Being Jewish in the new Germany

Chapter four of Peck’s book is entitled “Representing Jews in Germany Today.” Peck shares his own personal experiences, bringing up the point that though he would be considered Jewish in the United States, in Germany the fact that he has a Gentile mother would keep him from becoming a member of the Jewish community there, raising the question of who is and what it means to be Jewish, and how the rules differ as the context changes.

It’s undeniable that Jews in Germany occupy a completely unique position within society…they cannot escape the connection with the Holocaust, which Peck concludes makes them viewed more as statistics or research subjects than as people who, though they belong to a common group, have unique identities, experiences, feelings, and histories. I found his idea that Jews in Germany are “twice strangers” (in that they are not only Diaspora Jews, but also Jews who “live in the land of murderers”) fascinating, because not only is their position in Germany amongst the non-Jewish population ambiguous, so is their identity amongst the widespread international Jewish community.

In Germany, Jewish people are confined by not just anti-Semitic leanings, but also by stereotypes (even seemingly positive ones) that do not capture the realities of their condition and therefore limit true understanding. Specifically Peck discusses the rise of the popularity of Klezmer music amongst non-Jewish Germans, which is ironic because, as one interviewee stated, “most Jews, especially the young, do not really care for Klezmer music.” Many Klezmer musicians are in fact not even Jewish, which reminds me of the annual Karnival der Kulturen in the Berlin neighborhood of Kreuzberg, where traditional folk dances of various exotic countries, such as Brazil, were performed by Germans who possessed no ethnic connection to the respective cultures. It raises the question about whether or not it’s appropriate for ‘outsiders’ to participate in such events…does it promote intercultural exchange, or does it allow for only a superficial, temporary connection?

by Molly Donovan

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