Jewish learning “And for That, I Thank Hebrew College”: Ellen Kaner Bresnick and William Bresnick on the Living Legacy Society

By Josh Polanski

“Just as my ancestors planted for me, I too am planting for my descendants,” the Talmud reads (Taanit 23a). Every donation and every gift to Hebrew College is an investment in the vitality of Jewish communities, enrichening and ensuring the Jewish future.

Ellen Kaner Bresnick and her husband William (Bill) Bresnick showed that commitment by joining Hebrew College’s Living Legacy Society, whose members make planned gifts to support the education of future Jewish leaders. “Hebrew College made my life very complete and interesting: career-wise, personally, emotionally, spiritually. I knew I wanted to be part of their Living Legacy Society to ensure the institution’s future,” said Ellen. “This is very important to me.”

Following her graduation from Prozdor in 1967, Ellen attended both Simmons College (now University) and Hebrew College full-time. “There were moments when everything would be really intense,” she recalled, “especially when all 10 finals were scheduled at the same time during the same week”

After finishing both degree programs in 1971, Ellen taught English in Westchester County, New York. “Oftentimes, we talked about spirituality, a topic I felt comfortable with because I was going through my own spiritual journey and I was working with students who were also exploring this for themselves,” she said. “Hebrew College gave me the ability to look at a lot of sources and a lot of ideas and blend them together—that’s something I still use today.”

Ellen and her husband Bill’s time in New York came to an end when Bill entered the United States Air Force as a Judge Advocate. From Panama to Sacramento, as lay leaders, they both brought their knowledge of Jewish tradition, education, and leadership to their respective communities. In Panama, Ellen taught with the military while working for Florida State University’s Overseas Program. “It exposed me to a lot of people who had different religious beliefs,” she said. “Because of the education Hebrew College gave me, I could hold discussions with these 19 and 20 year olds, whom I was teaching. No matter what our religious differences were, we had common elements for discussion.”

After returning to the United States, Ellen and Bill spent the next 30 years in California and later in Washington, D.C., where Ellen was able to apply her adept pedagogical skills and Jewish perspective to high school English and Judaic studies courses at Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School in Rockville, Maryland.

Currently, she serves as the Education Co-Chair for the Women’s League for Conservative Judaism, where she helps equip future leaders with the ability to think outside the box. “What I learned from Hebrew College years ago is still with me. Many of our women are now looking to fill in gaps in their own Jewish education,” she added. “That has become my mission as part of this committee—to expose them to as many Jewish sources as possible and instill a strong foundation that doesn’t shy away from difficult questions or conversations.”

Hebrew College made my life very complete and interesting: career-wise, personally, emotionally, spiritually. I knew I wanted to be part of their Living Legacy Society to ensure the institution’s future.

Ellen Kaner Bresnick

From Jewish day schools to secular high schools to the college level, Ellen taught at a variety of levels of education. “What’s enabled that to happen is the diversity of the things I’ve had in my educational background—and for that, I do thank Hebrew College.”

The planned gift to the College comes from both Ellen and Bill. “Bill has felt the impact of Hebrew College vicariously through me—so we are both paying it forward, something that’s so important to both of us,” said Ellen. After completing his active duty service in the US Air Force, Bill worked as an environmental lawyer and lobbyist, and from 2009-2019, he served as Chief Environmental Counsel to the US Department of Homeland Security.

“I’m so grateful to Ellen and Bill for including the College in their estate plans. Their thoughtful decision will make a lasting impact on Hebrew College’s ability to foster lifelong Jewish learning for teens, adults, and future rabbis, cantors, and educators for years to come,” said Director of Development Rosa Franck.

“Whatever amount people are able to give is as important as any other amount,” said Ellen Kaner Bresnick, “There is no limitation or boundary to what you can give…It is such a privilege to be able to pay it forward.”

By making a planned gift, you can support the education of future Jewish leaders, help create innovative and inspiring programming, and build interdenominational and interreligious understanding, while gaining financial and tax benefits for your family. With your planned gift, you become a member of the Hebrew College Living Legacy Society and invest in the vitality of Jewish communities throughout Greater Boston, across the United States, and around the world. Learn more about joining Hebrew College’s Living Legacy Society.

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