Magazine Feature / People

Shneer suggests modern Jews are ‘at home’

David Shneer revels in challenging assumptions, shattering stereotypes and provoking conversations. The director of the University of Denver Center for Judaic Studies and an associate professor in the history department, he has made it his mission to better the world through learning.

A specialist in modern Jewish culture and the history of Eastern European Jews, Shneer has published numerous books and articles about Yiddish culture in the Soviet Union and about gay Jews in the United States. His latest book, New Jews: The End of the Jewish Diaspora (New York University Press, 2005), co-authored with DU Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences Lecturer Caryn Aviv, is currently available on newsstands.

“This book is provoking a vibrant conversation about how Jews see themselves in the world,” Shneer says. “We discard the very common notion that Jews live ‘in diaspora,’ or scattered from their center in Israel, and suggest that Jews are at home in the places they live.”

The Center for Judaic Studies comprises the Holocaust Awareness Institute, the Rocky Mountain Jewish Historical Society and the ALEPH Institute for Jewish Culture. Named after the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet, and an acronym describing the institute’s mission, ALEPH explores Jewish culture through the study of art, literature, education, philosophy and history.

Since taking over as director of the center in 2003, Shneer has helped integrate the study of Jewish culture into the University’s curriculum by offering core courses and by cross-listing nearly all Judaic Studies courses for credit with other departments. Shneer is teaching a community course in introductory Yiddish through the ALEPH Institute.

In 2003, Shneer co-founded Mosaic: The National Jewish Center for Sexual and Gender Diversity to encourage the Jewish world to welcome Jews of all sexualities and genders. Prior to coming to DU, he directed a school at Sha’ar Zahav, a gay synagogue in San Francisco.

He also volunteers as a student mentor for the Colorado Agency for Jewish Education.

Shneer’s interest in the study of the past though art, photography, street signs and posters has led to a burgeoning curatorial career. He is a photography consultant for the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum and has been asked by the Museum of Jewish Heritage to curate an exhibition. One of his projects—an exhibit of the photos by Ilya Ilf, a renowned Muscovite writer and journalist—currently is touring the country. For the past three years, Shneer has been gathering research for a new book about Soviet Jewish photographers who documented World War II for the Soviet population. 

“On the national scene, as well as within our local community, David is a rising star as both an astute observer and an active and creative agent of Jewish culture,” says Joanne Marks Kauvar, executive director of the Council of American Jewish Museums.

This article was originally published in The Source, November 2005.

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