Preparing for Marriage and Minding the Past

interior view of a barn, prepared for wedding guests

The wedding barn decorated with lights and flowers
© Chuck Fishman

With young adults spending an increasing number of years out of wedlock, preparation for marriage is ever more elaborate: Bachelor and bachelorette parties in North America are notorious for distracting brides- and grooms-to-be with alcohol and promiscuity. Celebrations of a similar nature are called stag and hen nights in England. In traditional German circles, friends and relatives of wedding couples smash dishes on so-called Polterabend (English: rowdy evening). In modern ones, the couple and their friends careen through city streets with flashy paraphernalia, printed t-shirts, and plastic trumpets.

Currently, a group of young Jews in the US are adapting an eastern European pre-marriage tradition, called tisch (Yiddish: table, short for chosson’s tisch, or groom’s table).  continue reading


Joyful and Yet Threatening:

Why Lilith Fascinates Our Visitors

View of our permanent exhibition © Jewish Museum Berlin, photo: Jens Ziehe

View of our permanent exhibition
© Jewish Museum Berlin, photo: Jens Ziehe

One of the tours of the permanent exhibition that I offer regularly is on the subject of women in Judaism. Visitors interested in this topic are usually women’s groups and people already familiar with the essentials of Judaism and Jewish history. I enjoy the lively discussions I have with participants of this tour. When we talk about the life of Glikl of Hameln, Dorothea Schlegel, Albertine Mendelssohn-Bartholdy, and Else Lasker-Schüler, or about Lilith and Eve, we’re also discussing women’s rights – and that means our own rights!

People have heard a wide variety of things about Lilith: “Doesn’t she appear in Goethe’s Faust?” “Lilith is important for fortune telling with cards.” “Adam’s first wife, before Eve.” Some think of Lilith as a threatening ghostly figure, and others named their daughter after her, since she also represents self-determination, independence, unbridled ferocity, and joyous sensuality. Her model of life contrasts with the traditional image of women – in fact, she is Eve’s foil. No wonder that the name Lilith is known above all in feminist circles.  continue reading


Israeli Pop Culture in the Hessian Countryside

When German friends of mine choose to move from Darmstadt, in Hesse, into the surrounding countryside, I shake my head in disbelief. That an Israeli family would leave Tel Aviv not, as many Israelis do, to move to Berlin (see the German-language blog post offering ten tips for Israelis in Berlin), but rather to the tiny Hessian town of Niederbrechen, seems audacious, if not outright absurd. This scenario, however, is the starting point of Sarah Diehl’s debut novel Eskimo Limon 9. The novel depicts a “very particular kind of culture clash,” as the book’s flap announces.

Book cover © Atrium publishers

Book cover
© Atrium publishers

Some of the characters are Israelis, and they have little interest in discussing Germany’s past or the history of European Jews.

“The only thing in the Jewish Museum that will remind me of home will probably be the metal detector you have to go through at the entrance.”

The novel’s Israeli father Chen wishes Germans “would associate us with Eskimo Limon instead of six million dead.” The title of the book refers to a film series of the same name, which aired in Germany in the 1980s as Eis am Stil (Popsicle), “one of the few Israeli pop culture phenomena […] familiar to German audiences.” Many assume that the series is Italian, which—as the author of the novel argues—shows how selective Germans’ perception of Israel can be, and how limited their idea of Jewishness often is.

Other characters are natives of Niederbrechen.  continue reading