President of Hebrew Union College dies in plane crash

FOX19 - The president of Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion died in a plane crash in New York state over the weekend.

Rabbi Aaron D. Panken, 53, was piloting the small aircraft when it crashed in Hudson Valley on Saturday, according to local media reports.

Panken served as the 12th president of HUC-JIR, a seminary founded in Cincinnati in 1875.

He led the Cincinnati campus, along with campuses in Jerusalem, Los Angeles and New York, for the past four years.

Panken joined the HUC-JIR faculty in 1995 and served multiple leadership roles before being inaugurated as president at downtown Cincinnati's Plum Street Temple in 2014.

"Rabbi Panken was a distinguished rabbi and scholar, dedicated teacher, and exemplary leader of the Reform Movement for nearly three decades," the seminary said.

Panken, a licensed pilot, was on a routine flight check with an instructor at the time of the crash, a spokesperson said. The passenger was injured.

It's not clear what caused the Aeronca 7AC aircraft to go down shortly after taking off at Randall Airport.

"As HUC-JIR President, Rabbi Panken implemented his transformative vision by forging strategic planning initiatives: embedding new technology in support of student learning and administration, strengthening recruitment to yield the largest incoming classes in a decade, launching new Jewish education, nonprofit management, and entrepreneurship programs and academic partnerships, and invigorating the ties linking HUC-JIR's four campuses in Cincinnati, Jerusalem, Los Angeles, and New York and their larger communities and regions," the seminary said in a statement announcing Rabbi Panken's death.

HUC-JIR provides academic and professional training programs for the Reform Movement's rabbis, cantors, educators, and nonprofit management professionals, and offer graduate programs for scholars of all faiths.

Rabbi Panken 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, NJ.

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