Following an extensive search, the University of Louisville has named Ranen Omer-Sherman, Ph.D., the first Jewish Heritage Fund for Excellence Chair of Judaic Studies. In this capacity, he will raise awareness of Judaism’s religious and cultural heritage through the creation of an annual lecture series and other related programs, in addition to teaching classes in the Judaic Studies program.
University of Louisville President James Ramsey believes this endowed chair will “fill an important need in the university’s religious studies program by offering students the opportunity to learn about Jewish culture, history and accomplishments – including those unique to Louisville – as they work toward a degree.”
The JHFE Endowed Chair will be housed in the Division of Humanities, chaired by Prof. Elaine Wise, whose vision for this achievement goes back many years.
In October 2013, JHFE announced a $1.15 million bequest to establish an endowed chair in Judaic studies in the University’s College of Arts and Sciences’ Division of Humanities, the local Jewish community’s long-time goal became a reality. The funding was added to a 2005 gift of $500,000 from the Jewish Community Federation of Louisville (now the Jewish Community of Louisville) that was matched by Kentucky’s Research Challenge Trust Fund “Bucks for Brains” initiative. The university added another $350,000 from a gift from the late Owsley Brown Frazier, and additional funding from local donors raised the total endowment to in excess of $2.5 million.
A Jewish Studies minor has been part of the university’s College of Arts and Sciences religious studies program since 2005 thanks to the energy and persistence of Dr. Natalie Polzer, long-term chair of the Jewish Studies Committee. The Jewish Studies Committee is currently chaired by Dr. Shelley Salamensky, who also served as chair of the search committee.
Dr. Omer-Sherman earned a bachelor’s degree, summa cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa, from California’s Humboldt State University and masters and doctoral degrees from the University of Notre Dame, where he lectured from 1997-1999. He taught at Saint Louis University in Madrid and has been a professor at the University of Miami since 2002.
The author and/or editor of five books (three monographs, two edited collections), he also has contributed countless essays and book chapters to numerous publications.
Often recognized for his excellence in academic pursuits, Dr. Omer-Sherman has been the recipient of at least 40 awards and honors including the prestigious Frankel Institute for Advanced Judaic Studies Fellowship at the University of Michigan in 2012. In addition, he has contributed many hours of time serving on university committees as well as on projects in the greater Miami community.
“Professor Omer-Sherman is extremely well-regarded as a scholar and teacher in the field of Jewish Studies and stands to greatly enrich and bring further renown to the university and the community,” said Jewish Studies Committee Chair Shelley Salamensky, Ph.D.
“It is very appropriate that our first major grant announcement supports both the Jewish community and the University of Louisville,” said Jewish Heritage Fund for Excellence Board Chair Louis Waterman. “This new chair will ensure students a focused study of Jewish tradition and thought with scholarly expertise in Jewish religious traditions.”
In addition to his considerable academic credits, Dr. Omer-Sherman has many real-life experiences that have helped him relate with students. A California native, he made aliyah to Israel, on his own, as an idealistic 17-year-old in 1975. He served with the military in the Nahal Paratrooper Unit and helped found Kibbutz Yahel in the Arava Desert, where he worked as a farmer and wilderness guide leading teens through Israel’s deserts. After 13 years, he returned to the United States to attend college and graduate school.
He sees the value in combining text and illustration in the classroom and helped spearhead a movement by Jewish artists and writers to address how Jews are adapting to this environment.
The Jewish Graphic Novel, which he co-edited with Samantha Baskind, is a collection of scholarly essays that address major developments in the Jewish graphic narrative and memoir in Israel, Europe, and North America. His current work explores the construction of identities of Israeli writers such as A.B. Yehoshua and Sayed Kashua and addresses a range of writers’ works including Tony Kushner, Philip Roth and Amos Oz.
“I look forward to building excitement for Jewish Studies at the University of Louisville,” says Dr. Omer-Sherman, “and I hope to bring in people to develop courses that will elicit an enthusiastic response.”
His first course will highlight coming of age stories in Jewish literature. “I want students to understand what it means to come from a tradition and to become questioning people – a collective experience that began with Abraham.”
Other courses will focus on contemporary issues about Israel, Middle-East narratives concerning Arabs and Israelis, as well as studies about the Holocaust. Music and movies will also contribute to an interdisciplinary approach to learning.
Contemporary issues about Israel and Middle-East narratives concerning Arabs and Israelis will be included in the curriculum as well as studies about the Holocaust. Music and movies will also contribute to an interdisciplinary approach to learning.
“I am extremely accessible,” says Dr. Omer-Sherman. “The community wants and deserves a representative and a resource at the university. I want members of the Jewish and broader community to feel free to communicate with me and I will listen.
“I plan to visit the various congregations and Jewish organizations and become a part of the community,” he added. “My wife, Michal Kofman, Ph.D., and I have received a warm welcome here and we are eager to make our home in Louisville.”