The board and members of J Street are profoundly shocked and saddened by the tragic and untimely death of Rabbi Aaron D. Panken, a shining leader of Reform Judaism in the United States. We send our sympathy and condolences to his family and to our many friends in the Reform Movement who are devastated by this loss.
Rabbi Panken was serving as the president of the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion at the time of his death in a plane crash, aged 53. In that role, he did much to revitalize and invigorate the institution, playing a major part in a dramatic resurgence of energy and intellectual vigor in the Reform Movement which has in turn profoundly strengthened American Jewry and the Jewish people as a whole.
We will remember Rabbi Panken for his positive vision and unfailing optimism. As the New York Times said in its obituary, “While presiding over the graduation ceremonies this month, he noted that the world was ‘particularly challenging and painful in a way that transcends anything I have seen in my lifetime. But here’s the thing,’ he continued. ‘The Jewish people, and our religious friends of other faiths, have seen this before, and we have lived through it, and thrived and built again and again and again’.”
May his memory be for a blessing.