Saturday, March 30, 2013

"everything you always wanted to know about Jews"

The Jewish Museum Berlin in cooperation with the Jewish Museum Hohenems is hosting a special exhibition entitled "THE WHOLE TRUTH: . . . everything you always wanted to know about Jews" until September 1.

According to the museum's website, the exhibition features literary and documentary voices about Jewish identity today. Visitors won't receive simple or 'right' answers, but will hear a variety of opinions. The exhibition presents 180 objects that offer insight into Jewish thinking and inner-Jewish questions of identity, in particular those that develop in a non-Jewish environment like Germany.  Questions addressed in the exhibition include:
  • When does the Sabbath begin in space? [Whenever it begins in Jerusalem.]
  • Who is a Jew?
  • Do Jews believe in reincarnation?
As Haaretz explains, the exhibition was deemed necessary because there aren't many Jews left in Germany --  under 200,000 Jews among Germany's 82 million people. An unusual aspect of the exhibition features a live Jewish man or woman seated in a glass box for two hours a day to answer questions about Jewish life. The popular name of this feature of the exhibit is "Jew in the Box."   The museum's curator Miriam Goldmann supports this  provocative approach to teaching people about Judaism.

An interesting blog called the Holocaust Visual Archive sees a parallel to Adolf Eichmann sitting in a glass booth at the 1961 trial in Israel which led to his execution. I think this is a bit of a stretch. The exhibition uses the glass box to underscore that Jews feel separate and apart from mainstream German life. In contrast, Israel put Eichmann in a bulletproof box to protect him from victims' families. Even so, I see the visual likeness.

As the alegemeiner reports, critics have voiced concern that the exhibit is not an appropriate way to educate the German public about Judaism.  I understand such criticisms. At the same time if the exhibition promotes tolerance and understanding I think it is a good thing.  I see nothing wrong with shaking things up if the end result is positive.  It isn't yet another boring museum exhibition and it has folks talking about what it's like to be a Jew in Germany today.

This is what one Jew in the glass box looks like:
Photo: © Jüdisches Museum Berlin, photo: Linus Lintner