Searching for the New Germans

A Visit to the Academy’s Reading Room

Why do we keep books like Muslime im säkularen Rechtsstaat (Muslims in Secular Rule of Law), Diaspora Identities, or z.B. 650 Jahre Rixdorf (E.g. 650 Years of Rixdorf) at the Jewish Museum? Answering this question is the task of the Academy Programs on Migration and Diversity. How to find these books, however, falls to the library.

A reading room visitor gets advice from the librarian at the information desk.

Reading room of the Jewish Museum Berlin’s library
© Jewish Museum Berlin, photo: Mirjam Bitter

Imagine that you want to learn about social structures, clubs, and immigrant biographies in Berlin, particularly in Kreuzberg, to which you yourself moved from Hesse two years ago. After visiting the museum one fine Sunday afternoon, you take a look at the new Academy, where, you heard, a friend of yours recently attended an event about the ‘new Germans.’ The Academy is closed on the weekend, but a museum host informs you that it has a library. You return on Monday and ask in the reading room about Turks in Kreuzberg. The librarian would love just to tell you, “second shelf on the left, all the way to the back – what you’re looking for is right there.” Unfortunately, it’s not quite that simple.  continue reading

Lolek and Bolek

Photograph from World War II for which the sellers reckon to get about 3000 euros

Photograph from World War II. The sellers priced it at 3000 euros.

The financial crisis of 2007 had an impact both on the countries of Western and Eastern Europe. The złoty may still glitter but it has long since ceased to be the “golden coin” Polish currency was originally named for. Unemployment and stagnant economic growth, rising real estate prices and declining purchasing power have put the brake on Poland’s economic recovery. The Netherlands has likewise been in recession for years. Declining competitiveness, private debts, state-subsidized home ownership, the low retirement age and the expensive health care system have fed uncertainty and repeatedly paved the path to success for the Freedom Party of the populist xenophobe Geert Wilders.

Two pages of a letter in Polish language

The Polish letter of offer as we received it.

This downward spiral in state treasury and personal funds led a couple of Polish resp. Dutch wheeler-dealers to scrape the barrel for a bilateral business model. Crafty Dariusz Woźniok and his fly-by-night Dutch client somehow managed to get their hands on infantrymen’s photos from the Second World War—whether as thieves or buyers it is impossible to say. Maybe they were embittered by the fact that no share in the tidy profits made from material goods ever came their way, from the export of Polish geese, strawberries, potatoes and beetroot, for example, or of Dutch cheese and tulips. Maybe they hatched their business plan in an Amsterdam coffee shop and had simply smoked one hash pipe too many. Whatever the case, they figured: “It was a sure bet that snapshots of ghettos and so-called ‘Jewish actions’ in early 1940s Poland could be sold off as ‘Holocaust-ware’ to Jewish Museums—so why not make the most of an historic windfall?”  continue reading

From the Theory to the Practice of Writing the Torah

An Interview with Rabbi Reuven Yaacobov

Miriam Goldmann: How do you train a Torah scribe, a sofer?

Reuven Yaacobov: A sofer must first spend a few years studying at an Orthodox school, a yeshiva, where it is established whether or not he is devout enough for this role. Then he learns how to write a Torah. First, he studies the theory. There are rules ordaining who is allowed to write the five books of Moses, the Sefer Torah. For example, only men, not women, are permitted to write the Torah. Furthermore, the person in question must be an Orthodox Jew and lead an Orthodox life. Then there are rules determining which support a Sefer Torah should be written on, and precisely how it should be written.

You can watch a short video with Torah scribe Reuven Yaacobov here.

Once the sofer knows the theory, he begins to learn the letters that are used to write the Torah. A certain sequence of strokes must be followed to write each letter correctly. After learning this calligraphy the sofer starts on a Megillat Esther (Hebrew: Scroll of Esther) because this is the easiest of all the holy texts to write. After completing the Megillat he writes the texts of mezuzah and tefillin. If by then his calligraphy has become highly accomplished, he begins to write a Sefer Torah. According to Jewish tradition, a Sefer Torah must be written in the most beautiful calligraphy possible and in the best and most aesthetic way.  continue reading