CT’s Elan Ganeles, slain in West Bank, full of curiosity, love of family and friends, a ‘bright, shiny, brilliant star’

Elan Ganeles lived for family, friends and the knowledge he sought in every way he could, according to his younger brothers, Simon and Gabe.

The brothers, along with their rabbi, Tuvia Brander of Young Israel in West Hartford, met the media Thursday afternoon at the Jewish Federation of Greater Hartford to talk about Elan, who was shot to death Monday while driving to a wedding near Jericho in the West Bank.

On Wednesday, the day of Ganeles’ funeral, three Palestinian men were arrested in a refugee camp near Jericho. One was shot and later died of his injuries.

“Elan loved his friends,” Simon Ganeles said. “He is described by his friends as the perfect friend. … Elan was in Israel to go to a friend’s wedding, but while he was there he went to individually see 25 different friends he had made from various points of his life.”

Elan Ganeles kept a list with him at times of 100 friends, “to make sure that he never forgot anyone,” Simon Ganeles said. “He always made sure to keep in contact with all his friends from his life. He really just cared so much about them.”

As for learning, whether it was majoring in both neuroscience and sustainable development at Columbia University, going to every museum he could find — many of which others had never heard of — or just reading articles in Wikipedia, Elan Ganeles could never satisfy his love of knowledge, his brothers said.

“He loved knowing random facts since he was a little kid. He had an incredible memory, just absorbed everything,” Simon Ganeles said. “He could do the crossword in record times, the hardest crossword, the New York Times Saturday crosswords.”

When traveling, Elan, 26, would make a list of places to visit, no matter how obscure. “You’d go somewhere random like some niche history museum to humor Elan,” Simon Ganeles said. “And then you’re kind of getting engaged with it. You start to appreciate what’s there. And then you stay for a few hours and suddenly you’re back to humoring Elan.”

“He was such a good friend because he was always unafraid to say what was on his mind,” Gabe Ganeles said. “He would use this to to make everyone laugh, to start fascinating conversations, unique conversations that you wouldn’t have anyone else … just to get to the bottom of everyone’s opinion and connect with people is what he wanted to do all the time.

“This translated into hours-long discussions with everyone who’s ever known him, stay up to 3 a.m. talking about all the things in the universe.”

Simon Ganeles also talked about Elan’s love of serving others, whether volunteering at Jewish Family Services or helping friends with homework. He served in the Israeli Defense Forces for two years and had dual American-Israeli citizenship.

Gabe Ganeles, a student at Technion, the Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa, Israel, spent the last week of Elan Ganeles’ life with him.

“We went touring around the north of Israel, his favorite thing to do, tour,” Gabe Ganeles said. “We went to museums, historical sites, the hikes, beautiful things that Elan found out about and wanted to see, things that nobody I know had ever heard of. But even though I was originally not so enthused about going to them, just how excited Elan was to see all these things made me excited. And discussing it with him. It was so nice.”

Brander talked about Elan Ganeles’ desire to explore others’ views about life. “Elan was someone who connected quickly with people and connected truly deeply with people,” he said. “But that wasn’t just the way he connected. He connected with people across the spectrum who had diverse opinions, who are different than him.

“Elan connected to people on such a human level. He was able to genuinely connect and then be able to open lines of discourse and communication and conversation on the most important values that animated his life and their life,” Brander said.

He said Ganeles “was someone with such a zest for life. He was always game to try something at least once. I’ve joked a couple of times that there are a score of museums that only get three visitors a year: Elan and then the two people he dragged along with him.”

Brander said there were possibly 5,000 people at Ganeles’ funeral in Ra’anana, Israel. His parents, Andrew and Carolyn Ganeles, wrote a eulogy for him that his father delivered.

“Elan was the most brilliant child I ever met,” his father said. “He was reading chapter books when he was 3. 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.”

He continued, “While in Israel he fell in love with the land and the people. This was where he wanted to be. He was going to serve in the IDF, but not just as an American volunteer for 18 months, but as a citizen! He was going to make aliyah. He spent six months on ulpan at Kibbutz Sde Eliyahu, to get his Hebrew up to speed. Then, despite initially receiving a medical exemption from army service, he was able to enlist to work as a computer programmer in the Mofet unit.”

Andrew Ganeles told of his son’s love of cooking, and a soup-making group he formed. He concluded:

“He was such a gift in our life with so many great attributes — a whole life of so much potential. 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.”

Ed Stannard can be reached at estannard@courant.com.