Honoring the Tin Man


By Rabbi Rick Sherwin

AN EINSTEIN PARAPHRASE: “Many people believe that intellect is what makes a scientist great. They are wrong: it is character.”

Eric Ellis is one of my spiritual heroes: He was upbeat, kind, positive-spirited, and encouraging. I felt his glowing touch through the years I was privileged to know him, and I have continued to feel his touch every day since he died July 12, 2008.

Everyone at the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee, knew Eric Ellis, the physics professor who inspired his colleagues and his students with his enthusiasm for learning and his uplifting encouragement. He was the quintessential mentor; not teaching to inform, but educating to create avenues for growth and visions for the future.

Students of all ages over the past 35 years have heard me say, “Yay for you!” following a successful step forward in learning and life. It was the phrase I often heard Eric express, always with heartfelt genuineness emerging from the broadest of smiles.

In 1938, at the age of two, Eric and his family escaped Nazi Germany on what Eric described as “the last ship out.” Eric Ellis was forever grateful, and truly saw the physical world – and the world of physics and science – as an expression of marvel and wonder. In 1993, Eric received a new heart: truth to tell, Dr. Eric Ellis – who called himself the Tin Man – had the greatest of hearts every day of his life.

People often want to honor parents with a fitting epitaph on a grave marker. Richard, Susie, Ralph, and Beatrice found the perfect words to honor Barbara and Eric Ellis: כל הכבוד לאמא ואבא – Yay for you, Mom and Dad!

Yay for Eric Ellis!




Rick Sherwin is the Rabbi at Congregation Beth Am in Longwood. He is a graduate of UCLA and was ordained by the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York. He energetically fills spiritual services and educational programs with creativity, relevance, dialogue, and humor.


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