Rabbi Aaron Panken, a joyful leader who embodied the ‘best of the Reform movement’
Rabbi Aaron Panken, the president of Hebrew Union College, was killed May 5 piloting a small aircraft in the Hudson Valley area of New York state. He was 53.
Panken had led the Reform movement’s flagship seminary since 2014. Prior to serving as the chief executive officer of HUC’s four campuses — in Cincinnati, Jerusalem, Los Angeles and New York — the native New Yorker held senior positions at the school, including vice president for strategic initiatives, dean of the New York campus and dean of students. He was ordained in 1991.
Passenger Frank Reiss, a flight instructor, was injured in the crash, the cause of which is unclear, pending investigation by the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board. Panken was a licensed pilot.
This week, friends and colleagues of Panken remembered him as a strong leader who was passionate about Israel and, above all, loved what he did as the leader of the Reform movement’s flagship seminary.
Rabbi Andrea Weiss, an associate professor of Bible at the New York campus of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion and its incoming provost, remembered the joy that Panken brought to his work. Weiss recalled how Panken would pop into his colleagues’ offices asking if they were having fun.
“He had this very serious position as president of a very large institution, and he approached it with such joy and with kind of a boyish enthusiasm. He really loved his work,” she said.
Jean Bloch Rosensaft, the school’s assistant vice president for communications and public affairs, said Panken embodied “the best of the Reform movement.”
Provost Michael Marmur said the school had yet to make succession plans but would have an announcement regarding the issue in the coming days.
Rosensaft said Panken was passionate about Israel, working to improve ties between American Jews and the Jewish state, and strengthen Reform Judaism there.
“This was the mission of his life, and he really lived it with every fiber of his being,” she said.
Panken worked to expand the HUC rabbinical program in Israel and its Jerusalem campus and recently ordained its 100th graduate.
“He was so full of pride and excitement about what these men and women are trying to achieve in Israel,” Marmur said.
Panken lived with his family in Scarsdale, N.Y., and was a member of the Westchester Reform Temple, where he had previously served as a rabbinic intern.
He is survived by his wife, Lisa Messinger; his children, Eli and Samantha; his parents, Beverly and Peter; and his sister, Rabbi Melinda Panken of Congregation Shaari Emeth in Manalapan, N.J.
—JTA News and Features
Handbag designer, artist husband die within hours of each other
Handbag designer Judith Leiber died hours after the death of her husband, abstract painter Gerson Leiber.
Both Leibers died at home April 28 in New York of heart attacks. She was 97 and he was 96.
The couple’s deaths were announced to The New York Times by their spokesman, Jeffrey Sussman, who was also their biographer. The couple did not have children.
Sussman told The Times that Gerson Leiber, who had congestive heart failure, told his wife the night before they died, “Sweetie, it’s time for both of us to go.”
Judith Leiber was known for her small crystal-covered handbags called minaudieres, many of which took the forms of small animals, flowers or other objects. The bags often were decorated with gems or semi-precious stones and were gold-plated. Singers and Hollywood celebrities, as well as several first ladies, have carried her bags, which are part of several museum collections.
Gerson Leiber, known as Gus, was an artist who created abstract landscapes, prints and sculptures. His work has been featured in several prominent U.S. museums, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the National Gallery of Art in Washington, and the Whitney Museum of American Art.
Judith Leiber, a Budapest native, learned the stages of handbag manufacture in an artisan guild. She used that knowledge to escape being sent to the Nazi concentration camps, and instead the Nazis put her to work sewing military uniforms.
Gerson Leiber was born in Brooklyn and grew up in northwest Pennsylvania, where his father was a junk dealer. He was an Army Signal Corps sergeant stationed in postwar Budapest when he met Judith on a city street. They married in 1946 and settled in New York, where he studied in art school.
—JTA News and Features
Leonard Saul Goodman
Leonard Saul Goodman, of Washington, died April 24 from complications of Parkinson’s disease. He was 85.
Goodman grew up in the Pittsburgh area and received his bachelor’s degree in political science from Penn State University. He later earned a law degree from Harvard University, and chose to specialize in the administrative law field of ratemaking, or insurance pricing.
In 1954, Goodman married Barbara Lock, and they moved to Washington five years later. His first job was in the rates division of the former Civil Aeronautics Board. He then went to work for the Interstate Commerce Commission, where he worked in the general counsel’s office and also as special projects counsel on issues related to railroad rate structure. He later served under contract to the ICC, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, Postal Rate Commission, Department of Energy and the Department of Defense.
Goodman wrote a two-volume treatise on the methods of ratemaking, as well as several articles on rate-related issues. He received a Young Federal Lawyer Award from the Federal Bar Association in 1967 for his work on transportation law, and a meritorious service citation from the ICC in 1973.
Goodman was a longtime member of Ohev Sholom – The National Synagogue, and served as its president for five years.
He was preceded in death by his wife, Barbara, who died in 2014. He is survived by children, Chana Benjamin and Chaim (Esther) Goodman, as well as five grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren.