Photo by Seymour Gris
The current exhibition at the Jewish Museum, The Whole Truth… Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Jews, really makes me wonder what the whole point of the Jewish Museum is – other than to make non-Jewish Germans feel good – "re-Jew-venated", so to speak. The more you know about Jewish culture, the less anti-Semitic and prone to genocidal thoughts you'll be, right?
The Whole Truth is a multi-room interactive crash course, a collection of random stuff related to Jews, past and present. You might have noticed the advertising posters around town: "Jews are to blame for everything", "Jews are the chosen people".
Magenta info-boxes serve up assorted trivia. Did you know that rabbit meat was unkosher? Did you know that Bob Dylan was a Jew who became a born-again Christian? In one box you see video clips of funny Jews tackling sensitive topics – like the brilliant "survivor" scene from Curb Your Enthusiasm.
Other parts of the exhibition are odiously interactive. When did museologists decide that tactile participation is the only way to get people to think about something? Here you can give being Jewish a little test drive. On a tablet computer you can tweet your prayers to the Western Wall in Jerusalem! In another room, yarmulkes dangle from the ceiling at various heights, inviting young and old to give 'em a try!
An especially ridiculous part of the exhibition is a survey in which visitors are encouraged to vote on what they consider typical Jewish by inserting a plastic token into a plexiglas box. With your vote you complete the sentence "Jews are especially...". The choices are "business-savvy", "intelligent", "beautiful" and "caring towards animals". When my 10-year-old daughter's friend told me she didn't think Jews were especially beautiful, alarm bells went off in my head: "And what makes you think that?" I nervously asked.
"Well, they're just like us and we're not especially beautiful.They're just normal people."
Her comment perfectly illustrates the flaw of this exhibition: it tries to prod people into thinking about whether Jews are special or not. It intends to confront people with their own prejudices, but ends up just turning people's "confrontation" with Jews and Jewish culture into a superficial game.
The weirdest thing here is another magenta box which instructs you to say "Jude" (German for “Jew”) into a microphone. Once having done so, you're played back your own voice uttering "the word" and asked to ponder whether or not it "sounds the way you intended to say it". What are they driving at with this toy? To make Germans even more self-conscious than they already are about saying the word "Jew"? Is this supposed to be therapeutic?
Most international media attention has been focused on the "Jew in a box" part of the exhibition, in which you can talk to a real-life Jew! Unfortunately, when we visited he or she was taking the day off because of the Sabbath (although the Museum was open).
If, after reading this, you still feel like spending €7 to listen to yourself say Jude, vote on whether Jews are intelligent or ask a real Jew some questions, wait till May, when our music editor D. Strauss will play "Jew in a box" for a day. We'll let you know on our Facebook page and in our newsletter. It should be interesting.