“Meanwhile, the Olympic Stadium Has Become a Venue for Multi-cultural Athletic Events”

The 14th European Maccabi Games (EMG) are beginning tomorrow, 27 July 2015, in Berlin. More than 2,000 Jewish athletes from 36 countries will compete in 19 sports from football to fencing to chess. To accompany the games Tamar Lewinsky and Theresia Ziehe are producing a series of portraits with interviews, introducing a new member of the German delegation from Berlin every day here on the blog. They conducted the interviews on the grounds of the TuS Maccabi in Berlin’s Grunewald where Stephan Pramme also shot the portraits.

Alec-Ilya Pivalov (28), soccer

Young man in a room in front of a a bar with a football

Alec-Ilya (28), soccer © Jewish Museum Berlin, photo: Stephan Pramme

Alec, why are you taking part in the European Maccabi Games?

It’s a terrific athletic event where you can meet a lot of interesting people from many different countries. By now there’s also a familial atmosphere in the German delegation so it’s just really nice to have the opportunity to participate. And of course it makes you and your family proud.

In 1936, Jewish athletes weren’t permitted to participate in the Olympic Games. Does the fact that some of the competitive events will take place in Berlin’s Olympic grounds – which were built for that Olympics – play a personal role for you?

There is an ambivalence because of course I know the history of this stadium. But in the meantime I associate it with other events  continue reading


Our Top “Muscle Jews”

At the Second Zionist Conference on 28 August 1898 in Basel, Switzerland, Max Nordau dedicated a passionate speech to the subject of muscular Judaism. The doctor, publicist and co-founder of the young Zionist movement said:

Black and white photo: Boxer portrait

Herbert Sonnenfeld: Boxer portrait, Berlin 1935
© Jewish Museum Berlin, acquired through funds from the German Lottery Association Berlin

“Zionism breathes new life into Judaism. This much I am sure of. It does this morally by refreshing the ideals of the People, physically by the physical education of our offspring, who shall reestablish a bygone muscular Judaism.”

This should therefore not only replace the widespread image of the weak Jew but also support the creation of a new, physically strong “Judaism.” It didn’t take long for this to be realized: just three months following Nordau’s address, the first Jewish sports association was founded in Berlin. It was named Bar Kokhba, after the leader of Judean Jewish resistance against Rome from 132-135 ACE. In a report titled, “Muscular Judaism,” for the new association newspaper, Jüdische Turnzeitung, Nordau described it as the “last, globally historic embodiment of a battle-hardened, weapon-ready Judaism.” He called on Jews to “connect with our oldest traditions: (Then) we’ll again be broad-chested, strong armed, bold-looking men.”  continue reading


Photographic testimony: on the history of the Herbert Sonnenfeld collection

108 years ago, on 29 September 1906, in the Neukölln neighborhood of Berlin, the photographer Herbert Sonnenfeld caught his first glimpse of the light of the world.

His photographs constitute one of the largest and most important portfolios in the Jewish Museum Berlin’s photographic archive. The Sonnenfeld collection consists of some 3000 negatives taken between 1933 and 1938. Along with Abraham Pisarek and Arno Kikoler, Sonnenfeld is one of the few Jewish photographers to document Jewish life in and around Berlin in the 1930s, passing down to us today an unparalleled photographic witness to that period.

Black and white picture of an man with a camera in his hands. He looks directly at the phtographer

Herbert Sonnenfeld, photograph by Leni Sonnenfeld, Berlin ca. 1935
© Jewish Museum Berlin, purchased with funds from the Stiftung Deutsche Klassenlotterie Berlin

Herbert Sonnenfeld first worked as an insurance employee before being laid off as a result of the Nazi regime’s anti-Semitic measures. He came to photography circuitously and was an autodidact. Following a trip to Palestine in 1933, his wife Leni approached various Jewish newspapers and offered them her husband’s pictures. They were enthusiastic, promptly bought up the prints, and asked for more. Thus began Sonnenfeld’s career as a press photographer.
 continue reading