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