Born in Brooklyn and raised in New York suburbs, Rabbi Ellen graduated at 19 from Brandeis University in Waltham, MA, and went on to earn a master’s degree from Stanford University. She then moved to Los Angeles and worked a number of editorial jobs in Los Angeles and New York before deciding to become a schoolteacher. While teaching English in Los Angeles Unified School District, Rabbi Ellen wrote and published her first two books: NO BIG DEAL, a novel for middle school kids, and EMBRACING THE STRANGER: Intermarriage and the Future of the American Jewish Community. In 1998, she edited THE JEWISH WOMAN'S BOOK OF WISDOM, a collection of short writings by Jewish women across several centuries.
By the mid-1990s, Rabbi Ellen was seeking answers to the question, “How can I transmit God’s covenant with the Jewish people without being a parent?” She decided to switch her career focus to Jewish institutional life. Impelled by deep involvement in her synagogue and participation in an elite Jewish chorus, Rabbi Ellen began to study synagogue music seriously and to work as a cantorial soloist. She also took classes in harmony, music theory, and conducting, and in May 2003, she earned a master’s degree in Judaic studies at the Los Angeles campus of Hebrew Union College–Jewish Institute of Religion, acquiring a solid foundation in Bible, rabbinics, Jewish history, and Jewish philosophy. In June 2006, Rabbi Ellen completed the rigorous independent-study process sponsored by the American Conference of Cantors and Hebrew Union College’s School of Sacred Music to be cerrtified as a cantor.
Rabbi Ellen served Temple Ner Tamid in Downey, CA as cantor for four years and also worked as a b’nai mitzvah tutor and freelance writer. In 2009, Rabbi Ellen joined the student body at Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in Wyncote, PA, becoming a full-time rabbinical student while continuing to work as a b’nai mitzvah tutor and officiant at weddings and funerals, adding experience as a nursing home and hospital chaplain.
After ordination in June 2014, Rabbi Ellen decided to move to the Tidewater area, where her husband, Spencer Gill, grew up, to reach out to unaffiliated Jews and spiritual seekers with the joyous, progressive approach to Judaism she has experienced all her life and was privileged to develop in seminary. She lives in the Bayside section of Virginia Beach with Spencer and their mixed-breed pup, Cookie.