‘Jew in a Box’ Exhibition Causes a Stir in Germany

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Linus Lintner

The showcase box at Berlin's Jewish Museum

There are fewer than 200,000 Jews living in Germany today, out of a total population of 82 million — meaning that few Germans have any first-hand understanding of Jewish culture. But an exhibit at Berlin’s Jewish Museum that attempts to combat that lack of knowledge is causing quite a stir regardless.

The show, entitled ‘The Whole Truth,’ consists of a Jewish man or woman, seated inside a glass box, answering visitors’ questions for two hours about Jewish life and culture.

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The exhibition was inspired by the many questions left in the museum’s visitors book since 2001, which the curators stripped down to the thirty most commonly asked questions. These vary from politically incorrect questions about common Jewish stereotypes to a simple matter of wanting to know how to become a Jew.

For the Jewish Museum’s curators the point of the exhibition is to “confront various questions about Judaism and being Jewish.” Below the box a line of text reads, “Are there still Jews in Germany?”

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But reactions to the exhibition, which also includes other installations and displays, have been decidedly mixed. Speaking with the Associated Press, Stephan Kramer, a prominent figure in the Berlin Jewish community, asked, “Why don’t they give him a banana and a glass of water, turn up the heat and make the Jew feel really cozy in his glass box?” Kramer said he was approached to participate but turned the offer down. Others too have described the exhibition as “degrading” and not helpful to German-Jewish relations.

Dekel Peretz, a doctoral student in Jewish German history in Potsdam, told the Guardian that he too had been fearful of being put on show as a museum piece. However his curiosity overtook his fear:

“I’m really intrigued to find out what sort of things they ask me. In many ways my everyday life is anyway a bit like living in a box, being one of few Jewish people living in Germany – your mere presence in a pub triggers debates about the Holocaust or Middle East politics – so I wasn’t fazed about taking part.”

The exhibitors have also published e-mail exchanges from the development process for the show, which shed light on how much they wrangled over the concept. In one exchange curator Michal Friedlander asks her colleagues a powerful question: “As a historical museum we by definition show relics of the past, but does this necessarily mean that we are showing a dead culture?”

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16 comments
leinadmoolb
leinadmoolb

" I feel so reJEWvenated" said Diana Magnay at CNN. FUNNY?

DuckBeach
DuckBeach

Don't take him out -- it lowers the value.

llapis18
llapis18

To rocknsteve...I DO have a great sense of humor and putting a Jew, Catholic, Muslim, Hindu etc....is not humorous. I live in 2013 but I'm not a performer for you jeers. You don't even know my religion...do you? You just assumed. Well we know about thos who AASume.......

roknsteve
roknsteve like.author.displayName 1 Like

Pay attention: I'm not religious or tribal or primitive.  I don't care about those things because they are the cause of all the trouble on this planet.  How can you say you live in 2013 and still have these primitivs ideas?  "Don't let yesterday use up too much of today".  Will Rogers 

RogerWalters
RogerWalters

If you go to the Middle East you can see PALESTINE in tiny boxed walls too. But hurry up, before they all die on their Bantustans

randy.tischler
randy.tischler

@RogerWalters You're perpetuating a fiction... There could have been an independent Palestine for decades, IF they had accepted Israel's existence. They still don't. It's a known fact that Arabs in Israel have more freedom and education than in any Muslim country.

formerlyjames
formerlyjames like.author.displayName 1 Like

I find the concept a bit crude or offensive or something...I can't think of a word.  Docents normally  perform this task without being a human exhibit.  The country is still trying to  creep out of it's horrid war history and the subsequent sanctions, both explicit and implicit related to that history.  Redemption is not possible in my lifetime. 

 It is illegal to possess a copy of Mein Kampf, there is no mention of Hitler in the sites related to him around Munich and elsewhere.  As for a human exhibit, I think it would be more appropriate to place a fascist in a cage to answer questions.  There's no shortage of neonazis throughout Europe, even Russia, but there's no shortage in Germany either, and we have plenty of Americans who would qualify to sit in the cage.  

dekheart
dekheart

@formerlyjames the sunderland manager for instance

RussMartin
RussMartin like.author.displayName 1 Like

The exhibition is provoking just what was desired.  It is a resounding success in my opinion, because art is supposed to make the viewer think.

KasiaKamienski
KasiaKamienski

Coming from someone who is of Jewish heritage, I have been asked the most stupid questions by Western Europeans, most of all Germans and Scandinavians. Crud like, "But you don't have a big nose." "You don't look Middle Eastern" "Are you mixed, because you are blonde." "That is strange, you look Aryan." I have to explain to them that Judaism is not only an ethnic heritage but a religion as well and that some of us (like myself) trace our roots to Eastern Europe and NOT the Middle East. Even so, it is not unusual to meet blonde/red haird Palestinians/Jordanians, who, according to many geneticists, Jews are closely related. I think the joke is on the Germans because I have no doubt the "Jew in a Box" has been confronted with the same comments and questions. It is rather hilarious. Typical of a Jewish sense of humor, able to make fun of ourselves but ultimately we are making fun of the people who stereotype us terribly.

roknsteve
roknsteve

You need to join the human race.  Stop identifying as a religion etc.  This is exactly what causes all the trouble in the world.  Forget all that primitive nonsense.  We all have the same DNA, two hands, two feet etc.  If you live in the past who's gonna live in 2013?  Wake up! 

PatCollen
PatCollen like.author.displayName 1 Like

Good Lord...at least give the "Jew in the Box" a seat cushion !  Is the "Jew in the Box" available for rent as entertainment at home-parties ?

The comedy this could inspire is endless.

noahtron
noahtron like.author.displayName 1 Like

jew here. doesn't bother me at all. i think it's kinda funny! i'd certainly sit in that box and answer questions all day. ideally they should rotate jews, so as to have the broadest possible perspective on judaism.

llapis18
llapis18

Absolutely the worst exhibit I've ever seen. Whoever developed this atrocity should be ashamed. All you need is the organ grinder!!!

roknsteve
roknsteve

The next exibit will be Torah on Fire.  And after that Palestine Ghetto.  As long as people like you have no sense of humor and want to live in 100 AD and think you are martyrs forever this is your life.  Grow up, wake up, and join the year 2013.  You are not special.  

llapis18
llapis18

@roknsteve shame on you.....