Yiddish Book Center Receives NEH Grant

Wexler Oral History Project Will Significantly Expand Access to Trove of Video Interviews

(April 14, 2021): The Yiddish Book Center has received a major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities in support of its Wexler Oral History Project. The Project is a growing collection of over 1,000 video interviews reflecting the legacy and changing nature of Yiddish language and culture. The grant will fund strategies designed to increase the Project’s reach and discoverability around the globe. 

The Yiddish Book Center is a nonprofit organization working to recover, celebrate, and regenerate Yiddish and modern Jewish literature and culture. Since its founding in 1980, it has rescued over a million Yiddish books and launched a wide range of bibliographic, educational, and cultural programs, including the Wexler Oral History Project.

Over the past decade the Project has collected oral histories in eighteen countries around the world, conducting interviews in English, Yiddish, Russian, French, Portuguese, and other languages. Stories from writers and musicians, scholars and students, and native Yiddish speakers provide invaluable documentation of a rich and diverse culture and are freely available on the Yiddish Book Center’s website.  

This three-year grant in the amount of $350,000 builds upon the accomplishments made possible by a previous NEH award, which supported new transcription and indexing of the Project’s in-depth interviews. Susan Bronson, executive director of the Yiddish Book Center said, “It is gratifying that NEH has again recognized our efforts to not only collect and preserve these stories, but to ensure their accessibility. We are heartened to know that audiences in greater numbers than ever before will now have the opportunity to access these incredible stories, as well as other aspects of the Center’s vast collection.” 

The grant will support a sitewide advanced search function that will link the oral history collection to the larger holdings of the Yiddish Book Center, including its digitized Yiddish books and archival recordings. These holdings will be newly discoverable on major scholarly search platforms, allowing for integration into universal digital libraries alongside other humanities resources and opening up new research possibilities.  

“The award will enable us to do exciting technical work, including creating new metadata that connects to authority files such as the Library of Congress and the Getty Thesaurus of Geographical Terms,” said Christa Whitney, the founding director of the Wexler Oral History Project. Whitney, who was named to the Forward’s 2020 list of the fifty most remarkable people for her work with the Project, continued: “I’m thrilled and honored in this renewed vote of confidence from the NEH. This grant recognizes Yiddish language and culture as an important part of American cultural heritage and will help more scholars, filmmakers, and interested members of the broader public find their way to our materials.” 

The Wexler Oral History Project was one of thirty-four chosen from a pool of 235 eligible applicants to NEH’s Humanities Collections and Reference Resources program within the Division of Preservation and Access. In a press release announcing $24 million total in the funding of humanities projects nationwide, NEH Acting Chairman Adam Wolfson stated that these newly funded projects “embody excellence, intellectual rigor, and a dedication to the pursuit of knowledge.”

You can view highlights from the Wexler Oral History Project’s collection of interviews on the Yiddish Book Center website. 

View the NEH press release announcing the awards.


About the Yiddish Book Center: The Yiddish Book Center is a nonprofit organization working to recover, celebrate, and regenerate Yiddish and modern Jewish literature and culture. Over the past forty years, since its founding in 1980, the organization has rescued more than a million volumes, has established and strengthened Yiddish holdings at 700 university and research libraries around the world, and has posted the full texts of 12,000 titles online in its Steven Spielberg Digital Yiddish Library, making Yiddish one of the most accessible literatures in the world. The Center's website, yiddishbookcenter.org, features articles about Yiddish and modern Jewish culture in Yiddish and English, books and short works in Yiddish and English translation, podcasts, oral history interviews, audio recordings, and more. 
Press: For more information or to arrange for interviews contact Yiddish Book Center Director of Communications and Marketing Jennifer Einhorn at [email protected] or 413-256-4900, ext. 118.