On belonging and family debates: a conversation about a circumcision that didn’t happen

Baby practising the sign of priesterly blessing

Circumsized or not, he is already practising … © private

Signe and Darrell have been together a long time. They met in the USA, have shared an apartment in Berlin for nearly 15 years, and now have two daughters and a son together. Signe’s family is Jewish American on the mother’s side, German Protestant on the father’s. Darrell is 100 % North American – in his family, you can find just about everything: Puritan pastors, Unitarian ministers, Mormons, Catholic liberation theologians, liberal Muslims, secular Jews. I talked with the two of them about circumcision and the role that Jewish tradition has played in raising their children.

You first had a daughter, then twins. One of the twins is a boy. Did you think a lot about the question of whether to circumcise your son while you were pregnant?
Signe: When I found out that one of the twins was going to be a boy, my first thought was  continue reading


After the exhibition is before the exhibition

A wall full of questions at the exhibition "The whole truth" © Jewish Museum Berlin, photo: Thomas Valentin Harb

A wall full of questions at the exhibition “The whole truth” © Jewish Museum Berlin, photo: Thomas Valentin Harb

The special exhibition entitled “The whole truth… everything you always wanted to know about Jews” ended more than a year ago. Besides the animated discussions and empty display cases, there are thousands of pink post-it notes left over. Visitors stuck their questions, commentary, and impressions on a concrete wall after they went through the exhibition and left the museum. A kind of analog “facebook” arose out of these contributions, above and beyond the contents of the exhibition itself. Visitors commented on each others’ notes and raised new questions: on the history of Jews in Germany, on the conflict in the Middle East, on the relationship between Christianity and Judaism, and – again and again – on the subject of circumcision. At this point, the Jewish Museum Berlin had already decided to dedicate not just another blog post to the contentious topic (as part of the series “Question of the month”), but an entire new exhibition.

We recall:  continue reading


From Wagner to the Weather

My Two Hours as a Living Exhibition Object in the Show “The Whole Truth

This was a truly extraordinary experience. The best moments were when the visitors started talking not just to me but to each other, and we wound up talking about Wagner and the weather rather than ‘just’ about growing up Jewish – or, more specifically, in my case as the daughter of a Jewish-American mother and a German, (formerly) Protestant father – in Germany and how odd it was to be sitting in a glass showcase in an exhibition.

A woman sitting on a bench in a vitreous showcase open at the front

Signe Rossbach in the exhibition “The Whole Truth”, April 8, 2013
© Jewish Museum Berlin, photo: Michal Friedlander

I was reminded of the moment in 1998 when I returned to Germany from the U.S. (although I did not want to see it that way at the time). The German publisher I was working for in New York had just been appointed State Minister of Culture by Gerhard Schröder, and I continued working for him in the Federal Chancellery, first in Bonn, then in Berlin. Back in New York, an editor at Henry Holt said to me: “Well, well, isn’t that a great job for a good little Jewish girl, working in the German government?” I thought about it, and said: “Exactly.”

So, I guess this was what brought me to sit in a glass showcase in a show at the Jewish Museum Berlin, where I have been working for twelve years now, on a seemingly quiet Monday afternoon. In my two hours of being a living exhibition object, I …  continue reading