Monday, February 27, 2012

Report From The Rabbinic Mission to Budapest and Israel 1

February 27, 2012 9:00 AM Dear Friends, I am writing this blog post at the El Al Departure lounge of the Budapest airport. Rabbi Foster and I, along with 38 other Reform, Orthodox and Conservative Rabbis have just concluded the 1st leg of our trip to Budapest and Jerusalem. The past 3 days have been overwhelming. Our group, sponsored by the Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI) and the Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), has been given a crash course in post-Communist Hungarian Jewry. We have also visited with the US and Israeli Ambassadors to Hungary, had a VIP tour of the Hungarian parliament, studied and prayed at several synagogues in Budapest, observed first hand how the Hungarian Jewish community is preserving and celebrating their heritage while, at the same time, dealing with the precariousness of living in a society that is seeing a disturbing rise in anti-semitism and far right politics. We participated in a wreath laying ceremony at the Raoul Wallenberg memorial along with a US congressional delegation, attended a special reception at the US Embassy hosted by the Ambassador and her family, learned about a unique program that brings together Holocaust survivors and Hungarian young people, visited holocaust memorials and celebrated Havdalah with a group of young Hungarian Jewish Youth who embody the concept of "Celebrate Being Jewish." ....and that's just a small taste of what we have done. This afternoon, after landing at Ben Gurion airport, we will begin the Israeli half of our trip by visiting the Ministry of Defense where we will receive a special briefing on the security situation in the MIddle East. One of the key themes that we encountered during our stay in Budapest is the way in which many young Hungarian Jews have discovered their heritage. Over and over again we heard the same story: young people discovered that they were Jewish almost by accident. Parents who wanted to shield their children from the history of oppression and persecution that was inexorably linked to Hungarian Jewish history kept their identity a secret. Often it wasn't until they were in their teens that these young people learned the truth. But what happened next was truly inspirational. Rather than allow the fact of their religion to become a burden, increasing numbers of young Jews are actively seeking out avenues to learn about and express their Jewishness. From summer camp, to religious schools, jcc's and Israel cultural centers, the Hungarian Jewish community- with the help of agencies like the JDC and JAFI - is revitalizing itself. Our group witnessed first hand a burning hunger for knowledge and a love of Judaism that neither the Nazis, the Fascists or the Communists could extinguish. Rabbi Foster and I will share our impressions soon from the pulpit. I will write more about the Israel portion of the trip when I am able. I the meantime, "Shalom M'Yerushalayim"- shalom from Jerusalem. Rabbi Joe Black.

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