In Memoriam: Dr. David Shneer

Nov 4, 2020

Beloved colleague Dr. David Shneer, a former DU professor, passed away on November 4th as a result of his ongoing battle with cancer at the age of 48. The funeral was held Friday, November 6th, 2020, and the graveside service and burial was held in Rancho Palos Verdes, California on Tuesday, November 10, 2020.

David was the Louis P. Singer Endowed Chair in Jewish History, Professor of History and Jewish Studies at the University of Colorado, Boulder. He was a Distinguished Lecturer for the Association for Jewish Studies, faculty advisor for Yiddishkayt, co-editor in chief of East European Jewish Affairs, the academic director of CU Boulder’s Post Holocaust American Judaism archive, and the 2020-2021 American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS) fellow. Shneer received his PhD in history from the University of California, Berkeley in 2001. He directed the Center for Judaic Studies at the University of Denver before joining the CU Boulder faculty in 2008.

Called a “pathbreaking” scholar by the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Shneer’s research focuses on 20th century European, Russian, and Jewish history and culture as well as Jewish diaspora and contemporary Jewish life. His book, Through Soviet Jewish Eyes: Photography, War, and the Holocaust (Rutgers University Press, 2011), winner of the 2013 Jordan Schnitzer Prize of the Association for Jewish Studies and finalist for the National Jewish Book Award, looks at the lives and works of two dozen Soviet Jewish World War II military photographers to examine what kinds of photographs they took when they encountered evidence of Nazi genocide on the Eastern Front. His other books include Queer Jews, finalist for the Lambda Literary award, Yiddish and the Creation of Soviet Jewish Culture, finalist for the National Jewish Book Award, and New Jews: The End of the Jewish Diaspora, which has sparked discussion in publications like the Economist and the Jerusalem Post. At the time of his death, he served as editor-in-chief of East European Jewish Affairs and on the editorial boards of Journal of Jewish Identities, the Association for Jewish Studies’ magazine Perspectives, and for the book series Borderlines with Academic Studies press. He won prestigious fellowships from ACLS, the Social Science Research Council, Hadassah-Brandeis Institute, the International Research and Exchange Council, and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. In his broader work, Shneer co-founded Jewish Mosaic, the first national Jewish LGBT organization, which merged with Keshet in 2010, and he served as education director of Congregation Sha’ar Zahav, the LGBT outreach synagogue of the San Francisco Bay Area, from 1997 through 2001.

For those who might not know the full extent of David’s public work as a scholar, teacher, writer and community leader, I invite you to browse through his personal website: To see and hear David’s beautiful voice as a singer, here he is with his music collaborator and dear friend, Jewlia Eisenberg, singing Dem Milner’s Trern (“The Miller’s Tears”) in Yiddish (lyrics in comments). This is part of Jewlia and David’s “Art Is My Weapon” project, about the radical musical life of Lin Jaldati, a Dutch Jewish cabaret performer and Holocaust survivor who migrated to East Berlin after WWII and became the “Yiddish diva” of the Communist world. More on the “Art Is My Weapon” project can be found here.

At DU, David was a member of the history department and a former director of the Center for Judaic Studies. I’m told that David was much loved and respected, and was also an integral part of Gender and Women’s Studies’ growth. With his dynamism and brilliance, he worked to build interdisciplinary bridges between programs and departments in CAHSS. I share these words from our colleagues at the Center for Judaic Studies: “The Center for Judaic Studies at the University of Denver mourns the death of friend, colleague, and former Center director Dr. David Shneer. David was an incisive historian and brilliant teacher at DU and later at the University of Colorado-Boulder. He was a path-breaking scholar, a visionary academic leader, and a true mensch of rare principle who was dedicated to justice near and far. The field of Jewish Studies, and the University of Denver are richer for having known him, and now poorer following his loss. May his family and many friends the world over find comfort in the blessing of his memory.”

David Shneer’s premature death is a great loss to Jewish studies and Jewish culture, to his friends and colleagues. He leaves behind his husband Gregg Drinkwater, co-parent Caryn Aviv, daughter Sasha, and his parents Diane and Jim Shneer. We extend our deepest condolences to David’s loved ones and to the colleagues at DU and beyond who knew and loved David as well as simply admirers of his work and spirit. His family and friends will pay tribute to David by dedicating a stone, tree, or bench at the Denver Botanic Gardens in his name. David loved to be at the Gardens – it was his favorite place in Denver and is just a few blocks from our home. To contribute, please use this link: A memorial there will be a place for those of us here in Colorado to visit regularly and remember him and his love of being outside in the beauty of the Gardens.

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