Published: May 26, 2015
David Shneer

On Friday, May 8, 2015, the Program in Jewish Studies hosted our annual graduation ceremony, honoring the accomplishments of our graduating majors, minors and graduates students, our fellowship, scholarship and award winners, our interns, and our faculty. Below is Professor David Shneer's opening ceremony speech.

Read More About the 2014-2015 Graduation Ceremony

Today is a bittersweet day for many of us in this room. The sweetness comes from the accomplishments we have all had, both over the past year, but also over the course of your time at this university, as part of this program that for some of you has become a home away from home.  At least that’s how I feel as I wrap up my term as the founding director of the Program in Jewish Studies.  I’ve directed Jewish Studies programs for most of my academic career, first at the University of Denver, and then here at CU.  I learned that I’m pretty good at starting a program from scratch, building it up, implementing structures, and then recognizing that I successfully accomplished what I was hired to do and saw that it was time for me for new leadership.  As you will see today, CU’s Program in Jewish Studies has become a flagship interdisciplinary unit at CU Boulder, recognized for its engagement with students, stellar scholarship of its faculty and students, talented staff, and a collaborative vision of what higher education can be here at CU and across the country.  In other words, I did my job and am proud of its accomplishments, and the time has come.

When I first came to CU 7 years ago, Jewish Studies was a start up operation that the university (and Zilla Goodman and Paul Shankman) had entrusted to me to build.  Our first ceremony in 2009 was in a lovely room in University Club that could accommodate 50 people, as we graduated a couple of certificate students and hosted their families, friends, faculty, and staff.  Now I look around this majestic theater as we recognize 22 students, grant 8 majors and minors in Jewish Studies, 3 graduate endorsements, including our first MFA, and celebrate our collective accomplishments. Although I’m stepping down as director of Jewish Studies, I’m not going anywhere, so for me, I look forward to my evolving relationship with Jewish Studies, and with all of you, under its incoming director, Dr. Nan Goodman, who will be taking our students on a new global seminar to Istanbul this summer and who has already proven to be an amazing leader of the Program. Thank you, Nan. 

For most of you, the relationships you have built here are going to change permanently.  They won’t be based on a set of common experiences we call university life, but hopefully these relationships you built here will form your peer, mentorship, and professional network for many years to come.  In fact, one of this year’s accomplishments is our new Jewish Studies alumni network, co-chaired by two Jewish Studies alums, Kara Zucker and Carly Coons, who was our first major in Jewish Studies in 2012.  As I say to all of my students, our commitment as a faculty and a program to each of you does not end at graduation.  So I look forward to seeing how our relationships evolve as you take your next journey.

We are about to publicly grant the only degrees in Jewish Studies in the entire Rocky Mountain Region.  That alone is something to be proud of.  But there is much to celebrate as we wrap up another amazing year.

We are launching our Jewish Studies alumni network to build new relationships with our former students.  In other words, since you’re no longer our students, you will get to call us by our first names! Kara and Carly will be spearheading this initiative and you should expect a communication from them this summer;

Perhaps the most exciting piece of news is a $500,000 gift to endow a professorship in Israel/Palestine Studies, the only such professorship in the world.  It is the culmination of many years of work the Program has done to deliver engaged courses, both here and in the Middle East with campus-based courses, study abroad sites in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, a global seminar to Jerusalem, and our relationships with Israeli non-profits which provide professional opportunities for our students. Stay tuned for the roll out of that new initiative. We look forward to growing the gift into a Center for Israel/Palestine Studies, so if any of you has a million dollars, please see me during the reception.

This year, we finally constituted ourselves as a regular faculty, which now numbers 11 faculty in 4 departments and two Colleges. I’m excited to announce that the College recognized the outstanding talent of Dr. Sam Boyd, who has been teaching in Religious Studies and Jewish Studies, and allowed us to make a targeted tenure-track hire in Hebrew Bible and Ancient Civilization.  Sam, welcome to the Program.  You have already inspired our students, and I look forward to a long future working with you.  We are also granting our first ever postdoctoral fellowship to Moshe Kornfeld, whose area of expertise is in Post Holocaust American Judaism. Welcome, Moshe.  

The Jewish Studies faculty published numerous articles and won many awards including Brian Catlos’ Albert Hourani Prize, the highest book prize given in Middle Eastern Studies, for Muslims of Medieval Latin Christendom, ca. 1050-1614; Liora Halperin’s Shapiro Prize for the best book in Israel Studies for her book Babel in Zion; Sue Zemka’s Kayden Prize, the highest prize CU grants in the humanities, for her book Time and the Moment in Victorian Literature and Society; Nan Goodman, after finishing a Fulbright in Istanbul, where she developed relationships that are blossoming into the global seminar and much more, published “The Puritan Cosmopolis” in American Literary History, which lays out her argument for her forthcoming book by the same title.  If that weren’t enough, Sasha Senderovich won three competitive grants to fund his time off next year; and Eli Sacks had a semester off of teaching to finish his book manuscript and sent it off to presses. He also has spearheaded the Jewish Studies graduate program for the past two years, the results of which you will see shortly.  And he launched our new collaboration with the University of Denver, the “Jewish Philosophy Collaborative,” which won a competitive grant from the American Academy of Jewish Research; Zilla Goodman had a banner year in the classroom and her passion for students carried over into her leadership of our undergraduate curriculum, and Eyal Rivlin, our Hebrew instructor extraordinaire, spearheaded our first ever Hebrew Shmoozapalooza.  Students loved it.  Steve Glickman, who took over as our program director, also taught the internship course and won a competitive grant to develop it into a service learning course for Jewish Studies.  Meghan Zibby, in addition to producing a brilliant MA thesis on the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement, also served as the backbone of Jewish Studies.  We couldn’t do what we do without her.  As for me, I published a book in German and produced a photo exhibition in Russian.  All in a day’s work in Jewish Studies.

These are wonderful accomplishments.  But they are not the reason why the Program in Jewish Studies has become the academic community, the home away from home, for all of our students, faculty, staff, and community supporters.  Our faculty and staff are first and foremost teachers of the highest caliber.  We work one on one with students in all of our classes to make sure that they excel; we mentor them as they contemplate their future paths; and we see their successes as our successes.  So today is bittersweet for all of us, because we care about our students and are sad to see you graduating.

We are sending 8 students to Istanbul on Nan Goodman’s new Global Seminar, Jews and Muslims: The Multiethnic History of Istanbul, several of whom are being supported by the Jewish Studies Global Initiative, a fund set up with the financial generosity of community supporters, who believe in our vision of giving our students a global education.  

The Post-Holocaust American Judaism archive continues to thrive with new acquisitions including the collection of Rodger Kamenetz, author of Jew in the Lotus and last summer and this one, a team of undergraduate and graduate students work in the library processing last year’s major acquisition—the Mazal Holocaust Collection. Following on the heels of the wild success of “The Sound of Ecstasy” symposium and an exhibition about Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, founder of Jewish Renewal, who passed away this past summer, we are deep in preparation for the next Embodied Judaism project called “Freedom Seder: American Judaism and Social Justice,” a symposium on November 12 and the opening of a new exhibition by the same name on the 2nd floor of Norlin Library featuring the collections of Arthur Waskow and Leah Novick and co-curated by Moshe Kornfeld and graduate student Scott Meyers. It’s going to be amazing

This year, we hosted activist Ali Abu Awwad, journalist Benjamin Pogrund, poet Peter Cole, all three from Israel; scholar of Salonikan Jewry Devin Naar; religious studies scholar Shaul Magid, and our 2015 Sondra Bender Visiting Scholar, Sarah Stein, in addition to our collaboration with Italian Studies Program at CU to bring Jewlia Eisenberg and the Ginzburg Geography as well as the world’s leading expert in Italian fascist concentration camps, about which you will hear more later.

And last, I am announcing the Jim and Diane Shneer Endowed Fellowship in Post Holocaust American Judaism, in honor of my parents, who are here today, to support students, scholars, and others to build knowledge out of our archive.  The inaugural Shneer Fellow, who will participate in the Freedom Seder, will be Riv-Ellen Prell. This brings to six the number of endowments we have, and so I want to thank those who helped us get to where we are: the Rabbi and Ida Goldberger Fellowship for Study Abroad and Cultural Immersion, Barry and Sue Baer Scholarship for the Most Promising Undergraduate Student, the Barry and Sue Baer Fellowship to support graduate students in their research and teaching, the Sondra Bender Visiting Scholar, which brings world renowned scholars to CU each year; and the Louis P. Singer Chair, all accomplished in last few years. And I’m not exaggerating when I say that the reason why our Program has blossomed so amazingly in the past five years has been an annual matching grant from the Bender Family Foundation, thanks to Eileen and Rich Greenberg, whose passion for what we do has made it possible to recruit and retain the best faculty…and from the best faculty flows an amazing Program that attracts talented students.

Our graduates are blessed to be part of these exciting developments, as they are enriched with knowledge in the classrooms and life and professional skills that when combined make them informed global citizens, who also land jobs! 

Today, we celebrate our students and their accomplishments by bringing together the people who helped bring them to this day and who make up the Jewish Studies community: faculty teachers and mentors, staff supporters including Pat Adams, who has helped facilitate all of our finances, Deanna Fierman, our advisor, and of course Kimberly Bowman, without whose graciousness, smarts, and vision we would not be where we are today, peers/friends of graduates, parents and family members, Jewish Studies alumni, community members and supporters, and administrators, and without the visionary leadership of David Boonin and Steve Leigh, Jewish Studies would not have thrived the way it has.  I won’t say it takes a village to graduate a student, but it certainly doesn’t hurt to have the incredible support we see in this room.