Friday, March 29, 2013
'Jew in the box' exhibit at Jewish Museum in Germany causes stir
"A lot of our visitors don't know any Jews and have questions they want to ask," museum official Tina Luedecke said. "With this exhibition we offer an opportunity for those people to know more about Jews and Jewish life."
But not everybody thinks putting a Jew on display is the best way to build understanding and mutual respect.
The exhibit is reminiscent of Holocaust architect Adolf Eichmann sitting in a glass booth at the 1961 trial in Israel which led to his execution. And it's certainly more provocative than British actress Tilda Swinton sleeping in a glass box at a recent performance at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
Eran Levy, an Israeli who has lived in Berlin for years, was horrified by the idea of presenting a Jew as a museum piece, even if to answer Germans' questions about Jewish life.
"It's a horrible thing to do — completely degrading and not helpful," he said. "The Jewish Museum absolutely missed the point if they wanted to do anything to improve the relations between Germans and Jews."
But several of the volunteers, including both German Jews and Israelis living in Berlin, said the experience in the box is little different from what they go through as Jews living in the country that produced the Nazis.
"We wanted to provoke, that's true, and some people may find the show outrageous or objectionable," Goldmann said. "But that's fine by us."
The provocative style is evident in other parts of the special exhibition, including some that openly raise many stereotypes of Jews widespread not only in Germany but elsewhere in Europe.
One includes a placard that asks "how you recognize a Jew?" It's next to assortment of yarmulkes, black hats and women's hair covers hanging from the ceiling on thin threads. Another asks if Jews consider themselves the chosen people. It includes a poem by Jewish author Leonard Fein: "How odd of God to choose the Jews. But how on earth could we refuse?"
Yet another invites visitors to express their opinion to such questions as "are Jews particularly good looking, influential, intelligent, animal loving or business savvy?"
"I asked him about the feelings he has for his country and what he thinks about the conflict with Palestine, if he ever visited Palestine," visitor Panka Chirer-Geyer said. "I have Jewish roots and I've been to Palestine and realized how difficult it was there. I could not even mention that I have Jewish roots."
On a recent day this week, several visitors kept returning to ask questions of Ido Porat, a 33-year-old Israeli seated on a white bench with a pink cushion.
One woman wanted to know what to bring her hosts for a Shabbat dinner in Israel. Another asked why only Jewish men and not women wear yarmulkes. A third inquired about Judaism and homosexuality.
"I guess I should ask you about the relationship between Germans and Jews," visitor Diemut Poppen said to Porat. "We Germans have so many insecurities when it comes to Jews."
Viola Mohaupt-Zitfin, 53, asked if Porat felt welcome as a Jew living among Germans "considering our past and all that."
"I feel a bit like an animal in the zoo, but in reality that's what it's like being a Jew in Germany," Porat said. "You are a very interesting object to most people here."