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Budapest University Lectures on Judaism Draw Large Crowds

A two-month Jewish lecture series at the Budapest- based Central European University has drawn enthusiastic audiences and has bolstered efforts to develop a broader Jewish studies presence at the school.

Entitled “Jews in Central European Societies,” the series ran from early February to mid-April and was open to students, faculty and the public at large. Most of the lectures were crowded, forcing audience members to stand or sit on the floor.

“The series’ tremendous popularity attests not only to the interest of students and faculty, but to the way in which CEU can interact with the Budapest Jewish community,” said the school’s assistant vice president, Jonathan Becker.

“The lecture series is another step in expanding the profile of Jewish studies at CEU.”

Set up in 1990, the school is a pan-regional university that provides post- graduate education for students from many post-communist countries, primarily in academic disciplines that were neglected during the communist era.

The Jewish lecture series was coordinated by sociologist Andras Kovacs, a professor at Budapest’s Eoetvoes Lorand University, and featured talks on topics including interfaith relations, Jewish history, assimilation, Holocaust memories, and anti-Semitism.

Speakers included scholars from Austria, Poland, Romania, Israel, Hungary and Slovakia.

The series also included a screening of the Hungarian film “Then the Blood…Blood Libels after the Holocaust,” a documentary examining pogroms in two Hungarian towns in May 1946.

More than 100 people attended the screening, which was followed by a panel discussion addressing the social and political context of the pogroms.

“The response to the series really shows that there is an interest,” said Kovacs, author of a number of publications on anti-Semitism in Hungary and the Hungarian Jewish identity.

The lecture series was an outcome of a conference hosted by the Central European University last June to explore the possibility of developing a full- scale Jewish studies program at the school. Most of the speakers at the lecture series attended this conference.

While no formal Jewish studies program has yet been set up at the university, the lecture series and related events have served to raise the profile of Jewish studies at the school.

Organizers say there has been unexpectedly large interest in a graduate-level course, “Out of the Ghetto: Jewish Tradition in Crisis,” which will be offered this summer.

“We’ve had about 100 applications from people all over the region, and also from the west,” said Pearl Gluck, the administrative assistant for the university’s committee on Jewish studies. “The course is meant for only 25 people.

“It is very exciting to see such interest,” she said. “It is creating fertile ground for scholarship which can produce a lot of interesting work.”

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