The final day started with a tour of Budapest with our fabulous guide Aggy. She took us through the Jewish quarter and showed us metal markers on the sidewalk called “stumbling blocks” that indicate where a Jew was taken from their house. One can really get caught up in the beauty of this city and having these raised markers that you can literally trip over are harsh reminders of the city’s ugly past.
The highlight of the tour was see ing the beautiful Dohany Synagogue. If there weren’t Jewish stars covering it, you could mistake it for a great cathedral. Being so used to the modern architecture of synagogues in the States it was so awe inspiring to see one so ornately decorated. It made me think of how proud the Jews of Budapest must have been at that time to show off their Judaism wish such an in your face gorgeous house of worship.
After our tour with Aggy we visited the Israeli Cultural Institute. One of the purposes of the institute is to help foster a positive Jewish identity for the Jews in Budapest through Israeli culture. Many Jews in Europe have Jewish identities based on negative influences such as anti-Semitism and the Holocaust so the hope is that the Israeli culture will be a positive association for the Jews of Budapest. There is a large Israeli contingency within the Jewish community of Budapest who frequent the institute as well as non-Jews who are curious about Israel or learning Hebrew. The institute has been successful in bringing in both non-Jews and non-affiliated Jews through programming that is completely secular but has some tie into Israel without being too pushy.
The final stop for the day was at Balint Haz to meet with representatives from grassroots Jewish organizations such as Maccabi, Hillel, Haver Foundation, and Marom. Questions were raised about whether the same people are attending the different events within the Jewish community and if there is really a demand for more organizations or if it will just saturate the market. The answer that the leaders of the Budapest Jewish community gave was that the more Jewish organizations available in Budapest the more avenues there will be to reach Jews in Budapest. This answer gave me hope and even more validation that the new Jewish ventures all the fellows are about to create are necessary and important for the Jewish community.
Following a sunset cruise of the Danube it was time for the wrap up and final evaluations for the seminar. All of the fellows shared their thoughts and personal reflections and it became a very emotional time for all of us. It was clear everyone felt a close connection to the group as a whole and that lifelong friendships had been formed. It was comforting to know that as well as broadening our professional network we had also gained a new Jewish family. At the end of the night I think we all left feeling inspired and excited to take back to our communities what we’ve learned and to begin our projects. And there were no goodbyes, only להתראות…
Shira Kaiserman, JCC in Manhattan, New York, USA