How I became a spokesman for a cause without a voice
In May 2006 I received a graphically illustrated postcard from the Museum of Science in Boston announcing Body Worlds which consists of flayed, plasticized human bodies. I had seen in 2005 the exhibit in Cleveland while attending a family reunion. My cousins said said we could take a trolley tour of the attractions, and see an exhibit at the new Science Museum. I went with the cousins who noticed immediately that the exhibit's creator was German and clucked "Who else could do such a thing?" Banners praised the exhibit and encouraged body donations. I thought no more about it until I received the postcard.
To get more information I used Google. At that time, the hits were overwhelmingly favorable reviews or comments. I did find a Wikipedia article, which led me to an article in the Chicago Tribune by Russell Wirking. In my rush to find information, I missed other articles, and was forced to think for myself.
There are two main issues-the permission issue( was permission given for the use of the bodies?), and the issue of human dignity. Body Worlds claimed to have permission. I thought that the permission issue was a technical question, while the issue of human dignity was more basic. I also noticed that Body Worlds liked to sue people who got the "facts" wrong as far as the source of the bodies.
I decided to try to stop the exhibit because of it's lack of respect for human dignity. When I contacted Temple Israel in Sharon, MA, Rabbi Menachem Creditor responded:
"while I agree that the exhibit is deeply wrong, I'm not sure a program (my proposal to demonstrate) is a good response ... the best thing to do is reinforce Jewish conceptions of the body..."
I heard agree, and ignored the rest.
I created a website and looked for support from members of the Jewish Sharon yahoo group. Mark Bailen blew my mind away with the following eloquent comment from Mark Bailen, who I did not know:
"Kol Hakavod Aaron, I agree with you that this traveling exhibit is sensationalistic and yet another affront to human dignity. If this were an exhibit of animals the PETA people and all their supporters would be screaming to the heavens! I applaud you for speaking up for human dignity!
When I was a dental student we were taught in gross anatomy class to have the utmost respect for the deceased people whom we were learning from. We were taught that they had donated their bodies in order to teach students and to hopefully, thereby, help their fellow man. At the end of the class a memorial service was held so that we could pay our final respects to these people. Beyond anatomy a proper respect for human dignity was taught in this course. I wonder what has happened to those same values today."A few people signed a petition, including Rabbi Creditor.
A brief demonstration with a crude sign stating "Stop Body Worlds" appeared to be flop. It turned out to be during a monsoon. But it caught the attention of both the Boston Herald and the Patriot-Ledger. The Herald asked where I would be in case they a picture. Wiser heads ultimately prevailed and a flayed head from the exhibit graced the article. The headline said "Bodies exhibit gets under pharmacist's skin." The article stated my concern about human dignity, quoted the museum saying the bodies were donated, and quoted a bio-ethicist, who, while not agreeing with me, said that I raised a serious issue. The Patriot-Ledger quoted me:
"This is a matter of respect for the deceased," said Ginsburg, who relates his message to his Jewish faith. "A lot of what Judaism is about is respect for other people. That means not making a public display.This isn't educational; it's show business."
Two months later the exhibit opened. I was invited to speak with WBUR radio. To get the best quality recording my daughter and I drove up to their studio across from Boston University. We were proudly shown the studio with the latest equipement. During a brief interview, the reporter asked if I would be demonstrating. When I said that I had to work she said, "Will anyone from your organization be going?" I admitted that I was the organization. I picketed the next day and visited the Boston Jewish Advocate. The result was a lengthy story. On the way home I was surprised to get a call from Fox-25 TV The News at 10. I was asked when an interview would be convenient. I was told that that the crew would be glad to come to me, and that they were at the Museum. We agreed on 7:00 PM at my house on Ames St. in Sharon, Massachusetts. I got home around 6:30 PM Soon an SUV pulled up and two men hopped out and interviewed me on the front lawn. When the finished they said thank you, as if I was doing them a favor. I realized that I had stumbled on a cause without a voice. They broadcast my strongest comment: "No one can give you permission do to something that is wrong" and showed a glimpse of this website and the sign I was holding when I demonstrated.
In September someone from Seattle signed my petition. A copy cat exhibit called Bodies:the Exhibition was about to open. The bodies in Seattle were from China, and it is unclear whose bodies they are. This is a human rights issue, since China has been accused of executing prisoners to harvest their organs for transplantation.
Pastor Christoph Reiners wrote an article about Body Worlds in Vancouver. He mentioned a Berlin Rabbi's comment that the exhibit was reminiscent of the lampshades the Nazis fabricated from the skin of their victims.. Christoph's point was that these exhibits treat our bodies as machines, and thereby deny us our humanity. When we treat our bodies and ourselves as objects, it is easy to conclude that it does not matter if a few, or a few million of these objects are harmed. Soon school field trips were banned by the Abbotsford, British Columbia schools.
I realized that my concern with Boston was somewhat parochail. My website is now devoted to stopping these exhibits wherever they appear. Among the comments have been two from high school students who were ridiculed by their teachers and fellow students when they expressed their qualms about field trips to Bodies: the Exhibition .
In Phoenix, I was on KFYI's Joe Crummy show. I confided my fears of being chewed up and made into mincemeat, and was treated with kid gloves.
I've received encouragement from many who have spoken out about these exhibits including Rabbis Reuven Hammer and Baruch Friedman-kohl, who wrote back matter in the Conservative Tannach Etz Hayim , and from Rabbi Andreas Nachama in Berlin. Rabbi Nachama posted a link to my site on his home page!
Real bodies are unnecessary to present the plasticized version of reality in these exhibits. Real things are not needed to educate or to shock. Hollywood knows this and so did Hitler. Seventy of my relatives are lying in a pit in Belarus because he convinced others that it was a good idea. Reality had nothing to do with this.
While on vacation in Israel January 2007, Clear Channel (southern us) radio interviewed me as I drove by the Dead Sea. Will my trumpeting bring down the walls of Jericho? No. But it will alert the public to the problems with these exhibits. I have reached many minds with surprising ease, but reaching hearts is more difficult.
I also wrote an op-ed column that appeared in a suburban newspaper chain in the Boston area. I own the copyright, and you may quote from it, with attribution, freely. I was also interviewed by the Metro-West Daily, Framingham, Ma. Be sure to listen to the words.
Here is a link to Deutschlandradio Kultur, a German radio station that covered the story of a body processing facily/museum opening in Guben, Germany.
Feel free to contact me for more information
Aaron Ginsburg email@example.com
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