NEW YORK (Jul. 10)
On the eve of President Bush’s arrival in Hungary, the World Jewish Congress inaugurated an office in Budapest on Monday, the international Jewish organization’s first bureau in an Eastern bloc country.
The ceremonies, broadcast live on Hungarian television, were held in the presence of representatives of the Jewish community, the media and the government.
“Hungarian officials have told us that Budapest has displaced Vienna as the window to the East, and they want to demonstrate this now by emphasizing their relations with the Western world, and more particularly with the Jewish world,” WJC Executive Director Elan Steinberg said in a telephone interview following the ceremony.
The WJC office, located in the Pest half of the capital city, is situated on the second floor of MIOK, the Central Board of Hungarian Jews, adjacent to the Jewish museum.
It is part of the Hungarian Jewish headquarters housed in an old building with tile floors and arches surrounding a central courtyard. Synagogues, Jewish schools and now two kosher restaurants are within or adjacent to the complex.
The bureau, which already has five full-time employees, will also house the offices of the Jewish Agency for Israel.
Mendel Kaplan, who holds the dual positions of chairman of the Jewish Agency and treasurer of the WJC, was present, joining WJC President Edgar Bronfman in the bureau’s inauguration.
As part of the ceremony, a mezuzah was affixed to the doorpost by WJC Vice President Isi Leibler of Melbourne, Australia, who last placed the Jewish symbol on the doorpost of the Solomon Mikhoels Cultural Center in Moscow.
HUNGARIAN MINISTER ADMITS ‘GUILT’
Some 300 people who crowded into the auditorium for the ceremonies were addressed by Dr. Alfred Schoener, chief rabbi of Hungary and a member of Parliament. Five government ministers were present at the opening, representing the ministries of Culture, Cults (Religion), Foreign Trade and Tourism, and the office of Prime Minister Miklos Nemeth.
But what was “the most extraordinary,” said Steinberg, was the address given by the official speaker, Minister of Culture Ferenc Glatz, a non-Jew, who said, “Hungary is guilty for not having done enough for its Jewish community.”
Steinberg added that Glatz pledged Hungary’s “full commitment toward redressing that role.”
After the ceremony, WJC officials Bronfman, Singer and Steinberg dined with Nemeth and Politburo member Imre Poszgay.
Another notable presence at Monday’s ceremonies was that of Israeli diplomatic representative Shlomo Marom, who made his first official public remarks since arriving in Budapest 15 months ago to head the Israeli interests section.
Marom works at the former Israeli Embassy building. Budapest severed relations with Israel in 1967, following the Six-Day War.
During the next two days, Bronfman will be meeting with government officials to discuss the opening of formal diplomatic relations with Israel.
There are already several direct flights each week between Budapest and Tel Aviv.