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April 10, 2013 6:48 am

Three Cheers for ‘Jew in a Box’ for Thinking Out of the Box

avatar by Bernard Starr

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The Jewish Museum of Berlin's "Jew In a Box" exhibit.

When I first read the headline “Jew in a Box,” describing a museum exhibit, I was shocked. I immediately assumed that it must be an anti-Semitic, if not neo-Nazi, display. What a surprise to learn that the headline referred to a performance piece at the Jewish Museum in Berlin, Germany.

Each day a Jewish man or woman sits in a Plexiglas enclosure and answers visitors’ questions about Jews and Judaism. The exhibit, which makes no mention of a “box,” is actually titled “The Whole Truth….everything you always wanted to know about Jews.”

Some critics were outraged by what they considered a degrading format that evoked memories of the boxcars that transported Jews to concentration camps or the bullet-proof glass cage to which Nazi war criminal Adolph Eichmann was confined at his Jerusalem trial. Headline writers had a field day, dubbing the exhibit “Jew in a Box.” But the exhibit itself is harmless, although one might argue that its real title, “everything you always wanted to know about Jews,” trivializes its subject. That said, the men and women who answer visitors’ questions perform a serious and useful service. They provide accurate information about Jews and Judaism, as well as the historical relationship between Judaism and Christianity, to an audience that may have false and distorted notions. A museum official remarked that “A lot of our visitors don’t know any Jews and have questions they want to ask.”

This came as no surprise to me. In interviews with Christians and Jews for my book “Jesus Uncensored: Restoring the authentic Jew,” I was struck by the widespread confusion, misinformation and falsehoods about Judaism held even by educated people. If “Jew in a Box” at first seems offensive, the positive side may outweigh the negative. Had reviewers offered a literal description — “Jewish person answers questions about Jews and Judaism” — it would have drawn little notice. But headline writers dubbing the exhibit “Jew in a Box” grabbed the attention of the world media. Google shows more than 300,000 results for “Jew in a Box.” And the exhibit is a big hit: USA Today notes that it’s “getting a steady stream of visitors.”

Berlin’s Jewish Museum should be applauded for this innovative exhibit: Congratulations for thinking out of the box!

Bernard Starr is a psychologist, journalist and college professor. He is author ‘Jesus Uncensored: Restoring the Authentic Jew.’

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  • dmont

    How about “muslim on a mat”…I have a few questions of my own!

  • In the Papal vehicles used by recent Popes when exposed to multitudes, they were viewed ensconsed inside a glass box. The reason for it ? security. Don´t tell me that Jews arguing for their “raison d´etre” don´t need protection from bood-thirsty antisemites.

  • Luigi Rosolin

    I agree Bernard, history is repeating because human forget and keep making the same error of past generations.
    G-D had touch the Jews to pass on the Law and is blessing.
    The same path is for ours society, when not knowledge of war’s misery, genocide and good moral are lost disaster are sure. Our world is intrench in injustice, corruption and lost respect for others humans.
    Not all his bad as many are standing against such depredation and certainly this witness of the Jews history is even more essential.
    The Jewish are the blessed nation and G-D promises are unfolding, will not far away that after intense pain His choice one will be elevate as His blessed over all.

  • harri

    this is so despicable; don’t you GET IT; the “meme” of a Jew in a box, it is to condition the public to imprison Jews. it is a visually desensitizing event. this could have been displayed as a “jew in a living room,” a “jew in a canoe”, a “jew on a bicycle. this is an insidious meme. the germans have not changed one bit. hey, let’s see a jihadi display; oh wait, wouldn’t want to offend them, would we

    • Bernard Starr

      The press gave the exhitit the name “Jew in a Box.” In putting that spin on the exhibit it cast a meaningful and useful exhibit in a negative light. In fact if you read many of the comments in other articles it’s clear that much of the knee jerk outrage was based on the false assumption of readers that the exhibit was called “Jew in a Box,” when in fact in was titled, “”The Whole Truth…everything you always wanted to know about Jews.” We should not bow to intimidation, manipulation and spin that denigrates a fine exhibit. You could just as well give the exhibit a different spin—likening it to a confessional box. Or how about the fact that the Arc of the Covenant is a box.

    • aall55

      Why don’t everyone gets it ?
      I could not agree more with you.

  • aall55

    It sounds like you wish the whole world will now understand the Jewish faith , Jews in general , you are waiting for an approval .
    Do you really think that anti semitism lays in an irrational mind or a misunderstanding of Jews ? Maybe there is a proportion of that , but most of the time , anti semitism does not need any reason .
    You are overreaching , and some reluctance would be welcome in the fact to put a human being at the service of curious and on display like an object.
    Lift up your head and be more proud , no explanation needed.