Skip To Content
JEWISH. INDEPENDENT. NONPROFIT.
Culture

Why The NEH Is So Critical To Our Future

The news of the proposed elimination of the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) comes at precisely the moment we feel the most grateful for the agency’s support.

On Thursday morning, as the budget proposal made headlines, we were busy preparing for Friday’s opening of “1917: How One Year Changed the World” and the American Jewish Historical Society the exhibition looks back 100 years to explore how the events of a single year brought about political, cultural, and social changes that reverberated throughout the world and provoked America’s most stringent immigration quotas to date. While anchored in the past, the exhibition asks questions that have striking contemporary relevance — Who is an American? Does the United States have a duty to defend other nations? Is it patriotic to criticize the government?

Without a generous $325,000 grant from the NEH, this exhibition would not have materialized.

The impact of NEH’s funding for “1917” goes far beyond a set dollar amount. Getting an NEH grant is like getting an Academy Award. It gives the project a sort of hechsher, a seal of approval from a respected entity. An NEH grant signals that the exhibition has been thoroughly vetted and represents the very best of humanities programming — offering visitors serious scholarship, artifacts, and subject matter. This endorsement proves useful for securing further funding. It also holds the recipient accountable; the grantee is mindful of fully delivering on the project and fulfilling the public responsibility that comes with the grant. Furthermore, the NEH encourages fruitful collaborations between institutions.

NEH’s role in “1917” exemplifies the Endowment’s invaluable commitment to supporting projects that bring the humanities to life for all audiences. “1917” examines a consequential year through the eyes of American Jews. Yet, rather than promoting Jewish culture to Jews, the exhibition presents topics relevant to all ethnic minorities: American identity, citizenship, inclusion, and our nation’s place in the world.

With the help of the NEH, we are able to mount exhibitions that capture the triumphs and pitfalls of our past in order to better navigate our future. We are always appreciative of NEH’s meaningful work, but never more so than today. We stand with our colleagues in the arts and culture field to support the continued good work of the NEH and its sister institutions — the National Endowment for the Arts and the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

Ivy Barsky is the CEO and Gwen Goodman Director of the National Museum of American Jewish History. Rachel Lithgow is the Executive Director of the American Jewish Historical Society.

I hope you appreciated this article. Before you go, I’d like to ask you to please support the Forward’s award-winning, nonprofit journalism during this critical time.

Now more than ever, American Jews need independent news they can trust, with reporting driven by truth, not ideology. We serve you, not any ideological agenda.

At a time when other newsrooms are closing or cutting back, the Forward has removed its paywall and invested additional resources to report on the ground from Israel and around the U.S. on the impact of the war, rising antisemitism and the protests on college campuses.

Readers like you make it all possible. Support our work by becoming a Forward Member and connect with our journalism and your community.

Make a gift of any size and become a Forward member today. You’ll support our mission to tell the American Jewish story fully and fairly. 

— Rachel Fishman Feddersen, Publisher and CEO

Join our mission to tell the Jewish story fully and fairly.

Republish This Story

Please read before republishing

We’re happy to make this story available to republish for free, unless it originated with JTA, Haaretz or another publication (as indicated on the article) and as long as you follow our guidelines. You must credit the Forward, retain our pixel and preserve our canonical link in Google search.  See our full guidelines for more information, and this guide for detail about canonical URLs.

To republish, copy the HTML by clicking on the yellow button to the right; it includes our tracking pixel, all paragraph styles and hyperlinks, the author byline and credit to the Forward. It does not include images; to avoid copyright violations, you must add them manually, following our guidelines. Please email us at [email protected], subject line “republish,” with any questions or to let us know what stories you’re picking up.

We don't support Internet Explorer

Please use Chrome, Safari, Firefox, or Edge to view this site.