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Photo credit: Thomas Depenbusch, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

Budapest is the Capital city of Hungary. There are actually two cities: Buda and Pest, separated by the Danube river. It’s attractive to tourists, it has beautiful architecture and a world-class classical music scene. Due to the exceedingly scenic setting and its architecture, it is often called "Paris of the East." In 1987 Budapest was added as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for the cultural and architectural significance of the Banks of the Danube, the Buda Castle Quarter and Andrássy Avenue.

But to know Budapest in a Jewish context is more complicated. We can talk about the Great Synagogue (the largest in the world) and the Jewish Quarter, or the Israeli Cultural Institute, which represents the Israeli presence in Hungary. As in most European countries, evidence of a Jewish past is certainly there, but more recently, it exists side-by-side with current Jewish life. And that is a bit of a miracle.

“To be Jewish in Hungary,” Jan Goldstein said, “takes tremendous courage. The Holocaust left scars upon scars—for those who survived, living Jewishly became something to never again take for granted. In fact, many Hungarian Jews went silent after the war, didn’t speak about being Jewish, did not live an outward Jewish life and were afraid to enter Jewish institutions. The most important audience they didn’t speak to were their own descendants. Judaism, if it was expressed at all, became something cultural rather than religious. It was in the past, not part of anyone’s future, it was a collection of stories about what was, rather than what it could be.”

And so, two generations grew up barely knowing their own identity and their own history. While Survivors in some other, more western, European countries, began to be more open about their Judaism (or the lack thereof) during the late 1980s, behind what used to be known as the Iron Curtain, it took another generation for anything to change.

But change it did. A big part of that change comes from healthy relationships with Jews elsewhere. Jews in Israel, but also in the U.S., largely through Partnership2Gether (P2G). If you need a refresher: Partnership2Gether (P2G) is a program of The Jewish Agency and The Jewish Federations of North America, promoting people-to-people relationships through cultural, social, medical, educational, and economic programs. The Western Galilee Partnership connects 17 U.S. communities of the US Central Area Consortium, Israel’s Western Galilee and Budapest, Hungary.

On September 9, Executive Director of Philanthropy and Engagement Jennifer Tompkins and Israel Engagement and Outreach Director Leigh Chaves will join this year’s P2G Summit in Budapest. They will join other Israeli and American P2G representatives to learn about the Hungarian community and build lasting relationships.

“Hungarian Jews need Jews from other countries to know them and maintain relationships with them,” Jan Goldstein said. “They are our responsibility, just like we are all each other’s responsibility. We are all one family.”

The Hungarian Jewish community, estimated at between 75,000 and 100,000, is the largest in East Central Europe. Most Hungarian Jews live in Budapest, which has some 20 working synagogues and a plethora of other Jewish institutions, both religious and cultural. There are also several smaller Jewish communities in provincial cities, including Debrecen, Miskolc and Szeged, with an active religious and cultural life. Despite occasional antisemitic incidents and a neo-Nazi party, Jobbik, Hungarian Jews have every facility to express their Jewish heritage and religious life. The representative body of Hungarian Jewry is the Federation of the Hungarian Jewish Communities (MAZSIHISZ) – _an affiliate of the World Jewish Congress.

Participants in the summit will visit such sites as the Rumbach Synagogue, the Budapest Jewish University, Budapest Jewish Hospital and the Scheiber Jewish School. In addition, they will visit the Jewish District, considered to be the inner part of Budapest's District 7 — _the area enclosed by Király Street, Erzsébet körút, Dohány Street, Károly körút. It was here that Jewish people started settling down in the late 18th century (the medieval Jewish Quarter on the Buda side was decimated during the battle between the European allied forces and the Ottomans in 1686). Budapest's rapid urbanization and economic development at the time presented plenty of business opportunities for Jews, drawing them in increasing numbers. They, in turn, further contributed to the city's progress.

While in Hungary, Jennifer and Leigh will keep us updated on what they see and experience, so check both the Jewish Federation of Omaha and the Jewish Press on Social Media. For more information about the Partnership, please visit https://www.jewishagency.org/partnership2gether/.