A seminar and discussion about Jewish literature, Budapest
Religion, Literature, and Raising Awareness, Hungary
Name of implementing organization:MAZSIKE - Federation to Maintain Jewish Culture in Hungary
Date of initial project approval:February 2009
Brief description of the local Jewish community
The Hungarian Jewish community numbers approximately 90,000 to 100,000, and is the
third largest Jewish community in Europe. Most Jews are located in the capital, but there are reviving Jewish communities in rural towns as well. The majority of Hungarian Jews are highly assimilated, but more and more of them –particularly the younger generation – are searching for their Jewish identity.
After the fall of Communism the revival of the Jewish community began, with the formation of the Federation to Maintain Jewish Culture in Hungary, and the establishment of religious and secular Jewish educational institutions. Presently there are four Jewish educational institutions in Budapest: a secular Jewish community day-school (primary and secondary grades) and kindergarten; a religious day school (primary and secondary grades) and kindergarten; an Orthodox primary and secondary school; and a primary school maintained by the Lubavichim. The Jewish Theological Seminary - University of Jewish Studies also operates in Budapest.
The Balint Jewish Community House offers regular programs to Jews of different ages. Most assimilated Jewish families send their children to state schools. Young people from these families – and often the parents themselves -- nevertheless feel the need to take part in Jewish community activities in some way. These young people often attend the Lauder Jewish Camp at Szarvas, Hungary.
An Israeli Culture Institute opened in Budapest in 2010.
Project aims and objectives
To implement an educational program which will promote knowledge of the Jewish Religion and Jewish Literature; and will raise awareness about anti-Semitism.
This project is implementing an educational program to teach Jewish religious and cultural tradition, and to raise awareness of growing anti-Semitism in Hungary. The project is comprised of three components.
The first element addresses a growing interest among young people in Judaism, by posting weekly Midrashim on a new section of the Szombat website. Dr. Uri Asaf, a poet, artist, Hebraist, and translator, has been responsible for the Midrashim element of the project. A local Rabbi serves as a consultant. Parallel to publishing the new section of the website, Szombat established a website forum for readers to discuss Midrashim and related issues. The project focused on the Midrash Tanhuma, which follows the order of the weekly Torah portions. 54 midrashim were published. This project element began after the first year of the project. Szombat editors served as moderators for the online discussion forum.
The second project element was an in-depth analytic course in Jewish Literature, initially aimed at high school and university students, and young adults. As the project began, there was a more diverse audience of adults, but no high school students. The course, although originally planned with monthly sessions, was implemented with 90-minute biweekly sessions. A seminar atmosphere encouraged active participation by students. The curriculum included both international and Hungarian Jewish authors. After every three sessions, there was a round-table discussion, with participation of invited experts and literary critics. Information about the course was posted on the website, with frequent updates. Gabor T. Szanto, a writer and poet, served as the main lecturer.
The third element of the project aimed to raise awareness of both hidden and open anti-Semitism in Hungary. Szombat has pioneered in introducing the website www.antiszemitizmus.hu, which monitors anti-Semitic public speech in Hungary. The project issued a report based on findings of this monitoring activity from 1998-2006. The research focused on changes in public discourse during the period in question. The study was conducted by a sociologist, in consultation with other experts. Results were published on the Szombat website and also were printed.
Main budget elements
Development of courses
Writing and editing commentaries
Research and editing
The project's successes
There was great interest in the weekly Midrashim. There were many visitors to this page, and readers engaged in lively exchange and raised many questions.
The number of regular participants in the Jewish Literature course was much higher than initially expected, which is a clear indication of success. Each seminar included active analysis and discussion. Participants in the course became involved in other related activities, e.g. when there was a literary reading or a book presentation on a Jewish topic, many of them found it important to attend. Another unexpected success was that the group of people coming to the course began to form a community. They would like to continue with this or a similar program in the future.
The third element of the project, which examined anti-Semitism in Hungary, also was successful. Many people read the texts which were posted on Szombat’s website. The report of research findings issued by the project has been quoted in the press and in essays by university students.
Difficulties encountered along the way
Sometimes it was difficult to maintain the planned schedule and list of lectures for the Jewish Literature course, as participants were interested in pursuing some issues in greater depth. Participants were very disappointed to see the course end, and would like it to be continued. Additional funding is being sought.
It would have been good to continue the weekly Midrashim in some way.