Think you know your Jews?


The Jew in the glass showcase answers visitors’ queries about being a Jew in modern Germany

“The Whole Truth… everything you always wanted to know about Jews” (22.3 – 1.9.2013) is a new exhibition at the Jewish Museum Berlin. The exhibition asks its visitors questions which regularly come up about Judaism. It also asks other politically incorrect and uncomfortable questions, ones which could simply confirm or challenge common clichés.

What makes food kosher? Can you ever stop being a Jew? Are all Jews religious? Can Germans criticize Israel? Is it acceptable to make jokes about the Holocaust? The focus of the exhibition is not on providing clear-cut answers, but rather on challenging visitors to think and reflect upon the questions themselves.

The thirty questions being posed engage the visitor through the juxtaposition of surprising objects, artwork, films, textual citations and, when appropriate, a touch of irony. Aviv Netter, DJ and founder of the Berlin “Meschugge-Parties,” responds to the question “Are all Jews religious?” by illustrating the expression of his Jewish identity through Berlin’s nightlife. Thomas Franz, a German amateur cook and convert to Judaism, became an overnight star in Israel when he won the reality show “MasterChef.” An Israeli-Arab nurse and an orthodox housewife took second and third places. Franz’s story will be told in connection with the question, “Does Germany have a special relationship to Israel?” In another gallery, numerous kippot, headscarves, caps, a shtreimel and other hats are suspended from the ceiling. Can one really “recognize a Jew” by the head covering that he or she wears?

Elsewhere, a sizable film installation presents rabbis from different Jewish streams currently working in Germany. Each rabbi is asked the same question about Judaism and each rabbi gives his or her own unique response. And, if you are lucky, you might even get to see a very special exhibit – a Jew in a glass showcase, to whom the visitor is welcome to address questions. The exhibition concludes with an invitation to visitors to respond to what they have seen and to contribute their own questions.

They say you can tell a man by his hat, but is the same true for Jews?

The Holocaust put pay to norms

The Swiss literary scholar Caspar Battegay correctly asserts that the Holocaust eliminated any kind of norm for dealing with Jewishness in Germany. Because of this, one has to be careful that the German interest in Judaism does not completely disappear and that Jews become reduced to “Nazi victims or Israeli villains.”

In “The Whole Truth…” visitors are challenged to reassess stereotypes and forced to think about Judaism beyond the established clichés. Visitors will ask themselves what images they have when they think about Jews. Circumcision? Israel? The past? The Holocaust? Rabbis? Superstition or religion in general? This unusual exhibition rarely provides the expected textbook answer, but challenges visitors to find answers, as well as to reconsider their own questions.

Photo Credit: Jüdisches Museum Berlin, Photo: Linus Lintner

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