How would you introduce yourself?
Not an easy question. I have been labeled many things depending on the actual period in my life. I have been an athlete, a photographer, a rickshaw driver, an anchorman, an animator, a volunteer, an educator, a sociologist, etc. All of these are, to different extents, important elements of my development (change?); many of these labels are still valid. Whenever we talk with children about the different elements of our personalities, I usually define myself as a Hungarian atheist Jewish youngster who likes challenges (that is why I plan to stay here…), who can hardly bear injustice, for whom the community, activism, creativity, and humor are important, and who must be among people. However, I’m a rather schizophrenic person, who usually stands in the doorstep, whatever this may mean; that is why it is a tough question for me to answer.
What does Jewish identity mean to you and what role does active participation in the Jewish community have in your life?
In spite of the fact that I attended Lauder Javne School from fourth grade, my ‘Jewish journey’ really began with my Taglit trip in 2010. I fell in love with Israel. Without making any kind of political statement. I started participating more and more in the life of the Israeli Cultural Institute but to be honest it was not the Jewish aspect that got to me. This was the place where I was given room to map out what I would like to do. The Jewish environment showed me what it feels like being in a community and what tools – informal education – can be used to tackle serious issues. Earlier, I was just an average guy to whom Judaism meant the Holocaust. Then throughout the years it became clear what a distorted and harmful picture this shows of us. I have been working against this image for a few years now, for instance as a volunteer of the Haver Foundation.
What are the biggest challenges of the Hungarian Jewish community today?
I see more issues in the active community. I think the Jewish organizations are way overrepresented; their number does not match the target audience. There is no need for so many, similar organizations. Most of them preserve the isolation of the Jewry and this is irresponsible and selfish at the same time. There are a lot of problems in Hungary and the Hungarian Jewish community is obliged to take part in these matters because of its knowledge and broad network. In order to successfully fight anti-Semitism and the dumb stereotyping, we have to be much more open.
What kind of a Jewish community would you like to see in 18 years? What steps would be necessary in your opinion to have this vision realized?
A community that has a global vision and that links its own grievances and goals to those of the country. There is a lot of intrigue, gossip, and hypocrisy. Of course, this is natural as Jews are also human beings; moreover, Hungarian human beings. I mean if they live here. I do not like intellectual couch-potatoes who philosophize on many extremely expensive conferences, who publish and research the same thing for their own, small target audience but who are not ready to ever step out of their comfort zone. We have passed the 24th hour – not necessarily from the Jewish point of view – and we have got to go and do things instead of just talking.
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?
We need much more initiatives to start a dialogue with the mainstream society. Without such initiatives, the Jewry only applies a face-lift to its own house, which is also important for culture needs to be cultivated and passed on. However, without interaction with the majority, it will only remain a bubble. It would be great if Haver Foundation became a giant organization or somehow it became a part of the national curriculum – unfortunately, even the idea sounds so absurd – with hundreds of volunteers. Then we could achieve great changes in public awareness. Anyway, I do not have any bad experiences; we just have to know how to deal with people. Anti-Semitism here at home is only in the language, and it is just as general to blame the Jews as it is to blame the Roma. However, that is how far it usually goes. Regardless how far it goes, it is still awful.
What are the biggest challenges of the Hungarian society today?
The biggest challenge is to get back our stimulus threshold because practically, it has ceased to exist. That is why the ten-year-old speech in Öszöd is no news any more, or that is why people – apart from the few thousand intellectuals who take part in all the demonstrations – do not move unless someone scares them with Facebook becoming a paid site. The only demonstration that attracted tens of thousands, was the one about education, but due to the crowd’s good behavior, we cannot expect big changes out of it unless we decide to use more radical tools. Apathy is more dangerous than extremities, and our home proves to be a great breeding ground for it. What challenges do we face here at home? Do you really want me to get going? Again we are the home of three million beggars, our education as well as our health care are in ruins, corruption is raging, the regime consciously uses obscurantism and provocation, the situation of the 1 million strong Roma minority is hopeless, the majority is exhausted, disenchanted, without a vision, no one smiles and there is no patience, and there is only traces of empathy in the Hungarian society. Of course, these issues compliment as well as generate each other, and separately they are hard to deal with. I believe in the success of the microcommunities.
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?
Those individuals who are still independent, thinking beings, should do their best to give guidance with every action they take. It is not enough that you know something is bad; you have to tell it to those who have no chance to realize that. The Jewish community has to swing into action. To be honest, I do not think that we should separate the Jewish and non-Jewish communities when it comes to Hungary’s challenges. This is exactly the point. Unity makes strength and other commonplaces.
What does Israel mean to you and how do you look at Israel?
I fell in love with it on my first trip there. Fortunately, I’m about to visit it for the umpteenth time. In Israel I realized the strength in education and community. It is fascinating what they managed to build up in a few decades. It is an unbelievably paradoxical and ambivalent country. It reminds me of myself a bit. Israel changed my life. I had a photo exhibition from my pictures I took there, and a poem I later set to music. Excuse me for the self-promotion, but You asked what Israel meant to me; well, it is Nyugtalan nyugalom (Restless rest): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ewPlnKWo_O4.
What matters do you speak out about and what matters do you support within and outside the community?
Like the first question, this is also hard to answer. For me all the matters are important, the Roma integration, the environmental protection just as much as sanctioning animal cruelty or popularizing mass sports. It is truly hard to be socially sensitive because you have to set your boundaries and decide whether you will somewhat participate in many things or you will full-heartedly participate in only few things. I’m also currently learning this. As a Jewish initiative, it is definitely Haver Foundation that takes the cake; the efficiency, the creative answers to the different problems are very important for me, and these are well represented by them (us). I hope.
I value sustainability, drawing attention to inequalities, and sensitization. The fusion of these gave birth to Adománytaxi, where I sit at the helm. It is still a work-in-progress, but I believe it has a lot of potential. In addition to that, I also work in the Common Denominator Education Program, and in the Snétberger Music Talent Center. I like both of them a lot.
In addition to the above mentioned organizations, I would support a lot of other organizations if I could, e.g. Budapest Bike Maffia, A Színes Város Csoport (Colorful City Group), all the animal shelters, Bátor Tábor, UNICEF, Age of Hope, UCCE, etc. It is really impossible to list them all. What I can tell you for sure is that in my eyes they are the real heroes and I think it is world class work they do. I am very proud of the fact that I work in the nonprofit world, and of the fact that I am Jewish. It is a great responsibility, but for me both mean a lot of amazing experiences.