Here are two postcards from a project I’ve mentioned before, Rent a Jew:“You never forget your first”
According to its website, Rent a Jew “provides speakers to educational institutions or groups, for school classes, adult education courses, religious communities, student groups or cultural associations. In reaching out to non-Jews, we aim to provide the opportunity to socialize with the Jewish community and break down prejudices in the process. The focus of our encounters is to introduce real people and promote dialogue about the current Jewish life.”
The provocative nature of their name and postcards is thus intentional. The postcards play with various stereotypes. The first card depicts the Jew as a turtle — self-protective with its shell, even looks like a wrinkled old Jewish man — and the non-Jewish German as a dog — aggressive and territorial, hearkening also to Nazi-era themes. The sexual innuendo of the second card alludes to the fact that some Germans find Jews and/or Israelis particularly attractive or desirable, an interest that has historical roots, similar in ways to the attraction many white Americans might feel for blacks. Given the terrifying resurgence of anti-Jewish attitudes and behavior in much of Europe, perhaps such an outrageous approach to dialogue isn’t the worst thing, though I have no idea whether these encounters succeed in their goal.
Speaking of sex, I took a long shabbat walk today, trying to find a bookstore that a friend in New York told me a friend of his had just opened here. (Don’t worry, I will make the connection clear in a second.) I was not interested in shopping. Rather, the bookstore owner is supposedly well-connected with local activists. (I just learned that in German one can now say this as, for instance, Er ist gut benetzt / He is well-connected. Benetzt, from Netzwerk / network. Gotta love it.) Since I am on the lookout for local activists for collaboration with my Jewish Activism Summer School (www.jassberlin.org) and the store is about a 40-minute walk from my apartment, I figured I would walk over and introduce myself. I ended up not being able to find the place. Perhaps it has closed already (I have to ask my friend). But trying to locate it, I walked up the street the other direction, even though I was pretty sure it wasn’t that way. Instead, I stumbled across a block of Kurfürstenstraße where sex workers (prostitutes, that is) hang out waiting to be “hired” — in broad daylight. The three or four whom I saw seemed to be in their 20s or 30s, sadly young, dressed rather inconspicuously compared to what I remember of a certain section of midtown Manhattan in the old days. On the corner of the block stood a large LSD store. LSD stands for Love, Sex, Dreams, and must be a chain, since I’ve seen another store in another neighborhood. These stores are part of German liberal tolerance and adult self-determination; after all sex is just a part of normal life, right? The clustering of the LSD store with the sex workers outside — no official link, of course — made good business sense. Real and virtual (videos, etc.) sex constitute related forms of commerce.
Speaking of self-determination, someone told me recently that a law in Germany gives people the right to ruin their own lives. One is not allowed to intervene forcibly if someone chooses to be non-productive or to waste away through drugs, for example. I cannot vouch for this law, but am very curious to know more about it.
Sorry for the digression. Two of the women approached me, separately. One asked, Hast du lust?, which could be translated loosely as “Are you interested?” or “Want sex?” Lust means desire in German, both general and sexual, and obviously is related to, if not a source of the English word “lust.” The multilingual pun made me almost laugh out loud and I refrained from trying to explain the reason for my amusement to the woman. For a second I also thought to tell her that what I was really seeking was a particular bookstore…
In any case, all this created for me a shabbat afternoon more burdened with sadness than I desired.