Published: June 22, 2023

The University Libraries and Program in Jewish Studies announce a renaming and new direction for Jewish collections to now focus on more recent innovative religious, cultural and social developments among American Jews and Judaism.

The name of the collection will be changed to Innovations in Jewish Life (IJL) and it will document innovative ritual life, Jewish Renewal, Jewish social justice movements, Jewish farming and camping movements, progressive Jewish figures and activist Jewish student groups across North America. The collection was formerly called the Post Holocaust American Jewish Collections.

“The new name and direction were selected because the collections need a more narrow focus if they are to stand out in the field of Jewish studies and build a national reputation,” said Samira Mehta, academic director for the IJL collections and director of the Program in Jewish Studies.

Mehta’s research and teaching focuses on religious life, particularly American Jewish life, from World War II to the present. “We want to frame these collections as forward looking,” she explained “Jewish innovations in the 1960s were responses to Holocaust. Innovations today are one or two generations removed from Holocaust. For instance, we hold papers relating to Arthur Waskow's Freedom Seder, which was a response to the assassination of Martin Luther King. We are hoping to collect contemporary material on Jewish farming, much of which reflects concerns about human and animal rights abuses, and the climate crisis.”

The move to rename and refocus the IJL collections began prior to the pandemic, under the leadership of Nan Goodman, then academic director of the Archive and director of PJS, and was continued by her successors in those positions, David Shneer and Eli Sacks, academic director of the archive and director of PJS, respectively. The name change and re-focusing of the collecting scope was delayed by the pandemic, and Shneer, whose energy and vision were instrumental to founding the archive, passed away in late 2020. 

Shneer’s widower, Gregg Drinkwater, noted, “It was always David’s vision that this collection at CU would center the innovation, creativity and energy at the heart of American Judaism. Although he himself was a scholar of European Jewish history, when teaching, David loved emphasizing the diversity and inventiveness of American Jewish culture with his students.” 

Mehta said there are many Holocaust archives in the United States, and it is difficult for any collection to distinguish itself in that area. “We are trying to do something that is more sustainable,” she said. “We are also very excited to collect in areas of Jewish life that are currently falling under the radar of many other archives because they are not directly connected to large Jewish movements or institutions, or are, in other ways, at the margins.”

The curation of the Innovation in Jewish Life collections is a partnership between the Program in Jewish Studies in the College of Arts and Sciences and the University Libraries’ Rare and Distinctive (RaD) Collections. The Program in Jewish Studies supports the IJL collections for students, faculty, scholars and the public through research fellowships, as well as exhibits, symposia, lectures, publications and other public activities. The University Libraries owns, houses, cares for and provides access to the IJL collections.

“Rare and Distinctive Collections is excited to partner with the Program in Jewish Studies on the name change and new collecting focus for the IJL collections,” said Megan K. Friedel, RaD’s lead archivist and assistant faculty director of collections management and stewardship.“We expect that this will put RaD and the IJL collections on the map as a destination for international researchers wishing to engage with the living history of Jewish innovations in America.” 

Those interested in seeing materials from the Innovations in Jewish Life collection can schedule a RaD reading room appointment.

Banner image: Freedom Seder documents from the Arthur Waskow collection (COU:1809), Rare & Distinctive Collections, University of Colorado Boulder Libraries.