Michael Shurkin
Tribal Lessons, p.3

The NMAI, in contrast, is clearly built for the non-Indian. There is a concerted effort, from the pronouns in the exhibit titles to the ethnicity of the docents, to communicate something of "ours" to someone who, presumably, is not "us." A feeling arises from this gesture that Native Americans most likely don’t need it or any other museum to tell them who and what they are.

A truly living culture doesn't need a museum to confirm its existence. What, then, do we make of the multitude of expensive and lavish Jewish museums and memorials being built around the world? In the past, numerous Jewish leaders, even among the same German-Jewish ranks responsible for so much of the auto-objectification, recognized it as pathology, and came up with cures ranging from Zionism (Buber) and Orthodoxy (Rosenzweig) to a sort of anti-Wissenschaft Wissenschaft (Scholem). They knew that ethnography and “positive” science were too often tantamount to autopsy, and they understood that the body was still breathing. "Live Jewish and be Jewish" was their basic message. The fact that Jews build Jewish museums for Jews suggests that Jewish leaders, specifically the elites who alone are capable of launching and supporting the enterprises, have either lost the message or, like the son who does not even know to ask, are too far gone for such simple endeavors as living and being.

[1]       [2]       3
Image: Still from NMAI Film, A Thousand Roads

Michael Shurkin is Associate Editor of Zeek. Esther Nussbaum is the librarian of the Ramaz Upper School in New York City.

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