwartz, Chancellor Jewish Theological Seminary



“I mourn the premature death of my colleague and friend David Ellenson. He was a special scholar, teacher, and human being. Among the leaders of HUC-JIR, he was exceptional with a real vision of Jewish life, Jewish history, and the Jewish future. How the College flourished under his leadership and how many of his students and colleagues were enriched by his presence! He also stayed connected to the academic world where he was trained. I will never forget his appearance at my retirement party from Penn’s Katz Center. His genuine support meant a lot to me as it did to countless others.”

Rabbi David Ruderman ’71



“David’s voice was invariably the one capable of holding and delivering multiple truths, in ways that people could hear it and really take it in, which made it all the more remarkable. David was able to see all sides of any issue not only with his unmatched mind, but b’chol lev. He embodied chazal’s insight that the heart is the seat of wisdom. I always emerged from being in David’s presence for the better: I had learned, I had understood something clearer or anew, I had been challenged, stretched, and always, always with love. So much love.”

Rabbi Tali Zelkowicz, Ph.D. ’00, ’02, The Wexner Foundation (Director of Curriculum & Research)



“Dr. Ellenson was by far my favorite history teacher – ever. He didn’t teach about a time in the past. He shared his personal experience with our history as if he walked alongside the people and times that he taught. I always looked forward to his classes and later sought to hear him speak in a variety of settings. I so appreciated that no matter how much time passed over the years, he always made an effort to greet me and ask about my life. He was a very special person, teacher, and leader. I will always keep fond memories of him in my heart.”

— Mindy Davids, RJE ’90



“Rabbi David Ellenson did not teach Judaism: He embodied it. His ‘classes’ neither began nor ended because his passion and knowledge were ongoing. His warmth defies description. What joy to have known him!
What inspiration!”

— Martha B. Tack



“My fondest memory of Rabbi Ellenson was when he came to teach our Wexner Fellows in Northern California. I was given the honor to pick him up from the airport before an evening study session. Racing from my office to the airport, there was time after the airport pick up to stop by my home to check in on my 3 young children, which Rabbi Ellenson willingly agreed to do with me. I was excited to introduce this esteemed rabbinical presence to my children.

My youngest, Saul was about 5 -6 years old and very soon after I left the Rabbi with him, I heard the sound of a basketball game going on in the backyard between Saul and Rabbi Ellenson!

It was the most heartwarming moment to see Rabbi Ellenson become this totally relatable fun guy as “rabbi” to my son. The impression it left was indelible.

Studying with Rabbi Ellenson was also a total gift, his passion for his work often brought tears to his eyes and in the small study sessions we are felt intimately connected to the texts and materials through the enormous opportunity of learning with him.

He will be deeply missed but his impact lives on. May his memory be a blessing.”

— Sharon Ufberg



“I first met David as a 19 year old when he was a rabbinic intern at Wilshire Blvd Temple. He was leading HhDay services. My brother and I assisted and read Torah. On Kol Nidre after a 100 degree LA day we were holding Torahs. Sweat was dripping down all of our heads. In between services went back into a room, and David took off his robe, and while we were wearing suits and ties, he was wearing shorts. A lesson learned

Years later, when I was installed as the NATA President, David flew to Minneapolis to handle the installation. When I created a leadership program for future board members each year, David would fly up from LA and teach the session on the history of Reform Judaism.

We had a lifelong friendship and I loved his Virginia accent both in Hebrew and English. A teacher, a friend and a mensch.”

— Gary S. Cohn

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