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Hungarian Jewish leader makes strong vow

BUDAPEST, July 10 (JTA) — The new leader of Hungary’s Jewish community is putting his money where his mouth is. If his goals of strengthening Jewish life in Hungary and improving relations with foreign Jewish groups aren’t met within a year, Andras Heisler says he’ll step down. “I’d like to see more people in the synagogues and not only during High Holidays,” said Heisler, the new president of the Federation of the Hungarian Jewish Communities. The son of Holocaust survivors, Heisler, 48, is an engineer by profession who became a successful entrepreneur. He is married to a psychologist, and has two sons. He is not a newcomer to the community’s leadership: His 85-year-old father is the president of the famous Dohany Synagogue’s congregation, and Heisler, a Conservative Jew, himself has been part of the Jewish leadership for 10 years. Heisler says the community leadership is now engaged in talks with the government to reach a new agreement on the issue of compensating for confiscated and/or nationalized public Jewish property. Heisler acknowledged that the Hungarian authorities have agreed to pay more in compensation to the surviving family members for each victim deported from Hungary and killed during the Holocaust. The new sum is 10 times higher than the one agreed to in a 1997 law. “The authorities will start to pay the increased restitution sum from this summer on,” Heisler told JTA. Heisler also stressed his support for Jewish cultural life in Budapest. The Jewish Summer Festival will take place in the Hungarian capital in August, with several local and international actors. “These contacts are very important for our community. They improve our international ties and present Jewish culture to the non-Jewish audience here as well, and strengthen our Jewish identity.” After all, he said smilingly, “I would like to see my sons marry Jewish girls.”