When the media dubbed an innovative and informative exhibit at the Jewish Museum in Berlin "Jew in a Box," it drew outrage from around the globe. Jews, Jewish organizations and others rose up to condemn the exhibit, which the media likened to boxcars that transported Jews to the gas chambers and the glass cage that confined Adolph Eichmann during his genocide trial in Jerusalem. Thus, a well-intentioned exhibit became a pariah.
Was that justified?
I didn't think so and, therefore, wrote an article praising the exhibit, which actually was harmlessly titled, "The Whole Truth -- everything you ever wanted to know about Jews." In the exhibit a Jewish volunteer sits in a Plexiglas enclosure where he or she answers questions and engages in discussion with visitors. It seemed like many performance exhibits that have become popular in recent years. Nevertheless, I took a lot of heat from responses to my positive article for "not understanding," as well as much harsher judgments.
Afterwards, in examining the Google images of "the box," I began to suspect that the Plexiglas enclosure was not even a totally closed box. In one of the images I thought I detected a foot protruding outside the perimeter of the enclosure. But I couldn't be sure. So I wrote to the Jewish Museum in Berlin asking for a detailed description of "the box." I just received their response and, lo and behold, it isn't a box. The Plexiglas enclosure is wide open in the front offering an intimate setting for Q&A with the volunteer discussant of the day. It is certainly a civilized arrangement that is far removed from the grim analogies of the headline writers seeking sensationalism.
Here's the full response from Martina Ludicke, one of the three curators of the exhibit. She included a clear photo of the actual box (See photo above):
" Thank you for the link to your article! I am one of three curators of the exhibition. We are happy to see that some of the misunderstandings about the exhibition 'The Whole Truth' are being clarified in the American press. The showcase is one of over thirty in our exhibition. Each one relates to a different question. For the question 'Are there still Jews living in Germany?' we decided to invite Jewish guests: six days a week, a Jewish person is present for two hours and is available to answer questions from the public. The form is a Plexiglas, rectangular showcase, raised up on a dais. It is closed on three sides and the front is open. Inside is a wide bench on which the Jewish guest sits. So far innumerable spontaneous interactions have taken place to promote dialogue and break down stereotypes. I will attach a picture. In the showcase you can see my colleague Signe Rossbach."
Lesson: Beware of inflammatory headlines. And for journalists, three musts: fact check, fact check, fact check.