Jew in a Box Exhibit is Controversial, But Not Offensive

A museum in Berlin is showcasing a new, more personal kind of art: a Jew in a box. Yes it sounds absurd and strange, but despite the controversy it has sparked, it is actually a creative way to allow people to discuss a difficult topic.

After Norway’s Tea with a Muslim campaign, what’s so strange about asking questions to a Jewish person in a museum?

These days it is easy for one to ignore the people standing in line at the grocery, bank or any public space. Creativity is needed to encourage interaction, and this exhibit does just that.

The exhibit at Berlin’s Jewish Museum is called “The Whole Truth … Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Jews” and in addition to the “Jew in a Box” there are interviews with rabbis and excerpts of Curb Your Enthusiasm and even a handwritten sign from a New York restaurant that reads “THE CHINESE RESTAURANT ASSOCIATION OF THE UNITED STATES WOULD LIKE TO EXTEND OUR THANKS TO THE JEWISH PEOPLE. WE DO NOT COMPLETELY UNDERSTAND YOUR CUSTOMS… BUT WE ARE PROUD AND GRATEFUL THAT YOUR GOD INSISTS YOU EAT OUR FOOD ON CHRISTMAS.”

The New Yorker describes Connecticut native, Bill Glucroft’s experience of serving as the “Jew in a box.”

As he said, “When I heard I was going in the box, the first thing I thought of was Eichmann,” said Glucroft. “The next thing I thought of was Justin Timberlake.”

“Most Germans don’t know any Jews,” he added. “As a young twenty-first-century Jew, I don’t want to be defined solely by the Holocaust.”

The museum’s curator, Michal Friedlander an American-born German Jew hopes that “The Whole Truth” will help Germans challenge anti-Semitic beliefs.

In the New York Times, Friedlander said most of those who criticized the show had not actually seen it. “That’s the whole point, what’s appropriate and what’s inappropriate and letting people come to their own conclusions.”

The museum defended the exhibit in a CNN video blog. 

For at least some young Germans, the exhibit proves intriguing. As Carola Jaeckel, President of a student group of the German-Israeli Society in Bamberg said, "The exhibition works with prejudices and cliches."

Though she was disappointed by the fact that it does not go into detail, she added that, "Cliches enable an easy access to a sensitive subject such as Judaism, Antisemitism and the Holocaust for those who have not been in touch with Jews and Jewish life yet," and she plans to visit the exhibit next week.

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Lakshmi Sarah

Born and raised in California, Lakshmi is an educator and journalist. With roots in Kochi, Prague and San Francisco she divides her time between the places she feels at home. Over the past few years, Lakshmi has worked with newspapers and magazines from Gaborone, Botswana to Los Angeles, California. Lakshmi has several years of experience working with the National Student Leadership Conference. In 2009 and 2010 she directed the NSLC program on Journalism & Mass Communication at American University in Washington, DC. She is a graduate of Pitzer College in California where she studied Global Communications and Studio Arts. She is currently pursuing her Master's in Journalism, Media and Gobalization in Aarhus, Denmark.

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