How would you introduce yourself?
I was about thirteen years old when I found out from a random remark at home that some people from my mother’s family perished in the Holocaust. Until then I had no clue I had Jewish ancestors. However, only years later did I get to learn more about Judaism when I attended a small synagogue choir. I joined the choir by accident but eventually stuck around for five years and sang at the synagogue in Hegedűs Gyula Street. Then my career started as an opera singer. I left the choir and for quite some time I again had no connection to Judaism. The next important Jewish event in my life: in 2002 I was the co-director of a documentary about Immanuel Löw. In the same year, together with my brother we founded 2B Foundation, which deals with contemporary art. I was working on stage as well as in the foundation parallel but in 2006 I realized that it was too much. I quit singing. If someone knows our programs, they can see that the Jewish theme is truly important in our exhibitions and projects. Today our 2B Gallery is actually the only contemporary art venue in Budapest where you can constantly find Jewish activities. It has become the main ground for my Jewishness.
What does Jewish identity mean to you and what role does active participation in the Jewish community have in your life?
To define our identity is a rather complex matter. We have several parallel identities; if I were to highlight my Jewish identity, I would say it is a constant knowledge extension on a strong emotional basis, a pursuit to understand the world from a Jewish standpoint. That is why I started studying Jewish Cultural History at ORZSE, the Budapest University of Jewish Studies. I only know a certain fraction of the Jewish community to a certain extent, but these people are very important for me; I enjoy being with them and thinking together with them is inspiring.
What are the biggest challenges of the Hungarian Jewish community today?
I would only mention one. It is the extent to which the community lets the current government play with it. The congregations need the state’s support. However, experience has shown that excessive dependence on state support could easily result in vulnerability and thus it could lead to bad compromises.
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?
A colorful community with tolerant and supportive Jews. It would be great if these values, found within the Jewish community, would also radiate / illuminate towards the entire society to provide a positive example. I know there is nothing original in this vision. Many have had and many will have similar visions.
What do you think about the coexistence between Jews and non-Jews in Hungary? How successful do you consider the dialog between Jews and non-Jews?
On weekdays it is more or less ok. There is anti-Semitism but it is still manageable. However, there is also a political aspect. The government’s opinion about the Holocaust and the road leading to it, which it has been floating, together with its avoidance of responsibility are the wrong message to today’s society. A true dialogued can only happen once we are done with honest reckoning. I’m sure that we cannot avoid this process; without this process the next generations will be stuck where we were. It is not a very exhilarating perspective.
What are the biggest challenges of the Hungarian society today?
There are so many. Racism, xenophobia, negative attitude towards the poor, homophobia, Euroscepticism. All in all it is hatred towards everything that is different. It’s people’s vulnerability to manipulation. Corruption. The state’s uninhibited proliferation. And so on…
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?
I don’t know, I would not give a role to anyone. However, we can all try to preserve our sound judgment. Not to accept that black is white regardless how many people how loudly say that. We must not go crazy! And of course we shouldn’t sink into apathy; we have to take care of ourselves and each other.
What does Israel mean to you and how do you look at Israel?
I have only been to Israel once and for such a short time that I didn’t have the chance to get deep impressions. It makes me happy that regardless how threatened the country is from within and outside, it can still preserve its pluralism, the rule of law, and its democracy.
What matters do you speak out about and what matters do you support within and outside the community?
I do not know if it is really standing up for something but I go to demonstrations to support democracy and human rights, and to protest against racism and anti-Semitism. In addition to participating in the management of our foundation, I also volunteer for Limmud. Because studying is fun!
László Böröcz is the dircetor of 2B gallery and art foundation