CU Jewish Studies Wraps Up Successful Year

Professor David Shneer, Singer Chair in Jewish History at CU. (Photo by Glenn Asakawa/University of Colorado)
Professor David Shneer, Singer Chair in Jewish History at CU. (Photo by Glenn Asakawa/University of Colorado)

This year’s Jewish Studies graduation ceremony sent off three amazing majors and nine minors into the next stage of their lives.   “Bittersweet” is usually how graduation day feels.  The sweetness comes from the accomplishment of completing years of rigorous study and finally finishing.  Bitter, because the relationships you students have built here at CU are now going to change permanently.  They won’t be based on a set of common experiences we call university life, but hopefully these relationships will form your peer, mentorship, and professional network for many years to come.

Six years ago, my partner in crime, our assistant director Jamie Polliard, and I came to campus with a promise: to build a great Jewish Studies program that embodied the values of the university’s Flagship 2030 mission statement that envisioned learning, cutting across disciplines, and embedding our students in a global environment.  At the same time, we wanted to make CU a place that high school students interested in Jewish Studies throughout Colorado and the country would be excited to attend, learn, and experience.  I am proud to say that we have kept our promise, and I encourage you to read our mission statement on our website to see how we think about what we do here.

A few weeks ago, we publicly granted 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 celebrate that:

1) Our two new hires, Sasha Senderovich and Liora Halperin, both had highly successful years as they taught engaged classes. Prof. Senderovich won a competitive translation grant from the Yiddish Book Center and Prof. Halperin’s book, Babel in Zion, on language politics in British Mandate Palestine, is under contract with Yale University Press.  Eli Sacks’ second year was filled with brilliant teaching in the fall and a semester of work, funded by a grant from the Center for Humanities and the Arts, on his book project, “The Living Script: Moses Mendelssohn’s Philosophy of Judaism.”  He also serves as our inaugural graduate studies director, while Zilla Goodman, who along with Paul Shankman planted the seeds of this program years ago, serves as undergraduate studies director.

2) Jewish Studies is now the official rostered home of two faculty members, Zilla Goodman and Eyal Rivlin, and as of this summer, the host program of CU’s Hebrew language program.  We owe thanks to the Germanic and Slavic Department (GSLL) and its chair, Davide Stimilli, for incubating Hebrew to its now overflowing classrooms and for awarding Professor Rivlin the 2013 GSLL Best Instructor of the Year;

3) The CU Art Museum exhibition,  “Through Soviet Jewish Eyes,” which I co-curated, was on exhibit in Manhattan, New York, and Houston, and my book by same title won the Association for Jewish Studies Jordan Schnitzer prize, awarded every three years to best book in several divisions, in my case literature and the arts.

4) Nan Goodman, professor of English and executive committee member, has been in Istanbul, Turkey on a teaching fellowship.  Professor Goodman is working with Bogazici University to create a relationship with CU to develop Sephardic Jewish Studies, which will be our programmatic theme next year.

5) We are sending 11 students to Jerusalem on our Global Seminar to Israel and the West Bank, up from 7 last year, 8 of whom are being supported financially with generous funding from Dr. Leslie Singer Lomas and the Antero Foundation.

CUJewish6) Partnering with the CU Libraries Archives, with special thanks to Bruce Montgomery, Dr. Stephanie Yuhas, and Dr. Thea Lindquist, Jewish Studies acquired the Mazal Holocaust Collection, the largest privately held Holocaust collection in the world, which will anchor the Archive of Post Holocaust American Judaism.  The 367 crates have arrived and are now housed in Norlin Library.

7) We hosted two major events that focused on the work of Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, whose collection laid the foundation for the Post Holocaust American Judaism archive: our fall inaugural Embodied Judaism program, The Sound of Ecstasy, and our spring public conversation with our second Bender Visiting Scholar, Shaul Magid (thanks to the Bender Family Foundation).  In addition, Norlin Library mounted an exhibition titled “Rabbi Zalman Schachter Shalomi and the Origins of Post Holocaust American Judaism,” which is on display on the second floor.

8) We hosted a visits from award-winning writer Gary Shteyngart, and supported the visit of political journalist Masha Gessen.

9) We are announcing the Barry and Sue Baer Endowed Graduate Research Fellowship to support our best and brightest to do the work they need to do to become top notch scholars and to gain leadership skills that will help them reach their full potential.  This brings to five the number of endowed grants we have: Goldberger Fellow, Baer Scholar, Baer Fellow, Bender Visiting Scholar, and the Singer Chair, all accomplished in the last few years.

10)  Our graduates are blessed to be part of these exciting developments, as it allows us the opportunity to enrich knowledge in the classrooms as well as help our students develop professional skills – that together make them global citizens, who can also land jobs!

Assistant Director Jamie Polliard

On graduation day, we do what a graduation is supposed to: celebrate our students and their accomplishments by bringing together the people who helped bring them to this day: faculty teachers and mentors, staff supporters including our brilliant assistant director Jamie Polliard; our outreach and administrative coordinator, Meghan Zibby; Pat Adams, who has helped facilitate all of our finances; Deanna Fierman, our advisor; and of course Kimberly Bowman, without whose graciousness and intelligence we would not be where we are today; peers and friends of the graduates; parents and family members; Jewish Studies alumni; community members and supporters; and administrators.  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.  We have gone from strength to strength, as we launch our twelve graduates into life beyond the university. Thank you to everyone who has helped make PJS a model interdisciplinary program at CU now and into the future.

Finally, the Program in Jewish Studies would like to honor the work of our departing Assistant Director, Jamie Polliard. Jamie has made countless contributions to the Program in Jewish Studies and will be impossible to replace.  From the Program in Jewish Studies, thank you, Jamie, for all of your amazing contributions. We hope that you find fantastic career growth in the next stage of your professional life with your move to Northern California!

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