I know, I know: shwer tsu seyn a jid (it’s hard to be a Jew). But being a German gentile can’t be that easy either; all they hear growing up is Jewjewjew and are muddled by tales of their murderous ancestors. They weep at The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas; they build memorials to their own guilt and they even pretend to like Klezmer music.
Problem is: There are not that many actual Jews around to satisfy all Hebrew needs – just around 300,000, including the most secular swine-eaters. Most are recent immigrants from the former Soviet Union. The Lithuanians don’t like the Ukrainians, who don’t like the Russians and so on.
And all of them are vaguely frowned upon by the rest, the old German Jews, who are as Jecke as Jecke can be. They’re grateful for the influx – going from 30,000 to 300,000 in just 20 years is not too shabby – but also suspicious. Depending on who you talk to, the new brothers and sisters are either too secular or too orthodox, too interested in making money or not ambitious enough.
Very little of that is openly discussed in front of non-Jews. Not that those could give a fuck. Most German gentiles are, beyond their own shame and guilt, not really interested in Jews. They probably don’t even like them all that much.
So, there is a token popular Jew in every cultural field. There’s Author Jew, Movie Jew, Music Jew, TV Jew. They have their place, somewhere between non-threatening folklore and bittersweet nostalgia.
Only the Mighty Maxim Biller has succeeded in establishing himself as a Jewish voice beyond the topics Shoah and Israel, confronting hypocrisies everywhere. Still, the price must be paid: For most people, he’s just a pain in the ass.
Phrases like “Why this insistence on being Jewish? We don’t boast about being Christians,” hover around him, or anyone else claiming Jewish pride. The argument that there might be something more to Judaism than just the religion, especially in a society where cultural polyphony isn’t really extant, is dismissed as scarily reminiscent of the Dark Days. And who could make that call better than the non-Jews?
So, it’s 2011, I don’t fear the gas chambers. But there is certainly no real sense of Jewish identity in Berlin, that is, beyond religion and nightmarish memory. The Jewish culture is at worst jocular, at best, spectral. It’s painful but, at least, I live.