Forgotten Women Artists

An Appeal for Recognition and Dignity

“We used to throw stones at her – we thought she was a witch.” With these words, a former resident of Rishon LeZion ruefully told me of her childhood encounters with the sculptor and doll maker, Edith Samuel. Edith wore her long, dark, European skirts under the searing Middle Eastern sun and suffered from a physical deformity. The daughter of a liberal German rabbi, Edith and her sister Eva were both artists who left their home city of Essen in the 1930s and immigrated to Palestine.

photo of a pottery wheel and other equipment

The pottery wheel belonging to Paula Ahronson, Eva Samuel’s business partner, is preserved in private hands and untouched since her death in 1998
© Jewish Museum Berlin, photo: Michal Friedlander

The Samuel sisters worked long hours, struggled to earn a living and did not gain the recognition that they deserved, during their lifetimes. The exhibition “Tonalities” at the Jewish Museum Berlin aims to bring forgotten women artists back into the public arena. It presents Eva Samuel’s works and that of other women ceramicists who were forced to leave Germany after 1933.

My search for transplanted German, Jewish women in the applied arts began many years prior to my encounter with the Samuel sisters. It was Emmy Roth who first captured my attention. Born in 1885, Roth was an exceptionally talented and internationally successful silversmith, who worked in Berlin. She immigrated to Palestine and fell into obscurity, ultimately taking her own life in 1942. Her male refugee colleagues, Ludwig Wolpert and David Gumbel, were appointed to teach metalwork at the Jerusalem New Bezalel School of Art in the late 1930s. They are feted in Israel today, whereas Roth is still completely unknown there.  continue reading


Question of the Month:

“How does a kippah stay on?”

Our current special exhibition “The Whole Truth… everything you always wanted to know about Jews” is based on 30 questions posed to the Jewish Museum Berlin or its staff over the past few years. In the exhibition, visitors have their own opportunity to ask questions or to leave comments on post-it notes. Some of these questions will be answered here in our blog. This month’s question is: “How does a kippah stay on?”

Post-it note in pink: "Wie hält die Kippa auf dem Kopf? - mit einer Haarspange" (How does a kippah stay on? - with a hair clip))

“How does a kippah stay on?”
© photo: Anina Falasca, Jewish Museum Berlin

If a non-Jew tries on a kippah, it usually falls off. This isn’t fair, but let’s examine the circumstances more closely. When tourists visit the Jewish cemetery in Prague, all men are asked to wear a kippah. Those who travel kippah-free are requested to don a blue, sharply-creased, circular piece of paper. The precarious kippah is inevitably subjected to the winds off the Vltava and flutters away. Comparably, a non-Jewish man attending a synagogue ceremony such as a marriage or Bar Mitzvah, will usually be requested to wear a kippah. Here, a stiff yet slippery synthetic satin kippah is ubiquitous. No guest stands a chance.

What then is the secret to making a kippah stay on?  continue reading


Trials of a Truth Seeker
(Part Two)

A showcase filled with food, seen through another showcase

Installation of the showcases for the exhibition “The Whole Truth”
© Jewish Museum Berlin, photo: Michal Friedlander

The exhibition “The Whole Truth … everything you always wanted to know about Jews” opens in a few days. The curatorial team steps back to admire the showcases and compliment one another on a job well done.

Not quite. Let me guide you through my afternoon.

13:45    After returning our food trays in the Mensa, there is a rush for the freezer box containing ice cream. Avoiding the crush, I make for the candy stand. Deliberations. I confer with my colleagues. M & Ms, Toblerone and Rittersport. Wrappers are discarded before we have even left the room.

A showcase in magenta and people on a ladder

Installation of the showcases for the exhibition “The Whole Truth”
© Jewish Museum Berlin, photo: Michal Friedlander

14:00    I scroll through the 13 page document listing the questions asked by museum visitors. The questions relate to Jews, Judaism and the Jewish Museum Berlin. Many repetitions. The list needs to be tidied up for exhibition use. A few samples:

Why are there so many Jewish museums and who pays for it all?
Are Jews normal?
Do Jews have horns?
Why do Jews think they are so special?
Why don’t all Jews live in Israel?
Why didn’t Jews defend themselves against the Nazis?
…?

Time for another sugar inhalation.  continue reading