The Schmooze

Jew in a Box?

What does it mean to reduce the contemporary Jewish experience to a series of quotes, objects and stereotypes, and to conclude an exhibit by placing a live human in a glass box to answer the questions of museum-goers? On March 22, Jews gathered across the world to observe the start of the Passover holiday, recalling our central narrative of what it means to move from slavery to liberation. On the same day, the Jewish Museum Berlin opened an exhibition promising to “showcase Jews,” hoping to create a space for dialogue. The show, entitled “The Whole Truth…everything you always wanted to know about Jews,” runs through September 1, 2013. The timing of this exhibition takes on a new level of irony ⎯ liberation seems to have taken holiday in Germany!

How is this exhibition at the Jewish Museum Berlin different from all other exhibitions about Jews? Promotion for the exhibit included an illustrated trailer beginning with the moment of conception asking, “What makes someone a Jew?” thus framing the entire exhibition from a biological or racial perspective. A few moments later, a series of changing faces further illuminate the point, asking, “How do you recognize a Jew?” In keeping with centuries of tradition regarding Jewish caricatures, viewers will be astonished to realize the nose is the only thing that does not change with each face and grows larger towards the end of the digital mash-up.

As visitors walk though “The Whole Truth” exhibit, a vote is cast using coins to determine if Jews are “good at business,” “smart,” “good looking” or “animal lovers.” The votes are tallied and displayed at the conclusion of the walkthrough. For the finale, you cannot miss the most controversial inclusion of all — a Jew in a box. Yes, that’s right, an installation in which German Jews sit in a glass box to answer questions posed by curious onlookers.

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Jew in a Box?

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