About 60 young Budapest-area Jews converged on the Israeli Cultural Institute Saturday night for a youth group’s fall kick-off party. (Alex Weisler)
Five years ago, Hanoar Hatzioni was a long-dormant fixture of Budapest’s Jewish youth group scene — but on Saturday night, more than 60 children came out to celebrate the kick-off of the group’s fall season of programming after a summer hiatus.
Occupying a top-floor room in the city’s year-old Israeli Cultural Centre, the children snacked on butter cookies and popcorn and devised impromptu line dances to songs like Alexandra Stan’s "Mr. Saxobeat."
Standing on the sidelines and surveying the happy mayhem was Szokratesz Kosztopulosz, the group’s coordinator and one of a group of four who revived Hanoar Hatzioni here.
The group mainly draws from the student body of two of Budapest’s three Jewish high schools, but Kosztopulosz said he plans to make a push to reach kids who are not affiliated with the official institutions of the Jewish community here.
Hanoar Hatzioni’s events include parties, movie marathons, hora dancing competitions and poker tournaments — as well as five-day camps in the countryside held during Budapest school holidays.
"It offers them something to do on a Saturday night. If they come here, they have fun and they don’t go, 12-year-old boys and girls into the night, pubs and clubs and stuff like that," Kosztopulosz said. "It makes a stronger community."
Part of Hanoar Hatzioni’s appeal is the way it empowers its participants. In addition to Kosztopulosz and his four colleagues, 12 madrichim – the Hebrew for counselors — who have themselves graduated from the youth group help lead the students.
"They grew up here," he said. "They have so much ruach inside of them."
And that informal, communal approach is crucial, Kosztopulosz told me.
"We are teaching them — as their friends," he said.
For more from the Hanoar Hatzioni event, check out the video I shot of the group’s Havdalah prayers.