Everything you wanted to know about Jews… but were too afraid to ask
From the get-go, you can tell that this is going to be a temporary exhibition with a sense of humour. The Jewish Museum at Hohenems, Austria has named it’s current temporary exhibition in honour of the Woody Allen film “Everything you ever wanted to know about sex *but were too afraid to ask”, and the wit and wisdom of Woody Allen is woven throughout.
The basic idea of the exhibition is to address the major questions and misconceptions about Jews and Judaism, but as tongue-in-cheek as possible. They tread well the fine line between being jovial, without making fun of the visitor (some questions are quite whimsical, others less so). Questions included: “Do all Jews have big noses?” - “after investigating this for the past 54 years, I have only been able to conclude is that all Jews have noses” (Sandor Gilman) - ”Do Jews have a historical right to Israel?”, and “Is it OK to make jokes about the Holocaust?” - “Only if they are *really* funny” (Vienna’s Head Rabbi Chaim Eisenberg). Each question is then addressed using a series of quotes from different people (I say addressed, as there was not a single yes or no answer in the whole exhibition).
The perfect example perhaps of the humour and disarming way in which the exhibition functions was the questions “Is it OK to say ‘Jew’?”, relating to a certain squeamishness in German to say “Jude”. The visitor is presented with a microphone and asked to speak the word into it. After a 3 second pause, what you said is played back to you and you are asked to decide if ‘you really meant it like that’. This is presented on one side of an A-frame, the other side has quotes which then highlight different aspects, attitudes and sensibilities.
As well as quotes and anecdotes, there are also artistic interpretations and responses to some of the questions (incl. Harley Swedler, naked in a field singing Edelweiß and a build-your-own-Auschwitz lego set). For a photoset of objects from the exhibition, see Die Presse’s.
For a small exhibition, it certainly makes an impression. One particularly nice aspect is that at the end, the visitor is given the chance to submit questions (that they have never dared ask) and they will be answered via a blog. Some of the questions and answers are in English, but most are in German. However, the curators who answer the questions do so in plain language, offering links to more in depth information if needs be. It’s a simple, but incredibly effective method. It’s also possible to establish the questions that are asked by children. Responding perhaps to the handwriting of the questioner, the curators tailor their language accordingly.