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Anchored by Jake Tapper, The Lead airs at 4 p.m. ET on CNN.

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April 5th, 2013
06:44 PM ET

Web exclusive: Jew in a Box? Controversy over museum exhibit

Glass boxes with people inside them at museums, this seems to be a hot trend right now. First we had actress Tilda Swinton sleeping inside a glass box at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

Now we have the Berlin Jewish Museum's latest exhibit "The Whole Truth: Everything you always wanted to know about Jews". That's right, in that land that so many Jews have such strong feelings about, a Jewish man or woman, sits inside a glass box and answers visitors' questions. The museum says it is perfectly fine to ask about the Holocaust, and any alleged alacrity with money.

But some are wondering if they could have just answered the questions, and left the live person sitting in a glass box out of it.

James Kirchick gave "The Lead" an insider's look, literally. Kirchick is a columnist for Tablet Magazine and sat inside the box this week.

"I'd been living in Berlin for about ten months and to be honest it sort of feels sometimes as if you're a walking museum exhibit," said Kirchick.

People in Germany "are very ignorant about Judaism, most people have never met a Jew in their life," said Kirchick. It's "something very foreign in Germany."

During his time in the box, Kirchick said he was not asked any offensive questions, but people did ask about a wide variety of topics, from what does "Shalom" mean - hello, goodbye, and peace - to genealogy queries.

A "gentleman asked 'If Judaism is passed through your mother, is that not a sort of confirmation of the Nazi, sort of Hitler, you know, blood theories about race," said Kirchick. "I had to explain to him that one can convert to Judaism ... and also the fact that I have many friends ... who might only have a father or one grandfather who is Jewish,  but they still identify as being Jewish."

"Jewishness and Judaism, it's a lot more than who your relations are, and it's a lot more than religion. You don't have to be particularly religious or believe in God to be Jewish, at least not in my opinion," said Kirchick.

The General Secretary of the Central Council of Jews in Germany said, "Why don't they give him a banana and a glass of water, turn up the heat, and make the Jew feel really cozy in his glass box."

"I was very sympathetic to that reaction," said Kirchick. "But I went to the exhibit with an open mind, and I think people should."

"It was sort of a clever arch and ironic take on being a Jew in Germany, where you often times feel like you are in a glass box."

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