Thursday, May 20, 2021

Three Rooms: An Immersive Jewish Experience

Years ago -- I think I was still in college -- I had an idea for an exhibit about a particular Jewish experience. It is by no means comprehensive, it does not tell a complete story. That's not its ambition. Its purpose would be to try and simulate a specific feeling or anxiety that I think many Jewish people have for a non-Jewish audience that often seems unable to understand it.

My idea for this exhibit never got beyond the level of an idea -- sadly, a fate that befalls many of my "ideas" -- but it's always been crystal clear in my head. So I describe it here. Who knows? Maybe one day it will be created somewhere?

The basic layout is a series of rooms. Attendees would enter the exhibit in small groups, one group at a time, starting in the first room. The room would have various exhibits, writings, pictures, and other illustrations of Jewish history in Israel -- both contemporaneous and of the deep past. Nothing especially out of the ordinary.

After some amount of time -- not immediately, but just quick enough to feel like an imposition -- an attendant would emerge to politely tell people it was time move on to the next room. They'd be ushered in to see another room, similar in many ways to the first, except this time with exhibits illustrating Jewish experience in the diaspora -- in Europe, in the Middle East, in America, and around the world. The attendant would leave them there, and return back to the first room.

Soon, however, a second attendant would come out. He would not be rude, but perhaps a bit brusque. This room, the second room, was not ready for them. Please return to the first room. He'll let you know when this room was prepared.

Upon filing back into the first room, the original attendant would evince surprise, then annoyance. What are you doing here? Didn't he already tell you it was time for you to leave? Go back to where you came from! This room is closed now. Protests about what the other attendant said would be ignored or brushed aside, as the group is shooed back into the second room.

The attendant in the second room would show himself immediately. He is no longer "brusque", or surprised, or annoyed. He is furious. Are you deaf? How dare you come back here! This is not your room! Get out, now, all of you. I'm done playing games with you. If you can't be here, and you can't be there, then go over there -- he would point to a different door from the one dividing the first and second room. The group -- trapped between the first attendant and the second attendant, seemingly unable to do right -- would scamper to escape, and enter the third room.

The third room would have no attendants. The third room would be entirely quiet and still. The third room would simply be pictures and exhibits of Jewish genocide: the Holocaust, the pogroms, the Inquisition, the Farhud. In that room, the group would finally be left alone, unbothered, for as long as it desired.

At some point, the attendants would reemerge, just to confirm that the attendees had not actually done anything wrong, they had done exactly what they were expected to have done, and the attendants were just playing a role. But the sensation of being chased, of being told that wherever you are, you are wrong for being there, buffeted back and forth between "homeland" and "diaspora", until the only place you're allowed to be left alone in peace is your own grave -- that sensation, so familiar to Jews, so seemingly foreign to so many non-Jews would, I hope, have been evoked just a little bit.


essaim said...

if you ever wanted to make this real, i think a VR exhibht would work REALLY well. it would ensure that there wouldnt be a Karen or somehing that would disrupt the thing since you can't talk back, vut still feel a group experience, and you can program a VR experience to move to your pace , AND to be moved along the story.

essaim said...

the attendants wouldnt feel authenthic, though. hm.

Mismos said...

Left alone in your grave unless some well meaning Christian decides to do baptism on your grave
Anyway that's a cool art exhibit A+