One German man asked me if Jesus was Jewish, Christian, or both, and how a Jew could be the basis for the Christian religion. I gently explained that I was not a theologian. Another, more interesting and perplexing question, came from an elderly British gentleman, who asked, if Judaism is passed through the matrilineal line, does this not lend credence to the notion that Jews are a “race” and therefore provide fodder for Hitler’s dangerous theories? One can convert to Judaism, I explained, which negates the concept of “Jewish blood.” Moreover, while the Nuremberg laws did not distinguish between an observant, Orthodox Jew with just one Jewish grandparent and an atheist, non-identifying Jew with four, Jewishness is ultimately something that one must intrinsically feel, regardless of his family background. I have friends whose only Jewish parent is their father, I ventured, yet who nonetheless identify strongly as Jewish.
Everyone who approached me seemed intrigued, or at least tickled, by my sitting in the box. That is, except for the two Israeli women who said that my sitting there reminded them of Adolf Eichmann trapped in his glass witness box in a Jerusalem court room. Initially, I too shared their skepticism, I explained, but changed my mind after viewing the exhibit and sitting in the box.
To me, the “Jew in a Box” is an ironic, meta-commentary on what it is like to live as a Jew in contemporary Germany: You feel sometimes that you are an endangered species—or, as the museum commentary puts it, “a living exhibition object.”