Rabbi Aaron D. Panken, 1964-2018

The NY Times has reported the death of Dr. Aaron D. Panken, president of the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute, in a private plane crash 70 miles northwest of NYC. “A distinguished rabbi and scholar, dedicated teacher and exemplary leader of the Reform Movement in American for nearly three decades,” Rabbi Panken was also a direct descendant of Chayyim Panken, the first Russian Jewish immigrant (from the Ukraine ) to buy over 1000 acres of land in Chesterfield in November and December of 1890.

Chayyim Panken then persuaded my great-great-grandfather, Hirsch Kaplan, to move his little Society Agudas Achim of fellow Russian Jewish immigrants to Chesterfield, Connecticut in 1891. Chayyim Panken’s name is on several early establishing documents, including the quitclaim deed of March 18, 1892, which renamed the fledgling congregation as The New England Hebrew Farmers of the Emanuel Society.

In the midst of an amazingly busy life and many obligations (Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion has four campus worldwide), Rabbi Panken agreed to serve on the NEHFES Honorary Board of Directors and wrote a wonderful foreword to the English translation of our hand written in Yiddish Minutes and Ledger Book, currently online in the Spielberg Digital Yiddish Library on the Yiddish Book Center’s web site.

The Board of Directors and I are deeply shocked and truly saddened. We join the rest of the world of modern Jewry in mourning his tragic death.

Nancy R. Savin
President, NEHFES