Ellen J. Tabachnick ’71

Ellen Judith Tabachnick, 68, of San Francisco, CA, passed away from cancer on March 24, 2021 in Boston, MA. Ellen was the daughter of the late Dr. Henry and Betty (Greenberg) Tabachnick of Portland, Maine. She grew up in a large Portland house, where the family lived upstairs from her father’s practice. Her father was generous and outgoing, a congenial man. Portland notables were always in and out of the house. It was an active, lively household. In her early years Ellen attended Portland Hebrew Day School and later enrolled in Waynflete College Preparatory School, Portland and Northampton School For Girls in Northampton, Massachusetts. She completed an advanced three-year Bachelor of Arts degree at Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, New York.

Ellen’s greatest passion was the pursuit of justice. She developed an early concern for the oppressed. While in her teens Ellen volunteered at a local prison community with the goal of advancing conditions for the inmates. Later, in order to actualize her quest for an equitable society, Ellen earned a Juris Doctorate degree from Cal Western Law School, San Diego.

Ellen practiced law at Contra Costa Legal Services Foundation, in California. However, she was not your average attorney. A cross between Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Bella Abzug, Ellen was a force to be reckoned with, a woman who seized life by both lapels. She began her practice as a Reginald Heber Smith Fellow, educating low-income community groups about their legal rights and responsibilities while carrying a full caseload challenging termination of government benefits. She believed holeheartedly in civil liberties, justice and a level playing field. Ellen’s imaginative legal insights, her indefatigable passion, and pure chutzpah enabled her to win most of her cases.

In particular, Ellen championed the Hmong’s community right to communicate with government agencies in their own language. A dedicated, fierce and creative advocate, she succeeded in assisting many families retain their benefits. Ellen spent her final years as a pro bono advocate for undocumented persons, including minors threatened with deportation.

She loved music. Forever the life of the party, Ellen would pick up her guitar and play folk tunes for the children or sit at the piano, her father’s Stetson firmly atop her head, and bang out the score from “Fiddler on the Roof”. She was bighearted, generous. She never forgot a birthday, and enjoyed giving presents even when there was nothing in particular to celebrate. Giving was in her heart and one could not refuse. She was Auntie Ellen, Aunty-Godmother Ellen, Auntie Chicklet, Ms. Civil Liberties, Ellie. She was our own Auntie Mame, a woman brimming with life, a justice warrior who lived unequivocally by the concept in Judaism of tikkun olam, ‘repair the world’.

In addition to her parents, Ellen was preceded in death by her brother, Robert Tabachnick, and her nephew, Henry Tabachnick. She is survived by her sister-in-law, Aileen Tabachnick, and her nephews Jacob, Abraham, and Elijah Tabachnick. Ellen is buried at Beth El Memorial Park, Portland, Maine alongside her father, mother, and nephew.

Donations in Ellen’s memory can be sent to:
The Campaign for Justice https://caforjustice.org/

3 thoughts on “Ellen J. Tabachnick ’71”

  1. Ellen was a force of nature. She was passionate about everything she did. She was a wonderful and loyal friend. I will miss her dearly.

  2. I still remember Ellen’s passionate arguments.
    She fulfilled her dreams and passion.
    May her memory be a blessing

  3. Ellen was our valued classmate at Northampton School for Girls in Massachusetts. As I guess everyone would agree . . . There was no one like her! I think the quote above – “A cross between Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Bella Abzug” was true even then, 50 years ago! I’m not at all surprised that she spent her life fighting the good fight.

    I heard from her a number of summers ago, in a series of very long, fun, late-night calls. Jill – She REALLY valued your relationship and shared what a great and caring friend you’ve been to her.

    Here’s to Ellen – With love.

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