How would you introduce yourself?
I am 24 years old. I was born in Budapest and have lived here ever since. I graduated from ELTE Radnóti Miklós High School in 2010 and then I got admitted to ELTE University’s Faculty of Social Sciences. This is where I received my degree in 2014 after completing my studies of social sciences. Since then I have been studying international management at Budapest University of Economics in a correspondence course. Since 2015 I have been officially dealing with anti-Semitism under the umbrella of Mazsihisz (The Federation of Hungarian Jewish Communities).
What does Jewish identity mean to you and what role does active participation in the Jewish community have in your life?
I am Jewish from both my mother’s and my father’s side, yet my family is strongly secular. There was no trace of tradition in our household, even my grandmother, who was brought up religious, practiced the traditions secretly. After I had started attending Jewish events and the programs of a Jewish youth organization (Hashomer Hatzair) at the age of fifteen, slowly I discovered my own Judaism. To me the strongest bond is still the community itself, or as we call it among ourselves, the bubble. I feel it every minute how it changed me that I was socialized in a community.
What are the biggest challenges of the Hungarian Jewish community today?
Because the Hungarian Jewry is officially not considered a minority, thus their self-government was never realized. The community does not have an elected or official representative. There definitely needs to be a consensus about the form of this representation and how this representation would be acceptable for the vast majority of the community. Modernization would also be required on an institutional as well as personal level. We have to build such a community that is sensitive to the problems of the mainstream society. Moreover, it is at the forefront of development and aid.
What kind of Jewish community would you like to see in 18 years? What steps would be necessary in your opinion to have this vision realized?
Transparent, modern, open, cooperative, social, self-sustaining.
The revenue and the expenditure of the community have to be transparent for the community. Of course, this requires that the community contributes significantly to the cost of its own operation. Nowadays, Jewish organizations operate on either state or American support, which is why the community does not really require transparency, and many just turn away referring to this aspect as a scandal. The moment the members of the community see their own forints moving, they will become interested in the Jewish ‘public affairs’ and that will result in not only financial but also operational transparency. Moreover, it would be important for the community to create a charity fund – there have been some scattered attempts to start such a fund – and it would be active in the time of flooding and a migrant crisis, or that it could help the Roma integration, and this list could go on obviously. There are such initiatives already but these are small and scattered.
What do you think about the coexistence between Jews and non-Jews in Hungary? How successful do you consider the dialogue between Jews and non-Jews?
I do not see a dialogue. The Jewish literati only express solidarity with the community when the topic is the holocaust or anti-Semitism. The community is not keen on looking for connection points with the mainstream society either – and here I do not refer to the political leadership. The only such viable initiative, in my opinion, is Haver Foundation, where dialogue is one of the expressed goals and it is actually achieved within certain limits.
What are the biggest challenges of the Hungarian society today?
Basically, as I see the society is retrograde for it hankers for the prosperity during the Kádár regime while it is also open to messages that are based on its well-known fears. The fundamental community spirit is not a trait of the Hungarian society. One of the most obvious signs to prove this point is the fact that no social group knows what to do with the Hungarian national flag. While in certain areas in the United States it is more or less an expectation to have the flag on each and every house, here the flag is only used and displayed by state agencies. Even the far right uses ancient Hungarian symbols because at the moment the Hungarian flag does not express anything. It would be important to face the problems that have been with us for a long time and that mostly emerged after the political transition. The Roma minority has been getting by without a responsible leadership and prospects for a long time. The mainstream society should offer opportunities for integration and to catch up. Moreover, in the fields of employment and education, they should initiate real courses to help the members of the minority to catch up instead of slogans and fake programs. The question of education does not only influence the Roma; the Hungarian high schools and universities have been performing worse and worse in comparison with their international counterparts. In order for a country, which is short of capital, to catch up, it needs to invest in education, as we can see in the successful cases of Finland and South Korea. I truly believe that if the education system worked better, all other issues in the country would be easier to tackle, starting from job creation through general intolerance to competitiveness.
In order to overcome these challenges, what do you think is the role of each individual, and what is the role of the Jewish and the non-Jewish communities?
Where there is a significant Jewish community, the Jewish schools are famous for their innovativeness. If we were able to significantly improve all our high schools and higher education institutions, it could give a big boost to the entire Hungarian society. However, looking at the current state of the Hungarian education, this is only wishful thinking. I also know about a great initiative that provides leadership training for young Roma people. If there were more similar Jewish initiatives with a stable financial background, the whole society would benefit from that. This initiative is basically about experience based knowledge transfer from the Jewish community to the Roma community. What is it if not the duty of a community that is socially aware? It is a pity that only a limited number of people do such work.
What does Israel mean to you and how do you look at Israel?
Israel is the natural home for the Jewry and for the Jews living in the Diaspora it is a center in terms of politics, identity, and knowledge. However, we also have to be critical not to support Israel’s every step blindly and raise our voices when Jewish extremists take people’s lives. A Jew in the Diaspora could be most helpful for Israel as a watchman if they also function as an outside control.
What matters do you speak out about and what matters do you support within and outside the community?
Less and less outside the community. There is a constant resistance from high places whenever a social group tries to stand up for itself, just as the university students have done it and now the teachers are doing it. The state sees danger instead of partnership in the advocacy movements. I hope to see that the country will once get to such a level of maturity that the decision makers and the different social groups search for solutions in consensus with each other.
Within the community as the president of the Federation’s Youth Organization I constantly work on revitalization and inclusion for I believe this is the guarantee for the aforementioned dream community to come about. I also believe that another huge problem of the local community is that it is basically cut off from the international community. A more active cooperation would bring about a great deal of innovations and the opportunities for new perspectives. We try to send as many Hungarian young people to international seminars as possible to make this vision a reality.
Dávid Csillik is the chairman of the Mazsihisz (Federation) Youth Council