David Shneer, a widely admired history professor and director of the Program in Jewish Studies at the University of Colorado Boulder, died November 4 in Denver of brain cancer. He was 48.
Shneer was one of the liveliest people I’ve ever known, and his premature passing means that this bright figure will always remain young, vivacious and energetic in my memory. He was at the vanguard of a younger generation of Jewish Studies scholars who didn’t hesitate to challenge orthodoxies in the field regarding Jewish life under communist rule.
Shneer came to Yiddish through his academic research when he began studying Russian history at the University of California, Berkeley. His grandparents were originally from Russia but were fully assimilated, “with no trace of a Yiddish accent in their English,” as he told the Yiddish Book Center in an interview in 2010. His PhD thesis, which was later expanded and published in book form, Yiddish and the Creation of Soviet Jewish Culture 1918-1930 explores the apex of Yiddish culture in the USSR before the Stalinist purges of the late 1930s.