Published: Dec. 20, 2021

Henry Luce Foundation funds a three-year partnership between the Program in Jewish Studies and University Libraries to ‘recover, study and elevate’ voices of Jews of color

The University of Colorado Boulder will launch a new initiative called “Jews of Color: Histories and Futures,” thanks to a three-year, $250,000 grant from the Henry Luce Foundation.

“Jews of Color” will be a partnership between the Program in Jewish Studies and University Libraries and will strive to “recover, study and elevate” the voices and experiences of Jews of color in the United States through four primary areas of activity:

  • a working group of scholars, artists, and activists drawn from diverse communities;
  • the first digital archive centering the experiences of Jews of color, focused on oral histories and hosted by CU Boulder’s Post-Holocaust American Judaism Collections;
  • public conversations on topics including Jews of color, racism, white supremacy and American Jewish life; and
  • publications, programs and creative projects exploring these issues.

Samira Mehta

Samira Mehta is the principal investigator of the project.

The grant will also realize the vision of Samira Mehta, assistant professor of Jewish Studies and women and gender studies, said Elias Sacks, director of the Program in Jewish Studies.

“This initiative is a deeply collaborative effort,” Sacks said, noting that Mehta, an award-winning scholar of American Judaism and leading expert on race and Jewish studies, will direct the project and serve as principal investigator.

Mehta is the author of Beyond Chrismukkah: The Jewish-Christian Interfaith Family in the United States (University of North Carolina Press, 2018), which was a finalist for the National Jewish Book Award, along with numerous publications on race, gender, sexuality and the family in American Jewish life.

Mehta has two co-principal investigators: Kalyani Fernando, teaching assistant professor and collection development archivist in the University Libraries’ Rare and Distinctive Collections, and Sacks. Fernando says that this collaboration between the Program in Jewish Studies and the Post-Holocaust American Judaism Collections at the Libraries will create what is believed to be the first-ever oral history archives of Jews of color.

“These oral histories will be accessible to the public through the CU Digital Library, and highlighted in related programming and presentations,” Fernando said. “I’m excited by the ways in which the Post-Holocaust American Judaism Collections will expand in the coming years as a result of this project.”

The working group will foster conversations and connections between CU Boulder, other institutions of higher education, artistic communities and activists and communal organizations, and the project’s collecting initiative will “build on the longstanding partnership” between the Jewish Studies and University Libraries.

“Finally, the initiative’s public programming will open up new opportunities for individuals from within and beyond the academy to join together to explore questions relating to race, Jewish life and American society,” Sacks said.

“In the meantime,” he noted, “I wish to express the Program’s gratitude to the Luce Foundation for its support, and to say how honored and humbled I am that we can provide a home for Jews of Color: Histories and Futures. This project exemplifies a commitment—to producing new knowledge, building new connections, and transforming the world—that stands at the heart of what it can and should mean to be part of a public university in the twenty-first century.”

Mehta noted that this has been a collaborative process. Never having applied for a grant like this before, she appreciates the help of colleagues at the CU Boulder Research and Innovation Office (RIO) and the Office of Advancement, particularly Donna Axel in RIO and Andrew Chiacchierini in advancement.

This project has the potential to really amplify the voices of Jews of color, and scholars dealing critically and carefully with the relationship between Jews and white supremacy within that scholarly conversation.

She also expressed gratitude for the support and time that Sacks has given, and for the “deeply collaborative spirit” of the university libraries.

“As a field, Jewish Studies is in a moment of trying to grapple with race and racism, both as an object of intellectual study and within its professional associations,” Mehta said. “This project has the potential to really amplify the voices of Jews of color, and scholars dealing critically and carefully with the relationship between Jews and white supremacy within that scholarly conversation.”

James W.C. White, acting dean of the College of Arts and sciences, praised the effort: “I’m very glad to see this work being supported; it is an area of study that certainly deserves more scholarly attention, and the scholars’ initiative underscores our commitment to inclusive excellence. The college is very proud that our excellent faculty have won this very prestigious grant.”

The Henry Luce Foundation aims to enrich public discourse by promoting innovative scholarship, cultivating new leaders and fostering international understanding.

The Foundation advances its mission through grantmaking and leadership programs in the fields of Asia, higher education, religion and theology, art and public policy.

Established in 1936 by Henry R. Luce, the co-founder and editor-in-chief of Time Inc., the Foundation’s earliest work honored his parents, missionary educators in China. The Foundation’s programs today reflect the value Luce placed on learning, leadership and long-term commitment in philanthropy.