Feature Stories

Family and friends remember Elan Ganeles z”l

By Stacey Dresner

More than one thousand people gathered in and around a cemetery in Raanana, Israel last Wednesday to remember Elan Ganeles, the 27-year-old man who grew up in West Hartford, Connecticut and was murdered in a terrorist attack near the West Bank city of Jericho Monday evening, February 27. 

Ganeles, who had dual American and Israeli citizenship, and was currently living in New York City, was driving to a friend’s wedding when he was shot and killed. 

Israeli troops arrested three Palestinians on Wednesday, March 1, suspected of involvement in the murder of Ganeles, while a fourth was shot and killed fleeing the scene of the raid in a West Bank refugee camp, according to the IDF.

Elan Ganeles z”l

That same afternoon, Ganeles’ family and friends were mourning the young man at his funeral. 

“Elan was the most brilliant child I ever met,” his mother Dr. Carolyn Ganeles told those gathered. “He was reading chapter books when he was three. He was curious about the world: He knew all the capitals, all the birds, all the flowers. He could even name the make and model of any car that drove by our house. He had never ending inquisitiveness.”

His mother said that the last time they were able to spend time with her son was a few weeks before his trip to Israel  when he went home to West Hartford for Shabbat.

“He loved to spend time together playing games – often introducing us to a new game to play as a family. It was both a highlight for him and for us.”

Added his father, Dr. Andrew Ganeles, “It was often late on Friday night when I would be cleaning up from shabbat dinner that we would spend hours discussing the finer points of current events, politics, and religion. He loved to think and analyze, and most of all debate.”

Andrew Ganeles also talked about his son’s “strong sense of independence, developed during his time in Israel, and his natural inquisitiveness, he spent much free time traveling and visiting with friends all over the world. He loved to see different cultures, wander through old cities, tour museums, hike, and see beautiful natural spots.

“He was such a gift in our life with so many great attributes –  a whole life of so much potential,” he said, his voice breaking. “He wanted so much to see the world – to soak up every aspect of all the beauty, history, and culture. Our loss is a loss for the world of such an emerging, bright, shiny, brilliant star. We feel as if a part of our being has been taken from us. He was so loved. He will be missed so much.”

Elan Ganeles’ family at his burial. From right, Carolyn, Andrew, Simon, Gabe and Simon’s wife, Gila.

Ganeles was born in the Bronx, New York, but moved to West Hartford as an infant – on the afternoon of his bris – with Carolyn  and Andrew, who was about to start his medical residency at UConn John Dempsey Hospital.

The family soon became members of the Young Israel of West Hartford, and Ganeles was enrolled in the preschool at the Bess & Paul Sigel Hebrew Academy, then located in Bloomfield. After graduating from the Academy, he went on to attend the Hebrew High School of New England or HHNE, graduating in 2014. (In 2020, Hebrew Academy and HHNE merged to become New England Jewish Academy.) 

After high school, Ganeles planned to attend the University of Michigan, but decided to make aliya to Israel and serve in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) instead. Though Americans may volunteer in the IDF for 18 months, Ganeles chose to become an Israeli citizen and serve the full three years. He served in the IDF’s Mofet unit, working as a computer programmer.

After his IDF service, he returned to the U.S. where he attended Columbia University, studying neuroscience and sustainable development. As part of his studies he trained on a sophisticated computer mapping program.

While still a student he worked as a geospatial analyst with the United Nations on mapping various municipalities and borders throughout Africa. After graduating Columbia, he was employed by the ESRI company as a geographical analyst. As a “hobby,” he also worked for PathLoom, a start-up hiking App.

More than 1,000 people gathered at the cemetery in Raanana, Israel for Elan Ganeles’ funeral.

Through it all he maintained and nurtured his numerous friendships, including several close friends he had known since preschool. He made similar lasting friendships with his fellow students at the HHNE and Columbia.

One of those friends, Akiva Rockland, grew up with Ganeles in West Hartford and was currently sharing an apartment with him on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Ganeles was on his way to attend the wedding of Rockland’s sister, Maayan, when he was killed.

“This still doesn’t feel real,” Rockland said in his eulogy. “We all loved him very much and he loved us too, probably in a deeper way than we’ll ever understand. Elan perfected the art of friendship. He was the ultimate friend. I read somewhere that the average person has the social capacity to maintain around 16 close friends. Elan would have laughed at that number.”

Rockland recalled that Ganeles had recently shown him a list he had made with the names of more than 100 friends that he used to make sure he kept up with all of them.

“He would fly all around the world to spend time with his family and friends and you could count on him to show up with a full itinerary with all of the best things to do. He loved to have fun with the people he loved,” said Rockland.

Akiva Rockland, left, and Ari Zackin, grew up with Elan Ganeles in West Hartford. Here they eulogize their lifelong friend.

Ganeles also was welcoming to those he didn’t know, insisting that he and his roommates invite a friend’s friend to their already crowded Sukkot dinner last year.

“Elan insisted we open our home to this person,” Rockland said. “He had an unparalleled capacity for kindness. He was a pillar of stability that so many of us leaned on for direction in our lives… He was compassionate. He was accepting and tolerant of others and he carried no judgment.”

Ari Zackin of West Hartford, who had known Ganeles “from birth,” called him “one of the kindest, humblest, most open-minded and most generous people I’ve ever met.

“Elan was intelligent, curious, goofy, idiosyncratic, hilarious and most famously lovably annoying,” Zackin said, eliciting laughter from the crowd. “I know calling someone annoying at their funeral is a little less than traditional, but Elan was the only person on the face of the earth to whom this characteristic is absolutely positive in every single way and who would embrace it with a smile. 

“Elan was so close to his friends that he knew exactly how to push our buttons,” he continued. “Elan’s photographic memory, constant intrusive questions and near omnipotence regarding dates, events and stories made him a walking encyclopedia, not just about worldly matters but about his friends – what they hated, what they loved and who they were. Elan used this information to make us blush, cringe, but most of the time smile, laugh and feel that someone understood us and our emotions better than anyone else… 

“Elan had a perfect sense of humor and an ability  to connect with and touch every person he came in contact with, no matter their background.”

Zackin recalled often spending Shabbat at the Ganeles home as a child, running around and laughing with Ganeles and his two brothers and other friends.

“Even now when we are in town visiting, we gather at the Ganeles home,” Zackin noted. “I am certain that it will continue but I just can’t imagine ever fully experiencing that again without Elan here…

“He may have been stolen from us, but I cannot think of anyone that has given so much to others, providing us with enough joyful and hilarious memories to fill a lifetime,” he said.

Akiva Garfield of Springfield, Mass. a close friend of Elan Ganeles, said there was an
“Elan-sized hole” in his heart.

Akiva Garfield of Springfield, Mass. attended HHNE with Ganeles.

“Elan was my best friend. He always told me that wherever my wife Rebecca and I would go he would follow us, and I knew he wasn’t lying,” said Garfield, who added that he was told jokingly that Ganeles might be there along with Garfield and his wife in the hospital room when she gave birth.

“Elan has been there for me for every happiness of mine for many years now and to think he won’t be there for any more – it’s almost too painful to think about,” Garfield said. “There’s an Elan-sized hole in my heart that I will carry with me until I meet him one day again.”

Ganeles had traveled to Israel late last month specifically to attend Maayan Rockland’s wedding. Planning to stay for two weeks, he spent part of that time with his youngest brother Gabriel, who is studying at The Technion in Haifa.

On Monday, Ganeles dropped his brother off at a train station in the north and then made his way south on Route 90, which passes through the length of the West Bank, alongside the border with Jordan, on his way to attend the wedding in Jerusalem. On the road that goes around the city of Jericho, he was shot by Palestinian gunmen.

“I was so lucky that I got to spend the last week of his life with him,” said an emotional Gabriel at the funeral, recalling their trips through historical sites in Israel in the past week. “He used his unique skill of complete unabashedness to bring people together at every chance he got,” he noted. “Despite his brashness, Elan was the most thoughtful person I know.”

Elan Ganeles’ brothers spoke emotionally about him at his funeral. L to R: Gabriel, Simon and Simon’s wife Gila.

Said his brother Simon, “I have a terrible memory, but I knew I could always rely on Elan to remember all of the details about our childhood, our travels and our lives. Elan was my brother, my best friend, and a huge inspiration to me and I will miss him.”

On Thursday afternoon after the Ganeles family had returned to West Hartford to sit shiva, Ganeles’ brothers, Simon and Gabriel, and Rabbi Tuvia Brander of Young Israel of West Hartford, spoke at a press conference organized by the Jewish Federation of Greater Hartford. Rabbi Brander had accompanied the Ganeles family from  West Hartford to Israel for the funeral. As a kohen — a member of the Jewish priestly family —  Rabbi Brander is prohibited from coming into contact with, or being in the same enclosed roofed space as a dead body. Thus, he delivered his eulogy at the funeral from outside of the room where Ganeles lay wrapped in a shroud.

At the press conference, the two brothers spoke about their brother’s kindness, his love of people, his passion for learning and how he gave back to the community by volunteering for organizations like Jewish Family Service of Greater Hartford, and by serving in the IDF.

“He was an inspiration in our lives,” said Simon. “He was a real role model.”

In addition to his parents and two brothers, Elan Ganeles z”l is survived by his sister-in-law, Gila; and his grandparents, Aaron and Regina Rand.

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