How Are You Spending the High Holidays this Year?

Apple, mango, fig, star fruit, lemon

Apple, mango, fig, star fruit, lemon

We posed this question to employees of the Jewish Museum Berlin. Some answered  curtly, such as one colleague who “doesn’t usually do anything (aside from dipping a few pieces of apple in honey…).” Others answered indirectly via an out-of-office message which ended with “Cordial greetings and Shanah Tovah.” Here are some additional responses:

“I’m going to go to my grandmother’s for Rosh ha-Shanah, like every year. With one difference: I’m hoping that she will follow my advice this year and forget to warm up the gefilte fish before serving it, because it tastes better cold.” Alina Gromova, Academic Employee in the Fellowship Program, and Guide

Piled jars with honey

Honey, source: Pixabay, CC0 license

“Like every year, we observe erev Rosh ha-Shanah at a dinner with friends, which we sanctify by reciting various blessings. We dip apples in honey and buy rare fruit which relinquish their mysteries upon consumption. We celebrate the New Year culinarily, with new, unknown foods to discover, resulting in a kind of biology intelligence test. Unfortunately there are never any kreplach to follow because no one knows how to prepare them anymore, and the gefilte fish comes, if at all, out of a jar. Making it would take days, but worse, cooking fish gives off a smell which fills the entire house, and might drive away the neighbors, and not only the disagreeable ones… The remaining array of dishes is unspectacular. Over the next two days, some of the dinner guests attend synagogue – chosen either out of nostalgia for childhood memories, or out of liturgical interest.” Cilly Kugelmann, Program Director   continue reading


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


Trials of a Truth Seeker
(Part Two)

A showcase filled with food, seen through another showcase

Installation of the showcases for the exhibition “The Whole Truth”
© Jewish Museum Berlin, photo: Michal Friedlander

The exhibition “The Whole Truth … everything you always wanted to know about Jews” opens in a few days. The curatorial team steps back to admire the showcases and compliment one another on a job well done.

Not quite. Let me guide you through my afternoon.

13:45    After returning our food trays in the Mensa, there is a rush for the freezer box containing ice cream. Avoiding the crush, I make for the candy stand. Deliberations. I confer with my colleagues. M & Ms, Toblerone and Rittersport. Wrappers are discarded before we have even left the room.

A showcase in magenta and people on a ladder

Installation of the showcases for the exhibition “The Whole Truth”
© Jewish Museum Berlin, photo: Michal Friedlander

14:00    I scroll through the 13 page document listing the questions asked by museum visitors. The questions relate to Jews, Judaism and the Jewish Museum Berlin. Many repetitions. The list needs to be tidied up for exhibition use. A few samples:

Why are there so many Jewish museums and who pays for it all?
Are Jews normal?
Do Jews have horns?
Why do Jews think they are so special?
Why don’t all Jews live in Israel?
Why didn’t Jews defend themselves against the Nazis?
…?

Time for another sugar inhalation.  continue reading