Hungarian Jewish Community is Going Through New Revival

The Hungarian Jewish community seems to be going through a new revival. In Budapest itself, a Jewish school–primary and secondary–is functioning, services are held in the synagogues and Jewish social services operate in a number of cities. “There are only 100,000 Jews in Hungary today, compared to 700,000 before the war, and yet many of them openly admit or even assert their Jewishness in some way or other.” Thus Hungary’s best known actor, Laszlo Kabos, recently told a television interviewer who was discussing his background, “I always considered myself a Jew.” The fact that the interview was shown at prime listening time and did nothing to diminish the popularity of the actor is seen by many Hungarian Jews as “an excellent thing.”

The most outspoken Hungarian Jews are the religious. They can still be seen walking through Budapest’s streets in their traditional kaftan and stramel. Younger people, often non-religious, also avail themselves of the social services provided by the community. Many. for instance, send their children to Jewish schools or at least to the religious education classes on Saturdays. The loosest contact is maintained by the middle classes and especially by the many professional people who only attend synagogue services during the high holidays. Some, from small communities consisting of only a dozen or less families, come to Budapest at that period to attend the services in the capital. Many voluntarily pay the “community tax” which helps support social activities such as homes for the aged, a kosher canteen and help for the needy.

Ten provinces out of a total of 19 have a community life of their own with a local, often part-time rabbi. The local rabbi also serves as Hebrew and religious instruction teacher. The only rabbinical seminary in all of Eastern Europe, “The General Rabbinical School,” operates in Budapest. Some of the students come from East Germany, Czechoslovakia and other socialist states. Two of the students currently attending classes come from the Soviet Union. The school principal, Dr. Sandor Schreiber, is often interviewed on radio and television and is considered an authority on Jewish and Hebrew questions by the Hungarian Academy of Science and Arts. The school choir, specializing in traditional Jewish music and Hasidic songs, often tours the provinces and also gives concerts in Budapest itself. Invariably all tickets are sold out long in advance.

The local community paper. “UJ Elet” (New Life), with a circulation of 20,000 appears every second week. It is rather difficult to obtain and the editors explain that this is due to the shortage of newsprint and printing facilities. The paper, formerly known as “The Paper of Hungarian Israelites,” is now edited by Geza Seifert who is also chairman of the community board. “Uj Elet” carries mostly religious news as well as a list of forthcoming holidays. It carefully avoids politics, thus, it pointedly avoided even mentioning the Yom Kippur War. The top organ of the community is the Representative Council of Hungarian Jews, directed by its board. Most communities are represented on the board which usually contacts the Chief Rabbi before taking any major decision. The board is also in contact with the Hungarian Office for Religious Affairs.

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