Jewish life and social action in Hungary – Saturday 25 May 2019

Posted on Tuesday, July 2nd, 2019

by Mo Makin

Despite Shabbat being ‘the day of rest’, the third day of our trip to Budapest matched the intensity of the others – high.

Like many Jews do, we started the Jewish day in a synagogue which was ‘great’ (if you pardon the pun). The Great Synagogue is a survivor of the Nazi occupation therefore, a monument of large historical significance, given that few synagogues remained standing after that period. However, the way in which history is presented in Hungary entails much controversy.

Dohány Street Great Synagogue, Budapest

We found this out on our visit to Budapest’s monument to “all the victims” of Hungary’s Nazi occupation. The monument, erected by the state, shows a vicious eagle (the Nazis) attacking the angel Gabriel (Hungary). This has been very controversial as many see the monument presenting Hungary as a total victim of the Nazis. However, many of the Hungarians were active collaborators to the Nazis. The controversy is evident to see because as you approach the monument you will find a couple dozen homemade banners and signs left by the local Jewish population and international visitors protesting the monument’s symbolism, as they state it to be an “historical revision”.

Aniko Felix, Central European University

Nevertheless, on this day, I was left more optimistic about Hungary’s future, given we saw the good work of the Haver Foundation for informal Jewish education. What I found impressive about this organisation was its ability to engage students, of all backgrounds, on who is a Jew and dispel the anti-Semitic myths and tropes that they might otherwise hear in today’s Hungary.

We ended the day by having a group discussion about our own personal choice of Jewish texts that we found relevant to human rights. The conclusion that I gauged from the rich variety of books, articles, prayers and songs that we each brought was: as Jews it is our purpose to call out to the world when we see something wrong. This trip has given me an even greater motivation to do so.