04 April 2013

Mannequin Judaism

Thank you to Lucy Taub for bringing this exhibit to my attention - through this article  (I also read this article from the JTA newsfeed from Salon.com.)

Briefly, the Jewish Museum in Berlin (also known as the Liebeskind Museum, after the architect who designed it) has set up a temporary exhibit (through September 1, 2013), in which volunteers, who are Jewish, are asked to sit in a three-sided plastic box for two hours to answer questions from museum patrons.  The display is part of a larger exhibit called "THE WHOLE TRUTH... everything you always wanted to know about Jews".

As I said to Lucy, Berlin is an edgy place, and this kind of in your face exhibit is not a surprise.  The museum itself, and its striking architecture, are a physical symbol of how Berlin has chosen to confront its past, and think about its Jewish community.

I take the Confirmation class to Berlin (and will be at the Museum next Tuesday, where I will see the exhibit) to not only see the location of Nazi capital, but also to learn about its Reform tradition, the current Jewish population, as well as to experience how Germans today relate to their Jewish history.  Most of the Germans we meet are affiliated with tourism, so the population is a bit skewed.  Our non-Jewish German guides have talked about what happened to the "German Jews" - identifying them as fellow citizens.  This commonality is different from what we have seen in Poland, where Pole and Jew are still seen as different nationality.  Our Jewish guide last year thought it was much better to be Jewish in Germany, where anti-Semitism is illegal, than to live in the United States, where anyone can say anything about anyone.

Finally (until I see the exhibit next week), I think this exhibit brings into focus one of the issues that challenges our students on the trip.  In the Jewish museum in Krakow (Kazimierz, acutally), there used to be a mannequin dressed in a black coat and streimel - a typical Jew.  It strikes me that Jews have become a diorama - you can't see a real Jew, but here's what they used to look like.  I saw the parallel when we visited the local museum in Michelle's home town of Yreka, CA and saw the diorama of the native Americans and wondered how the tribe living on the reservation just outside of town felt about their historic preservation.  It is uncomfortably like the Nazi idea of creating a museum to the lost race in Prague.

Perhaps by bringing the ideal of museum Jewry into contrast with real, living German Jews, this exhibit will bring us out of the box.