Eran Levy, an Israeli who has lived in Berlin for years, was horrified by the idea of presenting a Jew as a museum piece, even if to answer Germans’ questions about Jewish life.
“It’s a horrible thing to do — completely degrading and not helpful,” he said. “The Jewish Museum absolutely missed the point if they wanted to do anything to improve the relations between Germans and Jews.”
But several of the volunteers, including both German Jews and Israelis living in Berlin, said the experience in the box is little different from what they go through as Jews living in the country that produced the Nazis.
“With so few of us, you almost inevitably feel like an exhibition piece,” volunteer Leeor Englander said. “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.”
Museum curator Miriam Goldmann, who is Jewish, believes the exhibit’s provocative “in your face” approach is the best way to overcome the emotional barriers and deal with a subject that remains painful for both Jews and non-Jews.
“We wanted to provoke, that’s true, and some people may find the show outrageous or objectionable,” Goldmann said. “But that’s fine by us.”
The provocative style is evident in other parts of the special exhibition, including some that openly raise many stereotypes of Jews widespread not only in Germany but elsewhere in Europe. One includes a placard that asks “how you recognize a Jew?” It’s next to an assortment of yarmulkes, black hats and women’s hair covers hanging from the ceiling on thin threads. Another asks if Jews consider themselves the chosen people. It includes a poem by Jewish author Leonard Fein: “How odd of God to choose the Jews. But how on earth could we refuse?”