May 6 (UPI) — Rabbi Aaron D. Panken, president of the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute, died when a small plane crashed in New York, police said.
Panken, 53, died when an Aeronca 7AC aircraft, crashed near Dolstontown Road just after taking off from the Randall Airport in Middletown on Saturday, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.
State police said one other person was injured in the crash.
The Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute confirmed Panken’s death in a statement, noting he is survived by his wife, Lisa Messinger, his children Eli and Samantha, his parents Beverly and Peter and his sister, Rabbi Melinda Panken.
“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 was elected as the 12th president in the seminary’s 143-year history by the Board of Governors on July 31, 2013, and led the four-campus international institution of higher learning and seminary for Reform Judaism.
He was hailed as an ardent supporter of Reform Judaism and praised for his efforts to embed new technology to support students and administration, increase recruitment and bring together the four campuses in Cincinnati, Jerusalem, Los Angeles and New York.
“For me, Reform Judaism has always symbolized what I consider to be the best of Judaism — firmly rooted in our tradition, yet egalitarian, inclusive of patrilineal Jews and intermarried families, welcoming to the LGBT community, politically active, and respectful of other faiths and ideologies,” Panken said at his inauguration.
The seminary said funeral arrangements are to be announced and the FAA and National Transportation Safety Board are investigating the crash.