In 2003, Rabbi Jeffrey Ballon spoke at the Huntsville memorial to the Space Shuttle Columbia crew, which included Israeli Ilan Ramon

Rabbi Jeffrey Ballon, who served Huntsville’s Temple B’nai Sholom from 2001 to 2009 before stepping down while battling brain cancer, died on Jan. 19. He was 68.

A retired U.S. Army chaplain, Ballon was very active in interfaith activities in Huntsville, from Leadership Huntsville to a wide range of interfaith dialogues, including Interfaith Mission Services. As a sign of his interfaith outreach, his memorial service on Jan. 24 was held at Weatherly Heights Baptist Church, because the hundreds in attendance would have far overwhelmed the small sanctuary at B’nai Sholom.

At the service, Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle called him “a big bear of a guy who had a big bear of a life,” and much of the reminiscing about Ballon centered on humor.

Rabbi Sheldon Zimmerman, past president of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, called Ballon “a rabbi’s rabbi… that’s not an easy thing to do.”

In 2007, he became one of the most visible advocates for a Huntsville Imam who was arrested on a visa violation. He and the Imam often called themselves “brothers from two mothers.”

He was diagnosed with brain cancer in July 2008, and a tumor was removed.

Born in Biloxi, Ballon is survived by his wife, Ann; children Daniel Ballon and Sara Ballon; and siblings C. Douglas Ballon and Martha Steinharter.