Names have meanings. They project the hopes, dreams, and aspirations of fathers and mothers, they follow trends, and foretell the future of their bearers. For Jews many decisions are connected to the naming of a child: should the name reveal his or her religious affiliation, only be recognizable to other Jews, or neither? Will it be a name native to the family’s country of origin or to the child’s country of birth? Has the name been translated? Does it memorialize someone? Colleagues and friends of the Jewish Museum Berlin share their thoughts with this blog, on this and other questions.
My name means “pleasant” in Hebrew, and pleasantly inconspicuous it was in North America of the mid-1970s, where I was born. Naomi ranked neither among the fashionable names like Jennifer, Amy, Melissa and Heather, nor was it as unusual as the names given to the other flower-children of my generation, such as Blossom, Charisma, Summer, or Echo.
Referring to the Biblical story of Ruth and Naomi, the name is popular among Jews. → continue reading
Youth hostel in alpine serenity
What’s the newest of the new in Jewish youth culture? To find out, I visited a machane, a Jewish summer camp, which congregated Europeans under the age of eighteen in a remote village in the Alps. Hoping to scout future Jewish ideas, themes, and memes, I had my eyes and ears open for interesting fashions, cool music, new media, games, slang, and food.
My quest was triggered by a slew of innovations brought about by the current generation. Deviators have exchanged their traditional tallitot (prayer shawls) for colorful ones with lilies and rainbows. Others have produced trip hop versions of Jewish songs, “Matzah raps,” and uploaded parodies of Biblical stories onto youtube. → continue reading
A cold wind blows tiles off of roofs and hats off of heads. The first pages of Robert Schindel’s new novel Der Kalte (The Cold One), read here by the author, are stormy. The Austrian novelist, poet and essayist born in 1944 already won over his readers with his persuasive images and poetic language in Gebürtig (Born-Where), published in 1992. Here too, the atmospheric beginning is reminiscent of the first line of the expressionist poem “Weltende” (End of the World): “From bourgeois’ pointed heads their bowlers flew, the whole atmosphere’s like full of cry” (Jakob van Hoddis).
Apocalyptic Landscape by Ludwig Meidner, 1913
© Ludwig Meidner-Archive, Jewish Museum Frankfurt-am-Main
Yet in the first scene of Schindel’s novel a world unfolds: Vienna of the Waldheim affair, from 1985 to 1989. During the 1986 Austrian election campaign, a debate ignited around the conservative candidate, Kurt Waldheim, who was indicted for war crimes. In his autobiography, he had concealed his time as a Wehrmacht-officer. Represented in the novel by the figure Johann Wais, he professes “that he had done nothing that one hundred thousand other Austrians had not done, too.” This is precisely why he functions “as an involuntary clarifying machine.” → continue reading