Thousands in Budapest flock to Jewish street fair in sign of community’s revival

June 13, 2018

In scene uniting Jews of all denominations, some 10,000 brave thunderstorm to throng Hungarian capital's touristic Kazinczy street for annual Judafest

BUDAPEST – Thousands flocked to Budapest’s Kazinczy street in the heart of the historic Jewish ghetto on Sunday to celebrate the city’s Judafest.
Braving an afternoon downpour, tourists and locals alike visited the massive street festival, which annually showcases all things Hungarian and Jewish. It’s quite a coup for a central European Jewish community still recovering from World War II and decades of Communism.
The thoroughfare, a common tourist destination throughout the year, teemed with both Jewish and non-Jewish onlookers who stopped at the dozens of stalls offering traditional Jewish foods, handmade items for sale, and information on the multitude of religious and community initiatives that operate in Hungary and the surrounding areas.
Parents pushed baby carriages and walked hand-in-hand with children who sported brightly colored face paint and clutched balloons decorated with the logos of Jewish organizations.
“I think we have even more people than last year,” festival organizer Pepe Berenyi told The Times of Israel. Berenyi, who is also the deputy director of Budapest’s Balint House JCC, estimated that 9,000 to 10,000 people had passed through the festival by mid-afternoon.
Judafest perennially brings together congregations and organizations from all walks of Hungarian Jewish life and across secular and all religious denominations — no mean feat for any Jewish community. The festival was organized by Budapest’s Balint House JCC and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, and featured over 30 partners from across the community.
This year also saw significant representation from the country’s periphery and Israel, including the towns of Koszeg, on the Austrian border, and Komarom, on the border with Slovakia – in keeping with the festival’s theme of “Hungarian-speaking Jewish communities.”
A secular humanitarian organization set up shop across from Chabad Hasidic emissaries who gave passersby the chance to say a short prayer with a set of phylacteries. Representatives from many of the city’s various synagogues lounged together amid the many food stands offering tastes of traditional Jewish fare ranging from cholent to freshly baked challah to plates of Israeli hummus.
In the late afternoon, the sunshine gave way to heavy gray storm clouds when a not-completely-unexpected thunderstorm struck. But revelers stuck it out, huddling with umbrellas for half an hour in stone alcoves along the alleyway. As the rain finally started to let up, a handful of teenagers with matted hair took back to the street and danced in their wet clothing to Israeli music that continued to play from a nearby stall.
“Well, it was a great six hours,” joked a resilient Berenyi, who worked for months to put the festival together.
But despite some setbacks – the amplification system and other electronics were taken out of commission by the storm – visitors did not seem deterred. Stall owners bailed out water, dried off their merchandise, and went back to serving the many attendees who stuck around.
A planned concert went forward as an acoustic performance, and the three singers made up for the lack of a sound system by asking the audience to accompany them, turning the show into a sing-along.
At 19:48 Israeli time, to correspond with the year Israel was established, 70 community dignitaries released dove-shaped balloons in honor of Israel’s 70th year of independence.
Onstage, Balint House JCC director Zsuzsa Fritz sang “Lech L’cha,” by singer Debbie Friedman, citing the song’s significance.
“The song is taken from the biblical passage where God first commands Abraham to go to Israel, and promises to bless his offspring and make them into a great nation,” Fritz later told The Times of Israel. “I really felt that this was especially appropriate here as we continue to grow our community.”
Fritz said that the event was an incredibly effective outreach tool, and could encourage many people to engage with Budapest’s Jewish communal life who otherwise wouldn’t take the initiative.
Berenyi said that in Judafest’s inaugural year, Hungarians were hesitant about street festivals of any type – let alone obviously Jewish ones. In all, there were seven partners that first year, and, unexpectedly, the daylong festival was a huge success, drawing 2,500 people.
But in recent years, Judafest has grown considerably, attracting dozens of partners and drawing 12,000 attendees.
Fritz cited an impact study that the Balint House JCC conducted at the event, with pollsters asking attendees questions related to their levels of Jewish participation.
“I was walking by and overheard one of our surveyors speaking to a woman of about 60,” Fritz told The Times of Israel.
“She asked the woman if this was the sole Jewish event that she attended this year, and to my surprise, the woman answered yes,” Fritz said.
“I was sure that she looked like she participated more regularly – in this business you get a feel for these things – but this just shows that events such as this are of the utmost importance and can bring people into the fold who otherwise would feel insecure.”
The article was published on The Times of Israel

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Every Day during the Corona crisis our Advisory Board Member Chief Rabbi Binyomin Jacobs (NL) writes a diary, on request of the Jewish Cultural Quarter in Amsterdam, which is published on the website of the NIW, the only Jewish Dutch Magazine. Rabbi Jacobs is the head of Inter Governmental Relationships at the Rabbinical Centre of Europe. We will be regularly publishing a selection of his informative, sometimes light hearted, but always wise pieces.
For our Dutch readers you can follow the diary every day at NIW home page: https://niw.nl
Inspired by a wise old lady who very carefully asked my opinion about insulting people, for example in a cartoon, I came to the conclusion that freedom also needs boundaries.
 
The first question is, of course, what is insulting? I read recently in a paper that "It is to be feared that airline (ELAL) policy will only become more orthodox". What's the meaning of this? And what is Orthodox?
 
To obey the law or not, if that is what is meant by orthodox, is not the same as good or bad. I remember Gerhard and Beppie Caneel, survivors of the war. Good, sweet, gentle people through and through. Both came from the war seriously damaged and yet always cheerful.
 
They came to the shul every Shabbat, but otherwise they did not really live according to Jewish law. My Judaism is my heart, Gerhard often said. And that was a visible truth. But they were considered Orthodox by members of the congregation who only appeared in the synagogue on the High Holidays, that is, three times a year.
 
And people who only entered the synagogue on the Day of Atonement thought those High Holiday Jews were orthodox and me probably very orthodox.
 
In other words: who sets which boundary where? And the most important question: should there be boundaries? Why all those boxes? I am Jewish and just as Jewish as Beppie and Gerhard. And whether I am good? That is determined Above! But I know 100% that Beppie and Gerhard were good people through and through. And so I find "the fear that the ELAL will become more orthodox" a polarising statement. And polarisation is dangerous, whether in word or image.
 
And so I asked some survivors what they think about that wise old lady's concern about consciously insulting believers. All survivors I approached shared her view that there should be limits to free speech. Everyone may think that his way of thinking is the only correct one, but there must be room for others to have a different opinion. If I condemn a different religion or way of life in razor-sharp words, it should be possible. But if my conviction calls for killing or discriminating against the other, then I must be called to order and put under lock and key because of sedition.
 
But what if I just insult? If that is allowed, why are we, as a Jewish community, so excited about the floats in Aalst? Anything and everything is possible, right?
 
Some years ago I was confronted with an educational audiovisual program from the churches. The images were formed with sand. There were images and a narrator. The subject was the origin of Christianity. Supporters and opponents of the new religion were all Jews.
 
But in the broadcast, the opponents had long noses, all looked very angry and gave the impression that they were bad people. How will those images affect the youthful viewers of that program? We went to the makers of the program with a minister friend, with the result that they adjusted the entire program. Their intention was absolutely not to incite hatred! I am a staunch fanatical super ultra-orthodox advocate of freedom of religion, freedom of speech and freedom of the press. But what if violence ensues as a result of being insulted?
 
What then? That old wise lady is of the opinion that insulting is also wrong. I share her opinion.
 
I find it unacceptable to destroy fellow human beings spiritually, deeply hurting them. And so I can protest against the float in Aalst because I experience it as insulting.
 
The Jew with a long nose, tons of money and dollar signs. I can also go to court. But violence against a float that proclaims a message that I find dangerous, taking the law into your own hands or calling for the right to take into your own hands: no way!
 
And so I think that old wise lady, herself a survivor of the Shoah, is right. Anything and everything is allowed, but not unlimited. And that is why I was so delighted that I was allowed to lay a wreath in front of the Jewish monument with Mayor Marcouch in Arnhem last Sunday, despite corona.
 
An Islamic mayor and a Jewish rabbi stood hand in hand (because of corona only in spirit) to demonstrate that what could happen then must never happen again. And a few hours later, during the virtual commemoration of Kristallnacht, the Protestant Churches declared loud and clear in a statement that together, from a deep sense of belonging, we will fight against anti-Semitism and for friendship.
 
Freedom of expression, of the press, of belief: Certainly. But…with limits!

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