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Around the Jewish World: Hungarian Jews Are Detached from Communal Life, Survey Says

May 10, 2000
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A decade after the fall of communism, Hungary’s Jews are well-educated, well-off and well-integrated into the social mainstream.

But they are ambivalent about their Jewish identity and highly detached from Jewish communal life.

Memory of the Holocaust and anti-Semitic persecution is the most important factor in their sense of Jewish belonging, although young Jews seek some reconnection with Jewish traditions.

This is the profile that emerges from a preliminary analysis of an in-depth survey of Central Europe’s largest Jewish community. Full results are expected to be presented later this year.

“Our data show that for Hungarian Jews, belonging to Jewishness is a subjective feeling,” Budapest sociologist Andras Kovacs, who coordinated the survey, told JTA during a visit to Washington.

“Objective things, like being active in the Jewish community, are at the other end of the scale.”

Carried out last year, the survey was the first of its kind in a post-Communist state, and one of the few carried out in any country.

Aimed in part at providing a basis for strategic policy planning and outreach by Jewish organizations, it was funded by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, the Ronald S. Lauder Foundation, the Claims Conference, the American Jewish Committee and the Alliance of Hungarian Jewish Communities.

With about 100,000 Jews, Hungary’s community is the third largest in Europe outside the former Soviet Union. As in other post-Communist countries, there has been a revival of Jewish communal activities since the fall of communism, but only a minority of the entire community participates in these activities.

The survey was based on interviews with 2,015 people selected to approximate a representative random sample, including the highly assimilated as well as active participants.

Kovacs said that all age groups and other groups in the sample rated the Holocaust and anti-Semitic persecution as important factors in their Jewish identity. Participation in Jewish communal activities ranked at the bottom.

The majority of the sample said they felt at least some attachment to Israel, with 27 percent feeling a strong attachment.

“Attachment to Jewish traditions was highest in the oldest groups surveyed and lowest in the middle generation — aged 35-55,” Kovacs said. “It begins to increase with the younger generation.”

The survey showed that the mixed marriages are increasing, with the rate among the postwar generation at about 50 percent. Among people older than 75,90 percent have two Jewish parents; in the 36-45 age group, more than 50 percent and among those 18-25, only 40 percent.

Survey results showed that more than half of Hungary’s Jews have a university degree, well over the national average.

In addition, Jews are generally well-off economically and possess a full range of modern home appliances — some 47 percent of all Jews sampled own computers, nearly 40 percent have cellular phones and nearly one-quarter have Internet access. Almost 90 percent have washing machines.

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