What did you first think of when you read the post title? Saturday Night Live? World War II? Either way, I’m pleased to have gotten your attention. Let’s talk about Jew in a Box.
Jew in a Box is a nickname for what the Jewish Museum in Berlin is calling Die ganze Wahrheit, or The Whole Truth: a special exhibit that teaches Germans about real-life Jews, to put it bluntly. For two hours a day, a Jewish volunteer sits in a box and answers questions from museum-goers about all things Jewish. Any topic is free game, from God to Netanyahu to pork to circumcision.
A half-Jew myself, I really want to like this exhibit. And I do in many ways. I believe that direct exposure to “others” can help break down barriers and generate understanding between groups. It often just takes meeting one person to humanize an entire group and start to break down harmful stereotypes. And a forum for being open and where there are no stupid questions, well let’s just say I often wish life were like that.
I also appreciate the focus on the current experience of Jews in Germany. Germany does a whole lot to acknowledge the past, but the fact remains that most Germans today don’t have regular contact with Jews and know little about their religion and culture. Or maybe they do, and just don’t know it. Many would likely be surprised to learn that Berlin has a thriving – and growing – population of young Israelis and Jews. Experts put estimates at up to 30,000, maybe even higher since many Israelis have European passports and aren’t considered immigrants. Of course that doesn’t come close to the half a million Jews who lived in pre-war Germany, but it’s still considerable.
Negative reactions to the exhibit span from calling it “distasteful” to “degradation of the Jew.” I wouldn’t go as far to say the latter, but can understand a bit of the former. I see how the “box” analogy would make one uneasy. There’s also a fine line between being open and disrespectful, and with no filters and provocative signs surrounding the exhibit with statements like “The Jews are guilty of everything,” there’s potential for things to get offensive. But probably the biggest problem with this exhibit is that it’s somewhat reductionist. The Jews are more than a religious group- they are a diaspora, and a diverse one at that. An Orthodox Jew living in Brooklyn and a Jew from Ethiopia living as a Christian to escape persecution have less in common than I do with Oprah.
Can any one Jew really give “the whole truth”? This half-Jew isn’t sure.
– By Sophia Burton
The Whole Truth runs from March 22- September 1, 2013. The Jewish Museum is located at Lindenstraße 9-14 10969 Berlin.
Photo Source: New York Times