Auf den Spuren jüdischen Lebens: Complaints

Since I last posted (a million years ago, it seems) I moved and then had no internet for 2 weeks. I also made what might be some progress on my research paper.

As a return to writing, I offer a complaint. This is directed towards my course at Humboldt University entitled “Auf den Spuren jüdischen Lebens in Berlin-Mitte” (Tracing Jewish Life in Berlin-Mitte). The title of the course, as you can see, refers explicitly to the neighborhood of Mitte, and to its specific Jewish history. Mitte has a very rich Jewish history, making it an appropriate subject for a university class (one, which incidentally, meets in Mitte).

However, the class is, in my opinion, far too focused on a general history of Jewish life in Berlin, as well as on basic facts about Jewish customs, anti-Semitism, etc. While these themes are also important, they go too far beyond the stated scope of the course. This gives the impression that anything deemed “Jewish” is relevant. The specific history of the development of Jewish life in Berlin-Mitte is compromised.

I very much doubt that a course focusing on the history of Christian life in Berlin-Mitte would include activities such as “meet real-life Christians,” or approach the topic as a generally disorganized grab-bag of interesting Christian-related things, starting with the arrival of Christians in Berlin and awkwardly and not thoroughly moving into the present day (but not even the present day, as one easily forgets that there is a living Jewish community in Berlin).

This course does not question WHY there are so few Jewish sites in the present cityscape. It does not question why we can see what we can, while other sites remain absent or completely unknown. For a class that is interested in traces it annoys me that the history of specific spaces is being ignored. Rather than asking difficult questions, which would force one to confront the reality of absence, Jewish life in Berlin-Mitte is presented as something archaic, authentic, and unproblematic. I often get the impression that by expressing interest in “Jewish themes” many Germans think they deserve a pat on the back.

After asking questions like “Do the Jews do it like us?” – it referring to anything from burial customs or singing in the synagogue and us referring to German Christians (and the assumption that everyone in the class is one) – many then ask “how should we even commemorate Jewish life?” I think by not always saying “The Jews” like they’re some monolithic, mythological group would be a good start.

I am disturbed by the fact that this course seems to be bearing the weight for all of Jewish studies at Humboldt University. It is clear that the Theology students, or the Religious Studies students know nothing about Judaism or the history of Jews in Europe. Their education, is seems, as revolved around the Holocaust. That so many seem to be learning for the first time that Jewish life was once very rich and active in Germany makes me sad. This course should not bear the brunt of someone’s burgeoning fascination for Jewish themes. Reviewing the origins of Zionism, for example, should be done during a time other than 4:15 to 5:45 on Wednesdays. Or else the course should be re-titled: “Random things about Jewish History and Belief for Beginners.”