De-Inte­grate!: A Jew­ish Sur­vival Guide for the 21st Century

Max Czollek; Jon Cho-Polizzi, trans.

  • Review
By – February 6, 2023

Most of us were raised with the sto­ry that, in the post – World War II years, Ger­many under­stood the con­se­quences of its actions and did every­thing to make amends. The coun­try is often held up as hav­ing accom­plished the insur­mount­able task of prop­er teshu­vah. In his con­tro­ver­sial work, De-inte­grate: A Jew­ish Sur­vival Guide for the 21st Cen­tu­ry, Max Czollek oblit­er­ates that fan­ta­sy, demon­strat­ing how far Ger­many has still to go.

Through­out the book, Czollek high­lights the myths that Ger­mans have told since the War that have allowed them to move for­ward. Although Nazis per­pet­u­at­ed atroc­i­ties upon the Jews, goes one myth, their Ger­man ances­tors were vic­tims and pow­er­less. He also rejects the notion that the best kind of Jews are for­giv­ing, no longer angry about what hap­pened. These fables, Czollek explains, take place in the The­ater of Mem­o­ry,” a kind of com­mu­nal rit­u­al where Ger­mans com­mem­o­rate the Holo­caust with­out doing the hard work of actu­al­ly changing.

In his acer­bic, snarky, and often humor­ous way, Czollek cites count­less exam­ples of how Ger­many is falling short. He writes that the coun­try is vot­ing actu­al Nazis into the gov­ern­ment and turn­ing back to nation­al­ism, with a new­found pride in the Ger­man flag. Czollek also resists the idea that Ger­many has a guid­ing-cul­ture” into which all should assim­i­late; rather, the nation should pride itself on its many and rich eth­nic minori­ties. He comes down hard on Ger­mans for see­ing Jews as a kind of mod­el minor­i­ty but scorn­ing Arabs, whom they view as a threat to Ger­many’s sense of self. And he takes issue with the fact that Jews were recent­ly called a gift of us Ger­mans” dur­ing a recent Holo­caust Remem­brance Day Ser­vice. Jew­ish peo­ple are not a gift,” Czollek retorts. Cer­tain­ly not for the Ger­mans. And they are not here for, but rather despite the Ger­mans and their history.

Although he phras­es it dif­fer­ent­ly, time and again Czollek accus­es the Ger­man peo­ple of gaslight­ing the Jews. His cri­tique is sim­i­lar to that of Dara Horn in her book, Peo­ple Love Dead Jews. That is, by con­cen­trat­ing on the Holo­caust but turn­ing away from the real and liv­ing prob­lem of anti­semitism, Ger­mans seem to care more about the dead Jews in their past than the liv­ing ones in their present. Czollek describes a recent scene in which a group of Jews spoke to the may­or of Berlin about their fears. The may­or respond­ed that there was no dan­ger of anti­semitism, and Jews could move about as freely as they pleased.” He then took a quick pho­to with a Jew­ish ath­lete and left.

Czollek argues that the answer to these prob­lems lies not in try­ing to stitch Jews deep­er into the social fab­ric of Ger­many. What Ger­many needs is for its Jews to de-inte­grate,” to make them­selves oth­er” again and join in the larg­er post­mi­grant project” of understand[ing] and advanc[ing] rad­i­cal diver­si­ty as the very foun­da­tion of Ger­man soci­ety.” Jews must not become part of a mono­lith. Only in their dis­tinc­tive­ness will they wake Ger­many from its stu­por, so that it might begin to pay atten­tion and care about actu­al Jews, not just its pris­tine image of them.

Czollek is a poet, and his book reads as such — which means that it is any­thing but dry the­o­ry. It is a call to action and a cel­e­bra­tion of an array of Jew­ish voic­es. But if Jews are going to change any­thing, he reminds his read­ers, they first need to con­front their own bias­es: about Mizrahi Jews, about queer Jews, about impov­er­ished Jews and Ortho­dox Jews. And per­haps,” he writes, we are only just now learn­ing how to rec­og­nize our own diver­si­ty. Doing this jus­tice means for­sak­ing the The­ater of Memory.

This book is required read­ing for any­one who longs to unset­tle the sta­tus quo. No mat­ter where you live in the Dias­po­ra, De-inte­grate will encour­age you to look crit­i­cal­ly at your own soci­ety and ques­tion the myths that sur­round your Jew­ish story.

Rab­bi Marc Katz is the Rab­bi at Tem­ple Ner Tamid in Bloom­field, NJ. He is author of the book The Heart of Lone­li­ness: How Jew­ish Wis­dom Can Help You Cope and Find Com­fort (Turn­er Pub­lish­ing), which was cho­sen as a final­ist for the Nation­al Jew­ish Book Award.

Discussion Questions