How many Jews does it take to screw in a light bulb? How do Jews hide their horns when their heads are uncovered? These are just two of the infinitely many questions that might be put to the “Jew in the Box” currently on display at the Jewish Museum in Berlin.
The controversial exhibit, whose literal title is “The Whole Truth, everything you wanted to know about Jews,” is intended to be educational, the Associated Press reports.
Through August, a live, in-the-flesh Jewish man or woman will sit inside a glass enclosure (presumably to protect visitors from exposure) for two hours a day to answer visitors’ questions about Jews and Jewish life.
“A lot of our visitors don’t know any Jews and have questions they want to ask,” museum official Tina Luedecke is quoted as saying. Yet, not everyone is happy about the format of the exhibit. Or its location: Berlin is the city where Nazis orchestrated the slaughter of 6 million Jews.
“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,” a prominent member of Berlin’s Jewish community told AP. Another, identified as an Israeli who lives in Berlin, said:
It’s a horrible thing to do — completely degrading and not helpful. The Jewish Museum absolutely missed the point if they wanted to do anything to improve the relations between Germans and Jews.
For some, the exhibit will conjure up memories of the 1961 trial of Holocaust architect Adolf Eichmann, who sat in a glass booth during questioning by an Israeli court. Ultimately, Eichmann was found guilty of crimes against humanity and executed.
Some of those who volunteered for the role of “Jew in the Box” insist the experience in not all that different from what they go through on a daily basis in a country whose Jewish population equals 1/500 of a percent of the whole. Remarks Leeor Englander:
With so few of us, you almost inevitably feel like an exhibition piece. Once you’ve been ‘outed’ as a Jew, you always have to be the expert and answer all questions regarding anything related to religion, Israel, the Holocaust and so on.
Among the ready-made questions provided by the museum are “How do you recognize a Jew?” (It appears on a placard next to an assortment of yarmulkes, black hats, and women’s hair covers.) Another asks if Jews consider themselves to be the chosen people. Yet another invites visitors to express their opinion on whether “Jews are particularly good looking, influential, intelligent, animal loving or business savvy?”
Rabbi Yehuda Teichtal of the Jewish Chabad community in Berlin said that Germans who are really interested in Jews and Judaism should visit the community’s educational center. “Here Jews will be happy to answer questions without sitting in a glass box,” he said.
But where’s the fun, not to mention humiliation, in that?
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