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.
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Tomorrow evening, 9 September 2014, the cultural anthropologist Alina Gromova will present her book “Generation ‘kosher light’” (transcript Verlag 2013) in the Academy of the Jewish Museum Berlin. As in the case of the many other authors whose “New German Stories” we recently discussed, we put three questions to Ms. Gromova prior to her reading:
Alina Gromova © Judith Metze
Alina, for your study of an international group of young Jews in Berlin you took the city itself as your springboard. Exploring the locations where your subjects live, hang out, mingle and party enabled you to chart their diverse notions of identity, tradition and religion. Why did you opt for such an explicitly spatial focus?
Identity and tradition are terms often difficult to grasp, because they are interwoven with symbols, values, wishful thinking or memories. A space, however, has not only a symbolic but also a physical dimension and is therefore more palpable. Personally, I don’t see a space as a 3-D void waiting to be filled by people or things. On the contrary, people and things are what create a space in the first place. And urban space is especially fascinating, I find, because a broad cultural and religious spectrum often occupies one and the same spot, however tiny; and different elements simultaneously give rise there to their own spaces, so the result is a palimpsest of spaces that then interconnect.
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When I first heard that the Jewish congregation of Pinneberg is giving “church asylum” to a Muslim, I had to chuckle. The article about it in the online magazine Migazin put the words “church asylum” in quotation marks and used a picture of the dome of the synagogue on Berlin’s Oranienburger Straße – making the linking together of the three monotheistic religions appear intentional.
But now I heard from a friend that there’s a film about the Kiddush asylum at the Pinneberg congregation for a man from the Sudan, and I had to wonder why “church asylum” isn’t “synagogue asylum”.
The Kiddush is a blessing spoken over a goblet of wine at the beginning of a holy day, in order to sanctify the day. Church asylum, as I learned from the film, is actually about a sacred room that protects people who are under threat. The Jewish congregation in Pinneberg has one such room. And it is encouraging to hear – as the head of the congregation explains in the film – why they are using this space to protect a person, at least temporarily, from persecution.
Rosa Fava, director of the “Diversity in Schools” project