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Around the Jewish World: Jews in Romania, Hungary Cooperate on Development

A breakthrough in cross-border Jewish cooperation recently took place when a high-level Jewish delegation from Romania visited Hungary to take part in a study program on Jewish community development.

Representatives of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, which organized the weeklong pre-High Holiday trip, called the meetings in Budapest “historic” because it was the first time that any significant Romanian Jewish delegation had visited the Jewish community in Hungary since World War II.

During the Communist era, Jewish life in Eastern Europe was carried on under strictures that discouraged or barred most international contacts.

Jews in Hungary and Romania were particularly estranged because relations between their respective countries were long strained, largely because of claims of Romanian discrimination against Romania’s 2 million ethnic Hungarian minority.

Although it had no direct connection with the Romanian Jewish delegation’s trip to Hungary, Romanian and Hungarian leaders last month signed a landmark agreement aimed at easing tensions between the two countries.

Jewish communities in both Hungary and Romania must cope with poverty, loneliness, illness and other problems among elderly Holocaust survivors.

But overall, the demographic and social conditions for Jews in the two countries are quite different.

Romania, whose economy has lagged far behind other former Communist states in its transition to a free-market society, has only about 14,000, mainly elderly, Jews.

Most of them live in poverty, and the prime concern of community leaders is social welfare.

Hungary, on the other hand, has as many as 80,000 or more Jews, with a broadening base of young people.

Providing social care and welfare relief to elderly survivors is a priority, but stronger community resources have enabled the implementation of innovative programs run by a special Foundation for Jewish Social Support.

The goal of the meetings in Budapest was to stimulate leaders of the Romanian Jewish community to consider new ideas and solutions in the sphere of social welfare and community development by introducing them to some of the programs already in place in Hungary.

The groups toured Budapest’s Jewish facilities, including the new Balint Jewish Community Center, day-care centers for the elderly, and two Jewish schools and a Jewish kindergarten.

Romanian delegation member Nilu Aronivici said the trip to Budapest was “a deep Jewish experience,” adding that he and others in his group looked forward to follow-up meetings and to implementing some of the programs they saw in action.

“I think it shocked them to go to the Jewish schools,” said Eva Carpati, a Hungarian JDC staff member. In Romania they “lack the young generations, whereas here we can really speak of a Jewish revival.”

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