Ellen Sunness

Member of the Eastern Region Board of Advisors

HUC Ellen Sunness

In the fall of 2017, the Boards of Advisors were invited to join the Board of Governors on a trip to Poland culminating in Israel with the ordination of the 100th Israeli Reform Rabbi.

As a second generation Holocaust survivor, whose parents survived the atrocities of Auschwitz, I grew up without relatives and without a clear understanding of the history of my Polish heritage. The Holocaust was rarely spoken of in our home and I never knew where or how my grandparents and other family members had perished. Further, my parents were reluctant to ever consider my traveling to Poland. Although their past was just too difficult to revisit or speak about, they instilled in me an obligation to do my part in securing the memory and the Jewish future.

It was the encouragement of Rabbi Aaron Panken, z”l, and Lisa Messinger that brought me to the decision of joining the trip that would become an incredible gift from HUC-JIR for which I am eternally grateful.

Personally, the trip to Poland provided me with a start to uncovering many family members names and the places where they perished. Even though I clearly knew that all of my extended family was murdered either in the ghetto or in the camps, or somewhere along the way, it provided greater evidence by seeing in the Hall of Names at Auschwitz, exactly where they were killed. As I stood in the barracks of Auschwitz on a freezing morning in November, where my parents had been imprisoned and survived inhumane, inconceivable conditions, I was overwhelmed with an even more profound appreciation for their strength and determination, and their hope for the future of the Jewish people.

The HUC-JIR trip also provided the high level of educational experiences from our esteemed teachers that our students have the privilege of engaging with everyday. Further inspiration came from the Taube campus in Jerusalem where Israeli and North American students collaborate and experience the Jewish homeland while fostering peace and hope for furthering progressive Judaism there. To be present at the ordination of the 100th Reform Rabbi in Israel was a testament to the progress and strength of Reform Judaism.

Through the extraordinary commitment of our HUC-JIR professional staff and faculty, our students are inspired and enlightened. And, I put my confidence in the new Jewish leaders of today and tomorrow at HUC-JIR. They will remember and teach the history and struggles of our people, while bringing their innovation and modern thinking to educate and energize those they serve, fostering respect and understanding. What an abundance of gifts HUC-JIR brings to ensuring the Jewish future and strengthening Jewish generations to come.