In the Showcase

With a flip of a wrist, showcases turn arbitrary objects into works of art. Now, I can find out what it will do to a human being. I am sitting in a transparent case which is part of the current special exhibition “The Whole Truth… everything you always wanted to know about Jews.” The visitors pass by, and we observe each other. Many read the text on the wall, throw me a look and hurry away.

A woman behind glass, in the background visitors of the exhibition

Olga Mannheimer as a guest in the “Whole Truth” exhibition
© photo: Ernst Fesseler, Jewish Museum Berlin

Some stop, but keep a safe distance. I clear my throat, smile invitingly, and motion to the button on my blouse: “Ask me, I’m Jewish.” I qualified for this position, as I learned from a speech at the opening of the exhibition, by claiming to be able to tell the “whole truth” about Jews. Will anyone ask me to? The distance gradually shortens. One man wants to know what the object label on the case-window says – he does not have his reading-glasses with him. “Species: Diaspora Jew, Sub-species: Eastern European Jew, Variant: Banana Jew.” Thank you, says the man, and leaves quickly. “Banana Jew? Never heard of it,” says a woman. That was the term for Jews in Poland, I explain, who received citrus fruits and bananas from their relatives in the West.

Hesitantly, more people join the bystanders in front of my showcase. “Are you allowed to bring flowers to a seder?” “Can you sew a foreskin back on?”  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

“Ask the Rabbi”

Are we allowed to drive a car to synagogue services on Shabbat? If my father is Jewish and my mother is Christian, what am I? Can an uncircumcised man be Jewish?

Collage of portraits of seven rabbis

Seven rabbis (left to right): Joshua Spinner, Irith Shillor, Daniel Katz, Julien-Chaim Soussan, Jonah Sievers, Avichai Apel, Gábor Lengyl
© Jewish Museum Berlin, photos: Thomas Valentin Harb

The new special exhibition, “The Whole Truth… everything you always wanted to know about Jews,” deals with common as well as uncommon questions about Judaism. We put some of these questions to seven rabbis and filmed their responses. All of them serve in Germany and represent a wide spectrum of religious belief: orthodox, liberal, conservative, progressive.

Inspired by research done on a number of Internet forums with names like “Ask the Rabbi,” “Askmoses,” and “Dear Rabbi,” in which rabbis from all over the world answer questions on how to handle religious law in everyday life, we organized the shooting of this film  continue reading