David I. Kanell, born in New Haven, CT, in 1952, grew up in an observant Jewish home and attended Orthodox Hebrew school. With family members long a part of New Haven’s commercial growth (butcher, grocer, baker, railroad station master, even a judge), Dave took great pride in his Jewish and New Haven heritage. He also valued being just two generations removed from Vilna, Lithuania, as his grandparents were immigrants, so glad to be Americans that some adopted July 4 as their official birth date.
Attending the University of Hartford, then the University of New Hampshire, and finally Lyndon State College, Dave devoted his study of history to the Jews of America and their links to Israel. Discovering personal connections among the American gunrunners of the Haganah and Irgun, Dave interviewed half a dozen of the men who’d used this route to support the newborn Jewish nation, and wrote of them in his senior thesis. Discovering in the process that the books he needed for information about Jews and their lives and impact were often printed in small editions or simply not accessible, he began a lifelong collection of printed work that documented and celebrated Jewish life, including the birth and struggles of Zionism, as well as literature translated from the Yiddish, Jews around the world (Japan, Russia, Canada, South America, France), and the battles and effects of the two World Wars and the Shoa. He took a special interest in the artwork and music of children at Terezien (Theresienstadt), as well as in the “rescuers” of the wartime era. He resolutely documented antisemitism and those who labored against it.
First at the University of New Hampshire and then for two decades at Lyndon State College in Vermont, Dave devoted his working hours to college students and their lives, heading the residential staff and training resident assistants and head residents. He also shared leadership of the local Jewish community, nurturing the Conference on Rural Judaism in New England and for some 40 years leading the very mixed-heritage Congregation Beth El in many forms. In communication daily with other Jewish leaders and authors, especially Julius Lester, his collaborations continued to the last day of his life.
Dave’s marriage to Beth (born Elizabeth Lancy Minden; author of young adult novels and other books under the name Beth Kanell) at age 50 established a partnership of books, book-related travel, and much joy through Dave’s officially “retired” years. When David died at home in Vermont of cancer at age 67 in the spring of 2019, he left behind a collection of some 20,000 books, many of them signed and warmly inscribed by the authors during the couple’s travels and correspondence. May his name be a blessing to those who remember and benefit from his passion and generosity, and his commitment to what it is to be a Jew.
Written by Beth Kanell. Thanks to her efforts, Schoen Books was so fortunate as to obtain much of David’s collection, to continue his traditions of scholarship and community-building.