Aaron Panken, WGF Alum (Class 8) — Cincinnati, OH

On January 3rd, the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR) was vandalized. The sign at the entrance to our Cincinnati Campus was defaced with a swastika. The paint was easily removed and the sign quickly repaired. The incident is under investigation by local police.

For more than 140 years, HUC-JIR has been devoted to the values of pluralism, open dialogue and the pursuit of knowledge. We pride ourselves on being a vital and engaged  part of the Cincinnati community. Our academic institution of Jewish higher education lives, teaches and brings the values of diversity and tolerance to the community, the nation and the larger world. Our faculty, students, staff and alumni, proudly representing all faiths and backgrounds, work together to build a just and humane world. 

We will not let this act of hate alter our important work. We are indebted to the people of Cincinnati who have stood by us for generations and who have offered their support again today. Tomorrow, a new day will dawn and the values we hold dear will continue to light the way.

Re-posted with thanks to HUC-JIR.


Shmuly Yanklowitz, WGF Alum (Class 19) — Phoenix, AZ

At the beginning of Chanukah, a synagogue in our Greater Phoenix community and the menorah in front of their facility were vandalized.  Then, at the end of Chanukah, a large menorah in our community was turned into a swastika.  Community members, as expected, have been very afraid, confused and angry.  After both events, large groups came out to show support.  The swastika was taken down, a new menorah was put up and 200 people (Jews and Gentiles) from the community came together immediately to support the new dedication and lighting.  A Muslim Syrian leader who I’ve worked with to address the refugee crisis called me yesterday and said the Syrian community wants to pay for the new menorah!  Arizona Jews for Justice, a group I’m privileged to lead, is showing leadership in the community to respond to hate crimes against the Jewish community and any other minority group.


Rabbi Aaron Panken, WGF Alum (Class 8), is the President of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion and an Assistant Professor of Rabbinic and Second Temple Literature.  Prior to joining the faculty and administration at HUC-JIR, he served as a rabbi at Congregation Rodeph Sholom in Manhattan.  He speaks widely throughout North America and is involved in a number of leadership roles within the Reform movement and the greater Jewish world, including the Rabbinical Placement Commission, the Advisory Board of RJ Magazine, the Education Committee for Birthright and the International Council of the New Israel Fund.  A graduate of the Johns Hopkins University in Electrical Engineering, he completed his PhD in Hebrew and Judaic Studies at New York University.  His book The Rhetoric of Innovation (University Press of America, 2005), explores legal change in the Tannaitic and Amoraic sources, and he is currently at work on a book-length history of Hanukkah. He can be reached at apanken@huc.edu.


Rabbi Dr. Shmuly Yanklowitz, WGF Alum (Class 19), is the President & Dean of the Valley Beit Midrash. He is also the Founder and President of Uri L’Tzedek and the Founder and CEO of The Shamayim V’Aretz Insitute.  Rav Shmuly completed his Masters at Yeshiva University in Jewish Philosophy, a Masters at Harvard in Moral Psychology and a Doctorate at Columbia in Epistemology and Moral Development.  He is the author of nine books on Jewish ethics. Contact him at RavShmuly@gmail.com.