The 18th World Congress of Jewish Studies

Taxidermied Jews? History, Present, and Future of the Jewish Museums

I will present core issues and discussions relating to the exhibition and publication project “Taxidermied Jews? History, Present, and Future of the Jewish Museums” which I am presently working on with Hannes Sulzenbacher for the Jewish Museum Hohenems, in cooperation with the Saxon State Collections of Ethnography Leipzig, Dresden, and Herrnhut.

I will wrap up the project that will contribute to a central discourse within the world of “Jewish” museums. With inquiries into “the past” (the foundations around 1900 and around 1980 until 2001), “the present times,” and “the futures,” the fundamental rupture in the history of the Jewish museums and their agents, the radical change in these institutions’ sociopolitical tasks, their struggle to position themselves, and, in some cases, their insistence on omitting become visible. Today, the self-definition of most Jewish museums is ambivalent and vague. It’s vital to raise questions regarding the future: Will the notion and institution “Jewish Museum” become obsolete? Will collecting continue, and what will be collected? For whom will be worked and with whom? On whose behalf do public Jewish museums work? How polyphonous must they become to persist? And what will (can) still be specifically Jewish about them altogether?

Only few Jewish museums increasingly approach “other others” like “Jewish others.” To them, Jewish history and experience serve as a template for other minority histories and experiences. In this process, also Jewish history and Jewish religion are universalized and homogenized. Will this be the adequate way to approach the future?