“We rabbis had the privilege to see firsthand the positive force of kindness actualized in Budapest and around Jerusalem.” Read the article by David Portnoe

By DAVID PORTNOE Voice staff

Jewish Community Voice

03/21/2012

“Budapest is a Jewish community that is coming back to life after being traumatized by the Holocaust and communism. They are rediscovering their identity and recreating a Jewish communal structure,” said Rabbi Steven Lindemann of Temple Beth Sholom in Cherry Hill. He added that the task for American Jews is to help Hungarian Jews reclaim their identity by supporting the work of the Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) and the Jewish Agency For Israel (JAFI), the overseas partners of the Jewish Federation.

Lindemann was speaking after returning from a Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) Rabbinic Cabinet Mission to Hungary and Israel. The vice chair of the Rabbinic Cabinet and chair of the mission, Lindemann was joined on the trip by Rabbi Ephraim Epstein of Cong. Sons of Israel and 28 colleagues from across the United States. Lindemann and Epstein visited synagogues, minyanim, the Balint Jewish Community Center and the Israel Cultural Institute (ICI) in Hungary. They met with scores of Jews who had only recently discovered their Jewish identity. Lindemann described one young Jew he met, Enika Zadik. Her grandparents survived the Holocaust. Her parents hid their Jewish identity under communism. She did not even know that her last name, Zadik, is actually from the Hebrew tzadik. After asking her parents about the family history, she learned about her Jewish roots. “Now, as a 28-year-old lawyer, she comes to the ICI to find out what it means to be Jewish, and she’s sharing that experience with a whole group of young people her age,” he said.

“Meeting Jews who just found out they were Jewish in the last six months was an eye opening experience,” said Epstein. He described meeting with young Jews as they engage with “the holy spark of Judaism” and learn about where they come from, where they are going, how they fit in religiously, and what their relationship with Israel will be. Epstein also pointed out the contrast between many American Jews, who have so many opportunities to connect with Judaism and yet remain disengaged, while these young Hungarian Jews denied the richness of Judaism for so long are now connecting with Torah and the Jewish people. “We met with the head of the Jewish Agency, Natan Sharansky, and he feels that we have 10 years, a window of time, to reconnect with as many young Jews as possible. After that, the window will be closed,” said Epstein. After spending three days in Budapest, the mission travelled to Israel for three days. The rabbis had an opportunity to visit places supported by the Jewish Agency For Israel (JAFI), including a youth village for high school students at risk; be briefed by Israeli officials on security and other matters; and spend a day in Beit Shemesh, a town that has become a flashpoint for religious tensions.

“Israel is such a breath of fresh air,” said Epstein. He said that no matter where one comes from, travelling to Israel feels like home. “After Budapest, we were hungry for home,” said Epstein. Epstein and Lindemann agreed that there was a high level of camaraderie among the 30 rabbis on the trip. Epstein said that one of the hallmarks of the trip was that it brought together rabbis from across the United States as well as from the full spectrum of religious thought. Lindemann added that what the rabbis experienced together would be translated into a great deal of common effort on behalf of the Jewish people in communities around the country. “We have to find ways to help Federation raise the money to help the JDC and JAFI,” said Lindemann. He said that rabbis have the capacity to educate and inform their congregants. He also pointed out that rabbis need to set a personal example of participation and giving, noting that the 30 rabbis on the trip pledged a total of $100,000. Epstein said that when a person makes a contribution to a community-wide campaign, that person doesn’t know just how far and wide the impact is.

 “We rabbis had the privilege to see firsthand the positive force of kindness actualized in Budapest and around Jerusalem.”