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National Foundation for Jewish Culture (NFJC)

(1961 - 2015)

The National Foundation For Jewish Culture (NFJC) was a U.S. organization that supported Jewish artistic creativity, academic scholarship, and cultural preservation in America. The NFJC was established in 1960 by the Council of Jewish Federations and Welfare Funds (now the United Jewish Communities), following a ground-breaking study on National Jewish Cultural Services in America, chaired by Sidney Vincent of Cleveland, Ohio. The study recommended creating a central organization to respond to the cultural needs of the American Jewish community in the post-war era, particularly in the areas of Jewish Studies, scholarly publication, archives, and libraries. The NFJC’s mission expanded in the 1980s to include new creativity in the arts as well as the dissemination of contemporary Jewish culture through national programming and publications.

NFJC provided grants and awards to writers, filmmakers, visual artists, composers, choreographers, playwrights, and scholars. Its national and international conferences, networks of cultural institutions, publications, and partnerships with local communities were intended to help define, interpret, and advance the contours of American Jewish culture for both the Jewish community and the broader American public.

Since its inception, the National Foundation for Jewish Culture awarded more than $2.5 million in Doctoral Dissertations Fellowships to more than 400 graduate students pursuing careers in Jewish Studies. This program, along with the Foundation's early support for the Association of Jewish Studies, and its special grants for publication and research projects, helped fuel the development of the field of Jewish Studies in America in the later decades of the 20th century.

Over a 30-year period, the NFJC allocated almost $10 million to major archival, scholarly, and Yiddish culture organizations through the Joint Cultural Appeal, comprised of allocations from the Jewish Federations of North America. Since 2000, the NFJC awarded more than $1.2 million on a competitive grants basis through the Fund for Jewish Cultural Preservation to libraries and archives for the preservation of historically important books, archives, manuscripts, periodicals, ritual objects, art and artifacts, photographs, recordings, and films.

In addition, the NFJC was instrumental in establishing and administering both the Council of American Jewish Museums (CAJM) and the Council of Archives and Research Libraries in Jewish Studies (CARLJS) as professional associations to support the cultural infrastructure of American Jewish life.

In the area of the arts, the National Foundation for Jewish Culture encouraged and supported new creative expression in a wide variety of disciplines – film, theater, literature, music, dance, and visual arts.

The Fund for Jewish Documentary Filmmaking was created in 1996 with a challenge grant from Steven Spielberg’s Righteous Persons Foundation and a matching grant from the Charles H. Revson Foundation. It has awarded 49 grants totaling more than $1.25 million toward the production of documentary films which explore the variety of the Jewish experience. The NFJC also initiated the Conference of American Jewish Film Festivals which provided a forum for film festival directors, staffs, and volunteers to network and address field-wide concerns.

The New Play Commissions in Jewish Theater supported the initial development of 69 new plays presented by both mainstream and Jewish theaters. An anthology of Nine Contemporary Jewish Plays, selected from these commissions, was published by the University of Texas Press in November 2005. The NFJC also maintained an on-line database of Plays of Jewish Interest.

Other grants in the arts included the Goldberg Prize, which recognized the work of young, emerging Jewish writers, and the Heyman Prize, which recognized the work of emerging visual artists.

The NFJC also presented the premier annual Jewish recognition awards in the arts and humanities, which included the Jewish Cultural Achievement Awards in Scholarship and Arts, the Jewish Image Awards in Film and Television, the Patron of the Arts Award, and the Alan King Award in American Jewish Humor.

Over the years, the National Foundation for Jewish Culture, with support from the U.S. government’s National Endowments for the Arts and Humanities, Jewish foundations, and local Federations, sponsored a number of seminal conferences and special programmatic initiatives across the country. These included North American and international conferences in Jewish theater, ethnic music, dance, and literature; artist retreats in the performing arts, visual arts, and music; community-based and institution-based artist-inresidence programs; and public lecture series, film programs, and exhibitions.

The NFJC was instrumental in creating Celebrate 350, the organizing committee for the celebration of the 350th anniversary of Jewish life in America. Its own 350th programs included the commissioning of Klezmerbluegrass, a new work by the Paul Taylor Dance Company; the production of Passover Dreams, a radio special distributed by PRI to over 150 stations nationwide; and a series of national conversations–both live in local communities and virtually over the Internet–on American Jewish Icons.

The NFJC published the semi-annual Jewish Culture News, which provided context and perspective to the contemporary Jewish experience, and the annual Jewish Literary Supplement,as a resource for readers, book groups, and schools. 

The foundation ceased operations in 2015.

Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved;
American Jewish Historical Society.