How would you introduce yourself?
I am a secular neolog Jew from Budapest. What this means for me is that I preserve the traditions and strengthen and develop the community. However, the rigor of the Jewish religion I only treat with intellectual curiosity and use it as a moral vantage point rather than a lifestyle to follow.
What does Jewish identity mean to you and what role does active participation in the Jewish community have in your life?
The Jewish identity for me is the tissue that surrounds me and keeps me intact. Because I grew up in a family with a very strong Jewish identity, to be Jewish for me is the natural state. Actively participating in the Jewish community’s life is an opportunity to shape my immediate environment so that the members of the Jewish community, including myself, would enjoy themselves in it. In addition to this, it is also the task of the community’s members to contribute to the diversity of the community life to the best of their knowledge and ability.
What are the biggest challenges of the Hungarian Jewish community today?
The Jewish community’s challenges are almost identical to the challenges of Hungary. However, it is easier to tackle these because we are fewer and we are also closer to one another from a geographical and sociological standpoint. We have to get to know ourselves better, we need to be more open, we have to improve our advocacy skills, and we have to stop pretending that things only happen around us and we have no control over them. We have to encourage those who are quieter and who completely withdraw themselves from the community discourse to participate in the Jewish community’s life.
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?
I would like to see a community based on confident Jewish individuals and strong Jewish families, who pay attention to each other and the public interest. I would like to envision a community with transparent community representation, with a lot of debates but significantly less personal issues. Basically, the big organizations have to reimagine themselves to realize that organizations and communities much smaller than themselves can have a much more positive impact on their environment than them. Apart from this learning and purification process, we have to establish step by step the foundation for sustainable funding because the current resources will definitely not, or only partly be around in the not so distant future. The knowledge is present in the community. However, we do not talk about the big challenges as we simplify everything to personal, endless debates.
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?
The neolog Jewish community of Budapest can easily find a common ground with the non-Jewish members of the liberal intelligentsia of Budapest. This is the only platform of our coexistence and cooperation that is frustration-free and it works well because it is based on common values and interests. The Hungarian psyche along with the Hungarian reality is unknown to the majority of the Jewish community. Moreover, due to mutual disinterest and the lack of interfaces, dialogue is not established between the parties. The mantras of each reality are incomprehensible in the context of the other. Therefore, I do not blame either side for this current, steady situation.
What are the biggest challenges of the Hungarian society today?
Hungary has permanently left the path where it is a value to listen to one another, where we have social justice and mutual respect. Instead, an alternative reality is being built, which is based on lack of information, distortion of facts, and the goal to make more and more people more and more vulnerable to those in power so that the latter could exercise their power more freely with less control. The society’s biggest challenge is to adapt to the new feudal circumstances without its members contradicting their own value system, and how fast it can change the current situation.
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?
Everybody has the same task: we have to establish platforms where the central directives do not or just partly prevail and where we can, at least to some extent, exclude the alternative reality, which is built on lies and half truths. The more platforms and communities we establish where debate is acceptable and where activities based on democratic processes are acceptable, the more difficult it will be to operate the big, central systems in any other way. From this perspective, a person’s cultural background or religion is all the same.
What does Israel mean to you and how do you look at Israel?
From all the roles I have held in the community, I most enjoyed the one I held in a Zionist youth organization. It also suited me the best. This experience still has an impact on my current life: Israel is not only important for me because I believe it is the Jews’ national home and because an important part of my family lives there, but also because I consider it a realistic alternative that I myself will move there. To express a public stance in support of Israel and to defend Israel in debates are important tools, in my opinion, to fight anti-Semitism. Everybody has the right to criticize Israel. However, most of the European criticism of Israel is exaggerated and magnifies the country’s shortcomings. In the long run, Israel has to find a solution to its security needs so that it would also minimize its everyday and direct impact on those who live in the region and are not Israeli citizens. However, it may be a bumpy road to realize these goals as it also has to radically reduce the influence of those elements that represent a danger to its existence.
What matters do you speak out about and what matters do you support within and outside the community?
For me it is important that the Hungarian Jewish Federation and the Jewish nonprofit organizations get closer to each other, learn from one another to understand how the other one operates. Without this step, we cannot expect a self-confident Jewish representation. I consider the initiatives where the Federation’s leaders get to know the Jewish civil community and the other way around important because through improving or establishing personal relationships, cooperation in the future could be more simple.