Conversion and Controversy

Why a particular subject captures the interest of the public at a given time is not always immediately apparent. Conversion, for instance, has become the topic of conferences, lectures and exhibits in German-speaking Europe without any notable change in its social significance nor religious practice.

Picture iMarilyn Monroe on the cover of the Modern Screen Magazine

Picture in the current special exhibition “The Whole Truth” accompanying the question: Jew or non-Jew? Marilyn Monroe on the cover of the Modern Screen Magazine, November 1956
© Jewish Museum Berlin, photo: Jens Ziehe

The number of converts to Judaism is invariably small. According to the data collected by the Zentralwohlfahrtsstelle der Juden in Deutschland, on average 64 conversions are carried out yearly in the various German-Jewish communities, and since the year 2000, the number has remained fairly stable. Nor has the size of the Jewish communities varied much. For over a decade, the number of members has stabilized at around 105.000. In relation to the size of the community, the total number of converts since 1990, 1.366, makes up under one percent of the Jewish community. The number of Jews leaving the communities is slightly higher, around one hundred a year, yet the number is not particularly meaningful, because it includes people who leave for all sorts of reasons, including financial. By all accounts, today’s Jewish converts are a minute and exotic minority.

Yet the topic is currently being discussed with much enthusiasm.  continue reading


My First Business Trip as a Museum Assistant

This year, the national museum assistant convention of the German Museums Association took place from March 1 to 3 in Frankfurt-am-Main, and the theme was “Museum today: ideals, trends, and perspectives.” The convention offered academic trainees from federal German museums and memorials an extensive array of lectures, excursions, and workshops. Along with all the other museum assistants, I was impressed by the diversity of events. The Historical Museum served as a set starting point, having put nearly its entire premises at the disposal of the convention.

A woman standing in front of the mural "Let my people go!"

Sabine Kößling in front of the remodeled mural at the Jewish Museum Frankfurt
© photo: Michaela Roßberg, Jewish Museum Berlin

On the day of our arrival, there was already a chance to take a tour through one of the many museums on the embankment of the Main. I visited the Jewish Museum Frankfurt, where our group was guided by Sabine Kößling, a former museum assistant at the Jewish Museum Berlin. She told us about the planned conception of the permanent exhibition, which originates largely from 1988, the year that the museum was founded. The reworking of the exhibition is being done in stages, so that the entire museum won’t need to be closed to visitors until 2014. The section on “Festivals and feast days – religious life”, for example, was being augmented with a large mural depicting the story of Moses and the Pharaoh.

The second day featured a number of workshops. I participated first in one called “Provenance research is power: arm yourself.”  continue reading


Lemon and Almond Cake

LemonThe Jewish Museum Berlin Academy was inaugurated last month under the auspices of 12th century scholar Moses Maimonides and his dictum: “Hear the truth, whoever speaks it.” The significance of this quote was discussed over a Majorcan lemon and almond cake, the recipe of which dates back to the middle ages and is a part of Jewish patisserie culture, to which Maimonides is known to have been more than partial.  continue reading